Chamonix bowls you over with its natural beauty. The south of France is different. It lulls you and woos you into an unexpected state of contentment. It’s hard to put your finger on it exactly. Maybe it’s the way the quilt of fields look washed in pink and blue in the morning, or the sound of the church bells tolling at mid-day sending the pigeons up from the tiled rooftops in a flurry of wings. Or instead, maybe it’s strolling, dusty footed, in the evening to the place, feeling the ancient stone buildings glow from the heat of the day, to sit and have a cool glass of wine, watch the old women congregate to share the gossip of the day and listen to the tinkling of the fountain. At home there’d be a million other things you should be doing. Here there is nothing else to do. This is your job.
The tiny Fiat we rented turned out to be the perfect car for the job. Not only did it meet the cute factor requirements with its cheerful demeanor and plaid interior, it was the right size for navigating the village streets of southern France which had been designed to accommodate a horse and carriage. We drove through an incredible summer rain storm as we left Lyon, the windshield wipers thwap-thwapping a metronome beat. 3 hours later when we pulled into the village, the sun had returned. I had become familiar with this place thanks to my neighbors back in California. They have a little home here and I had stayed once, years ago. Sonia and I had rented one of the apartments in the village, right off the place, with a view over the lavender, olive, and grape fields.
While we didn’t have any big adventures, or wild mishaps to report (aside from putting figs stuffed with cheese, wrapped in prosciutto into the oven, watching the door self lock and turn on self clean mode), it was just a deeply peaceful, and relaxing time. The lavender fields had been harvested in July, the grape harvest would be starting in a few weeks, and the olive harvest would not be until January. The land (and we) were at rest for now. I guess, being in Provence is sort of like being in a post card and that’s how my memories seem as well, little snapshots of beauty.
The smell of lavender. It makes you stop and close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Perhaps this is the meditation of southern France.
Exploring the little villages with no destination in mind. Wandering the narrow, cobbled streets, happy to be lost because you never know what beautiful or delicious thing you will find around the next corner.
The taste of fresh olive oil. From grassy and green to peppery with a bite, each oil has its own very distinct characteristics. It was a joy to try them all.
Karl and his little red Citroen. We bumped into him having a cigarette in the place in Nyons. We asked him about his tours. He told us in his outrageous French accent. We agreed on a two-hour tour through the countryside. He stubbed out his cigarette and took us for a three-hour tour with no extra charge and no expectation of a tip. He was just a nice man. Bumping through the silvery olive groves and putt-putting up the windy country roads through the vineyards to overlook the valleys and rolling hills will remain a wonderful snapshot in my mind forever.
La Belle France.