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 "Provençal" 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:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Fantastic sea view apartment for sale in the heart of Marseille

I was delighted that so many of you were taken by Anne and Dominik's farmhouse renovation project that I posted about earlier this week. But, such dreams come at a price and after a considerable debate, they have decided to sell their rather amazing apartment in the Panier district that is the heart (and I do mean the beating heart) of the fascinating city of Marseille.

I can see from whence their ideas where born, for despite it's incredibly central location, there is definitely an air of a country mazet in it's façade. Wouldn't you agree? 

Remi and I are both big fans of atypical spaces. The more levels and surprising twists and turns, the better. This apartment fits the bill perfectly.

The entry opens on to a terracota lined and wooden beam topped dining/living area that has transversal exposure to the gorgeous sunlight pouring through...

...which in turn leads down to a compact but well-planned kitchen (any of you that have lived in France, let alone in a French city know that this is standard). I will have to ask Anne if those counter tops are granite, stone or polished cement...

There are several bedrooms of varying sizes but my favorite is the master, not only for the modern slat blinds that play so beautifully with the light of Marseille...

...but also in that it leads out onto it's own private deck. Can you imagine starting your day sipping your tea in the sun? I can!

However, my favorite space is most certainly the terrace that opens off of an additional living area with incredible views over the towers of the Major Cathedral and the sea (something that is extremely sought after in Marseille). For me, this large apartment is all about the essence of what experiencing the best of life in lively Marseille can be. It certainly is an up and coming city - listed as #2 on the New York Times 2013 list of "Places to Go" and home to the European Capital of Culture in the same year. How I hope that this unique space finds a good home!

Here is the original ad in Particulier à Particulier pour mes lecteurs francophones:
Le Panier - Marseille 2e
Dans une impasse tranquille de la plus belle place du Panier : la vie de village au coeur de la ville, à 2 pas du Vieux-Port, du Centre, du MUCEM. Maison-appartement atypique, sur 2 immeubles (2 entrées indépendantes possibles). Surface 115m2 pour 6 pièces + 2 SdD et WC + 2 terrasses dont une sur belle chambre et une de 12m2 sur salon avec vue sublime sur la mer et la Major. Idéal pour familles et couples (mais trop de marches pour personnes âgées ou enfants en bas âge). Toiture neuve, des pièces rénovées, d’autres restent à faire. Place tolérée pour 1 voiture.
Agences immobilières s'abstenir. 
380.000 €

And here is a rough translation for my English readers:

The Panier District - Marseille 2nd Arrondissment
In a quiet cul-de-sac just off of the prettiest square in the Panier: enjoy village life in the heart of the city while being only steps away from the Vieux-Port, the City Center and the MuCem (more about that at Lost in Arles soon!). With a surface of 115m2 (1238 square feet) there are 6 rooms with 2 baths and a WC, as well as 2 terrasses, including one off of a lovely bedroom and another of 12 m2 leading off of a living area with sublime views over the sea and the Major Cathedral. Ideal for families and couples (but with too many stairs for the elderly or families with very young children). The roof is new and some rooms have been renovated while others are still ready for you to make your mark on them. Parking is possible for one car only. Real estate agencies, please do not respond to this ad.
Price: 380,000 Euros (or $518,000)

If you are interested, please email Dominik directly at:

I am so happy to try and help this wonderful couple get the word out about their apartment (and if you know of anyone who might be interested, then by all means please pass it along!)...And speaking of passing along a good thing? So many of you expressed interest in my dear friend Vickie Lester's new and self-published novel, "It's in His Kiss" - well, just in time for the first day of summer (hooray!), she is offering a free Kindle download on Amazon tomorrow, you can get all of the info that you need about it here.

Thank you for reading and enjoy the rest of your weekend everyone! 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The ease of conviviality - Top of the Park, Ann Arbor

It was one of those perfect early summer evenings. The sky was sending out les bisous d'or and there was just a faint enough breeze to play with the ends of my skirt. 

My Mom had been telling me about the Top of the Park Festival, which takes place each summer on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, for years. She had her first date with Leonard - now her fiancé - there and had passed many a happy evening with my Sister as well, dancing under the stars.

