Monday, July 30, 2012

Meet Wijnand Boon, Peace-Walker

A week ago, I received an email that caught my attention. "Peace-walker passing through Arles" was the title. "Oh, really?" I thought with a sardonic arch of the eyebrow. But as I continued reading, I was immediately intrigued. It had been sent by Wijnand Boon (pronounced Vine-andt) and after explaining that he had come across my blog while googling Arles, here is how he introduced his mission:

"I have started walking from the Netherlands in September 2010 and I just got back in France after having crossed Portugal and Spain. I am on my way to Cairo in Egypt for a peace organization called MasterPeace ( I find my places to stay along my way through the internet, the mission being to show how the internet can bring people together and that help can be found everywhere. A simple, positive message and I try to share my experiences with as many people as possible."

Wijnand's message was extremely articulate and included links to articles that had been written about his journey as well as to the social media accounts that he uses both to document his experience and solicit aid. He was simply asking if Remi and I would be willing to host him for Friday night, when he estimated that he would be in Arles. After a verification of all of the info (once a journalist, always a journalist) we quickly agreed. And I am so glad that we did.

He arrived in the early evening and after hauling up the fantastically designed cart that holds his belongings, we settled in for a long apéro during which we learned more about him and his fascinating project. He explained that it was initially inspired after a speech by the Dutch Queen Beatrix in which she claimed that the internet was pulling people further apart, that the essence of virtual connections are a detriment to society. Wijnand was determined not only to prove her wrong but decided to go on a pilgrimage using social media to do so. Via Twitter and Facebook, he has reached out to strangers along his route. So far, he has stayed with around 250 families (from sleeping on a mat in a crowded studio to ocean-view mansions) with nary a bad experience in the lot.

A lot of that has to do with Wijnand, of course. He is incredibly charming and well-spoken on so many subjects that at one point I turned to him and asked "is there anything that doesn't interest you?" He is aware that people might be shy or nervous about letting a stranger into their homes and has that magical quality of immediately putting someone at ease. It was a delight listening to his rapid fire political and economic discussions with Remi that took place until long into the night and watching him capture the essence of the Saturday market the next morning. He is never intrusive and was respectful of our schedules and space. As he was recovering from an injury, we were in ready agreement that he stay with us for an extra night, for in truth, while we were providing a roof and dinner, he was giving us just as much if not more in return, including performing a few songs on his guitar.

I have written quite effusively on this blog about the positive and real impact I feel from the contacts that I have made here and Wijnand is literally walking proof of that. It is just that he is taking it to a global level. He is an incredibly inspiring person that embodies the idea that we can make our dreams into reality and even if we don't know what the future holds, we just need to keep going, one step at a time...

Friends, Wijnand is heading East towards Salon-de-Provence on his way towards Rome and then Jerusalem before his swing towards Cairo in time for MasterPeace's International Day of Peace in September 2014. An approximate list of the cities that he will be travelling to can be found here. Would any of you be willing to host him on his journey or do you know anyone that might? And if that doesn't interest you (and he does not put pressure on folks), would you be willing to mention this on either Twitter or Facebook? You can find his links below and his email is

Wijnand's project is Ben-approved! 

Wijnand Boon:

Check out my website

Follow me on Twitter

Join me on Facebook
Twalk with me

Twalk with me for MasterPeace

Help me share my story and complete my mission:

One day of walking costs about five euro's, but you already make my day with a cup of coffee a month. You can support my mission by donating to 3156.17.918. I thank you for your support!

PS You can also help by retweeting on Twitter and share my posts on Facebook with you friends. Help spread the word!

Bonne Route, Wijnand. Here is one for the road...With all our best from Heather, Remi and Ben...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Perchance to dream

We all like to have our wonder worlds to dip our toes into now again, more refreshing than any summer slip of a pool. Just as the emptier the belly, the bigger the imagined feast, so it is perfect timing to get lost in a dream.

Utterly hidden in the elbow of a hill is a chapel built one thousand years ago. It is on a true no where land, far from the glamourous corners of Provence, up a track so difficult to trace that each time we visit, we drive past it blindly a few times before saying with a sigh "there."

We climb up slowly, stepping over spent bullets on this terrain de chasse or hunting grounds. As it is not the season, Ben can bounce ahead doing his bunny best to beat us, with his nose low and sniffing.

