“Flying to a Fountain” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_9832Rotten crab in a salad caused food poisoning after Bram Stoker ingested the awful dish.  Between bouts of sickness he dreamed about the lord of the vampires.  Thus, the story of Dracula, a best-seller, was inspired by a vile sickness.

Writers find their inspiration in odd places and strange events.  Finding inspiration for a best-seller from a plate of food prepared for a hospital emergency room visit isn’t my idea of the way to success!  I’ve had a few moments of odd inspiration under the influence of sickness and over-the-counter cold and cough medication.  I’m daring to tell you about this one and hope you don’t write me off as unstable.  Dracula is not involved.

During my episode with fever, coughing and sneezing when Jim and I were in the Provence last October, I wallowed on the sofa by the fireplace when we were not out and about.  A large, comfortable chair with a high back was directly in my field of vision to the left of the French doors with a view of the gorgeous courtyard.  Somehow, the chair reminded me of one from my early childhood and it triggered a memory from long ago.  They say the brain is like a filing cabinet, and when one thought is filed away it can touch others and bring them to the surface.  Or, maybe I just made that up.  Anyway, the memory buried deep and forgotten was so funny to me that I had to tell Jim about it.

IMG_9927When Jim was seated in the big, comfy chair later in the evening, I decided to share my tale: “I don’t think I ever told you that I used to think that I could fly.”  Now that got his attention!  He eyed my half-empty glass of wine and cautiously asked, “And, when did you think you could fly?”  Now that he was listening and not looking for Star Trek on television, I said: “Daddy had a big chair in the corner of the living room with a high back, just like the one you are sitting in now, except it was upholstered with ugly, orange and brown, scratchy fabric.  When I was very young, skinny and adventurous, I would climb to the top of the high back of the chair and jump into the air with my arms outspread, over and over again.  I imagined that I was truly flying and I just knew that I could fly even farther if I was high enough off the ground.  I was positively sure that I could out-fly the boys, especially my brother!  I never shared my special ability with any grownups, or I would surely have been teased about it from that day until now.”  Jim nearly laughed his backside out of the chair and said, “I knew you were Super Woman, but I didn’t know it started on the ugly recliner in your parents’ living room in front of the picture window.  Wish I could have been there to see you!”  This time he got his reply in good order.  I would have kissed him, but I didn’t want to share my germs.

The next morning on a beautiful Sunday I was feeling better, and we eased into our rental car for a short ride to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse along with a horde of other Sunday drivers.  At the entrance to the town there is a majestic aqueduct.  My guidebook didn’t mention this striking feature, so I was astounded!  Aqueduct of Galas is more than 78 feet in height and the total length across the Sorgue River spans 522 feet.  The aqueduct was built between 1854 and 1857 and has 13 semi-circular arches.  It was a beauty and I intended to take more pictures from the other side of the river on the return, but somehow we made a wrong turn.  Imagine that!?  After I shot a few pictures and returned to the car, I found that Jim’s brain cells had been working overtime.  “Super Woman, how far could you fly if you jumped from way up there?”  This time he didn’t win any thoughts of a kiss for his comment.IMG_9892The village was once called Vaucluse, or closed valley, which is the same name as the department where Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is located.  The town which is built around the spring is the major draw and it is situated at the foot of a cliff of the Monts de Vaucluse.  IMG_9902There are many discoveries to be viewed other than the famous springs, such as: the remains of the Chateau of the Bishops of Cavaillon, dating from the fourteenth century; a column erected in 1804 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Petrarch’s birth; the Petrarch Museum library; the “Santon and Traditions of Provence” eco-museum with over 2,000 santons on display and the Geological Museum which is an underground gallery that displays information on the underground expeditions to locate the source of the river Sorgue.  One museum which is in the “Just Missed It” category is the Historical Justice and Punishment Museum that is now closed.  I read that it was dedicated to the history of torture and execution, established by a village resident, a last surviving French Guillotinist.  Here is an oddity for you.  One of the old gent’s parrots chanted the Marseillaise and the Red Flag and shouted our execution orders!  Well, that’s what I read.  You can fly faster than any parrot to check it out!IMG_9879Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is perfect for a Sunday-outing, and the local population and tourists knew it on the day of our appearance in the village.  I wouldn’t want to be there during high-season when tourists rub shoulders in the crowds along the river bank.  We had enough people to enjoy strolling under the shade of the plane trees. IMG_9886 Laughter drifted from the restaurants along the river bank where people were seated like they were aboard a mini-cruise ship with the water rushing rapidly downstream. IMG_9893 I went into a few gift shops, and I paid a ridiculous amount for a miniature, pottery Provencal house.  It now stands among a row of tiny buildings on my kitchen windowsill.  I paid too much, but it does reward me with memories of the enchanting place with the surging waters, the giant water wheel, colorful buildings and friendly people.  Three pretty young ladies posed for me under the trees, and I said I would include them in my blog, but I chickened out.  Such a shame because I catch such lovely pictures of young ones during our travels, but I’m ever so cautious about posting them.IMG_9865ProvenceWeb says: “The success of the village is essentially due to the impressive spring which flows out of the 230 meter high cliff.  This gigantic source is the most powerful in France and fifth in the world.  630 million cubic meters of water flow from the source every year.”  In 1946, Jacques Cousteau and another diver were almost killed when they attempted to reach the bottom of the spring.  The air compressor used to fill their tanks had taken in its own exhaust fumes and produced carbon monoxide which almost killed them before they made it to the surface after returning from approximately 100 meters in depth.  A robot reached a depth of 308 meters later in 1985.IMG_9874

