About Those Plates

A couple of people expressed some interest in the plates I had taken photos of a few days ago so, this being a slow day here in Provence, I thought I’d put up some more photos and a little about them.

This is a Quimper plate. Maurice gave this to me a long time ago. I never use it, it is for display only as these plates can become collector items. Quimper is a city in Brittany, an interesting part of France, and well known for their pottery. They started putting these little figures dressed in traditional costumes on their pottery in the 1800’s.

I bought this plate in Sante Fe about 15 years ago. It was made in Mexico.

Isn’t this a great plate to serve French cheese on? Would you believe a friend of mine found it at a boot sale in England?

I have a set of four of these salad/dessert plates. A friend of mine gave me these for my birthday right before we moved to Provence. They all have typical scenes found around Provence. Here are the other three:




I bought a set of this pottery in Provence in a village called Biot, also known for their pottery. It was hard to choose, they had so many cute designs. I love blue and yellow-so cheerful.

A shot of the cup and saucer. Can you tell I like pottery? Especially plates.

A House in Provence, Chapter 19

Our Yard and Bugs

There is so much that I want to do in the yard but can’t. First of all we have to wait for dirt to be brought in to fill in some low places. One of these areas is behind the pool where I want to do the majority of the planting with lots of bushes and trees, making it as lush as I can with plants that don’t need a lot of water. The area behind the pool is huge and in order not to have to work full time to keep the garden up, use less water and just generally make it look good, I have decided I need to put in some small walls here and there, maybe some trelleses, make some “walls” out of plants. That way there will be a large area we won’t see and can do the minimum with.
This being not only summer, but autumn, 2004, we just wait for the dirt. A man did come and dumped a huge pile of dirt and rocks across the road and told us he would be back in September to move it to our yard. The only problem is, we have to wait at least a year for all of the dirt to settle so I am afraid to try much of anything, not wanting my work to have to be done all over again if a bush or tree sinks a foot or so.
Maurice and I have been working in the area where we can which is below our house where we have been making steps out of dirt and rocks. One thing our property does not lack is rocks. They are everywhere in Provence. A lot of rocks were uncovered when our house was built and, to my surprise, we used them all up with our steps, the size I wanted anyway. I know they are under the dirt but I need some sort of tractor to get to them. There are some good sized rocks in the pile across the street and I have raided that. No one is living in the house below us and we have taken a wheel barrow down the steep road to get a few larger rocks. I don’t want to take a lot as they will probably need them for future landscaping and I feel like a thief when we do it. I’ve edged alot of paths with rocks and I am not sure where I will find my new supply.
I now notice all of the rock walls and edgings as we drive around our house into the country looking at how it has been done. Many walls have no cement or dirt, just the rocks themselves. I would love to watch how they are constructed.
I’ve noticed, also, that rocks from different areas, even those close by, are different colors. Our property has a lot of shale and some golden-white colored stones. Those delivered and dumped across the street come from Grambois, just a few miles down the road, and they are in shades of ochre and rust. I have found that shale easily falls apart and isn’t good to use if it is exposed to the air and rain. It chips all over the place.
Then there are bugs. I knew from my first experience on the property before we even started building that there would be many flies. Maurice and I had several big discussions, dare I say arguments, about flies, the source of which is the sheep farm up the road. He wants to leave the doors wide open for the fresh air which would be fine with me if the house didn’t become invaded by tons of flies. He thinks I want to live in a bubble, afraid to live as one with nature. That isn’t it at all. I really have a phobia about flies on my food and in my kitchen. He said, when he was brought up on a farm, they just accepted flies as a part of life and did fine. I finally did a google search on flies wondering if I was being a little paranoid and found that flies can carry over 15 diseases, some of them very serious such as typhoid. Once the air conditioning is needed doors have to stay closed so it isn’t as bad, but I am constantly killing flies in the house even so. I have had several French guests who left their windows open upstairs in the bedrooms and I walked into our kitchen to be greeted by a whole new group of flies to kill.
There aren’t as many mosquitoes, Provence being fairly dry, but there are those funny looking bugs that suck your blood, and also little flies shaped like little stealth bombers that lay their eggs under your skin, a yucky thing for me to contemplate.
Then there are the wasps. We didn’t see any of them in the Spring but they certainly arrived with the summer. At first I thought they were what I call “garbage bees” as they hang around garbage and, when eating outside, they come hovering about trying to pick up a piece of meat. I didn’t think they were that harmful, only very annoying, until Maurice’s son got bitten by one, followed by me. They only bite if you put your arm or leg on one. My, did it hurt, and I had a huge bump on my arm for about 5 days which itched and burned and woke me up in the middle of the night for several nights. We finally bought a bug zapper, one of those things that glow purple, but they only attract moths that I can see, the wasps being interested in food not light. Then we bought these little plastic covered bowls with a whole in the bottom. Filled with a beef broth, the wasps are attracted to the smell, go in the hole and then can’t get out. In an hour we trapped 7 of them. I would like to get rid of them at their source but, with our land being so large, I can’t track where they are going. I was told to be careful around my lavender plants as they often make nests near them in the ground. I have to go and cut off the flowers in September or so and will have to be vigilant to not get attacked.

