Monday, December 28, 2015

The blue rooms - part one

My friend Anthony kindly placates me in calling it "your room" - well, at least he does when I am present - for he knows it is my favorite in the house.

A quick left at the top of the first floor landing and the space opens up like a dove being set free from a cage...out towards the elongated windows whose shadows ripple with the bumps of the original glass... through the French doors and on to a wrought iron balcony overlooking the garden, one where I can picture myself balancing a tea cup on the railing while my other hand clasps a long silk kimono, chin aloft.

If this room were indeed mine, I would line the walls with bookcases filled with every kind of book imaginable and pile up faded Persian rugs on the floors. I wouldn't need much more in the way of furniture than what is already there, save for a matelas for the Empire day bed, a hidden stereo and maybe a tinkling Louis XV chandelier just because the light would be - so - very - pretty. 

Without falling into the tattered traps of Miss Havisham, I could be quite content in such a space and might never need to leave.

But for Anthony, this will not be his "only" room for they found that it connects directly to a smaller bedroom through a door that had been sealed off for quite some time. Wisely, the former occupants left the key for the lock on a peg for future use. Isn't that something? Of course, these days we would have tossed it into a drawer somewhere only for it to be lost for forever. I suppose, when you live in such a house, you tend to think on the long-term.

This little corner of the house also has its certain charms. It wasn't until I leaned in close to the remains of the geometric wallpaper that I realized that it was Cubist inspired and had been of a very fine make. Now, little is left and the wild stripes of the ancient glue have zebraed the walls in somewhat of a mix between Kelly Wearstler and Keith Haring. For now. Something tells me that this patina might not stay and the sad sink centralized between the windows might come down - even while I can imagine someone long ago quietly washing their hands in it while gazing out at the sky.

Today is an imagination day. Or a day to "fill the well" as Julia Cameron instructed in "The Artist's Way." So Remi got out one of his many photography books and I read an article on the life of Ellsworth Kelly; interestingly there was enough overlap in the subject matter so that we were able to have a nice exchange. But I have also been listening to the various birdsong that vibrates through this tiny village and delighted in a lone violet that had been forgotten on the walking path. 

Are you taking time for yourself this week? The year is winding down.

Thank you for all of your interest in Anthony and his partners amazing renovation project.
If you missed the initial post, you can find it: here.

With my Best from Provence,

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

An amazing home renovation project in Provence

I think that many of us are nearing some form of exhaustion or the other at this point in the year, so I have prepared a series of posts that I wish will be a calming visual treat for you.

Many of you will remember my friend Anthony's charming house that was for sale - it was one of my most visited entries from this year!

Yes, that house has sold and for a very good reason.

Anthony and his partner have taken on a new project, one that is, without a doubt, the most exceptional renovation project that I have ever seen in Provence.

This very large hôtel particulier has quite a history. Built at around 1750, under the full influence of Louis XV, the property was owned by only two families for many, many years.

It was home to two interesting activities which I will tell you about in later posts.

But what is most amazing about this gorgeous home and garden... that it is nearly entirely dans sans jus...

...everything needs to be done, in the best possible way...

...and this home wisely chose two owners who will completely respect its patina and innate beauty. I am in heaven every time that I visit...

...which has been quite a bit! I have been photographing the house since last April and have over 500 images to date. Much has already changed since then and this incredible maison is now safe and secure for the winter. But the renovation continues...would you like to follow along on their adventure?

And so I will begin to share this happy story with you over the holidays, for I can think of no better present than to - hopefully - set you dreaming! 

With all of my Very Best from Provence,
Wishing you and your a very Joyeux Fêtes!

Friday, December 18, 2015


It is very bittersweet for me to announce that this is the final posting for the "By Invitation Only" group, who have been getting together from all over the world to blog about a common theme for five years now. This project was the idea of Marsha Harris at Splenderosa and involves some spectacularly talented women - truly, I was honored to have been asked to participate, especially as I was one of the only members to have a "small" blog when I joined. I have loved linking up with everyone's different perspectives each month and often tried to come up with something special for BIO in a bendy twisty way that sort of matched the theme - not always easy as I stubbornly make all of my own content! But the result was that some of my favorite, favorite posts have come out of this collaboration such as:
and just because the timing is so appropriate

For this month, the ever-talented Vicki Archer suggested that we talk about blogging...the highs and the lows...where it is at and where we feel that it is going. 

At the end of last October, before my fifth anniversary of blogging here at Lost in Arles, I gave a lot of thought to this subject. I shared some of my thoughts then and was so overwhelmed by your generous responses that I still haven't caught my breath. You are all most certainly the "high"s (and the "low"s too when you leave, I admit it is something that I will never take lightly) but so is the thrill of a great afternoon passing in the blink of an eye until I wake up after having hit "publish."

