Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Joucas




I am sliding into my quiet phase, which arrives without fail mid-January and parts sans fanfare in the beginning of March. I would bet that it was the same last year? Let's see...yes, just the same...but with better writing! For already, I feel the verbal slipping beyond my grasp, as if someone was speaking in the next room but I can't quite make out the words that they are saying. Fortunately, there are always visuals - in this case photos of the beautiful village of Joucas - to keep the balance in flight. 

Well, I will also add one idea that popped into my redhead this morning, thanks to the wonderful Vickie Lester at Beguiling Hollywood, who was extolling her appreciation for the kindness present - the goodwill too - of her interactions on the internet, something for which I am exceedingly grateful as well. Her remark reminded me of a conversation that I had with Remi yesterday in which he was discussing the idea of "home" as a place where you are understood. I thought about that quite a bit. And while I realize that many of you visit to discover the glories of this beautiful Provence, there are also those that are here because you share a bit of understanding with me. It is something I most certainly do not take for granted. Even in this quiet time, especially so.













PS. My sister sent me a screen shot of her weather forecast yesterday - with the windchill it was -29°F! 
So no matter where you are, cuddle up, take good care and enjoy:


PPS. For those of you that have inquired (merci!), you can find me on Instagram at lostinarles...

Monday, January 27, 2014

The market at Ventimiglia



"Wait until you see how different it is. Only a fifteen minute drive over the border and yet the ambiance completely changes!" My friend Jennifer is not one to make casual promises, especially when food is concerned. Already, during our visit to Menton, she had delivered me to a bakery that had been voted the best in all of the South and South-West of France! Can you imagine? That is quite impressive - as was the pesto and tomato stuffed roll that I munched on with delight.


I had been secretly hoping that we would make it to the market at Ventimiglia as I have always enjoyed  her various posts on the subject. Italy makes me dream. Shhh! Don't tell Remi. But it does. 

After several rainy days, the clouds were ripped away to reveal a blinding sky. It was the perfect benediction to "Go! Avanti!" And oh, the town itself! Sandwiched in between the snowy peaks of the Alps and a surfer-studded sea with frothy palms lining the boulevards? I believe that stunning is the proper word to describe the scene.


The indoor market was decked out for the holidays, even if many of the agricoltore were still home for Natale...


...and yet a distinctively low-key vibe whistled through the air. Yes, Jennifer was right--what a change from the bling of the Côte d'Azur! There was no hurry. Why hurry under such a sun?


Take time! Eat socca! So we did. I loved the people-watching. A lot of beautifully dressed women and men...


...who carefully eyed the goods at each stand, pinching and smelling as they went.


And yes, even though Ventimiglia is only a three hour drive from Arles, the items on offer were quite different. Such as these beautifully prepared artichokes...


...and mandarines gift-wrapped with the name of La Fortunella.


If I had been staying in the region longer I would have pounced on the little pre-made Minestrone packets and the tender zucchini's with their delicate flowers! Sadly, we won't see those in Provence for several months to come.


And of course there is mozzarella, the vera mozarella di buffala that has absolutely nothing to do with the rubbery softballs that I buy...


...not to mention the artisanal cured meats from Calabresi...


...or house-made pillowy panettoni (will someone explain to me why I didn't buy this?).


I did finally cave for the parmesan that you see above and oh I wish that I had taken home more! Two absolutely giant wedges of 18 month old parmigiano reggiano (Jennifer helped choose them for me, she says that they should have a slightly sweet fragrance) were only a little over 10 Euros! Less than half the price in France, plus, the kind vendor gave me a little salame to boot. When does that happen at the market in Arles? Never, that's when. She also put their card in with my purchases as she knew that I will be back. And I will. The cheese exceeded my expectations.


The flower section offered similarly surprising bargains. One Euro a stem for wild orchids? It began to be overwhelming...


So, purchases in hand, we dived back into the blue, strolling past the leather goods and cashmere vendors (I had to stop often to touch various sweaters and scarves but alas was "good")...


...until Jennifer installed us on the terrace of a café. At the end of December! We finally had to move inside as I was getting sun-burned. Isn't that something?


PS. A tip for the wise: when dining out with a vegetarian friend, if you are given a plate of focaccia and prosciutto for the aperitivo, well then that means prosciutto jackpot for you!


This wonderful afternoon left us both feeling very happy and more than a little hungry.

Ciao, ciao Ventimiglia! Arrividerci! Baci!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Banon in the sun, part two



The date above the door is carved in a distinctive script, "1553." I have to think about that for a moment. This beautiful doorway has been here for 461 years. As hard as I try, I can almost bend my mind around that fact and yet not quite. Newness and the space of time are relative, especially if it is true what Stephen Hawking is touting, that there are no Black Holes (thank you Laoch for the link). 


Perhaps best then just to skim on the surface of pleasing beauty. Most certainly as I am still escaping to the warmth of a November sun, all while shivering (literally) at my desk as the temperatures dip into a playful late January curtsy outside my window pane. 


