“Almost Anything Considered” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_0007-1Heavy fog blanketed the roadway ahead as Jim cautiously drove in the Provence along D36 from Bonnieux to D943 down south to Lourmarin.  It was a narrow corkscrew of a road cut through rock with high limestone peaks.  Mourre Nègre rises to 3,690 ft. in the spectacular range of mountains.  Occasionally, I had a glimpse through the fog of the outstanding beauty of the valley below and the rocks jutting from the savage countryside with no houses in sight.  I remembered reading in the novel “Anything Considered” that this road was the perfect setting by night for the twentieth-century highwayman. IMG_0008-1 Husband Jim the normally fearless man at the wheel was driving in mid-morning after a heavy overnight rain which likely accounted for the fog.  Peter Mayle’s novel set an ominous crime scene for the very road we were traveling:  “Rumors of armed robberies had been circulating recently in village cafes, and the story was always the same.  A car, seemingly broken down, blocks the road, with a lone figure standing beside.  The unsuspecting motorist stops to offer help.  Friends of the lone figure then jump out from their hiding place in the bushes, often with guns.  The helpful motorist is left with a ten-mile walk to civilization, while his car is being processed for resale in a backstreet Marseille garage.

Surely, there was no need to worry about highwaymen during the day, and after all this was a fictional account published in 1996.  I decided this was not a good time to share the information like a scary book-of-the-month installment.  I can always find something to worry about. IMG_0012We were thankful to say good-bye to our jumpy, nervous feelings and ease into Lourmarin through the golden canopy of plane trees and past the amusing sculpture of a naked lady at the edge of the road.  IMG_0016

She wasn’t very sexy, but apparently she needed a good sudsy bath with extra heavy-duty mildew remover.  I was drawn to Lourmarin for two reasons.  First, the village is rather flat, a welcome change after climbing the steep pathways in the other villages we had visited in Provence.

The second enticement was the beautiful chateau.  We went in that direction first.IMG_0114There is a hint of Italy in Lourmarin’s castle which stands regally beyond open fields at the edge of the village.  One reference work says that when the chateau was abandoned in the nineteenth century that it was taken over by gypsies.  A local tradition says the gypsies were responsible for the strange graffiti on one of the inner walls, and that they put a curse on the place when they were evicted.IMG_0050Below the chateau to the right of the pathway from the chateau into the village is a church which was built for Protestants, who formed the major population during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  A tomb in the surrounding cemetery is that of the novelist, essayist and playwright Albert Camus, who bought a house in Lourmarin before he won the Nobel prize for Literature in 1957.  His time enjoyed in Lourmarin was cut short when he was killed in a car crash near the village while being driven to Paris in 1960Now, there was another subject I would not mention to Jim at the end of the day when we wound our way north again through the ravine separating the Grand and the Petit Luberon.

The smart people in the chateau had closed their doors for lunch.  Fortunately, I could enjoy the garden of richly-colored dahlias, shining like jewels after the night’s refreshing rain.  We admired the views of the village and then decided to walk on to find a shady place to eat beside the winding narrow street with typical Mediterranean architecture.IMG_0057An arbor of vines kept us in the shade, but it held a canopy of raindrops which showered us with each gust of wind.  We had placed our order and I didn’t see another open table.  The young couple next to us saw our predicament, and the nice lady helped me grab a table without a built-in shower.  After lunch, I noticed that she left the table early to search for photo opportunities, as I did, leaving the guys behind to face the bills alone.  I found a window full of toys for our grandson, Daniel.  Now, wouldn’t my daughter appreciate the Noah’s ark with the many, many animals?  The zebra, snakes, penguins and squirrels might not fit into my brocante antique finds either.   I watched a big sister giving a little sister rides on her scooter on the pedestrian-only street.

A city maintenance truck with the cutest, smiley face on the window came around the corner and parked.  The worker was very annoyed because a car was parked and blocking his way, but he posed for my camera anyway.

A tiger was waiting in an open air safari Jeep.  Oh, it was fake, but very amusing.   A real curbside market, in every sense of the word, was set up at the edge of the lane with vegetables, figue noire (black figs) big as a baby’s fist, sausage hung in loops and wine.

