“Beautiful Cities” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_0924 - CopyGordes is classified as one of the most beautiful villages of France, listed on Les Plus Beaux Villages de France website. This coveted destination is featured in movies, shown on glossy touristic brochures and considered one of the “in” villages for movie stars and others of the elite, dripping-with-money crowd.IMG_0926 - CopyJim and I parked our budget rental car down the hill from Gordes and we saw immediately to our right a Sotheby’s International real estate office with listings for the aforementioned crowd, not for the likes of us, or the other folks who shop with coupons beside us at the discount grocery outlet. The reflection in the glass window of the real estate office showed our faces covered in sticker price shock. Even the lowly can look.

We started our climb up the hill for the most photographed view. Thankfully, we had cool weather and a nice breeze. The parking places at the top fill very quickly, so we had parked below and we went with the full endurance experience. I can only imagine how uncomfortable all of this would be in high season during the heat of the summer. A massive motor home was turning in a U-turn at the top parking area, completing a miraculous feat. No summer visits for us! No motor homes on my agenda!

Then, we were there standing before the astounding view, seeing the houses of white and gray stone clinging to the hillside and wrapping their way to the top of the perched village which is crowned with a Renaissance castle and church. IMG_9302Narrow streets with cobble stones meander their way down past beautiful flowers and trees, small gardens and pools. IMG_9298We hugged each other and looked around at every possible angle, enjoying the exceptional charm of the famous village.IMG_9297The view from the phenomenal hillside is a panorama of the valley and mountains of the Luberon. The owners, lounging in the beauty of their homes and gardens, must surely see tourists atop the opposite hill, huffing and puffing back to the parking lot and motor homes narrowly avoiding the crunch of metal on stone walls. We called “Hey Ya’ll!” just in case. You wouldn’t want us to be unfriendly, would you?

This village compared to others was more uniform in appearance, especially the newer homes tucked away with their pools just beyond the hillside with the cascading beauty. Now, I’m not saying it was a cookie-cutter subdivision, but there was something about it that didn’t tug at my heart. Now, don’t get me wrong. Gordes was not awarded its place as most beautiful without good reason, and I would crawl on my knees uphill for the tiniest apartment if some generous soul would sign it over to me. Yet, would I feel at home?IMG_9310

Somehow, I just wasn’t drawn to it in comparison to other villages in France with more variation in appearance. Where were the chickens, donkeys and goats? I didn’t see any gnome ornaments in the garden, or laundry hanging from the window, or sheets flapping in the breeze on the clothesline.

Later, I found a list of general rules that stated: “All the new buildings in Gordes are made of stone and use terracotta roof tiles. No fences are allowed, only stone walls. All electrical and telephone cables have been put underground, except for some locations on the border of the commune not made already.” I’m sure this accounts for the uniform beauty of the community.

I’m all for preserving beauty. I hope you understand, but I have to get on with the story with high hopes that I am not pelted with cobble stones, or stale baguettes.

All of this reminded me of the time when Jim and I moved from Coconut Grove, Florida to Coral Gables, Florida. At the time, the lovely city of Coral, Gables, which claims to be “The City Beautiful” on its website, had many, various rules on architecture and scores of homeowner regulations. Most of the homes and gardens were polished perfection in uniform compliance. Meanwhile, basically across one street to the other side, Coconut Grove thrived with individuality, a lush, colorful treat with peacocks wandering the lanes. Some of the homes have large colorful murals on the walls facing the street, while down the street an English Tudor home seems transported from Britain. But we left this realm of creativity to cross the divide to the prim and proper for a few years. What were we thinking? We should have seen our mismatched clothing in the looking glass before we called U-Haul.

Shortly after we arrived, I cleaned the front porch of the pretty home with the traditional red barrel-tiled roof and I positioned our outdoor furniture on the large front porch with its decorative, black ironwork of swirling design which wrapped around the veranda. Our front yard was filled with hibiscus and other tropical flowers. The seat cushions on the porch daybed needed cleaning, so I took them to our walkway and grabbed the garden hose to wash them down with a small amount of liquid detergent and a brush. Sounds simple enough, right? While I was immersed in my quick cleaning job, a neighbor walked past and glared at me without returning my greeting. She quickly flipped out her cell phone. I grabbed my cushions and hurried to the front porch just in time before a community patrol car whipped around the corner to the front of the house. The evidence was gone, so he paused a minute and went on his way while I stayed inside peeking through the curtains. The seat-cushion police didn’t catch me flagrantly soaping-up the sidewalk. What could they expect from an Alabama redneck? I could have washed my dishes in the front yard instead of my flowery cushions. A friend of mine had plumbing problems, and he sent his pretty teenage daughters outside to wash the dishes with water from the garden hose at a picnic table. Now, get that picture Mr. Seat-cushion policeman! Oh, and by the way, we did move back to Coconut Grove within a few years. Just CLICK HERE to read more about the Coral Gables house where a movie was filmed before we arrived, and enjoy many stories about France.

Oh, I’m getting carried away. I’m probably just green with envy for the Sotheby listed mansions. Yet, I do love a dash of whimsy and enough freedom of expression for a person to feel happy with their personal space. Are you with me, or am I on a ledge by myself?IMG_0930 - CopyBack to Gordes which shares the title of “The City Beautiful” with Coral Gables, and each of these cities deserve all of the accolades. We went to the village of Gordes and nearby several times during our autumn visit, including a couple of days when the weather was threatening with heavy, dark clouds. I photographed Gordes and the surrounding area during this time when it was severely windy on the high plateau facing the gorgeous village. It was difficult to select only a few photos for the blog, so others will appear on Google+ and Facebook.IMG_0927 - CopyGordes has survived multiple invasions, the religious wars, the plague, two earthquakes, a bombing at the end of the Second World War and all the consequences including starvation and depopulation. Somehow, I believe it will survive my attempt at a blog story.IMG_0951 - CopyThank you kindly for visiting and please come again! Share the link with others if you would like.

“Fools for Avignon” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_9247-1April 1, 2016 – A few days ago when I was planting marigolds, zinnias and verbena, I heard the birds singing: “Skinny, skinny, skinny …Pretty, pretty, pretty…” No, it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke! My hearing isn’t what it used to be, but I heard the birdies’ warbling to me as I dug holes for my flowers, kneeling on the ground, wearing my big straw sunhat.

Today, only an April Fool would attempt planting flowers in Alabama with severe weather alerts of flash flooding and possible tornadoes. With one eye on the keyboard and the other on the weather channel, I thought it would be a good day to write about Avignon, the chief city of Vaucluse and gateway to Provence. Obviously, we had to visit. But husband Jim and I went there rather by accident for our first discovery of this medieval city.

