The Music of Aix – and on to Paris!

The Music of Aix – and on to Paris!

Aix en Provence & Paris, France
Sunday- Tuesday, November 18-20, 2012

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Why not join us in Italy for New Year’s Jazz? 

From foggy Venice we’ve flown to sunny Aix, and as we unpack and settle into Ambiance d’Aix,

we’re listening to a wonderful CD of the string quartets of Félicien David, which a friend from Palazzetto Bru Zane, headquarters of the French Romantic Music Center, in Venice, gave us while we were at the cultural travel workshop. When we were househunting in Aix, one of the apartments we viewed was on rue Félicien David, but we did not know he was an Aixoise composer until we heard his music at a concert presented by the Center in Venice a couple of years ago. His music is difficult to find – we could not find any even right here in Aix, but the Center is doing such a great job of making the Romantic French composers better known, not only with their marvelous concert series, but also with recordings.

All settled in, we head out to pick up a baguette to round out our dinner, and as we walk by the Cathedral Saint Saveur, just steps from the apartment, beautiful music’s wafting out the door – an unexpected concert! Of course the bakery, and dinner, must wait, as we take in the beauty of the sound of a men’s chorus, Virili Voce, standing around the ancient early Christian baptistry (from 500 AD) in the oldest part of the cathedral.

We’ve enjoyed several concerts in the main nave previously, such as the string orchestra last month, but never before in the baptistry, with its melange of architectural styles, from that unusual immersion baptistry to the traces of medieval frescoes to the elegant Renaissance capitals topping ancient Roman columns.
What a gift to arrive in Aix and happen upon this concert!
It’s now Monday, and although we’ve just unpacked, here we are packing again for a quick trip to Paris, while we watch the French version of our favorite US TV program – Amazing Race (the French teams are in LA – fun to watch).  Since we met our friends Ed and Sandy (who live near us in Virginia and spend several months in Paris each year) for dinner in Paris last month on our way home from the Nancy Jazz Festival, we’ve been reading on Facebook about the fantastic holiday windows of the Parisian Grands Magasins (department stores), some of the best ever, and receiving tempting emails from Sandy – “can’t you come to Paris for a day?” Well, the more we thought about it, and realized that our friends Jack and Anne, who we met through Ed and Sandy and who have moved away from Virginia, would be in Paris too, we decided to go – this will be our Christmas gift to each other!
We’ll combine the fun with friends with a shopping trip for Ambiance d’Aix, to our old favorite BHV (Bazaar del Hôtel de Ville) where I’ve often drooled over the linens and kitchen items.
It’s a quick 3 hour train ride from Aix to Paris, then a metro ride from Gare de Lyon (the train station that serves the south of France) to the Madeleine quarter, where we check into charming Hotel Opera Richepanse, a Best Western property. Unlike the cookie cutter properties of the chain in the US, the Best Western properties in Europe are distinctive, charming, and typical of the region, and we often use them for our Music and Markets tours. We’ve chosen this one in the 1st Arrondissement (Paris is divided into 20 Arrondissements, or districts)  for its proximity to the Grands Magasins – about a ten minute walk.


We’ve never stayed in this area before, and are delighted to find how close we are to many wonderful Parisian sites – such as the sparkling holiday ferris wheel on Place de la Concorde.

We stop for lunch at a cute bistro near BHV, Les Fous d’en Face on rue du Bourg Tiborg for a couple of typical French dishes – a tasty Terrine of Rabbit, studded with dried apricots and raisins, for me, and a hearty goat cheese salad for Kirk. Simple, good and well- priced dishes.
Nothing fancy, just a good old -fashioned Parisian spot – not so easy to find anymore!

Just around the corner is Bad Boy street – Kirk mugs for me in front of the eponymous café.

Now we’re fortified for shopping, and continue the search, which we began in Aix yesterday, for a drapery rod and drapes for our foyer. BHV displays a dizzying amount of rods, rings and finials. The first ones we look at are 300 euros. No thank you. We keep looking, then Kirk suggests going down to the basement, hardware heaven, to see if there are any options there.

I think he just wanted to meander the rows of his favorite floor of BHV!

No – all of the tringles (curtain rods)  are on the 4th floor, so back we go, and enlist the help of a friendly vendeuse (sales lady) to make sure we purchase all of the parts we need.
We didn’t find the draperies here, perhaps tomorrow when we visit the Grands Magasins with our friends.
Business finished, now it’s time to party!

