Monday, August 29, 2011

Journée du Livre in Sablet

Wife Shirley and I have repeatedly said that our visit to Sablet in July was our favorite time in the village so far. The weather for the most part was perfect and we saw and experienced a lot of new things, many of which you will read about in future posts.

One of the highlights of our time in Provence was the Journée du Livre in Sablet, the book fair held in the village the third weekend of July every year. On July 16 and 17, 120 writers and poets along with hundreds of readers and curiosity seekers descended upon Sablet for the 24th edition of the Journée du Livre.

Earlier in the week, we would find a notice on our windshield every time we got in our car saying that it was forbidden to park in the main part of the village because of the book fair as of Thursday midnight. On Friday, crews started assembling the various tents for the book fair.

Following are scenes from the Journée du Livre in Sablet. Anyone you recognize?

The book fair hours were from 16 h to 20 h (4 to 8 PM) on Saturday and from 10 h to 13 h (10 AM to 1 PM) and 15 h to 18 h (3 to 6 PM) on Sunday.

Unfortunately, early in the day, it was gray and raining but by the time the book fair began, the rain had stopped so we could stroll around without getting wet.

There were tents set up throughout the main part of the village.

One of the main tents with many writers. Authors were signing books for their readers.

Author's works included literature, travel, regional histories, cooking and wine, children's books, poetry and fiction.

Authors read excerpts and talked about their writings at readings that were scheduled in the various gardens throughout Sablet.

Another group of writers.

You can't have a festival in Provence without wine. The vignerons - wine makers of Sablet put together a special blend of wine to celebrate the book fair.

Another big tent.

As the day passed, more and more people arrived for the book fair.

Of course, you know there has to be a few dogs at a festival in France.

Sylvie Reboul is a wine writer and oenologue who was chosen as the Marraine - godmother of the special wine for the book fair and in consultation with the Sablet wine makers chose the special cuvée - blend for the book fair. I bought one of her books about the wines of the Rhone valley which she happily signed for me.

Cousins Christine and Jean-Marc who came over to eat lunch with us and then stayed to enjoy the Journée du Livre.

Readers buy books and get them autographed by their favorite authors in one of the main tents.

Our friend Bruno was a doing a booming business at the Café des Sports.

More of the crowds at the Journée du Livre.

Tents were set up for authors in front of the boulangerie.

A crowd gathers for the awards ceremony near the fountain a few steps from our house.

The prize winning poet reads one of his poems for the crowd at the award ceremony.

By the end of the weekend, I was feeling quite French as I found a way to park in places that I would never have considered if I was in the United States. Of course, in the US, me and many others would have been towed away by the roving tow trucks. Vive la France.

Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Beautiful Sunflowers in a Field

Bastille Day, July 14, the French Fête Nationale, was a beautiful day in the Vaucluse. We checked with Bruno the congenial proprietor of Café des Sports and my go-to-source for information about Sablet and surprising to us, no celebration was planned for our village.

So we decided it would be a perfect day to drive to the Metairie Neuve, the small family farm near Viane in the Tarn region in Southern France. On the way to the freeway, we came upon a large field of sunflowers. Now you know there is nothing that wife Shirley likes more than a field of sunflowers, except maybe a field of purple lavender or red poppies, so we had to stop and take pictures.

You may not be aware that despite the fact that you find postcards, photos and paintings of sunflowers all over Provence, they are actually native to the Americas. Sunflowers seeds were brought to Europe by Spaniards in the 16th century where sunflower oil became a widespread cooking ingredient.

Sunflowers, tournesol in French, have rough, hairy stems, and what most people call the flower on a mature sunflower is a flower head of numerous small flowers crowded together. The outer flowers are sterile and the flowers inside the circular head mature into seeds from which oil is extracted.

Sunflowers generally grow to between 5 and 12 feet tall and bloom from late June to the end of July with harvest occurring at the beginning of August.

A common misconception is that sunflowers track the sun. In fact, mature sunflowers typically face east and do not move. The leaves and buds of young sunflowers do change their orientation from east to west during the course of a day; once mature the movements stop.

Wife Shirley and niece Leslie face the morning sunshine from the east along with the sunflowers that surround them.

Most of you have probably seen one or more of the paintings of sunflowers by the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh or other photos or paintings by lesser known artists. None of these paintings can compare to the beauty of a field of sunflowers, faces to the sun, along side the road.

You will have to come to Provence to see for yourself. Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Castle of Les Baux de Provence

A few weeks back, I wrote about visiting the hilltop fortress town of Les Baux de Provence. As I said in my post, the village sits on a rocky outcrop with a ruined castle on top of the village overlooking the plains to the south. It is classified as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France - most beautiful villages of France.

We have been to the beautifully restored village quite a few times but don't often walk up to the castle because we don't feel like paying the entrance fee and it can be very windy and cold when the mistral is blowing. For those who have not experienced the mistral, it is a cold and dry, strong wind that blows from the north through the Rhone River valley to the Mediterranean Sea.

On our last visit to Les Baux, it was a sunny day with brilliant blue sky so we decided to visit the castle. The entrance to the castle is at the top of the village, strategically placed so that visitors have to walk past the restored homes, churches, galleries, tourist shops, and cafés including the workshop of Santonnier J. Peyron.

We have bought several pretty santons, small hand painted and clothed terracotta figurines, from Monsieur Peyron. I stopped in to say hello because he always seems to remember his customers but he was not there and his son told me he was retired and the son had taken over the workshop. But I digress.

