“The Last Hour?” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_9747October 16, 2015 – A cute little pooch with sad brown eyes looked at us through the rear window of a parked car in Ménerbes. Since the French people take their dogs with them almost everywhere, it seemed strange to find this lonesome doggy in a car. IMG_9614The weather was cool and the car was in the shade, so there was no worry about his comfort.

Still, his longing look tugged at my heart; I wanted to take him up the hill with me. Hopefully, the owner was only making a quick stop and he would be on his way in the little car with his furry friend.

IMG_9615Our next distraction from the uphill walk into the hilltop town of Ménerbes was a poster for Marguerite at Cinéma la Strada happening that very night. Wouldn’t that be great fun? Where could we buy tickets? Another poster advertised a “Belle Brocante” at Saint-Saturnin-les-Apt, not just any old sale of junk and antiques, but a “belle” of a sale. IMG_9826That’s the thing about roaming around and seeing these charming French villages, you just never know what unexpected things you will see, or what will happen, especially if you are open to new experiences.

My preconditioned mind was expecting to drive through cherry orchards and vineyards and view Ménerbes spread across the hills like an ocean liner with its deck retrofitted with blocks of ancient buildings, churches and citadels. That fanciful imagery was conjured by a tourism website, and the writer of this luring prose didn’t have one too many glasses of rosé since the orchards and vineyards were more stunning than he described. The ship at anchor comparison was easy to pick out and delightful to discover all of the sixteenth and seventeenth century architecture, knowing this conjured ship was not pulling out in the morning.IMG_9626IMG_9651My notion of what to expect in Ménerbes was fixed in place years ago when I read A Year in Provence, written by Peter Mayle. Have you read this book, or any of Peter Mayle’s books? Did you see the movie A Good Year, starring Russell Crowe? Peter Mayle wrote the book with the same name, although the story in the book is rather different, like it happens so many times when movies are produced based upon books.

Peter Mayle escaped the stress and strain of city life with his wife and bought a mas, a farm house between Ménerbes and Bonnieux, after dreaming and looking “with an addict’s longing at photographs of village markets and vineyards.” Over a million copies of A Year in Provence have sold along with other books written by Mayle, almost invariably with the same rate of success. IMG_9625People came quickly after feeding on the dream of sunshine in the Provence, but somehow the medieval village has survived the notoriety in quiet beauty. After too many autograph hunters and uninvited callers, Mayle sold his home and moved for four years to New York. He says he has lived in London, New York, Barbados and the Bahamas, but nothing comes close to Provence. I knew I wouldn’t find Peter sunbathing by the pool in Ménerbes, but he does still live in the area. Who knows? After all, you just never know what will happen in these adorable villages.IMG_9726

Mayle wasn’t the only one to put his mark on Ménerbes. Walking around the peaceful streets, you would never dream of the carnage of the wars of religion that took place there in the sixteenth century. The town withstood a force of twelve thousand Catholic troops for fourteen months. The villagers ran out of water because it was used to put out fires. The citadel suffered more than nine hundred blows by cannonballs and assaults by fourteen tons of lead bullets. The Protestants agreed to negotiations and surrendered on December 9, 1578 to a “glorious capitulation” after more than five years of battle. IMG_9676 A monument is erected honoring the bicentennial of the French Revolution in 1789.

During more peaceful times, artists were attracted to Ménerbes. Nicolas de Stael lived here and Picasso bought a house for his mistress Dora Maar near the top of the village. Many writers and artists are still here enjoying the views and the beautiful light, perhaps inspired by the greats that came before them. I could only imagine what was behind the massive doors and inside the grand houses.IMG_9710


Husband Jim and I enjoyed the beautiful views all around from the prominent position high above the Luberon valley. When the dinner bell rang, or slightly before it rang, we found a boulangerie while it was still open.

