Monday, August 18, 2014

Le jardin du quai - L'Isle sur la Sorgue

We were arguing politics with a decidedly right-leaning antiques dealer when I noticed that the lights in the rest of the hall had gone out. Monsieur's wife was waiting by with a twinge of impatience in her upper lip. Closing time had come and gone. With a forced laugh I barked out, "If you gentlemen continue any longer, I will have to take a nap on your Louis XVI settee!" That worked and I saw the inner churnings as Remi, my dear companion, silently conceded that we would have to return another day to finish the conversation. 

As we let ourselves out, we passed amongst so many bijous of antiques, sitting quietly in the dark, waiting to catch an admirer's attention. How I wished that I could transform into Audrey Hepburn in "How to Steal a Million" for ah, she would be tempted. But of course, I could not.

We stumbled past the Napoleon III desks and out the dimly lit back exit to find the sky had matched our moods and turned to gray.

But oh, what a wonderful mix of a mist we found ourselves in.

A bit of a wonderland. The gardens of le jardin du quai, one of the most romantic restaurants in all of Provence, to be precise. 

Because of the rain, the garden was closed. We were alone and made ourselves at home because it was easy to do.

The flowers said, "Welcome." They know their job.

As we would soon be heading up into the hills to our mazet rental in a land without internet reception, Remi sat at a table and languidly charged his messages from a world that seemed si lointain even though Arles is only little over an hour away.

I wandered, camera in hand but it was almost like an afterthought, just a way of confirming with an inner nod, "Yes, I am seeing this. Pinch me, it is real." After nine years of living in this region, may I never lose sight of that instinctive hope.

I took my time.

And it was funny because none of the antiques that were for sale had moved me anywhere near what the living version of all that style and grace did in this garden.

I know and knew that it was created for effect but it was still a bit of living history...

...and all the more beautiful as we were the only ones there to appreciate it. 

Some of the evening's kitchen crew snaked past to the back door of the kitchen. One of the young women, seeing my wonder, nodded at me and smiled with acknowledgement and pride.

Le jardin du quai
91 Avenue Julien Guigne
84800 L'Isle sur la Sorgue
Tel.: 04 90 20 14 98

Is it odd to write about a restaurant where you haven't eaten? Maybe. But then again, how many have made me dream as much? Not many. So take a seat, my friends, there actually is a second act to this number and no food is involved...

Thank you for being here, thank you for reading Lost in Arles...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Stepping out in hand-made espadrilles at Jute - Arles

Some things just go together. And there is no surer harbinger of the arrival of summer in Provence for me than rosé in my glass and espadrilles on my feet. This is how it has been since 2005, when we finally took the plunge south away from the grey of Paris and I have never thought twice about it. 

That is, save for earlier this year when I realized that one of my regular sources for espadrilles had changed purveyors and were now offering goods that were made in Bangladesh. Of course, this made me wince for several reasons. But then I thought of a little shop that had opened in the rue Jouvene last year. 

Jute. I had first heard about them from my then neighbor, the charming Alex of La Cuisine du Comptoir, who was sporting a smart pair in a suede midnight blue. 

But every time that I passed by the tiny boutique, I either didn't have the cash (for they don't take credit cards) or it was swarmed with customers.

All too soon, I could recognize their certain style on the best dressed young things around town. 

As winter rolled in, I regretted deeply not having bought a pair for myself. Would the store reopen in the spring?

Happily, Ian and Elena, the Britannic-Spanish couple behind the company were back with the arrival of the almond blossoms and I knew that my time had come to invest wisely. After all, I wear them every single day, weather permitting!

It was Ian who was in the boutique and he graciously explained to Remi and I the different sewing techniques and use of materials. As soon as I tried on one of their desert boots in tan suede, I knew that this was a whole other kit-n-caboodle than the stiff rascals that can be bought on market day. For my second pair, Remi pushed me towards a lime green slipper cut. That each pair is handmade was obvious in that the first that I tried weren't right and yet the second were perfect. Ian explained that each of the small team of sewers that work for them in Spain have a slightly different stitch, hence the variable. I loved imagining someone not so very far away was taking such care to keep one tradition a part of our everyday living history. And a walking one too. How far will my Jute espadrilles take me? Only time will tell. And certainly, before then, I will be back for more...

Magasin des Espadrilles
rue Jouvene near the corner of rue Tour du Fabre
13200 Arles 
Their website will be operational in September and yes, they speak English. 
Until then, feel free to contact

Prices: roughly between 25€ for a basic canvas pair to 50€ for suede and 60€ for the amazing toile print above.
All well worth it...

PS. I am sorry for the quality of the photos but I still haven't found my battery charger for my camera since the move! Hopefully soon...

Monday, August 11, 2014

A birthday wish

It is my birthday today. 