A House in Provence, Chapter 18

French Whirlwinds

The time I had dreaded came. It was the 10 days we were to take care of Maurice’s grandchildren at our house in Provence. They are fraternal twins named Tom and Lola and are age 7. And, of course, they only speak French. Usually I do very well with children, especially if they speak English, but I wasn’t as sure with these two. When I am at their home in Paris they are forced to kiss me and say Bonjour and after that pretty much ignore me. When they were much younger they would hold my hand as we walked down the street and do their French chattering. They have grown up in a world of adults with constant attention and they travel a great deal and I was just one more face among many and not a very interesting one at that. At least that was my feeling. Sometimes when they had a friend at their house I would get more attention as the friend would want to practice a few English words with me. I was the token American.
So, I wasn’t expecting much. But from the start at their arrival at our house they seemed happy to see me, friendly and open, interested in everything. I’m not sure where this came from but they became, to me, normal kids more easy to handle. Of course, I often had to take them to Maurice for translation saying, “Tell me what they are trying to tell me,” but we rubbed along pretty well.
Many French don’t like the really sweet desserts Americans do so I wasn’t sure what to bake wondering if things would remain uneaten. I made a good old batch of American brownies thinking I would eat the darn things myself if no one was interested. At first Lola sort of turned her nose up at them because they weren’t dark chocolate and ate some French cookies instead. Tom dived right in after the first bite and ate three with a glass of milk. The next day I walked over and the whole pan was empty. I ended up having to make a dessert of some sort, usually brownies, every day. Well actually, I didn’t have to but it was something I could do that they enjoyed that didn’t involve my speaking French.
Luckily we have a pool and the two spent most of every day in it swimming, jumping and floating on rafts just like my American grandkids. A little neighbor boy came over one day and they had a ball. They kept getting cold though as a breeze was blowing and dressed and undressed four times, alternating going down to a little area under a tree where they are building a fort of some sort or, unable to resist the blue water, jumping back in the pool.
Lola undressed right in front of this little boy. I started trying to remember when I was made to undress in private, getting that puritanical side of me deeply ingrained. Lola was totally unselfconscious, used to being naked in front of Tom and they still often took baths together. I wondered when that would stop. I imagined sometime around the age of puberty. The little boy was an only child and I noticed that he did get a good look at Lola but she didn’t care. Maurice told me this is just how they raise their young. I’m sure this is where the topless swimming starts as well. I still remember being horrified when we caught my daughter at about age 5 or so playing “doctor” with a little neighbor boy. We were sure this would lead to some kind of perversion or something. It is just interesting seeing the differences in how children are raised and what is instilled in them.
I don’t know if it is because Tom and Lola travel so much or because their parents travel alot and they are either left with relatives or a baby sitter or with just one parent but they are very good at entertaining themselves. They never beg to watch TV although they will sit and watch cartoons or a movie if we turn on the TV. They never say, “We’re bored,” as I have heard my grandkids or my kids growing up whining. I remember saying it to my mother as well. In their home in Paris they would often escape for hours at a time to play in their rooms. Here in Provence they just keep busy every minute. I never have to find something for them to do. I had bought to huge boxes of Crayons for them to use and I have never seen such huge looks of surprise and pleasure as when I gave each of them one. They colored for hours. They had brought a few small toys and sometimes quietly played in their room upstairs.
Of course they got into tiffs being normal children. If they sat together in the back seat one or the other of them would start touching the other or put their foot in the other’s lap. I usually separated them and ended up sitting in the back myself just to prevent minor scrimages. Basically, they seemed like really good friends with each other not needing time alone like I did when growing up with my sister. I have noticed if Lola gets tired and, although she doesn’t say it, maybe a little bored, that she starts picking on Tom. At first I didn’t notice that Tom was doing the same thing. He was more sneaky about it. Maurice didn’t do anything when they started fighting. He has major explosions becoming a drill sargent when they are eating wanting them to sit still, eat all of their food, just being really picky at all that is going on around eating but when they hit or kick each other he doesn’t do anything saying that they can learn to handle it on their own. I can’t stand doing that. Lola pushed Tom down some steps and then hit him in spite of my many “arretes” so I finally had a meltdown and spanked her. She looked at me with her big blue eyes full of tears and I felt like an ogre but Maurice said that now she would respect me and mind me when I said no. I think spanking wouldn’t be necessary if she would just stop when I said so. She has a very strong will, that girl.
I don’t know if they packed their own clothing or not but Tom only came with the pair of shoes he was wearing, hightop red tennis shoes now back in fashion, as well as a few summer clothes. Lola came with four pairs of shoes, all in hues of pink, a pair of flip flops, some walking sandals, some tennis shoes and a pair of slippers for bedtime, and four pairs of pajamas as well. She had all sorts of cute clothes that she wore with flair, a different outfit each day, and bought a plastic zip up container with many clips and rubber rings for her hair. She requested a different style every morning and I did brades, two loose pony tails on each side-but low, as requested- right behind each ear, or half pony tails. She was growing her bangs out and it drove me nuts when she ate with pieces of food ending up in her hair so I was constantly pinning them back. Tom was easy with a wash and go hair style and he also had some cute clothes which he wore with what I saw as style.
