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.

Tour de France in Provence

One of many company cars that drove past before the tour began.

Here is the American team of Lance Armstrong, just like on TV.

And here he is—Lance Armstrong!

Since the Tour de France was in our part of Provence, we decided to go see it. We have seen it twice as it ended in Paris, but not in the country side. We arrived near Digne les Bains where this stage of the Tour de France ends and parked the car. We should have brought a picnic table and an umbrella as many did who were waiting for the bikers to pass. I spent alot of time in the car as I am the sunburn queen, but there was a nice breeze blowing off and on which helped. We had wanted to get up to the col, or pass, where the riders are going slower but the way was blocked, so we parked downhill from it. At first there were a few sponsors cars, then a bunch of sponsor vans throwing out gifts and really cute little cars decorated as various advertisement animals. At first I was in line to try and get the prizes thrown out until I realized it was mostly junk-not worth more than a quarter as far as I could tell. But it was fun and rather exciting and I know my grandkids would have loved it.
Then we sat and waited over an hour-we arrived around 11 AM and the bikers drove past about 3 PM- when we heard the approaching helicopter, always a sign that the tour is getting close. There was one lone biker with his car behind him, then one minute later, 5 more. Lance Armstrong wasn’t in that group but 5 minutes later here came the American riders all in a row and he followed in his yellow shirt which, by the way, he retained in today’s ride. It was all over in 10 miniutes, really, although some rider came 20 minutes later, poor thing. It was a fun experience. There were many little RV’s and I imagine that they follow the tour and are on site each day, something I think would be alot of fun and a great way to see France.
This is Lance Armstrong’s last ride. I’m glad I got to be a small part of it.

A French Garden Fable

A butterfly in the lavender.

This butterfly intrigues me. She is right side up-she flies in this position which looks strange to me, like she would be top heavy.

Further thoughts on butterflies and bees

I continue to be absorbed by the life I see among the lavender and the now past flowering santalina and the rosemary which hasn’t flowered at all so far. I know rosemary can get delicate tiny blue flowers in the spring but ours don’t seem so inclined as of yet.
Watching the butterflies and the bees this morning I was wondering why there haven’t been any fairy tales or fables written about them-at least to my knowledge. There is, of course, the story of the tortoise and the hare. The hare, who should have easily won the race, decided to have some fun and play while the tortoise made his plodding way toward the finish line and finally won due to his perserverance and keeping his eye on the goal. Then there is the story of the grasshopper and the ant. The grasshopper decides to enjoy his summer and plays and has a great summer. The ant works and never plays. He is too busy storing food for the winter. When winter comes, the grasshopper asks for some of that stored food. The ant, being neither a communist or a socialist, says no-the grasshopper should have thought ahead and planned for the winter. I’m thinking adults must have told these stories to get children to work in definite non-children ways. Now most of us as adults have to learn to play again.

A French Garden Fable
My story of the butterfly and the bee is similar to the grasshopper and the ant. The butterfly is a princess, Princess Priscilla, who only gets out of bed when the sun is well up as she was up late at a ball the night before. She doesn’t hurry to the garden but takes her time powdering her nose and deciding which hair style will look the best with her tiara. She then picks out her most beautiful gown in a breathtaking color to wear(and matching shoes) for the day where, flitting and twirling around above the flowers, sometimes exchanging a merry pirouette with a friend, she will look her best. She only stops dancing to sip herbal tea from the cup of a flower, with honey of course, from time to time to quench her thirst and perhaps have a nibble of a lavender cookie. Her only aim in life is to look pretty and enjoy life.
Burt, the business bee, is dressed in a stripped business suit with a tightly tied serious tie around his neck and a shiny bowler hat on his head. If he owned a company it would rival Microsoft, but his work is making honey. The word of the day, every day, for him is work and he is up out of bed and hard at work as soon as the sun comes up. No time to dawdle around doing any dances. “We have to gather nectar to make honey for our hive.” If he stops to do a dance with another bee, it could mean the hive wouldn’t have enough honey for them all. He looks at the butterfly princess with a frown. “What a waste of time,” he thinks. “The next thing you know, they will let those girly butterflies play golf at the country club.” Nothing can tempt him away from the job at hand.
The butterfly has a shorter time on earth than the bee. Maybe this has given her the desire to love life, laugh and to dance because she doesn’t have to worry about surviving the winter.

A Garden in Provence Part 4

There is a little local cemetery a short walk from our house. This is one of the tombstones there.

