Monday, October 17, 2011

I Dream of a Place

This is a piece that I wrote in 2004.  I didn't suspect that my dream would come true.

My dream is to buy a small house in the south of France.   I know that the idea might appear outlandish or impossible but the fact is it’s something that I really want something that I’m prepared to work for.

My travels have taken me to France several times since my first trip in 1980.  Even then, I felt completely at home there, sliding naturally into position whether buying a baguette at the neighborhood boulangerie or having dinner with several friends and family.  The people and the places from the very first captured my heart.

Yes, I’ve visited Paris several times and I truly feel it’s the most beautiful city I’ve yet to see.  Paris is a feminine city, all beige and golden in the midday sun.  It is orderly and graceful, and filled to capacity with visual delicacies.  One can saunter aimlessly for days and never see the same thing, never tire of the scenery and of the grace of the city’s layout.  On the whole however, Paris is not my favorite French milieu.

I’ve visited many of France’s castles, cathedrals and fortified cities, each one a distinctive, magical place.  In Carcassone, a medieval fortress, children playing outdoors during recess scurried to pose for a picture I would someday show my students.  In Chartres, I sat awed in front of the cathedral, virtually intimidated by the size and majesty of the building.  In Versailles, I became speechless in front of the opulence of the hall of mirrors thinking how many lives had been lost on the construction site.  In the palace of the Popes in Avignon, I felt reverence for the centuries of life that had been sheltered by its walls.   These are all scenes from the grandiose, stately France…

My truly favorite place to be however is in rural France, a village, preferably in the southern part of the country.  No, to be entirely truthful, it would have to be a village in Provence.  Although I wish I were attracted to a somewhat less expensive and less visited part of the country, I feel wholly alive when I am in Provence.

Many travel guides have described at length all the riches to be found in Provence, and I am sure that you have read at least one account of the region’s attractions, but I ask, dear reader, that you indulge me in the telling of what makes Provence my destination of choice.

The light there is probably the most perfect I’ve seen anywhere.  It is a clear golden color and even an inexperienced photographer cannot possibly take a bad picture in Provence on a sunny day.  Furthermore, there is an abundance of natural beauty to capture on film.

The vegetation is not as beautiful as it is exotic.  The plane trees, which surround every town square, are ordinary except for the large yellow spots covering its trunk and branches.  The cypress trees and the Lombardy poplars reach up high in their tall and slender elegance and the palm trees that line the coast are lush.  But my very favorite plants have to be the rosemary and lavender bushes that practically grow wild.  They line walks, streets and paths in Provence like the potentilla and spirea do in Canada. The heat of the hot sun releases their scent.  Lavender and rosemary are what Provence smells like.

The Provençal terra cotta, sienna, honey and sky blue shutters and terracotta tile roofs are the only other embellishments and serve as protection from the cooking hot sun.  Foot thick walls also keep interiors as well as dispositions, cool.

The land inspires Provençal cuisine as well. Olives, tomatoes, garlic, lettuces, eggplant, and cantaloupe, all locally grown are paired with fish, mergez sausages, and specially prepared confits of wild game, pork and chicken.  The food looks like a painting by Gaugin and tastes like sunshine.

The most attractive quality of Provence however, lies not in its unique light, its abundant vegetation, its distinctive architecture or its Mediterranean fare but rather in the quality of life that one can experience there.  I’m not at all sure that the quality of life doesn’t flow from the area’s physical attributes or if it originates from the attitude of the Provençaux.  But when one is in Provence, the world spins slower on its axis and one feels a compulsion to relish all that the simple, authentic life of the area has to offer.

I dream of long suppers held under a plane tree in my backyard.  The table sits twelve and fairly groans under the abundance of natural, delicious regional dishes.  But best of all, laughter and passionate discussions fill the warm night air and one is sure that there is no other place in the world one would rather be.

What do you dream of?  Please share your dreams in the comments section.  I'll be reading you.



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