Meanwhile, back in Provence…

I am now back in Provence with sunshine, blue skies, warm temperatures and lavender. I arrived via:

The TGV

If I were to drive each time from Paris to Provence, from the door of ou apartment in Paris to the door of our home in Provence, it would take over 7 hours. I am lucky enough to be able to take the TGV, a high speed train, back and forth and the ride only takes three hours. The train goes all the way down to Marseilles with occasional stops in Avignon and has turned out to be so wildly popular that the French are now planning to do the same thing from Paris to Alsace up by Germany. And, of course, there is the Eurostar as well going from Paris to London via the chunnel.
I have been going back and forth and now that the newness has worn off it seems to take every single minute of the three hours to reach my destination. Luckily I love to read and pass many happy hours occupied by books. I usually have my laptop with me and do a little writing and wish there were some way to get online-wouldn’t that be a great way to pass the time. Occasionally, I will make my way to the dining car which is really more like a snack stand with very few stools screwed to the floor and it is often necessary to stand at a bar, much like in French cafes, and eat my sandwich or drink my diet coke. It isn’t a bar so you can’t while away the time sipping drinks although, this being France, you can have beer or wine.
There have been a few bad trips where there is a whining or screaming child in the car and there is usually an adult or two who talk very loudly. Once, during a very hot summer, the car I was in had a nonfunctioning air conditioner and it was like an iron box used for touture by evil Japanese army personnel in some POW camp. I really wanted to get a refund for my ticket as I spent most of the time in the dining car or sitting on the stairs out in the luggage area. Usually, the trains come with cars that are two levels, or duplex as they call it, and they are the newer ones, so there are stairs to sit on if you wish, which I did when my car was so oven-like. With the newer cars there is alot more space to store luggage, between cars, in an area in the middle of the car, and some can be squeezed behind most seats-this is where I usually store my cat in his carrier when he is with me. Although he howls and complains at first, by the time I get on the train he has become “catatonic”, pardon the pun, and is quiet for the whole trip.
On my last trip, the train was packed, this being June. There wasn’t a spare seat to be had and, to my dismay, as I neared my seat I got a look at my companion. She was a nice enough girl but she had a huge bag at her feet and an even larger golden retrever. I was supposed to take an aisle seat and she tried to squeeze her dog and her huge bag over in the one seat area. The bag and the dog both were well onto my side. For a brief moment I hoped to get another seat, and had even sat there, but someone came to claim it and I trudged back to my original place. She gave me the window seat which was much better and the dog sat in the aisle blocking access to anyone trying to get to the bathroom or dining car. Except for a few dirty looks, no one said anything, just tried to squeeze by or take a giant step over him. I love dogs but I wondered at this. The lady who checked our tickets didn’t say a word, so I guess it is standard although I thought all animals had to be in some sort of holder.
For some reason the clerks selling the tickets for the TGV can never tell you what kind of seat you will have. I assume they must change the train cars at will, adding more if there are many bookings. All I know is, no matter how I beg, I almost always end up in a family seat of four with a table in the middle and touching knees with a stranger. Sometimes I am also facing backwards to the direction the train is heading which really bothers me at first but after a while I forget about it. I always seem to get a window seat which is fine except when the sun comes pouring in and I have to pull down the shade in spite of the dirty looks my neighbors give me. The last time I was in a family seating, the lady directly across from me had a huge bag that she kept between her feet. It intruded into my space and it was an uncomfortable 3 hours. I don’t know why she didn’t put it with the luggage as there was plenty of room. I was by the window and a man was next to me who promptly fell asleep so I didn’t feel comfortable waking him up to get into the aisle to make a trip to the bathroom. My legs started aching and I longed to just stand up to stretch them but didn’t. It is great when I get on the train, walk down the aisle and find I am in a seat for two, unless the other occupant has a huge bag and dog. I used to always want a seat by the window, whether train or plane, but, unless I am with Maurice, I now want the aisle so I don’t have to bother my neighbor getting up and down.
The trains heading south in France from Paris originate at the Gare de Lyon Station, one of five huge train stations in Paris open to the air on one side with the trains waiting in rows to take their turn leaving. There is a fabulous restaurant here called le Train Bleu, full of painted walls and ceilings, wood and brass, and arched windows soaring to the ceiling with lovely lace curtains. It gives you a taste of what travel must have been like at the time when women wore hats and gloves and traveled with trunks and maids.
As the train leaves the station, we pass through the suburbs of Paris and are quickly into green countryside and are soon passing small villages and fields with herds of white cattle and an occasional castle. I always know when we are getting into Provence as the vegetation starts changing with parosol pines grouped on the horizon, the dirt taking on a yellow ochre tinge and vineyards everywhere. The stations newly built for the TGVs in Provence are new and modern with fantastic archetectural details and are mostly made of glass. Although the windows are tinted, it can be very bright inside the station and hot in the summer. The winter can be horrible as they have these little convection like ovens that put out a very small amount of hot air that does nothing to heat up the room, even if you are standing immediately next to it. The stations in Paris, because they are wide open at one side for access of the trains, are the same without any heaters that I can see to warm it up.
Despite all of my complaints, the TGV is the way to travel. There are no long security lines to go through, no sitting and waiting in some lounge in an airport. You just show up where you might have to wait a few minutes to see on a screen up above which quai the train is leaving from and go find your car. The worst part can be lugging your luggage down the quai looking for the car usually, as in Murphy’s law, being at the very end, and then struggling to get your luggage up the stairs and into the storage area-if it isn’t full. I am lucky enough that I now have everything I need duplicated on each end and only have to carry my computer case and, occasionally depending on the length of my stay, Elliot, my cat. What a great life I have dividing my time between Paris and Provence, and having a rapid way to get between them.

