January 31, 2017

La Vieille Bastide

The order of our move here was particular. #1: House. #2 Sell the other house. #3: Find jobs and stuff. When people ask us about it, they often look at us with arched eyebrows, questioning the order. But, the house was really key. As the French say, it was a 'coup de coeur' (to fall in love immediately) - we walked in the house and forgot our other life. Immediately imagined the one we could have here.

This house is full of saga - it is palpable. Colette was convinced she felt and saw ghosts when we first arrived. I don't doubt it. It sounds dramatic, but we are living among 400 years of history and layering our story on top of it. We feel undeserving sometimes.

We went caroling around Christmas time to our neighbors (we have 3 near us). Each has a very specific take on our house. Historically, it was built and then theirs were built in relation to this house. I can always feel the scrutiny in their eyes when we meet - sizing me up: am I a good attendant/curator of this place? (I have a few strikes against me right off the bat as an American - I am seen as having very little appreciation for history, my own is far too short). To them (and maybe objectively) we are merely a historical episode in the long thread of this story. We listened to one of our neighbors play back some of her memories in this house when she was a girl; she had lived here with her family when the house was configured differently. The stonework out front chronicles a time when there was a large pond in front of the house and she spoke of when she and her sisters would try to catch the fish swimming in it. She has stories from the staircases, the old kitchens. I want to have her over and follow her around as she narrates the space.

All of the neighbors are curious about what we are up to and how we are changing the house. They are all connected in some way to it. Most riveting is the question of water! Jean-Marie, the prior owner of this house, was not exaggerating in our introductory meeting when he cited water as the key issue in this region. Both lack of it and flooding. Everything is extreme in Provence. When it rains, we are inundated. One of our neighbors has taken the others to court over water pathways and lines of property in relation to rain. Xavier is making good friends by having huge pits dug around our house, filled with stones, and then re-covered (puits perdus) - essentially, pits to consume the floods.

I like the small details best. The ceilings and the walls and the floors. Nothing we fill it with is interesting compared with the bones of the house itself.

This is the original kitchen/oven of the house (on an upper floor) - now laundry room

I love where the floors meet like a strange puzzle that wasn't assembled quite right

Shutter people, heads holding the wooden shutters open when the mistral comes whipping things around

And the roof tiles. Xavier told me that these tiles were originally molded on women's thighs - hence their shape!

January 29, 2017

Wintery Provence

On the "Winteryest" day in Provence (snowflakes falling and cold wind blowing), we headed to the top of some highland near our house. To Vernègues, tiny Provence village with ruins of a chateau sitting up on its tallest hill. Among the ruins is a house with a small restaurant, a black and white checkered floor, wooden-beamed ceiling and a warm fire. Crēperie: Le Repaire | Chemin de Très Moulin, 13116 Vernègues. A perfect winter spot. A perfect summer spot, I suppose (terrace outside overlooking the hills and villages below).

Back home the snowflakes had stuck between the roof tiles and turned them deeper shades of themselves. The rest of the yard was coated in icing - a look I do not like at all, to be honest. The same afternoon it warmed up enough to melt away, but it was a brief encounter with chill that reminded me of long New York winters...

January 23, 2017


My brother Stephen and I met in Rome last week. It was such a treat to have hours and hours to talk, walk, laugh and ogle all the Italian majesty - not to mention eat heaps of delicious food. Thanks to Xavier, I was a free bird - he was home being parent to the girls. I’ve always really appreciated that Xavier encourages me to take time for myself to travel and do things on my own. He is right when he insists people are better parents when they have space for themselves.

I had been to Rome, but not for 10 years. What an incredible place. We were just hypnotized.

Going back, after spending lots of time in France, I was really interested to see how much more embellished the churches in that city were than the majority of churches in Paris or across France. Renaissance masters’ artwork abound in churches in Rome. Intricate woodwork, sculpture and gilding everywhere, and all shades of marble (and painted faux marble).

The Vatican blew my mind. St Peter’s Basilica - Renaissance wonder. The scale. It was incredible. We felt so tiny. From staring up at the dome to feeling completely dwarfed by Bernini's Baldacchino - a bronze 4-legged canopy sculpture that sits just beneath the great dome in the church. Its twisted columns seemed serpent-like to me. So strange and dark. The whole space was ominous. We climbed to look down from the dome. Dizzying perspective. It was remarkable to see the ceiling mosaics up close. Such detail and color.

Stephen had a few great recommendations from a friend:
* Tazza d'Oro for Granita con Panna
* Ristorante Nino | Via Borgognona, 11 for lunch - the waiters! Such refinement
* Trattoria Al Moro | Vicolo delle Bollette, 13

Wherever you eat, you must try Mont Blanc dessert - chestnuts, meringue, whipped cream

And I loved my experience at Acqua Madre a Turkish Hammam | Via di S. Ambrogio, 17
I've always loved a good scrub, massage and steam - perfected by a dive in a freezing pool

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