Wednesday, November 27, 2013

St. Paul-de-Vence

After spending most of the morning wandering through the wonderful modern art at the Fondation Maeght, I decided to walk the extra half mile up to the perched village of St. Paul-de-Vence. One of the oldest medieval villages along the Cote d'Azur, it became a favorite stop for many of the early 20th century artists who both lived and painted here. Matisse became seriously ill while living in the village. He was nursed back to health by the Dominican nuns and in his gratitude, designed the interior of a chapel for them, the  Chapelle du Rosaire. Marc Chagall lived here and is buried in the village cemetery. St. Paul is a must-see for tourists visiting the area. In fact as I wandered its narrow, cobbled streets, I ran into a family I knew from my bed and breakfast and my friend, Greg with his sister and sister-in-law. Everyone wants to see St. Paul! Both the cemetery and its collegiate church, the Church of the Conversion of St. Paul reflect the proximity to Italy with loads of Italian names on tombstones and ornate Italian woodworking in the church.
Ornate wood carving in the church

Not so typical, though, is this stone carving of a skull on an 11th century sepulcher....

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Beaujolais Nouveau

Next week millions of Americans will celebrate the harvest with the annual Thanksgiving feast. Last night 13 of us celebrated the 2013 harvest the French way....with a Beaujolais Nouveau party at Josi and Patrick's house. Wine IS the feast in France! We sampled over a half dozen different 'new Beaujolais' wines from this fall's grape harvest along with a couple of Gaillac primeurs...all pretty bad! There's a reason wine is aged; in its infant state it's not particularly tasty. Patrick's meal, though was plenty tasty. We had plates of charcuterie with cornichons and terrines of lapin, sanglier and lotte along with rillettes of pork. You'll have to click on the links to discover what all these taste treats are, but let me assure you that they were all good with big chunks of fresh French bread. A cheese plate and two dessert choices...rhubarb or apple tarte...rounded out our simple dinner. Christiane told me that our assignment for next week's French class was to write (in French, of course) the difference between the new Beaujolais and the new Gaillac wines. Let's see...awful, less awful, more awful, a tiny bit better...that shouldn't be too hard to do!

What really confuses me, though, is the term Beaujolais Nouveau. You see, 'nouveau' (the French adjective for 'new') always comes before the noun. So why are all the bottles labelled Beaujolais Nouveau? Christiane told me it's because in this case Beaujolalis Nouveau is a proper name and can be arranged however one wants. Do you see why it's so hard for me to learn French? They keep changing the rules!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

An Illuminated Mary

An illuminated Mother and Child from the Franciscan monastery church in Cimiez. Mary is very striking in the almost dark church interior. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Talking Camino

Pilgrim offerings in the Abbey church at Conques
I was invited to lunch yesterday at Richard and Anita Goodfellow's lovely renovated schoolhouse in the tiny village of Mazerolles near Najac. Our objective (other than enjoying a fabulous meal of curried carrot soup, a perfect omelet a la Richard, salad, berry crumble and wine) was to talk about walking pilgrimage on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Richard and Anita are passionate walkers and have done pieces of the Camino both along the northern coast of Spain and along the Portuguese coast. They have also hiked extensively in the Pyrenees. As often happens when kindred spirits meet over wine, the conversation ranged both wide and deep. We talked about families, past lives, and the many other places in the world they have trekked. But we always returned to the Camino and what the experience is like to walk even a short bit of it. Richard and Anita walked the required last 100 kms into Santiago to qualify for the Compostela (certificate of completion) and attended the dramatic Pilgrim's Mass at the Cathedral there. We poured over guidebooks and photo albums. I came home quite inspired  The afternoon made my pilgrim's heart sing!

Next time, though, I promise not to talk so much so I can remember to take a few photos of the Goodfellow's wonderful old schoolhouse and its amazing view over the valley to Najac.
In France, the Camino is called the Chemin de St. Jacques
(the Way of St. James)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Wine Smoking

Of all the many ruined buildings, temples and fountains in Glanum, these rooms were the most intriguing to me....