A Smorgasbord for the Senses

A Smorgasbord for the Senses

Aix en Provence, France
October, 2012 
Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Why not join us in Italy for New Year’s Jazz? 
When I was a child in southern California one of our favorite family restaurants was a Swedish Smorgasbord (buffet) in Huntington Beach… I can still taste that delicious sweet rye bread and remember the exotic delights filling the table. Our last few days in Aix feel like a buffet of delights too… for the eyes, the ears, the tastebuds.
There’s usually at least one concert in town whenever we’re here, and this week it’s L’Orchestra I Sedici (the Sixteen) with an evening concert at the nearby Saint Saveur cathedral. Founded by Luigi Sagestrano a decade ago, the orchestra was comprised of sixteen string virtuosos. Today it has grown to thirty, and their lush sound soars to the arches of the cathedral as we sit, enthralled with their music. Their bio describes how they choose their performance venues carefully – places with a history: royal salons, chateaus, architecturally fascinating houses…and this cathedral with its layers of history dating as far back as Roman times. “The music needs an appropriate venue”.  We’ve invited our neighbor Mrs. Tomme to join us, and what a treat it is to walk five minutes from our apartment to hear such glorious music in such a gorgeous setting!
Here’s a snippet of their performance of  Dvorak’s Nocturne in B Major, Opus 40. One of the encores is Dvorak’s Waltz in A Major and I’m humming that graceful melody as we walk home.
We met some new neighbors at the Syndic (like a co-op) meeting earlier this week, and they’ve invited us for an aperitif Saturday. The conversation, with 3 French couples and us, flies fast and furious (not OUR conversation, but our ears flew to keep up!) and the aperitif evolves into a delicious dinner, followed by music at around midnight. Our hostess loves to sing jazz and Brazilian music, and pulls out a bunch of scores for me to try. First time I’ve played at midnight, and after a lengthy dinner and lots of wine!

We walk to church, on the other side of town, Sunday morning, and afterwards along the Cours Mirabeau, where artists and artisans have set up booths for the day.

Palette at the ready, this vendor works on his next landscape as we watch.

Then home, to our own smorgasbord as we clean out the frig before our early morning departure. It’s sure more fun eating a “finish it all or throw it away” feast here than in Virginia… wedges and scraps of runny cheeses, a few tasty olives, leftover squares of pissaladiere (an oniony pizza), Iberico ham from Spain and chunks of melon so sweet it tastes like summer…
Au revoir, Aix, we’ll be back as soon as we can – tomorrow we head north for jazz in Nancy!
Art Inside and Out in Aix

Art Inside and Out in Aix

Aix en Provence, France
Sunday, August 5, 2012

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Why not join us in Bath, in November, for the Mozartfest?

The Sunday morning bells ring out  from the nearby Cathedral of Saint Saveur, and I stop whatever I’m doing to enjoy them, throwing open the windows. In both our village house in Vias, and this Aixoise apartment we can hear the bells from the nearby church, and I love it every time!

After church at the Eglise Reformé on rue de la Masse, we walk across the Cours Mirabeau to the Mazarin district, where we were last night for the concert in the conservatory. We noticed a sign for an art gallery which opens daily at noon by a garden gate of an elegant old hôtel particulier (private home) and it’s been on our must-see list for this trip.

Sculptures sprawl on the lawn, and a few tables are set up for drinks or a snack in the peaceful garden of the grand 300 year old estate.

Nicolas Mazet has added an Aixoise venue to his Parisian gallery, an excellent use for the family home he used to visit as a child when his grandparents lived here.

The current exhibition, in place until August 28, showcases the work of 14 contemporary artists, and is beautifully displayed from the garden to the basement to the elegant rooms of the main floor.
What an inviting place to absorb the art or relax with an aperitif!

One more intriguing sight before we fly home:  as we’re packing and cleaning, we hear a provençal drum and flute in the adjacent square, so drop what we’re doing to go listen. The duo, dressed in historic garb, takes a break and chats with listeners. You just never know what you’re going to see or hear in Aix!
Our flight home Monday took us via Frankfurt, then London, where we enjoyed a bit of Olympic buzz, with gold-medal winner Katie Ledecky on our flight home. What a reception awaited us at Dulles airport – tv cameras and reporters, banners and balloons. Welcome home!