Monday, July 15, 2013


The cicadas are deafening this evening, as they have been since we got back here after five this afternoon.

I’m staying in a small beautiful very private gite not far from Aix-en-Provence. There’s a fresh water spring nearby (set between a pair of beautiful “platanes” -plane trees), a big meadow, a treed hillside, and a graceful classic stone farmhouse beside the gite, but facing the other way.

Other wildlife here declared itself this morning when I walked out shortly after sunrise: long sinuous crawling things like ambulatory black worms, both thred-thin and fatter, were moving purposefully over the pale terracotta tile terrace and up the stone walls of the gite, like a absract pattern of moving wiggling black lines. This afternoon after a day of heat, they were mostly gone, with the odd remnant creature that had made it to a shaded crack then starting to move again. I need to find out what they are. Did they all just hatch? Not possible given that they come in different sizes. Will they turn into winged creatures at some stage? Hard to imagine. They aren’t very caterpillary, too sheeny shiny and so black and unpatterned.

It’s the quatorze juillet, Bastille Day, here in France. The bunting and tricolores were hanging out in the nearby town of Pelissande late this afternoon. People were sitting drinking aperos in the place in the town centre, but that was the ony sign of life: all the shops, and all the boulangeries but one, were closed tight.

Some people must have been having big Sunday lunches or going for hikes in the Luberon or out fishing in the many streams that bring this hot dry country to life. And a lot of them, it seems, spent the day out bicycling up steep winding roads in the heat, in groups of two to thirty, most in trim little bicycling outfits and helmets, lean and fit. The Tour de France cyclists, meantime, made it up to the top of Mont Ventoux today in the heat; tomorrow they have a day off to recover, then Tuesday they head from Vaison to Gap. We came across a caravan’s worth of  media trucks and buses, all sports stations, lumbering up the hill to the town of Venasque. You can see Mont Ventoux from there. Perhaps the race stage had finished for the day and the media cameras were just looking for local colour, and a view of Mont Ventoux from afar – it looms so large compared to the rest of the country around.  In any case, whatever the reason for the trucks’ being at Venasque, I imagine it’s the closest I’m ever going to come to the Tour de France…

Today’s explorations included backroads to the town of L’Isle sur la Sorgue, which has a crowded busy flea market on Sundays…it is quite amazing to hear all the languages and to see all the stuff out for sale, from old boules balls to cleavers and chairs and ceramics and you name it… There are also food merchants of course. We bought a huge basket of beautful (and delicious) cherries, as well as zucchini, tender lettuce, a slender elegant cucumber, and a Cavaillon melon (irresistable at a market ony a few kilometres from the town of Cavaillon, of course).

We went on from there to the not-far Abbaye de Senanques, one of the best-known of France’s Cistercian abbeys. It’s not open to visitors on a Sunday, but people come anyway, as we did, to stare at the graceful buildings framed by field sof lavender and the grey rock of the surrounding hills. The lavender is in full intense purple bloom right now, and dotted with the silken sheen of small white butterflies, as well as some orangey ones that look like small monarchs. In between the rows of lavender the ground is palest yellow-white and stoney.

We were really hitting all the cliché tourist high-spots, and continued with a drive through and past the hilltop town of Gordes, now a chic pricy spiffed up place very crammed with cars and people. The ochre and purple-red town of Rousillon a few kilometres down the road was also busy, but had more life to it, and felt more welcoming. Cliffs of richly coloured dirt frame the town on its hill, unreal looking and memorable, even in the glare of early afternoon sunshine.

From there the drive to Bonnieux,  a small hill-town south of Rousillon that I wanted to visit because of its bread museum, was winding and forested, very calm, and very uncrowded. We’d left the extremely touristed trail at last. The Musee de la Boulangerie was open (last time I visisted, in 1988, it was closed) and beautifully full of interesting tools and documents and pictures. Highly recommended (along with the bread museum in the southern German town of Ulm, on the Danube).

By then it was time to beat a retreat…via Cadenet, a crossing of the Durance River, and thence to our small stone gite near La Bannet. The cicadas are a little less cacophanous now, their intensity lowering in the last fifteen minutes as the temperature has started to cool (it’s now after 7 pm and the sun is low in the sky). The laundry I washed when we treturned less than two hours ago is almost dry, I’ve eaten a huge number of cherries (no point kidding myself about how many, given the evidence of the pits and stems in the wide bowl beside me here on the terrace), and it’s time to open a bottle of chilled white wine and drink to La Belle France.

Tomorrow is my birthday, so perhaps I’ll drink to that too.

PS Because of connection problems, I didn't get a chance to post this on July 14. Now it is the fifteenth, so i can tell you that I did have that glass of chilled white wine and it was delicious...

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