I could have called this post something akin to "Like a loaded 45" for that is my new age but in truth I am not fond of guns nor the noise they make. Instead, I prefer to think of this lovely quote that my friend David Terry sent me by the author Annie Dillard:

"All my life, I had been a bell, but I never knew this until I was lifted and struck."

Isn't that gorgeous? And while I think that we all have the possibility for several periods of chiming throughout our lives, I am feeling mighty positive about this birthday. For several years now, there is the element of "I am still here!" tucked into the celebration but also, if you are a believer in astrology, Susan Miller has predicted that I have one hum-dinger of a year ahead. 

Yet I already feel so deeply grateful. I am sitting in a room that is all of my own where I can do just as I please. The windows are open and I can see out over the red-tiled rooftops to the hills beyond. The birds are twittering away, hopping from tree to tree. A cup of Lady Gray tea is steaming on my desk and Remi has taken the dogs out for their morning walk. Later on, we will go to see some art as is my birthday tradition and have lunch out. Tonight will be a quiet dinner like we like. Candles will be lit as they always are and not just to be blown out while making a wish.

Yesterday, at my favorite brocante in Eygalieres, one of the owners told me, "You are entering into a wonderful age. Between 45 to 50, you really have the chance in front of you to work out whatever demons you have left. All you have to do is decide to do it." It is interesting advice. And I certainly feel very conscious of the sense of opportunity in front of me, beckoning. I will take that extended olive branch, thank you.

So today is my little party. Another day it will be yours. May our best present be to carry a sense of awareness, of not taking that internal bell and its inherent possibility for granted, for if we listen it just might be ringing throughout the year...

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Over, troubled waters

The images that surround us and swirl about our feet sink in whether we realize it or not.

Here in this new tiny village, there has been quite a bit of problems with the water supply. Imagine our surprise and utter dismay at the end of unpacking boxes to find that the gold at the end of the rainbow - in this case, the much anticipated shower on the path to cleanliness - has dissolved into a cloudy gray wash. Oh, dear. Their old pipes, tired after so many years of tapping deep into the water table. Our old pipes, worn thin by the rush. 

The local water company is working on it with dramatic updates, bottles of Crystalline distributed daily for each resident and the fire hydrants left open all night so as to clear out the end of the bad.

Lately, I have had one thought in my head, recurring, "I need to let the silt sink to the bottom." This summer and heat have taken their toll on top of years punctuated with uncertainty. And yet, suddenly I find myself immersed in quiet and realize that I am beginning to see clearly. But not quite yet. I wander from room to room, forgetting the reason that had put me in motion, I am forgetful, often unable to concentrate my thoughts enough to write and yet am delighted to be...happy. 

I am right where I want to be.

Like the underground thick and deep, the murky in me will quell and then it is on and upward we go.

EDIT: I try to be clear in my writing but this seems like it is another example of murkiness as the key word to me in this post is "happy". And I am, we are, supremely so. Being here is amazing. Things may not be perfect but as I write here often, that isn't really the point now, is it? With my Best from Provence, Heather

Have a great rest of your weekend...

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Moving in Provence, a family affair

So, how exactly does one move a house packed to the brim with heavy and occasionally very fragile objects from the second floor apartment in the middle of busy Arles to a home in a tiny village in Provence?

Why with style, of course.

Well, at least that is the path that we chose as we were wise enough to hire Daniel Roux and his amazing team to take care of everything for us. And I do mean everything - including obtaining the city permits to block off a well-trodden street in the center of town (chosen to occur on a Monday when most of the surrounding shops are closed) to thoughtfully providing a pile of croissants for the start of the second day. Long before le jour J, he had come to our house to make a thorough estimation of what we have (as well as for the price), all the better to be utterly prepared. Remi then picked up the many, many boxes - provided free of charge - and we did our part of the work.

One of the things that makes Daniel's services incontournable in Provence is the use of an extendable porte-meubles which is raised, fire-man style, on the outside of the building. Once in place, all of the items to be moved, from bulky canapés (or Remi's gallery printer - yikes!) to our antique mirrors are put on a platform and down they go quick as an elevator...

...where they arrive at street level and are packed into the truck. Trust me, this is so much better than trying to pass through crumbling and winding Provençal staircases that can date from the Renaissance!

And in truth, three trucks were required for our family of...two...over sixty meters cubed in all. Holy cow do we have a lot of stuff - thousands of slides from Remi's archives, irreplaceable tchotchkes brought back from our travels and ah-hem perhaps a few random pairs of shoes belonging to yours truly. Why three trucks? One massive big wheeler simply won't fit in the streets in Yee Olde Provence, something that Daniel had verified in advance with Google maps.

