Thursday, March 31, 2016

Renovating the kitchen floor - chez Anthony

Now that spring has officially sprung, I imagine that some of you are thinking towards what sprucing up projects might need attending to around your home. C'est dans l'air, n'est ce-pas?

As it has been a while since we have visited the amazing renovation project that my friend Anthony is undertaking with his partner, I thought that we could pay a little visit, all the better to reassure you that no matter what may be on your "à faire" list...

...I highly doubt that anything will be as daunting as bringing back to life a stone floor that was most likely set in around 1750...

...on top of other basic projects such as, oh, let's say, putting the electricity back in the walls where it belongs in these modern times...

...let alone plumbing and evacuation, rebuilding the window and doorframes, all of which will come later.

So, where to start? By calling an excellent team of artisans of course! Fortunately, there are many truly talented experts in Provence and Anthony - as I believe I have already mentioned - is a man who knows the best address for everything...toujours, c'est incroyable.

After his partner had single-handedly ripped down a non-supporting wall to open up the space (and then taken away the tons of déchets), the work could begin. First up, the most damaged of the stone blocks were removed and replaced if they could not be repaired. That so few needed to be attests to the quality of the craftsmanship from nearly three hundred years ago! Then, different techniques were tested for polishing off the indentations that heavily marked each piece (most likely from when additional flooring had been laid on top of it). The above photo was taken at this stage and if you look carefully at the flags in the bottom right, you can see that the essai was already having its effect.

So how did it all turn out? 

Ah, I am going to make you wait to see but will hint that I could skate across the smooth surface of the stones today. They are magnificent. But the work was not without a price. Despite the best efforts of the workmen, a thin veil of stone dust snaked through the rest of the house and covered each surface for weeks! If you ask Anthony, I do think he will tell you that it was worth it. 

This room will be a heart of the house and it is already quite transformed from when these photos were taken. Anthony has a lot on the burner that I am looking forward to sharing with you, not only in terms of the renovation. Let's just say that sometimes one good idea leads to another and another...and that some times you need to start from scratch to find it. 

There will be more to follow, in time...


PS. There has been a lot of fear and sadness amidst this promising season. I, like you, am horrified by the terrorist attacks in Brussels and in Pakistan. I wonder where we are going. Many of you have written, asking news of my friend Ellie, who has suffered a setback in her battle with ALS but is still fighting with her humor and elegance intact. That to me seems to be a way for all of us right now. I don't have answers for you but I have Love to give (and hopefully to receive) and am holding onto that for now as an antidote. Let's stay strong in this together, yes?
As always, thank you for being here,

Monday, March 21, 2016

Climbing the walls

In this corner of the world, nature is waking up with a stifled, slightly embarrassed yawn. Winter has overslept its welcome and the ground is buzzing with the stretch of new greenery while tiny fists have pushed out of the barest of branches overnight. A tip of the hat to the tip of the clock for yesterday was the Spring Equinox.

And with it energy is spiraling up through my brain like vines climbing beyond the roof. My thoughts are spinning, swinging from one puffed up cloud to the next on a verbal trapeze, uncatchable. While at times that makes me smile at the folly, I also feel strongly the need to focus towards something centered at the root. 

Do you have a meditation practice? I have always danced around one, just as I have with my pick and choose spiritual beliefs. But at this time in my life, it seems like the biggest gift that I can give myself, along with healthy doses of self-care and kindness. So I am taking a cross-legged seat, closing my eyes and focusing on my breath, that greatest of gifts, never to be taken for granted. 

My mind will only calm for mere moments and so I listen to Jack Kornfield's instruction to treat those rollicking ideas as I would teach a puppy to stay, gently. Over and over, I come back to just being. At times that feels like it is all that I do. Start over, start over...reconnect. But it is wonderful to be able to peak around a new corner with a taste of hope untarnished in my mouth... ripe for this time of year, here...and now. A beginning.

As today is World Poetry Day (thank you, Edgar!), 
I thought that I might share a poem that I keep coming back to from Mary Oliver's new collection called Felicity:

The World I Live In

I have refused to live
locked in the orderly house of
    reasons and proofs.
The world I live in and believe in
is wider than that. And anyway,
    what's wrong with Maybe?

