Friday, 29 June 2012

A week in Provence.... part 5

It's the light really, the endless hot-bright sunlight - that's what I'll remember most about this trip. The Provencal light is intense, a blessing, a beneficience. People stare out of their windows from lonely rooms or perched on quiet balconies and are baptised by an almost celestial light. Light is a solid thing here, an emotion, the sunlight blesses all and everything equally and the vines reward those who are happy to sit and wait, and the olive and cherry trees too. The sun scrubs the land here, bleaching it and drying it, creating clean, flat panes - it is the unequivocal good. And yet there's still plenty of green, faded, muted and understated compared to our rich meadows but green nevertheless.

We took a day trip to Avignon to wonder at the Palace of the Popes and walk 'sur le pont' - it's a bustling, cosmopolitan city housed in a big medieval village. The atmosphere is thick with history and adventure and there were lots of accordion players. Ah, now I remember what France is famous for. The most stressful thing in the entire world is to be shut in a room with a questing French accordionist. I watched a great gypsy accordionist press his way through the tables of tourists. He circled a hapless Japanese couple. They shrank in terror and numb incomprehension as his nut brown, oiled face, with its slick black pate and golden grin, loomed over them. He winked a terrifyingly dull eye that rolled back in his head and with one fluid movement, too fast to decipher, he was among them with Sweet Georgia Brown. It was calculated, a virtuoso performance. Piercing notes of psychotic dexterity, wringing screaming tremolos and monumental vibratos from every riff. The air was filled with sentimentality. There is no known defence against an adult male gypsy accordionist in an enclosed space: in the streets of Avignon there is no one to save you.

Paul & Gaz in the Gorge
We decided we'd have another ride before coming home. Gary had heard about a 'Gorge' - we found quite a few on the map and decided we'd give the nearest one a try. We saddled up just outside Sault heading in a vague direction towards Bedoin. There was maybe few kilometres of uphill but then the most enchanting drop down through The Gorge of Nesque. Probably 20km of exhilerating, twisting descent with craggy precipitous rocks to one side and a deep, deep drop on the other. This is exceptional landscape, a wild canyon with tunnels carved through rock and the heady scent of lavender filling the air. The gnarled peaks may be small in size, but in presence and spirit they are huge. They dominate the local landscape and constantly draw the eye. The contrast of their hard cragginess with the flat fertile lands of the valley makes a visual delight. Though in reality their form is fixed, the rocks are tricky shape-shifters, their profiles altering almost unrecognisably when viewed from different places on the road and their colours, billowing towers of rose and apricot changing with the light and shade. The whole thing makes you wonder what God might have managed if he hadn't rushed to get the job done in a week. Nature is natural here - meticulous and endlessly captivating.

With our mood and spirits leavened we made our way slowly back to Bedoin and the promise of another alfresco dining masterpiece. I have to say that the most enjoyable food of the entire trip was the simple, rustic fare we prepared ourselves and eat, sitting in the warm evening sun, at the villa. Olives, sun-dried tomatoes, bread, garlic, ham, cheese - simple, unprocessed, wholesome food. It was much more edyfying than some of the 'restaurant' offerings we saw, of which the laminated menu sheets told the dull story.

We had a great time in the south of France - I don't often feel the need to return to places i've visited on holiday, except for a few, rare exceptions - Provence may be one of those.

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