Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Left Behind (no relation to novel and movie of the same name)

No, what I'm referring to is what would happen to my head if it weren't screwed on. You have only to search "gremlins" in my blog search box to get a notion of how often things are lost or left behind and how I trust that the gremlins will bring them back to me.

Traveling does not relieve me of losing things. It's probably even worse while traveling. After all, there is that whole thing about living out of a couple of suitcases and a few drawers. Things get shuffled -- where did I put that thing I bought? -- especially little "valuables" that I don't want to carry around at all times and there is no safe in my room to stash them. (Is my money under my socks in the drawer or with the cables and cords in the backpack?) (Did I bring my trekking stick up to my room or is it still under the coffee table in the living room?) Socks, underwear (clean) and laundry (dirty) disappear daily.

When I fell on my face and had to go in to a clinic in the city to see about an x-ray of my nose the morning after, I didn't plan to take my trekking pole (or, in this situation, more properly referred to as a walking stick). "I'm afraid I'll forget it there," I told Beth. I have in  my travels left that walking stick behind somewhere several times. There have been miraculous returns, even before I put an address sticker on it. Yet the time when I most expected it to return, having left it hanging from the back of a chair in my room in Yosemite Lodge, it never reappeared in the lost and found.

Beth wanted the bunged-up me to bring it and use it, and she said she'd be responsible for remembering it. It's a good thing we took it, since there was massive remodeling taking place at the clinic and footing was treacherous. It's a good thing Beth promised to look out for the stick, because I did forget it after the great news that my nose wasn't broken and I could now go have coffee and croissant, having fasted overnight in prep for possible nose surgery.

The gremlins had spotty performance with returns of lost items on my recently completed trip.

On our last full day on the tour, we took our trip to Sault for the high country lavender. We browsed around town, so full of tourists compared to our trip here several years ago when it was a quiet little town. I'd wanted to see the lavender co-op, where lavender farmers have a shop to sell lavender and other locally grown products to tourists and locals.

Lavender in Sault

I went in, and, in addition to lavender products, there were grains and cereals in transparent packages. I spotted épeautre; the grain the Lavender Ladies had prepared with our grand meals at the villa. You could think of it as kind of like rice, only more savory. I wanted some and wasn't sure I could buy it at home. And the price sounded good. I got a 500 gram package of that, and another of the delicious nougat that they make in France and costs an arm and a leg at market.

That evening, we were due to go back up to the lavender fields above Vinsobres for sunset lavender photos. The sunset photo shoot for the first session finished with a whimper, as a gathering storm swooped in at sunset and the rays of the setting sun were shrouded in stormy grey clouds. We were hoping for better conditions.

This day, we'd had a very busy day, lots of driving, and faced the prospect of packing for middle-of-the-night and very early departures to the airport. So we waffled. I -- the one with the bunged up face and stiffening body -- wanted to go, but I would not ask to be the only one, but quite a bit of enthusiasm was generated. Furthermore, the main real photographer, young patriarch of a young family who brought his wife, baby daughter, and all his relatives to this place he loved and where he proposed to his wife, he had photographed them all in the lavender fields in the daytime, and all his photos of the lavender fields had disappeared. He was eager to take the family out this last time to recreate some of those memories he'd captured and now couldn't find.

So I ran (er, pulled myself by the banister) upstairs to get my sneakers running shoes and changed out of my sandals in the car and away we all went again, up above Vinsobres. This time it was a fair success, not the very best sunset I've ever seen, but some nice light and shadows.

Lavender toward sunset

Packing. I wasn't leaving as early as the rest because I was going to Aix-en-Provence for a few days and I wasn't being delivered until later in the morning, so I was a little leisurely getting going, as in I was packing late at night after everyone else had already gone to bed.

First of all, where were my épeautre and nougat? When I looked in my carry-on bag where I thought I had packed it, it was something else: my chocolates from Bernard Castelain. Oh, and the pottery dish with two red poppies painted on it that I'd bought in Roussillon. All I could think was that I'd left it on the floor in the front seat of Amanda's car. I'd have to get up early and catch her before she took off with her crew for the airport.