You wouldn't believe what once or
twice I have seen. I'll just
     tell you this:
only if there are angels in your head will you
     ever, possibly, see one.

Whether you are winding up or down, please know that I am sending my best thoughts to you as we enter another season, one ripe with opportunities.

Thank you for being here,

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

L'Harmonie - a locals bistro in Nimes

As we steamroll through March (I know, I don't understand how this has happened either), I imagine that some of my more meticulous friends are already deep into planning their upcoming vacations to the South of France this summer. And as we all know, that means food research, yes? One can always sleep on a cot but when it comes to la belle cuisine française, well, that is not to be taken lightly.

So today, I am offering up an address for your consideration but with a hanging clause attached to it (which makes me remember the "hanging chads" which forces me to say, "People of Florida, for the love of all that you hold dear, get out and vote today!" But I digress...).

Now, if you are at all like me - and something tells me that if you are reading along at Lost in Arles, there is a strong possibility that might be the case - each opportunity to eat out is epic, worthy of scrolling through reviews both informed (the France board at Chowhound) and uninformed (Tripadvisor's restaurant selections for pretty much any touristy town in Provence).

But what if we take it down a notch for a second? What if you just want say, a pretty space that is lively, where you can munch on a reliable standby such as...

 ...magret de canard with leeks and a gratin on the side? You know, Old School Stylee. 

This is why I am suggesting L'Harmonie in Nimes (or Nîmes as it is normally written, to please my friend B who works for the city). Now, they call it a restaurant but it is definitely more of a bistro. Natasha runs the front of house and she doesn't moving stop for a minute. Because this joint is jumping. Why? It is a very good rapport qualité-prix or value for your money and I think that is especially true if you go for dinner, where the three-course menu (with ample choices) is set at 24 Euros, exactly as it is at lunch.

 When I went, it was for a noonday reservation, 12:30 to be precise. I arrived with my dear friend L at 12:35 and every seat in the house was already taken save for one table in the back (a petit bémol - she had reserved ahead and yet a table had not been set aside for us *eyebrow raise*) where we settled in while listening to the contented murmur of our fellow diners. 

While L chose the previously mentioned prix-fixe menu, I opted to go even more low-key with the menu du jour for well under 20 Euros. Honestly, I did not see an enormous difference in the presentation in our starters - both featuring gambas - although L's had a more upscale (and delicious) choice of encornet or squid as opposed to my mulet with ratatouille. Every single person at the surrounding tables had chosen the duck (perfectly cooked and brought out by the chef, no less) as I had and it was clear that many had come in just for that and a copious pour of red from the Languedoc before heading back to work. 

L'Harmonie is that kind of place, buzzy and light, perfect for a day when you are lost wandering through Nimes and hangry after paying to visit the Maison Carrée only to discover that it is, indeed, an empty if perfect Roman monument. Certainly, L's order of a demi-baba for dessert could calm the most frayed of nerves. We stayed on, savoring it with the last of our wine until the room emptied and we too moved on into the bright light of a perfectly provençal afternoon.

29 rue de la Madeleine
30000 Nîmes 
Open Tuesday - Sunday for lunch and dinner
Reservations suggested
Tel.: +33 (0)4 66 67 21 91 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Strolling the brocante in Arles - part deux

Call me spoiled but I tend to have low expectations for the brocante or flea market in Arles held on the first Wednesday of the month. It might be, possibly, one of the few things that I do tend to take for granted in this mythic 2000 and change year old city. I don't know why. So I graze and glaze. I am still there mind you! Just not with the bit between my teeth, ready to run, as I can be at, say, the déballages in Avignon or Montpellier.

I actually appreciate enormously that the vendors really aren't trying to prove anything. You buy or you don't, well, that is your choice and they will most likely be occupied preparing a mid-morning snack of vin rouge et saucisson de taureau anyway, perhaps over a game of cards. The goods are there, even if you may have to have a very keen eye - or a lot of patience, something which I think we have already established is not this particular redheads point fort - to wade through The Rusty and The Dented (a possible name for a Provençal cowboy film if ever there was one)... uncover the bijous, such as these mother of pearl inlaid Chinoiserie wall panels - 30 Euros for the four was the dealers opening price and his lifted eyebrow insiniated that he was willing to negotiate. I called my friend Ellie* to see if they might be something for her shop but, wise one that she is, not even an iphoto would do, the lady only buys what she has seen directly. I can't argue with that and so left them behind with a tiny hint of wistfulness.

