Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Vernissage in Provence

A highlight of my trip to Provence last week was arriving in time on Friday afternoon to attend a vernissage at Atelier Fidler. I first met Natacha and her mother, Edith in 2005 when I visited their atelier with my friend, Marie. They are fascinating and joyful women, always smiling and always happy to see old friends. Both are ceramists; Natacha also does watercolor collage. The vernissage was an exhibit of over 100 drawings by their father/husband, Eugene Fidler who passed away in 1990. Edith found the drawings, which she forgot she had tucked away in portfolios, as she was putting away several of Eugene's paintings from a previous show. Natacha decided to frame and exhibit them. Et voila! I thought I might buy a little drawing until I peeked at the price list. Ooh-la-la! Out of my budget. The smallest was 300 euros; the most expensive was 12,000 euros. I bought a book of Eugene's paintings that Natacha published in 2010 and a signed poster like the one you see in the photo. Those I could afford!

Please do click on the links above to read previous blog posts about these artists and their connection with Picasso!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Abbaye Notre Dame de Senanque

You may have seen photos of this beautiful Cistercian abbey, Abbaye Notre Dame de Senanque. It's famously photographed with its long rows of lavender in full bloom. It's not lavender time quite yet, but when I visited this past weekend, the abbey setting was lovely with new spring growth, blue skies and fluffy, floating clouds. The abbey is nestled in a remote, difficult to reach valley not far from Gordes. Established in 1148, the Abbey's fortunes have waxed and waned over the years, being at times abandoned and even used as a farmstead storage facility for livestock and crops. In 1988 monks again moved into Senanque, and it has been a working monastery since that time. Tours are given, but because Cistercians are a silent, cloistered order, visitors are not allowed to wander on their own throughout the facility as the monks live, work, worship and pray.
Today's monks have a modern residence, but in the Middle Ages, this is where as many as 30 monks slept. The dormitory was partitioned so each monk's bed had a bit of privacy. The door at the far end led to stone steps down into the church. Since the monks gathered 7 times during the day and night to sing the hours, it was important for them to have easy access to the church. The stairway in the foreground leads to the cloister.
When not working or worshiping, the monks spent time here in the cloister in meditation and prayer. The 'warming room' and the chapter house open into the cloister.
This is one of two fireplaces located in the warming room.... the only sources of heat in the entire monastery during the Middle Ages! I can't imagine how cold these monks must have been. This room was also the scriptorium where the monks copied and illustrated Biblical manuscripts. Logs/tree trunks were place vertically in the opening and burned.
This is the chapter house where monks still today gather to hear lessons taught by the Abbot and to pray lectio divina. Today's monks sit on the chairs; in previous centuries, they sat on the stone steps that circle the room. And outside this room, carved high on an arch is where yesterday's Devil is found. This carving is the only one of a person or animal in the entire monastery. Perhaps it's there to remind the praying monks that as they leave this room, the Devil and worldly temptation are always waiting.
Cistercian architecture and art are typically simple and elegant. These leaf and nature motifs are the only decoration permitted in the monastery. No carved tympanums here; no stained glass windows of Biblical scenes or saints. Hear the words of St Bernard of Claivaux, founder of the order:
"What is the use of placing these ridiculous monsters, beautiful horrors, and horrible beauties under the eyes of the monk when he must read and meditate?...It then becomes more pleasant to read the marble than the manuscripts and one spends days contemplating these sculptures one after the other instead of meditating on the law of God."

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Fascinating Face in Provence

This fascinating face is found in the Abbaye de Senanque deep in a secluded valley in Provence. It's 'le Diable'...the Devil. What's the devil's face doing in a monastery? You'll have to visit another day to learn the reason!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sounds of the Sorgue

I'll be leaving here this morning, traveling south to the Mediterranean to spend two days in Cassis. I'll miss the Sorgue! I hear it when my window is open; it's the reason this village exists. It emerges, fully running, clear and cold, from somewhere deep in the earth in a large easy walk along the village riverfront. Even with our modern technology, scientists have not been able to determine the exact depth of the spring that becomes the Sorgue. All along the river, villages have harnessed its energy with water wheels. Here in Fontaine de Vaucluse, the water wheel powers a paper mill which has been in use since the 14th century. I'll share more about that in another post. For now just enjoy the river!