I did my best to photograph the beautiful building that houses the Petrarch Museum.  On a narrow lane, it was difficult to find a good angle for the tall building in the bright sunshine.



IMG_9875The poet Petrarch made this village his preferred residence in the 14th-century, writing: “The illustrious source of the Sorgue, famous for itself long ago became even more famous by my long stay and my songs.”  Sounds as vain as some of the current stars, right? Don’t tell me he wouldn’t be wearing big, black sunglasses.The beautiful village inspired the poets Frederic Mistral and Rene Char as well.IMG_9871Two protected archaeological sites have yielded more than 1,600 antique coins from the first century BC to the 5th century AD through discoveries from cave dives.

We may need to discover our own wishing well of coins to return here, but it is worth it.  Break your piggy bank and fly on over!  You can fly farther than the comfy recliner! Travel safely and come back to see us again.  Thank you!

“Where Shopping is a Pleasure” – by Debbie Ambrous

IMG_9459Begging, bribing, tempting, nor beseeching worked on my friend.  I sounded like a member of the Chamber of Commerce, or a solitary tourism authority.  I promised lower taxes, lower utility bills, no parking meters, a big lake with giant fish, shorter lines at any business, no traffic problems, less crime, a new city pool and friendly people including me!  How could she pass on an offer like this?  She nibbled and circled away like those giant fish in the lake.  I received a short e-mail saying, “As soon as you have a Publix grocery store in town I will pack my bags.”

Publix has an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, good meat and a wonderful bakery with delicious pies, cakes and bread.  All of this horn of plenty is arranged attractively with other necessities and rarities.  It is no wonder that their slogan is: “Where shopping is a pleasure!”  I could go on with more praise, but that would not help my case with the lady I’m cajoling to come on down to Opp, Alabama, and I could offend the fine, friendly folks who open their doors with good groceries here in my hometown.IMG_9461All of this came to mind when I was preparing my story about Goult, a charming town in Provence.   Along a narrow, uphill street in the center of the village is an atmospheric grocery that could easily adopt the Publix advertising theme since shopping there is surely a pleasure.  The tiny grocery has an unusual feature with the main part of the grocery on one side of the street, and the other part with vegetables and fruit is across the street.  The fruit and veggie portion seemed to be on the honor system with no one minding the store on that side.  We bagged our tomatoes, potatoes, beans and strawberries; then, we walked a few steps across to pay a young man for the bounty.  Fresh bread as advertised on the awning in French (pain) is by the cash register.  I experience true pain when I am separated from the (bread) pain in France!

