Le jardin français

61AFD91A-5D5A-4E32-BD4F-3852C2E7DC05Upon returning from France, I was pleased to turn to Monty Don’s French Gardens on Netflix to revisit my favorite country while recovering from jet lag. There are three hour-long episodes: Gardens of Power and Passion; The Gourmet Garden; and The Artistic Garden that were first broadcast on the BBC. The host is an earnest and affable Brit who speaks quite good French and clearly loves everything he sees and eats. Everyone – from nuns to Michelin starred chefs – responds to him in the same open-hearted way. He criss-crosses the country in a classic blue 2CV with a straw hat shielding his head from the French sun. He even goes to Aix, that I visited and loved in June. If you want to take a trip to the heart of France – no jet lag required – I think you’ll enjoy this show.

924B6DA9-8CEF-4F3E-BF09-45492D113483Private Gardens of Paris

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Dos à la mode

FEE1ECEE-1109-4741-8738-172FE52D36A0If you’ll be in Paris prior to November 17, 2019, I highly recommend that you visit the exhibit Backside / Dos à la mode at the musée Bourdelle. Located near the hulking and hideous Tour Montparnasse (oops, my bias is showing), this little museum was the atelier of sculptor Antoine Bourdelle. A few times in recent years, it has housed fashion exhibits in conjunction with the Palais Galliera, the museum dedicated just to fashion. I think this is the most successful collaboration to date, as the juxtaposition of couture items seen from the back alongside sculptures presented in the same way creates an interesting dialogue.

A8FABF47-464A-42F9-8E0A-9B3E0B3E0A6FAnd it isn’t just pretty dresses. Did you realize that, apart from a straitjacket, men’s clothes always open at the front, whereas women’s have frequently opened at the back? I never thought about how this one simple fact kept women dependant upon others to get dressed or undressed. We teach children early in their lives how to dress themselves, but women did not have this simple independence.

DF440E93-9FEB-47CF-B6CC-BB433B45900FThe back can also be used as a canvas to write messages, explicitly or implicitly. Remember the furor caused by the writing on the back of Melania Trump’s coat when she was on a humanitarian mission? A look-alike of that “just a coat” is in the exhibition. Some gowns demonstrated Puritanical modesty from the front while saving all the show for the back. From clothes that made news in recent years to a court train from the 18th century, this exhibit covers the whole gamut. Which of these gowns would you choose for yourself?

A4E2EC3B-28EF-4204-B8E5-068979FE45DFBackside / Dos à la mode

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Gorges du Verdon

8F410FE2-69BC-49A7-ADCD-67FE86B72712In a recent blog post, I told you about the first half of a full day excursion to Moustiers and the lavender fields of Valensole. As much as I enjoyed the morning, the afternoon was even more spectacular.

A644F27A-BD45-46BA-831E-FBA0C80A0C3FJust outside of Moustiers, we stopped to admire the Gorges du Verdon, dazzling turquoise waters held in the embrace of deep limestone cliffs. The valley was carved by Alpine runoff, but the water is the result of the valley being flooded in the 1970s as part of a vast hydroelectric project. The astonishing color is the result of minerals suspended in the water. I’m no water sports enthusiast, but it was a fairly warm day when we were there, and all I wanted to do was jump in a paddle boat and join the people frolicking in the water below me.

4B19E9BF-F0B4-4B15-B5A7-39ED57CA8DC7We drove around the perimeter of the gorge and then to the village of Sainte-Croix-de-Verdon, perched above a lake of the same name, also part of the same system of vast reservoirs. We had time to either wander through the village or go down to the water. I opted for the village and photography, but it was so tiny that I think I would have been better using my time for paddling at the water’s edge. The tiny village was saved from being flooded when the dam was built, but some other villages have disappeared beneath those turquoise waters. (It makes me think of the French TV series Les Revenants.) I think this would be an amazing place to rent a vacation home for a week in the summer. (No matter how beautiful it is, I’d get bored of beach life after a few days.)

3D583740-DC2F-4B94-A309-DF111F58E317I’d never heard of the Gorges du Verdon prior to this trip, but all my French friends were in the know. How about you? Have you ever been there? How cold is the water?!