I realize very well that blogging has evolved enormously in these past five years...but at such a rapid rate that I am fairly sure that my "old-school" style of publishing when I want and what I want is also boomeranging back to what is appealing as well. At least those of you that are here - that goes without saying! Authenticity is such an important word to me. A friend recently jokingly called me a "phony" and I thought that my head was going to explode! Being sincere is never out of fashion in my book...

...because through direct (even while virtual) communication we can find unity together. 

And I don't know about you but in this crazy beautiful world I need you all more and more. We are none of us invisible or unimportant.

So finally, a blog that has a sense of community is what is interesting to me today and I honestly think that is the direction that we are headed towards, no matter what the subject matter is finally...

...and I can share a few examples of people who I feel are doing this effortlessly and meaningfully:

In each of these blogs, the readers not only react to the author but also to each other in a really wonderful way. I have always been something of an outsider but being able to make connections through the mind-boggling big-small world is something that I still can't wrap my head around. But my heart? I am all in.

So as this door is closing, I would just like to say thank you to all of those who have supported or been a part of By Invitation Only. I am extremely proud to have created in the midst of such a fine comm:unity and that I have made quite a friendships out of it too is just the icing on what was a very delicious cake.

To read all of the fantastic posts from my amazing colleagues (and Marsha has requested that we all chime in for this final post), please do click:
Thank you, Marsha for an amazing run and Brava!

But you know how the saying goes, yes? When one door closes...another opens...
What about the door above? Curious?
Then stay tuned...

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Duché d'Uzès - interiors

In my previous post, I shared the exteriors of the Duché d'Uzès as well as the views from the rather exhausting but also exhilarating climb to the upper terrace of its donjon.

But let's step inside, shall we?

Now, worth mentioning immediately? We are visiting the chateau of the oldest duchy in France. The de Crussol family were initially Viscounts and Lords, dating back to Elzéart d'Uzès in 1080. It was Charles IX who first elevated the family to the title of Duke in 1565 and they became the first dukes and peers of the realm when the Duke de Montmorency forfeited the title in 1632. If France was still a monarchy, the de Crussols would rank immediately after les Princes du Sang or the Princes of the Blood. 

While the donjon tower was built over the ruins of a Roman encampment, the central core of the Duchy dates to the 11th century and two connected rooms strung with portraits of the various Dukes and Duchesses dating from that time...

...up until the (poorly photographed, I admit) oil painting of Jacques de Crussol d'Uzès, the 58 year old who is the 17th Duke of Uzès. He divides his time between the duchè and the residence that he shares in Paris with his pretty Italian wife Alessandra and their family.

It is worth noting that the chateau has been in the family for one thousand years, save during the French Revolution when it was claimed by the state and transformed into a school. It was bought back from the people of Uzès in 1824. 

There have been some interesting characters to hold the title through the years, including the Duchess Anne, who was initially the heir to the Veuve Cliquot fortune (there are quite a few Balthazars of the bubbly in the wine cellar), an adamant huntress who rode until the age of 86, the year before she died. She was also the first woman in France to get a driver's license and the first to get a speeding ticket too.

It will probably come as no surprise that my favorite room is the formal Louis XV salon replete with stucco gypseries, stunning chandeliers, canapés corbeille and chaises both covered in a gorgeous red silk chinoiserie pattern...

...a grand tapis emblazoned with the family crest and motto of Ferro non auro (which means "iron not gold" as the family comes from a line of warriors rather than from finance) that the current Duke had made...

...enough blue and whites to make a collectionneur woozy...

...and even a peek into the recently refurbished red room which is still used as a private sitting room by the family. Pretty, non

Alas, the rest of their apartments remain...privé

Let's continue on down the main hall lined with Murano chandeliers... stop off at the bedroom of the Turkish ambassador...

...before heading into the dark and moody Renaissance style dining room...

...decorated with Aubusson tapestries and the hunting trophies from many a generation... well as a charming triptych from the period on the nature of love and union.

I suppose then, that subject appropriately leads us to the family chapel, the end of the 45 minute long tour through the Duché d'Uzès.

So, what did I think? 

My initial shock at the 18 Euros per person ticket price was abated with the hope that it would be worth it. I have to say that those hopes were not fulfilled. There are only five rooms plus the chapel on view during the visit and...oh dear...I have to say that the French guide was the worst that I have ever experienced, a number which is not small. Une femme d'un certain age, she most likely has been doing this gig...forever...and yet, as my Mom pointed out, that didn't inspire her to dress more appropriately than worn-out jeans and a baggy t-shirt. Not only was her speech for each room delivered in a monotone rote (think Charlie Brown's teacher) but she would take lengthy pauses to make her point with a dramatic downwards glance that were outright squirm-inducing. That is, for those of us who understood French. The rest were given photocopies describing what to see in each room and I can vouch that the English version covered about half of what the guide actually mentioned. I hurriedly tried to translate the important parts that were left out in a whisper to my Mom and her husband, in vain. And yet, we were, finally, hurried through all but the first two rooms (the least interesting visually) to the point that my Mom did not even get a photo of the chapel as she would have liked as the guide had already given a drawn out sigh at her attempts. This is the only time that I have not tipped a guide because there was in no way that she deserved it. Instead of putting our 18 Euros towards weaving luxurious rugs, perhaps the current Duke would be so kind as to create an informative multi-language audio guide instead? That would certainly have made me feel like I had been taken for less of a rube...or a "commoner" either.