A good case could be argued that the grocery store is the most important place in any town based on my friend’s e-mail and the pleasant shopping experience in Goult.  Oh, some could dispute with their first choices being a place of worship, the bank, the post office, a favorite restaurant, the schools, a shopping center or the bowling alley.  I will honor your selections, but a great grocery store does keep us happy and well-fed.

Goult, not to be confused with a medical condition despite the similarity in sound in the English language, is one of the least known and visited of the beautiful villages of Provence.  I thought it would be a perfect place to rent a house in peaceful surroundings, with possibly fewer tourists, a grocery with freshly baked pain, nice restaurants and an atmospheric neighborhood.  I’ve had the goal of finding a rental house in such a village when I’ve searched, but I’ve never lined up a house close enough to walk to a boulangerie and grocery.  When I met all of my other criteria for the rental house, I was left with a drive to the stores.  Goult has some uphill walks, but not as steep as some.  The old buildings and pretty doorways are easy to find with comfortable walking.  This jewel of a village isn’t a standout on a prominent location like Gordes, Roussillon and many of the villages that are visible from afar.  Goult rewards with quieter moments, inviting you to linger on a bench in the shade with a friend to chat and share a laugh.IMG_9423-2Jim and I separated at one junction.  I took the lane going to the right, and he went uphill.  A cat was in the shade on a window ledge.  The unfriendly feline had no intention of warming to my attention. IMG_9383

I think I found the furry friend’s home further up the hill with a sign on the door explaining the cat’s (chat in French) current mental condition.IMG_9429-1



A good friend of mine had a sign on her door with the wording in French: “Chat Lunatique”.   Before I knew any French, not that I know very much now, I thought it meant she liked to talk a lot.  Yes, Elizabeth, if you are reading, this is intended for you.

Around the corner an artist’s work was on display outside the studio.  It was easy to see the theme with the red nose on the happy face and the grapes.  IMG_9380The monkey and banana were amusing, and the tall creature in armor on the balcony would definitely scare me away!IMG_9391

I discovered the d’Agoult family chateau which is privately owned and not open to the public.  Many of the buildings seem to emerge from within the rock with windows set directly into the natural stone.  Some of the lanes are carved through the rock.IMG_9433  I could imagine torrents of water coursing downhill during a rain storm.  Oh, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to sit on a high terrace, or balcony, and observe village life below!  I could rent a house up there and call from an open window with pink geraniums on the ledge to remind Jim to pick up more eggs at the grocery when he walked downhill.

Such a nice thought!IMG_9387

I’ve read good reviews for Auberge les Bartavelles which is in the Michelin Guide and the Café de la Poste that serves lunches on the terrace in summer.  Thursday is market day.  I know that would be fun.

I ran into Jim further up the hill and asked what he had seen.  He shrugged and didn’t say much.  I told him about my finds with a dig in his direction: “I found an artist’s work that showed your likeness in his painting and sculpture.  You must have modeled in profile with a banana in your hand near your face.”  He glanced down the street to see the monkey and said: “I can’t leave you alone for ten minutes, or you get mixed up with a strange monkey offering to show you his banana.”  Hmph!IMG_9419We walked on further uphill to find a nice surprise.  I didn’t know about the Jerusalem Windmill at the top of the hill which dates at least from the eighteenth century.  It owes its name to the Crusades which formerly attended the lords of Agoult. IMG_9417

There are beautiful views across the valley Calavon.  Another surprise was the dead tree with faces carved into the protruding limbs.  Now, here’s something you can do with a dead tree.IMG_9416-1

I pointed this out to Jim and he said, “Don’t look at me.  Find your sculptor friend.


He mimicked a monkey swinging in the branches complete with howls which sounded across the windy hill.  I knew it was time to leave and find a separate downhill path.


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IMG_9452 I’m totally bananas, to use a corny expression, when I see a message from you.  My daddy always loved corny jokes and stories.  He would have liked this one.  He loved his son-in-law Jim, also. Take care!

Perhaps you would enjoy reading the book (Click to view a sample.) “A French Opportunity” in paperback or Kindle.