Yes, it really is this color! Turquoise in places, then brilliant green in others as you see the grasses growing on the river's bottom through its crystal-clear water.
Enjoy the sounds of the Sorgue!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday Market in l'Isle sur-la-Sorgue

Sunday is market day in this pretty town built along the river. Remembering previous trips, I arrived early by French standards at 9am. I'm glad I did, because by the time I left a little after 10am traffic was awful and all the close in parking places were full. I didn't find what I was looking for (powdered vanilla), but I managed to drop a few euros on a summer smock, an apron and a scarf. Really...there's something for everyone at the market!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Hotel des Sources

There's so much to share from just the last two days, but I thought I'd start at the beginning....literally. This is where I'm staying here in Fontaine de Vaucluse...the Hotel des Sources (hotel of the source) Since this village is the source of the Sorgue River, it's a very appropriate name. The tourist season is not in full swing yet, making it kind of nice to have this hotel almost all to myself. There are a handful of us staying here this weekend. The man and woman who run the hotel live right here in it. She does everything for the time being...check-in, helps carry your luggage to your room, waitress and server at meals, and she's the cleaning lady. She's delightful and has made me feel very welcome.
I think what I love most about the hotel is the private parking. I have to code to the keypad. I punch it in and voila! the gates swing open. I park and walk into the dining room.
I also love that it sits right on the river. This is the view I see as I eat in the dining room. The river is lined with huge plane trees that lean far out over the water. The food has been very good so far, and the service has been excellent. This is definitely a place I'd return to.
Door pull on the big gates to the front entrance.

On the Road in Provence

Just a quick blog entry to let you know that I'm on the road in Provence! I plan to spend three days here and then move south to spend two days along the Mediterranean at Cassis. I drove across this magnificent bridge at Millau as I moved from the Lot to the Vaucluse. I'm so glad the builders thought ahead and designed this pull-out area for photographers. It's an awesome sight. The bridge reminds me of a spider web pulled gently across this huge ravine. The bridge is 2.5 km long; the Tarn River runs far, far below it 890 feet away. The bridge is taller than the Eiffel Tower! Once I was on it, I could look out at the scenery, but barriers prevented me from looking straight down. Probably a good's kind of freaky to be that high up in the air. This valley can be plagued with awful weather, so the bridge had to be constructed to withstand hurricane-force winds. I don't think I'd want to be driving across it then!

I'm off to explore Provence! Don't worry.... there will many more blog posts to come hopefully full of photos of this beautiful place!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

People of the Cross

I was on the trail of dolmens, but I couldn't help noticing the sign under the directional sign pointing to Lacapelle-Balaguier....Croix des Templiers. As I wound around through the village trying to figure out where the heck I was going, my curiousity naturally led me to take the road indicated to the Croix.  I reasoned that even if it wasn't the right way to find the dolmen, at least I could find the cross. Which I did...I think! There was no plaque or explanation when I reached this tall stone cross located at the crossroads of two narrow rural roads; I assume its the Templar cross. When they returned from the Crusades in the Middle Ages, the Templars built strongholds with villages developing around them all over both the Lot and the Aveyron.  This cross with its splayed arms is typical of Templar crosses; there's a miniature one on the wall of our Templar-built chateau in Cadrieu. What puzzled me about this one are the dates chiesled in the stone at its base: 1711 and 1881. The one Google reference I can find about the cross explains that the cross was put here in 1881 moved from where it was found in the fields of Lespinassiere The people on this cross, though, truly intrigue...
The top figure is obviously Christ crucified; who is this bottom man marked with the Templar cross? Christ risen? A Templar? Adam, perhaps...fallen from grace and covered by a cross rather than a fig leaf? The stonemason who carved the cross? Any ideas?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Way of St. James

The day that Lucie and I were out dolmen-hunting, I stopped at a dirt pull-out to look over the maps and spied this painted rock. I felt as if I had discovered gold! It pointed to the chemin de St. Jacques...the Way of St. James.
The wide rocky path was marked every few yards with a scallop shell either attached to a rock or a fence post.
There was even one dangling from a tree branch!
We walked until we came to this creative intersection sign where we turned back to continue on our dolmen hunt.
It's my dream to some day walk part, if not all, of the chemin. While I know that not all of it is as beautifully marked as this part, the taste I got here makes me certain this is something I could do...and will