Well, I missed waking up that early, since they departed not much after I went to bed. And they were soooo quiet for people who had to get downstairs and underway. Amanda wasn't coming back. She'd be turning in her rental car and flying out herself. But during that wakeful period of realizing that my good stuff was gone, I also realized that my Birkenstocks were not among the things I had packed. By the time I mentally backtracked their last use, the last two cars had left for the airport as well. The Birkies were in the car I'd ridden in to the sunset photo shoot. Probably tucked in somewhere on the floor of the front seat when I'd changed into the running shoes. Lisa would be exchanging her big car for a small car and heading on east in southern France, without coming back to the villa. Beth would be back to pick up G, to stay a few more days in Marseille, and me, to be dropped off in Aix on their way there.

How could I get hold of one of the ladies to retrieve my shoes? I ran around frantically looking for G, who would know how to call Beth's phone number. He was missing (bicycling or running, one of his daily pursuits). After more running around, I suddenly spotted the Birkies on the floor in the front hallway. Someone had discovered them in the car and left them there for me.

After an overnight stay at Sister's and Brother-in-Law's, I headed home to my kitties. It was later, when I wanted to take cute kitty photos of the critters on the deck, many of whom now had tipped ears -- the cat rescue ladies were having good success with the spay/neuter project for the ferals -- that I failed to find my camera in any of my bags. I mentally backtracked and had no recollection of seeing it out somewhere at Sister's house whence I would have picked it up. The last time I had an actual recollection was of its dangling around my neck on the BART trip from the airport to Sister's City.

Did she call me and ask me if I was missing my camera? Or did I call her and ask if she'd seen it? Even that part is fading in memory. But she did ask whether I was missing my passport. Well . . . I didn't know. Last I remember is it was in the dorky ticket/passport holder I dangle around my neck through airports and on the BART.

"Where were they?" I ask.

"On the floor of the front seat."

That's not the first time that has happened. I should know by now that it's the first place I should check for missing items.

I had to make a trip this last weekend to attend orientation for Jeanne Mills' quilters tour for later this year, and deliver the pocket itineraries I made for the participants. I swung by Sister's Saturday night to pick up my camera and passport. REUNITED!

I can get back to taking pictures again. I haven't been totally deprived. I've taken a few with my older camera. I had to note that Don Pedro Lake is probably the lowest I've ever seen it since I moved to the mountains 25 years ago.

See the bathtub rings.

I'm hoping Amanda is chowing down on épeautre and nougat, instead of someone in the car rental agency chowing down on it. Or, that the suitcase that I have yet to unpack was where I really stashed them.


Friday, July 18, 2014

A Place Requesting Silence . . . Abbaye de Senanque

(Blog drafted while I was deprived of Internet access.)

I made two visits to Abbaye de Senanque this trip, the first on 29 June and the second on 9 July.  Both lavender and people crops were more abundant on the latter. It seemed quiet and peaceful when we arrived the first time. Parking was beginning to become a hassle by the second. The French will fill diagonal parking first, then make a straight row down the middle behind the behind the diagonal parkers. Sometimes two lines. Unparking becomes problematic. But we arrived early and earlier, so did well.

On first arrival, the lavender wasn’t as full yet as it had been where we’d visited earlier down nearer the villa, but it was making a gentle show in front of the abbaye.

When you arrive on the entrance trail, you can go down the left side of the abbaye toward the back, and, perhaps, trails that wend farther along through the canyon.  You can go right, toward what looks like “civilization,” in other words, people heading into the one lavender field out front where you’re permitted to walk among the lavender, into the gift shop, into the restrooms, into an area where you can get a tour of the abbaye.

I’d love to take the tour, but on the Internet, it warns that silence must be observed (can do), no wheelchair or handicap access or people with other limitations (a bit of a red flag goes up: steep stairs with no hand rails? possibilities for falling off balconies? very rough cobblestone pathways? the dreaded metal spiral see-through staircase visible on the outside of one of the buildings?). And the capper: NO TURNING BACK ONCE YOU’VE BEGUN THE TOUR. I require an interview with someone who has taken the tour and is cognizant of all those little deterrents before I venture forth on it.

I pass a couple of photographers. I find an old split tree, gardens, a gardener plowing, a path off into the woods.

Abbaye de Senanque is a Cistercian monastery. It was built centuries ago.  The monks live under a vow of silence and visitors are asked to keep their voices low and not to engage the monks in conversation. But they also have accommodations here for visitors, so there is at least one monk who handles matters requiring conversation.