But I did want to present the aspects about the duché that I found interesting as well as its that you can decide on your own if you feel it is worth a visit...or not.

Duché d'Uzès
Place du Duché
30700 - Uzès
Tel.: +33 (0)4 66 22 18 96
Admission is 18 Euros, with varying prices for 16 to 7 year olds, children under 7 are free.
The visit is not accessible to those in a wheelchair.
The last entrance is a half-hour before closing time (6pm or 6:30 in July and August).
Open everyday save for December 25th.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Duché d'Uzès - exteriors

One of the aspects of this blog that I take quite seriously is not only to point you in the direction of "must sees" in Provence both known and less-so but also to give you a heads up about places that left me disappointed. While that is perhaps a stronger word than necessary concerning my visit to the Chateau d'Uzès, well, it isn't far-fetched either...even if, admittedly, I had high expectations beforehand.

I adore Uzès and have been - and written about the town - many times and yet had never toured its most well-known attraction after the Place aux Herbes. My main hesitation had always been over the price of the ticket - a whopping 18 Euros per person. My Mom was kind enough to invite me to discover the duché or ducal chateau along with her charming husband Leonard during their visit in September. It is home to the House of Crussol, France's oldest ducal peerage. 

After passing through a Louis XIII style portico, we arrived in the main courtyard. Happily, there is a cordoned off area at the entry that is free and open to the public. From here, one can take in the various elements composing the domaine as it was constructed over time starting with three ancient towers to a Gothic chapel and a splendid Renaissance period facade created in 1550 - unusual in that it is lined with Ionic, Doric and Corinthian columns, rarely seen all together - which joins them. There are some fine Romanesque touches as well, including sitting bull carvings on a frieze and the eye-catching family crest that was set into the chapel's roof tiles à la Bourguignonne in the 19th century. The duché was meant to be impressive from a great distance and it is.

Several clusters of couples, many fanning themselves with brochures, were dotted across the courtyard as we approached the ticket booth. A group was just about to set off for the 45 minute long presentation. If we wished to join them, we would have to hurry as no, the castle does not take credit cards. We were directed to an ATM close by and joined up with the others just as they were leaving the extensive wine cellar, leaving me feeling like a scuttled tourist, something that I try to avoid at all costs.

 After touring the castle, we were asked if we wished to ascend to the top of the donjon, which had been built over Roman ruins in the 11th century. Known as the Tour Bermonde, it is the tallest of the towers at the duché. There is a sign at its base saying that it is 135 steps high and that children are not allowed to mount unattended by a parent. We looked at each other. "Is 135 steps too much?" we wondered. It didn't seem like it. Up we started. Well, perhaps that number isn't enormous in itself but when the steps are on a vertical corkscrew, it is another matter entirely. All three of us had to stop and catch our breath en route, hoping that we wouldn't block other visitors on their way down as there is no room to pass. This is definitely not un endroit that I would suggest to anyone who has either claustrophobia or vertigo (as I would realize in the descent, which I had to do turned sideways). However, when we finally reached the summit, our legs were wobbly from the effort but the views were truly spectacular. The clouds that had been hovering all afternoon magically disappeared and I felt like a bird hovering over the roofs of the town and the rolling countryside beyond. It was worth the price of admission alone (and one can visit it without the tour for 13 Euros)...alas, just not such an expensive one.

I will tell you about the chateau's history and its interiors in my next post...

The Duché d'Uzès
Place du Duché
30700 - Uzès

Exteriors versus interiors, facades versus...loyalty? I have been bandying these words about since having read an op-ed piece in Le Monde this morning that asked how the people in France could have been so unified after the terrorist attacks on November 13th only for so many to vote for the extreme-right and extremely divisive Front National party in this weekends regional elections only a few weeks later. It is a question that has left me feeling ill and angry. And then afterwards to read in the NY Times of Donald Trump's intentions to block any Muslim from being permitted access to - let's remember the full name now - the UNITED States of America? I am horrified and left feeling shaky ground beneath my feet in both of "my" countries. So instead, today I made a determined choice to focus on a beautiful past (these old stones, this living history) while at the same time being watchful and vigilant as our future be continued...