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Prayers and Plagues

Prayers and Plagues

As we’ve guided our guests through the beautiful town of Aix en Provence for the past 17 years, we’ve pointed out the many niches,

filled with Madonnas and saints, on corners of buildings, explaining that “in medieval times these comforting icons were installed during the plague so that the quarantined residents, unable to attend mass,  could instead pray to these figures that they could see from their windows”.

Did we ever imagine that, once again, the world would be confined to their homes as we are today? France is currently on a 15-day lockdown in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
We can see the cathedral bell tower from Ambiance d’Aix, our home in Aix en Provence – do you think that would “count” as a prayer niche?!

One of the things we love about our French home is the sound of those church bells. On Wednesday last week church bells rang out throughout France for 10 minutes, beginning at 7:30 pm, as an act of solidarity and hope, and people were encouraged to light candles in their windows at the same time.
In secularized France, I wonder if many now look out their windows to the Madonnas and pray?

Even if not, those peaceful Mother and Child statues

seem to bless the lively squares below (can you spy the figure on the corner?).

I think of this one as the market Madonna.

A rare snow draped the shoulders of this one a few years ago.

Just around the corner from our home is this unusual Black Madonna,

on the corner of  “scrape your elbows” lane – a cobbled path so narrow you have to hold your arms against your body as you walk through.
Pray we will, that this virus will soon be conquered,

and the calm Madonnas can smile down on busy-once-again squares!

Friends and Family in Aix en Provence

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!

 

 

 

Skeletons in the Market Square

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.

 

 

 

So Long, Farewell, It’s Time to Say Goodbye

So Long, Farewell, It’s Time to Say Goodbye

July 15, 2017
Aix en Provence, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
How about celebrating Mozart in the matchless city of Bath, England in November?

Always au revoir (until we meet again), never goodbye…I walk through the market just one more time, taking in the sights and smells…a bittersweet stroll. Yes, I’ll be back, but I always hate to leave!
Jean-Marc and Kristin e-introduced us to new friends, and we invite them over for a late morning nibble – it’s truly a pleasure to meet Dorothy and Steve, and we hope we’ll get to see them again sometime when they’re back in Aix for a visit.
Then it’s time to pack up and clean the apartment for the next lucky renters, walk to a nearby courtyard for a late string quartet (the gorgeous Fauré #2 in g minor for piano and strings – listen to it if you can!)and bid farewell to lovely Aix – we’ll be back as soon as we can!

14 juillet – Celebrate!

14 juillet – Celebrate!

July 14, 2017
Aix en Provence, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
How about celebrating Mozart in the matchless city of Bath, England in November?

France is celebrating today, and so are we – It’s Kirk’s birthday! As you may remember, he LOVES spending it in France since the whole country parties for him 🙂
How does he want to start the day? With a walk up the hill to Cezanne’s atelier and oft-used painting perch beyond, now the Terrain de Peintres, showcasing several of his portrayals of Mt. Saint Victoire painted from right in this spot.
In the afternoon we take in Aix’s newest museum, the Hôtel de Caumont in the Mazarine district. We were there years ago when it was the headquarters of the Music Conservatory, and although we’ve attended a concert in the courtyard, this is the first time we’ve been inside since the complete and lavish restoration. As we walk through the rooms with decor faithful to the 18th century, the period of the building, I’m reminded that a friend encouraged me to see the interior to get ideas for decorating our apartment of the same era. Our budget is not quite the same as the Caumont 😉
Upstairs, the rooms are always devoted to a particular exhibition, and until October 15 Sisley the impressionist is the beautifully curated collection. The rooms are spacious and uncrowded, allowing us to absorb the superb paintings at our leisure.More than any other artist Sisley draws you into his spacious landscapes. You feel as if you’re walking under that vast sky, brushing your fingers in the rippling river, listening to the twitter of birds in the trees. We’ve been to countless museums in our lives, but this is a new favorite…and the visit will be memorable since it’s part of our birthday celebration!
From top to bottom the Caumont is a treasure…and then there’s the tea room and garden! After sipping a cup in the shade, we snap a birthday selfie then just sit and enjoy – even on a hot summer day it’s cool and comfortable in the garden.
The party’s not over yet! After a delicious birthday dinner we listen to a string quartet in another beautiful mansion’s courtyard, then join the revelers on Cours Mirabeau – watching all ages sing along to French pop standards that we’ve never heard before – even the très cool teens and twenties sing the oldies as they dance!
Bonne fête, France, and Joyeaux Anniversaire, Kirk!

 

Welcome to the Garden!

Welcome to the Garden!

July 2017
Aix en Provence, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
How about celebrating Mozart in the matchless city of Bath, England in November?

Today’s lunch is in the delightful garden of our friends Philippe and Bénédicte, beginning with aperitifs before moving to the table under the ash tree in the garden. Philippe tells us that when they bought this property years ago, before they built their home he used to take a mid day break from his nearby office and come sit under the tree – it’s his favorite place in the garden.
Bénédicte is an interior and exterior designer extraordinaire – we love all of the unique touches in the garden such as this gypsy wagon in one corner, and the latest addition, a treehouse from which Philippe snapped this photo. The yummy al fresco lunch included cheeses, bien sur, and  figs from their tree, then Philippe picked a few for us to take home – as luscious to taste as they are to look at!