So would you like to hear our little bit of wishing? Of the drop a coin in the fountain kind? 

We love the idea of reclaiming the chapel and making it into a home. We would clear the blocked out arches and replace the random rocks with steel-framed glass doors or add an extension, une véranda in which the modern conveniences could be housed.

There is plenty of room inside to build a sleeping loft above the nave, to lay out carpets and stack up books.

It would be a wonderful place to be quiet, to be forgotten.

And so we did our best to make it ours, just for an hour or so. 

Ever the explorer, Remi can run on the fumes of discovery. I need more substantial fare and happily we had stopped off at a roadside bakery for our improvised picnic.

Backs resting against the solid stone, we let our minds stop doing the talking and walking.

Quiet and happiness amidst the cigales singing.

It is one of those places that puts me at ease. Maybe those prayers of so long, long ago are still hovering, protecting. But I look forward to going back. It is our little secret. 

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend! 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Burning bright

Oh la laaaa! The light! It is tiger, tiger burning bright. How I love it especially these recent days with the gift of a baby breeze, just strong enough to flop your hat. 

Speaking of gifts, it is time to spread a little bit of this sun around. In my previous post (and thank you so much for all of your thoughtful comments), I mentioned that the lovely Natalie from Jewel yet to find had presented me with The Sunshine Award, one for "bloggers who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere." Now some of you might sniffle (as a certain unnamed French man whose name begins with "R" and ends with "i") about this not being a "real" award, just something passed along between bloggers but guess what? NO AWARD FOR YOU! Heh, heh...

Now on to my list. It was tempting to just steal Natalie's list as they include some of my favorite blogeueses on the planet nor did I want to repeat my previous list for there are too many others to mention...

Here we go, in no particular order:

1) Dash at the French Sampler. Some of you might remember what a fabulous time we had when we met up in Aix. She is brilliant and has an encyclopedia noggin' of all that is fabulous. Unfortunately, she has been on a bit of a hiatus. I am secretly hoping that this little reminder will give her the boost in the derrière to start up again because she is missed!

2) Jane and Lance Hattat of Hattat. Similarly, when the Hattats go on holiday for too long, general panic starts to ensue on the blogosphere. They have the most loyal readership I have seen anywhere and a glance at their current post--which somehow makes a visit from the Queen of Norway while they were in residence at the mind-bogglingly beautiful Villa Massei seem just the most normal thing in the world--will quickly convince you why.

3) Jeanne at Collage of Life. That she was literally blogging from the airport before boarding the airplane before her moving to Vietnam on Sunday says it all. Her generosity of spirit knows no bounds nor does her creativity. She takes an open world-view on life and I will eagerly be looking forward to her discovery of her new home. 

4) Helen Tilston of Helen Tilston Painter. In her current post, she magically weaves working with beeswax, the phenomenal symmetry of the Fibonacci numbers with a poetry reading by Yeats himself. Not to mention that she is kindness personified.

5) Tabitha at Bourbon & pearls. Because, no one and I mean no one makes me laugh as hard and as regularly as Tabs. Even when her Scottishness leaves me wondering what on Earth she is talking about, I still can't help it. Besides, she can weave a Madame Bovary reference into a post about hemlines without seeming the least bit twee.

6) Aidan at Conjugating Irregular Verbs. She is no-fuss about her writing, is Texan-sized positive, a fellow expat in the South of France and has an adorable Golden who may or may not be Ben's long-lost girlfriend. What is not to like?

7) Jennifer of Gustia and The Auntie Times. Although she spends most of the year in Monaco, we won't hold it against her, especially as she is delightfully frank in her writings about her everyday life and does a lot of good through a baking charity that she established soon after arriving from Canada. She is similarly unpretentious in being a "Vegetarian Gourmet" who takes her readers along to some of the world's finest addresses for veggiemania.

8) Ella of Tales from the chambre de bonne. Girlfriend is brutally honest. She moved to Paris, was engaged, got her heart broken and yet has turned her life around and made it work. Or is trying. She is a work in progress but makes no bones about it which is great because aren't we all?

9) Mimi at Manger. A recent find, Mimi has immediately charmed me not only with her life--she is beautiful, as are her kids and her husband's photography is a stunning update on Dutch Master stills--but she has a prescient knack for offering up a recipe for the precise thing that you want to be eating. Delightful.