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Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

7C8BDD91-61C5-4722-92AF-55390CCBCE51After the success of our small-group excursions to Cassis and the hill towns, I signed up for a full day trip to see lavender in Valensole and to visit some additional provençal villages. The advantage of this particular trip was that I had more time in each location, so I feel that I got to see all that I wanted and take pictures to my heart’s content.

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Valensole is a large plain known for having field after field of lavender, or actually lavendin. We learned that virtually every “lavender” field is usually lavendin, which has a more compact grouping of flower heads on the stalk and slightly different attributes than its better known cousin. The first stop was to a farm with lavendin, olive and almond trees. We were allowed to go right into the fields to take photos, as is typical of farms with shops, as opposed to farms that simply produce the crop and do not appreciate tourists traipsing through their fields. Because it had been a cool spring, the lavendin was not quite in full bloom, but it was still a beautiful sight to see! My favorite parts were the poppies growing between breaks in the plants. Of course, our visit ended with the opportunity to buy some of the organic products.

FE0C6E22-C761-4EDA-9537-77DABB57E5E920FD56A2-B808-4349-8FCA-C9F030AB74698890410F-CAC0-4AF9-A03C-380CF062AD6A8C871F87-CE8A-4F7C-9085-9996ED95CC5DThen we went to the village of Moustiers-Sainte-Anne, home to beautiful faïence, or pottery, for  centuries. There were traditional patterns, the same as the one ordered by Louis XIV and modern interpretations. I was highly tempted by a mug with a hot air balloon, celebrating the success of the Montgolfier brothers, and a trio of vases in graduated sizes decorated with tropical birds. I resisted, but did indulge in a simple leather belt that I was able to customize in the color, size, and buckle style that I wanted.

0AA3B2D4-C6BF-4533-BC56-43A5BD049BBDD09395AD-4C12-44D7-860D-C77E2D1833EFD7600360-D1BA-4E47-B9AE-64117592DC60462EC382-2DF1-4095-9AD5-C5CF0167A2A3The village deserves its inclusion in the list of the most beautiful towns in France. It perches on a series of terraces, about a hundred yards up a limestone cliff. Far above the little town, a golden star twinkles above the town, suspended on a chain between two cliffs. According to legend, it was hung by a knight who made it home to Moustiers after having been imprisoned during the Crusades to fulfill a pious oath. It’s been replaced a number of times since the 10th century, of course, most recently with the aid of a helicopter. How they managed to suspend it in the pre-helicopter days defies my imagination.

13F68226-660D-4577-A546-D71E367945700BC70AA6-B1CA-446B-A5C2-C31EE6765526A2AEDDDC-E65D-4692-9A62-F3054ACE6E3F1617F020-37AF-40D0-B33C-2582BA2E40F46E848A6F-0E63-4D0F-B433-6AA8EFEFB129A2AEE3AA-9A5B-4E36-BD01-C9BE517BB926Perched between the village and the star is a tiny chapel, Notre Dame de Beauvoir. It’s a long climb up there, on stone steps rendered slick from the passage of many feet over the centuries. You can see the chapel in the photo, above, where the bridge is at the bottom left and the chapel is at the top right. The chapel itself manifests little architectural beauty, but it is well-named as it provides a magnificent vista over the valley. Legend attributes its construction to Charlemagne in the 9th century. For sure there are historical references to it early in the 12th century, which is sufficiently extraordinary.

97342845-4879-4EB9-9E6B-04755192FF20.jpegThe day was far from done, but I’ll share the rest of our itinerary in another post. Have you ever been to Moustiers? Did you succumb to some faïence?

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Que voir dans le Luberon?

585415C1-0265-40F6-8683-C0ADFB97FED6.jpegAs I mentioned in a recent post, we went on an excursion to Cassis when we were in Aix-en-Provence. On our way back, I asked the van driver for more information about their trip to the Luberon villages. He offered us a discounted rate to fill the last two seats in that afternoon’s excursion, so off we went to Lourmarin, Roussillon, and Lacoste.

