Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Our new home in Provence

It comes down to a question of trust. There are things that we share and others that we keep a secret. And certainly in the blogging world it is an issue that pops up nearly every day. How much of me is going to go down on the page? How much of my life? Will Remi, my loving companion, be involved more than he prefer? Yes, there are certain issues that we have talked about since the beginning as being "no go zones" but otherwise, the choice is up to me.

And so I was surprised to find myself hesitating - my fingers hovering over the keyboards yet not striking - when it came time to write a post about our new house. Especially as it is a lovely story, how we rented it. One day while walking the dogs, we came across a couple and Remi, ever the charmer, started a conversation. They were kind and invited us in to see their home once we had expressed interest in moving to such a wonderful little village. A few weeks later, we heard from them again. They knew of a house, something quite special that would soon be available to rent. It was never put on the market but rather passed off between friends or friends of friends and would we be interested? We would.

The first time that we walked up to the address, Remi and I looked at each other in disbelief. The house...was...is...so beautiful. All during the visit, my hands were shaking with excitement. I have the blurry photos to prove it. And those same photos would be all that we had to go upon in the weeks and then months that passed while we meet the owner, got her approval and then set the moving date. It all seemed too good to be true. The rental of the house is the same price as our previous apartment in Arles!

We picked up the keys on July 8th and Remi started to work. He repainted nearly all of the rooms in this three story house, sanded the parquet floors where needed and started gardening in the courtyard. When the 21st rolled around, we were relieved as it was finally happening! The following weeks have been spent slowly emerging from the sea of boxes. We have taken our time and there are still things to be done, which feels right. In the evenings, we walk around with a glass of wine in hand to visit the house, to take it in, for we still can't believe our luck. It is so very peaceful here.

So why the hesitation in sharing this gift from Life? I think a part of me is still having a hard time knowing that this can last (even though that is a big part of what I am working on this year) and for the other part? Well, it feels...important...for us to be here and that is precious and to be protected. Plus, to top it off, will it sound like I am bragging? Ai! That goes against everything that Lost in Arles is all about! Remi and I are both clear that we don't own this fabulous place but are just taking care of it, so I dearly hope not.

But as I have said it is a matter of trust. So...*once again, big intake of breath*...let me open the gate. Please, do come in...

Nearly half of the walled in courtyard is covered with a trellis that is topped by an enormous old vine. I will tell you about going through our first vendange soon but all summer long we ate under tumbling grapes!

We think that the core of the house dates to the 18th century. It can be hard to tell in places but that is what we are guessing in looking at the classic facade and windows.

In her initial renovation, the owner took out a layer of concrete (!) and installed antique dalles en pierre for the courtyard floor. She also planted what has grown to be a good-sized olive tree - Oh, how I love it - as well as a towering magnolia that showers hot pink blossoms in the spring. They provide shade...

...as does a mini cabanon that we will repaint. It will be the perfect spot for a post-lunch siesta. We are using a trunk bought years ago at a Paris brocante - one inscribed with Remi's initials in an iron flourish - to store the garden tools.

And everywhere, there is patina...

...texture and time coming together to make something beautiful. It is a wonderful reminder of how many families have passed here before us.

Just inside of our front gate we have a lovely example of la calade. This once typically Provençal mosaic of galets is becoming increasingly hard to find.

...and over the front door there is a rather surprising combination of ironwork stamped with fleurs de lys and a farm lamp that has seen many a year pass already. Something tells me these two weren't always together...but then again, such a mix of formal and casual is a lot of what this house is about.

The entry has a floating staircase that made an architect friend start with surprise. Those dark grey slabs are not concrete but a stone that is new to me, la pierre de Beaucaire

For the ground floor rooms on the right, we made two decisions. One, we wanted to bring in the light. Even though the house is south-facing, which is beyond wonderful, we knew that it would need all the help it could get during the winter. We have never used off-white in our other houses but here? It absolutely makes sense, certainly as we hoped to set off the cement floor tiles dating from the beginning of the last century in a simple, clean manner. All of our Persian rugs are rolled up in the attic. They just don't work with the color schemes or feel of the rooms.

