It’s 6.00 p.m. Thursday after a long hard day of sightseeing and eating. Now we’re back in Gordes; I just took a photo of Chris sitting on a deck chair on the lawn after a swim, reading his book and drinking his diet Coke. And I am sitting on a deck chair under the trees with my computer, a little glass of local rouge and a bowl of sweet yellow-orange cherries. It was 38 degrees today – in mid-June! – and it’s still hot, the cicadas are chirping, the oleanders are blooming, and there’s a soft breeze. It’s so quiet, Chris says it’s as if he’s been transported to another planet. Welcome to Planet Provence.
I know this is becoming nauseating, but I have to say it: today was just about as perfect as a day can be. We did errands with Denis and gardened in the morning, then Denis left to visit his mother in Versailles, and Chris and I set off for our daily adventure. We’d planned a casual circuit though were prepared, as usual, to veer off in another direction if we felt like it. But our circuit worked out beautifully.
First to the Abbaye de Senanque, a 12th century Cistercian abbey tucked into a nearby valley in a field of lavender. I loved this building so much on one of my previous visits, after attending Evensong there, that I was given the gift of a poster photograph which hangs at the foot of my bed. The Abbaye is one of the most photographed buildings in this region – somehow its proportions are so perfect, its grey stone so serene that it’s impossible to take a bad picture. But I was shocked this time by the long lines of tourist busses in the parking lot. It’s still a working abbey, so you can only tour inside at certain times; the monks are doing their thing the rest of the time – praying, harvesting lavender, doing good works. But the number of tourists was vastly greater than 10 years ago. There used to be a small shop; now it’s a supermarket of items made by monasteries around France, books about religion for adults and children, and everything possible that can be done with lavender.
Chris bought us some CD’s for the car and we set off, listening to Gregorian chant, for Venasque, a mountain-top village which turned out to have a nice bit of ruined castle full of swallows’ nests, a great view of the plains of the Luberon valley and not much else. It was now after 12.30 p.m. so all Provence had closed down for lunch. We were headed to Pernes-les-Fontaines but passed through a tiny village called St. Didier, so pretty we decided to stop and have lunch there ourselves on the main street – just about the only street – lined with thick ancient plane trees. And what a lunch – a simple restaurant in a village so small it’s not even worth one line in the Guide Michelin, and yet the food was terrific. Chris had a plate of langoustines – shellfish of various kinds – and salmon, and I a salad with many things including grilled eggplant and zuccini and jambon cru. We sat next to a pair of elderly ladies whose poodles sat under the table and lapped a bowl of water brought by the patron. If only I’d had room for the cherry clafoutis, which looked divine.
The menu gave us some chuckles. It had been translated into English, so on offer were such delicacies as “salad of warm goats,” another salad consisting of “tomato, burned out toast, goat of Beaucet, snails of the old almond tree it croquille, marinaded vegetables,” and my favourite – cassolette de Saint Jacques, scallops, translated literally as “small dish of Holy Jacques.” Lynn told me that once she visited a small town that had translated its restaurant sign. In French it read, “Salon de the,” and in English, “Living-room of Tea.” Someone had looked in a dictionary and translated “salon” as “living room.” A linguist’s delight.
Replenished, now listening to Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, we found Pernes-les-Fontaines, a lovely sleepy village, and wandered around, sticking to the shade – narrow sleeping streets, yellow stucco, old stone, blue and green shutters closed against the sun, swallows careening in the sky, not a breath of wind. Apparently there are 13th century frescoes somewhere, but it was so hot we did not search. We stumbled instead on a museum of local dress – an old draper’s store full of old quilts, embroidery and lace, top hats, dresses and a stack of Galeries Lafayette catalogues from the early 1900’s. The museum was created by local people with clothes and artefacts from their attics, lovingly displayed. Beautiful.
The final treat: la Fontaine de Vaucluse, a tourist mecca. The village features a powerful spring surging out of the earth, but we didn’t even get that far – again, in the heat, the thought of walking far or climbing was out of the question. We meandered, enjoying the rush of the ice-green river beside us; Chris bought several lemon slushies and a straw hat, and I bought some paper in an old paper mill. And then, slowly, we made our way home on roads so narrow there was sometimes barely room for 2 cars, Chris negotiating winding hairpin turns and I enjoying the view of plains and mountains. We stopped en route to buy cherries and supplies for tonight’s supper. Chris is barbequing chops and veggies and I’m making tomates provencales like Lynn’s – I hope, only they look much blacker than hers did – and a salad. All we can hear, right now, are birds and bees and the wind in the trees. It’s a song, it’s a rhyme and I’m going to sing it right now.