Brochantes

Whenever I am driving around the countryside, I always keep my eyes open for signs advertising either brochantes or vide greniers. Vide greniers are like flea markets with people selling contents of attics or basements, trying to raise a little money. It can be real hit and miss but I have found a few treasures. A brochant is an antique market with the sellers always being professional. I always find things I would love to buy but the prices are usually too high.
Yesterday, we stopped at a vide grenier in Pertuis that was full of things I didn’t want-I didn’t see one thing I would buy. It would have been great if I had been on the outlook for used baby clothes or toys. This morning, bright and early, I set off for a brochant in Meyrauges trying to beat the heat. I also beat many of the sellers as, at 8:30 AM they were either just setting up or hadn’t even arrived yet. I always have my eye out for enamelware and have what I think is a cute collection. I saw a coffepot beautifully painted that I really wanted but no way am I paying 300 Euros for it.


This is a view of what I think is a chateau overlooking Meyrauges


A look at a typical brochante set up outside.


I love to have this copper bathtub although I don’t have a place for it in my house.


This is a field of poppies near our house that we pass everyday. There seem to be more poppies than usual this spring.

Summer is here!

We have had a rather strange Spring here in Provence with lots of the dreaded mistral blowing, not enough rain according to the locals, and cool temperatures, but yesterday it got up to 90 degrees out there and it feels like summer is here, if you can go by such a thing. We have been busy out in the yard pulling weeds and getting a little plot ready for vegetables. It may be a little too late to plant anything but we are going to give it a try. Octave, our neighbor and resident vegetable grower, says he is planting right now and he should know.


Another neighbor is busy moving the sheep to various fields for grazing. In this case, he just moves them across the road from his farm and walks them back at night to a barn. Later they are taken quite a ways from here to Sisteron, famous for their lamb and mutton, a distinction among sheep farmers. Yes, these poor sheep are not being raised for their wool, but for food.

Stes Maries de la Mer


A banner of Sara at the festival in Stes Maries de la Mer

One thing that makes Provence so special is its many festivals. They are especially numerous during the summer and I could probably find at least one a week to attend if I wanted. One very interesting festival is the one that takes place over three days in May in the little town on the sea called Saintes Maries de la Mer. According to legend it is here that two Marys landed-Mary Jacobe and Mary Salome, relatives of Jesus and Mary, along with a couple of others, to escape persecution in Palestine. It is even said that Mary Magdelene did the same and lived and died in Provence in the town of Bormes le Momosa. They all of course proceeded to spread Christianity and Sara, the family chief of the gypsies who lived in the region converted. Through the centuries many pilgrimages were made to the little town.
We were hoping to get into the church which is supposed to be very interesting but it was full of people and the entrance was blocked while a mass went on inside. We went down to the beach to wait for the procession to begin which, on this day, was a statue of Sara whom the gypsies especially worship. First come men on horses, the guardians of Sara, then some colorful banners with paintings of Sara who, by the way, is believed to have been from Egypt and is black, then finally the statue of Sara, carried on a little bark arrives surrounded by huge crowds of the faithful, or just the curious. For some reason, she is dressed in a cloak and it is never removed, so the statue can hardly be seen as she is wearing what looks like a layer of 100 cloakes. She is carried to the edge of the sea to symbolize Sara, the gypsies’ patron staint, joyfully awaiting the arrival of the Saints’.
I had hoped to see the procession of the 2 Marys’ on the following day where a priest is in a painted boat and blesses the statues but this was a good one. Very simple, very unorganized, very sweet, it was fun to be a part of the celebration. The whole little town and the surrounding area is full of gypsies who come for the 3 days of celebration. Due to the reputation the gypsies have, I was a little apprehensive about getting something stolen, so I didn’t carry a purse. Some of the town was closed up, including a few shops. It is not an elegant town, by any means, but rather plain with a few cheap souviniers for sale and some unappealing things, to me, offered in a gypsy market.
In retrospect, we realized that, instead of waiting in the sun on the beach for over an hour, we could have spent the day in a bar having a cool drink in the shade, then followed the procession down to the beach where it is most interesting. It was a fun festival-very different-and we are glad we went.

Guardien at the front of the procession. Sara is in the back.


Close-up of Sara’s gown. Her face cannot be seen.


Look at this darling baby dressed up as a sparkly gypsy. Many little girls wore fancy dresses like those flamengo dancers wear in Spain. Didn’t see any little boys in costume for some reason.

A House in Provence chapter 8


This is a chateau near us slowing falling into ruins although part of it is still lived in.

This is from my journal when we returned to Provence in January.