And I have to give Remi credit for the second idea. The smaller room had been clearly destined to be a dining area. But as A) the sole working fireplace is there, B) we love to have a fire every night that we possibly can and C) we would love to watch movies in front of the firelight, then why not make this into a small sitting room instead? That set-up - minus the working fireplace - served us very well at our previous apartment so I will just have to put away my grand idea of a cosy formal dining room - and I don't even like formal dining rooms! - for now.

Besides, happily there is room for our monastery table in the main salon. In theory, this space would be used more for entertaining but it has quickly become my second favorite room in the house. And yes, there is a rug that works here. It is an antique Provençal woven rattan rug that we found and saved from being thrown out at our last apartment. The workmanship is amazing. In the far corner, la Vierge Marie (she is an antique lithograph of the original in the Louvre) is holding the place where a wood-burning stove will be installed when we can afford it, probably next year. The cost of installing the stove will definitely be worth it as it will offset our heating bills enormously.

I find myself wandering into this room whenever I need to breathe a bit. In the heat of this past summer, I would love to lay on the couch for la sieste in the afternoon - sometimes Ben or Kipling would join me - and look out onto all of that green. And yet I feel perfectly protected. No prying eyes can follow me here. We nearly always have some sort of music playing in the house and the stereo is also here, tucked away in the green Indian cabinet.

Needless to say that in the evenings, this room is a Bougie Bonanza! The flames from the candles flicker in the wavering glass of the lithographs and the glazed mirror. Up goes the music and...magic!

But if we are talking magic? Tah-dah! *Poof! Rabbit out of a hat* After years of cooking in what was literally a converted closet, we finally have a kitchen that is in line with our most important standard...

Big enough to dance in.

Yep, the marble countertops, vintage crackled back-splash and amazing floor tiles (from a former ballroom) are nice and all, but let's get our priorities straight here, shall we?

Allez, hop! Up to the first floor. That is one of Remi's abstract photographs in the stairwell (What? Me? Copy him? How dare you!). Wherever we could, we have tried to balance out the old with the new. In no way do either of us want this to be a "Welcome to the Charming Yee Olde Provencey House." And you know what? The house doesn't want that either. 

Now here is something interesting. That's our bedroom. Shhhh...the key word here is quiet. We have made a deal that there is nothing in there to make extra noise. No dirty clothes at the end of the day, no electronics, just a book on the bedside table. And as someone who has suffered from chronic insomnia for over twenty years I ask you, "Why has no one mentioned this before?" It works. We sleep like happy kittens.

It helps that there is a big dressing room and a nice bath down the hall (I have a bath again! I no longer have to piourette like a jewellery box ballerina in the world's smallest shower!). Remi's atelier is down that way too. It is huge and he can make all sorts of wonderful photography happen in there. Of course, I initially wanted that room for our bedroom...

Up one more flight...can you feel your calves getting stronger yet? I can. 

Are you ready for my chouchouBienvenue into what is my favorite room in the house...for it is my room. Yes, a room of one's own. I love everything about it...

...but it is still a work in progress. While Remi fixed the hole in the roof for the floor below (it was literally raining inside on the day after our move!), we will have to call in a roofer for the rest, so I still haven't hung up a lot of things (although my little Art Shelf will most likely stay as it is), so more of that room later on.

But trust me, everyone loves it and wants to spend time here, which is nice. It isn't just me. Look at the view from my desk!

My unbelievably patina-ed door opens out on to a palier that we have designated as Remi's reading area (the bookshelf that you can't see is full of photography and art books) and then towards our guest room (with its own bath -  may I say again: finally! Hooray!). We have already welcomed friends and family and my room can be used as well if there are children staying over as there is something of a princess bed (ah-hem) going on.