According to my guide book this building was constructed during the Hellenistic period (late 2nd-early 1st century BCE) and was originally a healing sanctuary. During Roman times, however, it was used for agricultural purposes. Each of the vaulted rooms had a fireplace that allowed for free smoke circulation within the room. The rooms were discovered filled with amphorae suggesting that the rooms were used for 'smoking' wine, a method of preserving it

Reading about the preservation of both natural and fermented grape juice (wine) in this article was very revealing. Not easy...any of these ancient times. Wine quickly went bad becoming infected with bacteria that rendered it smelly, moldy and undrinkable. There were numerous methods for preventing this...adding boiled down must, adding salt, spices, or marble dust to the wine, or adding pitch or resin to it. Ick! These methods were not fool-proof. Wine was sold with the caveat that the buyer had 3 days to taste and approve of the wine. If it was still good after 3 days, he was stuck with it even if it went bad on Day 4. Once wine soured or developed a bad taste, there were some ways to fix it, however. One such way was to heat a roof tile in the fire, coat it with resin and then lower it with a string into the amphorae of bad wine. After sealing it in the jar for two days, the foulness should be gone. If not, repeat the process until it is!

Apparently, smoking was another way the Romans used to preserve their wine. Smoking artificially aged the wine in the sealed amphorae and kept bacteria from infecting the wine. At least, that's the theory. We'll probably never know how well it worked. Somehow I think that even the best Roman wine would fall far short of our modern standards.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Water-Spewing Man

This guy used to spew water into one of the baths in ancient Glanum. I think he'd look awesome spewing water into a pond in my garden. Of course, I don't have a pond. Nor do I have this priceless relic from Roman times in Provence. Oh well!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

View from the Belvedere

I climbed to belvedere to get a bird's eye view of Glanum. This is the most sacred part of the town. The source that feeds the town's sacred spring  lies to the right in the cleft of the mountains at the head of the valley.
Access to this area was limited here...there was a gate for wagons as well as a separate one for foot traffic. Imagine it looking like this....
There are several temples inside the gate. This one is dedicated to Valetudo, the Roman goddess of health and was built by Agrippa probably during his journey to this area in 39 BCE.
Next to it is the Temple of Hercules

We approach the stairs leading down to the sacred spring....
The original occupants of the town attributed healing properties to the waters of this spring and worshiped their god, Glanis around a simple hewn-rock pool. A building was erected over the pool in the 2nd century BCE. The Romans built their temples dedicated to Valetudo and Hercules on either side of it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


House with Antae
My favorite kind of vacation is one that sparks my imagination and leaves me with many things to ponder even after my return home. My six-day trip to the Riviera and the Alpilles certainly fit the bill! My imagination ran wild in this ancient town. Glanum sits on the fringe of St. Remy-de-Provence. It's an ancient Greco-Roman town that lay buried in the earth for 17 centuries before being discovered and excavated in 1921. It was built between the 4th and 2nd centuries BCE by a tribe of Celto-Ligurian people, the Salyens. Its name, Glanum, comes from the name of the ancient Celtic god, Glanis. Situated at the source of an underground spring, it's thought the town became mainly a religious site after its Romanization in 49 BCE when Julius Caesar captured the entire area and made it part of Rome.  The town is full of temples to various Roman gods and special wells dedicated to healing.

The house you see above was a typical Greek-style house built around a courtyard surrounded by rooms and porticos. The deep basin in the middle would have been lined with tiles and collected rainwater for household use. Excess was drained off and stored in a cistern. One room was decorated with two antae...pilasters with Corinthian capitals.
The main street lined with houses on either side and paved with large flat stones

Can you imagine it looking like this? Waste water and excess rainwater drained from the buildings into the under-road conduit which took it away from the town.
The Germinated Temples

This is the only part of Glanum that has been restored. It is actually part of the smaller of two temples built side by side honoring the Emperor and his family. It was originally surrounded on three sides by a peribolos, an enclosed area around a temple delimited by porticos. Stone screens on either end kept the public out of the interior sacred space.
Can you imagine it looking like this?

Is your curiosity piqued? Are you imagining what life in Glanum was like? I'll share more of its story in my next post.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Van Gogh and Sunflowers

Sunflowers and Van Gogh...the perfect partnership to brighten a gray and very rainy day.