F506A45C-84CC-43E6-A084-01E1868BE4623A31C7CC-208D-4D52-9089-4F990C803C7F81D92E0E-7461-4F23-82F8-7A32FC5FD373The flower draped stone buildings on the winding streets in Lourmarin were picture perfect. We spent the majority of our limited time there learning about lavender bottles (lavender stalks that are bent to cover the flower heads and embellished with ribbons) from a true artisan. Of course, a few had to come home with me.

F24765F2-AF37-4F55-B7D1-A7B69B133FA9413868B3-BFEC-4553-8CA4-491DCDE43A1F210619CA-F6A7-4758-AF90-26D023EDE80DRoussillon is famous for its ochre cliffs that have been mined for a millenium. All the buildings in town sport different tones of this warm mineral. I would have liked to have had enough time to do the walk further in the cliffs to explore these formations in more depth.

DC2E2B97-3DC2-4258-8988-C890585670D3169AE605-EE8B-4985-AAA7-12517DA9E1F9610784D6-5F90-4064-ACD9-5C6637FF427CThe castle at the summit of the village of Lacoste is the former home of the evil Marquis de Sade, now owned by fashion designer Pierre Cardin. There is really only one steep, cobbled road that winds its way down to the foot of the hill through the thousand year old village.

While I would have appreciated at least twice as much time in both Lourmarin and Roussillon, this excursion was the only way we could have possibly seen three villages in just one afternoon. Yes, we could theoretically have rented a car, but seeing our driver thread the needle down narrow streets reinforced our conviction that this is a task best left to those familiar with the region. What are your favorite Luberon villages? Any hair-raising driving in Provence stories to share?

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Paul Delaroche

C98B160E-8209-425F-B5D9-D8C2943A97CBFrench Romantic painter and sculptor Paul Delaroche was born on July 17, 1797. He specialized in historical scenes after having trained initially as a landscape painter. He turned to figure painting in 1817 after failing to win the Prix de Rome. He entered the studio of Gros and began exhibiting at the Salon in the early 1820s — at the very time when the rivalry between Romanticism and Classicism was at its fiercest. Delaroche steered a middle course between these two extremes. His historical subjects, which aimed at poignancy rather than grandeur, were typical of the Romantics, but were handled in a bland academic manner.

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La Mort d’Élisabeth

Neoclassical painters had taken their historical themes from ancient Greece and Rome, but for the Romantics, British subjects were more appealing. This was largely due to the popularity of the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Certain themes also had a particular resonance for French spectators. Cromwell was often seen as a forerunner of Napoleon, while the beheading of Lady Jane Grey evoked memories of the French Revolution. After Delaroche’s death, his melodramatic style completely fell out of favor, although, in recent years, his reputation has undergone a minor revival. He died on November 4, 1856.

399FFFAE-CED6-425C-8763-FC8A6EC095FEPaul Delaroche, 1797 – 1856

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Que faire à Cassis?

C3941C11-6C12-44E4-9185-ADA0209D8515When I travel, I usually like to take public transportation and move around like a local. This time, however, we signed up for some mini-van excursions at the Office de Tourisme in Aix, as Provence isn’t as well served by trains and buses as some other regions of France. Although these trips do have their drawbacks, notably having to stick to someone else’s timetable, they are certainly an option to consider.

A1156726-CF7B-4253-8419-E671FF7CD333The first trip was to Cassis, a port town near Marseille. It’s famous for its calanques, sheltered inlets lined with steep, cream colored cliffs. It’s been an active fishing and trading town since Roman times. It’s also known for the stone from its quarries, full of little fossils, that has been used to build many of the principal ports of southern France.

E7C35312-CD9D-4634-A7BF-87C7C14A1413We had a boat tour to three of the calanques, before having some time in the town. I loved all the flowers in front of the houses. We finished with a trip to the top of a hill to see a panoramic view of Cassis from below. We enjoyed it so much that we signed up for another excursion that same afternoon, but more on that one another time.

E0807ED1-DF7C-4957-93AE-F4BB3CCEB889Smart Travels Europe with Rudy Maxa Paris, Provence

 

 

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