One aspect that is unique to the Arles brocante is the plethora of pieces evoking the traditions of both the Gardians, the cowboys of the Camargue and les Arlésiennes, their beautifully attired female companions, such as the linoleum cut stamps above and the portrait (in the first photograph up top) that I truly kick myself for not buying. These wares add another dimension to the proceedings and call to the local women who carefully examine swathes of antique lace and silks to use in their costumes each May Day.

But of course, there are plenty of more straightforward baubles to please and entice such as this set of a Napoleon III lustre and sconces...

...however, I never stated that everything was pure élégance, now did I? For while the over-sized wooden rosaries have been all the rage for some time now, did you happen to notice the framed Fanny? I did and admittedly that is what moved me to snap. I know, I am hopeless.

Perhaps a Quimper platter would be more to your liking? Surprisingly, it was offered by the same vendor. Shall we just say that he was catering to everyone's tastes?

It was only afterwards when formatting these photos that I noticed the perfect pique-cierge or candleholder amidst this pile. I would have been interested as it could have made a nice addition to the pair that we already have, even if that meant dealing with the seller, who is especially grumpy and absolutely tenacious when it comes to sticking to his price. And no, that is not just because I am L'américaine!

For truly, he is a character, one with a regard nearly as piercing as the one present in this waist-high representation of Mr. George Washington that he had propped up towards the far edge of his stand. Don't you love trying to imagine who might be the person to be tempted by such an object? I do.

But maybe I am in the wrong, perchance you have seen quite a bit amidst the chaos here that caught your eye. Hmmm...well, you know, the brocante season will soon be firing up throughout could always fly over. I can promise that Provence would certainly welcome you...

Or, if that isn't quite feasible, you might enjoy extending your brocante stroll by visiting a few of my friend's wonderful online sources:

To see Ellie's shop at Have Some Decorum, please click here and head to the antiques section.
To visit Sharon's selection at My French Country Home, please click here. 
To visit Corey's always changing items at Tongue in Cheek, click here please. 
And for those of you on the West Coast in the States, I am pleased to share that my friend, Elizabeth, aka The Vintage Contessa is going to have her always popular booth at the Remnants of the Past Show on April 15th-16th. For more information, click here.

Voila! Ah, a little bit of antique happiness for your weekend. I know that it always does the trick for me - wishing for a bit of patina personified, a touch of history that you can hold in your hand. :)
Before I sign off, I want to thank everyone who responded to my previous post. For those of you that missed it...honestly? The comments are worth a look. They gave me so much to think about and I am honored to have such generous, intelligent and 'from the heart' readers. You inspire me to no end. 

Gros Bisous, 

*Friends, it is only as I was getting ready to publish this post that I discovered that Ellie has written a post to let everyone know that she is currently in a palliative care center in Paris. I know that quite a few of you are very fond of her. If you haven't seen the post already, you can find it here. As I have said before, she is one of the most amazing people that I have ever had the privilege to meet. Despite this physical setback in her 6th year of living with ALS and giving up her new home in Provence, she remains strong and determined. But I will still be praying for her in my way, as I always do and invite her fellow friends to join me. A bit of Love goes a long way...

Saturday, March 5, 2016

From here to there

 Bonsoir, mes amis.

I thought it was high time that I check in with you all, especially as some of you have been preparing to send out the search dogs.

While I have been slowing down the pace of posting, I do have plenty of material prepared to share with you, including more from the Fondation Van Gogh in Arles where these photos were taken.

The play of light and shadows caressed the timeworn surfaces as I skated across the well-oiled parqueterie. Until finally, I stopped moving and just stood in the center of the room, surprised to find myself alone. It is amazing how in such moments one can feel lifted by something so far beyond the here and now as to seem eternal. Or maybe it doesn't just seem but it is. How lucky then to breathe a bit of forever amidst our ever-changing lives.

I traced the shadows repeatedly, following the directions they were whispering that I should follow, then lifted my chin. That light, so bright that not even the blinds could tame made me want to wrap it around me like a cape, open the windows and fly.

Tell me, where are you headed? Dites-moi tout.