“Roussillon – Part I” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_9076-1Roussillon was less than three miles from our cozy rental house, close enough to dash to the boulangerie for baguettes and walk along the edge of the narrow road to absorb the vivid colors of the ocher cliffs in the morning light. We followed this pattern for a few days, turning the car home and departing the stunning, picturesque village for another day, leaving the russet red gift unopened, saving the beauty on the hill for later, like a luscious bon-bon.IMG_9027Reminding Jim of this tempting tidbit one morning, I said, “Put on your walking shoes. I say, Old Boy, we are off to Roussillon!” Jim puffed out his chest and uttered aggrieved noises sounding offended and wounded: “What do you mean? Old?!!” Innocently, I said in my sweetest voice, “Oh, that. I just picked it up from the Brit movies we’ve watched since we discovered Net Flix in France. It’s just an expression. It means nothing. No reason for you to get all puffed up.” He smiled like I had soothed his ego and leaned close to put an arm around me before he replied: “Then, I can call you old girl?” Moving away from his grasp to the front door, I said, “Not on your life!IMG_8984I was on my way to cross off another of the Plus Beaux Villages on my bucket list. Russet red tints every part of the village which derives its name from the Latin name of Viscus Russulus (the red hill). The dust from the astounding ocher cliffs on which the village stands is the source of the vivid color.IMG_9011 Roussillon is situated in the heart of the biggest ochre deposit in Europe. Imagine living next door to the canyons of Colorado and Arizona, and you have the picture. The lush, deep greens of the pine trees accentuate the reds, yellows and oranges of the rock formations and cypress trees punctuate the narrow streets and squares.IMG_8971 Most of the buildings would be quite plain, but they are made beautiful with the incredible, flaming colors, like something from an artist’s palette. The Provencal blue sky and the magical quality of light lure artists now and many from the past: Jean Cocteau, Carzou, Buffet and others. The village with only a little over a thousand of population has several art galleries and studios to discover and many excellent restaurants with incredible views to remember for a lifetime.IMG_9005

Don’t miss the nineteenth-century clock and bell tower with its campanile and ancient sundials.IMG_9089

Don’t miss the ice cream with colors to match the palette of the buildings. I loved, loved the lavender ice cream. I wish I had some now to help conjure my memories of this remarkable town.

Samuel Beckett, the Irish author, took refuge here during the Second World War. Apparently, the boredom of village life drove Beckett to a nervous breakdown according to one reference that I found. Another famous visitor, American sociologist Laurence Wylie wrote about the rural French life in Village in the Vaucluse (1957). I read a large portion of the book before we went to France, but I have apparently lost it. I thought I would regal you with the history from that period compared to my childhood during the fifties. Oh well, you are spared that reminiscence.IMG_9051I thought these facts were amazing. The first record of the town was in 989 – de Rossillione. Many Neolithic signs and artifacts have been discovered here, and the site is now an important archaeological reserve. There are signs of the Roman occupation of Roussillon when they were mining ocher from the hills.IMG_8996The village is small enough that most guide books say it will take only an hour to explore. We had the privilege of seeing this jewel on the hill almost every day while we were in France for our autumn visit. Yet, there are still places I want to explore.IMG_9036The house above was an adorable place for a photo.  I am not fond of having my picture taken, but Roussillon was too beautiful not to pose here and there.  Forgive me for sticking my face in the scene so often.

We settled by the fire in the living room in the evening after another delicious dinner. I had the sofa to myself with a cushy woven throw over my legs. Jim had a big chair with an ottoman so he could stretch out and warm away the aches from our climb to the summit of Roussillon. I asked the Lord of the Manoir Ambrous, “Do you want to watch another segment of Monarch of the Glen, the show about the family in a Scottish castle? I know it’s old, but I like the series since it is sweet, innocent and funny.” From the side of the room with the recliner, I heard Jim say, “Just like me, huh?

I hope you return again for Roussillon Part II. This location with so many superlatives was impossible to include in one blog story. Next time, I hope to include more on the jagged cliffs of ocher beside the village.IMG_9065Thank you for your kind support. I hope I find Wylie’s book for more interesting reading. Consider another interesting read: “A French Opportunity

Each purchase helps this starving writer. Why not suggest it to a friend?  I do hope you are fine, healthy and happy.

If you are new to the blog, perhaps you would enjoy reading about another colorful town with brilliant reddish hues, just CLICK to read: “Black and White, Plus Red


“Bad to the Bone?” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_9770October, 2015 – Hot coffee, warm baguettes and croissants with generous Normandy butter and raspberry preserves fueled our breakfast conversation by the fireplace at the kitchen table. When the hot embers from the burning fire were warming Jim’s backside he asked for the day’s travel agenda: “Which narrow roads are we negotiating today? You didn’t post anything on the blackboard, but I know you’ve consulted with Rick Steves, National Geographic and a dozen websites. What torture am I in for?” Husband Jim didn’t know what a loaded question he had uttered.

Revealing my plans to Jim without the sinister details, I tempted him with this tidbit of information: “Lacoste is our destination today, another hill-village which rises steeply to an enormous eleventh century castle.” Stirred by the wrong idea, Jim gave a negative reply, “Hey, wait a minute! I’m not going shopping for any of those expensive shirts with the little alligator just for an uppity brand name.

No, you can calm down. No need to padlock your American Express card. No shocking prices for shirts are involved in this trip, but the story behind the scenes is grisly even compared to today’s horrors.”