October, 2015 – Our intended destination was a bit north of Avignon. We followed our Google map directions, and everything was cool until we reached the overpass, underpass, rabbit hole that dipped down and around to the major highway north. We took the correct exit number and following the Google directions we circled the round-about to the fourth exit which went into a massive shopping center parking lot. We went around again, counting the exits in case there was a rabbit-hole that we missed. In desperation, Jim took road number five which was the desperado route directly into Avignon with all lanes of drivers competing for the Grand Prix. There was no turning around. Forget it. The river was on our right, so no exits either. Purely by blind coincidence, we stumbled into an exit for the entrance to the center of medieval Avignon. I took charge of the directions for our fast track entry into the Grand Prix and shouted, “Quick! Get in the left lane and make a U-turn in the cross-over ahead. Go! Go! Go!” We drove directly into an underground parking lot, found an empty space and walked to the exit for the city. Two options with arrows pointed the way, and one sign showed a baby buggy. Remembering the rusty baby buggy sign in Oppède-le-Vieux, we chose the walk without stairs and quickly found our way directly to the front of the Palais des Papes.IMG_9252The papacy left war-torn Italy and escaped to Avignon where seven French popes ruled from 1309 to 1377. In 1348 Pope Clement VI bought the town from Joanna I of Naples. Papal control continued until 1791 during the French Revolution when it became part of France. The Italian language was spoken for many years in this area. The Palace of the Popes is the largest Gothic palace in the world with 15,000 square meters (161,458 square feet) of living space. In 1995, the Palace of the Popes, the cathedral and the Pont d’Avignon became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.IMG_9232The ramparts encircling Avignon were built by the popes in the 14th century. They are one of the finest examples of medieval fortification in existence with great strength, surmounted by battlements and 39 massive towers. Incredibly, the name of the city dates back to around the 6th century B.C.IMG_9250During the time of the grand life at the Palace, they owned their own mint. They baked a vast number of loaves of bread every day, and did you know that Pope Clement VI appointed a Great Mustard Maker to the Papal Court in Avignon? However, surprisingly, at the entrance to the Palace on the day of our visit they could not provide a brochure with information for my review before we handed over our money. They asked for my camera also! Now, you know I did not find that acceptable.IMG_9239We fled to rethink our strategy since I didn’t have all of my homework prepared for an A+ tour. At the moment I didn’t know about the Chief of Mustard, or the Italian-speaking French folk. How many kisses did they require in greeting upon an autumn day in the Place de l’Horloge square?  The answer is at least three.

A cute tourist tram was parked there in the center of the square. We rushed to catch it, but other younger legs left us behind on the baby buggy route, wobbling on the cobblestones. Another tram arrived, and we claimed seats hastily while the young crowd got their last minute sips of wine. While we sat on the bench-like seats, I thought the atmosphere seemed more Italian than French. A young man was asking the Brit folks seated behind us to change his Brit currency to euros. They dug into their pockets and couldn’t find an equivalent match except in their favor.IMG_9280 He kept bugging the ticket attendant and trying to reach into the money bag for the exchange. Annoyed and rolling his eyes, he exchanged a glance my way loaded with irritation at the guy. I felt sorry for the young man if he needed euros for the ride, or food. I suggested to him that a bank was just around the corner. He replied, “Why would I want a bank?” I explained to him like any good mother would that he could change his Brit currency at the bank. With a shrug of his shoulders, he blurted, “I have money!” Then, he walked to the front of the tram, cranked it and drove the petite tourist train across the cobbled square. Yes, he was our driver – the fellow scrounging for a money exchange and trying to dip into the money bag! Yep, it was Italy in France.

We whipped around the narrow lanes, turning in impossible angles and passing so close to street-side diners that I could examine their cuisine. A lady with zebra-striped stockings extended her legs shockingly close to our parade. I wanted to lean over and ask where she purchased her chic hosiery. Window shopping the easy way, I spied a shirt that I liked. The words – STRONG ENOUGH – were spelled out on the front. I wanted that shirt. I need the confidence it proclaims on days when I feel like a wimp inside, on days when people conspire to make an April Fool of me in October!

The driver wound our little trolley up and up for a view of the Pont d’Avignon, but he didn’t stop for photography. In fact, unlike the tour buses in Paris, he didn’t stop period. The Pont d’Avignon (Saint Benezet Bridge) is known the world over thanks to the beloved children’s song bearing the name of the bridge. If you are not familiar, I suggest that you look for it since it is a charming tune, and the French version is much sweeter than the translation to English. I thought of young children dancing on the bridge like the words in the song. Boys, girls, soldiers, dolls, frogs and gorillas dance on the bridge of Avignon. Did I leave anyone out? Oh, such fun!

The bridge was built, according to legend, by a young shepherd in the 12th century who heard voices telling him to build a bridge in Avignon. When completed in 1185, it was the only place to cross the Rhone between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea. It is a true feat of engineering and a subject of much research. There is a new museum with multimedia displays, a super fun way to learn the eventful history.

One of the famous citizens from the 14th century was not very impressed with Avignon. The great Renaissance poet Petrarch considered papal Avignon to be a “sewer” and a place of corruption. Petrarch is credited with initiating the 14th-century Renaissance and is often called the “Father of Humanism”. There is a connection here that I should have known when I wrote about Marquis de Sade.

I found that when Petrarch was no longer a priest, he saw a woman named Laura in the Saint Claire d’Avignon church and his passion for her inspired his writings. It is thought that this Laura may have been Laura de Noves, the wife of Count Hugues de Sade (an ancestor of the Marquis de Sade). Laura, who is described as quite a looker with fair hair and dignified bearing, refused Petrarch. That’s the best I can dig up for a scandal in this story.

The day was cloudy and dismal, still spitting rain after the threat of the Mistral on the previous days. We built our energy with a relaxing meal at a street-side café while people-watching with the music of the carousel in the background. After our meal, we walked in the flow of pedestrians through the Place de l’Horloge, admiring the Gothic clock tower above the town hall and trompe l’oeil windows in a mansion.  You can CLICK for the smaller images for larger display.

IMG_9265Before our turn for the baby buggy path I saw a young female photographer spread on the ground aiming for her best shot. It could have been me on the ground in any setting from Alabama cow pastures to the sidewalks of Paris with Jim nearby playing traffic control, or pretending not to know me. Admittedly, there was one big difference! The photographer kneeling on the pavement, the subject of my photo, was young, cute and pert, not – well, you get the picture!IMG_9240I still have the tweeting of the birds, “Skinny…skinny and Pretty…pretty” to keep me company whether I wear a STRONG ENOUGH tee shirt, or not.

Come around again to travel with us!  Three kisses to ya’ll for your wonderful support.

“Roussillon – Part II” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_1013 - CopyOctober, 2015 – Our neighborhood surrounding our colorful rental house in the Provence, a few miles from Roussillon, was abuzz with activity in the jardins. Hopefully, the chainsaw wielding neighbors were not buzzed as they lopped off tree limbs, so we wouldn’t have any emergency calls for lopped-off body parts. What brought on this lively and hasty pruning? The weather report warned that high winds and heavy rain were coming our way in the next two days.