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

An Easter Walk

While the weather on Easter Sunday was a little too 'iffy' for the planned picnic, Lucie and I did do an Easter walk. It was a cloudy, cool day with the sun peeking out occasionally just for a tease...not the best day for photographs or picnics, but nice for walking. We drove to Bouzies which sits on the other side of the Lot River and is reached by one of those one-way bridges that are so common around here. This one is so narrow that I did a drive-by first to make sure it was actually a bridge for cars, not just pedestrians! During the summer season, Bouzies is a busy place as Lot Navigation is based there offering river trips for sight-seeing tourists, as well as boats for rent. Our goal, however, was not a boat trip, but this path...the chemin de halage.

The chemin de halage or towpath was excavated through the cliffs along the Lot in 1847 allowing men and teams of animals to pull barges transporting goods and materials upriver. These cliffs ,which sit directly below St.-Cirq-Lapopie, are sheer right down to the river's surface. This beautiful bas-relief wall sculpture was added in 1985 as part of a rehabilitation project. Lucie and I had a nice stroll along the path; we met several other people...and dogs...enjoying the afternoon along the river despite the cool weather.

Today only pleasure boats cruise the Lot. In this photo that I took in 2009, you see one in the lock which will allow it to move upriver. It's still a lot of manual work, though. The lock gates must be hand-cranked open and closed.
And boaters must scramble up and down these steep stone steps to tie up their water craft. Looks like a lot of work to me; Lucie and I would rather stroll!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

St. Chels

As Lucie and I were exploring the causse in search of dolmens last weekend, we came to St. Chels, a small village that's about 6 kms from Cadrieu as the crow flies. It's close to double that distance following the winding roads we chose to take. I parked the car behind this church, put Lucie on her leash, and we wandered back into the center of the village. I wanted to get a photo of a beautiful iron-filigree cross there and take a closer look at the directional signs posted at the intersection of three different roads. We spied the yellow la Poste camion delivering mail to the village. And who should the driver be but Pasquale, our very own Poste lady! She often sees Lucie and I walking thru Cadrieu when she delivers the mail there; she was more than a bit surprised to see us walking in St. Chels! We 'bonjour'd' and 'ca va'd' and then she asked....'Did you walk all the way up here?" I laughed and told her my car was behind the church. You just never know where you might find us on a beautiful day, out exploring the countryside!

Thursday, April 5, 2012


I'm taking a short break from my 'Explore' theme to provide you with some information about my friend, Clare's renovated barn which is for rent this summer. Wouldn't you love to spend some time in this lovely little village, Degagnac? If so, read on....
If you remember, Laury and I lunched with Clare on the terrace of her lovely house, Beaucaillou (beautiful pebble). It was a delightful afternoon in the sun and having seen the renovation, I can tell you without a doubt that the photos, lovely as they are, don't do it justice. It 'lives' larger than its 800 sq. feet size, and both the renovation and the furnishings are top-quality. It feels very homey, comfortable and quiet. I could see myself spending time here exploring the area as well as using the peacefulness of the place to write, paint or create. After visiting the local outdoor markets, I'd also put this beautiful kitchen to good use!
If you or anyone you know is interested in spending some time nestled deep in rural France, this is your opportunity to do so. Click HERE to go to the HomeAway website for more information and many more photos.

Thanks to HomeAway for the nice photos of Clare's house!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Dolmens and More

After a quick stop at home for a little lunch, I continued my explorations for dolmens on the other side of the Lot. Crossing the river at Salvignac-Cajarc, I drove in the direction of Villefranche turning off the main road at Lacepelle-Balaguier. From here (and for the rest of the afternoon!) it was narrow winding roads, up and down and around steep valleys and through tiny, crumbling villages. I braked quickly when I saw a dolmen sign and pulled into a dirt turn-off. Following a path, I walked for several meters before being stopped abruptly by a barbed-wire fence. "Where the heck is the dolmen?" I muttered as I surveyed the area. Seeing nothing, I turned around to go back and caught just a glimpse of what I was looking for through the trees and bushes. You can imagine how hard this thing would be to see once everything is leafed out!

