Le Champ en juillet, 2010

August 2, 2010 1:46 pm

Alain left for a week of vacation and Anna told me that her much younger friend Ferdinand – he’s 80 –  was going to take her to the field. When I finally figured out that he was only dropping her off to work all alone, I decided to drag my sorry ass out of bed early (6:00 a.m.) and go pick her up myself and work with her. Kevin was gone for the entire month, so it would be just us two gals. It was so much fun! I got to her house around 6:15 and first we had a big breakfast of tartines (bread and jam) et beaucoup de café. Then we hopped in their camionette – which I got to drive – and headed off to le champ.

P1050146As soon as we arrived, she started giving me orders, and I followed them. I was, in effect, her slave. She was like a general commanding an army: she surveils the field,  sees what needs to be done, and she just gets to it. As she says, “Le travail est le travail.”

Our first day together began with irrigation. They have an ever-changing web of plastic pipes that connect to a big water pump. You can connect, disconnect, and reconnect the pipes, to direct them into to troughs they’ve dug that parallel the long rows of plants. The water shoots out the pipe and flows alongside the row. You can regulate how far the water goes by damming the trough with a couple shovel-fulls of dirt, or releasing a previous dam.P1050151

If she doesn’t have a sure-fire way of doing something, she improvises.  Anna wanted to irrigate four rows of sunflowers from the top of the rows all at once, but it was set up to irrigate one row at a time. She instructed me to connect what she called “a peasant’s pipe” – a soft rubber tube – to the hard plastic tube. Then she had me cut four holes out of the soft tube as it ran along the top of the rows, et voila! The new system worked perfectly. She cried out, “C’est mon chef-d’oeuvre!” (my masterpiece). I have never seen her so happy as she was that day in the field.

And I was pretty heureuse myself because my next “task” was to pick raspberries. A lot of them didn’t make it to the basket. J’adore les framboises!

Le Champ en Juin 2010

1:44 pm

Kevin and I popped down to the field aprés un petite absence and were startled to see how high les tournesols had grown. It seems like we had just planted them, but that was back en avril. Mon dieu! Growing in between les tournesols are courgettes – zucchinis to my American friends. Anna cut me a bouquet and also threw in a little branch of some delicious berries. I don’t know what they are and will have to faire un peu de recherche sur l’internet. Meanwhile, des photos – Les tournesols en juin 2010 From le jardin

Short Trip to Sardinia

May 23, 2010 4:59 pm

Near DorgaliLast week Kevin and I took advantage of a cheap fare from Marseille to Sardinia, and spent 5 days touring the island. In preparation for the trip, I looked up Sardinia on-line and came across this little bit of folklore: Sardinian Legend has it that after completing Her creation of the World [a little editing par moi], God dropped some leftover rocks into the Mediterranean. Then She looked over what She had already created, removed a little of the best from each place, and sprinkled it liberally over one of those dropped rocks which, of course, became the island of Sardinia. It is really really rocky there – a lot like the south of France – and the rock is beautiful, especially set against lots of pines and ink blue or turquoise water. See some of our photos here.P1040724

One of the highlights for us was a hike up to a huge cave – Tiscali – a place high up in a limestone mountain range where one of the mountaintops caved in forming a huge hole protected from the elements. Ancient peoples – the Nuragic – settled in the cave to hide from foreign invaders around 1500 B.C., and the remains of their stone structures are still visible. I had found a website for a hiking cooperative – www.ghivane.com – located in Dorgali (near the east coast) who arranged the hike. They lead lots of different tours to incredible beaches, caves accessible only by boat, and remote mountain hikes,  and going with them turned out to be a great thing to do. Our guide, Geon Paulo, explained lots about the trees and flowers, as well as the anthropology of the area, and fed us a great picnic of Sardinia cheeses, sausages, breads, and red wine. (BTW, the photo at right shows a little “window” that was created by a falling rock, not the top of the mountaintop that fell in. You can see remnants of the house people made in the rock in the photo.)

Lloc d'Or, B&B in AlgheroThen we moved on to the walled-city of Alghero where we stayed in a lovely B & B, its plain exterior concealing a little urban paradise. It’s run by an extremely genial couple, Gemma and Giovanni, who appear just to want to sit down with you and chat – all the while pouring local wine, setting out little gourmet treats, and telling us about their favorite restaurants and sights. (They can be found at www.llocdor.com At 50€ a night, the Lloc D’Or was definitely a Bonne Adresse.) One place they told us to visit was Neptune’s Grotto, a beautiful cave along the coast where you have to walk down 600 steps just to get to its mouth.Neptune's Grotto

Sardinian food was fabulous and very reasonable, especially compared to mainland Europe prices; the scenery was rugged but beautiful and filled with wildflowers this time of year; and where we were was authentic and unspoiled by tourism. Plus, you get to hear people chattering away in Italian! Dr. Ruth highly recommends.

