|Subject: Don and Linda in Provence|
I've returned from a wonderful day spent with Don and Linda. I picked them up in Aix-en-Provence, 20 minutes late, because I got completely stuck in the inner-city traffic. They forgave me, I hope.
I had suggested to them to take advantage of my car and see the hinterland to which they agreed. We first drove to St. Maximin, a medium-sized town (by Provence standards) of 8000 inhabitants, completely dominated by a Basilique (of the 12th C), built for the relics of Mary Magdalene, who supposedly washed ashore with a few friends at Sts Maries-de-la-Mer. Her skull (most likely someone else's) is ornately displayed in a crypt. As an aside, relics were vital business in the Middle Ages, attracting pilgrims as today's resorts attract tourists.
The Basilique also has one of the best organs in France, saved from demolition by Napoleon's brother Lucien who spent a year in St. Maximin. During the Revolution and Napoleon times, churches were closed and worship forbidden. The Basilique then was used as an armory, the precious wood and metal of the organ eyed as great sources for other means. Lucien, however, recognized the quality of the organ and had the Marseillaisse played on it every day.
Next to the Basilique is a Dominican monastery, to house the monks who supervised the relics of Mary Magdalene, until the 1950's. The monastery is also of the 12th C with impressive cloisters and courtyard. Recently, it has been converted to a hotel and an upscale restaurant. I had eaten there a few times, when the prices were very reasonable (and the food extremely good), but today I discovered that the cuisine must have found its followers and as a consequence adjusted its prices. Plus, it was closed today. Later we wandered about the old quarter, with houses bending over from age, beams rotting away, even charcoaled with a whiff of smoke. It's called the Jewish quarter, though there are no direct references. The only plaque we saw was on a house that told of Lucien Bonaparte's presence there. At least, he saved the organ.
After St. Maximin we drove to Le Val, a village I discovered only two weeks ago (there are hundreds of villages in Provence, I'm discovering new ones as time goes by). What attracted me was the quiet in the village, the typical Provence elements of plane trees, narrow streets, surprising vegetable gardens (the area is called Provence Verte, because of the abundance of natural sources), an authentic Norman church. The village has a Provencal restaurant, where we had lunch. Don and Linda will certainly comment on that.
After a long and leisurely lunch, we walked the streets of the village, stumbled on an atelier of a santonnier, maker of Provencal figurines.
>From Le Val we drove to Barjols, a town renowned of its water sources (water in Provence is liquid gold) with 32 fountains and lavoirs, communal wash basins. While inspecting one of the most impressive lavoirs, we were stopped by a man who asked if we would like more information. He had a camera in hand and an impressive camera bag over his shoulder. Instinctively I thought this was a tourist trap, someone who takes your picture and charges a fortune. Then he introduced himself as the director of the local museum. He gave a wonderful exposť of the waters in Barjols. While I did my best to translate, Don took notes. It's one of my regrets that we didn't take pictures of that scene.
In town we visited the church with, again, historic relics, saw more of the fountains, some of which are quite impressive.
>From Barjols we drove farther into Provence Verte, to Tavernes and Varages to visit a factory of Faience, Provencal pottery. Though Don and Linda would have loved to buy the lot, there was no way to cram even a large plate into their luggage.
In all, it was a great day to enjoy the presence of this wonderful couple.