Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Good Witch

The elderly lady, her hair spun of cobwebs, leaned in on her walking stick and didn't miss a beat. "The Chapelle de St. Martin? Down the hill, " she pointed a finger like a scythe, "past the wine co-operative and take a left. It's about two hundred meters." Ok then. We twisted through the tiny village of St. Victor Lacoste, unconsciously holding our breath at certain turns as if we were sucking in the belly of the car for it to pass, then being spit back out onto the plains with nothing in sight. Save for a tower, surpassing the tops of the cypress trees. 

For that is all that is left. A lopsided pile of cream stone, pockmarked and bitten by a hard history. "How old is this?" I asked Remi as we pulled ourselves out of the car and into the still, still air. "One thousand years." He too didn't miss a beat. A carved plaque explained the tip of the iceberg historical facts. The original chapel was consecrated in roughly 1050. A castle was built by Count Rostand de Sabran (I don't have a clue who that is but am in love with his name. Say it out loud, you won't regret it) in the 10th century but was torn down in 1223 by the order of King Louis VIII. In earlier times, the village was known as Ad Victorium Sanctorum, which means that as usual, the Romans picked the good spots first, especially those blessed with an underground spring (more on that soon). 

Considering its previous rack and ruin, the lieu was so peaceful that I immediately felt at peace. A deep peace that replaced the chipped chatter running on a loop behind my eyes with the rustle of one brave almond tree in bloom. Just one but with enough blooms to perfume the scene with such utter sweetness.

Neither of us wanted to leave and so we stayed.

The Chapelle de St. Martin, as little of it remained, became in my mind, a sort of Good Witch to banish the gloom of the Haunted village that had held us in thrall. Just replace Glenda's glittery gown with pink petals and revel in the coming of spring.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Zingerman's Deli & Empire

Ok then, I am going to lickety-split put out the last of my Ann Arbor posts as really, things are getting mighty beautiful around these parts and I have the photos to prove it! 

I would be crazily remiss to talk about life in Ann Arbor without mentioning Zingerman's Deli. These folks opened in 1982--yep, that is 30 years ago, meaning not that far off from the time period when Perrier was considered to be a human being (as I previously mentioned) and if you asked for a "knish" you might very well have been responded to with a "Gesundheit."

For once, and once only, to say that Zingerman's is an institution is absolutely without the least bit of exaggeration. Is it regularly on the "Best Delicatessens in America" lists? Check. Heralded by the James Beard Foundation? Yep. Loved by Oprah? Even that. It is exhausting and their empire was built up brick by brick, year after year, the hard way! Food geeks, dig in here for more history.

Admittedly, I did not get to glaze over in stupefaction while trying to pick from their gazillion sandwich choices because why? The line was simply ridiculous. Why I suggested even trying on a Saturday at lunch time...well, I was jet-lagged and senseless is all I can say. It was the coldest day of my visit, whip-smackingly so and yet there was a half-hour line outside. That, my friends is how good these gobblings are. 

Inside, the joint is jumping and luckily my Mom and I were welcome to poke about even though we hadn't slogged through the line to order. Phones were ringing, orders being called out, finished goodies being delivered. Bustle, bustle. 

Yet again for the food geeks, Jane and Michael Stern named Zingerman's Bakehouse Rye bread as the best in America last year. Um, if that isn't worth taking the plane (for those of you that do not have the most lovely Mom and Sis on the planet in Ann Arbor), I don't know what is...

...save perhaps for the Apple-smoked Bacon that this fine lady offered up to the poor souls that were frozen from the wait outside. Admittedly, I kept the napkin that the little piece was served on and smelled it for days after. I know that is odd, but they could bottle that scent as perfume.

Now, where things get especially interesting for me is Z's extremely fine taste in all worldly delectables. Yes, of course, there are moments of pricing of madness. Sixteen smackeroonies for a tiny jar of wild artichokes from Italy? Well, yes because where else exactly do you think that you are going to find wild Italian artichokes in these parts, hmmm? 

Ahhh, mais oui. La grande mais oui. Because of the relatively selective olive oils for sale, gasp, oh gee, there is to be found both types (fruity and nutty) from the our own very dear Moulin Cornille in Maussane. It is a co-operative and even our friends that live in the Baux Valley bring in their olives to add to make this oil! It is fine stuff indeed. 

I could barely approach the cheeses but to say that the choice was equally worldly is another understatement. Murray's NYC look out! 

