Saturday, February 28, 2009

Markets by Jientje

My blogger friend, Jientje, read Friday's blog entry and took pity on my whining about not having pictures from my favorite Provencal markets. She emailed me these to share with you. The first two are from Isle sur l"Sorgue where Jientje goes on holiday every summer. She and her husband rent the same place in Isle each summer and spend their vacation exploring the Luberon You can see some of the antique and brocante on display

The market winds along narrow side streets as

well as lining the banks of the Sorgue River. At full swing, the crowds are reason to go early even if it is Sunday!

This is Coustellet.
It's a much smaller market and more shopper friendly, I think. Look at those sunflowers! Arent' they gorgeous? My B & B hostess, Dani, always shops this Saturday morning market for her weekly groceries.

Do go visit Jientje at her blog, Heaven in Belgium. It's one of my very favorites; she always has beautiful photos to share.

Provencal Writers....Them and Me.

Don't these ancient stones and narrow passageways just cry out "write my story?" Can you feel the ghosts and spirits of times past lurking in the shadows, whispering their secrets in your ear? Another of my favorite things about Provence is the writings of those people who have heard 'the stories,' and put them into poetry and prose. Paris and its sidewalk cafes are usually the places that are said to inspire great literary and philosophical thought. Think Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I found Paris too distracting, however, to be conducive to writing. Provence, on the other hand, inspired me...and many others. Obviously, anyone interested in Provence needs to read Peter Mayle, but there are others that I've found fascinating as well. Try "Provencal Cooking" by Mary Ann Caws or "Strangers in Paradise" by Paul Christensen for a very literary look at Provence. I've become intrigued with Provencal writers as well. Marcel Pagnol is on my 'to read' list after seeing the films based on his novels. And I'm currently reading the poet, Rene Char. Don't ask me to explain his poems; I'm still working hard at understanding them myself! But they evoke Provence in every line.

For me, sitting outside at Cafe de la Poste became an inspiration. My travel journal is filled with snippets of character sketches based on the villagers I watched go about their daily lives in Goult. I watch the village wake up while I sip my cafe creme. Madame X was just in. She's 'of a certain age' dressed in a chic cream sweater and long black skirt that sways as she walks with her cane. Mostly for looks? she seems to walk just fine. A quick petit cafe, some conversation with the locals at the bar and off she goes speaking softly to her little fluffy white dog, I'll call her "Lulu," and a bigger black mongrel, "Pierre." Across the square, disappearing down the tiny street into a 3-story stone house with soft blue shutters drawn on the east against the bright Provencal sun. Madame may be back this evening--a pastis, perhaps? or a petit balloon of rouge?

Writing about Provence...#21 on my list of favorite things.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Provencal Markets

Back to Provence for #20 on my favorite things! Every Provencal village has a market day where vendors set up much like our Farmer's Markets in the States. Every kind of fruit and vegetable in season is on display. There are vendors who sell meat, cheese, fish, sausage, spices, on and on. The bigger markets also include clothing, linens, shoes, almost anything you can imagine. The big Sunday market in Isle-sur-l'Sorgue is famous for its antiques; the Saturday market in Apt has something for everyone. Here's a tip: go early to find a parking place and the best selection; go late (nearer to noon when they pack up to leave) to find possible bargains. As intrigued as I was with every market I visited, I never took one picture! I had to rely on Google for this one. Next time.....

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Flowers, Flowers, Flowers!

Everywhere you go in Paris there are flower shops! They always have outdoor displays as well as luscious arrangements inside. Just walking into a tiny flower boutique overwhelms your senses. Beautiful colors, interesting textures, and that fresh fragrance of green, growing things. It's instant refreshment for the body and soul. On my first trip to France, Mickey passed on a lovely tradition. She always buys a small, colorful potted plant to put in her hotel room to make it feel more homey. Then she leaves it for the maid along with a nice tip when she checks out. I eagerly adopted this habit! On trip #1, I bought a little pepper plant with tiny yellow and orange peppers on it. Trip #2...a small hot pink begonia. Trip #3...something small, green with purple flowers. The picture here was taken in Olivier Pitou's flower shop on rue des Saints-Peres, and it's where I've bought my flowers each visit. I never thought to take a picture of the shop, but Paris Breakfasts did! If you click here, you can see other photos of the boutique and also some lovely watercolor art. Paris Breakfasts is a blog I read daily; the artist does great little paintings.