Back in Paris

I am back in Paris where there is beautiful weather, blue skies, mild tempertures and alot more tourists around.
As usual, I headed for Palais Royal where I discovered a new conceptual art exhibit by, I think, a Spainard. There are life size metal casts of Spainish Queens, all in a row.


Here they are.

This time the garden is full of roses, most of them white with a soft pink on the edges. Dahlias have been planted and I look forward to seeing them in bloom.

Confiture

Today, with the help of a friend, I made some cherry confiture with the very huge amount of cherries we have picked from the trees of a neighbor-we’ve been there three times and there is still a huge amount to be picked. From our first tastes, we think we may have used a little too much sugar, but it is a feeling of accomplishment to see the eight jars of cherry magic just waiting to be spread on toast. A couple of days ago she made us some excellent duck with cherry sauce. We continue to eat cherry by the dozens between meals and as a dessert. I think this will be the first year that I will finally get my fill of my favorite fruit.

Orange

Orange

Maurice and I tend to stick to our area as far as exploring other cities and areas. It wasn’t until a medieval festival was advertised that we decided to make the trek and see what makes Orange so special. It is only about an hour from our house, not that long a journey, and it makes me realize that we should start going a little further afield when we decide to do a little exploring. The Luberon is packed with places to see and it is fun discovering new things and the city of Orange was a joy on our first time visit.
I had read in a tour book-an English one-that Orange was rather a sad little reincarnation of all the many existances it has had throughout the centuries and was expecting maybe a dreary little city packed with traffic with a cloud of polution caused by the many cars as they wizzed around the Roman arena but was pleasantly surprised by our entry into Orange. Maybe we just missed the dreary parts. We easily parked and in a short walk were in a well-done pedestrian area with narrow streets lined with cobble stones and soon we were at a Roman wall, the wall that King Louis XIV called the best wall in his kingdom after he took the little Protestant kingdom away from the Netherlands. (Some of the royal family there still go by the name of Orange). He tore down what looks like it was a nice castle from old drawings but left the Roman arena which is the best preserved arena in Europe. In its present reincarnation, it is used for concerts, symphonies and operas and I now have the dream of someday attending something there. Maybe a currently popular singer or a jazz festival although it would be a fabulous place to see an opera, even though that isn’t really one of my interests. On approaching, it appears to be just an old wall, such as those that once surrounded a city, but it is the main huge back wall of the arena, and the round, half circle with the seating areas goes behind it, dug into the nearby hill. A walking tour inside shows what a true marvel it is and, like the coloseum in Rome, it is easy to imagine entertainment taking place there centuries ago.