During the photo-snapping, I was suddenly photo-bombed by two young ladies. After the laughter and surprise, I introduced myself, produced my business card, and they agreed for me to share their photo. IMG_0069 Among all of the giggles, I failed to notice that one of the pretty ladies had her eyes closed in the photo.  I suppose that I had the last laugh and photo bomb.  Thanks again, ladies!

Lourmarin is officially classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France.  Lourmarin is a cultural center for the region as it hosts music and art festivals and has many art galleries.  The Countess of Agoult, whose family owned the village chateau, was the mother of Franz Liszt (1811-1886) and three other children.  One of the children married Richard Wagner.   Quite interesting to find such a number of talented people associated with this small town.   Peter Mayle, the famous author mentioned at the beginning, also lived here for awhile.  I found a news item published in 2011 that reported the sale of his sumptuous eighteenth-century residence with fourteen acres of property, an olive grove, pool, ponds and gardens for $8.6M.

I never expect to have that sum stashed in the bank, but I have a wealth of experiences stored in my personal bank and bright hopes.

You may be interested to know that I took the beach trip with Vanessa, the buddy I mentioned in the last blog story – “Thrown Away”.  IMG_3363 We shopped and enjoyed shrimp at almost every meal except breakfast.  The brilliant white sand of Miramar Beach, Florida was wonderful, as always.  We spent one night at the Hilton San Destin, and then we stopped for information at Henderson Park Inn since Vanessa had never visited.

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One of my highest rated blogs “Umpteenth Honeymoon” was set at this atmospheric location.  The generous lady at the front desk gave us the key to the Presidential Suite for a short visit with my Canon in action!

Perhaps you would enjoy the book (CLICK TO VIEW)”A French Opportunity.  It isn’t quite the best-seller compared to “Anything Considered” but it has its appealing moments.

Thanks for visiting!  Please come again.  I do appreciate everyone of you very much.

“Thrown Away” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_9099On a sweltering hot day of adventure with my partner-in-crime Vanessa, we were headed westward in our friendly hometown of Opp, Alabama.  With Vanessa at the wheel, I was free to observe the flower beds blooming with purple petunias, white daisies and orange lilies and one odd frog made from old tires.IMG_3297  Runner beans, tomatoes, squash and a few rows of corn were flourishing in a few of the yards of older homes that I remember from my childhood when the elementary school was just one street behind the scene flashing past my car window.

There in front of a white frame house, a pile of discarded items was ready for the garbage truck.  I spotted a white plant holder which I needed for my flower pot!  I love finding free stuff!  I could fill this page with a list of good stuff that I’ve found, like the vintage luggage and piano stool that I found in Florida, and a cute child’s rocker that I spotted in Opp.  Hearing my cry of “free stuff”, Vanessa whipped the car around at Indian Joe’s Pawn Shop and took me to the curbside trash deposit.  As we drew closer, I was readying myself to dive out for the plant holder, imagining the pretty flowers cascading in profusion.  Displayed on the trash bags next to a pair of worn-out Lacrosse rubber boots lined with cobwebs was a – porta-potty – not my imagined flower pot holder!  After Vanessa finished with her fit of laughter, she had to promise she wouldn’t tell Jim, or I would never hear the end of it.  I could hear it already: “Honey, the hole in the center is just right for your petunias.  If ya’ll keep on lookin’ you’re likely to find a real commode for a  planter that could be “flush-full” of fresh-as-a-daisy glorious flowers!

IMG_3293Well, it was bad enough that I pulled over for a porta-potty, but I actually returned to the scene for a picture, and the porta-potty was gone!  I guess some folks have less-discriminating taste, or did I miss the potential?  Maybe I should have picked up those Lacrosse boots for Jim.

Vanessa is my good buddy for messin’ around.  She laughs when I reminisce about earlier days in Opp, watches British comedy and drama shows with me and listens to my stories about France.   We are planning a shopping and beach weekend, just us girls!  Vanessa is very much younger than I am.   I must thank her mother for raising a lovely, young lady to be my friend.

Now, I’ve been wondering how I could take this story over to the subject of France after riding all around Opp with my friend.  I asked Vanessa the same question, and she said I should just go for it.  She gets me into a lot of trouble telling me to just go for it.  Jim said to just plunge ahead, using that plunger by the porta-potty!  Shut up, Jim!