I just love Parisian flower shops...enough so that they are # 19 on my list of favorite things. Everytime I pass the dreary (and expensive!) flowers in my grocery store, I sigh and long for Paris. Beautiful flowers, reasonable prices, an awesome selection, and shops on every wonder the French are so content with their lives!

Sunday, February 22, 2009


I've blogged about favorite things #17 & 18 before, so just a brief mention here. I love the street musicians of Paris! This is Borsalino playing in the arcade around Place de Vosges in the Marais. They're a jazz group in the style of Django Reinhardt. I bought a CD to remember them by. On weekends you find musicians and performers all over central Paris performing for donations...a few coins, perhaps you'll buy a CD? I think I was most amazed to find performers in the halls of the Metro. Imagine 'rounding a corner deep underground as you rush to your Metro stop and coming upon a stringed octet playing classical music...awesome.

The churches of Paris offer a wealth of musical entertainment. Visit Notre Dame or St. Germain-des-Pres at Vespers and listen to the great pipe organs. Or arrive a bit early to hear the organists practicing. Sit down in the worship area, close your eyes. The crowds and tourist noise will melt away and the great organs will carry your thoughts heavenward! Churches are frequently the site of concerts as well. Your admission price supports not only the musicians, but also helps with the upkeep of these ancient buildings. And the music is sublime!

Street music and church music....#17 & 18 on my list of favorite things to do in Paris.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Old Versus New

We're back at cour Marly in the Louvre. What do you think of these 'people' who are intermingled with all the ancient sculptures? I have to admit that at first glance, I thought they were real... kind of like the street performers who stand perfectly still for hours for your entertainment. But no, this is an art installation. The figures look as if they are made of plaster of Paris, stark white, no faces to be seen. Each clock is set at exactly the same time. I'm sure this all means something, but I'm not sure what. And I'm sure you're wondering why any of this could be one of my favorite things about Paris? Here's the explanation....all over this city you see the old and ancient juxtaposed against the new, the modern, the avant garde. At the corner of Blvd. St. Michel and the Seine, there is a huge fountain of St. Michel slaying a dragon completed in 1860. In 1871 this corner was the center of the political uprising known as the Paris Commune. And today... across the street is a stainless steel figure in profile that spurts water. Another example of this tension of old/new is found in the infamous I.M.Pei pyramid that anchors the courtyard of the Louvre. Love it or hate'll find a Parisian to support you. Nothing could be more modern than the Pompidou Center that snuggles up against the Eglise Saint-Merri, a 14th century church in the 4th arrondissement. And when you enter this ancient church, here is what you find in the nave! The vibrant and active life of this working parish is documented on the cubes resting on the traditional black and white tile floors and framed by 14th-century stonework. Ya gotta love it...and I do. To me, these splashes of the new against the old make Paris a living city and not just a stuck-in-the-past, stuffy museum city. It lives and breathes with the energies of the people who live, play, work and worship there. Rather than feeling like the old and new clash, Paris is able to make them feel like partners in time leading the city to even greater heights of joie de vivre and culture.


I was never a big fan of sculpture until I visited Paris for the first time. There's something about seeing it in person that makes it come alive. It's one of those art forms that you really must see in three dimensions, not on a flat page in a book. The Rodin Museum took my breath away. The Maillol was equally impressive. Everywhere you look in Paris you see parks, at street intersections, in churches. My very favorite place to enjoy sculpture, however, is in the Louvre. "The Winged Victory" is hands down my favorite, but she always gets all the attention. So I chose this handsome man from the cour Marly in the Louvre to feature in this blog entry. This covered courtyard is filled with spectacular pieces including the famous Horses of Marly. I love the tension in this piece. You can almost feel the power in this man's muscles as he strains to free himself from his bonds. On my last visit to the Louvre, there was a special exhibit of modern sculpture displayed with the ancient pieces in this space. I'll show you a picture of that in my next entry of more of my favorite things about Paris and Provence. This hunky guy represents # 15 on my favorite things list.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Powdered Vanilla

Powdered vanilla is # 13 on my list of favorite things about Paris and Provence. The little jar came from the Sunday market in Isle-su-l'Sorgue. I bought the tube of powdered vanilla at La Grande Epicerie in Le Bon Marche in Paris (which, by the way, is # 14 on my list!). I've never seen powdered vanilla here in the States; maybe I'm not looking in the right places? If you've seen it, let me know. Its fragrance is rich and the flavor is a little different than vanilla extract. Since I don't have a very educated palate, I don't have the right words to explain this difference, but it has a deeper, sweeter smell to me. I like to sprinkle a tiny bit in the warm milk that I froth for my morning coffee. I get just a hint of rich vanilla when I sip...yum!

