Provence

House with shutters_9503

“Oh, that I lived here,” I say to myself.  “In this valley just south of Sault, France. In this stone house brightened by turquoise shutters.”

But I don’t. And that’s actually okay, I suppose. The place, its happy shutters, its old trees, its nearby fields of lavender: real alright, but not my real.  Moreover, the house probably has plumbing issues, electrical issues, varmint issues, and drafty room issues.  Sure, it’s charming, but charming is a matter of perspective, isn’t it?  At least, that’s what I’ve been persistently telling myself over the last month as I’ve been moving into a new place.

Having relegated the beauties of Provence to memory, I’m planting myself in my New Real, a place at the foot of the Wasatch mountains, in Utah, a spot I never bothered to imagine myself in because I was born and raised in California. But times change, jobs call, new landscapes beckon.

I’m earnestly trying now to see my little corner of the world the way I saw this valley in the Luberon, in France, back in June.  The formula for this kind of seeing:  1) really look, 2) find the Lovely, and 3) remember that the Grass On The Other Side may only be greener (or the lavender brighter) because the lenses of your dark glasses ratchet up the color of everything five shades.

Looking down at fields_9456

Rolled hay_9476

Lavender field_9522

Want to practice along with me?  Okay.  First, we’ll examine the grass on the other side.  Yes, the South of France is decidedly green.  And yes, the village of Sault, nestled right in the soul of lavender country, could charm anyone:  the stone churches and facades, the riot of colorful shutters, the flowers bursting out of an old wheelbarrow.

Statue in front of church_9579

Inside the church_9599

Ivy-covered facade_9561

Oldtime French balcony gridwork_9567

Town facade_9606

Wheelbarrow with flowers_9624

Silas on stile_9608

But being back among my own things?–that business has its charms, too. For example, I felt myself smile as I unpacked my favorite books, which now happily crowd the bookshelves in my new family room. And unearthing my mother’s china, which lived in storage for years, did me a world of good, reminding me of all the occasions when, as a child, I had the job of setting the table for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I never imagined that simply unwrapping my mother’s things would trigger so many lovely memories of the woman whose absence I still feel so keenly after fifteen years. “We’re going to use all this!” I assured my girls as I filled up the china cabinet that also was hers (and her mother’s, and her mother’s mother’s).  Remember in The Quiet Man, when Maureen O’Hara’s character refuses to consider herself properly married because she doesn’t have her mother’s things around her?  Yeah, I get that now.

The Look, Find, Remember-to-remove-your-sunglasses recipe for Being Content is neither new nor novel, I know that.  I’m not the first to realize the value not only in blooming where you’re planted but also in noticing what else has bloomed nearby, so to speak.  In the spirit of flexing my Finding-the-lovely muscles, I thus have to confess that the late summer skies in Utah rival anything the Continent cooked up for us over the last year. And the mountains here feel mystical in their rugged beauty–sunglasses or no.

The other cool thing?–you know those kids I took with me to Europe?  Well, I brought ’em back with me, too.

Railroad

Miss Lavender’s smile eclipses many other things just as well down on the railroad tracks here in Utah Valley as it ever did abroad.

Vintage dress from M.O.T.E.L. in Barcelona

And Miss Zinnia’s diaphanous-ness transposes from one continent to the other just fine.

Vintage dress from M.O.T.E.L. in Barcelona

If I can just get this down, you know??–the formula, I mean. Look, plus find. Plus remember the way those (blasted) dark glasses (read “unmanaged expectations”) so often distort things.

Here’s the drill.  I’m writing down ten things I’ve already named “lovely” today, things that have blossomed for me.  (And the shades are in the kitchen drawer.)  Moreover, lest you find this exercise too cloying, consider this:  deliberately searching out what makes you feel light and bright helps keep the darkness at bay.

Ready, set.

One, the song I’m listening to by Juanes, “Es Por Ti.”

