“Almost Anything Considered” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_0007-1Heavy fog blanketed the roadway ahead as Jim cautiously drove in the Provence along D36 from Bonnieux to D943 down south to Lourmarin.  It was a narrow corkscrew of a road cut through rock with high limestone peaks.  Mourre Nègre rises to 3,690 ft. in the spectacular range of mountains.  Occasionally, I had a glimpse through the fog of the outstanding beauty of the valley below and the rocks jutting from the savage countryside with no houses in sight.  I remembered reading in the novel “Anything Considered” that this road was the perfect setting by night for the twentieth-century highwayman. IMG_0008-1 Husband Jim the normally fearless man at the wheel was driving in mid-morning after a heavy overnight rain which likely accounted for the fog.  Peter Mayle’s novel set an ominous crime scene for the very road we were traveling:  “Rumors of armed robberies had been circulating recently in village cafes, and the story was always the same.  A car, seemingly broken down, blocks the road, with a lone figure standing beside.  The unsuspecting motorist stops to offer help.  Friends of the lone figure then jump out from their hiding place in the bushes, often with guns.  The helpful motorist is left with a ten-mile walk to civilization, while his car is being processed for resale in a backstreet Marseille garage.

Surely, there was no need to worry about highwaymen during the day, and after all this was a fictional account published in 1996.  I decided this was not a good time to share the information like a scary book-of-the-month installment.  I can always find something to worry about. IMG_0012We were thankful to say good-bye to our jumpy, nervous feelings and ease into Lourmarin through the golden canopy of plane trees and past the amusing sculpture of a naked lady at the edge of the road.  IMG_0016

She wasn’t very sexy, but apparently she needed a good sudsy bath with extra heavy-duty mildew remover.  I was drawn to Lourmarin for two reasons.  First, the village is rather flat, a welcome change after climbing the steep pathways in the other villages we had visited in Provence.

The second enticement was the beautiful chateau.  We went in that direction first.IMG_0114There is a hint of Italy in Lourmarin’s castle which stands regally beyond open fields at the edge of the village.  One reference work says that when the chateau was abandoned in the nineteenth century that it was taken over by gypsies.  A local tradition says the gypsies were responsible for the strange graffiti on one of the inner walls, and that they put a curse on the place when they were evicted.IMG_0050Below the chateau to the right of the pathway from the chateau into the village is a church which was built for Protestants, who formed the major population during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  A tomb in the surrounding cemetery is that of the novelist, essayist and playwright Albert Camus, who bought a house in Lourmarin before he won the Nobel prize for Literature in 1957.  His time enjoyed in Lourmarin was cut short when he was killed in a car crash near the village while being driven to Paris in 1960Now, there was another subject I would not mention to Jim at the end of the day when we wound our way north again through the ravine separating the Grand and the Petit Luberon.

The smart people in the chateau had closed their doors for lunch.  Fortunately, I could enjoy the garden of richly-colored dahlias, shining like jewels after the night’s refreshing rain.  We admired the views of the village and then decided to walk on to find a shady place to eat beside the winding narrow street with typical Mediterranean architecture.IMG_0057An arbor of vines kept us in the shade, but it held a canopy of raindrops which showered us with each gust of wind.  We had placed our order and I didn’t see another open table.  The young couple next to us saw our predicament, and the nice lady helped me grab a table without a built-in shower.  After lunch, I noticed that she left the table early to search for photo opportunities, as I did, leaving the guys behind to face the bills alone.  I found a window full of toys for our grandson, Daniel.  Now, wouldn’t my daughter appreciate the Noah’s ark with the many, many animals?  The zebra, snakes, penguins and squirrels might not fit into my brocante antique finds either.   I watched a big sister giving a little sister rides on her scooter on the pedestrian-only street.

A city maintenance truck with the cutest, smiley face on the window came around the corner and parked.  The worker was very annoyed because a car was parked and blocking his way, but he posed for my camera anyway.

A tiger was waiting in an open air safari Jeep.  Oh, it was fake, but very amusing.   A real curbside market, in every sense of the word, was set up at the edge of the lane with vegetables, figue noire (black figs) big as a baby’s fist, sausage hung in loops and wine.