What is La Grande Epicerie, you ask? Only the coolest grocery store I've ever seen! It is so worth a trip if you're visiting Paris even if you don't intend to buy groceries. Oh come a bottle of wine or a luscious chunk of chocolate! I've never seen anything like the cheese counter, the deli meat counter, the bread department. Word to the wise....don't forget to weigh your produce BEFORE you get to the check out person. That's the way you do it in France and the check out girl will not be happy if you don't comply!

Okay...I googled 'powdered vanilla' and you can buy it several places on line. That's not nearly as much fun as it is to pick it up while you wander the Sunday market in Isle or find it while you check out the well-dressed Parisians at La Grande Epicerie! I'll ration mine out until I can get back to France!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Favorite Village

Back to Provence for more of my favorite things. I've already blogged at length about Goult, my favorite Provencal village. Each village is lovely in its own way; Goult speaks to my soul mainly because it's less touristy and more about real life in Provence, yet still retains all the charm of its more popular 'perched' neighbors. I also love the doors of Goult like this one. They are all beautiful and unique. Some have the year the doorway was built etched in the capstone; some are made of beautifully carved wood. This doorway is framed with gorgeous stonework. I've blogged about many of these doors in the past during Jientje's doors challenge, but this is one I didn't include. Here's another thing that fascinates about these old, beautiful doors...I just know they are the entryways into stories. Stories of old Provence, stories of lives lived inside. Stories of drama, intrigue, affairs, death, birth. I'm just itching to know those stories, aren't you? Writing about the doors and the secret stories they hide is one of my book ideas for that day when I am living a literary life in Provence. Would you buy a book about these stories?

Goult and doors....numbers #11 and # 12 on my list of favorites. If you like doors, check out these on Flickr:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Seine by Boat

Yes, it's touristy. Yes, it's corny and cliche. And yes, you must do this at least once in your lifetime. A boat ride on the Seine through Paris is my favorite thing # 10. If the weather is warm and clear, try a night time tour. Even in rainy, cool weather, you can do the tour and sit inside out of the elements. It's a great experience. I did my Seine boat trip on a lovely September evening combined with an Illumination Tour. We began at the Eiffel Tower, boarded the boat and after completing the river part of the evening, drove around the city in a van to view all the wonderful public and private buildings that are lit up at night. It was magical! I will definitely do it again. My photos of the Tower were even blurrier than this one a snagged from Google. I think you can tell, though, that the twinkling Tower is a spectacular sight.

Here are some places to visit on the Internet for more information:

Batobus...great pictures!
Bateaux Mouches
Bateaux & music to get you in the mood!
Vedettes Pont-Neuf
Paris Vision

Enjoy your cruise!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I love all the ways you can travel around Paris!
Maybe it's because I grew up in the suburbs of southern California when 'the car' was everything and 'the freeway' was your only way to get from here to there, but I find alternate ways of transportation just fascinating. These two are # 8 and # 9 of my 25 favorites things about Paris and Provence. This is a photo I took of one of the old style Metro stations in Paris. The Metro is fabulous! Cheap and easy to use, it quickly whisks you all around the city. True, at peak travel times you are packed in like sardines, but if you plan your trips right, you can avoid that. I was a bit apprehensive the first few times I ventured underground on my own. Having a good sense of direction, I felt a little anxious not being able to orient myself to familiar landmarks. I quickly learned the system, though, and came to love it. So buy a carnet, study a good map of the system to familiarize yourself with how it works, and take the plunge. Metro travel is a joy.
Here is the very best way to travel outside Paris...the TGV. (tay-zha-vay--soft 'g' as in 'genre'). This picture from Google shows the bullet trains lined up ready to zip you around France at an astounding speed of 200mph! You have to make a reservation, and I recommend making a first class one; the extra money is well spent. The train is fast, comfortable, and quiet. Cell phones are prohibited except in specially designated places. First class seats are plush. The train stations are well-organized and easy to use, even for someone who doesn't speak French. Here's my question: why don't we have this kind of rapid transportation system in the United States??? Truly, I'd never drive or fly again.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Holy Water Fonts

