Monday, April 28, 2014

Peaceful Mazet rental outside of L'Isle sur la Sorgue, Vaucluse


For once, I am the one that uncovered le bijou, something that is usually Remi's specialty.

I had actually seen the ad for a mazet rental in the Vaucluse region a few years ago. It promised "tranquilité absolue" or absolute tranquility, something that definitely peaked my interest. But then we discovered Simiane la Rotonde and never looked back. Alas, our cabanon there had already been booked for Easter and for various reasons (including not having 100% faith in our ancient Saab) we didn't want to travel too far from home. And so I dug through my files and had a pleasing "Ah-ha" moment when I came upon the mazet again, hidden in a forest and yet close to all. It was available and I knew immediately upon arriving that we had discovered a true find.

The late afternoon light played in the trees and through the hills rolling out in front of us. Besides the owner's house - set a fair distance a part from the mazet - we could see nothing but forest and sky. No roads, no cars, no electric cables. Nothing. The wind whispered "Welcome." The birds agreed.

Was I ready to drop into the world's most comfortable loungers for a nap? Most certainly and soon...

 Patsy, the owner's young and sprightly female, stopped by and immediately had Ben and Kipling under her thrall. Even before I stepped across the threshold, I knew that we would be good here, more than good.

While the mazet is only 45 square meters large, the owner's wife explained to me that they built it little by little, "the traditional way, how the shepherd's used to" so that no space would be wasted and only what was needed, as it was needed, would be added on.

The kitchen was, without a doubt, the best stocked of all of the rentals that we have seen so far. I could have cooked up a storm...and occasionally, when I could shake myself from the throes of vacationitis, I did.

How I appreciated that there are windows everywhere...

...all the better to keep an eye on what certain creatures were up to outside.

There is a television and DVD player that went virtually untouched, as well as a portable radio that let in crackly classical music after the bird's symphony had calmed for the evening.

Even at the end of April, we were grateful for the really efficient pôele or wood-burning stove, especially during the rainy days. The classical music played then too.

That we all felt right at home was obvious...

...and I slept well in the small but comfortable bedroom. I would look forward to the moment each morning when I could pull back the curtain to find out what the day had in store.

The bathroom was perfectly clean with a large, steaming shower that was a spa miracle in comparison to our current minuscule sprinkler.

The old pine farm table was quickly covered with stacks of reading material after this photo was taken. I loved the hours that Remi and I spent across from each other, heads bent in taking in the new.

But truly, outside is the place to be... we discovered immediately our first evening at the apéro, when were given a large basket of the freshest strawberries I had tasted this year.

The view and their sweetness worked well together. 

A path leads towards the owner's house, where under an elegant stone archway...

...lies a pool that the renters of the mazet are invited to use. At 17° C it was still too cold for us, although a certain furry being dipped in his front paws and was stopped from performing a full belly flop just in the nick of time...

In July and August, the owners move into the mazet and rent out their home (with the pool). It sprawls out over several levels and is a perfect example of the atypical architecture found in this part of Provence.

They built both the home and the mazet themselves. The project has been a long one...

...and is still going on as they feel that there are always improvements to be made.

Both houses can be found at the end of a private, one kilometer long dirt track that guarantees the privacy that we so craved.

I have never experienced such quiet in France and never rested so well either. There are hiking trails criss-crossing their two hectares of land and leading in to the hills beyond. I have much to share of the beauty that we found on our walks there. The memories are solid and simply good. 

(Smiling Golden not included)

What a gift to know that we have found this charming refuge, only ten minutes outside of L'Isle sur la Sorgue (world-famous for its antique shops) and yet a world a part. Many of the most beautiful villages of the Vaucluse are only a short drive away, although you might just be content to stay put, as we were. Yes, we hope to return and soon.

Le mazet chez Les Romans
Between L'Isle sur la Sorgue and Roque sur Pernes
Owner: Michel Marcouf
Tel. +33 (0)4 90 38 54 63
Current price: from 220€ to 390€ depending on the season, not including deposit

To rent from HomeAway in English:
Pour le louer chez Abritel en Français:
Owner's website for 360° views of both houses:

As always, it goes without saying (hopefully) that I am not compensated in any way for my rental suggestions, I just like to pass along a good thing when I see it.
Have a great week everyone...

Friday, April 25, 2014

Human Resources

The sun had finally wrestled the rain, a sort of ha-ha jest of farewell but please come back. I could feel the hot release of this morning's dew as the plants exhlaed into green. I blinked and shaded my eyes for a moment and kept moving. 

It was the last morning of our semi-annual "Escape the Bullfights" week in the country and we were walking, following a dirt track that might date back one thousand years or more. Kipling was far out ahead followed by Remi, then Ben trotting with his nose to the ground, then me. The usual family order.