Remi has been out of town since Tuesday and time has been lolling like shadows. It is funny how much we are each other's clocks, I tend to forget.


"Are you lonely?" my Mom asked the other day on the phone. "Oh, no. No, not at all," I responded.


As I talk to Ben and Kipling far too often, I haven't even had the surprise of hearing my voice spark out loud late on in the day...


...but rather have used this extra, spongy space around me to rethink and reboot a bit.


The words "Have Faith" sprung to mind on the morning of Remi's departure. They didn't have such a literal form but were more of a suggestion to believe that the cup is half full, not empty...


...and that there is still much to learn, to discover, to try.


That said, I have finally, gently dipped my toe into the world of Instagram. Now, as a professional photographer's companion, I am usually staunchly against such sites that have the ability to sell their user's images as royalty-free (which is also why I am anti-Pinterest, to read my thoughts about the subject, click here). But I am enjoying seeing the quick glimpses of the lives of my friends around the world. I get it. And besides, the quality of the images that I am taking on my ancient iphone 3 are not exactly sellable material!


As I mentioned on Instagram, I have also been eating differently as I am cooking only for myself and that too has been "food for thought." This means that I have been really enjoying my vegetables and feeling the better for it.


Remi and I actually stopped buying industrial meat last year. When we go up to Banon, we stop in at an excellent butcher (located just behind where this last photo was taken) to stock up on pork and lamb that was raised by local producers under the best of conditions. We freeze the extras when we get back and then parcel them out sparingly over the next few months. The taste is incomparable to the grocery-store equivalent and so a little goes a long way. In French culinary culture, it is a big shift to go towards a flexitarian or "meat as an accompaniment, not always the main ingredient" type of thinking but it is working for us, even if the changes are taking place gradually. 

In thinking about the date on that 16th century door, I can wonder how the people of that time ate on the other side of it as well. Simpler, I am willing to hazard. Sugar and meats were certainly a luxury as they were prohibitively expensive. 

I don't want to just sleepwalk through the preparation of our meals (nor the perpetual presence of a baguette on our table, even if this is France) and have come across a few articles about the "hows and whys" of our diets lately that have really caught my attention: 

Mark Bittman's "Sustainable Resolutions for your Diet" in the New York Times - here
The Head Butler's interview with Dr. David Perlmutter, author of "Grain Brain" - here
Photographer Carla Coulson's dietary treatment in response to being diagnosed with Graves Disease (plus many interesting health links) - here
My friend D.A. Wolf's fun but insightful piece on how to rethink weight gain - here

All of them make good sense to me and so I thought that it might be of interest to you as well, despite it not being the typical Lost in Arles fare. What do you think? Have you made any dietary shifts over the past year or hope to in 2014? Any thoughts or information to share? No matter what, I know that I hope to find a workable, pleasurable balance for this is the "stuff of life"! 

And on that note, I'll leave you with a quote, provided by Edgar at simpleimages2
“Not what we have but what we enjoy constitutes abundance”.-Epicurus
I love that.

To listen: WBGO . They are currently playing Louis Prima-esque tunes, helpful when dancing around trying to stay warm - including, in a truly laugh-inducing coincidence, the Little Richard tune that the lovely Vickie Lester spoke of only yesterday here.


May the rest of your weekend be full of much abundance and joy...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Banon in the sun



I know that it is not healthy nor wise to dwell in the past but I think that I need to borrow a bit more of November's sun this week. Would you agree? 

It was a magnificent morning in Banon, the town that is a ten minute drive from La Buissonade. Remi and I had left the dogs at the cottage for once and it felt wonderful to stroll hand in hand instead of hand in leash. As much as we do love our furry friends, they take up quite a lot of space and energy. Well, to be more precise, ahem, Kipling does. Ben has been trained to be a photographer's dog since he was a wee pup and is as discreet as can be. 


Alas, the other, our wild one, would not have been welcome on that particular morning - November 11th - at the small ceremony for Armistice Day. It was a moving minute of silence at 11am, one that made me think of sacrifice and those lost for the common good.



Afterwards, each of us carried our thoughts up the hill to the uppermost levels of Banon, a walk that we had surprisingly never done before.


As always, in our quietude there was extra room to see.



Banon is not a flashy town. These are simple homes lived in year 'round.


A certain pride, whether of the national or local kind, touches me.



I wonder what histories have passed through and been forgotten. Hundreds and hundreds of years of footfall, hearts beating.


Shadows shift and a small blue door opens as a well-dressed women steps out to water her plants.


Tending to the present, then... 


...all while respecting the past. 

Perhaps that is the balance I seek today, that certain blast of sun to warm then open me up slowly, slowly preparing to bloom.


to listen:


I have probably written all of this before for a different day for another scene. It sounds familiar. But as I have also already mentioned in one of my favorite posts, sometimes the looseness of my memory is an oddly wrapped gift.