They both ate very well. I notice that alot of American children seem to have eating problems refusing to eat this or that. I’ve been with families where the child wasn’t required to eat vegetables or meat and only had bread and butter for the meal followed by ice cream for dessert. Some meals become real battlegrounds with the parents begging the kids to eat. Tom and Lola aren’t big on vegetables but will eat tomatoes and most kinds of potatoes. Their mother gives them vegetable soup, pureed, often to get them to eat them. If they like what is served, such as fish or steak, they eat very well. Lola loves cheese and saucisson and always has some goat cheese at the end of meals. Tom doesn’t like the smell of cheese and seldom touches it. They love fruit and consume large amounts of peaches and apricots for dessert. Lola must have her peaches peeled but Tom doesn’t care. About 4 PM they want a tea and this is when they have something sweet, such as my brownies, with milk. Breakfast is usually toast or crepes with jam and they require bowls, not glasses, of milk to dip them in like I used to do with Oreos. Their toast has to be cut into three pieces too, as I found out the first morning. They also use Nutrella on their toast, something made of hazel nuts but tasting like chocolate. It tastes pretty good but it is a really strange consistency clinging to spoons, plates, hands and faces with a stubborness of industrial glue.
So, I felt like I was doing fairly well with Maurice’s grandchildren when I got the bad news. Maurice has to go to a funeral out of town and I would be left with Tom and Lola, by myself, for hours. One thing I always said to Maurice was that he could never leave me alone with them. I just can’t understand most of what they say and they sure don’t understand my bad French or English. That which I feared had come upon me. It was a long 6 hours but, at the end, exhausted though I was, I think we did fairly well together. First I let them help me bake some brownies. The only problem with this was that they got to lick the bowl, not me.
Tom found a piece of tile left in our yard that wasn’t cleaned up after construction of our house and was very excited which got Lola excited too so I went out with them out into the yard and we became archeologists looking for pieces of tile and interesting rocks. I had found a couple of fossils in some hills nearby and showed them to the kids and then Lola found a similar one in our yard. I’ve always had an interest in rocks and fossils so we had a great time. Then I turned the hose on so they could wash their treasures, provided plastic sacks to keep them in and it was time for lunch. They did some swimming and then started getting a little restless so I did a horrible thing. I turned on the TV and let them watch cartoons for over an hour. I thought about teaching them a card game but thought it might to hard for me to explain and for them to understand. I survived-I need a T-shirt saying that.
The next morning we took them to a vide grenier, a sort of large flea market, that occur all over Provence in the summer. We found some junk, old toys that had been played with, and for less than 5 Euros they had something to play with that was new to them. Tom was especially impressed with the market loving looking through the junk.
Early one morning Maurice and I drove with the kids to a hill that can be seen from our house and from which, with binoculars, we can see our house nestled near our little village. At night from our back yard you can see headlights of cars as they go over the top of the hill and head down. We had gone once to locate the road and when we got out to walk to the top of a little hill I found some fossils, mostly the ones made by shells. It was intriguing, and a little creepy, to me to envision the entire valley covered with ocean water. There is only one place on this hill where I have found fossils and Tom and Lola had a ball finding their own. They both brought back big sacks of them. I’m not sure if they will be able to take them all with them in their suitcases, but maybe a few.
I found that housework multiplied when they came. Toys were all over the place, clothes left where they were removed to put on bathing suits and floors were crunchy with debris left over from snacks. I was sweeping the floor twice a day because I can’t stand to walk on a floor that is dirty but I gave up on our sliding glass door out to the pool. It is really heavy and hard to open and they had to put their hands on the glass to get it open. I love having clean windows especially when looking out at a view but it is hard work to keep them that way. I decided it wasn’t worth the energy of cleaning the door everyday and let it go until they left. I felt like all I did, besides referee fights, was cook and wash dishes. I couldn’t just open a can of ravioli like I used to with my kids for lunch. Grilled cheese sandwiches weren’t an option, so I was always making full meals like fish and rice or lasagna. The easiest thing I found to cook was spaghetti but I couldn’t fix that every day. They were too young to make their own meals and- this makes me mad- I was the one who ended up cooking all of the meals. Maurice did most of their breakfasts-big deal-but I was the designated cook the rest of the time.
Finally, the ten days were up and we drove the twins down to Cannes to stay with the next set of Grandparents. The house was tidy, the floor not sticky or crunchy, my windows were free of hand prints, I was cooking and cleaning less-peace reigned. But, you know what, I missed the little buggers. They had endeared themselves to me. I plan to have more activities available next summer as I’m sure we will be taking care of them again for a while in the summer. I also plan to find some new sources of fossils as that was so much fun for all of us. And, maybe, this time when I show up at their apartment in Paris I will get a more natural and loving welcome.