The Medieval Festival turned out to be a tremendous experience with the sound of ancient instruments that we could hear as we neared the arena, and with the many participants dressed in costumes out of time, from kings, bishops, knights of the crusades, even magicians and stilt walkers, it all was a feast for the senses. Many items were for sale that were not the usual things seen at markets, mystical types of jewelry or figures of fairies, little costumes of knights or ladies of the realm for children, everything had a medieval feel to them. There was a real quality to everything done, from the costumes and make-up of the participants, the attention to detail in every presentation and the involvement with attending children, from patience to explaining how things were done in ancient times, such as a demonstration of making yarn from sheeps wool, to magic tricks and figures walking around in costume. Crusade tents were set up in front of the ancient wall of the arena with displays of all sorts and parades were done at least once an hour with knights of the crusade with red or black crosses on their costumes, or fantastic figures on stilts with masks of animals, such as a fox. It was truly one of the best festivals I have ever attended and I could imagine what the city of Orange itself must have been like at one time as magical characters walked by me in costume playing instruments of old, showing us times long past, a look at history not found in books at school.


A Jester who loved to pose.


Lots of magicians and performers to entertain.


Mystical fox on stilts-I like the interaction with the little boy.

Cherries part deux

We picked one huge batch of cherries and have been eating them madly ever since. I can’t remember the last time I made a cherry pie, if ever, baking mostly apple pies or peach cobblers, so I looked at several recipes and most called for tapioca which they not only have in France, but call it by the same name. I’m not sure what happened but the tapioca remained rather chewy instead of those usual soft little globules found in the pudding. The pie tasted good except for that.
I have a little cookbook with recipes for confiture, or jam, and when Maurice went to the nearest village for his daily bread, I asked him to pick up some pectin which the recipe calls for. He came back and said the lady at the store told him pectin wasn’t necessary, and, in fact, made the jam too thick and jelly like. We should just cook the cherries with sugar and it would be thick enough. I’m not so sure. The last time I tried to make some with peaches, it came out rather runny-Mauric said I didn’t boil it long enough. He also said that our neighbor said we should bottle the cherries in jars but I am not up to the task of all of those jars and the sterilization. Maybe next year. In the meantime, I am going to try a more difficult cherry tart from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I’m sure that will be tasty. Maurice went over yesterday and picked another huge basket of cherries so, unless we can eat them all-not a bad thing-I will have to use them in something. Maybe Cherries Jubilee or Duck with CherrySauce. Too bad all of the recipes are so fattening.

Cuckcoo

The first time I heard a cuckoo bird, an actual live one, was in front of the Chambord Chateau in the Loire Valley of France. The evening had just begun and the whole area looked a little ghostly and haunted, when the bird started its song. I was very enchanted as I think, having only heard the clock, that they weren’t real, or at least I had forgotten they were. Another assumption I made, was that they were only in that part of France in that type of deep forest. Last night as Maurice and I sat on our terrace, me with my glass of wine, he with his pastisse, I heard a cuckoo again. It is a fairy tale kind of feeling for me to hear that sound echoing across our nearby forest. It only seems to sing as the sun is setting and I never hear it during the day. At first I thought I was hearing someone’s clock going off in a neighbor’s house but was delighted to realize that this is something I will probably hear every evening and I plan to be outside as often as possible when the sun is setting.