Hosed in Provence

Don’t you just hate it when you are forced to buy something, something you can’t do without? It seems like businesses all over the world are able to set this up, in the States and in France- it is the same. I’ve read there is built in obselence in many things built now, from cars to appliances. I know I once had a very ancient washing machine that needed some minor repair in the States. I mentioned to the repairman that maybe I should buy a new one but he told me to hang on to it, that it was built to last and could probably go on another twenty years or so. He said that the new washing machines would only last a few years at best. So I kept the old one until I moved to France. It didn’t look pretty but it had trusty innards.
So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that there was something rather similar here in France. It has to do with hoses, the ones you have to water the yard with. When we first built our house and were just starting to get our yard into shape, I bought Maurice a bright yellow hose for his birthday. Not very romantic or imaginative and it gives some idea of our finances and where our money was going. Not one of the hoses in the store has ends-the things that screw onto the water spigot. Maurice told me that you had to know the size of the spigot first, that there were several sizes. I was used to buying any hose in any store in the States and being able to screw it on to the spigot and water immediately. This is not the case in France, maybe Europe, for all I know.
We had to pick a specific company and decide what sort of connectors we wanted on our hose and then buy something for the spigot, for the hose and, if we wanted to add another hose to the end, yet another connector. I am constantly having to go look for one connector or another. They are all made out of, hopefully, durable plastic and easily snap into place. I don’t know, it just seems strange to me. Its amazing how things come to be in various countries, from electrical wires and plugs, to plumbing to which side of the street cars drive on. I should be more amazed and maybe a little charmed, but I often find myself irritated. Sometimes I miss the comfortableness of America. And, on a final note, our dishwasher, used for a little over one year, has stopped working and we await a repairman.

A Garden in Provence Part 3

I actually have a few of these purple plants growing wild in my yard-thistles, I think.

I love the lavender against the sunflowers. What a great mix of color.

Maurice decided we should have a vegetable garden. I really didn’t want one, although you can’t beat the taste of a tomato right out of the garden. They just take alot of time and energy and they are rather like pets-they can’t be left alone for very long. We did hook up an automatic water system but you never know what you will find after being gone for more than a few days. I also had in mind a much smaller plot than the one Maurice ending up digging. We planted 6 tomato plants, 6 eggplants, and 6 zucchini bushes which came up from seed. From seed we also planted radish, lettuce, carrots, basil and parsley.
I am not a fan of radish as I don’t like that rather hot taste although they can be good eaten in the French way with a little butter and salt. The main reason I planted radishes is because they are so rewarding being the first to germinate and in a very short time, they are ready to eat. The lettuce was quick to come up as well but I don’t like its taste very well-it has that sort of hot, peppery taste that radichio has. I like mild lettuce.
We have lots of green tomatoes after a few weeks, about 6 zucchini that need a little more time, some very small eggplants and the parsely and basil is really doing well.
When I first planted the garden, I arranged it in the way I had read about in an old gardening book with wide planting areas and closely planted or seeded areas leading to more vegetables. Trenches run down on each side. The first thing Mrs. M said was that this was not how it was done in Provence. I did the same thing, basically, in Arizona and Texas, known for their heat, and was fairly sucessful. I am told that you plant the vegetables in the ditches here, close to the water. Well, whatever. I seem to be getting vegetable sto grow but I suppose I will try it the Provencal way next year if I do it again.
We also have 6 new fruit trees-apple, cherry, apricot, peach, pear and fig. We actually got a few small fruit this summer, maybe ten tiny cherries, a dozen small pink apricots and there are two baby apples. I’m not watering as much as I feel the need to, trying to do it more in the Provencal way.

A Garden in Provence part 2

A field near our house with hay all rolled up and ready for consumption by sheep.

These grapes are in a nearby vineyard. I think they stay green when mature. I’m hoping to see more of the harvest this year. I always seem to miss it.

To fight the encrouchment of weeds and the many other plants growing naturally here in Provence, Mrs. M. talked us into planting a type of clover. It seems to be doing fairly well although it looks like it needs some trimming to me with a weed eater. It is getting tall, about one foot or so, and not staying close to the ground as I thought it would. It does seem to be doing the job but, of course, there are still weeds, just not as many as before. There are many dandilions growing to huge proportions if they aren’t pulled up in time. If any piece of wood or root, even the smallest piece, is left under the ground, new plants spring to life from them, the bush growing yellow flowers, the genepie, and a thorny, rose-bush type plant which is probably a mulberry. If they aren’t pulled up when they are small, a pick ax is needed to get the plant up. Down in our lower piece of land, the mulberry is trying in every way it can, to take over. So far the clover has the upper hand, but it is going to be close.
Behind our house is a large expanse of land. On this, Mrs. M. planted a really nice little ground cover with purple flowers. I watered it at first to help it get started but it didn’t seem to last very long. I am hoping it will make a return when the weather gets cooler. As with the grass we have, I don’t want to have something else to water. Maurice seems to have left most of the watering up to me and I finally stopped watering all of it. The grass is looking very brown and the ground cover is totally toasted. I’m just feeling that if it can’t make it on its own, it just won’t make it. The clover, thank God, is established and has taken off.
I am still watering the bushes and trees behind our house and they all seem to be doing very well. I was told that, after a year, as with the lavender and santalina, they won’t need any more watering. I read somewhere that if you overwater things here, that they won’t establish deep roots and when the mistral comes, can even be blown over. Water is very expensive here, so I want everything to be able to survive with as little as possible.