A House in Provence

They are cutting wheat all over Provence and most end up in these round rolls of hay-the livestock just can’t get a square meal anymore!

A House in Provence
Chapter 7
Part 2
I wish I had had a little more input into choosing our appliances. I have to admit I wasn’t paying attention when Maurice was looking at cataloges choosing things for our house. Everything he picked out requires a PhD to operate. Maurice has an enginering degree but when it comes to operating ,say, our oven, it doesn’t seem to help much. If I had an instruction manual in English I think I could figure it all out but, alas, I don’t. The oven has three little round switches that you turn, or push, or do both at the same time. To turn off the oven you push one of these buttons twice. Twirling the same knob brings up various pictures on the front like pizza or roast and the oven is supposed to cook it at the correct temperature but we couldn’t get it to work. It only gives you fifteen seconds to set everything or it turns off and you have to start all over again. It does have a neat feature of beeping when the oven had preheated to the correct temperature. I’m sure I will eventually figure it out but I think I will be using my microwave a lot in the meantime. It is an older model and, even though all of the writing on it is in French, I have mastered using it.
The refrigerator is huge, especially by French standards. Maurice thought I needed an American refrigerator. It sticks out about a foot past the wall sturdily announcing its presence. It makes ice cubes or crushed ice, it dispenses cold water, temperatures can be changed at various areas inside and there is a strange door on the outside which can be opened to retrieve, I believe, often sought items, such as milk or bottled water. All sorts of buttons glow on the outside, giving the kitchen a green glow in the dark.
Then there is the washing machine and dryer. It didn’t take me long to figure out the washer but the dryer was another matter. It doesn’t have a vent tube going to the outside as I am used to, but it does some sort of condensation number. I managed to dry the first load all right, although it took me three times to finally get everything dry. The second load led to an irritating bell ringing. This was when I discovered that a water container has to be emptied or the dryer won’t work. The filter has to be empty, too. Maurice and I struggled for over 30 minutes trying to figure out what was wrong. It was like a baby that keeps crying after it has been fed and changed-what else can you do? I got so irritated I told Maurice that I was moving back to the States where appliances are easy to operate. I think we finally got it figured out but I think I will be doing most of our drying on a clothes rack. It is easier and much cheaper. I’m not a fan of scratchy towels but maybe I can soften them up with a Cling Free sheet-a wonderful American invention-after they dry on a rack to the texture of plaster board. (We finally got a repair man out to look at the dryer where a short of some sort was discovered. He told us he fixed it but, naturally, he didn’t and finally had to come pick it up and totally replace a malfunctioning part.)

A House in Provence Chapter 7

I love this fountain. It is at a very nice Auberge and restaurant in the little village of Saignon. The owner, an American, gave us a cutting of the vine behind the fountain with orange flowers so we can try growing it at home. It does well in both heat and cold.

Two fish in the water of the fountain looking like some modern painting.

A House in Provence
Chapter 7
Part one

The first thing I noticed when I walked into our new house was flies. I hate flies. I assumed that most people did. The next time we went to the store we got some little plastic devises that supposedly kept flies out of the room by emiting some chemical but they didn’t work. When once again at a store, almost a daily occurence, I spotted a fly swatter, I bought it. Nothing like the tried and true. It is called a “tapette a mouche” here in France. I was going to tap the flies all right. Maurice laughed when he saw it and was a little puzzled by my vigilance in killing them. He has a sort of live and let live attitude but it drives me nuts when I see two flies having, possibly, what looks like sex on top of something I am going to eat. I feel like they are dirty and can visulize all sorts of disgusting things they had been on before entering our house. Maurice was raised on a farm deep in the country so maybe he just got used to them. Someone, a long time resident of France, said, “They are small creatures and they don’t eat much.” I eventually found out the source of our flies-a sheep farm just up the road. I was told that flies aren’t everywhere in Provence, just near farms. Sigh.
I’m going to have to get used to life in Provence with flies. They are just a factor here at our house. I think Australia has the same problem. I remember seeing people watching the Australian tennis open wearing these strange hats with corks hanging from strings attached to the brim. Supposedly, this keeps the flies off of your face. I may have to look into this.
An update: July 24th, 2005. Maurice was looking through a catelogue and found some affordable screens which we will install ourselves. They look deceptively simple to install but, of course, this is not the case when it comes to actually following the directions. We had to cut them to size and, even though they are supposed to easily fit into place for winter removal, they aren’t sturdy enough, so we will have to drill screws through part of the frame to keep them in place. I’m so happy though. I didn’t think this would ever happen especially when we got a bid from some screen people and they wanted 1000 Euros to custom make a screen for just one large sliding glass door. Maurice is out there sweating right now as I write this trying to install them.

