Friday, March 27, 2009
It is a guilty pleasure for me to watch the French shop for anything to eat or drink. So much thought and tasting goes into it. For a large American such as myself it is always a treat to be handed a small sample of almost any food being sold. I see it as pride and generosity but I see that it is just the proper protocol. You don't buy food without a taste, and a comment, and another taste, and a few more comments and then ......................a sale. These three people (I'm not even sure if any of them were together were all sampling those almond seashells and commenting about the taste to each other. The young lady in the middle was very charming and very patient. She also sold a lot of seashells!
Thursday, March 26, 2009
During the Fall, when we are in Provence, the roadsides and towns are full of fig trees that are covered with fruit. If you're walking along it is a wonderful thing to pull a fully ripe fig from an overhanging branch. If you aren't the walking type, the markets have the biggest, juiciest figs that I have ever seen, and we have two fig trees on our property here in Florida. If I want to know if our trees ever produce figs this big I'll have to ask our squirrels.
One of the nice things about Provence is that you are near enough to the Mediterranean to have an abundance of fresh seafood. The fish in stores and at markets are always clear-eyed and smell of the sea. The salmon is wild and from Scandinavia.
The only problem is my ignorance. I know salmon, shrimp and scallops, I do live in Florida, on the ocean. But I do not know the local fish and what they taste like. Add that to a command of French that would embarrass a 3rd grader and I haven't taken the plunge on the beautiful fish, like the ones here. Next year I will ask my fluent wife to get a description for me.
Here is a window in Lourmarin. This town, due in part to the art foundation, Albert Camus grave and Peter Mayle's residence, has become (or always has been) a little more upscale than the areas of Provence that we visit each year. There are quite a few fancy looking shops, carrying very nice merchandise, for a town of this size. Thus this window has some pretty uncommon flowers for the region.
Monday, March 23, 2009
This little plaque is way too small to honor the man. Robert Laurent-Vibert was a very successful young entrepeneur when he discovered this castle in Lourmarin, about to be sold for the stone. He took the raw bones of the castle and lovingly restored the building and improved it. A lover of the arts, he created a foundation for young artists who could come to the castle to practice their art without the usual worries that profession. Located well away from expenses and worries about lodging and the next meal, these artists could flourish.
Upon his tragic death in a car accident, at 41, he left the castle and the foundation to the "Academie des Sciences, Agriculture, Arts et Belles Lettres of Aix-en Provence, which has kept his dream alive and operates the castle and its tours to help support the foundation. There were artists in residence and a show inside. The castle has been restored to reflect the different ways that it looked over the centuries. He was a wonderful man, who made his fortune selling the French equivalent of our Brylcream, after being an archaelogist. All in 41 years. Yikes
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
After looking at the wonderful produce and tasting breads and olive tapenades and candies and macaroons, we were quite hungry. We had made reservations at this restaurant on our way in. The special of the day, on their chalkboard, was a true weakness of mine, daube. Daube, if you don't know it is what one would,at first, call beef stew. Well, a good Provencal daube is much more than beef stew. Full of local herbs and wine and a rich sauce, it is cooked and reheated before serving to make the flavors marry. So when I saw daube on the sign I was done for.
We had a wonderful meal. The daube really did fall apart on the tongue and the wine we had complimented it perfectly.
Before going in Carol almost bought her 125th shopping basket, since starting to visit to France.
We walked up into the shopping district and wandered about. It amazes me that the shops in all of these towns seem to have no trouble with the market coming to their town once a week. It must cut into their business for that day. But it does bring many items that the stores do not carry, so I guess it evens out. Plus there is a long tradition of the markets, dating back to when they were essential. It must also bring other people to town and the shops are all open. Anyway, it works.
This store was pretty high-end and had a very colorful display out front.
Monday, March 2, 2009
The market in Lourmarin is laid out all through the streets of the town, which wind all over the place. I got separated from the group and heard music coming down an alley. I followed it and found this combo playing some playful jazz across the square from some cafes. I sat and listened for a half hour before they found me.