Last Saturday evening, it was finally my turn. My Mom and I stocked up on a Mexican feast from one of the food stands set up by local restaurants and went to find Leonard, who was waiting... an area under the trees called the Grove, where the fairy lights blinked and plastic tumblers of red wine awaited us. Just as we arrived, plates balanced precariously in hand, a family got up from where they were sitting at the front and center of the action and said, "We are leaving, do you want our spot?" It was one of those gifts that fall into place on such an evening. We smiled and offered copious thanks as they melted into the crowds.

As I settled in, I couldn't help but be delighted with the calmness of the scene. People of all ages, races and styles chatted quietly with one another. Kids did cartwheels across the lawn. There was no pushing to be first in line or to procure seating closer to the stage, no frantic texting or gasping theatrically into cell phones. Perhaps I have been living in Europe for too long but it did surprise me, even though I grew up largely in the Midwest where we are known for our polite behavior. Such ease of conviviality, natural and without decorum, only added to the sweetness of the evening.

I think that it was Adam Gopnik who, in his excellent book "Paris to the Moon" nailed down the contrast that in New York you are anonymous and in Paris you are given the head to toe glance by each and every person that you pass. I had experienced the shock of that transition when I moved from Manhattan to France and am now used to that attention in Arles. At the Top of the Park, no one was particularly looking or not looking. We were all just there, together. And while the three of us were unanimous in our dislike for the main band - a let down after the swing of the Joe Summers Gypsy Jazz Trio that had opened for them - we didn't mind leaving early, for we had already passed a wonderful moment on a perfect night, the simple peace of which I will not soon forget.

From a smaller venue at Top of the Park in 2011:

Many thanks to Leonard Wells, my Mom's wonderful fiancé, who loaned me his snazzy Samsung Galaxy to take these photos. Alas, I forgot that I can't download images from my trusty Canon on my laptop, so I will either continue sharing the posts from Provence that I had prepared in advance or smartphone snaps while I am in the States...

And I would also like to express my gratitude to the extremely generous David Terry, who has sent me two care packages of fascinating books to entertain me during the rest of my time in States and beyond...Merci, David!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Picnic and a project

New beginnings. They are so full of promise, aren't they?

Recently, Remi and I were invited to a pre-preview of one such project and a fine time was had by all. Remi had met Anne and Dominik during his coverage of the Roman Boat story for National Geographic Magazine. As video artists, they lead a busy and fulfilling life, one that has long been centered in the Panier District at the heart of Marseille. But, as the noise and pressure of city life no longer fits the bill for their creative needs, they decided a massive change was in order.

They bought a rambling old farmhouse in the countryside outside of Aix-en-Provence. While nearly everything needs to be redone (save for the beautiful cement-tiled flooring), the potential is absolutely incredible.

Having heard previously of this new adventure, I was so thrilled to be able to see the house in a virtually untouched state.

The patina of its many previous lives - it was originally a relais stop for mail, changing horses and resting during a journey - is fully intact.

Remi and Dominik carried down a table from one of the upstairs rooms along with a few random chairs and set them up under the shade of an ancient tree reigning over the walled-in courtyard. I spread out an old sheet for a table cloth and laid out the picnic.

The conversation flowed steadily for several hours over many subjects. Occasionally, I would step into the cool shade that the interiors thick stone walls (up to one yard deep!) provided. There were so many details to take in, elements that somehow have not been handed down to our daily mode de vie despite their usefulness. I could imagine sliding open the middle section of the screen in the front door to accept the mail or perhaps to hand over a freshly made pie to a neighbor.

And throughout my wandering from room to room, that old tree listened and rustled in approval. How I wanted to take photos of the walls stripped bare of layers of someone else's wall-coverings...

...but this is not my project, it is theirs. With time, the well-thought out plans that Anne has drawn up (she is also an architect) will come to fruition. The house will be a home and the barns will become work spaces. Isn't it inspiring?

At some point during our lazy meal, this fascinating couple admitted that it was their first on the property. Remi and I were deeply flattered to have been invited for this beginning. We left waving wildly as the car pulled away, shouting out thank you's and well-wishes for the adventure that lies ahead...

Have a wonderful rest of your weekend...