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Ascending to Heaven Here on Earth

I could hear the crickets strumming their song from Stephanie’s upstairs living room in Venasque. She has a downstairs living room, too, along with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a big kitchen, two dining rooms (really, although one is more like an office), a circular driveway, a covered patio, a greenhouse, a “backyard” built on a natural rock formation and a swimming pool…all this at the edge of Venasque, the main village being just a two-minute walk up the road. It’s pretty idyllic except that you hear a bit of traffic that comes around the corner of the property – a small trade-off from being situated further from the village or inside the village with no land, and this house has lots of land.

Monday night was one of the three nights of the “Fête Votive” in Venasque, a festival centered around “Assomption” – of the Feast of the Assumption of Mary on August 15th. This is the Catholic belief that the Virgin Mary’s spirit and body ascended to heaven on this date. While in Paris, the 15th of August is the deadest day of the year, it’s an important occasion for village and church festivals and is a public holiday in France even though it has a religious basis. (Why are we not surprised? Isn’t every day a holiday in France?)

One reason it’s so celebrated is that this is the peak of the holiday season in France, so families are together and there’s opportunity to participate in sports events, parades, markets or communal meals. Public institutions are closed on this day – post offices, banks, lots of stores and even some cafés and restaurants. I can attest to standing in the middle of rue de Rivoli in Paris and not see one single car coming or going on August 15th. It was shocking, but it was that moment I decided never to be in Paris on August 15th ever again…if I could help it.

Venasque holds an annual festival called the “Fête Votive” over three days: August 13th-15th. The activities include a competition of “boules,” a live concert, a “Vin d’Honneur” (a prolonged and public social celebration), an evening artisanal market, a dance to an orchestra and a communal dinner. We did not participate, not because we didn’t want to…just because we were exhausted from a day of exploring other parts of the region.

Monday morning, Stephanie grabbed the three typically Provençal wicker baskets she won’t leave home without and headed to the weekly market in Saint Didier, just a few minutes drive from Venasque at the foot of the Vaucluse mountains with a great view of Mont Ventoux. While the market isn’t as large and extensive as the Friday market in Lourmarin, it was teeming with great vendors (even selling fresh truffles) and shoppers, both local and “séjourists.” Stephanie ran into a few people she knew while we loaded up the baskets with fresh produce and a roasted chicken for dinner, then spent the afternoon browsing the “Antique Art & You” fair at l’Isle sur la Sorgue.

L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a town well-known for its antiques stores and weekend markets, it’s waterside cafés and restaurants as well as its beautiful waterwheels on the Sorgue River. It’s an antique-shopper’s paradise, particularly during one of its fairs, such as this one, that spanned August 11th through today, the 15th. This was the 105th of its kind in the beautiful Provençal town. Anyone who is in the furnishings arena is likely to be an aficionado of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and even if you aren’t, you can’t help but fall in love with it.

The train took me back to Nice yesterday from Avignon, a ride with which I am very familiar. It’s relatively painless and can spoil you, it’s so simple and inexpensive to hop the TGV. In fact, I have tickets to return to Paris next Monday and a second set of tickets to return on the 28th – knowing I could cancel one as it was purchased as “modifiable.” When the ticket is “modifiable,” it’s exchangeable and reimbursable up to the departure, but not once it leaves the station!

The only reason to return on the 20th is to be with my daughter in Paris another few days while she is there, but Paris is not where I want to be during the height of the holiday season. Nice is too nice, the Mediterranean too inviting and the sun too energizing to give it up without a fight. So, an alternative is to return to Nice once my daughter boards her flight back to New York on the 24th and take advantage of the last bit of summer on the Riviera for a extra few euros and a train ride. It would be a bit like Mary’s ascent to heaven, don’t you think?

What would you do if you were me?

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor of Parler Nice
Adrian Leeds Group


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P.S. Coming up at the next Après Midi, Tuesday September 11, Douglas Herbert — International Affairs Editor for France24–“On the one hand…On the other hand”: False equivalence in the Age of Trump. Details on our Après Midi page. Make your plans to attend now!


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