Thursday, July 24, 2014

Finding and leaving Saint Didier in the Vaucluse

"Should we stop?" Something about the village of Saint Didier had called our attention. Perhaps the steeple puncturing into the milky blue toile overhead. We pulled over and organized the dogs before heading out to explore. It is always a slow process - similar to tasting for spices while cooking - of garnering the temperature and will of a new environment. My camera was in hand and I started looking so intently that I didn't realize that our conversation had shifted towards something important. "You aren't listening to me," Remi said. He was right. I stopped clicking and looked at him, at that face that I crossed the ocean to be near. And the elements of this one little town with some certain charm softened and no longer seemed so important to take home in my pocket. A dog barked repeatedly behind a gated wall. Kipling's ears pricked forward and Ben plodded up to me with a slow wag as a sinewy woman filled up a plastic bucket at the fountain that we were perched on. She gave us a stare as hard as her boney arms. It was time to go. We gathered ourselves up and inwards, somewhat sheepishly and folded back into the car, tourist-like and wandered on, energy sorted both for Saint Didier and between ourselves.

We have moved and it went swimmingly. Thank you for all of your good wishes...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Opening one door, preparing to close another


And I do mean "Hello there," said shyly, timidly, for I haven't been very present and yet you all have been extremely gracious and supportive.

It has been an unusual Summer. And it isn't finished yet, so I will beg more of your patience for a little while longer - say two weeks or so - and then I will be so very excited to return to regular programming.

For you see, we are moving. Out of Arles but nearby. To a village that I hope will remain my secret. But then again you know of it already, as I have referred to it as My Secret Provence several times in the past.

Sometimes a certain place calls to you and won't let you go until you make it your own. It took us almost one year but that is what Remi and I have done. We stopped looking for houses and started focusing on the where. No, we didn't buy but found a rental that makes me say, "Hello House," each time that I walk in the open front door. I smile broadly as I open up the shutters to let the light in.

You will understand when you see it. But not yet. No, I won't share until we are moved in. I am funny that way.

Until then, can you stand by me a little longer, even if I am silent? My trip to the States ended up being longer than I had planned and so now, despite fierce jet-lag, I am thrown into the thick of packing and renovating before the moving date of the 21st. I am honestly not certain how much I will be around before then. But please don't go away, for a quiet slice of the real Provence awaits you...yes, it still exists...

Do you have your hand on the door handle? I do, all while looking over my shoulder with much Gratitude. Arles will always be here for me but now we are certain and ready to start a new adventure.

For those of you that are wondering, yes, Remi and the boys are doing just fine and were very happy to welcome me home, albeit one in transit. No more to say about that, I am looking forward.

For there are good things ahead, I feel it in my bones.

Have a wonderful weekend. Toast the Summer for me, will you? 

Monday, July 7, 2014

In the thyme field

It was our final morning at the mazet and Remi and I were both trying to gear ourselves up for the tasks of packing and cleaning before returning to Arles. The tension from Kipling's escapade the night before still clouded the air. "Let's go down to the thyme field," Remi suggested. 

We had never seen anything quite like it, despite our many years of living in Provence. An actual field of thyme in bloom. 

And they weren't the scraggly dusting of herbs de Provence that we find in the Alpilles but rather perfect bouquets that popped out of the ground as if a magician had pulled them out of a hat.

We sat down in the midst of it, each with our own cutting tools and slowly began to recueiller, to gather up our harvest.

I have long had a theory, a little private knowing, that the true scent of Provence is not the much ballyhooed and beloved lavender but her quieter cousin, the earthy thyme blossom.

Ben and Kipling agreed with me.

Our found treasure made returning to Arles all the merrier. We had a gift that would keep giving fresh memories of our time in the quiet countryside. In the days that it took for the buds to dry, the perfume kissed the tips of our noses.

It was Remi who thought to gently shake the bouquets over an open basket as we had seen done with grains in Africa. We spread them out again for several days, occasionally sifting the lot with our hands until they were ready, ready to be packed into sealed jars where they will bring summer breezes even when the winter Mistral howls.

A bit of simple happiness that lasts...

...until it doesn't. 

But we know that thyme field will keep blooming year after year. Blooming for us, blooming for no one but there, ephemeral and yet true.

Monday, June 30, 2014

These old Roman roads

Wandering amidst the American new, occasionally my mind will stray. Back to so much living history, where I can point out with child-like glee that the cardo and the decumanus still form the central arteries of Arles with a bumpy heart-beat boom.

These old Roman roads.

They cross the countryside, still full of the promise of going...

...even when their paving stones, covered in two-thousand years of moss and tears, have been pushed aside. 

Simply reminders now...

...of the many that came before...

...slowly, so slowly... a pace we only know with our breath.

These old Roman roads, joining empires of the mind and yet there are flowers, such bright poppies. 

They too burn in bloom, saying follow me. Follow me. Home.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Lunching at Lena - Ann Arbor

I love an invitation to discover. And when aforesaid come hither is to delve into a culinary adventure, by all means, do call.

And so it was with much deliberation that my beautiful Mom and I scoured the lists of Ann Arbor's restaurant week. I have already written about the cosmopolitan offerings in this universtity town and I am delighted to see that the ante has only been upped since my previous visit in 2012.

