July 2009 Archives

Le Tour de France est parti

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Our friends actually made it through the road blocks to our Le Tour Barbie Day. After some bubbly we made our way through the Demoiselles Coiffées to our spot on the Route du Mont Ventoux.




We stood and drank Crémant and ate brie and chili jam sarnies for an hour...


The Caravan passed by...


Threw lots of very useful things at us such as non biodegradable washing up liquid, nylon T-shirts and Etap hotel night caps....


Julian stayed home looking after the barbecue and watching the action on the telly and, when the cyclists got half way between Mormoiron and Bedoin, he ran.


The helicopter buzzed over our heads to let us know the posse were on their way. And then, in less than a minute they were gone.

I only got a Caisse d'Epargne cycle clip which I am pretending is a Livestrong bracelet. We didn't see Lance or Bradley, though I cried for them, but we had a blast. Then we walked home and had a feast.

Now the house is calm. The guests have gone and, more importantly, so has the eternal racket of the Tour on telly. Now, coming from Julian's studio, there are the low tones once again of books on tape. People called Julius and Lydia have replaced Lance and Brad. Love has replaced competition. A beach in Norfolk has replaced a mountain in Provence.

The mountain, like me, is breathing a big sigh. Even Julian seems relieved!

Le Tour de France arrive



I awoke early. As I watered the lavender, I felt a warmth on my back and the flower bed was suddenly illuminated. I turned, and saw the sun rise above the shoulder of the Mont Ventoux.

I am not a competitive sports kind of person. I like walking, swimming, jogging. Solitary stuff. A deux at most. I am wondering what it is that excites me about the Tour de France passing by us. Julian is riveted and has managed, for the past three weeks, to paint whilst having it on the screen to the side of his easel. All I know is that I love Lance and want one of those wrist bands, and that if I look closely, he will be the one en danseuse with black socks. And that there is a British guy. Not enough, surely, to fire me up?

Last night I came back from town at eight. It was still thirty degrees and Madame Ventoux was all pink and had a cloud would round her like a feather boa. Meanwhile, camper vans and tents were beginning to line the route the cyclists will take tomorrow.

This morning Julian and I took a trip to Sault. As we drove around the flanks of the mountain we could see a glinting ring of what looked like diamonds circling its neck. Camper vans never looked so pretty.

The Lavender capital was getting ready. The Tour de France van was putting up its arrows and Sault had its lavender and wheat prayer flags flying, but apart from that business was as usual and the harvest continued.


Meanwhile, in our fridge, we had a dodgy map of road closures, a leg of lamb, lots of cute aubergines and three kilos of the last cherries for our Tour Barbecue. And nine anticipated guests. If they could get through the road closures.


We drove home. We drove up and down the mountain, up out of the valley of lavender, into the pine forest and down into the vineyards and cherry trees.

I realized that what I am moved by is the waiting mountain. By noon tomorrow 700,000 people will be paying homage to 156 cyclists paying homage to her. She is so majestic in her waiting, in her receiving the puffed out sports people, puffed up locals, and tourists. Though we see her every day, she is, as ever, so very beautiful.

Tour de France preparations

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Julian, as always, makes a perfect map for friends coming for the big day, avoiding the caravan.


L'Etape de Tour


Today nine and a half thousand people passed through our village on the Etape de Tour, an everyman (and his bike)'s rehearsal for the real Tour de France which will pass by on Saturday.

I was on my way back from the pool, on my bike because our roads were all closed. The market had been shunted up to the route de Flassan and everything was deliciously clear.


I was in an expanded stretched-out breathed-into post Monday morning swim world when I noticed that everyone was cheering me. It was then that I heard the plastic bottles under tyre, saw the banana skins and realized they thought I had come all the way from Montelimar and was on my sprightly way up to the summit of the Mont Ventoux. The bike bullets whizzed past, many on mobile phones (Mom I made it as far as Bedoin! Is the beer cooling in Malaucène?). There was music. I bought salad from the veg gal with neither of our pairs of eyes leaving the route. Met a friend buying peaches who had dropped her party off at 5.30 that morning in Montelimar and was shopping for the party. I called Julian and we sat on a wall and drank a 'demi' in the shade of a plane tree. It was lively, convivial (note the 'Menu Vélo' for eight euros at Pizza Phil), loud in the soft kind of way it can be when there is no traffic.

etape tour4

etape tour3

etape tour6

Then we went home to a chicken salad on the terrace of our quiet pile of stones called home and the bullets cycled up the mountain.


