Monday, November 5, 2007

DW: A Week in Provence

The more I think about it, the more I enjoyed the more rural part of our recent France vacation. Spending a week in Chateaurenard (15 minutes from St. Remy) was really very special. What made it special was not simply the beautiful landscape but the friends who joined us. The overall narrative was “The Four Seasons” meets “Two for the Road" with the soundtrack provided by Serge Gainsbourg, Juliette Greco, and Stephan Grapelli.

I would say the most memorable and truly fun part was getting lost with our friends Liz and Mike. Despite having directions, we couldn't find the house, and we drove back and forth for hours. Finally, Steve came to get us in this supermarket parking lot that would soon become an important landmark of sorts that we would refer to time and time again.

There were three couples, so we had three cars. Ours was always the one that made the wrong turn, and this was AFTER going around the roundabout at least three full times. The good thing about getting lost in Provence is that you always end up somewhere that’s beautiful, so it’s not like taking the wrong exit off of the New Jersey Turnpike. It’s also fun to see how other couples deal with each other under stress. There were a number of funny, mini-bickering episodes that would translate better in a full audio-visual presentation than in a blog, so I’ll reserve the details for another time. Suffice it to say that no partner relationship can be understood in earthly terms (not even my own), and that having a sense of humor is key to survival in any situation—be it work or play. This was especially important when we realized that we were in the wrong train station in Avignon 15 minutes before our train was to depart for Paris—form another train station in Avignon.

Despite our misguided sense of direction, we managed to go to Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Nimes, Apt, Isle-sur-La Soruge, Gordes, and Rousillion. The most stunning piece of history was the Roman aqueduct at Pont-du-Gard. The best food was in St. Remy—a gorgeous butternut squash risotto. I had been dreaming of having mussels in garlic/wine sauce, which is a typical Provence type of dish. However, hardly any restaurants had them on the menu, and the only one that did was closed when we made a special trek back there. Ironically, it was the little neighborhood cafĂ© in town that ended up having them and they were darn good. The house was really beautiful and had the loveliest grounds. We would gather outside on the patio most nights for a sumptuous pre-dinner sampling of bread, cheese, olives, wine, etc. The wine was the only bargain to be had. You could go to this C-Town type grocery store called “Ed” (the landmark as noted before) and pick-up a bottle of good wine for about 3-4 euros. The most divine condiment we purchased was this delicious onion jam that was a wonderful topping for my goat cheese and baguette sandwiches. I definitely want to try to make this, as it’s simply about caramelizing onions for hours until they turn amber and morph into a jam, with some help from balsamic vinegar and sugar.

Unfortunately I left the book “Snow” in our Avingon hotel, so I didn’t have that to read. Luckily, my friend Elaine brought a few books and I read the new one by the author of “The Kite Runner” and it was wonderful, but very difficult to read because of the way that women are treated in much of the Muslim world. I will save my commentary on this for my next posting, which I think I will title “My Inner Burqa.”

Amidst the rolling hills and lush evenings spent talking around the table, I had to deal with my half-sister’s untimely death. Because we didn’t have high-speed Internet service at the house (a mistake not to be made again), I had to write her eulogy on my Blackberry. Her son’s wife ended up reading it, which according to my niece, was well-received. I haven't even had time to fully process the loss as I hit the ground running with work 30 minutes after stepping off of the plane (that was last week).

Given my crnaky mood today, I’m surprised that I have been able to compose such a benign posting. Let's just say that I can’t stop thinking of the famous Sartre quote, “hell is other people.”

I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead.

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