Au Revoir, Belle Provence

I hope, rather, it’s a bientot.  It is hard (and a little sad) to believe that our Provencal adventure is coming to an end.  On Sunday we leave, after having spent almost four months in this beautiful southeastern corner of France.   We feel so fortunate to have had this wonderful experience.  Here are some of the things that have made our time most memorable :

The Locals

The Postmistress:  The first time I mailed something at our local post office, I needed and asked for a  receipt ( not usually given). It being our second day in France and my being giddy with excitement, I promptly forgot it.  The next time I appeared (four weeks later), the darling postmistress said, “Madame, I think you forgot this the last time” and handed me the receipt.

The Housekeeper:  A lovely woman came every two weeks to clean our house, and she spoke not a word of English.  She, however, was very patient with my pathetic French, and kindly and slowly corrected the pronunciation of every single word I uttered – the best way to learn.

The Shopkeeper:  I stopped at a lovely store in Isle sur la Sorgue that had beautiful scarves and throws.  The owner was a charming woman, and we chatted for quite some time while I selected my purchases.  Three weeks later, I returned and she held up my favorite pair of gloves (pale olive!), which I had thought had been lost in some unknown place and were forever gone, and said “I think you left these the last time you were here.”

The Innkeeper:  We had dinner at a wondeful auberge and remarked upon a poster displayed there.  We asked Marc, the owner, where we could find one.   He said, “Give me your phone number.”  Two days later he called and said he had it and I could pick it up that evening.  “C’est mon cadeau pour vous.”  (“It’s my gift to you.”)

Just About Everyone You Meet Anywhere:  Make an attempt to chat, even in ungrammatical and halting French, and the Provencal are invariably polite, helpful and, believe it or not, complimentary.  “Mais vous parlez bien!  Je vous comprends!”  (“But you speak well!  I understand you!”)

The Cheeses:

Several hundred local varieties, including the marvelous Banon that is cured in chestnut leaves, and the fromage frais that is a mild goat’s milk cheese fresh from the farm.  There is nothing else to say, except perhaps to mention the cheese man in our local market who, when asked about a particular kind, said firmly and disdainfully, “Madame, c’est la vache.”  (It was a cow’s milk cheese, which he definitely considered inferior to the goat’s milk cheese so favored in these parts.)

The Wine:

Vineyards and wineries everywhere you look (just ring the bell for degustation!), as well as well-stocked and edited caves in every town.  While these are not the famous fines wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, a tasty (and frequently delicious)  red, white or Provencal pink can be had for about 5 euros a bottle.

All the Little Towns and Sights that I Haven’t Mentioned Yet:

Oppede le Vieux, Lourmarin, Fontaine de Vaucluse, Mourre Negre, Arles, Aix en Provence, St. Remy, Lagnes, Les Beaumettes, Goult, Les Baux, Nimes – any and all of these are worth a visit for either the history buff or the charm-seeker.  I forgot to mention the Pont Julien, a tiny bridge at the base of our town built by the Caesar’s brigade.

The Auberges:

Le Petit Ecole, Le Chene:  This little restaurant is housed in the tiniest old school house that might at one time have accommodated ten students.  The proprietor and his wife (the cook) live upstairs.  The first time we went, the truffle harvest had just come in.  The cook was so excited about the first truffles of the season that she brought a huge mason jar filled with them, still damp from the earth, to our table and commanded us to smell them.  Dinner came covered with those same fragrant truffles shaved generously over the plate.

Le Fiacre, Lumieres:  Another small auberge run by husband and wife.  He cooks, she serves.  Fantastically prepared seasonal food.  In the fall, specialties from le chasse have pride of place on the menu.

Auberge de Lagnes, Lagnes:  A modern twist on Provencal cooking, managed by Marc (of poster fame,) with the kitchen run by Stew.   Marc has personality to spare, and makes it a point to shake hands with every incoming guest.  The menu is seasonal, light, beautifully presented, and delicious.

Lou Pebre d’Ai, Lauris:  Our very favorite.  Enter under the weather-beaten awning and find yourself in a beautiful dining room, ancient stone walls scrubbed white, dark wood tables set with comfortable chairs.  For an unbelievable 21 euros enjoy local olives, salads with micro greens (not lettuces, but tiny beet greens and chard!), tomato tart, rack of lamb, platters of dried ham, squid and olive salad, a memorable cheese course and tarte tatin.  Again, a young couple helm this lovely place tucked away in a small unassuming town in the middle of the Luberon valley.  We are having our farewell dinner there tonight.

Friends, Family and Laughs:

Our memories would be less vivid indeed if we had not shared them with the friends and family who made the trek to visit.  Thank you for the shared adventure, and the priceless moments of hilarity and sublime ridiculousness which will always be the brightest highlights when we think back to this special time.  For those who were not able to come this time, don’t worry – we plan on finding another adventure as soon as we can and all are welcome!  Venez nombreuses! 

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2 Responses to Au Revoir, Belle Provence

  1. chris tarpey says:

    …can you sneak some fromage back???

    • If only! We just got back from our favorite place for dinner- the cheese tray featured 13 varieties, and the best was a tomme de brebis that you would have loved. We will have to go over to Steve’s Cheese Bar and wish we were in France! (The last time we came we tried to bring sausage back but it was confiscated at Dulles! Darned Mad Cow…)

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