Two, the Kershisnik print of the Nativity, sitting on my fireplace mantle.  (I like to imagine myself as one of the women ministering to Mary . . .)

Three, Goose’s hair this morning, the front of it slicked with pomade.  (Look out, fourth grade girls at Barratt Elementary.)

Four.  The Wasatch ridge.  No words grand enough.

Five.  Miss Zinnia early this morning, perky and unflappable, even when I broke the yoke of one of the eggs I was frying for her.

Six.  Fresh-picked Gala apples found at a local roadside stand, now resting in a dish in my kitchen.  (Had one for breakfast.  Oh, my.)

Seven.  My four-slot toaster.  Yes, indeed.

Eight.  Miss Lavender’s Rapunzel hair.

Nine.  My piano.  And the old, wind-up metronome that tick-tocked its way through my childhood practice sessions with me.

Ten.  This list.  I’m serious.  It’s helped me bloom today.

Happy September, friends.  Here’s to living in the season, whatever it is!

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From the other angle_8855

Sometimes I call my teenage daughters my petals.  Sometimes I call them my flower fairies.  It’s an old habit. But the names fit them quite well during their wanderings through the lavender fields of Provence.

Lavender fields above Rousillon_8487

Millay in lavender_1542

With back to the camera_8661

Millay walking_1608

Deep breath_8601

Tessa reaching out_8531

Millay with arm up_1606

Millay bending over the flowers_1571

Millay walking_1545

Smelling the lavender_8955

Bees in the lavender_1587

What is a sea of lavender anyway, if not an excuse to swim?

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Colors Of Provence II: Market Time!

by Becky on July 2, 2013 · 7 comments

in Travel

Better lavender_0623

Usually, heading to the market means: a hasty list scribbled on a post-it note. And a typical list might read: toothpaste, bagels, shoelaces for Goose’s Converse. And when it comes time to refer to the post-it note, I might realize: Oh, left it at home (which means it’s lost forever). And therefore a trip to the market becomes: guesswork.

But pretty much anywhere in Provence, heading out to the market requires absolutely no post-it note, and guesswork is of course welcome.

No one even minds that you talk to yourself, that you just continaully keep saying over and over, No!–you’re kidding me. (Like when the local macaroon maker insists you try the almond ones, then the pistachio, then the orange blossom . . .) Or that you are heard to exclaim, Oh . . . my! (Like when the endless stacks of Provencal linens frankly just defy understanding.) Or that, to whoever will listen, you insist, Smell-this-smell-this-smell-this! (Like when the fragrant, locally-made soaps make you positively silly.)

Soaps_4099

Girls with soaps_4076

Girls with soaps_4078

Vegetables_0646

Olives_0700

Peppers_0694

Mortar and pestles_0586

Red chairs and tables_0688

Cafe in Bonnieux_0608

Honey_4039

Baguettes_4034

Table linens_0709

Lavender sachets_0610

Flowers_4135

Dresses_4069

During our trip to France, the Eleven O’Clock Dad and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. By marketing. I couldn’t imagine a grander way to ring in year twenty-six.

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Look: Cherries! Oh Happy Day!

by Becky on June 28, 2013

in Food, Travel

Roadside cherries_7990

I delight in stopping by the little roadside fruit stands dotting the back roads of Provence. Everywhere, the trees are dripping cherries, and you can get a kilo of them for two or three euros, depending on which kind you’re in the mood for. Yesterday, a friendly man who looked like everyone’s Grandpa was selling them at a table on the side of the road. Enterprising gentleman. Today, we stopped on our way to Forcalquier. This time, the cherry “stand” was the tailgate of a truck, and the man selling his cherries couldn’t have looked happier to be soaking up the late afternoon sun while he waited for passersby to take the bait.

I’ve decided that the right road trip food makes all the difference. Goose kept himself busy digging for the two-fers–cherries whose stem tops are still connected–all afternoon. His hands and mind stayed busy, and his belly got full, crucial items on the “Musts For A Happy Road Trip” list.

If there’s a road trip lesson here, it’s this: stop for happy food, often. And if the food happens to be bright and beautiful, so much the better.

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Boy With A Yellow Balloon

by Becky on June 26, 2013

in Travel

Silas_5070

Traveling with a Caboose.  Very tricky business.  My teenage daughters could walk the markets and streets of Provence all day.  But my nine-year-old son? Brutal.

Probably because of his aversion to being dragged to one charming French village after another, the universe is kind to him. He always manages to collide with something magical.  Sometimes just the right rock parks itself in his path, begging to be kicked around for thirty minutes or so.  Other times, the perfect stick catches his eye, and it’s love at first sight.  (Sticks make awesome pretend daggers and, moreover, can be used to write cryptic messages in the dirt.)  But last Saturday night’s bit of magic takes the cake.  On the ground in a small plaza in St. Remy, France, an untethered yellow balloon, suddenly abandoned by the baby who had been playing with it, became his!

Silas sees the balloon_5141

Clearly, the gods of Childhood Distractions had bequeathed him a gift.

Silas gets the balloon_5144

Silas whistling_5204

That balloon kept him busy all evening.

Silas ambling with balloon_5210

Silas happy with ballooon_5215

Silas walking along with balloon_5207

No other distractions came close.  Not the red bike with the nifty yellow market basket.

Silas by bike with the yellow binIMG_5291

Not the yellow tablecloth on the table outside the cafe, a place which might easily have distracted his mother.

Silas ignores yellow tablecloth_5397

Not even the Girl With The Yellow Skirt (though she was a close second).

Silas via Millay_5084

Silas via Millay 2_5087

Honestly, what could be better than instant liberation from an evening of aimless wandering with a Photo-crazy Dad and a Provence-crazy Trio (mom, teenage sisters)?

Silas starts kicking the balloon_5150

Because with your own Bit Of Yellow, you’re good for the night.

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Pizza Night In Provence

by Becky on June 24, 2013 · 1 comment

in Food, Travel

The Pizza Wagon_4918

Makes perfect sense that my first little dispatch from Provence would involve praise of the local food.  Saturday night we stopped in St. Remy, wandered, got hungry, stumbled onto this pizza wagon, a little outfit calling itself Pizza Pierrot, and the rest is history.  We wolfed down two large pizzas:  a Provencal and an Olive With Ham. I have capitalized the names of both because they deserved capitalization, as all Memorable Meals do!  I believe I could have eaten a whole pizza by myself. The Provencal was especially, well, special:  marinara, roasted vegetables, cheese, and provencal herbs (a bag of which I picked up at the market in Arles earier that day.)

Two girls in front of pizza wagon_4933

Pizza man putting olives on_4992

Making the Provencal_4990

Tessa behind pizza box_5010

The Olive Pizza_4995

Pizza from the wagon_4997

Folks’ve gotta eat, right? I love it when the right meal just sort of shows up, like it was waiting for us. And who says it wasn’t?

(More pictures and stories to come!)

 

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Lavender field

By Becky.   Image by Andyblind.

So we’re planning one last road trip before our move home. Friday we’re heading up to the south of France, to Provence. But so many places are calling out to me. Naturally we’re going to hit Avignon and the Luberon villages, and of course Aix-en-Provence. Gordes is on the list. And the Senanque Abbey. If you can believe it, I am scheduling our stops around the markets. Isle Sur la Sorgue’s is on Thursdays. Lourmarin’s, on Fridays (the fabrics look amazing). Arles’ market, held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, is known for its textiles. But Aix’s big market happens on Saturdays, too. Oh gosh–

Mostly I think I just want to stand smack in the middle of a lavender field that goes on forever, along with the petals, who will no doubt look like they have always belonged there, two flower faires at home in a riot of fragrant purple.

I have such high hopes for this trip! Any ideas about what we shouldn’t miss??

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