A House in Provence Chapter 6

Typical garden furniture for Provence.

Chapter 6

Finally we were told that it was time for our reception. I was working and unable to go and was frankly rather relieved that I wouldn’t be there to hear the exchanges between Maurice and Stephane. Stephane had been calling and demanding the last 5% due on the house. Maurice said no. It was the only hold he would have over this building company if things weren’t right. He had called a former customer of our builder and they had said they were extremely sorry that they had paid the final 5% as there were things that needed fixing and no one was arriving to take care of them. Maurice also told Stephane that he was bringing a professional to check out the house on the day of the reception and was told that the professional would not be allowed inside. I never did find out why-what could he have to hide? Maurice left to go down to Provence not really knowing if he would get the key or not. He had demanded that the heating/cooling unit be installed the day of the reception and they acted like he was ridiculous to ask such a thing.
It finally all worked out. There were furious arguments, the inspector was not allowed inside the house as we had been told, the heating/cooling unit had been installed, and we even had plumbing fixtures.
Maurice called me that night exhausted. He had the key. He had taken a load of things down to Provence in the event he would actually get possession. There wasn’t full electricty the first night and he slept on the floor in a sleeping bag. At least there was running water.
It was a week before I was able to get down to Provence. In that time Maurice had purchased two twin beds that would eventually be used upstairs in the guest room and the kitchen had been installed. It had been such a long time since we had ordered it that I didn’t even remember what it looked like. I was very pleased when I walked in and saw a nice modern kitchen with light yellow cabinets. The only problem that I could see was that the refrigerator was too large. Maurice wanted me to have an American refrigerator, one with an ice maker, and it stuck out to far too allow a little island to be turned the way we had planned so it was turned long ways. The kitchen still needed tile but looked bright and cheerful.
What dismayed me was looking at all of the walls and knowing we would have to paint them as painting the walls was not included in the contract. As is often the case, at least in my life, when you get a bid on painting, it is so high that you decide to save the money and do it yourself. I stood there looking at the high wall where the stairs went up and knew that there would be the need for some sort of scafolding to paint it. I felt overwhelmed just looking at all we had to do.
The house was a strange mix of quality and cheapness. We had a high tech wall heater in the bathroom, the type you can hang towels on, but the cabinets in the bathroom were made of cheap, unpainted wood and were obviously poor quality. We basically had a shell for a house. It was about a stripped down as it could be and they hadn’t done a lot of things such as pick up all of the debry outside consisting of broken tiles, huge wooden holders for various things, and chunks of cinder block. All of the land was left raw and unlevel. We didn’t even have a slope into our garage, instead there was about a four inch area between the garage floor and the ground and a pile of dirt blocking access into the garage.
I had some furniture being shipped from Texas which had been in storage for two years. For some reason it had been shipped to England, not Marseille which is the usual port for things entering France. Because of this we were sitting in an empty house. It should have taken six weeks to get our furniture, instead it was going to be at least three months. At least we had the twin beds. A kind friend gave us two ratty plastic chairs to sit in or we would have been eating on the floor. We went out several times to try and purchase a table and chairs but couldn’t find what we wanted.
And so, the next few weeks were to be nothing but preping the walls- sanding and then two coats of a special paint- followed with two coats of regular paint. By the time I finished the living room and dining room I felt like I had painted the Great Wall of China. My neck and shoulders ached, my knees hurt from climbing up and down a ladder. Maurice and I got up every morning shuffling and moaning like 90 year old people. It is great to look at a room you have freshly painted yourself-there is a real feeling of accomplishment along with the aching muscles. Our bedroom and bathroom would be next, then the entryway, those darn stairs and two bedrooms upstairs with that bathroom. At least we didn’t have a deadline to worry about unlike our neighbors in a house just being finished up above us. They had to be out of their apartment at the end of the month and we could see them and family members feverishly painting all day and late into the night. Their builder let them have a key and do whatever they wanted before their reception.
Our typical day consisted of painting until two or so in the afternoon, driving into town to buy a growing list of things we needed, driving home, eating and going to bed. Of course, we were hemorrhaging money. We needed everything-from shelves and poles for the closets, to towel racks, towels, light fixtures, and on and on. It is amazing how much it takes to set up a house. I didn’t want to buy too much as I had to see what was coming from Texas. After two years, I only have vague memories of what was in storage. It would be like Christmas when I started opening all of the boxes.

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene, at the entrance to the crypt.

The entrace of the Basilica.