Lourmarin was recommended to us as a place that had a superior market. We set off from Saignon and found ourselves on a real handful of a road. It wound through a range on low mountains and was all switchbacks and hairpin turns. Two of the four of us do not do well in a car on roads like this so it was a delicate ride over. The problem is that local sports find the road a real challenge and want to drive as fast as they can and do not appreciate slow tourists. The VW Polo we had was very competent and I only held people up a little and everyone arrived with breakfast intact.
It was worth the ride. It's a lovely town, tucked away from the more accessible Luberon. This is where Peter Mayle escaped when he returned to Provence. The market had probably the best selection of produce and breads and baked goods that we saw this trip. Here is a small example, more to follow.
We went to this creperie each of the last three visits over a 5 year period. Their crepes were wonderful and we always look forward to going back. It is run by a young couple who both worked there and had their baby there last year.
This year it seemed to be the same couple but their method of making crepes was entirely different and a lot bigger. Maybe tourists are all eating like Americans now. The last time we were here you could order a lunch crepe and have room for a dessert crepe. This year none of us could finish our lunch crepe. They were very good thoug. This is my egg, ham and cheese crepe.
As I have said, there are numerous artists displaying their work in Roussillon. Some of the galleries are very chic and modern. These two paintings were hanging on a wall across the street from a gallery. I took this picture and there was immediate banging on the window behind me. The gallery owner wanted no pictures taken. I left right away, without going into the gallery. Not a very smart way to encourage business.
We have come to Roussillon for over 10 years now and this little corner of the main square has recently been completely renovated. It is right across the square from a line of bistros and restaurants almost all of which we have tried. The two buildings that form this corner were slowly aging and had reached a point 3 years ago where help was needed. Last year there was a big scaffolding around them both and this year they were done, overdone if you ask me. The paint and plaster are perfect and every joint and crack has been filled in. I guess these two buildings are what made me make the Disneyfication remark earlier. Provence is lovely, but perfect it isn't.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Roussillon is one of those places that seem to catch the light in a better way than others. In my area of the world, St. Augustine Florida is that way. Around every corner there is light and shadow that is rich and makes photography a pleasure. Paris is like that in a different way. Here is a little street scene.
The town of Roussillon has had a spate of run-by graffiti artists who leave modern art like images on buildings. With my crime photographer instincts honed to the full, I caught this guy as he left the scene. The local authorities remanded him to the custody of his wife.
We were in Roussillon on market day. There are more local people out and fewer tourists as the parking areas near the town are full and tourists, as a rule, don't like to walk that much, especially in a hill town. I remember, years ago when I weighed a lot more and didn't walk much, thinking what a long hike it was to the top of Roussillon. This year I timed it; and it's a 10 minute walk from a parking lot at the bottom of the hill to the top of the town.
The woman who sells these scarves is at every market in our area. She could get an award for the casual elegance with which she displays her wares.
We made our annual visit to Roussillon. The town is a little bit of a Provencal Disney World. It is very touristy but still good fun. From reading I have found that the town was founded and supported for years by the Ochre deposits around and beneath it. These run the gamut from dark red to a stunning yellow. One of the accounts of the town said that they had to stop mining it because it threatened to collapse the town.
With all of these lovely pigments a short walk away, it is no surprise that the towns walls run the same gamut from yellow to the deep red you see in this old weathered wall on a side street.
One of the pleasures of staying in Provence is the access to the wonderful markets and the fresh produce one can get there. After one of our forays to Coustellet, we had these lovely peppers on hand. We also had piles of black olives from the same market. With a little local olive oil (Provencal olive oil is a well-guarded secret) some chickpeas and shallots that were the size of onions yet just as delicately flavored as our little ones in America, and a bit of lemon juice, we threw together a wonderful, fresh, filling meal that looked great too!