Far along the path, so far as to have long ago stopped thinking of the packing up and the imminent return I was not yet ready for, we came upon an abandoned orchard - ancient, wizened and peaked. Spirals of bark lay in the grass exposing the trunks gone grey. I called out to Remi, "Do you think that  it is really hopeless? Nothing could be done to save them?" "Oh no, they are dead. Look," he responded. And yet, further on, in the midst of such bleakness, one tree, one, had branches that were somehow still alive. Tiny rock-hard cherries dropped down from the leaves and swung trapeze-like in the breeze. 

Today, back at my desk with headphones in my ears to block out the street noise, I am keeping the tree forefront in my mind. That, plus the symphony of birdsong that I rose to each morning. How they did sing! Both are forms of life pushing through with beauty. Unfortunately, my little iphone can't begin to capture the breadth and depth of sound nor the Cuckoo that kicked in just as I hit "stop." Such a wealth of human resources, isn't it? Human resourcing? I am well aware and grateful.

I had a really wonderful time - one 'quasiment sans internet', which was a good reprieve. Thank you for still being here and have a lovely weekend...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Time to skeedaddle

It is time to skeedaddle, mes amis. Ah yes, do you hear the pounding of hooves in the Arena and the rolling of wine barrels towards the bars? It can only mean one thing, the Feria de Pâques has arrived yet again. 

And this year, we have a new bodega or nightclub that is conveniently located right under...

...our bedroom window! So let's follow that arrow...

...and leave the old things behind...

...for a bit of new!

Some time in the outdoors... watch the shadows twist and turn...

...under the big blue sky.

I will let the crowds slake their blood-thirst and come back to the quieter Arles that I know and love next week. So please pardon me, it is time to dosey I go...

Kids, I know that a lot of you don't have instagram (although you don't need a smart phone to follow along, just take a gander here) so I thought that I would share some of my recent favorite photos. I have prepared a few very light posts for while we are gone. Alas someone beat us to the punch and reserved our beloved cabanon in the Luberon but we have found another in the country outside of L'Isle sur la Sorgue which looks lovely. However, they have told us that internet and phone connections are shaky. So if you don't hear a peep from me, not to worry, I'll be back soon and I will take this time to wish you a bit in advance a very Happy Easter weekend for those that are celebrating and for everyone else, Happy Spring!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Not mine but ours

Today's post is a simple one and if the environment looks familiar, well, it is because I wrote about it only one week ago. And while I often struggle and then make peace with my memory problems, this is not the case here. If anything I felt hyper aware when thinking about sharing this with you all, my senses on alert.

Admittedly, we had experienced a rough week, capped off by the out-of-nowhere announcement that our wonderful Range Rover, who had carried us along on adventures too numerous to count, had bit the dust. Finito. Just like that. Fortunately, we have a positively ancient Saab 900 turbo (yes, the car from "Sideways") that has been patiently waiting on stand by at the public parking lot. A new battery was plopped in, she was ready to roar and so a much needed picnic was prepared.

As it was a day not to take risks but rather solely reap rewards, we both knew to head back to the land outside of Uzes that comforts us so. We stayed for hours, to the point where the dogs were getting restless, uncertain what to make of Remi's sleeping form on the blanket. I started walking and they bounded after me eagerly. 

I traced the perimeter of the upper terrace of vines as if I owned it, so sure were my feet slapping on the ground, crunching through the soil. And then I stopped in my tracks and slowly turned in a circle, gazing. "Of course, this isn't mine but I am so lucky that I can be here and feel this...that is enough." The birds sang and I sighed with contentment. Sometimes, it can be that easy.

I bounded back to fetch my iphone from the car and took the above video to pass along. I know that it is tiny and the sound is bad but hopefully in watching it you will catch a whiff of the sweet perfume of le bonheur. For that too is not solely mine but maybe it can be ours...

After hitting "publish" I can't shake the sentiment that I didn't quite express what I had hoped to in this post but I will make a wish...and let it go...

Have a lovely week ahead everyone and hold on tight to those dear to you...

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles

"Ah, those that don't believe in the sun down here are truly blasphemous," wrote Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo. Vincent arrived in Arles on February 20th, 1888 because he believed. He came for the light, hoping that its purity would provide similar dimensions to the Japanese prints that he loved so dearly. He stayed in hopes of creating a community of artists, an "Atelier du Sud" that would set a clear break from the soft glow of the Impressionist artists of the North. While his community failed, his art thrived and he painted over 200 oils and 100 hundred drawings within the fifteen months of his stay. It was to become the creative highpoint of his turbulent, short life and his masterpieces would change the path of modern art indefinitely.

And yet surprisingly, in recent years there has only been one Van Gogh painting in Provence, tucked away in a private collection in Avignon. Visitors from around the world came to find Vincent and left with impressions only. Images written on the air. No more.