Off this courtyard is the chapel. It is supremely simple, as befits this order of monks, from the architecture to the glass windows and the furnishings.

Back in the lavender fields, either people don’t read these languages, or don’t understand symbols, or just won’t be deterred. You’d think it might give pause.

Visitors are extremely fond of taking photos of their friends or family members squatting down between the rows so the lavender appears to engulf them.

These pairs caught the mood of color and isolation. The man and woman took pictures of each other in every nook and cranny of the abbaye, and enlisted passers-by to take their photo together. My happy mental scenario is that they are newlyweds.

In a supreme act of faith, Sister and Brother-in-Law stick their outgoing mail in this stone pedestal which claims to be a post box. I hope the mail goes to other than the Lord.

On our second visit, with an entire new group on the lavender tour, one of the first things I hear as I walk toward the abbaye is the sound of machinery. Men At Work, one of my photo topics. Way across the field I can see him, mostly hidden behind a row of trees, plowing back and forth. One of our group is disappointed that the monks don't hand till the fields.

Copious numbers of visitors flood the premises.

There is even more need to let a steady stream of delivery trucks pass through the premises. It’s a tight squeeze for some and I find myself sucking my stomach in as if that would narrow the truck a little.

The abbaye sits stoically behind the lavender and big clouds skitter across the sky on a day that’s warm when the sun comes through, but cool when in shade or the sun is behind a cloud.

Beth offers to take my photo in front of the abbaye.

People continue to throng through the lavender.

I take off again down the left side to a peaceful little area with a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary. We’ve all been asked to submit 10 photos on the photo tour to be put on CDs for each of us as mementos. I know the Virgin will make a beautiful photo if I can get blue sky behind her to contrast with the white. I’ve seldom, if ever, seen anyone else here looking at the statue, nor taking its picture, which surprises me in a putatively Catholic country.  I would imagine there are a lot of Catholic visitors.

This is not the exact shot I used for the CD.

The monk communicator is talking with another visitor.

Two of our ladies ascend the steps from the courtyard of the chapel. Our visit is reaching an end.

See you if I ever get on the internet again!

(Guess I did, huh?)


Thursday, July 17, 2014


A 5-Point Landing … and the Advantages of Small Group Travel

(This was drafted on July 13 near the end of my trip to France while I was Internet-deprived and semi-reclusive. It provides a bit of context for my big gap in blog coverage.)

I’m on the second session of the lavender tour. Gotta tell you, as usual, I’ve fallen behind on blogging, so my strategy will shift from the daily record format (such as it is) more to dealing topically with the similar destinations of the two groups. The first group left on June 30 and the new group arrived on July 5. I’m doing the double tour, because last year I came with the 1st group and a cool season had delayed the lavender crop.

The second session that year saw a beautiful crop.

Taking no chances of missing the lavender again, I signed up for both. I’m also staying over for several days, because -- catch this one --  it saves on airfare. Double the pleasure, double the fun.  One of my favorite towns in Provence is Sault, which is in higher country and grows the true lavender. On my only visit there, I fell in love with it and thought that if I ever moved to France, that would be the place. For practical reasons, that will never happen, but I was really happy that a return to Sault was on the itinerary this year.

But something happened to the first session's trip to Sault. Originally scheduled to have lunch with French friends of the group in Sault, we learned the husband of the couple had a medical problem, so the day was changed so the lunch could be provided by another French friend in a different town. We began the day’s Mont Ventoux/Sault schedule, but we ran behind too much to visit Sault and get to lunch on time back in Bedoin. It was a disappointment assuaged by the promise of going to Sault during the second session.

Flash forward to a few days ago. It was an ordinary day, a simple schedule of visiting the Luberon: the Abbaye de Senanque, Roussillon and Gordes.  Roussillon and Gordes have been on the itineraries of every tour or class I’ve been on in Provence. They never fail to excite. I’ve also been to Senanque several times.  It takes an early start to do them all.

Here’s me at noonish in Roussillon, where I’d wandered around the old cemetery while the rest of the group was on a walk along the rim (and some steep ups and downs) of the hilltop the village sits on.

It was a beautiful day, photo-wise, with billowy clouds racing across the blue sky and a cold Mistral blowing. We ate lunch together, at the usual place. More on that in another blog.