Ruth

The Field in May, 2010 – Les Premières Fraises

May 2, 2010 9:21 pm

Alain called us yesterday to say he had a barquette of strawberries for us – the first of the season. I took a picture of what was left of them after breakfast today.First Fraises, 1 mai 2010

My son, Jake, gave me a book for Christmas last year – Bringing It to the Table, a compilation of essays by Wendall Berry. Berry has been writing fiction, poetry, and essays – as well as farming a hillside in his native Kentucky with his wife – for over forty years. I had never read his work before, but his ideas about food, its production, and its consumption seem to encapsulate everything I’ve been thinking and learning about food, especially since moving to France nearly five years ago. As I ate the delicious utterly fresh little strawberries this morning in a dish of yoghurt that Kevin had made, I thought of these words by Berry, “A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.”

Extolling the Virtues of the DandelionIt is so true. With each bite of these strawberries, we are fully conscious that they were planted by Anna and Alain in their nearby field, were grown with no pesticides, and that we even had the chance to help them along ourselves by weeding and cleaning up the row of little plants. And that consciousness has definitely deepened our appreciation, enjoyment, and confidence in this bounty.

Ruth

The Field in April, 2010

April 25, 2010 6:31 pm

Planting TournesolsMy plan is to document a year’s cultivation of Anna’s Field, starting with our participation this year in March, and continuing on through the year. As is obvious, I suppose, every time we visit the field the changes are many and obvious. Last Friday and Saturday (23 et 24 avril), Kevin and I planted twelve rows of tournesols – sunflowers – with Alain, while Anna stayed at home and prepared lunch feasts for us hungry field workers. I don’t know the actual length of the rows but they felt really long as we were planting them. A field full of tournesols is one of the many symbols of life in Provence and to actually participate in its life cycle is a such a joy. I can’t resist showing a photo of the pinnacle of that cycle from last year’s crop.Tournesol Juin 2009

There are vast stretches of the field still to be planted, but already various fruits and vegetables are well on their way. Alain showed us different varieties of potatoes, fava beans, peas, artichokes, strawberries, raspberries, kiwis, pears, borage – with beautiful blue flowers which Anna’s bees love. Herewith some photos. Boys and Borage and Bees

Ruth

Les Calanques

April 16, 2010 5:09 pm

Les Calanques“A calanque (from the Corsican word of preindoeuropean origin calanca (plural calanche) meaning ‘inlet’) is a geologic formation in the form of a deep valley with steep sides, typically of limestone, in part submerged by the sea. It can be considered a Mediterranean fjord … The best known examples of this formation can be found in the Massif des Calanques in the Bouche de Rhone département of France.”  Woohoo! The “Mouth of the Rhone” is the department we just happen to live in!

KevinWe went to Les Calanques a week ago today, and it is the perfect time of year to visit there – before the tourist mobs and the too-hot-for-hiking weather arrive. Last Friday was a magnificent Spring day – warm but not too warm, with a lovely breeze, clear blue skies, and wild flowers blooming wherever they could grab hold. You can think of Les Calanques as fingers outstretched from the “palm” of the mainland between Marseille and Cassis. When I was standing on one finger, I couldn’t wait to get to the next, but the hiking wasn’t easy. The entire area is extremely rocky, and you have to climb up then down each Calanque to reach the next. The views make the hiking easier, though, with the rock and the pines and, when you add the clear ink blue and turquoise water into your viewscape, well, it’s just one of the most beautiful places in the world. Plus, the hiking and rock climbing opportunities are boundless. We hiked there with our friends, Larry (American) and Martine (French), their niece Iris (French), and Karil (American). We picnicked at a refuge we reached on one of Les Calanques, and Larry told us that he had stayed there for a month in 1967. He had to hike out to Cassis once a week to get food and drinking water, and to shower in a local hotel, and during the days he would free climb the sheer rock cliffs. This, he said, was before it – and Cassis – became hot tourist spots. It must’ve been so wonderful back then, because it’s still pretty sweet now. (More photos here.)Les Calanques

Ruth

Spring’s Sprung, the Grass is Rizz …

April 15, 2010 3:01 pm

… I wonder where dem boidies is. Dem boids is on dem wings. Ain’t that absoid? Dem wings is on dem boids!  (Alas, just missed The Beat Generation.)