10) Elizabeth Minchilli at Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome. Elizabeth is an incredibly accomplished author of books that make you whimper such as "Italian Rustic" not to mention being a regular contributor to basically every single design magazine that you have coveted for the past twenty years. She has also written two food apps (for Florence and Rome) and is now giving specialized food tours (sign me up for the cocktail workshop please). But her blog. I receive it usually just about time for the apéro and sit down with a glass of wine because it is always something to be savoured slowly. Grazie.

For those of you that choose to accept your little bit of hello, you are simply asked to make a mention of the person that nominated you (aka this little redhead) and then pass on the award to ten others and let them know. It seems as if the embarrassing rule of answering ten questions about yourself has recently been shuffled down the deck--hallelujah! But I will follow in Natalie's footsteps and add magnanimously that if there is anything that you really want to know, just ask.

One last little note, today I am guest-posting over at Tish Jett's blog, A femme d'un certain age about some wonderful and ecological rose-scented products by the company Tadé Pays de Levant. Voice le lien:

I raise my pastis to you in gratitude for staying with me for so long!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Shadows tracing out the light

Sometimes we need a bit of time in the shadows in order to better see the light all around us.

I'll admit to being a bit in the doldrums since my Sister left. I always am when family leaves after a visit.  Not only that ease of connection that I have already waxed rhapsodically about but also the promise of unforgotten memory (certainly for me who struggles with memory problems) that is luxury and love and home all rolled into one. Fortunately, I have a wonderful family here in Remi and Ben to understand such sadness, such missing without mistaking it for anything else.

And so I had my blinders on for a few days. Those of thought that cover all else. A moment of me not me. And yet, you guessed it, me nonetheless.

Swinging on a cello song for too long until...

...with a blink, a subtle shift from an outline to taking it all in again, like a big breath.

And how fortunate I am to live in Provence where the light will chase after you relentlessly until you love it back, like you should!

But it is not the only source. Sometimes even little gestures work wonders. My honey buying me flowers today. Not to mention such lovely folks on the internet that know how to do a person good. 

My friend Natalie gave me a little surprise yesterday, yet another blog award! Natalie always inspires me with the precision of her eye on Jewel yet to find. Isn't that the best name for a blog? And yes, she is very talented for searching out the beauty in both surprising places (as in her recent series on glass) and illuminating aspects of the well-known (such as her exceptional series on Guadi's Barcelona architecture). She is also incredibly generous in all of her well-thought out comments here, as many of you already know. Merci, Natalie!

And so on to the glamour of the day, Natalie awarded Lost in Arles the Sunshine Blog Award, one for  bloggers "who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere." Now, that made me smile for I get so much that is positive from all of you! 

Having excellent taste (ah-hem), Natalie chose so many of my fellow blog friends that I would have passed this award on to that I will need a moment to make my list. And so next week! We have good friends on the way to spend the afternoon with us followed by a yummy dinner and a movie party on the Rhone tomorrow. Looks like the sun is shining brightly again on this part of the world!

Wishing you all a wonderful, wonderful weekend...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Where to eat in the Alpilles, L'Oustaloun

Undoubtedly, one of the greatest joys of summer in Provence is spending several hours sous le soileil leisurely dining at an outdoor café. A little bit of delicious, a touch of rosé and wonderful people-watching are guaranteed. And one of the most gorgeous spots to do so is on the place or town square of the small village of Maussane in the heart of the Alpilles. I think that I have finally have found my favorite restaurant there, one with an excellent rapport qualité-prix.  I had mentioned L'Oustaloun in A taste of summer some while back. So long ago that we were still in our last apartment and we had just had a garden party. Le sigh. But back to the happy bits...

...such as this so simple but so good it hurts chevre croustillant or tart goat cheese wrapped in a light phyllo and drizzled with...honey. Ooh. This was the starter for the menu du jour at only 17€... followed by a plat of tender beef filets and cumin-spiced potatoes served with a divine garlic cream sauce for dipping. As I only have beef only a few times per year (after nearly twenty years of being allergic to all the crazy business that has been added to so much American beef), I want it to be perfect and yes, voila. This is comfort food folks, done well and so what more do you need for a relaxed afternoon? But I will be back for their more complex autumn/winter menu most certainly...

