Friends and Family in Aix en Provence

Thanksgiving Week, 2017
Aix en Provence, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

What’s first on the Aix to-do list when we arrive? Flowers, of course! And what a glorious morning we have for our first market foray! The usual produce, flowers, clothes and textiles fill stalls, and the annual Santon Fair is set up beyond the grand Rotonde fountain at the end of Cours Mirabeau – every imaginable figure for your creche scene.Most of the week we’re walking around familiar lanes, but for a couple of days we rent a car to see friends further afield. After a near-freezing morning, we’re off to La Ciotat, where we’re surprised to see hardy souls braving the water – from stand-up paddlers beyond the waves, to swimmers and sunbathers. Our friends Jean-Marc and Kristin (author of one of our favorite blogs, French Word a Day) have recently moved here from a few miles away, and after that chilly start to the day, it’s turned out to be perfect for a garden lunch. Kirk channels Van Gogh in one of Kristin’s hats, and we while away the hours together in the sunshine.After stopping for some big box store supplies outside of Aix while we have the car, we take a side road home and pull off to take in a glorious sunset.One more day with a car, and we’ve invited new friends Jim and Brenda to see more of the area – the lush and varied Luberon north of Aix calls us today, beginning with ochre-toned Roussillon, always a favorite.Rewinding south towards Bonnieux, we pause at Pont Julien, a hearty Roman relic that survived when new bridges perished in floods over the centuries.
Just down the road is bonnie Bonnieux, where we pause for a look across the rooftops and the lower church – to the valley beyond. A few elegant doorways from centuries ago attest to the former wealth of the village, popular again since Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. Pulling away towards Lourmarin, we’re grabbed with the sight of the village tumbling down its hill, framed in glorious autumn colors – wow!Between Bonnieux and Lourmarin we stop for a half kilometer hike down a path beside an old mill trace to a stone bridge built by the pre-Luther Protestants called Vaudois. They left Italy where they were known as Waldensians and where they developed considerable skill as stone masons. This low, short bridge over the insignificant Aigue Brun stream has as an anchor on the right, a stone concave fan. Those Vaudois cut and laid those stones with such skill that the bridge still stands after about 500 years.
Last stop, chic Lourmarin, with its eye-catching chateau. The guys pause for a coffee while Brenda and I peek in the shops.
Mt. St. Victoire greets us in the sunset as we approach Aix, where a surprise awaits us. Our friend Xavier told us to call him when we got back since he had something to bring us. He’s a collector of contemporary art, but has saved for us a piece from his parent’s estate that he gave to them years ago – of a place he knows we enjoy. Venice! We’ve been looking for something for this corner – how nice to have a piece with a personal connection!
Friends and family make life so delightful….the family arrives tomorrow!

 

 

 

Bonjour Bordeaux!

September, 2017
Bordeaux, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy?

Our Music and Markets Bordeaux/Dordogne Tour begins and ends in Bordeaux, and each time we’re there, we imagine spending MORE time in this gorgeous city. Since this was the final Orpheus and Bacchus musical event, around which the tour is planned, we’re hoping to find another music festival in the area  – we want to keep coming here and sharing this beautiful part of France with our guests!
16 rusty statues (all cast from the artist’s 6’2″body) are scattered through the historic center, the work of British sculptor Antony Gormley, who has placed them gazing into the distance, reminding those who live here or visit to pause and look at what’s around them. No problem – we love to do so – especially at sunset!Which lively square shall we choose for dinner tonight? How about St. Pierre, by the church of the same name?Not far from Hôtel de l’Intendance, a comfortable and well-located hotel where we’re staying before our guests arrive, is one of the old city gates, a carved arch, where a vendor sets up a little morning market with the freshest of produce.Moving to the wonderful and elegant hotel we use for our tour, Hôtel de Seze, we begin showing off the city – with the impressive Girondins monument just behind the hotel, honoring a brave group slaughtered in the French Revolution.
On to the cathedral, where Sam hints that Kirk should stop for confession, and the always inviting Porte Cailhau.It’s a busy time of year in Bordeaux – everyone wants to be here around harvest time! So when we return from our countryside rambles a week later, our guests are in Hôtel de Tourny, and we’re in a not-good-enough-for-music-and-markets place where the room’s so small that the toilet is IN the shower!But it is in a fine location for discovering yet more of Bordeaux – such as those Roman ruins we’ve not yet seen! Imagine having this right in your backyard!We’ve had lots of foie gras and duck, a hallmark of the Dordogne region, for the last week, so finish our tour with some prime Bordeaux seafood at Le Petit Commerce before bidding a fond farewell to the city – it’s a beauty!

 

Skeletons in the Market Square

Aix en Provence, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy?

When Urban Renewal Turns Macabre:  It happens often really. A downtown construction project comes to a halt because a worker discovers a coin or a ceramic shard from a previous culture. Archeologists are called in to sift through the area and after a couple of weeks give the all clear to continue. The delay is built in to the schedule – no big deal. But sometimes, as happened this year in our second home town of Aix-en-Provence, this happens:The asphalt area around the eagle-topped obelisk fountain is cleared of cars three days a week to make room for nearby farmers, fishermen, and craftsmen to set up their market stalls. It’s a typical lively sunny scene with olive oil, spice, egg, lavender sachet, and homemade pasta sellers’ voices calling out their daily specials, competing for the city folks’ euros. And our feet pound that pavement every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday with menus in mind, planning our meals around what looks good and fresh.Late in 2016 we began to hear talk of temporarily moving the entire market to another part of town. City Hall has big plans to upgrade the asphalt surface of the Place of the Preachers with stone pavers, making it a car free zone all week. The market stalls will return after the year-long project but the cars on the off-market days will have to find somewhere else to park after the pedestrianization project is completed. Nobody was happy. It would be terribly disruptive for the vendors to move the whole market to another square, and the automobile drivers didn’t like the idea of the long walk to the center from parking lots on the outskirts of town. And when they heard a new drainage system would have to be installed to more effectively capture and redirect the runoff, there were groans, knowing that digging of that level was bound to turn up something medieval or Roman and the year-long project could easily take two years – or more to complete.
And that’s exactly what happened. Shortly after they began digging the deep trenches for the four-foot wide underground drainage culverts, work had to stop and the whole area was teeming with fluorescent green vested archeologists instead of construction workers.There appear to be about ten deep graves in front of the church facing the square. All the medieval and renaissance maps of the area show at least one gallows located near the center of the square. So maybe these people were executed and there was no one to claim their bodies, so they were buried near where they were executed. A definitive reason for the bodies being buried there was not reported.We were impressed with how they were not only searching for artifacts that could lead to a better understanding of the history of the place, but also the care and respect with which the bones were removed for a proper re-burial in the cemetery. The dirt was removed from the skeletons with small paint brushes, then swept into dustpans or vacuumed away to uncover the skeletons as they were buried up to 400 years earlier. Each bone was carefully labeled before being moved.Of course, after the human remains were found, the whole area had to be meticulously excavated to make sure no skeletons would remain under the new pavers. And the other end of the square had to be dug up. Though no bodies were discovered there, the archeologists found and carefully recorded the traces of foundations of several buildings. They even attempted to preserve a Plane tree that was growing in the square by wrapping the horizontal roots that had spread across the floor of the ancient buildings.
It is a little creepy to think we – and thousands of others – were unaware all this time that we were walking over buried humans while we shopped and greeted neighbors. But I guess, when you walk around in a town established by the Romans, you just never know.
On the lighter side, in 1676, Thomas Fornet wanted his contribution to the foundations found about 5 feet below the surface remembered by posterity. So we will do just that.