In 2008, a decision was made to take the "Association for the Creation of the Fondation Van Gogh" to the next level. With the generous aid of art patron Luc Hoffman (who is also a founding member of the World Wildlife Fund), the Fondation was formed two years later and Hervé Schiavetti, the mayor of Arles, offered to house it in the 15th century Hôtel Léautaud de Donines. Architects Guillaume Avenard and Hervé Schneider of the architectural agency FLUOR were brought in to handle the delicate renovation of the space to work in conjunction of the strict regulations controlling the protection of Arles under UNESCO World Heritage Site status. They too believed in Vincent's faith in the Provençal light and the resulting Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles, which opened it's doors to the public on April 7th, is a true merveille and a fitting expression of the artist's formidable vision.

The Fondation's Artistic Director Bice Curiger and curator Sjraar van Heugten have collaborated on "Van Gogh Live!", the opening exhibition, which is split into two parts. The first, "Colors of the North, Colors of the South" features works that trace the evolution of Van Gogh's color palette from his previous time in Paris to his exploration in Provence both by contemporaries that influenced him (there are gorgeous pieces by Courbet and Pissaro amongst others) to the paintings of Van Gogh himself.

British artist Gary Hume was selected to choose appropriate colors for the exhibition rooms and the spacing of each piece on the walls lets the visitor fall into a separate world...

...One all the better to appreciate such fine monographs as those by Utagawa Hiroshige and to see them how Vincent must have seen them...

...And how he then saw himself.

The Van Gogh's present, on loan for the exhibition by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam are breath-taking in their directness and expansiveness.

For those of us who live in Arles, they can be quite moving to behold as well. Certainly that was the case for me in seeing "The Yellow House" in person after having looked upon so many facsimiles for so long. The brushwork is fascinating, as is the specificity of the coloration of that house that he built his future upon and which, unfortunately, was bombed during World War II and is no more. 

And yet, the Fondation is not only looking back into Vincent's past. Far from it, they are also aiming to extend his presence into contemporary art as well. In the second half of the exhibition, nine international artists were invited to provide their interpretation of what that might be.

Amongst them, Thomas Hirschhorn's large scale installation especially fascinated the crowds during the opening. It portrays the world of a young Japanese woman who is so obsessed with Van Gogh that she becomes lost in the looking, all while embracing a "positive" side to her status as a "fan."

On a far quieter scale visually, Camille Henrot approaches the question, "Is it possible to be a revolutionary and like flowers?" by exploring expressions of the Ikebana form of flower-arranging. Each arrangement was derived from a quotation concerning Van Gogh and the results are deceptively forceful.

Percussionist Fritz Hauser recorded the scratches made on the walls of one of the Fondation's stairwells and transformed it into a sound installation called Schraffur or "Hatchings."

But my personal favorite and most literal link to Van Gogh's artistic legacy came in the guise of the fluid and delicate paintings by Elizabeth Peyton. In their intimacy, you can almost feel Vincent breathing over her shoulder and guiding each movement of her hand.

I also appreciated how several of the architectural elements of this former Banque de France (as seen here in the panelling in front of Bethan Huws' video installation)...

...Breathe seamlessly with the modernization of the building; one that is almost cleft in two, a fitting reflection of Vincent's increasingly unstable mind during his time in Arles...

...As well as a possibility to dive into the layers of both the exhibition and the experience of discovering this important new museum.

For the translation of this historic building into a contemporary museum is a work of art in itself. The incorporation of such elements as Raphael Hefti's prism-like reflective glass panels on the roof of the translucent facade as well as Bertrand Lavier's opening door - engraved with Van Gogh's signature - further make it so.

And yet, I found myself thinking as I wandered up to the roof terrace that there is nothing pretentious or precious in the presentation, something all to perfect for a foundation celebrating someone who is arguably the world's most popular artist.

Along with the other visitors, I took in the delightful views over the rooftops of Arles. A view that has little changed since Vincent's time. A Mistral wind whipped around us and I couldn't help but wonder if it was Vincent's ghost, claiming victory, for once and for all.

Down below, the visitors took in the sun of the courtyard and sipped ice teas provided for the occasion. There was no sense of frenzy, no pushing to see the masterpieces. If Vincent's ghost had indeed come to visit then certainly he was now welcomed...with peace.

The crowds of that opening weekend have departed, widely proclaiming contentment along the way. I now pass the museum every morning while walking my dogs and nod at it quietly. It gleams in its newness and yet has already claimed its place in the history of this old town. With one foot in-between the past in the future, it is a great gift to Arles and a perfect tribute to the aesthetic of Vincent Van Gogh.

The Fondation Vinent Van Gogh Arles
35 Rue Docteur Fanton
13200 Arles
Tel.: +33 (0)4 90 93 08 08

Opening hours: Everyday from 11am to 7pm (to 9pm on Thursday)
Price: 9€ adults, 4€ for youth and students, free for children under 12

Van Gogh Live! is on from April 7th to August 31st. I highly recommend seeing this exceptional opening exhibition.