My Sister was absolutely delighted with her more reasonable and seasonable Planche Fraicheur--consider it a summer Best Of including gazpacho, jambon sec, more goat cheese plus a salad and crostini--at 18€ with a glass of wine included. She appreciated the quality of all of that was served as well as the dose of freshness on a hot summer day.

I never like to feel closed in on a terrace and in Arles our Place du Forum can be a bit of a circus with so much bustle and push. Not so at L'Oustaloun with a wide open view of the church with its random ringing bell, the swish of the plane trees and the sweet mist from the neighbouring fountain. Now, if you don't feel the Provençal charm in such an environment, I am not sure where you will...

The service was flawless, old-school style. Never intrusive yet friendly and on top of the game. Mr. Ben was brought a giant bowl of water and well, of course, he had many bits served under the table. As you can see, he was equally pleased by our visit.

This lunch was took place on the last day of my Sister's visit and what a fine experience it was. As I mentioned in the previous post, L'Oustaloun also has charming rooms at very reasonable prices. For anyone looking to truly immerse themselves in the experience of an authentic, albeit elegant Provençal village, look no further than this lovely address. 

place de L'Église
13520 Maussane-Les-Alpilles
Tel.: +33 (0)4 90 54 45 57

Bon appétit! 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Ready, set, go!

Dah, dah, daaaah...ta-da! Our lustre or chandelier! Now, I'll leave it to you design folk to call this a reveal but those of you who have been reading for any length of time will know that this has been one long, long search. Ah me, the good things are worth waiting for aren't they. Because, truly the universe threw us a bone this time. One for me to think about when I claim with a blustery sigh that my luck is no more.

I found it on French ebay. All of the branches detach from the base and the patina is sublime. It is rusted and the wood is cracked, the real thing. We are guessing mid-1800s. Right away my alarm starting ringing so hard that I could barely sit still but I am no fool. I know that beauties like this don't go unperceived by the professionals. Except that for some reason, it did. It is one yard by one yard, absolutely giantly gorgeous and we got it for...90€. Yeah, you read that correctly, baby! Ding, ding, ding we have a winner!!

And it arrived like the elegant lady that she is, right on time before my Sister's arrival, just when I was hoping to spruce up les environs a little bit (although I know that Robin and I could have a great time in a tent in the wilderness, still, bah I can't help it). I then turned towards our pair of bridge chairs (from the 50s and 30s if you are looking left to right) and finally bought some wonderful cream fabric with a slight stretch in it from my wonderful seller at the market (more of her soon) for 10€. I do not have a hand for this type of thing but between tacks, sewing and even moving tape (!), they look a fine spot better than they did with the "temporary" getup that has been in place for a year!

So one plus two equals something much more pulled together on our non-existent budget. All that remained were a few more touches...

...gathering the most winsome lavender roses to make a girl sigh...

...stocking up on regional specialities until the refrigerator door would barely close...airing the vintage linen sheets...but most importantly...

...ramping up the welcoming committee!

As I have most likely made clear by now, a lovely time was had by all and I will be sharing more of our time together soon. Robin, come back soon! I love you, Sister! 

Thanks to all of you that were so appreciative of my last post about our shooting an ad for Apple in Botswana. For those of you that for some crazy reason were not glued to your computers this weekend, you can see it here. And yes, I will happily continue with our Past Adventures, including reposting the initial two for all of you wonderful new readers. 

Have a fantastic week everyone! 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Past Adventures: I dream of...elephants

©Remi Benali

It has been quite some time since I have contributed to this series, one that focuses on some of the previous adventures that my companion, Remi and I experienced during our whirlwind years of working as a team of travel writer and photographer for the French press. Today's post is not at all something that I had planned but was delightfully surprised by a fun cross in the wires of the internet. It is a long one, so feel free to settle in with your morning coffee or an evening glass of wine.

Jeanne, of the charming blog I Dream Of, recently made a post for her husband's birthday in which she included several photos of their travels together. I immediately had a hunch that I recognized the elephant in one of the photos. Our world is so overwhelmingly huge and yet there is that inevitable six degrees of separation, one that apparently applies to certain famous pachyderms as well! For Jeanne and her husband as well as Remi and I had the great fortune to experience the wonders of Abu Camp, a luxury tent resort in the Okavango Delta in Botswana and to meet the elephants that make this safari so exceptional. 

