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Paris all Aglow

Paris all Aglow

Thanksgiving Week, 2017
Paris, 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.

Time for a quick holiday visit to Paris on our way back from the south of France to the US – and we’re checking out a new-to-us hotel this time. We arrive around noon after a speedy TGV (fast train) trip from Aix, and the Grand Hotel Dechampaigne, red geraniums tumbling from every window of the 16th century former townhome, has a room ready for us – thanks for the early checkin! That red theme continues into our boudoir-like room and spacious bathroom of this excellently located hotel. After 3 plus hours in the train, we’re ready to walk, and take in the Parisian eye candy (this is a metro stop!) on our way to the Grands Magasins (big department stores) whose Christmas windows we’re eager to see. We’re meeting our friends, Ed & Sandy, beside the opera – can’t miss it! And from there to Galeries Lafayette, whose windows this year are themed as a “fairground with a surrealist twist” – hmmm. The tree inside (a candy theme here) is spectacular – worth jostling through the crowds to appreciate!
As in past years, Printemps wins my vote for the best windows, with their playful Magical Journey theme – the Thalys (train from Paris to Brussels) whizzing by in one window, a vintage VW van chugging along in another, Parisian icons gleaming beside. I love this tradition of meeting friends and seeing the holiday lights and sights!
Ed and Sandy want to see the lights along the Champs Elysees too – and we’re game! We all stand in the middle to snap a shot of the shimmering boulevard. Then we just keep walking, and as we head down sparkling Avenue Montaigne the Eiffel Tower across the river begins to twinkle….aah, Paris, you’re ever a sparkling jewel!

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!

 

 

 

Bonjour Bordeaux!

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

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.

 

 

 

Melodies in the Vines

Melodies in the Vines

September 20-23, 2017
The Final Orpheus and Bacchus Festival
Gensac, 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?

Nestled in the prime vineyards of the Bordeaux region, Orpheus and Bacchus, a unique musical experience, presented its final festival this fall. We met the visionary founder, Ian Christians, in 2003, and have had the pleasure of joining him in the beautiful setting of La Musique for these matchless events several times since then. Once again the marvelous Wihan Quartet (whose artistry we enjoyed last year at the festival and also at Taunton Castle Hotel in England) delighted us and our Music and Markets guests in the intimate setting of La Musique each evening, but Ian did not join us for his much-loved festival. He let us know in the spring that he was suffering from cancer, and hoped to be here, but that was not to be. Shortly after we arrived we talked with his lovely wife Sharon and found that he had just passed on – a week ago. Sharon welcomed us all with an aperitif before the first concert, and shared that this last festival would be in honor of Ian, and would be filled with many of his favorite pieces, then returned to the UK. I pause as I write, thinking of all that she and Ian’s son, Alex, and their friends did to make this festival a magnificent success, truly worthy of Ian. Alex, a lawyer in London, was the chef for the many superb meals we enjoyed, in addition to organizing all of the details to enable the festival to proceed. Yes, a busy lawyer from London took time away from his practice and his family and created the best meals we’ve ever had at Orpheus and Bacchus – what a gift for his father!
Each morning our breakfast was followed with a concert featuring outstanding young musicians, such as pianist Ben Comeau and cellist William-Clark Maxwell. Where else can you sit on comfortable sofas, relaxing as you’re surrounded with marvelous music?!One of Ian’s passions was encouraging and supporting many of these talented young performers, often by including them in the programs of the festival.
Hilltop chateaus such as Monbazillac, and enticing villages, such as St. Emilion,  filled our afternoons. The closest hamlet to the Orpheus and Bacchus property is Gensac – we walked through the quiet lanes after picking up a delayed suitcase for one of our clients. The airline-arranged delivery person couldn’t find our hidden-in-the-vines estate, so left it at the sole pharmacy in town for us 😉
St. Emilion is our favorite village in the area. Crowned by a majestic church that rises out of the rock, It’s steep lanes (the steepest are called tertres, only in St. Emilion) are lined with enticing boutiques – many filled with wine, of course! To complete a delicious lunch at Les Bistrot des Vignobles we introduced our guests to my favorite dessert – Café Gourmand  – and they continued to order it, when available, throughout the trip – can you blame them?!
The town was as full as we’ve ever seen it – the closest parking spot was a mile away! But the walk to get there (Kirk and I walked to pick up the car) took us by some autumn charmers. For yet one more view, we drove uphill from our usual parking spot on the edge of town to an overlook near the renowned Ausone vineyards. Don’t miss St. Emilion if you’re in the area!
After another evening of fabulous music – Hummel, Janacek and Bruckner,  the performers joined us for dinner, as they did each night. What a pleasure to hear their thoughts on the music, and appreciate their chance to relax and listen themselves as we all enjoyed some more music in a more casual ambiance. Alessandro Commellato, who played the Hummel piano concerto, was eager to try out the Pleyel duo-clave, a rare double piano with a keyboard on both ends, so a few guys pulled it out and got it ready. Remember when I played a tune with another pianist on this intriguing instrument last year? When we finally went to bed, we fell asleep with more beautiful music drifting down from upstairs.
Saturday was the final day of the final festival (and happened to be my birthday as well!), and the young performer’s concert was scheduled for the afternoon so those who wanted to could go to the market town of St. Foy la Grande. Driving through the mist hovering over the vineyards,  we parked by the river, then walked to the market stalls – feeling more mysterious than usual in the fog. Oh if we only had more room in our suitcase – so many delicious specialties of the region. My favorite booth is the one with foie-gras stuffed dried figs – somehow they taste better than when I make them at home! The town itself is well worth a wander, with its arcaded central square and many half-timbered houses. Follow the Vanilla Vendor around as he calls out his wares and you’ll see a nice lane or two.
We had time for a quick stop at Monbazillac before returning to La Musique, and after posing in front of the vineyard surrounded chateau (above) we took in the glorious views and sampled the sweet wine (excellent with dessert or foie gras). A simple inn in the town served a nice lunch in the garden, and I was pleasantly surprised with a couple of thoughtful and beautiful birthday gifts from our guests – I’m putting on golden tassel earrings here.Back to the loft of La Musique for more music – where we’re absolutely blown away by young Ben’s artistry at the piano – spanning the centuries from Bach to Beethoven, Chopin to Irving Berlin. I’ve never heard anyone improvise as he does – from medieval tunes to jazz standards. Amazing! And then someone called out for Nigel, who emceed the festival in Ian’s absence, to sing – and Ben accompanied him as he serenaded us with “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.”
Yet more delights awaited us on this final day – Alex invited us to Ian’s legendary cellar for a tasting! An uninvited guest caused a few gasps, until Monsieur Bat settled down and hung from the stone vaults above. From ’95 to ’05 we sampled Chateau du Moulin from St. Emilion – which year was the best? Schubert, Dvorak and Beethoven delighted our ears one last time, and then Alex pulled out all the stops for a grand feast – including decanting a massive Saint Emilion Grand Cru. The bottle was then passed from table to table for all to sign – voila! Alex was gifted with a basket full of Southwest France treats – just the thing for this lawyer-chef! And as dessert, créme brulée, came out, I was serenaded by the room and presented with a super-size birthday brulée – what a surprise! What a day it’s been – filled with a marvelous market, a chateau, presents in the garden, music galore, and a musical serenade. Can any birthday top this one?!?
The joy and delight of these four days were a constant tribute to Ian Christians, founder of Orpheus and Bacchus – we’ll always treasure the times we’ve spent here through the years, and be thankful for the opportunity we’ve had to know him and share such wonderful music with him.

 

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!