After the wait, the worthy that wish to eat sur place can take their victuals over to the charming little Victorian next door, which also has a slew of baked goods on the offering, too tempting for anyone to turn up their noses for dessert. 

Z's prides itself on the quality of all that it does, that is why it has grown and become so loved. They smoke the meats, they bake the bread, they sweeten the chocolate. It is amazing actually, especially when you think of how completely ahead of their time they were and continue to be. Their success is well-deserved and that they kick back to the community is zooming them into the future. And yes, I did have a bit of Zingerman's--a wonderful brunch at their Roadhouse restaurant. My Mom, Sis and I all chose the same dish as it was the dish to be chosen, without a doubt: the Georgia Grits and Bits Waffle, which is filled with grits and cheddar and topped with bacon and the most amazing syrup. Yes, you read correctly. The ghost of Elvis take heed. Zingerman's has a new staple for you! I ate half (you will notice that I actually felt the need to order a side of scrambled, poor me, I had no idea what was coming my way). 

So there you have it for Ann Arbor! As always, my infinite love and thanks to my Mom, Sister and my Mom's companion Leonard for showing me the best time possible! 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Modern Midwest Saturday Morning

Oh my, I am getting behind in my posting--simply because I am taking too many photos and yes, as Remi rightfully accuses me--am not editing enough. So my head is often entirely somewhere else. Actually, it seems that can be said of many of us in this in-between season time. Our weather has been precocious--t-shirt bearers swan in the sun one day then shiver under turtlenecks the next. No wonder we are all confused! 

So lets bump back to Ann Arbor, Michigan a bit--best to put this and one last post out there quickly before spring demands my full attention here in Provence (not to mention that I actually still have a post to share from Sisteron when I was knee deep in the snow--now who, I ask you, wants to see that? Perhaps my Australian friends who need a break from their summer heat?). 

The weekend is fast approaching so it is perfectly appropriate to return to a quiet Saturday morning in A2. Our first stop was the Farmer's Market, a very popular outing even in the heart of winter when fresh veggies are slim pickings. But look at these rainbow eggs! That is the making of one happy omelette, especially once you know how well-raised the volailles are that produced them (the only thing they are missing out on are hot-stone massages it would seem). Not to mention orange chipolte vinaigrette or creamy pumpkin butter, winsomely praised by chatty sellers who can sniff out your soft spot for something kind of like what your Grandma made...but 'organic'.

As this is the Midwest, there are frequently links to a prevalent Germanic heritage with several varieties of sauerkraut on offer. But, as this is cosmopolitan Ann Arbor, The Brinery also produces some seriously fiery kimchi...

...one that could easily be served at the funky, graffiti-covered Kosmo Lunch Counter, a Korean diner in the Kerrytown Market next door. If every single seat hadn't been occupied (with several folks hovering not so discreetly in the background for the next vacancy), I would have been psyched to have dived into a bowl of Bi Bim Bop, their specialty. 

Instead, my Mom and I strolled through Hollander's, one of the largest suppliers of decorative wrapping papers and bookbinding materials in the country. The Palazzo in Venice-esque paper especially caught my eye but there are styles and a range of colors to suit any taste--a visit is practically a crash course on design variations.

I wish that I had taken more time to photograph the architecture downtown as we headed hungrily towards The Jolly Pumpkin. It has kept its charm and character and I could easily envision myself living in a loft in one of the renovated brick buildings. 

...but even more so in a delightful cottage such as this, of which there are many, many, many--each painted more joyously than the last, something to battle against the frequently blustery winter skies. Blue and gold banners for the University of Michigan sway from even the finest of homes--these folks are proud of their Wolverines.

Being so close to Detroit (not to mention with many automotive plants in the area), American cars dominate the parking lots. I was surprised to see so many gas-guzzlers, rusted but with years still left in them. Perhaps surprisingly, they made me think of the "we will survive" attitude of the wonderful people I encountered on this and previous visits. Despite the torturous tides of the economy (several of the counties further south have experienced some of the highest unemployment rates in the United States), I have never felt pressure or sadness in the region. Just another Midwestern Saturday then but one that is full of an appreciation for the good breathe in, breathe out of life.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Faded not blown

I am always content to find a bit of beauty in unexpected places.

Just as I was ready to throw out last week's tulips, I took a moment to see them once more, as they were and found their forms--lolling tongue's and grounded wings--more fascinating than the perfect bloom.

And so I am sharing them with you. A last gesture of appreciation!