Anna's Field 27 mars 2010I’m a little slow, comme d’hab, with keeping up with the blog, but here goes. We went to work in Anna’s field – for the first time this year – on March 27th. I wanted to record a photo of the field with the date, to keep track of its changes over the growing season. We met Alain in the field – while Anna stayed at home and prepared a big lunch for her hungry laborers (Kevin, Alain, and me) – and we weeded and generally cleaned up a big long row of strawberries (fraises). After a long cold wet winter, it was nice to get back outside and, especially, on to the farm. Extolling the Virtues of the Dandelion

Ruth

Avignon in Winter

March 7, 2010 7:02 pm

Avignon AngelAs I type this post, it is snowing furiously outside and I can see gusts of giant snowflakes blowing past the window. It has been such a cold winter and this is already the third time it has snowed here this year. While we were in San Francisco for our second annual end of December to end of January visit, there was a big snowstorm in this area that left deep snow on the ground for days – very rare for Provence. My wonderful student Alex Niot gave me a memory stick full of gorgeous photos he took while wandering around Avignon after that storm. With his kind permission, I’ve created an album of them here.

Palais des PapesBeautiful as the snow is, the effects of the January storm have been disastrous to the trees in our region. The pines and olive trees are used to being pummeled by the Mistral, but not used to heaps of wet heavy snow weighing them down. When we came home from the States, we were so shocked and saddened to see how many trees either had huge branches broken off or were completely uprooted by the snow. Wood-cutting crews are still working to clean up the damage after more than a month. I’m hoping today’s snow is gone by tomorrow morning without any more loss of trees.

The sights of Avignon in the snow are lovely and show the beauty of this exquisite city in views most tourists never see. Thank you so much, Alex, for sharing them.

Ruth

The Caves of Orgnac

November 4, 2009 12:13 am

Heading Into The AbyssImagine being a potholer in 1935 and going down a hole that everyone knew about but had never visited before because it seemed too deep.  Well (pardon the pun), French spelunkerer Robert de Joly and a small team descended the hole in August 1935 and found themselves in a vast cavern covering 2.5 acres. Stalagmites and stalactites were everywhere. We went to vist these grand Grottes d’Orgnac, as they are now known, at the weekend. Rather than climbing down a hole, we walked down many steps into an immense underground cavern of great beauty.  Our tour took us up and down many stairs and by the end of the tour we were 121 metres below ground.  Luckily for us, at the end of the walk there was a lift to return us to ground level.

Curtains of StoneIt felt amazing to be in the caverns, it was beautiful. We saw many stalagmites growing up to 11 metres high. They were all made of little platelettes, each of which took thousands of years to create. Platelettes formed because the water that created them dripped from a great height. A little pool of water sits at the top of each stalagmite and every time a drop falls, it splashes water out horizontally to form the plate.  For some reason the French call them piles of crepes!

Show me more… »

Weekend in Paris

November 2, 2009 7:56 pm

P1030682Kevin set his computer to send him a reminder to buy TGV tickets exactly 3 months before the weekend we chose to visit Paris (a little planning can save a lot on train fare) and off we went at the appointed time. We did the usual touristy things like visit the Louvre, meander the magnificent boulevards and neighborhoods, and dine in classic old bistros. New for me was a visit to the cemetery, Père Lachaise. As a gentle breeze wafted falling autumn leaves through golden sunlight, we had a lovely quiet stroll past thousands of tombs, some belonging to people well-remembered but most others to people apparently long-forgotten. I was amazed to find Chopin’s grave absolutely brimming with fresh bouquets of beautiful flowers. I thought it must have been his birthday, but not quite yet. The 200th anniversary of his birth is 1 March 2010. However, as chance would have it, we found ourselves standing before his grave exactly 160 years to the day of his death. Quelle coincidence …

Albert Kahn MuseumThe next day we were very excited to be going to the Albert Kahn Museum. We discovered this fascinating Frenchman in a BBC production called The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn. Permettez-moi to quote from Wikipedia: “In 1909 Kahn travelled to Japan on business and returned with many photographs of the journey. This prompted him to begin a project collecting a photographic record of the entire Earth. He appointed Jean Brunhes as the project director, and sent photographers to every continent to record images of the planet using the first colour photography, autochrome plates, and early cinematography. Between 1909 and 1931 they collected 72,000 colour photographs and 183,000 meters of film. These form a unique historical record of 50 countries, known as ‘The Archives of the Planet’.” (To check out some of these photographs, click here.)

Unfortunately, our advance planning did not include checking the museum’s website and, to our horror, the photography section of the museum was closed until two days later to prepare for the next exhibit. Ugh! But we were able to walk through the stunning gardens at the museum. Kahn had several Japanese houses dismantled and reassembled in the gardens he constructed in Paris. In addition to a lovely Japanese garden, he built a glass conservatory, an English garden, a conifer wood, and a rose garden. The site was well worth the visit but, I’m sure, would have been even better with the photography exhibit. Check out our photos of our weekend in Paris.

Ruth