We took the news seriously and decided to stay inside the safety of the thick walls of the house which was built to keep out the winds of the Mistral, which some locals say can blow the ears off a donkey. I had read stories about the Mistral. Peter Mayle recounts, “It drove people, and animals, mad. It was an extenuating circumstance in crimes of violence. It blew for fifteen days on end, uprooting trees, overturning cars, smashing windows, tossing old ladies into the gutter, splintering telegraph poles, moaning through houses like a cold and baleful ghost, causing la grippe, domestic squabbles, absenteeism from work, toothache, migraine – every problem in Provence that couldn’t be blamed on the politicians was the fault of the sâcré vent which the Provençaux spoke about with a kind of masochistic pride.” I didn’t want to be the little old lady in the gutter, so we stayed home and only risked the domestic squabbles. Apparently, I already had la grippe since I was coughing, feverish and following instructions from the nice lady pharmacist after she recommended nasal spray, cold medicine and cough drops. All of this was less than twenty euros!IMG_1024 - Copy

On the first day of the bad weather report we only had an average rain, nothing especially hazardous. Jim cooked and I rested with la grippe on the sofa until I decided I was tired of trying to see outside through the dirty glass doors. I muttered complaints and accusations at the previous tenants and maybe a few words against the owners. Why couldn’t they do this simple window cleaning with just a quick spray and few swipes and it would be done? I found the glass cleaner in the kitchen and went to work. The finished product was worse than the dirty version! I finally found vinegar and mixed my own cleaner for the second cleaning, this time in windblown rain for the outside glass scrubbing. Voila! The rain fell in the courtyard on the orange trumpet vine now visible through the sparkling, clean glass for my enjoyment as I coughed and went through a box of tissues.

On the second day, the rain was gone and only dark clouds hovered here and there. The neighbors were out and about. Jim and I decided to risk getting our car overturned and our ears blown away. We drove to Roussillon and paid the small admission price to Sentier des Ochres. (Admission is free up to ten years old, a good value for families.)IMG_0977 - Copy

Despite my best efforts at travel planning, we could have totally missed this wonderful place if I had not exchanged a message with an exceptional photographer in the Google photo challenge group that accepts my amateur contributions.IMG_0989 - CopyHe recommended the ocher quarry highly while my guidebook had only the briefest description tacked on to the information for Roussillon: “Its hues come from at least 17 shades of ochre discovered in and around the village, notably in the dramatic former quarries along the Sentier des Ochres. IMG_0987 - Copy

The quarries are to the east of the village, a 45-minute round-trip from the information office.” I had read though this and thought  a former quarry didn’t sound enticing, and I noticed the picture of an entry stairway which appeared hazardous for me with my tendency to stumble over a toadstool. Truly, the stairs were not that bad. I am very thankful that I had the brief conversation. There is nothing like information from those in the know.

The cliffs and earth pillars formerly dug by shovels and picks have been sculpted by storms to present a blazing, panorama of color. IMG_0978 - CopyIMG_1002 - CopyThe short description on the website promises a walk among a veritable labyrinth with panels explaining the formation and operation of the famous ocher quarries. We followed a group of small children as they scampered ahead of us fearlessly, while we watched cautiously every step of the way.IMG_1003 - Copy The parents provided paper for the youngsters to create artwork. White is not a color to wear in the quarry, or you will return with new color combination. When the little ones were playing on the ground I was reminded of my own children years ago kneeling in the red clay of Alabama. Chet’s pants and Jessica’s sundresses were permanently soiled despite the powerful claims of Tide and Clorox!IMG_0976 - Copy

IMG_0995 - CopyIf you go to Roussillon, and I do hope you can, don’t miss the Sentier des Ochres! You can buy a ticket that includes the Conservatory of Ocher which is a little further in the village where you follow the path of the ocher and its transformation into manufactured products. You can visit the old factory with its pools, workshop, furnaces, shop and library.

Thank you very much for joining us.  Ya’ll please come again!  Thank you kindly for your comments.

“Roussillon – Part I” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_9076-1Roussillon was less than three miles from our cozy rental house, close enough to dash to the boulangerie for baguettes and walk along the edge of the narrow road to absorb the vivid colors of the ocher cliffs in the morning light. We followed this pattern for a few days, turning the car home and departing the stunning, picturesque village for another day, leaving the russet red gift unopened, saving the beauty on the hill for later, like a luscious bon-bon.IMG_9027Reminding Jim of this tempting tidbit one morning, I said, “Put on your walking shoes. I say, Old Boy, we are off to Roussillon!” Jim puffed out his chest and uttered aggrieved noises sounding offended and wounded: “What do you mean? Old?!!” Innocently, I said in my sweetest voice, “Oh, that. I just picked it up from the Brit movies we’ve watched since we discovered Net Flix in France. It’s just an expression. It means nothing. No reason for you to get all puffed up.” He smiled like I had soothed his ego and leaned close to put an arm around me before he replied: “Then, I can call you old girl?” Moving away from his grasp to the front door, I said, “Not on your life!IMG_8984I was on my way to cross off another of the Plus Beaux Villages on my bucket list. Russet red tints every part of the village which derives its name from the Latin name of Viscus Russulus (the red hill). The dust from the astounding ocher cliffs on which the village stands is the source of the vivid color.IMG_9011 Roussillon is situated in the heart of the biggest ochre deposit in Europe. Imagine living next door to the canyons of Colorado and Arizona, and you have the picture. The lush, deep greens of the pine trees accentuate the reds, yellows and oranges of the rock formations and cypress trees punctuate the narrow streets and squares.IMG_8971 Most of the buildings would be quite plain, but they are made beautiful with the incredible, flaming colors, like something from an artist’s palette. The Provencal blue sky and the magical quality of light lure artists now and many from the past: Jean Cocteau, Carzou, Buffet and others. The village with only a little over a thousand of population has several art galleries and studios to discover and many excellent restaurants with incredible views to remember for a lifetime.IMG_9005

Don’t miss the nineteenth-century clock and bell tower with its campanile and ancient sundials.IMG_9089

Don’t miss the ice cream with colors to match the palette of the buildings. I loved, loved the lavender ice cream. I wish I had some now to help conjure my memories of this remarkable town.

Samuel Beckett, the Irish author, took refuge here during the Second World War. Apparently, the boredom of village life drove Beckett to a nervous breakdown according to one reference that I found. Another famous visitor, American sociologist Laurence Wylie wrote about the rural French life in Village in the Vaucluse (1957). I read a large portion of the book before we went to France, but I have apparently lost it. I thought I would regal you with the history from that period compared to my childhood during the fifties. Oh well, you are spared that reminiscence.IMG_9051I thought these facts were amazing. The first record of the town was in 989 – de Rossillione. Many Neolithic signs and artifacts have been discovered here, and the site is now an important archaeological reserve. There are signs of the Roman occupation of Roussillon when they were mining ocher from the hills.IMG_8996The village is small enough that most guide books say it will take only an hour to explore. We had the privilege of seeing this jewel on the hill almost every day while we were in France for our autumn visit. Yet, there are still places I want to explore.IMG_9036The house above was an adorable place for a photo.  I am not fond of having my picture taken, but Roussillon was too beautiful not to pose here and there.  Forgive me for sticking my face in the scene so often.

