Thursday, June 27, 2013

Beep beep

And I'm off, quicker than a fleeting shadow. 

We are heading north for a wedding--no, not our own, yes, I am taking my camera and no, the puppers will not be ring bearers.

This will be the first wedding that I am attending in France and I am curious as to how that will roll but above all delighted for the happy and deserving couple.

Wishing you all a wonderful next few days, I should be back at this space early next week.

Monday, June 24, 2013

La Côte Bleue

It was 2:30pm, my stomach was rumbling and the heat of anger was building between my ears. Remi had an idea in his head and he wasn't going to stop for our picnic until he had made it a reality. I tried to bite back my bitterness at the thought of the near empty beaches we had passed along the way at Sausset-les-Pins and even a rocky crique at Carry-le-Rouet with a direct view on the sea where the dogs would have been welcome too. On we drove beyond beach shacks crowded with laughing diners on their second bottle of rosé and relaxed bronzed beauties languorously rearranging their limbs. 

I crossed my legs for the tenth time, trying to shake the spiders out of my veins and worried as the dogs shuffled with longing in the back. "Ok, ok just this last try. I know what I am looking for exists," Remi insisted and it made me furious. "A bit of land with a view above the sea? All to ourselves? On a Sunday in high season?" I responded silently for the sarcasm was rising fast, I could see that there were no roads for where he wanted to go, we had been turned back at dead ends too many times...And then he found it. 

The unmarked path rose sharply, dissembled into dirt and opened onto an enclosure...

...where two empty picnic tables were waiting, not a person in sight...

...with a view over the sea and...

...Ben! Get out of the photo!...

...the shade of pines to swish with the crash of the waves into a patch of peace.

Immediately, the goods were laid out. Paté, jambon, beurre, cornichons, brie. The simpler our picnics become, the more I enjoy them.

I kicked off my shoes under the table...

...where several beggars slyly surveyed our every move until...

...with a sigh Remi and I laid back on our respective benches, looking up at the flickering sun until sleep claimed us all.

We woke refreshed, not having been disturbed in the least during our sieste. I couldn't help but think of the crowds we had left behind in Arles. And of all the times during our travels when Remi would declare, camera at the ready, "I just need a man to walk across in front of the monument/church/mosque/temple now," and...he would.

But, as glorious as this is, others are more fortunate than we. Several small cabanons are perched at the cliff's summit, including this petit bijou...

...that looked out on to quite a view.

We took the dirt path to its end and clambered up to the top of a winding crest. All of Marseille was waiting to greet us.

It was quite something to behold.

Scrub-like maquis that are surprisingly similar to the land of our nearby Alpilles, did a dip drop directly into the Big Blue.

"Ici, ça s'appelle La Côte Bleue." We were corrected by a fit gentleman who paused to pet the puppers while out for his daily walk through the hills. His smile widened as he added with a wink, "C'est la Riviera pour les pauvres." And yet we certainly didn't feel so poor at the moment, on the contrary, quite rich with the giddy surprise to have found a spot guaranteed to set the dream motors running after eight years of living so close and yet so far.

Perhaps this panoramic stretch had been surpassed by the more scenic calanques further east? Or is it just a carefully guarded secret? 

It was bumpy breaking back into the bustle below.

So I thought of the man striding the hills above us as we turned the car back towards Arles. How he must be breathing in the salt, the wind whipping his cap, no sound but the distant sea between his ears like a cupped shell. I turned over my shoulder and took a grateful glance to the Mediterranean as we turned inland, knowing that when the moment is right, I will be more patient. It will be worth all the time in the world to sail into La Côte Bleu once more...

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Renaissance of the Roquette, part three


Long light is stretched lean and tight by the Solstice but has been ever so in this corner of Provence. Other seasons, other times have left their mark beyond this eternal summer. For two thousand years, the Roquette has been inhabited, there is still a rue de la Monnaie from when the mint of the Roman Empire was transferred to Arles in 313 AD. The fishermen that worked the port of the Rhone, creating power as they pulled and docked, have always lived right in this neighborhood. Or did until the trains came and the industrial age with it, leaving their livelihood to sink slowly down. But the buildings remain. Not all have been made their pretty. And yet the details present a palette, one that is both  beautiful and true. 

So this renaissance is taking flight but it will fade and be replaced by future hopefuls, leaving trails and lounging on another June 21. 

I thought that this would be the round-up of this week in the Roquette but Remi suggested another post about the life on the quay. We shall see but in the meantime...

...for those of you in France or participating countries, Bon Fête de la Musique!

...and for everyone else, make some music of your own this fine weekend...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Renaissance of the Roquette, part two

The renaissance of the Roquette neighborhood in Arles has been driven by the people, places and pets (!) that are hoping to shake it's previously shaky reputation by transforming it into one of the town's most charming areas. But come along, let's see for ourselves...

Let's begin on the rue des Porcelets as it leads to the Place Paul Doumer. At all hours, it is bustling with activity...