While the last of the furniture and boxes were heading South, he packed up our artworks in boxes built for the purpose (that one of the major local museums uses their services frequently speaks volumes). They also had special containers on hand to transport glassware as well. "Did anything get broken?" his Father, 82, asked me afterwards. As he had founded the family company, he wanted to make sure that his well-crafted reputation was still intact. "Mais bien sur que non!" I replied. 

After all, this is no monkey business.

Was it odd to see the house that we had so lovingly restored stripped down to the bare bones?

It was. 

But Remi and I knew that we were moving on, literally, to better things. Overnight, our things slept in the trucks that were parked safe and sound at Roux Déménagement.

Day Two was the obvious aftermath of Day One - up, up and away, a film rolled in reverse. The boxes that we had labelled were deftly delivered to their corresponding rooms. As we had blocked out our floor plans in advance, the furniture was perfectly in place by day's end with nary a complaint, even when we realized that the washing machine wouldn't fit where it was supposed to and had to be moved - again - to a lower floor!

Because that is the thing - the entire crew is not only unbelievably hard-working (not exactly a common characteristic in Provence) but they are delightful. At the end of the day, Eric and Didier - both of whom have Popeye strength and have been working in the field for nearly fifteen years each - were joking, laughing and whistling nameless tunes despite the sodden heat. 

There was definitely a bit of music in the air, especially as Daniel's son, Olivier, was the fourth man of the team for our move. Not only is he the third generation to partake in what is back-breaking and very precise work, he also happens to be a talented musician, whose fantastic band, Starliners, is in the process of recording their second album with Universal. Pardon? Yep, a budding rock star who also helps his Dad from time to time. Very feet on the ground and very much in the family aesthetic. 

From the first Starliners album - that is Olivier on the far left:

Remi and I were invited to join everyone for the lunch break on the second day. We gathered around a table under the plane trees at our new local café and shared a bit of wine and a healthy dose of conversation. They rested, we relaxed. It was just the right moment needed before the final push and it was one in a stream of wise decisions that marked our two days. As the guys prepared to pull away in their emptied trucks, I felt incredibly grateful. Bisous were delivered all around. Will you believe me when I say that the move ended up Perhaps not, but I know that not only was it a smashing success, we met a fine family with whom we will hopefully remain...friends.

Daniel Roux
Moving & Storage
250 route d'Eyguières
13200 Arles
Tel.: 33 (0)4 90 96 04 55

This is the second time that we have used Daniel's services and obviously I can't recommend them highly enough to anyone moving within Provence. They also offer the possibility of a secure storage facility and yes, English is spoken.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The patina of my Secret Provence, part two

Saving the best for last. It is my squirrely side, the part of me that puts this or that away for a certain time, often undefined in my mind. But when it arrives with a click, I smile inwardly broadly.

And so yesterday evening, after a fit of Ikea runs and practicality...

...we started to unwrap the Art.

Our pieces are not precious...

...the value they have is personal.

But oh, how I was thrilled to see them again even after so short an absence.

Happily, they are not worse for the wear after their short voyage.

It is delightful seeing them with new eyes, in a different environment. Wipe the slate clean and start again.

"Welcome to your new Home," I whispered.

Have a wonderful rest of your weekend everyone...

Monday, July 28, 2014

The patina of my Secret Provence

While I was visiting my family in the States, I would occasionally think about Provence and my life in France in order to try and regard it with the blessing of remove. I was surprised by how much I longed for the region itself, for the land and its life. Certainly, it has taken root in my heart and not necessarily due to its more obvious charms, of which there are many. No, just as I used to visit certain paintings in the museums of Manhattan so often that I began to consider them as friends (including several Van Goghs whose landscapes would later become a part of my daily life in Arles), so too certain characteristics here have wooed my attention and become dear to me.

 Chief amongst those is patina, the glow of time's way. I missed it's imperfections dearly while in Michigan and wondered if its presence gives one a certain permission not to be brighter, faster and stronger but just to be. There is such psychology in our surroundings. I am fairly certain that I have written this before but patina is forgiving. And I love it for that as well as the sheer beauty present within "I endure."

I know that quite a few of you are impatient to see our new home but she is not yet ready for her close-up. There is a point during every move (and I have been through so many - eight in Manhattan alone, including one that I accomplished solely via subway) when things get much worse just before they get better and we are right in the thick of it. Remi is downstairs sanding the parquet floors and I will have to tackle the boxes in the dressing room as neither of us have anything clean to wear. Each morning I still wake up bone tired, my head in a fog. But oh, how it is worth it. In the quiet of the evenings, I light the candles and we both listen, trying to decipher what the house is telling us to do.

So for now, I hope that you will be contented with two posts featuring some of the details of our new village. I took these photos quite some time ago - long before we had found our house - and have been saving them for our arrival as something of a promise to myself.

And now we are here. Painting and creating traces that will one day become patina of its own.

Have a wonderful beginning to your week, everyone...