We settled by the fire in the living room in the evening after another delicious dinner. I had the sofa to myself with a cushy woven throw over my legs. Jim had a big chair with an ottoman so he could stretch out and warm away the aches from our climb to the summit of Roussillon. I asked the Lord of the Manoir Ambrous, “Do you want to watch another segment of Monarch of the Glen, the show about the family in a Scottish castle? I know it’s old, but I like the series since it is sweet, innocent and funny.” From the side of the room with the recliner, I heard Jim say, “Just like me, huh?

I hope you return again for Roussillon Part II. This location with so many superlatives was impossible to include in one blog story. Next time, I hope to include more on the jagged cliffs of ocher beside the village.IMG_9065Thank you for your kind support. I hope I find Wylie’s book for more interesting reading. Consider another interesting read: “A French Opportunity

Each purchase helps this starving writer. Why not suggest it to a friend?  I do hope you are fine, healthy and happy.

If you are new to the blog, perhaps you would enjoy reading about another colorful town with brilliant reddish hues, just CLICK to read: “Black and White, Plus Red

 

“Bad to the Bone?” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_9770October, 2015 – Hot coffee, warm baguettes and croissants with generous Normandy butter and raspberry preserves fueled our breakfast conversation by the fireplace at the kitchen table. When the hot embers from the burning fire were warming Jim’s backside he asked for the day’s travel agenda: “Which narrow roads are we negotiating today? You didn’t post anything on the blackboard, but I know you’ve consulted with Rick Steves, National Geographic and a dozen websites. What torture am I in for?” Husband Jim didn’t know what a loaded question he had uttered.

Revealing my plans to Jim without the sinister details, I tempted him with this tidbit of information: “Lacoste is our destination today, another hill-village which rises steeply to an enormous eleventh century castle.” Stirred by the wrong idea, Jim gave a negative reply, “Hey, wait a minute! I’m not going shopping for any of those expensive shirts with the little alligator just for an uppity brand name.

No, you can calm down. No need to padlock your American Express card. No shocking prices for shirts are involved in this trip, but the story behind the scenes is grisly even compared to today’s horrors.”

“Well, you’re not causing me to get all excited about leaving the house with your tourism lingo today.” IMG_9764“Oh, come on, I’ll tell you more about it over a second cup of coffee at Café de France.”

IMG_9775 Once we were seated under the canopy of grapevines, table-side to jaw-dropping views of the valley, a masterpiece of artwork beyond perfection, I asked Jim if he had ever heard of Marquis de Sade. Jim sat there soaking up the sunshine, enjoying the breezes drifting up from the fields below with scents of Provence. He was not answering my question which sounded too much like one he heard in history class years ago. I would say “years and years ago” but I was in the same history class, so we won’t go that far back! Finally, he woke from his hazy, caffeine-induced stupor and answered me:

“Was he one of the three musketeers?”

 “Noooo! You won’t say, ‘All for one and one for all’ or imagine him in a Disney cartoon when you hear about this fellow. The words sadism and sadist came from his name. Now, do I have your attention?”

“Whatever in the world did he get caught doing?!!”

 “He lived a scandalous life of orgies with flagellation and wrote novels, plays and other erotic works, some anonymously. Napoleon Bonaparte ordered his arrest in 1801, and his family intervened in 1803 to declare him insane. Marquis de Sade spent thirty years of his life in various prisons and an insane asylum with ten of those years in the Bastille.”

 “You really know how to cheer up a fellow!”

 “Well, that’s good because it’s time to get into walking gear to climb to the castle ruins way up there! Marquis de Sade lived in the chateau on the top of this hill with money provided by his wealthy wife.”

“Aha, now he wasn’t all bad. He was wise in the ways of finance having his wife support him. Take heed, Woman!”

 “He wasn’t all that smart, and she wasn’t either, because she became an accomplice in his twisted endeavors. Sade didn’t like the local people of Lacoste and he had no love of rural life. However, he did enjoy the castle and made it the setting for his fantasies written later in prison.”

IMG_9793We walked onward and upward on the cobbled pathways, hoping with each bend that we had reached the top only to find more torturous climbing. Along one of the beautiful narrow lanes we found the location of the American art school which was unfortunately closed at the time.  I wished that I could enroll for one of the courses at Savannah College of Art and Design.

I only managed to aim my camera through the glass door for a shot of a colorful mural of horses dining buffet-style. IMG_9790During the nineteen-fifties the village had been almost abandoned when an American artist purchased property for the art school. Other artists moved into the area and the unpaved alleys were cobbled. I could imagine the danger of mud and ruts in the steep narrow roads before they were paved with stones.   Life in those days was hardly quaint and idyllic.IMG_9798We did reach the top to see the castle which is now owned by Pierre Cardin, the fashion designer. He wasn’t greeted with open arms according to a BBC news item. He erected modernist sculptures and started an annual theater festival in an abandoned Roman quarry.IMG_9804 It was quite a surprise to find the modern sculptures after our steep climb, but they do not mar the scenery of Provence. In fact, you wouldn’t know they were there unless you exerted the effort to find them.

The November, 2011 article said Cardin had bought twenty two houses and he has converted some to art galleries and others into guest houses. Some of the local people are bitterly furious, but Cardin was apparently not disturbed by their attacks. Cardin told BBC in an interview:

Personally I pay no attention to what the people say. They are just jealous.”

IMG_9797Like most small town disturbances, not all people have negative views. One of the guesthouse managers revealed to the writer of the BBC item that the people hated Cardin because he is an outsider and people like that are against everything. He went on to say, “Our view is that he has brought a lot to Lacoste. Without him the castle would be in ruins. Most of the houses he bought were empty and in a terrible state. He has put money into the place and employs about forty people.”

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Cardin came from humble beginnings and he has always been regarded as “something of an upstart” by the fashion elite. Finn MacEoin, an Irish writer who has settled in Lacoste says, “He was persecuted by the rich when he was poor, and now that he’s rich he’s persecuted by the poor.”IMG_9802-1“I do what I do not just for myself, but for everyone here. I do it simply because I love the place.” – Pierre Cardin

My self-congratulations for the climb was short-lived when I saw a car of gawkers approach from the other side and casually drive past to an easy ride over the hill. Why didn’t I find that road? This caused me more grief than a rich man buying a castle and planting his artwork on the lawn!

The walk descending was much worse than uphill. The golden afternoon light cast a storybook view of the hillside, but it didn’t lessen the pain in my joints. Jim teased at me saying he would take me downhill on his motorbike.IMG_9813 He pretended to rev the motor and made enough noise to disturb the villagers and their roosters! Just the thoughts of riding his imaginary motorbike and landing in a graveyard with a view were sadistic.  Jim found a garden saw on the pavement and prodded me with it, threatening dismemberment with a silly, sinister laugh if I didn’t keep on walking. Now, that’s the only type of sadism in our household!IMG_9783-1

I don’t usually write on this type of subject, but I thought it could not be ignored since the castle with this haunting shadow was there crowning the village. I wondered if Sade would have been a different person if he had received help in his early years, or even later. In a Smithsonian article written by Tony Perrottet in February, 2015, a descendant of the Marquis stated about his letters, “The letters showed Sade the man, how he was a decent human being.” He went on to say that the Marquis “wrote touching love letters to his wife, his two sons and his daughter.”