A House in Provence Chapter 16

Exploring Provence

Provence is known for its many villages, vineyards and lavander. We have been doing a lot of exploring here, never out of places to visit. In the winter I find the whole area to be a little depressing as most of the villages are shut up tight, streets bare, shutters closed and just a few hardy souls out and about. The mistral is really cold and miserable when it blows in the winter and when I looked out the window and see the trees bending and swaying in it, I would rather stay home and putter around than get out in the wind chill. I don’t necessarily like towns crowded with tourists but there is a lot to be said for cheery villages basking in the sun with the streets lively with people looking around and tables full in front of every cafe and restaurant.
The nearest village to us is called Grambois. It, along with the little school in our village, was used for a delightful French film done some years ago. It is really fun to watch and see the changes that have occurred since its making. Grambois is on top of a hill, as many are here, and at the top can be found a little square where the mairie, a little church and a tabac. That’s about it but it does offer more than our own little village which has exactly nothing unless you count the mayor’s mother who sometimes sells the bounty of her son’s crops such as white asparagus or cherries. There is an type of gite, dormitory style for all of the hikers and bikers who come up this way which is something, I guess. We stayed there once when our house was being built and it is on the rustic side.
And there is a wonderful building in fading periwinkle and pink which was once an Auberge as a sign barely discernible attests slowly fading away on the side of the building. I saw a photo of it when it was open with ladies in long dresses sitting in front. I would love to see inside sometime. I’ve been told that someone does live there.
The next closest town is la Tour d’Aigues (aigues being provencal for water). Tour is tower in French and there was one here centuries ago but it is long gone replaced by a chateau. It is a beautiful thing, though ruined, built of glowing golden stone by an Italian architect who put lovely features such as little stars pressed into parts of the walls, graceful towers and windows, just a delightful surprise as you turn the corner into town and it awaits you. It is a hollow shell now due to a fire set during the revolution which reached all corners of France, even quiet little towns such as this. Inside, in the office to buy tickets for a tour, there is a print of the chateau in the 17th century and it was incredible with a curved roof on the central tower looking rather oriental to me. It was much larger than in now appears. It is amazing to me that all of these little kingdoms existed at one time with chateaux and rulers running them like small countries. And then they sank into decline which saved many of the villages from being developed in the horrible ways in the following years leaving narrow roads and various buildings on top of a hill giving Provence that special look that it has. I see wonderful doorways around the narrow streets here using pieces from the chateau to make interesting and historic entries. Concerts are done in the interior of the chateau in the summers where a little stage and seating has been set up. It was just such an occasion when we attended a jazz concert at night. The music was great but sitting there in the dark with the chateau silhouetted against the sky and then great lighting being done, lighting up various parts of the wall in red, lavender or gold, made it truly memorable occasion.
Ansouis is not too far from la Tour d’Aigues although you must drive through la Motte d’Aigues and Pepin d’Aigues to get there. A regal castle is at the top of this village with a royal flag flying if the owners are at home. The owners are actual decendants of a long past royal family, many of whom I assume were beheaded, as this is one village in France which does not celebrate Bastille Day on July 14th. There is a rather splendid little chapel behind the church, small and ancient with a colorful statue of Joan of Arc inside. Once I entered to find a little old man banging on a drum, his version of a hymn to God, I thought.
