Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Magic of Provence

Sadly, when traveling you start losing your wonderment and amazement.  When I came to England when I was 19, I was enthralled with the moss that grew out of stone fences thinking Jane Austen had walked past the same moss.  Weird, I know.  But then I got used to it.  Old shmold.

In Thailand I sat on an Elephant’s head. Yup, that’s just normal.

I am always in search of rediscovering that childlike enthusiasm.  

In Rome, I was constantly amazed that we were walking in the footsteps of Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony (thank you HBO for nice visuals). 

Then I got used to things.  Oh, another medieval village?  Yeah, yeah. In fact, the Engineer and I are so used to things coming from the 1500’s that when someone told us that the new façade of a church dated from the 19th century, we were like:  big deal.  And yet, we feel pretty cool in Canada when something is from 1888.

Anyhoo, the point is how to recover a sense of wonder.  The Engineer and I are now in Provence.  Some people pick destinations for the tourist sites, others for nature, some for proximity to the beach. What do I choose?  I pretty place to stay.  I have this obsession with the prefect room and the perfect view.  Something about being surrounded by all things charming brings out the writer in me. And I must say, it works a treat.

So here we are in a tiny town called Barjac, near(ish) the Cote Rhone and Avignon.  By near, I mean an hour drive away.  I chose it because I found an adorable bed and breakfast called ‘Laurier des Roses’.  As the Engineer and I drove further and further away from the English tourist and through winding fields, I wondered where in the hell was I leading us?

We passed not so pretty villages full of factories and power lines.  Then we winded some more, and more and more.  Until finally, we came upon this tiny little village that Rick Steves doesn’t include in his book.  Barjac.

From the outside, Barjac is pretty.  It has red tiled roofs and brownish coloured buildings.  However, when you are on the inside it seems to magically transform.

Firstly, after driving around the teeny narrow streets trying to find out bed and breakfast, we came upon the Lauriers des Roses.  And I said, ‘YES’.  I loved it immediately.  I mean it’s a house built in the 16th century with a thick, winding stone stairwell leading to our room.  My window looks upon pink blossoms and other medieval buildings. Plus we are surrounded by church bells that seem to dong whenever they like. 

I could feel the wonder coming back.

The stone that appears brown from the road is whiter up close.  So that the streets and buildings glow slightly and look as though the town is painted in seashell.  

Our hosts are lovely, complete with a Jack Russell named Sam (although he heartbreakingly passed away on our last day from eating poison idiots set out for cats).  Our breakfast is buttery croissants, gorgeous pain (Jean-Claude finds us a new type of pain everyday) and his homemade confitures (which are the best tasting jams I have ever eaten). 

Poor Little Sam

The bells are ringing right now.  We need more bells in Vancouver.

It’s pretty and sweet and perfectly lovely.  I can drink rose and stumble down lanes of seashell cobblestone.  I can pour creamy poivre sauce on my steak and frites.  I can start every meal with kir.  What is not to like in France?

But even though the streets are old and pretty, I walk through them as if that was normal.  So last night, in a hunt for internet (our stone walls are too thick for wifi!), I sat on the stone steps of a café in the night air.  For some reason I was quite warm and felt completely at ease, even though the French people passing kept asking if I was ‘froid’ and staring at me curiously.

The house across the way was the kind you think of when you see France:  white walls, robin’s egg blue shutters, window boxes full of flowers and the air smelled of spring.  Was that wonder creeping in?

As I typed, on such a modern device, I couldn’t help but think of the ‘ghosts’
 walking past me:  peasant women bartering for the best quality food for their children, priests and bishops making their way to the church, soldiers, knights, ladies in their finery. 

Walking back to the B&B, the streets glowed in the streetlight, and the moon was a perfect sliver hanging in the sky.  

I stopped and looked at our 16th century ‘home’ and was, much to my delight, in wonder.  I have to remind myself where I would be walking if I were at home. And obviously there is always something amazing in Vancouver or New York, but not this.  Not a crescent moon winking over a sleeping medieval village.  My view will soon return to mountains or the brownstone across the street.  So I took an ‘Alec Baldwin’ snapshot to remember the moment and the sense of wonderment, that does still exist, albeit deep down in my sarcastic and grown-up mind.

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