I will close on that hopeful note. What are your thoughts? Thank you for coming around to visit and for your comments. Enter your e-mail for a free notification when a new story is posted. Thanks for sharing the website with others!

 

“The Last Hour?” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_9747October 16, 2015 – A cute little pooch with sad brown eyes looked at us through the rear window of a parked car in Ménerbes. Since the French people take their dogs with them almost everywhere, it seemed strange to find this lonesome doggy in a car. IMG_9614The weather was cool and the car was in the shade, so there was no worry about his comfort.

Still, his longing look tugged at my heart; I wanted to take him up the hill with me. Hopefully, the owner was only making a quick stop and he would be on his way in the little car with his furry friend.

IMG_9615Our next distraction from the uphill walk into the hilltop town of Ménerbes was a poster for Marguerite at Cinéma la Strada happening that very night. Wouldn’t that be great fun? Where could we buy tickets? Another poster advertised a “Belle Brocante” at Saint-Saturnin-les-Apt, not just any old sale of junk and antiques, but a “belle” of a sale. IMG_9826That’s the thing about roaming around and seeing these charming French villages, you just never know what unexpected things you will see, or what will happen, especially if you are open to new experiences.

My preconditioned mind was expecting to drive through cherry orchards and vineyards and view Ménerbes spread across the hills like an ocean liner with its deck retrofitted with blocks of ancient buildings, churches and citadels. That fanciful imagery was conjured by a tourism website, and the writer of this luring prose didn’t have one too many glasses of rosé since the orchards and vineyards were more stunning than he described. The ship at anchor comparison was easy to pick out and delightful to discover all of the sixteenth and seventeenth century architecture, knowing this conjured ship was not pulling out in the morning.IMG_9626IMG_9651My notion of what to expect in Ménerbes was fixed in place years ago when I read A Year in Provence, written by Peter Mayle. Have you read this book, or any of Peter Mayle’s books? Did you see the movie A Good Year, starring Russell Crowe? Peter Mayle wrote the book with the same name, although the story in the book is rather different, like it happens so many times when movies are produced based upon books.

Peter Mayle escaped the stress and strain of city life with his wife and bought a mas, a farm house between Ménerbes and Bonnieux, after dreaming and looking “with an addict’s longing at photographs of village markets and vineyards.” Over a million copies of A Year in Provence have sold along with other books written by Mayle, almost invariably with the same rate of success. IMG_9625People came quickly after feeding on the dream of sunshine in the Provence, but somehow the medieval village has survived the notoriety in quiet beauty. After too many autograph hunters and uninvited callers, Mayle sold his home and moved for four years to New York. He says he has lived in London, New York, Barbados and the Bahamas, but nothing comes close to Provence. I knew I wouldn’t find Peter sunbathing by the pool in Ménerbes, but he does still live in the area. Who knows? After all, you just never know what will happen in these adorable villages.IMG_9726

Mayle wasn’t the only one to put his mark on Ménerbes. Walking around the peaceful streets, you would never dream of the carnage of the wars of religion that took place there in the sixteenth century. The town withstood a force of twelve thousand Catholic troops for fourteen months. The villagers ran out of water because it was used to put out fires. The citadel suffered more than nine hundred blows by cannonballs and assaults by fourteen tons of lead bullets. The Protestants agreed to negotiations and surrendered on December 9, 1578 to a “glorious capitulation” after more than five years of battle. IMG_9676 A monument is erected honoring the bicentennial of the French Revolution in 1789.

During more peaceful times, artists were attracted to Ménerbes. Nicolas de Stael lived here and Picasso bought a house for his mistress Dora Maar near the top of the village. Many writers and artists are still here enjoying the views and the beautiful light, perhaps inspired by the greats that came before them. I could only imagine what was behind the massive doors and inside the grand houses.IMG_9710

 

Husband Jim and I enjoyed the beautiful views all around from the prominent position high above the Luberon valley. When the dinner bell rang, or slightly before it rang, we found a boulangerie while it was still open.

We bought quiche and pastries, an orange one for me and a chocolate mint one for Jim. We found a welcoming bench in the shade in front of the church and a view of smoke ascending from the valley. At least it wasn’t cannon fire!IMG_9629IMG_9695IMG_9677After lunch, we made our way back down to the main square where I spotted an ancient sundial with the Latin words “Ultima Forsan” above the Roman numerals.IMG_9737 A very kind lady with the Bureau d’informations de Ménerbes told me that the wording means “the last perhaps” or “maybe the last hour of your life” which could stir some deep thoughts. Was this my last visit to Ménerbes? Then I saw the humorous side of the sundial. The painter didn’t shop Home Depot for tape to mark his edges. He subscribed to the theory of painting outside the lines. Now, that was amusing! Why not paint up some fun during – perhaps, his last hour?

Ménerbes is one of the plus beaux villages in the Vaucluse department of France. I’m happy to say that we saw all seven of the villages.

We left town without tickets to the advertised show, and thankfully we found the car with the puppy dog was gone, so the wait had not been very long for the little fellow. Jim drove to the bottom of the hill where signs pointed in various directions. IMG_9718With eyebrows arched and my finger pointing the way, I told Jim with an informative voice, “See the sign post for Apt. Apt is the nearest large town to our rental house. If we are going home and you see the sign for Apt, you are apt to be going in the right direction. I’m telling you this as a good wife should, since you are apt to go the wrong way, otherwise.” I giggled at my play on words, and Jim retorted, “You’re apt to be right, but we’re apt to run this in the ground before our trip is over.”

Come and see us again since we are apt to find more stuff on the road, maybe even Peter Mayle! Why not check out some of his books in the French Market? I have enjoyed reading his stories very much.