Lavender Harvest



They are just beginning the lavender harvest on the other side of the Mont Ventoux, at Sault. The route was crawling with cyclists doing the mountain in advance of their cher Lance, so it took a while to reach the summit before dropping down in to the purple sea. Luckily we forgot to bring any money with us so we were not seduced by the heady scent in to losing the day to a boozy lunch as we have been in the past.



The Painter's Garden 2

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I continue to shovel car-loads of manure from the nice equestrian folk across the orchard, and pile it on to the Painter's plot. It's steamy work for thirty seven degrees, but the Painter assures me it is worthwhile. Meanwhile, this is our prize plant on the terrace this year: A Sicilian courgette - Zuccha Lunghissima di Sicilia - which seeds we bought in Puglia whilst visiting my Mum last year. It produces moon coloured flowers that shimmer in the night, and has curled its way round every available bean stem with pale green tentacles, and a long and slightly furry sausage of courgettishness which is delicious lightly steamed in salads or stir-fries. Other folk that are doing well from seed, also of Italian origin, are Cima di Rape and Purple Sprouting Broccoli.




Tha aubergine seller in the little farmer's market at the foot of the Mont Ventoux thinks that markets here are 'condamnés'; that a new generation are growing up wanting everything now baby now from supermarkets and that the humble cheese seller is finished. When I was in the idyllic English village of Garsington, I was told that the only place to shop (for rocket grown in Portugal it turned out) was an immense Tesco in a concrete nightmare of an industrial 'park' to which I had to drive. I googled and googled and, in the last of my seven weeks (too late for all the exquisite picnics I had to make for the extended opera intervals) found two fantastic farm shops.

Meanwhile, my friends' kids seem to care deeply about organic, local and slow food....

Sometimes I feel confused. Mostly I feel hopeful, but perhaps that's because I am living in a bubble of little farmers markets selling cute aubergines and white truffles.


A Painter's Garden


painters garden

We have been offered a little bit of land to use by Monsieur Chauvet Junior. They are his peaches, apricots and cherries that appear so often on Julian's
paintings and, low and behold, he turns out to be an amateur painter who has promptly 'fallen in admiration' with Julian's work. It only seems fitting, then, that we should plant a Potager du Peintre, growing things that will find their way onto little Provençal postcards and remind Monsieur (while he is busy packing spices in bottles for Ducros) of the lovely terrain where he hopes to retire. Then of course the vegetables will make their way to our soups and salads.

The first step today was to try and develop some good soil. Here is our somewhat improvised recipe:

1. Round up the oak chippings from the builder, the cut grass from next door, horse manure from the neighbours and our own rotting peelings.
2. Plonk them on the land.
3. Attempt to cover during a fierce mistral wind.
4. Let them simmer under the lid for a Provençal summer.
5. Turn on some loud music and invite the worms to party.

As you can see I have only managed one row and I have a very burnt nose.

chauvets peaches2

two finales

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His feet hardly touch the ground. He floats above the court. Almost never lands. Certainly never falls. His footwork is as good and as graceful as that of Fred Astaire. His is never off balance. He is in the zone. He is zen. He is always in motion. His preparation and follow-through are exactly proportional to his stroke. (Unless, of course, he is tricking you, which is the only difference between Roger Federer and a great chamber musician.) Certainly (along with Stevie Wonder, of course) he is a God of bass line playing.



It was the end of Wimbledon, and the end of Garsington Opera. In fact, the opening chord of our last performance broke at almost exactly the moment that Federer broke Roddick’s serve for the first time and polished off the tournament. (At thirteen-all I had decided that my hour long warm up had already been shortened by fifty five too many minutes so I forced myself to leave three minutes before the end.) Apparently there were tears on centre court. And in the players’ box. There were certainly tears in the pit. Tears for what we had built and weathered and shared. For the poppies and the picnics. For the phrases we had sent out, along with the cock’s crow, in to the Oxfordshire air night after night. For stage style fancy dress on the last night. For the compassion we felt and received when finger-work was off, or we fell, or our gesture was not proportional to the note we were about to play and we put our desk partner off balance. For being human.


And meanwhile, in amongst all that humanity, it was good to know that there IS a God out there called Roger.

And it's good to be home at the foot of the Mont Ventoux and to know that another God, Lance Armstrong, will be passing by the bottom of the road to inspire us soon on the Tour de France.


We're heating up the barbecue.....