“Well, you’re not causing me to get all excited about leaving the house with your tourism lingo today.” IMG_9764“Oh, come on, I’ll tell you more about it over a second cup of coffee at Café de France.”

IMG_9775 Once we were seated under the canopy of grapevines, table-side to jaw-dropping views of the valley, a masterpiece of artwork beyond perfection, I asked Jim if he had ever heard of Marquis de Sade. Jim sat there soaking up the sunshine, enjoying the breezes drifting up from the fields below with scents of Provence. He was not answering my question which sounded too much like one he heard in history class years ago. I would say “years and years ago” but I was in the same history class, so we won’t go that far back! Finally, he woke from his hazy, caffeine-induced stupor and answered me:

“Was he one of the three musketeers?”

 “Noooo! You won’t say, ‘All for one and one for all’ or imagine him in a Disney cartoon when you hear about this fellow. The words sadism and sadist came from his name. Now, do I have your attention?”

“Whatever in the world did he get caught doing?!!”

 “He lived a scandalous life of orgies with flagellation and wrote novels, plays and other erotic works, some anonymously. Napoleon Bonaparte ordered his arrest in 1801, and his family intervened in 1803 to declare him insane. Marquis de Sade spent thirty years of his life in various prisons and an insane asylum with ten of those years in the Bastille.”

 “You really know how to cheer up a fellow!”

 “Well, that’s good because it’s time to get into walking gear to climb to the castle ruins way up there! Marquis de Sade lived in the chateau on the top of this hill with money provided by his wealthy wife.”

“Aha, now he wasn’t all bad. He was wise in the ways of finance having his wife support him. Take heed, Woman!”

 “He wasn’t all that smart, and she wasn’t either, because she became an accomplice in his twisted endeavors. Sade didn’t like the local people of Lacoste and he had no love of rural life. However, he did enjoy the castle and made it the setting for his fantasies written later in prison.”

IMG_9793We walked onward and upward on the cobbled pathways, hoping with each bend that we had reached the top only to find more torturous climbing. Along one of the beautiful narrow lanes we found the location of the American art school which was unfortunately closed at the time.  I wished that I could enroll for one of the courses at Savannah College of Art and Design.

I only managed to aim my camera through the glass door for a shot of a colorful mural of horses dining buffet-style. IMG_9790During the nineteen-fifties the village had been almost abandoned when an American artist purchased property for the art school. Other artists moved into the area and the unpaved alleys were cobbled. I could imagine the danger of mud and ruts in the steep narrow roads before they were paved with stones.   Life in those days was hardly quaint and idyllic.IMG_9798We did reach the top to see the castle which is now owned by Pierre Cardin, the fashion designer. He wasn’t greeted with open arms according to a BBC news item. He erected modernist sculptures and started an annual theater festival in an abandoned Roman quarry.IMG_9804 It was quite a surprise to find the modern sculptures after our steep climb, but they do not mar the scenery of Provence. In fact, you wouldn’t know they were there unless you exerted the effort to find them.

The November, 2011 article said Cardin had bought twenty two houses and he has converted some to art galleries and others into guest houses. Some of the local people are bitterly furious, but Cardin was apparently not disturbed by their attacks. Cardin told BBC in an interview:

Personally I pay no attention to what the people say. They are just jealous.”

IMG_9797Like most small town disturbances, not all people have negative views. One of the guesthouse managers revealed to the writer of the BBC item that the people hated Cardin because he is an outsider and people like that are against everything. He went on to say, “Our view is that he has brought a lot to Lacoste. Without him the castle would be in ruins. Most of the houses he bought were empty and in a terrible state. He has put money into the place and employs about forty people.”



Cardin came from humble beginnings and he has always been regarded as “something of an upstart” by the fashion elite. Finn MacEoin, an Irish writer who has settled in Lacoste says, “He was persecuted by the rich when he was poor, and now that he’s rich he’s persecuted by the poor.”IMG_9802-1“I do what I do not just for myself, but for everyone here. I do it simply because I love the place.” – Pierre Cardin

My self-congratulations for the climb was short-lived when I saw a car of gawkers approach from the other side and casually drive past to an easy ride over the hill. Why didn’t I find that road? This caused me more grief than a rich man buying a castle and planting his artwork on the lawn!

The walk descending was much worse than uphill. The golden afternoon light cast a storybook view of the hillside, but it didn’t lessen the pain in my joints. Jim teased at me saying he would take me downhill on his motorbike.IMG_9813 He pretended to rev the motor and made enough noise to disturb the villagers and their roosters! Just the thoughts of riding his imaginary motorbike and landing in a graveyard with a view were sadistic.  Jim found a garden saw on the pavement and prodded me with it, threatening dismemberment with a silly, sinister laugh if I didn’t keep on walking. Now, that’s the only type of sadism in our household!IMG_9783-1

I don’t usually write on this type of subject, but I thought it could not be ignored since the castle with this haunting shadow was there crowning the village. I wondered if Sade would have been a different person if he had received help in his early years, or even later. In a Smithsonian article written by Tony Perrottet in February, 2015, a descendant of the Marquis stated about his letters, “The letters showed Sade the man, how he was a decent human being.” He went on to say that the Marquis “wrote touching love letters to his wife, his two sons and his daughter.”

I will close on that hopeful note. What are your thoughts? Thank you for coming around to visit and for your comments. Enter your e-mail for a free notification when a new story is posted. Thanks for sharing the website with others!