When we got back to the villa, I went to put some laundry in the washing machine. It’s tiny and takes forever to run, and I was down to my last duds, several times over. Someone generously let me skip to the front of the line. I forgot exactly where the dryer was located and stepped back to look in the door to the laundry room, which is under some portion of the house. It was there, right next to the washer, so I turned back to the big table on the terrasse that we gather around for relaxation, snacks, a meal, web surfing, or whatever.

Have you ever taken a step, felt the bump of a toe, and found yourself flying? You know that unless you get a good grip on something, your feet will not come under you on time? There was a slender plant with several branches growing beside the big cypress tree. I grabbed for one of the slim leafy branches.

I have been walking ever so gingerly on this trip, giving thought to every step’s placement on the cobblestones and other uneven surfaces, often using my trekking pole for major roughness. My Little Old Lady mode.  It’s a caution that I adopted two or three years ago (whenever it was) when I landed on the side of my face on the sidewalk of Our Little Town, in full view of most of the town.

In just an instant, I neglected that caution, and turned, looking at my pack and trekking stick on the table and thinking of them, instead of my footing. That’s how it always happens, thinking around a corner and neglecting the ground in front of me.  I caught my toe on an uneven paver stone, grabbed for the twig, and couldn’t even get my hands out front of me. I landed full on my face (mentally reviewing a few censored thoughts as I hit) and the two nurses in the group were at my side, with ice and wet towels to sop up the blood coming from my mouth.

Well, that’s enough detail. Abrasions on a knee and my wrists, a pending bruise on the other knee. My glasses did not break or bend, although they are scratched, no holes in the knees of my pants (last time the fall made a hole right through the knee of my new, not cheap NYDJ . . . I don’t think they still call them . . . pedal pushers.

The doctor, owner of the house, appeared.  He wanted me to go next morning to the clinic for an x-ray of the nose (discussion was had about whether it looked deviated), without food or drink after midnight in case I had to have something done that required anesthetic.

“But I want to go to Sault tomorrow!” I reminded Lisa.

I first saw what myself looks like on this selfie. I took it to send to Sister, who had left with Brother-in-Law at the end of the first session for a classic car event at Le Mans. I tried to Private Message it to her on Facebook, but FB wasn’t having it. Eventually, I just posted it so she’d get the message.

Phone call a couple of hours later: “WHAT DID YOU DO!

 “A face-plant.”

 Looks like a red stripe down my face, like a fan-in-the-stands for a sports team.

*     *     *     *     *

Lisa whispered to me, “We’ve switched the trip to Sault to Friday so you can go, and the Friday trip to tomorrow. Works okay for the luncheon, too." I didn’t cry for the fall, but I teared up at how sweet and accommodating they all were and are.

So they all headed out for Avignon in the morning, for Bernard Castelain Chocolatier and Chateauneuf de Pape in the afternoon, while I hung out in my room most of the day.

Except for the “Men at Work” project partially visible out the tiny windows at the back of the house. I hear machinery. I must go peek. This thing is extending with a pallet-load of stuff going up on the roof right behind us.

I also find the source of the high-pitched squeals, one fence farther over. Preschoolers.

The machine driver is having a problem discharging the pallet.

He sends up assistance.

My interest wanes for a while, and when I come back, the machine is gone, bushes have been pruned, and a ladder extends to the roof. I’ll never know for sure what they were doing.

Because of the change in schedule, the “farewell dinner” will be this night, instead of the actual last night. The table is set in the play room, due to the cold and threatening weather. (This is Provence! What gives?) We have salmon with lemon caper sauce, épeautre , and grilled vegetables. The dessert is fruit cobbler, sort of, with ice cream and a sauce (lavender?).

Followed by ping pong.

I’m pretty much hiding out in my hotel  room in Aix-en-Provence. The face is embarrassing.  I ventured out to the pharmacy at ten minutes before closing last night to see whether things are turning infected. On reflection, I think some of what looked so bad may have been sunscreen congealing on the wounds. They sold me something that’s supposed to get rid of scarring. Not sure whether it’s for fresh wounds or not. Then I got something to spray between lower lip and teeth, which may actually be the worst injury in the lot. There’s really an enormous bruise on my chin which I partially cover with make-up, since the skin is not broken. Today I went out for breakfast in the “salon,” and took a walk out to see whether the Office of Tourism was open (no). (I didn't mention, did I, that this is not only a holiday weekend in France . . . 14th of July . . . but the beginning of the exodus of the French people on vacation. Such traffic on the highways. Of course things are closed.) The hotel turned out to have a map that will probably get me to the bus station and I found the bus schedule to the airport on my laptop. Tomorrow I’ll make a trial run to the bus station and buy a ticket if I can in advance.