“Opp Connexion” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_8777The Opp Connexion with my small hometown linked to France in my blog stories was something like falling off a turnip truck and landing on the doorstep of a boulangerie. In other words, it was an odd connection and not easily crafted. I wanted to share the small towns of France, not found in guide books, or on any travel tour agenda. Simple enough to feature those stories on A French Opportunity, but how could I link my small town life in Opp, Alabama with faraway France. With my purple beret perched at an angle on my bought-and-paid-for blonde hair, I pulled up my discount outlet socks and gradually gained confidence in the word game.  IMG_8763Rambling with a tale is the Southern way of speaking, and taking the long way around to the point is considered a virtue to be praised and waited for patiently. A new friend visiting from Wisconsin recently asked a question, and fifteen minutes later after telling her about my second cousins, where I bought my Singer sewing machine in 1967 and how to fry okra, I said: “Yes, I believe you’re right,” in answer to her question. She needed all of the other background whether she knew it, or not. So, my stories go.IMG_8857The Opp Connexion delivered a bodacious load of turnips for me on this tale. Jim and I discovered a magnificent little hilltop town in France named Oppède Le Vieux. Oppidum is the Latin word for town. Isn’t that just the best Opp Connexion I’ve discovered, or made up yet?IMG_8841

The two should be sister cities with their similarities in name plus the likeness of a quiet downtown with old buildings and churches. At this point much of the sameness fades away since Oppède Le Vieux is built high on a rocky outcrop surrounded by lush forests and mountains. Old buildings take on a different meaning in the hilltop French village with a twelfth century collegiate church and the ruins of an ancient chateau. Artists, writers and movie stars have fallen in love with this charming village and make it their home.IMG_8788

IMG_8811You can’t just drive into this picturesque village unless you are a resident. No, we parked the car and followed a path into the hills with the option of a steep stairway, or a long meandering route with a rusty baby buggy sign pointing the way. IMG_8860I charged ahead taking the stairs with the same attitude that I’ve taken with many projects, saying just do it. After all, it wasn’t uncharted territory. Others have been before me. How hard could it be? Soon, I was reaping the benefits of the stairway climb, seeing the faraway hillside of ancient buildings and then meandering past the fifteenth and sixteenth century restored houses, some painted in brilliant colors.

Sure, my muscles ached, and I did take the rusty baby buggy route on the return to the car.

IMG_8861 Hey, remember that is the Southern way to ramble and meander, taking a rusty baby buggy direction at every opportunity!

If you visit the Provence, this out of the way town should be on your list! Don’t miss it.

IMG_8800I hope ya’ll are doing just fine. Frankly, I’ve been sick and not quite myself yet from fever, cough and aches. I couldn’t have published this short story, but I had written a draft a few weeks ago which I had intended to expand, but it is what it is.

I am on my way to recovery. Take care and come around to see us again! Thanks for your kind support.

 

“Alike and Not Alike” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_8660October 8, 2015 – Jim took a right-hand turn from the main road before he had directions from the appointed navigator, namely me. Weary from jet-lag on our first day in France, I asked: “Why did you turn here? The sign points to a campground, and I never gave the word to fly off the road yet!” I slumped in my seat while Jim drove on the wrong road, knowing he had to turn around safely somewhere. Near the end of the road, I saw a beautiful hilltop town with stone houses, a bell tower and a chateau set among vineyards with the Luberon Mountains to our right. Continuing on his merry unguided way, Jim plunged ahead, driving up a narrow lane lined with cypress trees, entering the village of Maubec-le-Vieux, France and finally parking. IMG_8666I didn’t expect our turn-around from Jim’s wrong road foray to be in such a scenic location, completely different from the U-turns in parking lots, industrial zones, grave yards and cattle auction lots. The view of fruit and olive trees in the valley with a patchwork of gold, red and green in the sunlight was not like the scene of some of Jim’s notorious turn-arounds in Alabama. Backing our Jeep over a culvert to a patch of hardened clay overgrown with weeds, he was totally unaware of a sign posted: “No Trespassing! Trespassers will be shot! Survivors will be shot again!” No, I won’t go there again and I didn’t want to be there in the first place! In France, he somehow avoids the “Privé” (private) signs, but he leaves my side of the car inches from a drop-off to the canyon floor like it is ordinaire and flippantly says: “There’s plenty of room. We haven’t run off the road yet, have we?

Before I had said a word of direction, Jim backed the car from the parking space and headed in the opposite direction, unknown territory and toward a pathway that seemed to narrow into a goat trail. “Turn around now! While you still have space to get out of this place, stop and turn around!” He maneuvered the car in the tight spot until it was headed in the right direction, without taking a backwards tour down the side of the hill. We lived another day without incident to return for a real visit to the pretty village when I felt better with an improved mood.IMG_8679IMG_8685I love finding similarities in France, and other places where we travel. Honeysuckle vines grew on the wall of a stunning, strawberry pink house and reminded me of the honeysuckle flowers on my backyard fence at home. The sweet fragrance brought memories of my childhood when I tasted the nectar inside the blossoms. I didn’t think the folks inside the pink house would appreciate me sampling sips of nectar from their flowers. If I could have spoken to them, we may have shared our common appreciation of the hardy, but delicate, honeysuckle vine. Frequently, that is all it takes, a few words spoken and a smile to open doors and build good fellowship.

I enjoy the differences such as the woven curtain in the colorful doorway that we found in the village. No, we don’t have anything to compare in our small town, not alike any doorway in the vicinity! IMG_8695Jim and I travel to see the differences in other places, the architecture, people, food and landscape that are unique to the area. Among the variations, the discovery of a common thread is comforting with the realization that even hundreds, or thousands of miles away, we are really not that different after allWe are alike.

On the other hand, is there possibly another husband like mine out there? If I give him any leeway in following directions on our travels, he is like a runaway train, or one of those little toy cars in a cartoon, zipping around out of control. Do you have a husband like this on the road of your travels? Are there others just like him on this planet?IMG_1170-1                

Oh, heavens, do I ever feel for you! In all fairness, I will say that I am ever so thankful because I could never, ever, ever drive on those narrow roads like he does! Well, that’s enough of painting him up like a Super-Husband.

IMG_8689IMG_8673I hope you enjoyed this petite story. I’ve been extra busy this month. It is flying by fast. I hope you are happy and healthy. Please come back again!  I love seeing your comments.

“The Orange Elephant” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_1532What’s wrong with this picture? Any loyal Alabama football fan would scream immediately in protest to an orange-painted elephant. Red is the only choice for the Crimson Tide football team of the University of Alabama. Orange is the color for the fine and outstanding competitive team of Auburn tigers in Alabama, the one yelling “War Eagle!Orange is just not right for an elephant! It’s enough to make your eyes water and skin itch!

Do you know what started the stampede of red elephants that appear in Alabama on everything from mailboxes to Superman Elephant tee shirts?redelephant You are familiar with those sports reporters that scream until they lose their voices with their sports commentary on your wide-screen televisions, I’m sure! One of their predecessors, Everett Strupper of the Atlanta Journal, wrote a colorful story back in 1930, recounting a game with Ole Miss. He unleashed the red elephants with these words: “At the end of the quarter, the earth started to tremble. There was a distant rumble that continued to grow. Some excited fan in the stands bellowed, ‘Hold your horses, the elephants are coming,’ and out stampeded this Alabama varsity. It was the first time that I had seen it and the size of the entire eleven nearly knocked me cold, men that I had seen play last year looking like they had nearly doubled in size.”  So the legend began with Strupper and other sportswriters calling the Alabama linemen “Red Elephants”, with the crimson jerseys as the proper color reference for the elephants, not orange.