Back in October, during our days of golden fall in France, the lady who owned our rental house said we should go over to see Saint-Saturnin-lès- Apt.  She pointed to the town from our roof terrace.  Well, technically it was her roof terrace, but I was renting it for a few weeks.  She wrote the town’s name on a note pad along with earlier scribbles along the lines of wait for me I’ll be back in ten minutes and don’t forget to buy toilet paper for the upstairs bath.   Most rental houses have complex lists of information, but the note pad was it, a very relaxed approach.  But the owners responded immediately anytime we needed help.  Now that I think about it, I believe she could join Vanessa and me to find better stuff than a porta-potty!

The village our landlady recommended is below the ruins of a castle which is on a high plateau.  This much I knew, but a surprise waited for us on the opposite end of the plateau – a beautiful seventeenth-century windmill in perfect-photography condition. One reference said the windmill dates from the sixteenth-century and it is the only survivor of four original windmills that dominated the village.  I found no romantic stories like a shepherdess falling in love with a prince when they met at the windmill and living happily ever after in a castle by the lovely lake far below. IMG_9826  Nothing like that happened, but Prince Jim promised to take me to the brocante so I could poke through other people’s thrown away stuff and buy junk to take home to our cottage on the circle.  And, I found a proclamation of love written on the pane of a dusty window.  Ah, young love!

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St. Saturnin has the largest cherry orchards in the region which are covered with white flowers in the spring. The authentic medieval village with few touristic additions has free parking.  That meant we liked it very much!  IMG_9128-1We wandered around and enjoyed the old architecture, beautiful old doorways and people-watching.

IMG_9118 A group of folks were congregated outside the Eglise St. Etienne which was built around 1860 to replace the Romanesque church at the same site.  The church has a ten-bell carillon with unique key-slot openings at the top.IMG_9134The main road wound around and passed directly through the church yard.  We had to make our departure in the rental car close enough to shake hands with the elderly ladies, some with walkers!  I just don’t see this working in Alabama.

While I pondered this traffic oddity, I noticed a small statue of a man almost hidden in the shrubbery under the tree at the edge of the road. IMG_9124 I thought I had located the statue of Joseph Talon who was considered the “father of truffle raising”, called lou rabasste in Provencal.  But I was mistaken.  I should have explored further to the statue by the sculptor Philippe Gatine in honor of the modest peasant born around 1755.  Talon had the idea to plant acorns for truffle oaks. Unfortunately, his plants often had contamination and consequently never produced truffles.  His idea was improved with newer methods and the cultivation continued.  And, the rest is lucrative history.

Lesley Stahl reported in 2012 that European white truffles can sell for as much as $3,600 a pound.  In 2015, mushroom shavings fetched $1200.00 a pound wholesale.  According to a Bloomberg report a Taiwanese bidder paid $61,000 in a Sotheby’s auction for a white truffle that weighed 4.2 pounds.  In 2010 at an auction in Macau, a two-pound white truffle sold for $330,000, a record amount!  Ms. Stahl reported: “All of this brought organized crime into the truffle trade, creating a black market and leading to theft of both truffles as well as the highly valued truffle-sniffing dogs.”  With oak-forested hillsides, St. Saturnin is obviously a truffle region.

Jim and I returned to our car and cautiously returned downhill, making the U-turn through the church courtyard. IMG_9138 A house to the right could have been mine since it was covered with flower pots.  However, a Quebec auto tag was posted above the door claiming its stake by a Canadian, not a Southern Dixie chick. Jim turned right, driving over log-sized speed bumps without breaking the car’s chassis, or our hips.

Back at home in Alabama today, I’m drinking iced tea on a hot, muggy Saturday.  I looked up the price of Lacrosse boots and found they cost $100.00, or more.  I suggested a bargain deal to Jim, “Hey, how about I get in the Jeep and run over to see if those old boots are still there by the road?  You can clean out the cobwebs and they might just fit you.”  He had an altogether different idea for the thrown-away boots.  “You can get the boots and add some Miracle-Grow dirt inside with the spiders and cobwebs.  Tote ‘em down to the oak tree in the backyard and see if some truffles sprout.”   “Oh, forget it.  I’ll call Vanessa.”

Thanks very much for your kind encouragement and for traveling with us!  I love to see your comments!  Come again!  If you would like to take a look at the book (in paperback or Kindle) “A French Opportunity” and even read a sample, just CLICK for a view.

