A Garden in Provence

Miraculous Lavender

Isn’t lavender fabulous? From its distinct fragrance to the delightful color, it is world known. It is wonderful to be driving down a road in lavender country in Provence and have the car fill with that clean scent. They have lavender festivals in Provence and I went last year and plan to go again this year. There are an incredible number of products made from the herb. Here are two items I saw for sale at the festival-so cute.

Since we have a house in Provence we , of course, have to have lavender. Our first year here about fifty of the plants, along with santolina and rosemary, were planted on a hill to not only prevent erosion but just for the great look. Last year when we arrived the santolina was blooming like crazy with bright yellow flowers that the bees were enamoured of. This Spring when we arrived the rosemary was covered in purple flowers and not one yellow flower was to be seen. The lavender bloomed really well last year and I’m hoping it does so again a little later in the summer. I love the butterflies it attracts.
We have a few bare places in our yard so we decided to plant more lavender. We found it for sale at a nursery for 2.50 Euros a piece. We needed alot, like maybe 50 plants, so went instead to another place where they pulled each plant up out of soft soil and send it home with you bare roots and all. They were only .80 Euros each-quite a savings. You have to plant it immediately after cutting off all of the roots and trimming the plant. I couldn’t believe that the lavender would survive and even bloom eventually. I’m out there every day watering our 60 plants and looking for new growth. The guy at the nursery said that once they starting growing I should stop watering. Apparantly they do better without alot of watering. Our other plants were watered the first summer they were planted and once they were established we stopped watering. Quiet a hardy plant, along with the rosemary and santolina.
Last summer I tried to root some lavender, cutting off small stalks, dipping each into some plant hormone and planting. I think I may have watered too much and only ended up with one pitiful little plant but I did plant it last fall and it is still alive.
Lavender has medicinal uses besides just smelling and looking so great. It is used in baths to help with depression and well-being. I cut the flowers and put them in containers in the house. I don’t know if the frangrance keeps me from depression-not one of my problems, anyway-but that fragrance sure makes me happy and puts a smile on my face.

Spring in Paris

This is something I wrote a few years ago about Spring in Paris.

Spring in Paris

Ah, spring in Paris, and soon, Easter. There are no blue skies as I write this, the first day of spring, but gray skies threatening rain and a rather brisk wind. I’m starting to see little stuffed Easter bunnies in the shop windows which brings a smile to my lips and then I remember how, although the French may have a cute bunny in a window, they will also go home and have rabbit with mustard sauce, and, perhaps, a little thyme for their dinner along with a great Bordeaux.
But, still, they really “do up” spring in a great way in Paris. Along with frolicking bunnies I am seeing amazing chocolate in candy stores and patisseries. They are in every imaginable shape: from giant egg shapes and rabbits, to little circus animals and even some crocodile shapes. After egg shapes the most popular shape seems to be fish, often with a ribbon wrapped around the middle. They all look too pretty to eat but my husband’s grandchildren each received a huge chocolate egg that they immediately broke open to find a variety of candy inside — each tasting better than the next. I, of course, helped them sample the treats inside. Easter has become rather like Halloween here, as in the States, where children run around after getting their holiday candy in an ecstasy of a sugar high.
The herald of spring here is the daffodil. Several weeks ago I noticed men on street corners selling beautiful bouquets of yellow daffodils. I wanted to buy one, as they look so cheerful after a long winter, but my husband said, “You know, you can go into a forest near Paris and pick those. Why don’t we go get our own?” It sounded like a fun idea to me and that afternoon we headed outside Paris and in thirty minutes we were there. As we pulled into the little parking lot I saw a lot of people each holding huge bouquets and I thought there was no way there could be any left for us. We headed into the forest still dripping water from a recent rain and our shoes were soon caked with mud as we jumped over streams and made our way around natural ponds. In about ten minutes I saw our first daffodil looking very small and delicate. There were no King Alfred’s growing here. Before long I could see huge groups of little yellow heads sticking up everywhere looking like yellow stars against the dark trees. I am such a city mouse that I am always delighted, and a little surprised, to see something I usually buy in a store growing in the wild. They were very easy to pick, breaking off easily at the base of the stem and we soon had a large bouquet. They were many, many flowers left and I could see groups of them everywhere. When we got home I put them in a vase of water and it gave me such a cheerful feeling every time I saw them sitting on my table. After this excursion I got to thinking of Wordsworth’s poem about daffodils and had to go look it up. His words describe many of the feelings I felt when I saw my own crowd of daffodils in the forest.

“Daffodils” (1804)

I wander’d lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch’d in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
By William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Hmm, for some reason I have no photos of daffodils. I’ll have to keep a lookout.

A Tale of Two Suitcases

Nothing to do with what I am writing about, but isn’t this a great sign?

