Monday, September 30, 2013

Provence: Uncovering the layers in Arles

Months and months ago when we started thinking about a Provence adventure, I told Mr. H. that a must for the trip was meeting up with Heather from Lost in Arles.

Sometimes I think that blogging today is not unlike what having "pen pals" used to be-- like Julia Child and Avis Devoto! All those virtual conversations, traded posts and comments can add up to meaningful connections. Heather and I started our blogs about the same time and "met" almost two years ago. When we figured out that we both had befriended the same elephant in Botswana, I knew were kindred spirits. Her thoughtful emails were a huge encouragement while I struggled to help my parents last winter. And she, of course, was a vocal cheerleader of our idea travel to Provence to join our friends over the summer.

In person Heather is as lovely as the city she writes about and photographs so distinctively.

And generous, too. Did I mention that in Provence, I traveled in a pack? -- Mr. H., my friends Heidi and Angel, and their daughters Penelope (11) and Paloma (3). Not only did Heather agree to take time out for lunch with me, she took on my merry band, too.

Lucky us, we didn't have to wander aimlessly around Arles, noses stuck in a guide book wondering where we should go and what we should eat. Starting with a delicious tartine lunch at Cuisine de Comptoir (duck and cantal cheese on pain Poilâne!), Heather showed us the Arles she knows and loves.  

First colonised by Greeks by way of Marseille in 6 BC, Arles has a rich history. A roman capital, a religious center in the Middle Ages, inspiring Mistral, Daudet and Bizet, and most famously immortalized by van Gogh, there are many layers to the city - it would have been difficult to uncover them without Heather leading the way.

If you read Lost in Arles, you know that Heather has a very distinct point of view that is rooted in light and shadow, in patina, in the textures and details that give soul to a place.

And that's just what she showed us - a glimpse of the soul of Arles - definitely not something we could read about in a guide book or find on a map.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Lady and the Unicorn and Oscar de la Renta

Oscar de la Renta's Spring 2014 collection, with it's intricate embroidery and eye-stopping jewelery reminded me of a rainy September day in Paris, spent sheltered at the Museé Cluny, getting lost in the threads of the magical Unicorn Tapestries.

Mille-fleurs (or thousand flowers), the style the 15th century tapestries were created in, is also an apt description for the exquisite thread work on Oscar de la Renta's gowns. Five of the Unicorn tapestries illustrate each of the senses. The sixth depicts the lady placing the necklace she wears in the other tapestries away in a chest and contains the motto "À Mon Seul Désir." One interpretation suggests the lady renounces the earthly temptations aroused by her senses for a deeper understanding.  If the lady had Oscar to tempt her, she may not have been so quick to renounce her passions, I think.

Are any of the Spring 2014 collections tempting you?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Embracing Fall

"Autumn, the year's last, loveliest smile." - William Cullen Bryant 

And so here we are. Fall. I think I've mentioned to a few of you that I've been resisting the transition from Summer to Autumn this year for various reasons. But you can't fight the changing of the seasons, so I'm breathing in the chill air and reminding myself of the things I love about Fall:

Pumpkins, warm bowls of soup, lingering over coffee on a drizzly morning, tricks-or-treats, candlelight on newly early darkening evenings, the first fire in the fireplace, boots, sweaters, apples, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the crunch and smell of newly fallen leaves under my feet...

What do you love most about this time of year? XO

Friday, September 20, 2013

Treasure Hunting in Provence: The One That Got Away

Sometimes it's what we don't bring home from our travels that creates the most memories.

It was love at first sight. A vintage cruiser with a basket fashioned from a Château Lafite-Rothschild box covered with Louis Vuitton leather. But how to get it home? I couldn't bubble wrap it and stow it in my suitcase. It didn't merit hiring a container, and probably wasn't worth the cost of shipping. So I said my goodbyes and walked away. I probably should have found a way to ride the thing home.

We spent our morning at the Sunday market in L'Isle-sur-la-Sourge, the Venice of Provence with it's maze of canals, also know for it's Antiquaires. On Sunday, the twisting medieval streets and bridges are lined with stalls and crawl with people. An August market day in  L'Isle sur-la-Sourge is not for the faint of heart - for my friends in Seattle, it's like a sunny summer Saturday at Pike Place Market with three cruise ships in port... times 10.

Crowds aside, we had a delightful time exploring and a lovely al fresco lunch among the treasures.

A few other things that did not come home with us, I'm sorry to say:

Anything you've left behind during your travels that you pine for still?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bringing Provence Home: A Bit of Blue and White

Memories of long sunny days and leisurely market dinners with friends are my favorite treasures from Provence. But it's also nice to bring a little something home in the suitcase too, don't you think?

What better way to remember the blue skies of Provence than a little bit of blue and white faience from Moustiers-Sainte-Maire

The streets of that lovely hilltop town are lined with Faienceries shops and studios, so it took a while to select the one that would be the perfect place to treasure hunt. In the end, we chose Bondil à Moustiers because the people there took so much time to lovingly explain the art of the traditional styles that caught my eye. I noticed later that La Bastide de Moustiers had deployed their creations as signing for the various cottages and rooms around the inn.

After what must have seemed like hours of debate to Mr. H, we chose a set of plates for cheese or salad or dessert.

Each one hand selected. Each one a little different.

I love their shape and that they pair as beautifully with dahlias as they do with sunflowers.

I have a feeling they'll be part of our dinner parties for years to come, and I'm so glad I can share with my guests a little bit of what I love about Provence.

What do you like to bring home from your travels?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Tasting the Seasons: Market Day in Provence

Fall is slowly, softly creeping in. Like the gray mist that covered the sun the weatherman had promised us for Friday and Saturday. When I shopped our neighborhood farmers market last week, I noticed apples cozying up to the peaches, a sure sign that summer is coming to an end.

One of the things I admire most about the way life is lived in France is the celebration of seasonal delights on market days. You can tell what time of year it is by what's on offer. And nowhere is this more evident than Provence. When we visited it was high summer, and I can't think of a season I would rather eat up and savor. Melons, tomatoes, peaches, and squash blossoms. What a feast!

Whether a small village like Moustiers-Sainte-Marie or a bustling city like Aix, the abundance is amazing - jam, chickens, soap, sausages, big pans of paella. And the cheese. Oh the cheese.

Sometimes it seems that almost anyone could cook like Julia Child with the advantage of a French village market on her doorstep. You can't help but be inspired to to dream up all sorts of fabulous dishes while wandering the stalls. From the bounty we took from our market visits, we created my favorite meals of the trip.

Simple, fresh, flavorful, enjoyed with friends and family. The way all the best meals should be.  Heather from Lost in Arles wrote a lovely description of how the Provençal markets shape the way she cooks- you can find it here.

Now that I'm home from our travels I'm trying to incorporate this bit of French living more regularly into my life. Even though we are blessed with plenty of farmers markets here in Seattle, they aren't as frequent or as convenient, and you certainly won't find any deals. (I can spend twice as much at a farmers market as I can at Whole Foods, easily). But the food tastes better and since it's a little harder won, I think I appreciate it more. And you can really see the seasons change wandering a market, rather than pushing around a grocery cart.

What about you? Do you make it to the markets much?

Happy Monday! XO


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