Archive for the 'Provence' category

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

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.


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


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


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


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.


Anna and Alain

August 30, 2009 11:14 am

P1020537P1030283We’ve become great friends with two remarkable “agriculteurs” – farmers – here in Barbentane. Anna is a Force of Nature – a tiny 87 year old ball of fire, originally from northern Italy, who’s lived in Barbentane for almost sixty years. Except to sleep (briefly) at night and to faire une sieste every afternoon, she never stops working. She rises between 4:30 and 5:00 every morning and starts cooking. First she bakes a cake to share with the endless stream of visiting friends and purchasers of her produce. Then she cooks vegetables that are past their prime for les ‘poo-lay’ (les poules, the chickens, which in French sounds like ‘pool’ but not with Anna’s undiminished adorable Italian accent). Before 7:00 am, she heads down to her large champ (field) near the Rhone, about a 5 minute’s drive away, with Alain. He’s originally from the area around Bourges in central France, in his 70’s, and lives in Anna’s big house on the floor above. Over the years, he’s worked many fields in Barbentane and has been working Anna’s ever since her husband, Romeo, died years ago.

Together they work the field every day of the year. In summertime, the air is cool and fresh when they arrive. By 10:00, though, the sun is starting to simmer and reaches a full boil shortly thereafter. I know this because this summer Kevin and I have been working in the field occasionally with Anna and Alain. The thought of Anna bending over and working away in the Provençal heat is worrying, so we wanted to help out with all the endless chores that must be done at this time of year. We love hanging out with these two, who don’t speak a word of English, and – being frustrated gardeners with no growing land of our own – we’re thrilled to be working a real patch of ground in this region, renowned  throughout millenia for producing exquisite fruits and vegetables.

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Le Quatorze Juillet

July 15, 2009 11:37 am
Moules Frites en Centre-ville

Moules Frites en Centre-ville

One of my favorite things about living in Provence is the social life that takes place outdoors. Whether it’s celebrating holidays, dining, or picnicking, it’s so pleasurable to sit in warm air with friends, often under the canopy of giant plane trees or in pine forests, and to eat fabulous food. For this year’s Bastille Day, our village offered Moules Frites with a cabaret. Our French friends told us the moules (mussels) had a “Sailor Sauce” (haha!) – that is, “Mariner,” which consisted of mustard, cream, and Provencal herbs. We sat at long tables set up in centre-ville and servers brought large trays filled with the steaming hot mussels. As we finished eat tray, the server set down another one. The moules were delicious, especially with the frites (how and why did Americans ever start calling them French Fries?), and so was soaking up the sauce with bits of baquette, and washing it all down with vin rouge or chilled rosé. The meal concluded with a cheese course, then ice cream. Parfait.

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Les Coquelicots … and Remembrance

June 1, 2009 11:31 am


Flanders Poppies Field

I’ve thought a lot about my negative experience of religious paintings in Valencia since writing my last post. I’ve been feeling uncomfortable about feeling uncomfortable viewing crucifixion scene after crucifixion scene. I’m clear in my belief that I can’t and don’t want to associate that type of imagery with any notion of “spirituality.” However, I have been wondering lately about just what “spirituality” does mean to me.

Then I came upon this magnificent field of coquelicots, the beautiful brilliant red wild poppies with jet black centers in bloom here everywhere at the moment. I had a sort of gentle epiphany. As I stood awestruck before that field, I realized that Nature is the temple I choose to worship in. When in the presence of such natural beauty I can’t help but feel a mixture of reverence, wonder, and an almost delirious joy  –  the proverbial “religious experience.”

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