“Lavender or Stones?” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_9312Remind me again about why we are driving down this narrow road, hoping and praying we aren’t crushed by a humongous motor home coming around the next blind corner.”  Husband Jim went on to add that the exact spot of our crash would be marked by bouquets of lavender, balloons and cute little teddy bears after the ambulance took us away.  I wasn’t interested in any personal memorials for my demise, so I advised, “Just keep your eyes on the road.  Keep calm.  We should be there in a few minutes.  The sign pointing the way from Gordes showed the Abbaye de Sénanque only 2.5 miles down this road.  At some point we should be able to look directly down on the ancient building set behind the lavender fields.  The abbey is photo opportunity No.1 in Provence.  The minute you lay eyes on it you will remember seeing the image on brochures, in movies and in paintings many times.”IMG_9317The book “100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go”, by Marcia Desanctis, describes the abbey visit as an exhilarating experience.  Desanctis walked in high summer from Gordes and says, “I had seen the image a hundred times before, radiant, arresting but all too familiar and was prepared to head straight into a high-kitsch painting.  Instead, I heard the drone of honeybees, a rustle of butterflies.  I was confronted with something I had expected, and yet the effect was thoroughly unexpected. Convex mounds of lavender were aligned in rows perfectly perpendicular to the Romanesque abbey that was so pale, it almost faded into the glare.  The Provencal sun was just starting to penetrate the passing cool of dawn.IMG_9332We didn’t have the colorful lavender mounds since the blooms were already harvested, but we enjoyed the peaceful setting with fewer tourists than the height of summer.  We were amused to see a sign indicating proper dress for entry to the abbey.

Apparently, some of the tourists were dressed for the beach instead of visiting a chapel.IMG_9335

The abbey was founded in 1148 by an abbott and 12 monks.  Some roofs of the building are tiled with limestone slates called lauzes, also used for making stone dwellings known as bories.

There is a gift shop where some of the monks’ produce is for sale.  During our visit, pumpkins were on a table outside.IMG_9329After our visit, we walked to our car in the parking lot and watched children kicking an empty, plastic drink bottle, laughing and having a great time.  Isn’t that typical?  You buy expensive toys, and the children play with the empty boxes.  You spend money for admission tickets, airfare and fuel for the car, and they find a bug, or a stupid rock, is more fun than the prized destination.

When we were in the car, building our courage to go up the picturesque, but scary road, Jim asked, “Is this next place one of those 100 places for women?”  “No, you should really like this one.  Maybe the Abbaye de Sénanque is a special place for women to breathe the crisp air and feel the purity of lavender, not exactly a man-cave.  Except, hey, only men live there!”  Jim took a side-long look at the bottle-kicking and replied, “Yeah, alright.  If you’ve finished floating around in your lavender clouds, let’s get on up the hill to the borie place and hope it isn’t boring.”IMG_9342Village des Bories is a grouping of stone buildings with the oldest dating back to the seventeenth century, while the most recent were built in the nineteenth century.  They are dry-stone buildings, which consists of selecting stones and assembling them with no mortar, or binder of any type.  Jim remembered seeing the bories in the Dordogne when we were exploring the site, and he called them stone igloos.IMG_9358A royal decree in 1761 authorized small farmers to clear the land and create new plots of land for farming, and the stones taken from the fields were used as building materials.  That sounds rather simple, but the complex dome-shaped structures with walls up to four- feet thick are not simple structures.  Bories date from 2000 B.C., and they were regularly built until the last century.  Around 3,000 bories are still standing.  Twenty have been restored in the Village des BoriesIMG_9364IMG_9351There are sheep pens, a wine cistern, goat pens, bread oven, barns, dwellings, pigsty and a silkworm house.  The project was awarded a prize by the Academy of Architecture.  Can you imagine a humble shepherd transported to this time seeing the award and gazing at tourists from around the world, traipsing and fumbling their way into the dark, cramped space of the bories?  Jim did enjoy this tourist site more than the other.IMG_9348  He managed to scare one French lady out of her wits when she was blinded by the sun and ran into him in the darkness of a borie sheep pen.   He claims that he thought I was coming inside when he shouted “Boo!”  Now there is one more place I will feel too embarrassed to ever visit again! 

IMG_9369Ya’ll come back!  We are so happy that you take the time to visit.  If you would like to do so, just CLICK here for the book “A French Opportunity which I hope is not boring at all!

“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.