12 September 2011

Pictures of Provence

Posted in Talking about . . .

So, we’re saying goodbye to Provence after a magical week - sitting at the station in Avignon, waiting for the train to Paris.

I do feel at a loss for words to describe the past 6 days. But there are themes that will hopefully capture the essence of the experience.

Let me begin with the landscape. This part of Provence is marked by limestone mountains and deep gorges. Some villages perch on mountain tops or cling to their sides. Others nestle in the foothills. All roads up and down the hills are narrow and somewhat torturous – but we did get used to them eventually . . . There is a premium on space in the villages, partly due to the lack of flat land, but also due to the historical need to fortify the towns against enemies. So the buildings are 2- or 3-storied and crowded together, resulting in, you guessed it – alleys (my new fav thing!).

View of Venasque View of Gordes

Typical Provence views of (Left) Venasque and (Right) Gordes

Alley Alley Alley

Ancient Alleys

A pattern has obviously emerged across the Cotswolds and Provence of stone buildings, dry stone walls, towns named for their geographical location, and alleys. What connects these two beautiful areas is their history as well as their natural resources. Both were home to the Romans (and later, the Italians in the case of Provence) at one time or another, and the Roman empire left its marks everywhere. Whatever you might think about colonization, the Romans did a fantastic job of building long-lasting structures. The big push in the Middle Ages to fortify towns resulted in more extraordinary buildings. Some of the fortifications of the perched villages extend the cliff face directly upwards for many meters – the mind boggles entirely as to how these were constructed in an age when there was none of the equipment we take for granted. I guess it was all about scaffolding – hundreds of feet of the stuff!

Whatever you may think about Catholicism, the church also did a great job of building impressive structures. The cathedrals and smaller places of worship, the palaces of the popes, and the abbeys, are monumental works of art. I won’t begin to try and count the cost of the endeavours of either the Romans or the Catholic church – suffice it to say that the aged structures provide some of the most impressive and beautiful sights I have seen.

So, the landscape and the history have left huge impressions on me. There are two other impressions that I won’t forget. First, the people – no matter where we went, we were greeted with hospitality, politeness, humour, warmth, and generosity. In spite of our rudimentary French, people were endlessly patient as we insisted on trying to get the message across in French, rather than speaking English (of which the majority have a grasp). I was really pleased to have had these positive experiences, because they simply reinforced my previous impressions of the French as a very nice people. Second, the food – mmm . . . No doubt, the fact that we are on holiday has contributed to our enjoyment of the food. But food procurement, preparation, presentation and pleasure are taken really seriously and are never rushed. There is no rushing a meal at any time of the day; no rushing the choice of peaches or figs or grapes or olives or breads at a market; always time for conversation (about the food or about anything else); no loaded fork to be seen poised beside a chewing mouth; no using drinks to wash down food.

A Butchery in Gordes Olives at St Remy

Food, glorious food!

A Vineyard near Mazan

A Vineyard near Mazan

In fact, I noticed that people don’t load different kinds of food onto the fork at the same time – everything is eaten separately so as to savour the flavor. Sauces don’t swamp dishes – they are a separate part of the dish rather than a cover for the main ingredients. We were also struck by the paucity of obesity among the French people we saw and met. There is no doubt that the food practices here contribute to this lack of fat. Interestingly, the French cook with butter and cream (the skinniest milk you can get is half-and-half), they eat lots of cheese and fatty meats like salamis. They also seem to eat lots of bread. But they also eat lots of salads and vegetables. So, it seemed to us that the secret to not getting fat is eating fairly small portions of balanced food groups separately, and eating them slowly. Who knew ?! Hahaha . . .

So, to finish off in Provence, here are a few more pictures – they do a better job than my words do. To try and encourage healthy eating, I had to buy a tablecloth and napkins, of course . . . And just for you, Tom, here’s a mime and an accordion player . . . And here we are with Dave and Rosie after bumping into each other for the THIRD time in Saint Remy . . .

Et maintenant, Venasque, bonne nuit et au revoir!

With Dave & Rosie at St Remy
Coming to a dinner party near you - my new Provence tablecloth
Accordion Player

(Clockwise from Left): Mime, with Dave and Rosie at St Remy, Accordion player and my new Provence tablecloth

Venasque Square at night Venasque Main Street at night

Venasque square at night, and Venasque main street at night

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Comments (1)

  • Averil Overton
    Averil Overton
    24 September 2011 at 19:54 |

    Hi Fran, Sorry to have missed this time with you. All well here. Hope you starting feel your batteries recharging. Love to Brian. we are off to Mooloolaba nest week with Lara and family for 2 weeks of sun, sea and fun with grandchildren. XX

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