During the photo-snapping, I was suddenly photo-bombed by two young ladies. After the laughter and surprise, I introduced myself, produced my business card, and they agreed for me to share their photo. IMG_0069 Among all of the giggles, I failed to notice that one of the pretty ladies had her eyes closed in the photo.  I suppose that I had the last laugh and photo bomb.  Thanks again, ladies!

Lourmarin is officially classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France.  Lourmarin is a cultural center for the region as it hosts music and art festivals and has many art galleries.  The Countess of Agoult, whose family owned the village chateau, was the mother of Franz Liszt (1811-1886) and three other children.  One of the children married Richard Wagner.   Quite interesting to find such a number of talented people associated with this small town.   Peter Mayle, the famous author mentioned at the beginning, also lived here for awhile.  I found a news item published in 2011 that reported the sale of his sumptuous eighteenth-century residence with fourteen acres of property, an olive grove, pool, ponds and gardens for $8.6M.

I never expect to have that sum stashed in the bank, but I have a wealth of experiences stored in my personal bank and bright hopes.

You may be interested to know that I took the beach trip with Vanessa, the buddy I mentioned in the last blog story – “Thrown Away”.  IMG_3363 We shopped and enjoyed shrimp at almost every meal except breakfast.  The brilliant white sand of Miramar Beach, Florida was wonderful, as always.  We spent one night at the Hilton San Destin, and then we stopped for information at Henderson Park Inn since Vanessa had never visited.

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One of my highest rated blogs “Umpteenth Honeymoon” was set at this atmospheric location.  The generous lady at the front desk gave us the key to the Presidential Suite for a short visit with my Canon in action!

Perhaps you would enjoy the book (CLICK TO VIEW)”A French Opportunity.  It isn’t quite the best-seller compared to “Anything Considered” but it has its appealing moments.

Thanks for visiting!  Please come again.  I do appreciate everyone of you very much.

“Thrown Away” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_9099On a sweltering hot day of adventure with my partner-in-crime Vanessa, we were headed westward in our friendly hometown of Opp, Alabama.  With Vanessa at the wheel, I was free to observe the flower beds blooming with purple petunias, white daisies and orange lilies and one odd frog made from old tires.IMG_3297  Runner beans, tomatoes, squash and a few rows of corn were flourishing in a few of the yards of older homes that I remember from my childhood when the elementary school was just one street behind the scene flashing past my car window.

There in front of a white frame house, a pile of discarded items was ready for the garbage truck.  I spotted a white plant holder which I needed for my flower pot!  I love finding free stuff!  I could fill this page with a list of good stuff that I’ve found, like the vintage luggage and piano stool that I found in Florida, and a cute child’s rocker that I spotted in Opp.  Hearing my cry of “free stuff”, Vanessa whipped the car around at Indian Joe’s Pawn Shop and took me to the curbside trash deposit.  As we drew closer, I was readying myself to dive out for the plant holder, imagining the pretty flowers cascading in profusion.  Displayed on the trash bags next to a pair of worn-out Lacrosse rubber boots lined with cobwebs was a – porta-potty – not my imagined flower pot holder!  After Vanessa finished with her fit of laughter, she had to promise she wouldn’t tell Jim, or I would never hear the end of it.  I could hear it already: “Honey, the hole in the center is just right for your petunias.  If ya’ll keep on lookin’ you’re likely to find a real commode for a  planter that could be “flush-full” of fresh-as-a-daisy glorious flowers!

IMG_3293Well, it was bad enough that I pulled over for a porta-potty, but I actually returned to the scene for a picture, and the porta-potty was gone!  I guess some folks have less-discriminating taste, or did I miss the potential?  Maybe I should have picked up those Lacrosse boots for Jim.

Vanessa is my good buddy for messin’ around.  She laughs when I reminisce about earlier days in Opp, watches British comedy and drama shows with me and listens to my stories about France.   We are planning a shopping and beach weekend, just us girls!  Vanessa is very much younger than I am.   I must thank her mother for raising a lovely, young lady to be my friend.

Now, I’ve been wondering how I could take this story over to the subject of France after riding all around Opp with my friend.  I asked Vanessa the same question, and she said I should just go for it.  She gets me into a lot of trouble telling me to just go for it.  Jim said to just plunge ahead, using that plunger by the porta-potty!  Shut up, Jim!