Cucuron lies not much further up the road. Maurice says this is a very strange name for a village as it is a name similar to an American calling someone “Dummy” or the like. The reason for the naming is lost somewhere is the distant past as far as I have been able to discover. We hadn’t actually gone into this village at first as the road just circled the base but one day we parked the car and started walking around the narrow village streets for a Christmas brocante and found it to be a really charming town. A very unique rectangle shaped pond from the 17th century sits in the town surrounded by ancient plane trees a wonderful site for markets and such with the shade provided. We discovered a little restaurant called l’Arbor du Mai and found that on the 3rd Saturday of May, a little procession is done in town to celebrate the deliverance from a plague (this sure seemed to happen a lot of ancient times). A large tree is cut down, carried on the shoulders of 20 or so young men with a little boy riding on top. The tree is then secured against the side of the church and a smaller tree is also tied to the side of the little cafe. It is really great when old traditions and beliefs are still celebrated. There are so many here that still surprise me being an old Protestant. I knew there were a lot of Saint’s days in the States but they seem to have many more here that are actually celebrated.
Everyone seems to have heard about Gordes, once a center for olive oil the production of which was lost when a severe winter destroyed all the trees, now it has become an art colony. Every single building there is built of stones and the streets are all covered in them. They must be on top of a bumper crop of rocks. It is fun to roam up and down the streets and there is an interesting underground portion to the city as well. The Germans once bombed the place during WWII as it was used by the Resistance to watch the movement of German troops. You see why when you are high up on a vantage point and can see for miles.
Just a few miles away lies Roussillon where Ochre was once mined, the dirt and hills in the surrounding area running from golden, to ochre, to rust in color. You can buy bags of the various colors to mix with paint or a special substance to paint your walls in tints to bring Roussillon to mind whenever you catch a glimpse of your wall later. The town itself is very picturesque and interesting to explore, full of fun tourists shops such as a wine shop with a deep cool cellar downstairs, an artist selling her wonderful paintings in a shop located in the same building she lives in. I love her little pocket garden glimpsed in the back of her shop and saw a painting of that same garden on her wall.
To the north of us, in the area of France called Haute Provence, is where the high quality lavender is planted. There aren’t miles and miles of this fragrant herb growing as you see with wheat or the like, but unexpected plots springing up here and there and it is great when the fragrance of it all enters the car as you drive past. Some plots are well tended as the lavender grows in rows with no weeds seen and gravel lying between each row. Some have all run together and weeds are everywhere. When I stopped once to take a photo I saw that a couple of plants had been totally denuded of their flowers and there were several holes in the ground where someone had helped themselves to a few plants. Big fat furry bees abound, along with colorful butterflies, in the fields where this herb grows. About the middle of July the stems holding the flowers are cut, usually by machine, but some by hand for tourists to take photos of. A few festivals are held with many lavender products being sold-soap, lotion, oil, dried bouquets and even several types of foods. We have some lavender growing in our yard and I ventured out amongst the bees and butterflies to cut my own bouquets. It is such a clean smell, a delight to the senses when you pass a group of those lavender stalks in vase on a table.
Another village, once a powerful kingdom, and a great surprise when we first visited it, is Forcalquier. As you approach it you see an impressive building on top of the hill, once a fortress, now a chapel. On Mondays, not the usual day ever in France, is a fabulous huge market, the largest I have ever seen. Lots of food can be found but mostly clothing, table clothes with place mats and napkins, and lots of soaps and other types of Provencal items. One couple selling olive oil products had a soap shaped into squares from somewhere in the Middle East. When I heard her mention, as she told us about it, eczema, I bought some for my son seeing if it would help him. Up the hill from the market are some nice streets and places to eat. Just a really nice village to visit.