...but not all of the merchants are newcomers. The Genin family installed their boucherie-charcuterie shop, La Farandole, on this corner in 1877 and have fabricated their world-renowned Saucission d'Arles since 1655! That means that five generations have kept their recipe a secret. Did Vincent Van Gogh enjoy this tasty hard sausage? Quite possibly!

Further along on the left is Le Gibolin. Something tells me that the crazy Dutchman might have appreciated this spot for its tipple. Brigitte and Luc, two former parisiens, have established the spot as Arles' only cave à manger, where you can pop in to buy a bottle of wine or sit down for considerably hearty Provençal food such as piquillos peppers stuffed with morue and a fine daube de taureau in the colder months. The town's movers and shakers are happy to elbow up at the wooden communal tables for a chance to imbibe the warm ambiance.

Le Gibolin
13 rue des Porcelets
Price: around 16-35€ without wine

Keep walking, past the delightful children's book store, and Ben (isn't that a fine name? ;) will give you a welcome you won't forget in his tiny but charming shop. We chatted for quite some time (he recognized me because of the puppers--yes, I am famous for mes chiens) but I will definitely head back to try his incredibly reasonably priced delicacies. He offers up sandwiches, salads and paninis with over thirty fresh, seasonal toppings for you to choose from. As he stated, "It is like Subway...but better!"  With ingredients like home-made foie gras dusted with sea salt, fresh goat cheese with mint and shallots and Paletta Iberica on the menu, I would say that is something of an understatement, wouldn't you?

Le Comptoir Des Porcelets
21 rue des Porcelets
Tel.: 04 90 4905 46
Open non-stop, very unusual for Arles
Sandwichs: 4.50-5.50 Euros, Salads: 4-5 Euros, Paninis: 5-6 Euros
Home-made daily desserts: 3.50 Euros
Also can be ordered for takeaway for a picnic on the Rhone!

Cross over to the right hand side and dive into the cool depths of Grenad'in Ice, which has only been open for two weeks. My food radar doesn't miss a bit and so, dear reader, I made the hefty sacrifice of researching it for you on a scorching day. Florence is the owner and ice-cream maker (her labo is visible from the shop). Everything is from scratch. She buys the fruit at the market and even bakes the pain d'epices to crumble into the flavor of the same name. That was exactly what I chose after asking Florence what was her favorite...

Can you tell that I enjoyed it just a tiny bit? 

(Confession: this photo was taken after I had delightedly slurped down nearly half of the cone, portions are far more generous)

Grenad'in Ice
20 rue des Porcelets
One Scoop: 2.50 Euros, eat more at your own risk.
Milkshakes and sundaes available as well and Florence hopes to soon offer a few salé options too.

While there were plenty of seating options in the cheery space, I chose to park myself for prime people watching at a bench in the Place Paul Doumer just beyond. Such a land of far niente this shady café dotted square is. Clearly folks had nowhere pressing to be... for the Mommy's on their after school runs. The stylish model thin woman with the red espadrilles flared up an ugly spot of jealousy in me until I remembered one very important fact: she wasn't enjoying an ice cream cone, now, was she?

There are several new establishments on the place, including L'Epicerie Moderne at #24, which specializes in the finest products from the region such as olive oils and red Camargue rice, all displayed with a retro touch... well as Cécilia Flor at #16, where Sébastien celebrates my favorite--bouquets of all-white flowers...ahhh...

On a chilly winter's afternoon ten years ago, we were welcomed out of the Mistral and in to the fantastic antique store Circa to have a cup of tea. It was a kind gesture that I never forgot and so it was with little surprise that I learned that it is something of a mini-cultural centre with exhibitions and musical performances surrounding the excellent pieces for sale, all from the 1930-1970s.

2 rue de La Roquette

A similarly fine mix of deco and welcome can be found at La Pousada, a jasmine covered bijou of a bed & breakfast (only three bedrooms!), mere steps from the Rhone. But you might just be tempted to stay in et faire le cocooning at this sweetly serene spot where the buildings ancient materials have been incorporated into a comfortable contemporary environment. We love that! 

La Pousada
9 rue de la Croix-Rouge
Rooms from 80-116 Euros, closed between mid-November to the beginning of March

Climbing jasmine also beckons at the entry to L'Hôtel Particulier, which is, in my completely subjective opinion, the finest hotel in Arles, if not in the entire region. It might just be my aesthetic ideal, kind of like if Paola Navone designed the welcome area beyond the pearly gates. This unbelievably beautiful lieu (my design friends most likely have the Zuber wall-papered bedroom on their inspiration boards) certainly deserves its own post and then some, if only I can summon the courage to ask! For that is how much esteem I have for Brigitte Pagès de Oliveira, the hotels creator and one of the absolutely one of the key harbingers of the Renaissance of the Roquette...

L'Hôtel Particulier
4 rue de la Monnaie
Rooms from 309-509 Euros

I hope that you have enjoyed this second little walk through one of Arles' oldest and most fascinating neighborhoods...there is more to come!