Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mont Ventoux: The Other Mont

Mont Sainte-Victoire. Mont Ventoux. Two well-known mountains in Provence. I knew their names, having passed by them on numerous visits to the area. Years ago while on a tour, we went by coach (means "bus" in provider-speak) to a visitor center part way up one of them, then descended through quintessential Provence countryside that charmed me completely.

But, I hate to admit, I've rather interchanged them mentally. I knew one was outside of Aix-en-Provence, and the other was, well, somewhere farther north. Until I bought a local map on this trip, I had very little idea of the relationships between all the places I've visited.

Now I've got them figured out. The one down South, by Aix-en-Provence, much painted by Cézanne, is Mont Sainte-Victoire. It is a craggy stone peak that rises to 3,317 feet and has a cross on top. The one that popped up in the landscape of many of our forays out of Sainte-Cécile-les-Vignes is Mont Ventoux.

Mont Ventoux rises above lavender fields

It rises to an imposing 6,273 feet and is frequently a stage in the Tour de France. It's bald on top, save for the electronic towers, and is believed by some to be above the timberline.  But according to Wikipedia and other sources, the baldness is man-made.

"Originally forested, Mont Ventoux was systematically stripped of trees from the 12th century onwards to serve the demands of the shipbuilders of the naval port of Toulon. Some areas have been reforested since 1860 with a variety of hardwood trees (such as holm oaks and beeches) as well as coniferous species, such as Atlas cedars and larches. A little higher, junipers are common."
This year's lavender ladies' tour included an optional trip to the top of Mont Ventoux on July 4th. Reports of precipitous dropoffs and narrow roads had almost deterred me, but I gritted my teeth and piled into the car with Sister and two others, and Lisa at the wheel. Our first attack at the climb ended when a dirt road petered out in the woods. Hmmm. This didn't look too Tour de France-y. We'd missed a turn somewhere and once set straight went up a perfectly good, but steep, road from Malaucene that wasn't even too scary when we ran out of trees.

The day had started chilly down below and was overcast over the mountain, and cold and windy at the top. The overcast muted what we hoped would be a spectacular vista of the entire countryside.

Clouds over the countryside

Highest point at the top

Sign-ups or brochures or something, with a souvenir shop behind


Summit marker

Sister at Mont Ventoux

Indeed, a naked mountain top

Electronic equipment

After we took the broad overview, we focused our lenses on the tiny flowers that spring forth from the calcareous rocks.

Sandy, the geologist, inspecting rock at our behest,
whereas she really wanted to look at the little flowers.

Is that a dandelion?

Add little purple flower

This little yellow flower has different leaves from the "dandelion"

Is this some type of thistle?

Enlarge this hugely and see several elaborate tiny flowers

Back down to Bedoin

Back into the forest
 We headed to market in Bedoin and had a wonderful lunch at an Italian restaurant.   Foody stuff will be included in a separate post.

Mont Ventoux over lavender fields at sunset

Mont Ventoux

See you tomorrow.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cowboys, Aliens and Dinner Out

Since two new batteries allowed me to start my truck, I got an appointment with the dealer yesterday to take care of a recall notice that had arrived in March. It was a computer-reprogramming thing.

It occurred to me that the same benign neglect that had led to the death of the batteries might also have affected lubrication and fluids, although I only had 1600 miles on the 2008 truck. So I called to add time to my appointment for servicing. Wow! Just like there are no $65 water heaters any more, there aren't any $19.95 lube jobs on V8 diesel trucks. It was a really sad thing to see how little business was going on at the dealership.

I'd decided that if the truck appointment didn't take too long, I'd treat myself to a movie afterward. It didn't, and I did.

At the Regal 10, there were three movies that I might be interested in, two that are basically chick-flicks, so might be seen with a friend, and one other, which might not.

The first two were "Crazy, Stupid, Love," which apparently is not one of those goofball comedies, and "Friends with Benefits," light amusement for a Friday afternoon.

Behind door #3 was "Cowboys and Aliens," not great cinema but an entertaining send up of both genres. I've always been a fan of westerns and of science fiction. (I'm a major fan of the space-western  Firefly, the series and its feature-length spin-offs, and the adorable Nathan Fillion).  I exclude, for reasons of arachnophobia, any movies with spider-like aliens. Viewer comments in reviews had described the aliens in this movie as frightening, that the suspense was overpowering, yada yada.


Yes, but are they spiders?  If you've seen previews of the alien aircraft in this movie, you can see where suspicion might arise. Should I go alone to a movie that might induce heart attack? I walked into the theater without buying a ticket in order to query the ticket-taker before deciding on my movie.

I waited through truth-seeking by a man who wanted to know whether his number on his Regal card had been randomly selected to receive the free something, and, if not, how exactly had it been selected.

This required waiting for a manager.