A House in Provence Chapter 15

This is a photo of a great red leaf in a vineyard taken recently here in the autumn. The article below was written almost 2 summers ago. We’ve come a long way since I wrote this.

Chapter 15
Swimming Pool and Landscaping

As might be expected, building a pool in Provence is right up there in the stress and disappointment we experienced in building our house. I’ve met an American lady living in Aix who says she will never, never (she said repeated this twice) have anything built in Provence. She did need some work done in her house and had a man come out to look at what was needed and now she is waiting for the estimate of the work and has no plans to hear from him any time soon. If you have expectations and want something down right away you will end up with a stress ulcer and have periods of time when you think that your head is going to explode. I should add that even Maurice, being French and all, has the same reactions and can’t believe how hard it is to get something done here.

My American friend thinks it is just different in Provence. According to her, people in Provence always put their families first in their lives. This is one reason why shops close for lunch with those long breaks because this is a family time for getting together over a meal. Friends come next and in France this means that these friends are ones you have had since childhood. They might have other acquaintances, different levels of friends, but never one they value more than the ones made first. Down near the bottom of the list is work and this certainly appears true to me. I often see shops closed for lunch around the various villages in Provence, as well as the rest of France, and think that if this were done in the States, everyone would stop shopping there; Americans would take their business elsewhere. Customer service, as we in America think of it, will probably slowly make its way into France mainly because customers will start demanding it and, most probably, because the shops will discover that they make more money this way. I could be wrong but there are more and more shops in Paris doing this. Can it be far behind in the country?

Back to the swimming pool. Maurice picked out a local builder who, in fact, lives three houses down from us. He first talked with us in October and told us they could start sometime in January. January came and went with Maurice calling and leaving messages several times. Finally we were told they would start our pool at the beginning of February. They didn’t start digging until the end of the month. They decided that we needed two support poles under the end of the pool nearest where the land dropped off so two deep holes about ten feet deep were dug. Maurice and both the pool builder and landscaper all thought that the pool needed to be very near the end of the land so it would be in the sun more time. To me this wasn’t an important factor as once summer sets in and the temperatures start soaring, it isn’t that necessary to be in the sun. You aren’t going to get a serious chill sitting in a tepid swimming pool in the shade if it is in the 90’s or more. I put up a little protest but let Maurice put the pool where he wanted.

When they started digging it looked like the pool was going to be way too close to the house, like we could jump into it from our porch with very little effort but that didin’t turn out to be the case. The pool, because the land was so low in realtion to our house, was built as a cement square sitting above the ground at first. To get to it for a look we had to climb down from the porch or consider putting a plank across from our porch to the pool but never did. Eventually the landscaper came and filled in two porches with dirt right by our house which helped to get around out back.

Progress on the pool was in fits and starts. Sometimes there were workers everyday doing something but we went most of April with not much of anything being done. We had been told, and had started hoping, that the pool would be finished by early May. This didn’t happen. We were planning a trip to the States at the end of May and Maurice didn’t want to leave without the pool being finished. He had learned to be around as much as possible when work was being done or something was done wrong. One day our neighbor across the street came roaring over as we came home from a trip to the grocery store because a huge truck bringing equipment had torn off a branch of one of their trees trying to turn off the very narrow road into the even narrower entry way to our house. Their house was the first one built on our street and the wall surrounding their land was built much too close to the road-we were required to have about 6 feet between a fence and the road-and some of the braches of their trees and bushes hung out into the road. I didn’t understand what the big deal was. It was an oak tree that grows all over the place and I’m sure they didn’t plant it, and they couldn’t even see the damaged part of the tree from their house or land, they had to walk out onto the road to see it. I think they were mad that the truck driver didn’t come tell them and just threw the branch over the wall into their yard. They thought Maurice should have been there to supervise. I don’t know how this could have been done when we never knew when anyone was going to show up and I doubt that Maurice would have been out on the road to watch the truck in any case. Half the time we didn’t know anyone was at our house until we looked out a window and saw a truck pulling up near the pool. I learned not to open the shutters to the bedroom until I was fully dressed as I sometimes was surprised when a workman or two strolled past on their way to work.