Bronze sculpture of Van Gogh
by Ossip Zadine
St. Remy-de-Provence

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Van Gogh's Asylum

Cloister of the monastery
Vincent Van Gogh spent the last year of his life in St. Remy-de-Provence. Plagued by increasing mental instability, he voluntarily admitted himself here to the asylum at the Monastery St. Paul de Mausole on the outskirts of St. Remy-de-Provence. Being a Van Gogh fan, I took the opportunity to visit this place where some of his most important paintings were done.

Van Gogh's room
The monastery is really quite pretty. Part of it still functions as a treatment facility for mentally ill patients. There are several reproductions of Van Gogh paintings throughout the grounds indicating where he painted each scene. Climbing a long flight of stone steps, you reach Van Gogh's room containing a bed, a small writng desk, a trunk and a straight-backed chair. He painted several scenes from the window of his room. If you click on the link, you'll see one of those famous paintings, "The Garden of Saint-Paul Hospital"
This, however, is what it actually looks like. Van Gogh viewed the beautiful fields and gardens of the facility through a barred window. This, after all, was a locked facility for the insane. It's easy to forget the reality of his mental illness while enjoying his stunning paintings.
 Even the peaceful cloister courtyard was locked and barred to Vincent and other patients.

Two months after leaving St. Remy, Van Gogh, then in Auvers-sur-Oise, shot himself in the chest under suspicious circumstances...the gun was never found, and it isn't known for certain where the shooting occurred. The bullet was partially deflected by a rib without doing mortal damage to internal organs. Van Gogh was able to walk to obtain medical care. His beloved brother, Theo, rushed to his bedside. Van Gogh died on July 27, 1890 from an infection incurred by the gunshot wound.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Carrieres de Lumieres

Imagine yourself here...the old bauxite mine at Le Baux-de-Provence. Nothing is mined here anymore, but the huge stone tunnels remain. Today they are put to quite another use. You enter. The air is cool, the stones are smooth. You are reminded of the ancient pyramids and wonder...

Inside the lights are low, and there is an almost rosy glow to the walls. You can see where great slabs have been flaked away looking like giant bricks piled one on top of another. Just as your eyes are becoming  accustomed to the dimness, suddenly all is black. You stand quite still, waiting...

Music swells and the walls are covered with moving amoeba-like designs, bubbles and colors. Your voyage around the Mediterranean has begun.
And you are suddenly surrounded by some of the most beautiful paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries. Masterworks by Monet, Renoir, Matisse, Dufy, Derain, Chagall and many others flood the walls, floors and ceilings of the caverns. Each work evokes a memory or image of the Mediterranean, its colors and its light. The music moves with the progression of time...Clair de Lune to turn-of-the-century ragtime to Ella Fitzgerald and American Jazz. You turn and turn, trying to take it all in, but finally you surrender to the beauty, standing in place and letting the art wash over you in great waves of color and sound.

It's an experience that takes your breath away.

Friday, November 1, 2013

St. Remy-de-Provence

View of Les Alpilles from my hotel window
The only time I really had any trouble with my TomTom during my trip to the Riveria was when I pulled into St.Remy-de-Provence. It was market day which meant that almost all the streets into the center of town were blocked. This really confused the TomTom lady. I finally had to turn her off and park the car on the outskirts of town. Having been to St.Remy some years ago with friends, I knew the old part of the town was surrounded by a ring-road and that if I walked along it, I would eventually find the tourist office. Which I did. As luck would have it, my hotel, Le Castelet des Alpilles, was marked on the big map outside the office and was only about 100 meters away. I walked there, checked in, and then began the search for my car. Where was it?? I should have left a trail of breadcrumbs because finding it was NOT easy. I can hear you saying..'why didn't you just walk back the way you came?' I confess...I sort of shopped the market during my wanderings and took many little rues through medieval St. Remy. The story has a happy ending, though. I found my car and even figured out an easy way to drive to my hotel. After I unpacked, I rewarded myself with an ice cream crepe at a creperie on the boulevard...the only one open through town.