A Misty Merry Provençal Christmas
Going to Provence for Christmas with old friends is as perfect a holiday as a holiday can get. There was nothing we “needed” to do — only those things we “chose” to do, which included often doing absolutely nothing at all.
Barb W. has a beautiful warm and cozy, but large and spacious village house in one of the Luberon’s loveliest villages — Ansouis. When it’s not filled with her friends, she rents it, all five bedrooms, five+ bathrooms on three levels with a terrace and patio, to discerning guests. (Tell her I sent you!) Ideal for a family or group of friends (like us), there is always a place where you can be, alone or together. The big fireplace has been stoked all weekend with the dried lavender that the village “sanitation workers” deposited in a huge pile in front of her garage for gratis. Slouched on the comfy white sofa in front of the flames is where much relaxation has taken place, not to mention the times we have all been in the kitchen on stools at the large center counter from where we can nosh, cook, read emails, schmooze.
We’ve been dining both in and out. Stops to the open-air Provençal markets has stocked us up with fresh fruits and vegetables to be our delicacies. I had never made Jerusalem artichokes before, but what was labeled as “tompinabours” at 2.50€ per kilo looked interesting and worthwhile to try. Boiled lobster dipped in butter or lemon accompanied the exotic root vegetable, having baked them for about an hour encrusted in olive oil and herbs. If you’ve never tried them, do — one might describe them as a cross between a potato, a carrot and a turnip…a bit crunchy and woodsy.
The elegant village of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, about 60 kilometers away was very quiet on Christmas eve with only a handful of shops and restaurants open to catch every last little bit of business. The morning started out misty as we took the road to the famous Provençal enclave — so misty as to create a setting that seemed as if you were literally inside an impressionist painting. Then the fog lifted suddenly rendering the sky a bright blue. The vivid color acted as a contrasting backdrop to the stark leafless “platane” (plane) trees that line the wider streets and circular boulevard. One restaurant that appeared at first to be shut tight, was actually quite busy serving families. Le Bistrot de Marie was filled from floor to ceiling with 18th and 19th-century Provençal cuisine-related artifacts which surrounded us as we savored beautifully prepared country cooking.
The village has seen a lot of life in its many years of existence. While wandering around the village we came across the very birth place of Michel de Nostradamus, on December 14, 1503. A French physician, he published a collection of prophecies that much of what he predicted, has come to pass, even many major world-changing events such as Hitler’s rise to power and Donald Trump’s presidential victory. Interpretations of his predictions for 2017 by a bevy of followers include the demise of Italy’s financial stability and a “hot war” over global warming. I say “interpretations,” because no doubt, there are many ways to view and consider his writings.
We made a short trek from Saint-Rémy to Les Baux and its famous Carrières des Lumières limestone quarries in which a sound and light show is the region’s cultural masterpiece. I’ve never understood why it’s not more well-known, because a walk through the massive caverns are like an inspiring and healthy cultural trip on a hallucinogenic drug. On only until January 8th, this is the last hurrah for the current multi-media show of “Chagall: Midsummer Night’s Dreams” — a discovery of the impressive works of Marc Chagall digitized, animated and screened on 5,000 meters of limestone. Chagall was an artist of Russian origin
who obtained French nationality in 1937 — one that makes France’s proud of his accomplishments.
Ansouis, not as well-known as some of the other Luberon towns, such as Gordes, La Coste or Roussillon, is one of France’s most charming perched and crowned medieval villages. The fortified medieval fortress of a castle of the Sabran family (13th-century) sits high above the old stone houses below along the narrow cobble-stoned streets. Every direction we took, a sweet cat came out from nowhere looking for attention by rubbing up against our legs and meowing in our faces. One female full of kittens looked like she might burst.
In the spirit of Chanukah, Barb and I drove into Aix-en-Provence for a movie — not one I’d recommend you see: “Manchester by the Sea.” We had no idea it would be so depressing and not what we had in mind for a Christmas day movie. No matter, the sky at dusk driving to Aix was singularly the most spectacular sky I’ve ever seen. I took dozens of photos as it appeared to be on fire and changed every few moments as the sun sunk further down.
This afternoon we’re off to a truffle-hunting excursion sponsored by Les Pastras which includes a tour of the plantation, a crash course on how truffles are cultivated, how the dogs are trained to sniff them out and some of the “tricks of the trade.” Naturally we get to taste them and my daughter has already instructed me not to come home empty-handed.
Tomorrow I head out early to catch the bus to Nice where I’ll be spending the end of 2016 and the beginning of a very bright and happy new year. On Wednesday you’ll be hearing from me from my sunny apartment overlooking rue Masséna where I will be welcomed by “Henri-le-Cactus” who grows taller by the day.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(at Nostradamus house, by Tom Marquardt)
P.S. Begin planning now for January’s Après Midi with Monique Y. Wells, Creator of Entrée to Black Paris tours and the Entrée to Black Paris blog and Tom Reeves, Tour Guide and Author. They’ll be speaking about “African-American Presence in the City of Light.” Details available on our Après Midi page. Don’t miss it!