Our landscaper couldn’t do much of her work until they put the soil around the pool. Maurice had the name of the man who was supposed to do this and called him one day to see when he was coming as the swimming pool supervisor had told him the dirt mover man was due on a certain date. The digger knew nothing about it. The supervisor of the pool was doing the same thing the supervisor of our house did, telling us what we wanted to hear while, at the same time, collecting money. Maurice was able to get the digging guy to come out-he had his own earth moving machine-and finally fill in the area around the pool. It made such a difference and gave us an idea of what the yard would finally look like when we, some day in the distant future, got it finished.

Maurice would often jump the space between our porch and other walls before they were filled in with dirt as he tried to get a little work around the yard done. One day the front door opened and I heard him calling for me. When I arrived at the front door he was bending over holding his forehead from which blood was dripping to the ground. He had slipped on our “non-slip” porch and his head came down on the corner of a wall. There was a gash in his forehead and nose, large abrasions on his arm, a deep scratch on his glasses lens, a tear in his jeans and his thumb hurt. He was lucky he didn’t break something or end up with a concusion. For the next week he sported a spectacular black eye.

The landscaper put some nice gravel on one of the porches and planted lavender and rosemary on the hill below the pool. She said it was really a little too late to plant them as it would be a little too warm so we had to water them every day or so. I wasn’t in Provence at the time and Maurice bought the flat green hoses that spray out thin misty little jets of water. I had hoped for the hoses I used to use, soaking hoses, as I think they do a better job while saving water. I think Maurice didn’t want to bother with burying them or pay the higher price so we were commited to this type of watering system. I feel like it is worth the time and price, not to mention the labor, to get soaking hoses installed at the beginning. You can’t see them and I like the idea of saving water. Well, maybe some time down the road this will happen. The hill where the new plants are is huge and it will be an enormous job. Maybe they won’t need much water once they are established. Right now we have two bright yellow hoses that run across the yard to attach to the watering hoses-not very attractive. I found out later that once the plants were established, we didn’t need to water them. This worried me, not being used to this mentality, but the plants all survived although I think they would have grown more and produced more flowers had they been watered but with water being so expensive here, I’m just happy that they all survived the summer.

We have huge expanses of land behind the pool that will require landscaping and I would like to, at one point, build a little pool house/covered area or cabana to put chairs under. This will be a year or two down the road when we aren’t putting out masses of money for other things needed for the house and yard.

The pool after it was built, before the dirt was put it around it and the drop from our porch.

The pool after the dirt was put around it. The pool filled with water in the front of the photo is our neighbor’s pool up above our house.

A House in Provence Chapter 13

We are back in Provence for two weeks. Here is the view from the back of our house our first morning with mist floating in the “Valley of Water”.

I think these are persimmons. Don’t they look like jewels against the blue sky?