Really quite nice once you get up close to it.

I really hit pay dirt on my next dolmen stop. Located just outside Martiel, there are several dolmens and other structures along a 8.5 km circuit of maintained trail. Since my knee still isn't quite up to that kind of hike, I opted to walk only to the first three.
They all kind of look alike after awhile,eh?

But here's the 'more' part. A few meters from the first dolmen is this basin in a large, flat stone...
Called the 'bassin de bois; (basin of wood), it's about 40 cms in diamenter and 10 cms. deep. It's difficult to see in this photo, but the bottom of the basin is imprinted with what looks like the rings of a cut tree. It's thought that the people who made this (and erected the dolmens) used a tree trunk to press into soft clay which eventually hardened in the sun to make the basin. It's not known for sure what it was used for...perhaps for food storage, perhaps to collect rain water for purification rites or held the victim's blood for use during a burial ceremony!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On a Quest for Dolmens

I spent most of the day Saturday on a quest for dolmens. My French road atlas shows many scattered throughout my area...the Lot and the Aveyron. I decided to make it my mission to find as many as I could. Which was not always easy. While the road atlas showed symbols of each dolmen site, it took my Michelin map to actually show me the little backroads that access them. So, armed with two maps and my camera, my quest began. Dolmens are stone structures erected during the Neolithic age, about 4000 years ago by an unknown people. My reasearch ( did we ever exist without it??) tells me that there are over 10,000 of these mysterious stone structures all over Europe. There are also dolmens in Asia and the Middle East. They are commonly thought to be some type of burial structure, but while human remains and artefacts have been found near dolmens and dated to the same period of time, there is no certainty that they are connected. A dolmen usually has two or three upright stones, topped by one or two large, flat stones. It's believed they were orignally covered with dirt creating a burial mound, but after 4000 years, the soil as eroded away leaving just the standing stones.
The first dolmen I found down a rocky dirt road was a bit of a disappointment. As you can see, it's leaning dangerously and by order of the mairie of Grealou, it has been packed with bags of cement to keep people (like me!) out of it.
This  dolmen practically jumped out and bit me! It's right at the junction of two paved roads. And here is the reason that other one was filled in...
I couldn't resist getting inside and taking a self-photo!
More about my dolmen adventure tomorrow!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Chapelle des Mariniers

Lucie and I continued our wanderings down the 'Chemin des mariniers' in search of the chapel. Until recently the Lot River was navigable by boat and by barge. Bigger boats still cruise the river downstream from Cajarc where a series of locks helps them maneuver through shallow places. Up river from about Cadrieu, the river's flow is controlled and only smaller boats (little motor boats for fishermen) are allowed. In the 16th century when this chapel was built, barges plied the riverways moving goods and raw materials up and down the river. Bargemen were called 'mariniers' in French and their jobs could be quite hazardous. The river's flow was not controlled; flooding, bad weather and risky landings all contributed to the dangers bargemen faced.
I'll give you the link to the whole story in French here. If I'm translating it correctly...and there's no assurance of that; the whole painful process of translation could fill up a blog post of its own!....the story is a young woman, engaged to a marinier, prayed to Sainte Marguerite for his safe return. There's also something about a magician and maybe a spell. Her fiancee was safely delivered to her, they got married and lived happily ever after. According to the legend, young engaged couples now come to the chapel to pray to Ste. Marguerite for the success of their marriage, throwing coins in front of the chapel doors to get her attention (or something like that!).
We didn't see any coins.
She's a pretty little saint. I like the way she's looking up...for divine help, perhaps?
Lucie and I sat on a bench outside the doors soaking up the sunshine. I closed my eyes and tried to visualize what this pretty spot must have looked like in the 16th century. None of the little potagers would have been here; the road would have been a dirt path. I think the river bank might have been rocky, muddy and treacherous, maybe even littered with the detrius of using the river for commercial and agricultural purposes. No one would have worried about keeping it clean and pristine for pleasure boaters and waterskiers. I can imagine, though, how thankful the young couple must have been for Ste. Marguerite's intervention!
Here's an old photo of the chapel which by looking at the dress must have been taken around the turn of the century/early 1900's.