Well, it is a new year. We had planned to spend Christmas at the house but stayed in Paris instead when company arrived. About the middle of January we finally made it. I have really missed our house while in Paris, especially the size of it as we sit in our tiny living room.
The sun was shining when we arrived but the wind was blowing and it eventually clouded up and rained the next day. It was nice to drive from the TGV train station making the now familiar journey to our home. We pass Aix, drive through the urban mess of Pertuis and then, finally, go through la Tour d’Aigues and make it to the little country road that takes us to our home. It is all rather bare and deserted looking this time of year but it is still a pleasure to be home once more.
The big surprise was our property. I usually don’t know what Maurice and the landscaper are talking about so never know what to expect in our yard. We arrived to find many bushes and trees have been planted. The biggest difference was the land down below which has been totally cleared. Our closest neighbor down below us has also cleared their land and it looks entirely different. I noticed that the land to the side of ours got cleared too, in an area that I had spent hours trying to trim and tidy up. We now have a mound of wood to burn and will have to wait for it to dry out a little and the wind to die down before we can burn it. The air in Provence is filled with the odor of wood being burned every where and sometimes, when driving through an area, I think it is foggy only to catch the smell of burning wood drifting from someone’s bonfire and filling a valley with smoke. I would think that someone with asthma would have a difficult time with this.
Maurice received a sort of year’s end newsletter from the little village above us. There are some major water changes being made and streets are being dug up to replace water pipes. The newsletter also said that three couples from the village were married last year and that two people died. No new births, though.

A House in Provence Chapter 7

This was written last summer.

Rain

As is usual for Provence, it has been a dry summer. It hasn’t been that hot especially compared to the summer we experienced last year. In fact, it has been rather cool. Every morning we get up to very nice cool weather and by the afternoon it is is very warm, usually in the 80’s. It has been unusually windy according to our neighbors. It seems like every afternoon we get gusty winds, sometimes very strong.
I have only been in our swimming pool one time. I like the water pretty toasty, close to 90 actually. I don’t want it to be a shock when I get in the water. I got in once up to my waist and that is where I stayed. With the wind blowing there was a real evaporative cooling effect and I am just a chicken when it comes to getting too cool. Maurice is really upset that I haven’t joined him every afternoon. I used to be a real pool person, in it all the time, but between sunburn, my hair and the temperature, I have become a pool side person.
So, with the dry summer has come fire danger. One day I spotted smoke quite near to our house and the next day when we drove by the area, there was a black circle about 30 feet in circumference. I never found out the source of the fire. It isn’t unusual to see smoke in the area and we often see helicopters and planes flying over our house on the outlook for fires or on their way to dump water somewhere. I’m hoping we never have to evacuate our house when a fire comes too close.
I spent some days wishing for rain as the grass we planted is really looking sick. I hate grass. I hate watering it, weeding it, and mowing it. It seems to be really high maintenance to me and I hate to see it in areas such as here in Provence where it isn’t suited in my opinion. Anyway, I got over-ruled as it was felt that we needed a little variety from just gravel. At some point down the road most of the grass will get covered with paving stones but we have to wait at least one year for the soil to settle possibly two or three.
Finally, I got what I wished for. I was awakened one night about one in the morning by very heavy rain and hail. I even got up to check the windows as I thought one might get broken. It didn’t last long but the next morning I walked outside and there was a lake outside our house in an area which still hasn’t been filled in due to the August vacation thing, and two really nice rectangular pots I have filled with pink periwinkles were left without one flower. The rain/wind/hail took off every single one. Around the pool several sections of land had sunk quite a bit making me glad that we hadn’t done more than the grass.
Our neighbor had it much worse. I could hear him shoveling up above us in his yard and we went up to help and what a huge mess it was. There is something wrong with the drain above him which is right below our little village and all of the water from the village came down into his yard. His pool was black with mud, things were floating everywhere, mud covered every surface in his yard.. We helped shovel mud for several hours. It will take them days to get it looking even half way decent. Throughout the day neighbors came to help. Their filter was in this little underground plastic unit and was totally filled with mud and water. The dirt here, when it gets wet, becomes like cement so I know if they don’t get it out quickly, it will be filled with hard mud.
I went with trepidation to go and look at my steps expecting the rocks to be everywhere but it held. Only one rock had moved and dirt had been washed away in one place and that was it. I’m very proud of myself.


Street market in Aix

A House in Provence Chapter 6

Today I will once again be outside pulling weeds.


One of the many religious statues in Niches all over Provence.

Swimming Pool and Landscaping

As might be expected, building a pool in Provence is right up there in stress and disappointment as 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.
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 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 now we are commited to this type of watering system The hill where the new plants are is huge and it will be an enormous job. It turned out we only had to water these plants for the summer. By the next summer we were told no watering was required and they all seem to be thriving.
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.