But, again, there is still much to be done. Happily. Although I think I am going to end up making the light fixtures for the hall if I can't find what I want soon! 

Yes, I do like to sit on those stairs and dream and peep, down, down, down all the way to the bottom. Remi and I also like to communicate via this central stairwell too. So much of this house just makes sense to us.


Already, I feel so welcomed here. I have kicked off my espadrilles and along with Remi and two extremely happy dogs...

...we have made ourselves at Home.

So there you have it! In the nearly four years of Lost in Arles, I have never put so much into preparing a post. I know that some of you have been waiting a long time for this, so thank you for your patience as well as respecting my choice to not name the village that we have moved to - which is a matter of privacy as well as, let's face it, security. That too is a matter of trust and with all of my wonderful friends here, I know that I am in good hands.

Today's post is part of the International Blog group, "By Invitation Only" and the theme for this month is "sharing." To see what the other incredibly talented women have to say on this subject, please join the party by clicking: here at Splenderosa.

PS. I also want to thank those of you that responded with such incredible kindness and generosity to my previous post concerning my Mom and Leonard's wedding. We were all very moved and yes, the event itself was simply wonderful....

Thank you for being here.
With all of my Very Best from Provence,

Friday, September 12, 2014

Our love is here to stay

On Saturday at 5pm, my Mom, Linda and her fiancé, Leonard, are getting married. I will walk her down the aisle under the protection of a giant oak tree while my Sister and her companion, David, will sing "Our Love is Here to Stay." 

My joy for them knows no bounds, for they are a true couple. They have never fought and have been known to dance in the living room first thing in the morning. When I think of them, the image that comes to mind immediately is that they are laughing. The delight that they have- as well as the sheer gratitude - in having found each other is infectious. As they have already surmounted many challenges together, all that know them already think of them as married. And they do as well.

But now they are making it official. With the real "I do" too.

Here is to Love. As beautiful as the best bouquet but far longer lasting...

Happiness is here...in full bloom.

Thank you for being here everyone...I am so appreciative of you all and for your kindness...may Love fill your weekend wherever you are,

PS. Any thoughts or prayers for good weather and smooth sailing would be greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Brunch at Aventura - Ann Arbor

Ask any American expat what culinary delights they miss most while overseas and they will undoubtedly reply: Brunch. Delicious comfort food, a bit of booze and happy, lingering conversation in a fun atmosphere. Truly? What is not to like? 

I would also add to that list of longing: a touch of culinary adventure. For while the food in France is as truly exceptional as its reputation declares, it can often veer back to the safe side. When I am in the States, I delight in discovering the new and taking my taste-buds for a ride.

And so, one rainy Sunday on my most recent trip back, I suggested to my Mom that we try a relatively recent restaurant in Ann Arbor, Aventura. 

I love to contradict naysayers with proof that, "the Mid-West is not what it used to be" and Aventura's sleek and yet welcoming design fits that particular bill perfectly.

We were given a gracious welcome - ok, it hasn't changed entirely! Folks are still very friendly even in cosmopolitan Ann Arbor.

Rather than slip into mimosa sleepiness, I jazzed things up by selecting a blood orange, gin and Campari cocktail. One glance at the bearded hipster shaking things up behind the bar (does he call himself a "mixologist"? He might.) told me that I would be in good hands and I was right.

As nothing makes me happier than the "small plate" revolution that is currently trending in the States, I was delighted to see that Aventura, which is a tapas restaurant serving modern Spanish cuisine, had also extended the idea to brunch as well. My Mom and I split a coca or flatbread topped with goat cheese, mushrooms and a farm fresh egg plus a shrimp and polenta bowl topped with sauteed spinach. Both were pitch-perfect excellent.

But the truly melodic tones came from a very talented flamenco guitarist who strummed quietly throughout our meal. As I mentioned to him later, in Arles - home of the Gypsy Kings! - we hear quite a lot of such music and yet his finesse was to be admired. It really was the cherry on the cake of a lovely meal and a good thing to as, foolishly, we declined getting the churros with salted caramel and chili chocolate for dessert. I know, what were we thinking? We weren't.