That was the year when Lena opened in the midst of the downtown area, after extensive renovations which transformed the space that had previously held a Greek diner into a modern, light filled aerie whose design intentionally drew upon the building's original form as a drugstore.

Chef Gabriel Vera uses traditional French (!) and Italian techniques to bring a new spin to an inspired menu that focuses on the "food of the Americas." Alas, as it was a dreary, rainy day, what had drawn us to Lena was not the duck confit soup with Serrano ham, lime and glazed carrots ("Whaaat?" I know) but a search for comfort food in the form of his Chipolte turkey burger. It was served on a perfectly puffy bakery roll with avocado, feta, braised fennel and carmelized bacon (as if bacon was not amazing enough on it's own) and smoked jalapeno aioli. As it was restaurant week, the burgers were two for $15. Oh yes, there also happened to be a copious side of crunchy sweet potato fries that was made even more delightful when Stephanie, our charming server, brought us out ramekins of the house's chimichurri sauce to dip them in. 

All of the above was washed down with a perfectly fine glass of Malbec and suddenly...

...I was no longer thinking about the rain but wondering how quickly I could return to settle into one of the long row of booths to partake in Lena's $5 Happy Hour in order to nibble Nachos El Diablo while sipping a  Sweet Hot mojito spiked with peppers and orange honey syrup. Ah, America...happy hour...

...and the land of space. A luxury simply unaffordable in my part of Southern France. And yet...

...this is exactly the kind of restaurant that would be a phenomenal success in Arles. Open all day and late into the night at Cafe Habanas on the cellar level...something in-between Michelin striving and the frozen tourist joints that pass as "Proven├žal" cuisine...but yet reasonably priced enough that one could go often enough to make friends. Eh, oui. Bravo to the team at Lena for creating a wonderful ambience and inspiring, happy culinary delights. A wonderful discovery, all around...

226 South Main Street
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Tel. 734-994-2773

Yet again, I will just toss it out there that this was in no way a sponsored post, just passing along a good thing...and a merci to my Sister for letting me use her ipone 5 to take these photos as my trusty Canon will be in retirement until I return to France...

Have a lovely weekend well and be merry...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The two ruins

It was the last evening of our stay at the mazet and a sunset called in promises from the surrounding hills. "Why don't you go up and visit the two ruins?" the owners suggested. We had walked considerably over their two hectares of property but yet knew not of what they spoke. I immediately began to whine in fear of a long hike, I was tired from relaxing and just wanted to finish our last night in peace. "Oh no," we were reassured, "It is a ten minute walk up the hill, no more and it is well worth it." They gave us directions to spot the path, the debut of which was partially covered in underbrush. Remi and I grabbed our cameras and the dogs and off we went.

It never ceases to inspire me that the past can cohabitate so comfortably with the present in France. As we reached the first ruin, Remi and I ducked under its arches and scratched away the dry pine needles that covered that covered the terracotta-tiled floor. I could see so clearly a young woman bent over on her knees scrubbing them with savon de Marseille until they shined. She was tired from the effort but full of hope for the life in front of her... whose periphery started and ended within the walls of this home.

Her shadow followed me... I walked the rooms and counted out the children, long grown and gone...

...while trying to discern what use certain elements left behind must have been good for, such as potting  plants outside the kitchen or a basin to give water to the chickens.

The light brought life... fragments, dateless and piled haphazardly by someone looking for more than answers to another's family story.

We could have stayed. 

But we continued on, up and winding. The trees, fig and fir, enclosed around us then opened again into a clearing, repeating like breath.

Remi and I were both quiet and focused. He was taking photos as well, a rarity on a walk with the dogs. Ben was nosing around nearby, conducting his own olfactory history hunt.

I heard a snap of a twig and then another, a rush of beaten brush and a faint yelp. Kipling was gone, off  chasing an invisible scent trail. The light was fading and night was coming on.

We knew from past experience that once Kip hits his predatory mode, our cries are useless and yet we called. The louder we shouted his name, the more we understood how far he had gone, a dog that can jump and run, scaling rock, faster than the wind. 

Remi and I split apart, my keeping Ben by my side and mounting the trail. Our voices echoed into the valley below as we reached the summit and yet Kipling was nowhere to be seen. He had given us a similar scare once before and I remembered that it was only through our continuing to call out that he found his way back through dense forest and land that was unknown to him. And so it was, finally, that he arrived, parting the pines and panting wildly, with a scratch bleeding along the bottom of his right eye, his head hanging in defeat. He stood still until I came up to his side and attached the leash. "I have him!" Kipling and I walked slowly back to the mazet as Remi walked on with Ben to burn off some of the frenetic anxiety that had coursed through both of our veins.

I poured myself a glass of wine and Kipling lapped up a bowl of water upon our return. I watched the sun set into the hills and let the evening roll over me, confident that Remi would be able to find his way back in the dark. The two ruins were on the opposite hill too. I sipped and wondered at the long and the short of it. Our lives, their lives, how quickly things can change, how we disappear. But the traces remain. Kipling patted to my side and I reached down to stroke the top of his head, reassuring both of us. "It's ok buddy, we're here."

to listen, just because: