Friday, August 27, 2010

Provence--Old and New

Twelve years, no kids and fewer wrinkles ago we got married. Our honeymoon was a wonderful two weeks in France; one week in Provence, the other in Paris. It was the beginning of a love affair....not just between me and Mon Mari but also between us and France. We spent a couple of days driving around the Luberon visiting towns like Gordes, Buoux, Bonnieux, Roussillon. Back then we stopped at cafes and had a pastis or a beer at each one, reading the paper, magazines, writing postcards and talking about our future. What did it hold? How would we be as a married couple? How many kids? When?

boys in Goult
The beginning of a marriage is big. Big in a how do we put our two lives together, how long will this fuzzy haze of love last, have I signed my life away on a person who makes me get out and push the rental car backwards because neither of us can find reverse?

Now it's even bigger. Different, bigger, better. I'm sure I'd still be the one to push the car but now there'd be four people watching and cheering me on. Or maybe we'd be smart enough to find reverse.

On our honeymoon we had lunch at a cafe that hugged the side of the mountain with a view of the valley below. Next to our table there was a British family. I remember watching them and thinking how lucky they were to be there. How wonderful it must be to live close enough to France to be able to bring your kids over and sit at that cafe in the sun enjoying a delicious lunch. As an American, and a Texan to boot, Europe is quite a haul.....even more so with kids.

But now we actually live here! So, this week we decided to head back over to Provence and check out some of the places we saw back then. This time with our three kids.

We drove around looking for the spots we'd remembered. It was a different experience of course, but better really. The kids were great in the car, well-behaved at lunch in Goult, patient while we took turns popping into the Sylla wine cooperative in Apt, and ate their ice cream with gusto while we enjoyed an digestif.

Dinner was a very fancy affair of French cuisine's dirty little secret--frozen food from Picard. Our family room had a microwave so we bought stuff we could cook in 4 minutes. We sat on the terrace overlooking the parking lot and ate our French tv dinners. "What a romantic view!", Ma Fille sarcastically sighed.

The best part was that we didn't have a plan.Yesterday we woke up and looked at the map. Where should we go?

Ocher & Pines
We chose Roussillon. It is a beautiful village in the way of all the beautiful villages but with an added beauty bonus. It's built in a part of the Luberon that's made of ocher. The varied shades of red, yellow, pink, and rust are reflected in the buildings of the town. It is truly stunning.

A fantastic day unraveled before us with little to no planning. We strolled around and up and down the village. And then we took the mountain path they've cleverly and immaculately constructed on the edge of the town. It is easily walkable (even for the Littlest) path through red sand, shaded by pine trees made vibrantly green in contrast. We were all stained ocre when we emerged. You can't imagine how bizarrely wonderful it was to see all that color in the middle of the white limestone hills.

kids turning ocher

As we sat in the outdoor cafe having our much deserved lunch the familiar feeling of joy and gratitude hit me. We are here. Living here.With our kids. Amazing. I am constantly pinching myself.

More Roussillon photos here.
We drove home tired and happy, screaming baby drowned out by singing along to bad French radio at the top of our lungs. And while I didn't have to get out and push the car there were a few diapers to change.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Favorites of the Summer

This summer has been busy, busy--chock full of laughter, fun and new experiences. Maybe my French suffered a bit from all the English speaking I've done (sorry Michele) but school is just around the corner and we'll all be back to business. Before it all becomes a blur of sunny happiness here are a few of my favorite moments.

Mom's visit and our girls' only--moi, ma fille, and grand-mere--trip to Provence.

We went to Arles, of Van Gogh's Starry Night and Cafe at Night paintings, on our way to Aix-en-Provence and stopped for a  cafe lunch under the trees, the view of the Roman amphitheater as a backdrop.

Roman Amphitheatre Arles

From there we headed to Aix and our hideaway gite; hideaway because neither I nor Nancy could find it and we had to work through a painfully frustrating telephone exchange with Francoise, the beautiful and patient owner in order to find our way.

I met fellow blogger Delana of du jour at the night market in Aix and it was wonderful to put a face and a warm hug to the life and experiences I greedily devour through her writing.

A scenic trip through the Luberon and a final stop in Gordes, one of the most lovely little hilltop towns you can imagine, had us all three oohing and aahing all the way up and down the mountain.


Les Estivales in Montpellier

Every Friday night the esplanade in the center of Montpellier turns into a food and drink festival. Wine vendors from the area come to showcase their best and a selection of festival food--falafel, white funnel cones of 20 saucissons, Nutella crepes and ice-covered plates covered with oysters on the half-shell provide dinner under the plane trees.You buy a glass for 4 euro and get three refills of any of the wines. Of course you can buy bottles too and each vingeron offers to have you visit their vignoble for personal tastings. That's on my list of trips to make and now I have a collection of flyers and cards of places to visit first. That's motivation to keep on my French.


Each May to September, beautiful beach restaurants take shape on the sand--paradises sparkling by the Med. They are elaborate constructions of wood, cloth and twinkly lights temporarily gracing the private sections of beach along the Grand Travers. Each have lounge beds thick with terrycloth cushions, sun umbrellas and attractive waitstaff. There are floaty curtains and grand banks of seats for those who come for drinks and dinner. We spent an afternoon having brunch sans enfants and it was magic. Pricey, but magic. And worth the luxury because like summer and its glittering moments, they'll be gone.

Paillote heaven

Vide Grenier

Or empty attic, literally translated are flea markets that take up entire villages. I've fallen in love with them and can't wait to visit on the weekends. The anticipation of what you might find, what little secret gem or perfect piece to add to a collection is bundled up in someone's van and driven into the village, displayed among the rows and rows of silver, doll heads, white monogrammed linens, stick furniture and dough bowls, just for you to find! Treasure! I've begun a collection of vintage parfum ads and my first is a beauty from 1948.

That's only four. I have a few more but the natives are getting restless. And boy is it a scorcher today....natives and pool beckoning.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Strong Like Bull

happy birthday you stubborn little bull!
Tomorrow is my baby's birthday. I call him 'the littlest' but really he's anything but. He's my big kid--the one who wears one size bigger than his age, eats non-stop, and walks around like he owns the world ploughing through any obstacles that might get in his way. He's a Leo two times over  so I've always thought of him as a lion. It doesn't really fit though. He's more of a fortress as his middle name suggests.
My friend Abby was here all last week and she described him perfectly: "He's strong like bull." (She doesn't really talk like that, it's just for effect.) And he is.
My grandfather's nickname was Bully and I always thought he got his moniker because of  bullying behavior, you know the kind we're told to guard against and be on the lookout for in schools these days. But now I am starting to think it was more bullish than bullyish....a series of shared qualities in his little great grandson. He stomps his little square feet, charges ahead and at times it is advisable to beware.

So it is fitting that tomorrow starts the Fete d'ete in our town. It's a week long celebration of all things bullish. From what I've heard there will be any manner of strange goings on. The bulls will run through the streets, mad teenagers and old men alike chasing alongside, literally 'grabbing the bull by the horns'. There will be something called a 'toro piscine' where a pool is placed in the middle of the nearby arena and the idea is that these same mad teenagers will chase and run with the bulls in the ring until everyone, bull and teenager alike, is whipped into a frenzy. And just when neither can take it anymore the teenagers jump into the pool, narrowly escaping the wrong side of the bulls' horns. Apparently bulls can't swim no matter how angry they get. Either that or they just think it's funny to scare kids into jumping fully dressed into a pool of water in front of the entire town. Surely bulls have a good sense of humor, right? Mine sure does.
These signs are all over the town in preparation for the fete.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Yesterday could have been a super sad, super blue kinda day.
Mom left after a bit over three weeks of togetherness.
She settled into our new life here quite seamlessly. You could always find her on the terrace picking grapes from the vine that twists its way over the railing and popping them straight into her mouth for an afternoon snack.

Every morning she and the Baby would sit  together playing cars until he shrieked with giddy laughter. He'd vroom the cars along the arm of the chair and send them flying across the terrace, crashing and clanking on the tiles. Only to do it over and over again, laughter becoming more shrill each time.

She allowed the big kids to take it in turns sleeping with her. She'd do one night with each and then have a 'break night' to recover from the cricks and bruises caused by crazy kid legs and arms and actually get some sleep. Each morning after a kid sleep she'd have a story to tell--the Middlest slept horizontal and knocked over the bedside lamp, Ma Fille flailed her arms and punched her in the eye. All side effects of sleeping with kids. And all worth it to her because it made them happy.

She and I shopped, feng shui-ed, and decorated. The Baby getting a new room with custom-made curtains and the living room taking shape and feeling more homey. 

You already know about the priceless gift of our weekend away in Barcelona but we also got a couple of nights out, a day at the beach which I'll tell you about, and an afternoon to shop without having to bribe and kid wrangle.

But so it is. She had to go and now we'll plan for the next visit...what things we can do and see, how much more we can learn about wine and cheese and each other--as grown-ups and the people we really are and not just the well-worn roles of 'mother and daughter'.

And as I said, it could have been boohoo central around here....BUT!

We had the arrival of one of my two Besties and her kids to save us from gloom. Mom's flight into Paris and their flight out of Paris passed each other mid-morning at 30,000 feet.

No sooner had we dropped Grandmother at departures, rushed to Carrefour for more sausages, milk and cheese, over to IKEA (again!) for a mattress and a quick lunch, were we back at the airport, this time a few hundred yards down at arrivals.

The timing could not have been better.

Yesterday afternoon was spent by the petite piscine, sipping bubbly wine, eating more grilled sausages and laughing, laughing, laughing. Kids running wild and reconnecting like forever best friends themselves. It is an embarrassment of riches over here Chez Nous--all immeasurable, all appreciated, perfect bliss.