Trivia: Did you know that the Auburn tigers played their first bowl game in Havana, Cuba? The orange tigers played against Villanova and the game was tied at 7-7, making history as the first time two U.S. universities played a game on foreign soil. It was during a revolutionary time because Batista had just taken power, and the game was almost cancelled because his picture was not on the program. Now you know!IMG_1536Husband Jim and I found the out-of-place elephant with the wrong color coordination on the main road through Robion, France in early October of this year. The young manager of La Symphonie des Sens (The Symphony of the Senses) a store with patio furniture and animal art for sale was trying to sweep away the falling leaves from the front door when two Auburn fans parked at the edge of his property. We didn’t protest the colors, despite our loyalty to Auburn as the true owners of the bright orange color scheme, not a big, trumpeting elephant on a French terrace. We only asked permission for photos and kept quiet about the football story, unless Jim’s mouth got carried away out of my hearing range, which isn’t very far.IMG_1533 The nice Frenchman told Jim he was born in the U.S. and lived in Washington D.C. and Maryland when he was a little boy. I don’t know if he had ever spoken to a South Alabama character like Jim, but it must have livened up his day. Uh, the yard displayed some unusual animals painted Alabama crimson red. Don’t blame me for their choice of animals. For the sake of not being in trouble – I hope – I will stay neutral like the soft-bellied, green frog who silently posed on a recliner by the busy road.IMG_1537 Remember and heed the harmonious theme of the store: “The Symphony of the Senses”.

We did more than mosey around the patio furniture on the busy, main thoroughfare. Just a few blocks down from the colorful animal art, we found a sign pointing to the historic district. A short ride away from the busy road was a peaceful scene; although, the narrow streets were packed with cars uphill and in front of beautiful buildings painted in faded hues of raspberry, strawberry and lemon.

IMG_8735IMG_8724 IMG_8750If all of the cars were as cute as the white and red-topped Citroën 2CV that Jim found for sale I would be a happy photographer, but otherwise they are not photogenic, and I hunt desperately for a photo capture without bumper-to-bumper, ugly, modern vehicles. No offense to the auto industry because I want to ride my Jeep at home and rental cars in France! Why not roll out more of the lovable Citroën 2CVs?IMG_8752We enjoyed wandering around the old streets, and then we lingered for a late lunch at tables in the sun at the popular Café de la Poste by the ancient fountain. Signs here and there advertised an olive festival, so I asked our nice waitress for more information. She sounded like most hometown people who are rather unimpressed with their own local entertainment. She shrugged her shoulders and said it was just olive stuff for sale, just ordinary. I asked about music, or other special events, and she shook her head in the negative direction. The food was good, and the young lady was very helpful, like she truly enjoyed serving us. When we started to leave, Jim said some corny, funny something to the waitress who had been charmed by his Alabama born-and-bred manners. He reached to leave the tip by his plate, but the coins rolled off the table to the stone terrace. We, females, locked eyes with a knowing look and a smile, with silent communication voiced as: “Men!!IMG_8711Don’t judge a town by the main highway when you are driving around. Check a guidebook, or simply look for those signs that point to the fun and interesting part of town.

Why judge an elephant, a frog or a person by the color of their skin? You may miss out on a life-long friend, or a wonderful memory.
Thanks for coming around to see us. Please come again.

I have one final word that I would like to say. Jim and I were heart-broken to see the tragedy in Paris. We continue to pray for the dear friends we have met in France and all of their fellow countrymen, especially those harmed in this violence. We do believe peace will come, and there is hope.

“Two Domaines” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_1527October 8-9, 2015 – Two nights at the foot of the Luberon Mountains, in the heart of the vineyards, in a private two-bedroom cottage with a small terrace, oozing ambiance and a fireplace for the cool evenings sounded like the perfect antidote to jet lag. What could be better for the two nights before we moved on to our rental house, La Maison d’Artistes?

My head was pounding after a night without sleep on the flight to Marseilles, but thankfully the flight was smooth with no other problems as well as the drive to our reserved sanctuary in the Provence. Rows of grapevines and olive trees surrounded us. (click for the website) Domaine Faverot. Fields of lavender minus the lovely flowers which were already harvested still created a tranquil atmosphere. I was only dreaming of a heavenly bed inside the solid stone walls covered with flaming red vines and flanked with tall evergreen trees. Jim parked the car on the hillside, and I anxiously opened the door to a startling, loud noise echoing from the woods above. Donkeys were braying, “Hee-Haw! Hee-Haw!” Oh, my painful headache! I thought it would explode as the noise sounded like a hack-saw scraping on metal. I wondered why the donkeys were laughing at me and if this was some indication of where our trip was headed. Click for larger images – Domaine Faverot:

I walked through the cobbled courtyard and admired all of the colorful seating areas. I felt satisfied with everything I saw and relieved that I had found such a beautiful place. Then, the nice managers had to break the news to me that they were booked up, and I didn’t have a reservation through some mix-up that was my fault, not theirs. They were completely hospitable and offered to help us with another property under the same ownership. My disappointment led to thoughts that the other place would not be as nice. I saw only one picture of the living area with a very modern appearance, not the cozy cottage atmosphere that I desired. Quickly, I did a kick-in-the-seat to my downward spiraling attitude, telling myself that it was only two nights and to get over it!

Outside, with Jim trailing along to the car, I heard the “Hee-Haw” of the donkeys again. “Oh, shut up! You don’t know anything about making reservations on the internet, or what it’s like to have jet lag!” Jim caught up with me and asked, “What did you say?” Mumbling in reply, I minced no words explaining, “I wasn’t talking to you. I was telling the donkeys a thing or two.” Jim, very wisely, decided to leave that one alone.

We drove through road work with delays in two areas with dust and aggravation. It seemed that the donkeys were riding in the backseat of our rental car, still laughing as we waited in a line of traffic. Finally, we reached (click please) Domaine Des Peyre and my worries evaporated in a cloud of thankfulness for the kindness of these lovely people at both properties who helped us after hours of anticipation.IMG_9519“Domaine Des Peyre is located between Gordes and L’Isle sur la Sorgue in the heart of the Luberon. The 32-hectate (79 acre)-estate’s vines are planted in terraces among oak, olive, almond, cherry trees and garrigue which cover 22 hectares (54 acres). After a long period of inactivity, the estate was taken over by hotelier Georges Antoun (Newhotel Group) and Patricia Alexandre (former director of Gault Millau), who began restoring it two years ago. After a complete reorganization of the vineyard, the estate today is going through a revival.”

All of this impressive information had to stay on hold since I was more interested in the beautiful stairway with a huge chandelier that led to our own large second floor terrace. Inside, I found high-class facilities including a fully-fitted kitchen with dishwasher, oven, LCD screen TV, free wi-fi and everything of my heart’s desire, especially the large, comfortable bedroom next to a bathroom with double sinks and a power shower! IMG_8872IMG_8920The decoration was Provencal with a few antiques mixed with industrial furniture and modern art. I was feeling chic and with-it, or whatever the current expression is. Oh, and before I forget to mention it, there’s an infinity pool set among the vines, lavender and almond trees. We were wearing jackets and sweaters. The cool pool was not an option for us this time, but it must feel like an oasis during the heat of summer!IMG_8869

“The new owners wished to restore the wine estate to its full splendor. They have realized this by undertaking the complete restoration of one of the last remaining fortified farms in the region, taking care to respect the architectural features of the site while at the same time investing in, and carrying out, a major reorganization of the vineyard.”