Meanwhile, a couple with tickets in hand had lined up behind me.

(In a whisper) Before I buy a ticket, I'm afraid of spiders. Can you tell me whether the aliens are spiders or spider-like?

(Ticket-taker steps back from his podium)  They're really ugly and they . . .

Are they spiders?

And they have arms . . .

Do they have eight arms?

They have arms that come out of their bodies here . . . (he unfolds his curled up hands at chest level, extending his fingers).

But do they look like spiders?

No, but . . .

Thank you. That's what I need to know.

Sweet young man, given to over-thinking questions. I go out to buy my ticket, to the everlasting gratitude of the people behind me in line.

This movie probably won't end up as a classic, even though the actors play their classic roles seriously. The chuckles are for the audience. But what's not to like about Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig at their most rugged? And after generations of Star Trek, we're familiar with the many forms alien beings can take. There was action and excitement, even sadness, but nothing heart-attack inducing. And no spiders.

Daniel Craig

Harrison Ford & Sam Rockwell

Sister is retired now, so she and Brother-in-Law returned to the mountains last night after a couple of days back in the Bay Area for appointments. (Their cats were not at all happy about the quick turnaround journeys.) Sister brought her friend of many years, Laura, to visit for the weekend, her first trip up here to our beautiful country.

Tonight we all went for dinner at The Grill, dining on the deck overlooking the golf course, with a view toward the mountains where billowy cumulus clouds hung suspended over gray horizontal layers, tinged pink at sunset until the cloud piles collapsed as the heat went out of the day.

The food is a little disarranged ... we'd all chowed down before I remembered the photos. Me ... fish and chips; Sister ... lollipop lamb, although it came as a little rack today; BIL ... sirloin fillet; and for Laura ... ½-lb hamburger with sweet potato fries.

The last time I was here I had Chef Carrie's Tiramisu for dessert and couldn't resist having it again.

Yum to everything.  The food is so good here these days!

See you tomorrow.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Hills of Lavender

We go to Provence in late June through early July to capture the purple-blue bloom of the fields of lavender. Planted in rows, in large fields and small, it takes some hunting to find the most spectacular views. We take hundreds of photos, trying to catch every angle, shadow, nuance, anomaly; the rocks, the vines, the grapes that live among them; the odd flower or grass.

We were out of the villa and on the road by 8:15 on June 27 in search of the blooming fields. Our three vehicles sped into the hills, following a twisting road to higher elevations. We stop for photos of the countryside.

Telephoto view of village

Sister takes a shot from an overlook.

It looks like that might be a wine co-op down below.

We bump along a couple of dirt roads and arrive at blooming lavender, up hill and down from our parking spot. We all pile out and spread into the fields. I restrain myself to showing a sampling here.

That's Mont Ventoux in the background. You'll see photos from the top later.


This is a nice bouquet, brought to us at the villa by a charming lavender grower.

There'll be more another day. We went out for a sunset lavender shoot several days later.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thursdays Out . . . July 28

Rummaging in the Cupboard

It's travel time of year for the other NeedleCrafts ladies, in addition to me. They've been coming and going, hard to keep track of who said they be there from week to week. Terri planned to bring her bird in today to meet the ladies, but she no-showed. I learned later in the afternoon that her water heater had gone out, so she was stuck home waiting for the replacement. (I'll tell you, the day of the $65 water heater seems to be over. But why should I be surprised?)

That wasn't the end of her excitement for the day. She called this evening, speaking in a hushed tone. She and Gary were having dessert on their new swing in the garden when a nearby deer spooked and moved away. Next thing you know, a little brown bear was ambling up the hill toward them, apparently coveting dessert. No pots and pans handy to scare it away. Hmmm. Maybe I should send help???

Rose was back after a road trip with her husband. When they're on road trips, she knits. When they're not on road trips, she knits. She returned with a new pair of socks.

She's headed for another road trip next week and has another pair of socks to work on. The nice thing about all the socks she knits is that she actually wears them. Between road trips, she is working on a sweater with no seams, thus avoiding "sewing together," which seems (heh heh) to be the bane of knitters' existence.

We have a new Judy, as distinguished from Judith, who is away this week. Judy is a collector of various things, as well as an avid crafter, except for crocheting. She'd opened a cupboard and found these little guys wrapped all wrapped up.

Because I knew I wouldn't remember who makes them, I took another picture:

Now I have to admit I've forgotten something else. Paula unwrapped this embroidered tablecloth and the place mats and napkins, but I'm not sure whether she's the creator, or whether she was unwrapping them for Judy.

It is Judy who is working on this cross-stitch project.

I, alas, am still lacking a needlecraft project that can be done by hand. Another thing to put on a list. In lieu of a needlecraft project, I'm currently sorting digital photos.

See you tomorrow.