We're here in Goult at La Treille, my favorite B & B. Dani and Michel have a lovely 19th century house furnished with a tasteful combination of modern and vintage furniture. There's a huge china hutch in the dining area that displays Dani's beautiful Provencal dishes. She also has a large collection of doll-size santons. But my favorite thing decorating the Marsat house is this collection of holy water fonts. I blogged about a particularly pretty one on Dona Nobis Pacem. I'm intrigued by their delicacy and their symbolic meaning. Three of them hold old rosaries. My French wasn't good enough to ask Michel about them...were they family heirlooms? did the rosaries belong to special people? So, that's an incentive to become more fluent. I'd love to hear their stories when I go back to Goult.

Today I made arrangements with an American woman living in Provence to buy a font from her antique/brocante business. I'm beginning my own collection! She visited my blog, I visited her website, and soon I'll be the proud owner of a 19th century piece of Provence. It should arrive the end of the month, and I'll make sure I do a blog posting on it complete with a picture. For now, know that these pretty antiques are my # 7 favorite things about Paris and Provence.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sainte Chapelle

One definition of a favorite thing is that it is a place or an experience you would repeat over and over because it gives so much pleasure. Ste. Chapelle is just such a place. I would visit it again and again to experience that moment of breath-taking awe I feel when I reach the top of the narrow stone spiral stairs that lead to the chapel. "Oh my God!" I whisper as I remind myself that I need to keep moving into the room; there are others behind me on the stairs. Staring with mouth open at the magnificent stained glass windows, I lose track of time and place. This moment is # 6 on my list of 25 favorite things about Paris and Provence

Friday, February 6, 2009

Favorite Things # 4 & # 5

Drum roll here....favorite thing # 4 is French wine! I consider wine one of the major food groups and tasted as many yummy wines as I could on my trips to France.One night in September at Le Bistrot de Paris, my dinner companions and I shared an $85 bottle of Pouilly Fume that was wonderful. I've sipped roses across Provence. But my very favorite French wine is the one I'm toasting with here in Patrick's tiny upstairs kitchen....a lovely red wine called Cahors. It's specific to the Lot region of the Dordogne and is made by only a few families there. I first read about it in Michael Sanders' book "Families of the Vine," which follows wine families of this region as they work their vineyards and produce their wines. I don't have an educated wine palate, so I can't describe this wine in terms of the subtle flavors in it. I can tell you that it's big and bold and almost black in color. It holds up deliciously against the most complex and richly flavored foods. The best thing about it is...I can actually buy it in Des Moines! A bit pricier than it was in Paris and Provence, but still a very special treat.

Here's # 5 on my list of favorite things from Paris and Provence....pastis. It's an anise-flavored liqueur that is very popular as an afternoon aperitif in the South of France. "51" is one of the popular brands and the glasses are made especially for pastis. You pour the liqueur up to the white line, add an ice cube, and fill the rest of the glass with cold water. The clear amber liquid immediately turns cloudy. Sip slowly and enjoy the Provencal afternoon sun! Yes, I brought the bottle and the glasses home from France and managed to do it without anything breaking. I noticed as I set these on my dining room table that the pastis bottle is getting low...time to make another trip to Provence!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Favorite Things # 2 & # 3

Here are numbers 2 & 3 of my favorite things about Paris and Provence. Coming in at #2 is goat cheese. I adore goat cheese! and absolutely never ate it until my first trip to Provence. It has become an obsession. Alas, it's hard to find great goat cheese in Iowa. Are you surprised? What I can find is pretty bland. My favorite way to eat it in Provence is warm and runny over a great salad of mixed greens...yum! I have a Rick Steve's travel video about France. In one of the segments, a friend is showing him a fromagerie in Paris. "Goat cheese, goat cheese, goat cheese, everywhere goat cheese," she sings. "A Parisienne cannot live without goat cheese." She picks up a chunk, holds it to her nose and inhales deeply. "Ah," she sighs, "it smells like the feet of an angel." Hm-m-m!