Afterwards, John, Aventura's genuinely charming General Manager, took us on a tour of the private wine cellar...

...past the open kitchen ("Merci, chef!")...

...through another seriously romantic made for snuggling cocktail lounge and out onto the back patio, where dancing happens on Thursdays. I could be up for that.

I had to do a little "research" on their evening menu. How fantastic that the pintxos start at $2! My Sister has already gone with a group of friends and had a fabulous time. At these prices, one can really taste, try new things and share a plenty, which is, of course,  the whole point of tapas! 

I will definitely follow the blinking lights leading me to Aventura on my next visit to Ann Arbor...and since I am taking the plane tomorrow morning...well, that might be sooner than later...


216 East Washington Street
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Tel.: (1) 734-369-3153

Friday, September 5, 2014

Christian Lacroix: L'Arlésienne

I first heard of the idea of "L'Arlésienne" long before I ever set foot in Arles.

The basic idea is this...it is a term to describe a woman that you find incredibly attractive...and yet...

...try as you might...you can never have her.

She is a dream that you search after in vain.

A character in Alphonse Daudet's Lettres de mon Moulin, who finally drove her lover to suicide, went on to inspire the opera by Georges Bizet. But I can still see them in modern dress strolling the streets of Arles today with a trail of young men following in their wake, drunk with longing.

Christian Lacroix has long been fascinated both by the women of his hometown and the symbol of what they have come to represent in society. Les Arlésiennes have been a continuing source of inspiration within his design work (he has said that 'le pouf' skirt that launched him to stardom in the 80s is nothing more than the highly codified traditional gown cut above the knee) and so it is little surprise that he has curated an exhibition dedicated to them during the international photography festival Les Rencontres d'Arles for 2014.

For the event, he has assembled works by a variety of artists that portray themes both literal and more tangential, such as with the framed studio coat of the painter Balthus. All are shown in the Chapelle de la Charité, which is both owned by and joined to the Hotel Jules Cesar (yes, recently renovated by Mr. Lacroix himself) and thus rarely open to the public.

It is a baroque jewel. Created in the mid 1600's, it was the chapel for the neighboring convent for an order of Carmelite nuns. The pulpit and main altarpiece were built by a sculptor from Avignon named Péru and a massive Apotheosis of Saint Theresa, painted by Pierre Parrocel in 1718, towers over the space. Perhaps it is because so many churches were gutted and their treasures destroyed during the French Revolution, that the richness of the colors, forms and textures are so utterly pleasing to me in their rareness, just like L'Arlésienne. The lieu and the exhibit are utterly made for each other. The interplay existing between the ecclesiastical and modern art creates a cocoon as fine as thinly spun silk.

Of all of the works presented, I was most fascinated by the ghostly portraits of the Queen of Arles and her court by the English photographer Katerina Jebb. Following a car accident, Ms. Jebb was no longer able to easily hold a camera and starting working first in photocopies then with scans in order to produce her prints. It is a lengthy process and the stillness required in her subjects is transferred within the final result. Her nearly life-size images of these beautiful women represented the most moving essence of L'Arlésienne and her ephemeral, insaisissable quality that I have ever experienced. I couldn't stop staring at them, as if looking for an answer but finally, in the shiny black glass, all I could see was...myself.

To read Christian Lacroix's poetic introduction for the exhibition (and to see several lovely photographs that were featured in it) please click: here ou en français, cliquezici. There is also another excellent article en françaisici.

Christian Lacroix: L'Arlesienne
Chapelle de la Charité, Boulevard des Lices, Arles
Until September 21st
Open everyday from 10am - 7:30pm
Entry: 5€

And to listen to a bit of Georges Bizet's opera L'Arlesienne, please click below:

Wishing you a weekend filled with mystery and delights,