“Lavender or Stones?” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_9312Remind me again about why we are driving down this narrow road, hoping and praying we aren’t crushed by a humongous motor home coming around the next blind corner.”  Husband Jim went on to add that the exact spot of our crash would be marked by bouquets of lavender, balloons and cute little teddy bears after the ambulance took us away.  I wasn’t interested in any personal memorials for my demise, so I advised, “Just keep your eyes on the road.  Keep calm.  We should be there in a few minutes.  The sign pointing the way from Gordes showed the Abbaye de Sénanque only 2.5 miles down this road.  At some point we should be able to look directly down on the ancient building set behind the lavender fields.  The abbey is photo opportunity No.1 in Provence.  The minute you lay eyes on it you will remember seeing the image on brochures, in movies and in paintings many times.”IMG_9317The book “100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go”, by Marcia Desanctis, describes the abbey visit as an exhilarating experience.  Desanctis walked in high summer from Gordes and says, “I had seen the image a hundred times before, radiant, arresting but all too familiar and was prepared to head straight into a high-kitsch painting.  Instead, I heard the drone of honeybees, a rustle of butterflies.  I was confronted with something I had expected, and yet the effect was thoroughly unexpected. Convex mounds of lavender were aligned in rows perfectly perpendicular to the Romanesque abbey that was so pale, it almost faded into the glare.  The Provencal sun was just starting to penetrate the passing cool of dawn.IMG_9332We didn’t have the colorful lavender mounds since the blooms were already harvested, but we enjoyed the peaceful setting with fewer tourists than the height of summer.  We were amused to see a sign indicating proper dress for entry to the abbey.

Apparently, some of the tourists were dressed for the beach instead of visiting a chapel.IMG_9335

The abbey was founded in 1148 by an abbott and 12 monks.  Some roofs of the building are tiled with limestone slates called lauzes, also used for making stone dwellings known as bories.

There is a gift shop where some of the monks’ produce is for sale.  During our visit, pumpkins were on a table outside.IMG_9329After our visit, we walked to our car in the parking lot and watched children kicking an empty, plastic drink bottle, laughing and having a great time.  Isn’t that typical?  You buy expensive toys, and the children play with the empty boxes.  You spend money for admission tickets, airfare and fuel for the car, and they find a bug, or a stupid rock, is more fun than the prized destination.

When we were in the car, building our courage to go up the picturesque, but scary road, Jim asked, “Is this next place one of those 100 places for women?”  “No, you should really like this one.  Maybe the Abbaye de Sénanque is a special place for women to breathe the crisp air and feel the purity of lavender, not exactly a man-cave.  Except, hey, only men live there!”  Jim took a side-long look at the bottle-kicking and replied, “Yeah, alright.  If you’ve finished floating around in your lavender clouds, let’s get on up the hill to the borie place and hope it isn’t boring.”IMG_9342Village des Bories is a grouping of stone buildings with the oldest dating back to the seventeenth century, while the most recent were built in the nineteenth century.  They are dry-stone buildings, which consists of selecting stones and assembling them with no mortar, or binder of any type.  Jim remembered seeing the bories in the Dordogne when we were exploring the site, and he called them stone igloos.IMG_9358A royal decree in 1761 authorized small farmers to clear the land and create new plots of land for farming, and the stones taken from the fields were used as building materials.  That sounds rather simple, but the complex dome-shaped structures with walls up to four- feet thick are not simple structures.  Bories date from 2000 B.C., and they were regularly built until the last century.  Around 3,000 bories are still standing.  Twenty have been restored in the Village des BoriesIMG_9364IMG_9351There are sheep pens, a wine cistern, goat pens, bread oven, barns, dwellings, pigsty and a silkworm house.  The project was awarded a prize by the Academy of Architecture.  Can you imagine a humble shepherd transported to this time seeing the award and gazing at tourists from around the world, traipsing and fumbling their way into the dark, cramped space of the bories?  Jim did enjoy this tourist site more than the other.IMG_9348  He managed to scare one French lady out of her wits when she was blinded by the sun and ran into him in the darkness of a borie sheep pen.   He claims that he thought I was coming inside when he shouted “Boo!”  Now there is one more place I will feel too embarrassed to ever visit again! 

IMG_9369Ya’ll come back!  We are so happy that you take the time to visit.  If you would like to do so, just CLICK here for the book “A French Opportunity which I hope is not boring at all!