Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Risen from the ashes

"You should have seen it twenty years ago," says our fellow visitor as we all gaze across the hills to the Chartreuse de la Verne. "It was in ruins." It is hard to imagine now and yet the history of this monastery has been heavily marked by destruction. Having been consecrated in 1174, it was burned to the ground twice in the 13th century, but also in 1318 and in 1721. It was pillaged by the Lords of Bormes in 1421 as well as by the Protestants during the religious wars. In 1790, it was sequestered under the Revolution. Thieving began at that time and didn't stop until 1959 when a guardian was finally installed, this despite its having been granted Historical Monument status in 1921. It is no surprise that so little was left. 

In 1983, the Order of Bethlehem took up residence in the monastery and a foundation has slowly pulled the stones back into place. Rising out of the Massif des Maures, the chain of mountains that make a final push before falling into the sea, this chartreuse or charter-house is perfectly situated for contemplation, despite being only 30 kilometres away from the bling of St. Tropez.

To arrive at the entryway, we climbed down then up a path lined with chênes liéges, or cork oaks, whose spongy bark is used to stop up our wine bottles. The forest seemed to be listening to our approach.

As we had Ben with us, we took turns exploring the monastery. I roamed the grounds, following the footsteps of a nun who had given me a broad smile. Chestnut trees twisted ahead, their forms a tortured symbol of the lands former state. Fallen treasures from the previous winter strewed the ground like earthy urchins. Ben sniffed happily.

When it was my turn to walk within the quiet walls, I felt a joy wash over me as I watched several nuns decorate the main chapel for Easter. Their heads nodded together and they worked without speaking. We were told that the nunnery welcomes women from all over the world and it is not surprising. What a wonderful place to proclaim faith. Hopefully, this chartreuse will know nothing but solidity in the future.

And as a little ps., one of the last of the videos. My apologies for having to turn your head to watch it. This is of Ben showing off a bit of what I call his "Picasso" move on the path to the monastery. He has done it ever since he was a puppy and sometimes his drawings are rather nice. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bucolic charm in the Var

Fluffy sheep munched happily on tender green grass. A creek burbled with melted snows and cherry blossoms shook their show overhead. It was just such a pinch your cheeks kind of moment when we arrived in Collobrières. 

For just over a week, Remi and I sliced across the roads of the Var region with Ben, our Golden Retriever in tow. Although it is fairly close to our home in Arles, it is a land that we knew only in highway passing blurs. And what a fine discovery it was. Enchanted is a word that is completely appropriate.

Some smarty in a tourism office had come up with the idea that the Var is the "Provence Verte" or green Provence and I can tell you, they earned their pay that day. Gone is the rushed brush of Olé chants and prickly rosemary, of site-lines cut only by a stone block mas and cypresses straining upwards. No, softness is to be found everywhere with the tickle of new buds and the sweetness of a village life that seemed to be much more from the antan, the olden times. 

My ankles wobbled on the uneven paths as my eye zoomed from detail to panorama and back again. Petered out patina, a wash of fallen blossoms...

...hanging gardens to be reclaimed as the sun went down...

...ruins that have forgotten and been forgotten...

...and kittens playing on a lace background. Who appreciates these kinds of things anymore?

Clearly the folks in Collobrières do. Their village radiates a well-kept pride.

But I knew that we had chance on our side. We roamed completely alone and this on a holiday weekend. There was room to see.

We chose a cheery terrace for lunch. And then, ladies and gentlemen, on the day before Easter...

...I ate the Easter Bunny. And he was good. 

The sun was a balm and our shoulders fell with a whoosh. How delighted we were to stumble upon a village that was dream-worthy of the "maybe we could live here" kind. Little did we know how many more we would discover in the days ahead...  