HISTORY
Recent archaeological excavations have uncovered numerous remains of Roman houses. The farmhouse itself, dating from the 18th century, is thought to have been built on the foundations of a Gallo-Roman villa.

CONTEMPORARY ART
“For Richard Nicolet, (Click for Galerie Nicolet) in view of the quality of the project, opening his contemporary art gallery at the heart of the wine estate was an easy decision to make. Amongst the ancient architectural beams and stone walls, visitors can appreciate the contemporary works of sculptors, photographers and painters. In the boutique’s warm, informal yet chic ambiance, the Domain Des Peyre wine bottles flaunt their unique identity, each in their own contemporary design label.”IMG_8897

IMG_8898HIGH-TECH FACILITY
“A new air-conditioned, 400 square meters (4,305 square feet) wine-making cellar was constructed in time for the 2014 harvest. Built by DVTech, it features 18 stainless steel tanks and 8 concrete vats, a sorting table for removing any residual plant matter, a hydraulic press and highly efficient wine-making equipment. A visit to the cellar allows wine aficionados to gain an insight into the wine-making process.”

JIM’S STORY – WINE AFICIONADO
Special thanks to Guillaume de Roany, Sommelier, for taking Jim on a private wine tasting. Jim has been to many wine caves in the Loire, Burgundy, Dordogne and Bordeaux, but this was a unique visit. He was like an excited young kid going on his first camping trip. On second thought, perhaps Jim was anxiously stepping into the mature world of becoming a true wine aficionado. I was still recovering from my headache so I decided to spend my time on the sofa while he went off to explore the wine cellar. I heard about his adventure in bits and pieces when he returned and for days after, but I needed the full story. Today, he started before breakfast with his written version on ruled notebook paper, almost four pages. Please pardon us if there are errors in our understanding of this complex winery. We hope you enjoy the little tour. The following is Jim’s story:
“At 4:30 p.m. with everything closed, Guillaume met me and I had the privilege of tasting the blanc, rosé and rouge wines.”
LE SCOOP, White Luberon. Having a lovely pale yellow color, this opulent wine has notes of honeysuckle, hawthorn and ripe pear.
L’EQUIPE, Rosé Luberon. With its lovely pale pink color and fruity notes of melon, strawberry and grapefruit, this fresh wine is elegant on the palate and a perfect wine for summer.
LA GAZETTE, Red Ventoux. This wine opens with a peppery nose, evolves in the mouth with notes of red fruits.

“Guillaume’s father is a wine maker, so he has been involved all of his life. He smelled the wine as a boy to identify the various aromas. He trained his nose in the markets and said, “You can’t smell blueberry in the wine if you do not know how blueberries smell.” We moved on to the Oaking Cave with about a dozen new oak barrels. After this vintage the oak barrels will not be one-year-old, but one-vintage-old. They can be used for many vintages, and they are very expensive to buy new. The barrels lose value faster than a new car, from 600 euros to 10 euros in one vintage. The old barrels are sold to distilleries for whiskey, rum or brandy.”

“Next, we moved to the Vat Room. I’m not sure that is the correct name, but that is what I’m calling it. A large machine separated seeds and skin for the blanc wines. Rosé is made from juice from grapes that are crushed by the weight of the grapes. Grapes are then pressed to extract juice for the rouge wines. Juice, seeds and skins go into the vats and fermentation begins.”

“It was time for more tasting, but this time I tasted from the vats! Each vat marked the varietal of grape, the date and other information for the Chef of the Cave, a young lady with an impressive background. This was my impression from the tasting, bearing in mind that I do not have a trained nose, or exceptional taste buds.”
Blanc: Very young “green” a bit of pucker
Rosé: light, slightly fruity, dry, not sweet
Rouge: almost wine, almost 10% alcohol
“When the wine is ready, the vat is chilled by pumping cold liquid through an internal system of cooling tubes and fins to stop the fermentation. The final product will be a blend of more than one varietal. At Domaine Des Peyres it is not simply a recipe, but the wine is determined by sight, smell and taste. The sommelier has a say, but the Chef of the Cave has the final say. It sounded like the way my mother cooked in her kitchen with a dash of this, and a pinch of that, with her personal taste buds that had the final say.”

“Then we went up to the top of the vats. The blanc and rosé juices need only sit and ferment while the rouge is labor intensive. The juice must stay in contact with the seeds and skins to get the color, flavor and aroma, but the seeds and skin float on top. The lid on the vat is removed and they use a long stainless steel “T” handle as a plunger to push the seeds and skin down through the juice. This is done about 50 times per vat – every day! The easy method used in some other wineries is to pump the juice from the bottom up to the top. Then, it was time to go for a glass of wine!”

“Lastly, I must mention that before we went into the Vat Room Guillaume tested for SO₂ (Sulfur Dioxide) a natural by-product of fermentation. Thus, the wine contains sulfites. The test is a cigarette lighter flame. Everything is o.k. if the flame does not go out, but otherwise it can be as deadly as CO₂.”

“I lived through it safely, thanks to Guillaume and his expertise! It was the most fun that I’ve had in a long time, and I hope this year’s wines are a great success!  Thanks very much to Guillaume for an experience I will remember and share for a long time.”IMG_8878FIRST GOLD MEDAL
Domaine des Peyre was presented with their first gold medal for rosé wine, AOP Ventous, cuvée Paparazzi 2014. With 6,019 wines tasted during the competition, only 525 gold medals were attributed. We expect to see more awards and great success in their future.IMG_8900Our stay here was more rewarding than expected, a very pleasant surprise. We went to nearby Coustellet for our baguette and pastries each morning and explored nearby hill towns, with stories on those to come in the following weeks and months.IMG_8963 We had a leisurely, romantic dinner at Gustave Restaurant and returned to the domaine late in the night to see strings of lights and a gurgling fountain like something in a movie, except we were the characters. I would say stars in a movie, but we all know that Jim and I fit the part of “characters” much better.IMG_8922

As for the donkeys, I took time from my valuable sightseeing to run around to their residence on the hillside for a photography shoot. They wouldn’t show their faces, but the “Hee-Haws” were vibrating through the trees and vines. No doubt, they didn’t want me to tell them that I had the last laugh since I had a perfectly grand time!
I believe you will feel the same if you stay or visit at either of these two beautiful domaines: Domaine Faverot or Domaine Des Peyre.IMG_8905Note: All quotations above, except from Jim’s Story, are from Le Petit Journal du Domaine des Peyre Numero 001, May 2014.

Thank you for coming around to travel with Jim and me! We will have more beautiful villages to share in the coming weeks. If you have not entered your e-mail address to subscribe, perhaps this would be a good time. Just look to the top of the page to enter for free notification when the next story pops up.

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