Back in October, during our days of golden fall in France, the lady who owned our rental house said we should go over to see Saint-Saturnin-lès- Apt.  She pointed to the town from our roof terrace.  Well, technically it was her roof terrace, but I was renting it for a few weeks.  She wrote the town’s name on a note pad along with earlier scribbles along the lines of wait for me I’ll be back in ten minutes and don’t forget to buy toilet paper for the upstairs bath.   Most rental houses have complex lists of information, but the note pad was it, a very relaxed approach.  But the owners responded immediately anytime we needed help.  Now that I think about it, I believe she could join Vanessa and me to find better stuff than a porta-potty!

The village our landlady recommended is below the ruins of a castle which is on a high plateau.  This much I knew, but a surprise waited for us on the opposite end of the plateau – a beautiful seventeenth-century windmill in perfect-photography condition. One reference said the windmill dates from the sixteenth-century and it is the only survivor of four original windmills that dominated the village.  I found no romantic stories like a shepherdess falling in love with a prince when they met at the windmill and living happily ever after in a castle by the lovely lake far below. IMG_9826  Nothing like that happened, but Prince Jim promised to take me to the brocante so I could poke through other people’s thrown away stuff and buy junk to take home to our cottage on the circle.  And, I found a proclamation of love written on the pane of a dusty window.  Ah, young love!

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St. Saturnin has the largest cherry orchards in the region which are covered with white flowers in the spring. The authentic medieval village with few touristic additions has free parking.  That meant we liked it very much!  IMG_9128-1We wandered around and enjoyed the old architecture, beautiful old doorways and people-watching.

IMG_9118 A group of folks were congregated outside the Eglise St. Etienne which was built around 1860 to replace the Romanesque church at the same site.  The church has a ten-bell carillon with unique key-slot openings at the top.IMG_9134The main road wound around and passed directly through the church yard.  We had to make our departure in the rental car close enough to shake hands with the elderly ladies, some with walkers!  I just don’t see this working in Alabama.

While I pondered this traffic oddity, I noticed a small statue of a man almost hidden in the shrubbery under the tree at the edge of the road. IMG_9124 I thought I had located the statue of Joseph Talon who was considered the “father of truffle raising”, called lou rabasste in Provencal.  But I was mistaken.  I should have explored further to the statue by the sculptor Philippe Gatine in honor of the modest peasant born around 1755.  Talon had the idea to plant acorns for truffle oaks. Unfortunately, his plants often had contamination and consequently never produced truffles.  His idea was improved with newer methods and the cultivation continued.  And, the rest is lucrative history.

Lesley Stahl reported in 2012 that European white truffles can sell for as much as $3,600 a pound.  In 2015, mushroom shavings fetched $1200.00 a pound wholesale.  According to a Bloomberg report a Taiwanese bidder paid $61,000 in a Sotheby’s auction for a white truffle that weighed 4.2 pounds.  In 2010 at an auction in Macau, a two-pound white truffle sold for $330,000, a record amount!  Ms. Stahl reported: “All of this brought organized crime into the truffle trade, creating a black market and leading to theft of both truffles as well as the highly valued truffle-sniffing dogs.”  With oak-forested hillsides, St. Saturnin is obviously a truffle region.

Jim and I returned to our car and cautiously returned downhill, making the U-turn through the church courtyard. IMG_9138 A house to the right could have been mine since it was covered with flower pots.  However, a Quebec auto tag was posted above the door claiming its stake by a Canadian, not a Southern Dixie chick. Jim turned right, driving over log-sized speed bumps without breaking the car’s chassis, or our hips.

Back at home in Alabama today, I’m drinking iced tea on a hot, muggy Saturday.  I looked up the price of Lacrosse boots and found they cost $100.00, or more.  I suggested a bargain deal to Jim, “Hey, how about I get in the Jeep and run over to see if those old boots are still there by the road?  You can clean out the cobwebs and they might just fit you.”  He had an altogether different idea for the thrown-away boots.  “You can get the boots and add some Miracle-Grow dirt inside with the spiders and cobwebs.  Tote ‘em down to the oak tree in the backyard and see if some truffles sprout.”   “Oh, forget it.  I’ll call Vanessa.”

Thanks very much for your kind encouragement and for traveling with us!  I love to see your comments!  Come again!  If you would like to take a look at the book (in paperback or Kindle) “A French Opportunity” and even read a sample, just CLICK for a view.