This little watercolor by Paris Breakfasts illustrates #3 on my list...croissants. You haven't eaten a croissant until you've eaten one in France. They are fabulous! Try as I might, I cannot find anything anywhere close here in the States. After reading a recipe on how you make them, I'm not going to make my own either. Definitely a reason to return to France to eat one. I had croissants every day at my bed and breakfast in Goult. Michel ran across the street to the boulangerie every morning to bring me a fresh one. I'll never forget the very first morning I was there. As he stood watching, I took one from the serving plate and proceeded to butter it. Zut alor! you should have seen the look of horror on his face! "Non, non, Madame!" he implored. I immediately realized I'd committed some sort of American faux pax. One taste of that delicious, flaky roll provided me with the answer...they are plenty buttery enough! A bite of croissant, a sip of coffee...instant melting buttery flavor in my mouth. Ah!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

25 Things I Love About Paris & Provence

As I was browsing the blogs I read on a regular basis, I found an entry at Just Another American in Paris that captured my imagination. The author had been seduced by the same idea from yet another blog to post entries about the 25 things she loves most about Paris. Since I don't limit myself to just Paris, I decided to meet her challenge with 25 things that I love about Paris and Provence. I start, mais bien sur, with the Eiffel Tower. During my three visits to Paris, I've taken many, many photos of the Tower; I just can't help myself--it's so beautiful! This one is my favorite. You might remember that I used it as a Christmas card one year. I took it in March of '06 during my first ever solo visit to Paris...8 days of total immersion, by myself, in the most wonderful city in the world. The first time I saw the Eiffel Tower, I literally teared up. I was in Paris! I often wonder if Parisian's feel the same way I do. The Tower to me is the symbol of all of France. So this is entry #1. Check back for 24 more of my favorite things about Paris & Provence.

**mais bien sur--a common French phrase meaning 'but of course.'
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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Surprise Phone Call

My phone rang last night and in a blink of an eye, I had a new least I think that's how she's related to me! Her name is Kay (she said that's what family call her and now I'm family). She's the granddaughter of my mom's eldest half-sister, Lucille. She's doing geneology research and remembered my name from a letter she received in 1999 from my mom. She was very sad that mom passed away in 2000 and isn't around to help her as she searches for the family story. I can't tell you how wonderful it was to hear Kay speak about my beautiful mother and how much she appreciated being in contact with her. Evidently Kay actually stayed with us a few days when we lived in Fullerton; I was 12 yrs old at the time and obviously a self-absorbed pre-teen because I don't remember her visit at all! It was a bad time in Kay's life and my mom was very kind to her. My mom was kind to everyone and always wanted to help folks, so this doesn't surprise me one bit. We talked about family, what we both remember from the stories our moms told us. As a kid, I remember sitting around the dinner table long after we'd finished eating, and my mom would entertain us with her stories...stories of murders and bodies in the Okefenokee swamp and 'haints' and bad signs, of bodies laid out in the parlor for visitation and crosses burned on the lawns of sinners. Oh, how I wish I'd written those stories down before she died!! I sent Kay all the geneology stuff that I got last fall from Zane. Funny, huh? You go for years with no extended family and then within 6 months, you have two new cousins!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Surprise Gift

I received this book in the mail earlier in the week. It was a surprise gift from my friend, Marie. As you can see, it's a bit tattered as well it should was published in 1947! Printed in France, it's written in English and on the inside cover Marie's maiden name is written in pencil. I assume, then, that it's a book she's had since childhood. As I carefully open its thin, fragile pages, I'm struck first by the introduction which describes the Allied liberation of France. It's painful to read about those dark days, but the last two paragraphs are very touching.

"This book has been written to portray the liberation of give our Allies essential information about the country they liberated. May this book, dedicated to those who played a part in making our country free, remind our Allies of those terrible--and glorious--days. May it be accepted as a token of gratitude and appreciation for the decisive part they have played in the history of France."

It's signed "COFBA Franco-Allied Goodwill Commitee."

The first 25 pages are, indeed, about the liberation of France. Then comes another introductory page...

"You have seen France in the joy of liberation, you have seen her in the midst of war, you have seen the results of her suffering from four years of enemy occupation and pillage: but you have not seen the real France. The following pages will give you an idea of what France was before the war, and what she will be once more, when you come back on a visit."

I've heard so many people complain that France never appreciated what the Allies did for her. I think this little book proves that those people are dead wrong. I'm proud to share it with you.

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