A Tale of Two Suitcases
It’s a sad tale. It started in December when we decided we needed new suitcases for our trip around the world. I had noticed people easily pushing suitcases with four wheels around airports and I wanted one. Putting wheels on suitcases must be the best invention ever since, well, the wheel itself. I had found that even with two wheels, the suitcase can be really hard to pull behind you if it is heavy, hurting the old shoulders, so I had to have one with four wheels.
We headed to our friendly neighborhood Printemps and entered the luggage department. I tried out many suitcases but liked one by Samsonite the best mainly because it was so easy to lift. It was made of some new miracle substance that made it extremely light. I just hate it when your suitcase is heavy before you even put anything in it. This model was wonderful and, because it was by Samsonite, I thought it would last me forever. I bought one in black, shiny like leather, and Maurice bought a duller gray model.
Well, it was nice to push them effortlessly through airports and hotel lobbies. I was very happy with my suitcase everywhere across the world until we reached the States. In Texas, Maurice’s suitcase arrived on the luggage turnstile with a huge hole popped into the side and worrying lines radiating out from it. When we reach NYC, my suitcase arrived with one of the wheels still barely attached. I guess the new miracle exterior wasn’t up to whatever happens to luggage in that mysterious area where luggage is taken. To get it taken to AA repair shop and see if it was possible to repair both suitcases would take a month so we took our chances that everything could be taken care of in France. That made me nervous. Often getting anything done in France isn’t possible and you are told, “Non”, or you have to fill out many forms and wait months. I wasn’t optimistic.
It turned out that the place AA sent us in Paris was a piece of cake. The man there took one look at our suitcases and said they couldn’t be fixed and that they would, right there in the shop, give us new suitcases. I was tempted to get the same model because the other suitcase there must have weighed ten pounds empty. Sigh. In fact, we even got an extra smaller suitcase to equal the value of our two damaged suitcases. I had to drag my new suitcase, by Delphy this time, up and down metro steps and then up the stairs, four flights, to our apartment. My new suitcase is new but I am so disappointed.

Nothing to do with suitcases, again, but I like the bright colors in the sun.

Favorite French Recipes

I love this table and wish I had one like it in my yard. Maybe someday I will. I saw it in a yard that I passed on our walk the other day and thought how nice it would be to have a meal there under the trees.
Today is Good Friday and we have Maurice’s grandchildren here. They leave tomorrow to return home for Easter with their parents so I made a traditional French Easter meal today. It was really great to smell the lamb cooking in the oven, studded with garlic and covered with oil and rosemary. It tasted as good as it smelled. The French serve it with white beans. I seldom have lamb but think I will now after this meal.

Roast Leg of Lamb with Beans (Gigot d’Agneau)

6-7 pound leg of lamb
3 or 4 garlic cloves
olive oil
fresh or dried resmary leaves
1 pound dried navy or fava beans, soaked overnight in cold water
1 bay leaf
2 Tbsp red wine
2/3 beef broth
2 Tbsp butter
salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425. Wipe the leg of lamb with damp paper towels. Cut 2 or 3 of the garlic cloves into 10-12 slivers, then with the tip of a knife, cut 10-12 slits into the lamb and insert the garlic into the slits. Rub with oil, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with rosemary.
Set the lamb on a rack in a shallow roasting pan and put in oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 and roast for 1 1/2 hourrs to 1 3/4 hours-about 18 minutes per pound.
Meanwhile, rinse the beans and put in a saucepan with enough fresh water to cover generously. Add the remaining garlic clove-I diced mine-and the bay leaf, then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes-1 hour or until tender.
Transfer the roast to a board and stand, loosely covered, for 10 minutes. Skim off the fat from the cooking juices, then add the wine and broth to the roasting pan. Boil over medium heat, stirring and scraping the base of the pan, until slightly reduced. Strain into a warmed gravy boat.
Drain the beans, discard the bay leaf, then toss the beans with the butter and season with salt and pepper.

A Walk in Provence

Over on the other side of the mountains from where we live is a little village called Cereste. In this area are many traces left by the Romans who once occupied many parts of France. It is also known for its fossils and, in fact, a dinosaur was found nearby. I love stuff like this. It was a lovely walk, although really, really windy-damn mistral-and I enjoyed it but was so disappointed not to find even one fossil. I know they are there somewhere but just don’t know where to look. I saw a man selling fossils at a flea market last summer and he told me he found them near Cereste and even told me it was near the cemetary there. I went, walked around the whole area and, again, not one fossil. Here is what we did see:

Notice that all of the lambs are brown. I assume they will become like their mothers with brown faces.

A really old deserted little church. Look at the cyprus blowing in the infernal wind.

We walked to this old priory, long deserted. Next to it was an area carved out of the solid rock cliff used mainly for burial and probably some very basic rooms.

I love photos of old stone steps, worn with time, with plants growing in the crevices.

Spring in Provence

I spot the first Iris.

We are now in Provence after having been gone all winter. I’ve been told by those who live here that it was a particularly cold winter with some days having temperatures -15 degrees-and that’s centigrade! We’ve had many days of sunshine and temperatures in the 70’s but haven’t seen many signs of Spring until about two weeks ago. The bushes and fruit trees always blossom first and the iris are now following suit. I had meant to plant some iris this autumn so I would have some in my yard when Spring arrived but never got around to it.

The view from our house on the first morning we arrived. I’m still intrigued with fog, having seen very little of it growing up.

A plane tree still holding on to autumn’s pods next to the ruined castle in la Tour d’Aigues. Love the blue sky.

I’ve seen prints of the castle in la Tour d’Aigues from a couple of hundred years ago and it was fantastic-very Italian looking. A small sign of what it was like then can be seen in the stars pressed into the corner in a section of the chateau.

My favorite section of the chateau. For some reason the curved walls appeal to me.

A fruit tree is bloom in our neighborhood.