We bought quiche and pastries, an orange one for me and a chocolate mint one for Jim. We found a welcoming bench in the shade in front of the church and a view of smoke ascending from the valley. At least it wasn’t cannon fire!IMG_9629IMG_9695IMG_9677After lunch, we made our way back down to the main square where I spotted an ancient sundial with the Latin words “Ultima Forsan” above the Roman numerals.IMG_9737 A very kind lady with the Bureau d’informations de Ménerbes told me that the wording means “the last perhaps” or “maybe the last hour of your life” which could stir some deep thoughts. Was this my last visit to Ménerbes? Then I saw the humorous side of the sundial. The painter didn’t shop Home Depot for tape to mark his edges. He subscribed to the theory of painting outside the lines. Now, that was amusing! Why not paint up some fun during – perhaps, his last hour?

Ménerbes is one of the plus beaux villages in the Vaucluse department of France. I’m happy to say that we saw all seven of the villages.

We left town without tickets to the advertised show, and thankfully we found the car with the puppy dog was gone, so the wait had not been very long for the little fellow. Jim drove to the bottom of the hill where signs pointed in various directions. IMG_9718With eyebrows arched and my finger pointing the way, I told Jim with an informative voice, “See the sign post for Apt. Apt is the nearest large town to our rental house. If we are going home and you see the sign for Apt, you are apt to be going in the right direction. I’m telling you this as a good wife should, since you are apt to go the wrong way, otherwise.” I giggled at my play on words, and Jim retorted, “You’re apt to be right, but we’re apt to run this in the ground before our trip is over.”

Come and see us again since we are apt to find more stuff on the road, maybe even Peter Mayle! Why not check out some of his books in the French Market? I have enjoyed reading his stories very much.

“Opp Connexion” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_8777The Opp Connexion with my small hometown linked to France in my blog stories was something like falling off a turnip truck and landing on the doorstep of a boulangerie. In other words, it was an odd connection and not easily crafted. I wanted to share the small towns of France, not found in guide books, or on any travel tour agenda. Simple enough to feature those stories on A French Opportunity, but how could I link my small town life in Opp, Alabama with faraway France. With my purple beret perched at an angle on my bought-and-paid-for blonde hair, I pulled up my discount outlet socks and gradually gained confidence in the word game.  IMG_8763Rambling with a tale is the Southern way of speaking, and taking the long way around to the point is considered a virtue to be praised and waited for patiently. A new friend visiting from Wisconsin recently asked a question, and fifteen minutes later after telling her about my second cousins, where I bought my Singer sewing machine in 1967 and how to fry okra, I said: “Yes, I believe you’re right,” in answer to her question. She needed all of the other background whether she knew it, or not. So, my stories go.IMG_8857The Opp Connexion delivered a bodacious load of turnips for me on this tale. Jim and I discovered a magnificent little hilltop town in France named Oppède Le Vieux. Oppidum is the Latin word for town. Isn’t that just the best Opp Connexion I’ve discovered, or made up yet?IMG_8841

The two should be sister cities with their similarities in name plus the likeness of a quiet downtown with old buildings and churches. At this point much of the sameness fades away since Oppède Le Vieux is built high on a rocky outcrop surrounded by lush forests and mountains. Old buildings take on a different meaning in the hilltop French village with a twelfth century collegiate church and the ruins of an ancient chateau. Artists, writers and movie stars have fallen in love with this charming village and make it their home.IMG_8788

IMG_8811You can’t just drive into this picturesque village unless you are a resident. No, we parked the car and followed a path into the hills with the option of a steep stairway, or a long meandering route with a rusty baby buggy sign pointing the way. IMG_8860I charged ahead taking the stairs with the same attitude that I’ve taken with many projects, saying just do it. After all, it wasn’t uncharted territory. Others have been before me. How hard could it be? Soon, I was reaping the benefits of the stairway climb, seeing the faraway hillside of ancient buildings and then meandering past the fifteenth and sixteenth century restored houses, some painted in brilliant colors.

Sure, my muscles ached, and I did take the rusty baby buggy route on the return to the car.

IMG_8861 Hey, remember that is the Southern way to ramble and meander, taking a rusty baby buggy direction at every opportunity!

If you visit the Provence, this out of the way town should be on your list! Don’t miss it.

IMG_8800I hope ya’ll are doing just fine. Frankly, I’ve been sick and not quite myself yet from fever, cough and aches. I couldn’t have published this short story, but I had written a draft a few weeks ago which I had intended to expand, but it is what it is.

I am on my way to recovery. Take care and come around to see us again! Thanks for your kind support.