Friday, April 13, 2012

One for the road

Oh my goodness, can you believe it? We are still on the road! It has been a truly incredible week for us albeit not a restful one. Remi has been working very hard to finish up a personal project that has been en cours for two years now. So that has meant a lot of driving on his part, much map-handling on mine and much patience for Ben's while he rolls around in the back of the Range Rover on many a switch-back trail! Our days have been long, leaving at 10am and often not returning until 8pm--yes, with many breaks and never more than two hours without a stop for the pupper. We have seen so much.

And the cherry on this sweet cake? Gilli, the owner of the studio that we have rented, offered for us to stay an extra night as her next guests had delayed their arrival--isn't that something? So finally, we are taking a day to relax and enjoy the quiet. I'll post more soon about our incredible experience yesterday but here is one last little video as a teaser. 

Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend! 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


We are still in the Var and I have to say that I am head over heels for this gorgeous region! We have seen so much beauty, it is overwhelming. Unfortunately I forgot my USB cord so I will continue with these fun little videos even though I have taken 487, 209, 003 photos. And as Poet Whale and my Sister requested, here is a bit more of Ben. Hoping that you are all well and happy whether your sky is blue or gray.

Friday, April 6, 2012


And I am not talking Beyoncé! That would be Remi, Ben and I as we are out the door and hopping along down the bunny trail. We are taking a well-deserved breather. Hooray! I hope to be posting while on the road but wanted to be sure to wish all of you that are celebrating a Happy Easter and a Peaceful Passover. For all of us, this weekend is a wonderful opportunity to stop and appreciate regeneration and rejuvenation. Life keeps going, breathing and blooming. Have a wonderful time everyone!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ardeche under the trees

The rain is a coming down outside my window but I am certainly not complaining. No. The land in the surrounding Alpilles is so parched, it is as brown as burnt butter. So I know that today is a good day, one to help the wild things grow.

And besides, I have so many wonderful memories to keep me warm--enough to last the winter that we didn't have! Do you remember my tiny video for  Dejeuner sur la herbe? With the birds chirping insistently and the blossoms floating by? 

 We had headed to the Ardeche after a week that was so rotten that we had to drive into a neighbouring province to try and escape it. But Life can give us such gifts. Just to say, "Hold on, it will be all right". It was such a day. And there was even a touch of mystery in the old stones surrounding us. Celtic marks dating back two thousand years. No one knows what they mean.

"I'll be right here," I called out to Remi as he picked up his tripod and camera. "I'm not going anywhere," I added, half-giggling and leaned back into the petal-strewn grass.

How wonderful are those rare moments when vision softens into mere lines traced on the sky and there is no pressure to make rhyme or reason out of what is being seen or felt. Senses are awakened only to go back to sleep again.

Little prickles of fallen branches and the soft smush of moss under head. The worn husks of almonds already emptied of their treasures by an early harvest. Perfume carried past and then gone.

Ben arrived next to me with a thud. Panting. Tired of following Remi around aimlessly in the hot sun. And knowing that there were probably still some crumbs from our lunch that could soon be his if only he looked cute enough. He did.

I am not sure how long I laid there. Quite sometime. At some point I raised my head to see a chipper family winding their way back to the beautiful bastide on the back of the property after a long bike ride. Their happiness mirrored my own and I feel it again, fresh, as I type. No amount of gray capped skies can push that out of me. Let it rain!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Red and gold

A little Monday sized post to send some warmth to whomever needs it. According to my friend Debra at Acquired Objects, spring is not yet in full bloom everywhere despite her early advances.

I never take the light for granted in Provence but it still can surprise me in its depth and variations.

These two buildings are just off the Rhone in Arles. Sadly, they are always closed up. For me, they are far too lovely to not be lived in but apparently the owner doesn't agree.

I find such beauty in the patina of paint and lime wash scraped away by hard winds and time's wings. 

Even in the shadows, I felt the heat of red and gold searing out of the stones.

Wishing everyone a lovely week ahead. More soon when my pollen dusted head is in less of a muddle!