Kind of a woebegone selfie.

 I fly out on Tuesday.

I’m home now, and will have more on the trip later. And I look 
somewhat better, but I left my camera at Sister's, so no current photo.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

The big point of it all . . .

. . . lavender!

Officially I think it's called Experience Provence, but in my head I call it the Lavender Tour. You'd think if you'd seen one lavender field, you've seen them all. But I just want to see them again. And again. Which is part of the reason I keep coming back. Other reasons to come back are Sunflowers. Red poppies. Columns of cypress trees lined up through the grape fields. (We debate: are these cypresses or juniper? I Google. They look more like cypresses to me.) Plane trees. Les Dentelles. Glanum. Les Alpilles. The old villages. The ambiance of wine tasting, even though I don't drink it. Not such a big fan of French food or ratatouille, but there is tasty pizza and other Italian dishes. Oh, but no one beats the French for croissants, pain au chocolate, a baguette, and a really tasty thing we had whose name I don't know. It has a most subtle crunch on the outside and molten chocolate inside. This may be the best chocolate thing ever and ever.

We don't wait any unduly long times to go out looking for lavender. Last year the lavender was late and "our field" was somewhat of a disappointment at the beginning of the tour. It was reported to be wonderful on the second tour. This year I've taken no chances and have signed up for both tours.

We head out from the villa while the morning is fresh. Sister and Brother-in-Law have decided to take their Morgan car out for this scenic drive. And, of course, give the Morgan its opportunity to be photographed in the lavender fields. We stopped at a pull out to look back over the town of Vinsobres.

Mont Ventoux towers in the background, a beacon all over this part of Provence.

After a few photos there, we on up to the lavender fields. They are glorious this year, putting on their display for us.

Lisa in the roadway

Let's don't let the lavender totally overshadow all the tiny blossoms that bloom at its edges.

Our people catch a panoramic view from the top of a hill.

And make their way down into the lavender.

The Morgan, BIL and Beth

We finish up the first, but not the last, trip to the lavender fields in Experiencing Provence.

See you soon.


Come visit a quarry . . .

It looked like this (first photo) the first time I came here. I'm not sure of the year and don't have all my years of  itineraries at hand to try to figure it out. Was it in 2006 with Paul Cezanne? 2008 with Vincent van Gogh? Or 2009 with Pablo Picasso? All when they were operated by the entity Cathédrale d'Images.

Or after Cathédrale d'Images got kicked out and it was reopened under a new operator, Carrières de Lumières, which has produced in 2013 Monet, Renoir ... Chagall: Voyages en Méditerranée; and is currently showing Klimt et Vienne: 100 Years of Viennese Painting leading up to Gustav Klimt's work; and Invisible Cities - an 8 minute short shown between presentations of the feature? I feel like my visit this time is my 5th, but maybe I have wanted to see all these shows so badly that I think that I have seen them all.

The look of the entrance has changed, but the show of color and light projected on walls, pillars and floors of an old limestone quarry is as spectacular as ever. It's a phenomenon that can't adequately be described in words. I've tried before to photograph the images, but not one photo came out. This time, it worked. The photos can only give glimpses of what is played across the walls of this vast space and lacks the glorious music that enhances it, but I'd like to whet your appetite to make a visit to Carrières de Lumières if you find yourself in the South of France. It's worth a side trip and you can double your fun by visiting the walled city and chateau at Les Baux de Provence just around the corner.

From the website:
The Carrières du Val d’Enfer quarry was created over the years for extracting and white limestone used in the construction of the Chateau and Les Baux. Large-scale stone production in the Saint-Rémy area forced quarry-workers to change mining techniques using hoists and pits leading to the surface. This, and the need for stone in the construction of the medieval Château and Les Baux, is why quarries were opened in this part of the Alpilles
In 1935, economic competition from modern materials led to the closure of the quarries.

More information about the events being held can be found here.

(Dark here, but the light intensifies when you're there)

And this is where we came in.

See you soon.