Access to the castle is through the Musée d'Histoire des Baux, a small museum which recounts the history of Les Baux from ancient times to today. Upon exiting the museum, you will spot perched on the rock, a cemetery that overlooks the valleys of Enfer (meaning "Hell") and Fontaine. There is also a memorial to the children who have died for the defense of liberty for France in world wars.

The plateau on which the castle of Les Baux de Provence sits covers 7 hectares or 17.3 acres. The castle contains an exhibition of siege machines including a trebuchet, a couillard (a form of trebuchet with split counterweights and a rotating beam), a bricole (a rotating-beam stone-throwing device), and a battering ram.

The machines are full-sized replicas and the catapults can fire to distances in excess of 200 meters or 650 feet. Firing demonstrations of the siege machines take place daily from April to September.

The breath-taking views from the castle are worth the entrance fee alone. Its hard to believe that 4000 people one time lived on this desolate plateau.

Charloun Rieu was a farmer from Paradou, a Provençal poet nicknamed "Charloun dou Paradou". He is considered one of Provence's most authentic popular poetic voices, he did much to revive Provençal language and culture.

His best known collection is the Chants du Terroir - Songs of the Land, published in 1897.

This monument by the Marseillais sculptor Botinelly was erected in 1930 to commemorate the man who immortalised Les Baux de Provence in verse.

A windmill was a feudal privilege, built and maintained by the Lords of Les Baux, it was accessible to all. In return for a small payment, farmers would come with their donkeys loaded with wheat, chat with the local folks and leave with their freshly ground flour.

The present day windmill was built on this windy hillside after the Maréchal de Vitry pulled down every windmill in the castle and village in 1632 and faithfully mirrors the image of Provence in the writings of Frédéric Mistral and Alphonse Daudet.

The castle of Les Baux de Provence sits on top of a rocky outcrop.

The ruined castle dominates the plateau, its fragments of towers and walls sticking out of the bare rock.

Another view from the castle, this one overlooking renown L'Oustau de Baumanière, a luxury Relais and Chateaux hotel and 2 Michelin stars gastronomic restaurant with spa. I have not eaten at L'Oustau de Baumanière but its definitely on my list.

St. Blaise's Chapel, once used by the guild of wool combers and weavers as a meeting place, now visitors can watch a free film entitled "A Bird's-Eye View of Provence" which runs non-stop.

A visit to the chateau at Les Baux is worthwhile for the view alone if the mistral is not blowing. One of the coldest experiences of my life was visiting the chateau on a sunny clear day in January while the mistral was blowing so hard we could hardly stand up.

Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sault, Beautiful Land of Lavender

On Monday, August 15, the mountain village of Sault will welcome visitors for a grand Lavender Festival, an annual event held in the village on the same date each year.

Activities will include a lavender cutting competition, a parade of villagers dressed in traditional Provençal costumes, a horse show and a Provençal concert. Of course there will be lots of lavender and lavender products for sale.

At noon, a Repas Champêtre - country meal will be served up on tables shaded by Oak trees featuring foods made from local products. This year's 3-course menu includes salads and vegetables, roast pork, goat cheese and fruit tarts, all for 20 Euros.

We can't be there for the lavender festival but a few weeks ago we went to visit Sault and see the lavender fields that surround the village. If you can't go, these pictures will give you a sense of the village and the beautiful area around Sault.

Sault is an old fortified village that sits on a ridge overlooking a large valley dotted with lavender fields about one hour from Sablet. The name Sault comes from "Saltus" referring to the forests that covered the area.

Probably no other scent says Provence better than the pungent aroma of lavender or scene than fields of lavender growing in mounded rows under a brilliant blue summer sky.

Three species of lavender grow in Provence: true lavender (lavande) is found high up in dry, rocky soil. Aspic which grows lower down is similar to lavande except it has broader leaves and its branches hold a number of stems. And less refined, lavandin is a hybrid of lavande and aspic.

Lavande is most highly regarded by perfume makers for its sweet essential oils, though aspic and especially lavandin are more productive and therefore more common - ending up in laundry and household products.

As you can see, lavender flowers are on spikes that rise up above the foliage. Lavender flowers may be blue, violet or lilac.

One of the many fields of lavender near Sault.

There are lavender fields everywhere you look.

The lavender fields are absolutely beautiful.

The lavender harvest takes place during July and August.

One of the lavender farms in the area.

More lavender.

You can't believe how many fields of lavender there are around Sault.

Wife Shirley and niece Leslie pose for the mandatory photograph surrounded by lavender.

A view of the lavender fields that dot the valley from the road up to Sault.

Another view of the valley with Mont Ventoux in the background.

Sault village center; there has been a weekly market held in Sault on Wednesdays since 1515.

View over the valley from the terrace of the cafe where we ate lunch.

Terrace of the cafe where we ate lunch in Sault.

A pretty house in Sault.

Church of Notre Dame de la Tour in Sault.

Alfresco dining in a pretty Sault square.

A pretty street in Sault.

Bronze statue of Miss Liberty on the Sault fountain.

Sault street corner.

A Sault house with brightly colored shutters and store front.

A pretty Sault window with lace curtains and red geraniums on the window sill.

I am sure that Sault will be bustling with people enjoying all the festivities at the Sault lavender festival. The surrounding area, while still beautiful will look different without all the lavender in the fields as most of the lavender will have already been harvested.

I am certain that we will visit Sault whenever we are in Provence during Lavender season as the lavender fields are incredibly beautiful and well worth a visit.

Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.