To read about Jeanne's experience on her honeymoon, please click over to her links about Cathy and the herd as well as an evocative description of Abu Camp. Both are beautifully written and the first even features one of Jeanne's watercolors (many of her fellow blog friends are looking forward to what direction she will take with her art, having recently had the courage to leave a lucrative position in the fashion industry).

Remi and I found our way to Abu Camp for a very different reason. When we received the call from TBWA in Los Angeles in 2004 about the possibility of shooting an ad for Apple and their software Final Cut Pro, it was beyond anything that we had ever hoped could happen. They had a very specific concept for the ad featuring a man sitting in a tent on the plains of Africa while editing a film on his laptop (inspired by a wildlife documentarian) with animals in the background during the "magic hour" of either sunrise or sunset.

Now, this idea posed a challenge for one main reason--the animals! Such wild animals will either flee or attack in such a situation so we needed to think outside the box. As I was working on the project as a producer, I first contacted the amazing Giraffe Manor outside of Nairobi, who kindly referred me to another possibility, one that suggested the tamed and trained elephants at Abu Camp. After hours upon hours of negotiating with the Botswana Film Commission, we received our shooting permit. Due to scheduling, we were able to rent out the camp in its entirety, along with the elephants as well as their capable handlers...but only for one weekend!

So, as thrilled as we were, the pressure was most certainly on. We arrived on Friday evening along with Bob, the model and Adam, the Artistic Director sent from TBWA's Johannesburg office (you can see the team above in the safari vehicle that is driven by Al, the camp's convivial owner). Immediately, we started to scout for a location--in advertising the client expects that their rough sketch for the ad be reproduced exactly as drawn--across the glorious terrain.

We only had four shooting sessions--yes, two sunrises and two sunsets. Our days were spent looking over the polaroids from the previous shoot and searching for other location possibilities. Alas, there was not a spare moment to partake in one of the elephant-back safaris for which the camp is so deservedly famous.

The shoots themselves were incredibly complicated, involving technical precision on Remi's part (can you believe that this was before he had changed to digital so he had to rely entirely on his gut to tell him whether he had the shot or not?). It took great courage on Bob's part to sit inside the tent with the elephants so close by as their handlers had to be out of the shot. At one point, the baby elephant (at a mere two tons) charged Remi, who held his ground, crisis was averted and he gained the respect of the handlers. 

©Remi Benali, please do not Pin, borrow or steal

And the result? We did it! On the very last shoot, it all came together. Talk about relief! Above is a small representation of the ad taken from Remi's website. Was it well received? The team at TBWA forwarded an email from Steve Jobs with his two word response: "Love it." 

As it would happen, our last day at Abu Camp also happened to be my 35th birthday. Along with finally getting to spend some quality time with Cathy, the matriarch of the herd (and the link with Jeanne), we were surprised with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot by the truly fantastic team at Abu (albeit also to celebrate the wrap of the shoot) and then we headed on a quick safari while en route to the tiny plane that would take us back to reality. I had just spied a momma lion and her cubs when the above photo was taken. It is my favorite photo of me ever, capturing a moment when I was filled with utter confidence and joy. 

What magic life can bring. Our time at Abu Camp was short but so incredible that with the distance of time, I have a hard time believing that it actually happened. But it did and I will always hold the memory of walking amidst the elephants on the finest birthday of my life (so far) very dear to my heart. I dream of them still.

Thank you for staying with me for this long post. Wishing you all a wonderful weekend and for those of you in France, an excellent Bastille Day!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mutiny on the bounty

Hello everyone! I would like to start off by thanking all of you for your kindness regarding my last post and also for those of you that were so supportive about yesterday's guest post at Tish Jett's amazing blog, A Femme d'un Certain Age. For those of you that missed it, you can see it here.

Now, most of you might know that I avoid covering our markets in Arles like the plague even if they are some of the very finest in Provence. It is just too cliché! And I do try from falling into those traps but just like the allure of lavender, there are elements that are too beautiful to be denied. So a little mutiny against my own overly controlling captain. This morning as I strolled with my Sister through the market, the light absolutely caressed the veggies, bounced off the freshly baked loaves of pain and lit up the honey like stained glass. 

Hoping that you all are enjoying the finest of your season, wherever you are...