St Maximin la Ste Baume

We have often passed by the town of St Maximin la Ste Baume on the way to other areas of Provence but decided to make a special visit there in light of all of the interest in Mary Magadalene, especially with the popularity of The Da Vince Code by Dan Brown, for it is here that her tomb is said to be.
We drove a rather circular route to get there avoiding the busy and unattractive highway. On the way we stopped for lunch at a little village called Rians. As usual, there is a cathedral at the top of a hill with the buildings of the village spilling down with narrow, winding streets and scrapes on the sides of buildings where trucks have forced their way through. After a delightful lunch on a square under the shade of some mulberry trees where we discussed the ages of various buildings-we decided 16th and 17th century-we walked a short way uphill to the surprising little cathedral at top. It appeared very well- kept to me and I got the impression that it had an active membership as it was very well maintained and there were many printed signs either explaining various statues, or prayers to them. Many of the statues were guilded and painted, not the usual stone carvings and we spent quite a while there roaming around. Our visit there was enhanced by a man upstairs practicing on the organ sending down spiritual music to enhance the feeling of the church.
The basilica at St Maximin was much larger. We wandered first into the cloister and it has been made into what looks like a really good hotel and restaurant. The cathedral is without a bell tower and looks unfinished from the front. To its left side is the impressive Hotel de Ville holding the tourist information office. The cathedral is full of magnificant chapels and is, itself, the gothic treasure of Provence, with those high soaring walls that are so breath-taking upon entering. We made our way down a short flight of stairs to see the crypt where the body of Mary Magadelene is said to lie. There is a cinderella like gold tomb and inside is a dark skull topped with some long red hair-this said to be Mary. There are also some impressive carved sarcophagi there.
There is a legend that says Mary Magdalene, with others including her brother Lasarus, escaped persecusion in Palestine and came to France (in a boat without sails) landing at Stes Maries de la Mer-there is a festival there in May celebrating this by the gypsies-and she made her way to this area, where she lived in a cave for 30 years for contemplation and prayer spreading Christianity to Provence. When she died, the angels took her to the site of the Basilica where she was buried along with St Maximinus.
As we wandered around here, there was a choir practicing wonderful chants, all female with high, soaring voices to give goosebumps to accompany our sense of wonder being inside this great building.

A rather primative statue, behind glass, of Mary and Jesus at Rians.

The Lavender Festival of Valensole

A lavender field that I passed on the way to Valensole.

Lavender Festival of Valensole

Once a year a little village deep in the lavender country of Provence has a lavender festival. It is well worth the drive along the winding country roads, especially when passing the eye-catching lavender fields with their fragant flowers and it is so great when the fragrance, so clean smelling, fills the car.
I arrived rather early, as festivals go, about 10 AM, and the parking lot was already filling up. I walked uphill to the village to find a little square full of every conceivable type of item or food made using lavender. There were bottles of lavender aperitif being sold, lavender pate, whatever that is, lavender honey, soap, potporri, and even lavender ice cream. Any type of arts and crafts item I’ve ever seen could be found, all with lavender involved in the decoration.
I found some darling lavender colored, lavender sented teddy bears and bought one for my grand daughter. One stand was selling incense sticks that were advertised to last 2 ½ hours, so I bought ten to fill my house with the scent of lavender. Lavender honey was for sale everywhere. Being a honey lover, I tasted a few but was finally sold on some that had been whipped so it was thick being sold by a religious order of nuns advertising their order as one of lavender and spirituality. To tell the truth, I can’t really taste lavender in honey, but I enjoy trying.

A colorful basket of lavender soap for sale.

They were giving away free bouquets of lavender.

I bought one of these for Ella, my granddaughter.

The Calanques of Cassis

A view of one of the calanques from the boat.

An especially beautiful bay.


There is an area close to Marseille that I’ve been wanting to see a long time. The name of the village is Cassis and it is known for the soaring white cliffs called calanques rising above the sea, with deep inland indentations, rather like fiords, although they weren’t created by retreating glaciers as in Norway but from the rising and lowering of the sea over millions of years. There are quarries nearby and stone for the building of the Suez Canal came from here.
We had thought about hiking to one of the calanques but it was a really hot day so we drove into Cassis itself, a little village that once housed fisherman but now seems to have many artists and tourists shops. I wasn’t that impressed by the little harbor, it just didn’t seem that picturesque to me. We took a boat out to the calanques, about an hour ride, and they were indeed wonderful-white cliffs toped with green pines and beautiful blue water underneath. It made me want to rent a sail boat sometime just so we could stop and enjoy areas like this, even though my “mal de mer” usually gets the best of me.
We decided to come back in the autumn when it is cooler and less crowded and take a hike, about an hour each way, to what we thought was the prettiest bay. We ended our time there with a nice lunch at one of the cafes along side the harbor and had some of the famous white Cassis wine.