Chapter 13
Country Living

Living in the country takes a lot of getting used to for someone who has always lived in a city. I guess the small town that I grew up in, in the early years of my life, would be fairly country in feel, a little town called Silver City, New Mexico. I have a few memories of it, the small yard in front of our house, the downtown with a single street and no stop light, and a phone number consisting of three digits. But, being young, it all seemed huge to me and I still remember the surprise of the height of the counter in the principal’s office when I went to see the school again years later.
No, I am used to city living. I love Paris and the ease of getting around by metro or bus, how walkable the whole city is, filled with small local parks or the larger Luxembourg or Tuleries gardens, the walks along the Seine, puttering around the Louvre, all of this is what makes this city great to me. A movie is just a short metro ride away, a book store the same. There are so many restaurants to choose from that we never will get to try them all. Huge department stores are available and tiny boutiques abound, shopping heaven in other words.
With the nearest city 45 minutes away here in Provence things get more difficult for me. Going to a movie is a major production requiring a lot of planning. I save up a list of things to do so we don’t waste the trip. Meticulous grocery shopping lists must be made or you end up cooking something very simple when a necessary ingredient was forgotten on the trip to the grocery store. There are small grocery stores closer to us, but most have just the basics and the fruits and vegetables are not usual at their peak, lettuce being soft and tired, tomatoes dull and bruised looking. There are great and fun local markets just about every day of the week but, again, it requires loading up in the car and arriving before noon or so or everyone is packing up for the day, especially in the summer when temperatures start to climb. None of the better markets are near us but there are a few nearby villages with one man selling cheese, olives and nuts and a lady selling vegetables and fruit. Not of lot of choice, but good for last minute buys. And, of course, nothing is open for two hours at lunch time. They call that quality of life-getting to have lunch with family. I don’t always agree, being an impatient American forced to wait for the two hours to pass before I can buy anything-what about my quality of life? Some shops are the same in Paris, but most of them are starting to stay open, especially the larger stores.
I have never had to worry about garbage where I have lived before. Here we have to haul everything up to a garbage collection center. As the garbage bag in the kitchen gets full, I take it out of the container, tie the bag and put it out in the garage. We are trying to keep cans, bottles and platic containers separate, like good citizens, for recycling. So far we have just been putting them in plastic bags but I am thinking we need to invest in some special containers out in the garage. Sometimes we just carry the garbage up the hill, not too great a distance, to the collection center, but we often have so much we have to use the car. It is quite a chore and I miss the convenience of wheeling out my garbage can to the curb.
For some reason, the electricity goes out quite frequently in this region. Sometimes it is because of violent thunder storms but sometimes it is a bright, blue, sunny day with nothing much going on weather wise and off it goes. We always go to see if our neighbors are without electricity as well and they always are. There is a lot of building going on all over Provence so maybe some line gets cut miles away from us. I’ve never found out.
We are lucky enough to be able to use our computer here in Provence. We had some sort of digitalized connection that speeded up the phone line use in some way but it isn’t that wonderful high speed internet connection. We we first moved here, Maurice called the phone company and found that they didn’t expect for us to have DSL connection until 2007 but when he heard that nearby Grambois had it, he called and tried to get it connected. They told us that they would make the connections, give us a modem but they still didn’t know if we would be able to get the connection. This seems very amateurish to me and makes me realize just how different country living can be although we did have some problems in Paris as well, come to think of it.
One thing we get here that we didn’t in the city is quiet. It is so very quiet and in the morning birds are easily heard. When one of the mistrals blows down the mountain, moving through the trees, it can sound like a pounding wave of the ocean thundering to shore. From the back of our house we can see some low mountains in the distance. At night there is an occasional set of car lights as they come through a little pass. We drove one day to find where this was and it was a drive of about 5 or so miles. A little closer in is the road we take when driving to the house. Occasionally, I will have a window in the house open and off in the distance I can hear the sound of a car or truck motor. A few minutes later I spot the vehicle on a road far below us. Five minutes or so, the car actually passes the road by our house. When waiting for someone at the house, I can usually spot them heading our way by hearing their motor well before they arrive here.
Of course there is the pleasure of seeing the night skies without light polution from cities. Every star stand out brightly and the moon is wonderful to watch as it moves across the sky. Early in the spring, when I lean out our doors to close the shutters, I see Mars and Venus low in the sky, even Saturn and Jupiter for a while, still amazing me that planets in our solar system are visible to me as I go about getting the house ready for the night
As the heat increases in the summer it can be a little hot on our porch where we like to have meals. There is usually enough of a breeze that eating outside is fairly comfortable at lunch time and the porch is in the shade until 3 or 4 PM. If there is a mistral blowing I don’t bother setting up our table outside as napkins get blown away and glasses get blown over. As it gets later, towards dinner time, the sun is at a slant and the light, and heat, pour onto the porch. Around 8 PM as I start getting dinner together I’m thinking we will have to eat our meal indoors but at 8:10 every evening the sun dips behind a nearby hill and the porch is in shade and it’s perfect for eating there. The evenings really cool off in Provence and it is wonderful to sit outside, have a drink and watch the fading light followed by one star and then another.