Orvieto - A Hilltop Gem
Sunday, 9 July, Orvieto - Music and Markets Taste of Tuscany Tour
On the road early, and a smooth trip, passing Vesuvius and the bustle of Naples, then Rome, and the Sabine hills and countryside, before approaching Orvieto, dramatically perched on a steep crag of tufa stone…just three hours from Naples.
The welcoming and elegant Palazzo Piccolomini has our rooms ready, and Jill’s is off of a terrace which looks down on a picturesque corner.
We stroll around the inviting town, wandering down cobbled lanes, peeking into shops full of local delights from ceramics to truffles and wine. The duomo façade is totally free of scaffolding (it’s been partially covered for years) and the jewel-like mosaics gleam in the warm noontime sun.
This evening is the World Cup final, and a big screen is set up in Piazza del Popolo for the town to gather and cheer for Italy. While in Naples, we saw a typical black edged death notice, which is usually posted on a town information bulletin board, in many store windows announcing the death of “Francia…after 90 long minutes of suffering, she finally gave up the ghost…”
As we all know by now, the 90 long minutes stretched even longer til the bitter end.
On a happier note, we enjoyed a fabulous lunch at Sette Consoli, an Orvieto favorite.
We’ve relished past meals in the cozy dining room in winter, but for summer, they have a lovely gauze-draped gazebo in the back where we dined al fresco,
savoring fresh tortellini sauced with garbanzo and garnished with smoky slivers of ham,
roast pork tenderloin serve with calico borlotti beans in a crisp parmesan basket, and peaches with white pepper, a peach parfait, and amaretto ice cream. Definitely the highlight of the day.
Florida Old and New
Friday, 25 August, Orlando and St. Augustine
A quick couple of days visit to visit our daughter and her family brings days of enjoyment – grandchildren, sun, shopping, and vistas of Florida
both old and new.
The beauty of St. Augustine, the USA’s oldest still-thriving town, brings back memories of honeymoon days there MANY years ago. The colorful turreted buildings, gardenia-scented Spanish-inspired cloisters and cobbled lanes lined with 17th century homes are a true Florida treasure.
In Orlando, everything is new – but you can experience anywhere in the world! So we celebrate a friends’ birthday in the South Pacific, Universal style, relaxing by the Royal Pacific pool before a summer thunder storm crashes in, then enjoying a delicious Pacific rim lunch at Emeril’s Tchoup Chop. We loved the pork and ginger dumplings, the Hawaiian -style ribs, and the Mongolian barbecued lamb in purple rice moo shu. Great servce, and atmosphere too - we were seated in a comfortable booth beside the waist-high lily pond, with the open kitchen bustling beyond.
Wednesday, 16 August, Amsterdam
More shopping –after strolling by the floating flower market I gather a pretty tote bag (included with purchase) full of fall clothes at Cora Kemperman, then enjoy a harp duo in a lovely salon on the Herengracht.
The harpists begin with Bach, then continue with a contemporary composer - a prelude very much in the style of Bach, which goes winging off to contemporary-land, complete with humming harmonies, before returning to staid Bach.
A Ravel Habanera follows, then Debussy’s Children’s Corner – a rousing Gradus ad Parnassum, and a magical The Snow is Dancing… almost shivering, I can imagine the flakes flurrying down outside the huge windows, cooling off the warm room. An exquisite duo – the piece must have been written with harps in mind!
A rollicking Golliwog’s Cakewalk sends us smiling out to the cobbledstoned canalside lane.
And then to another Amsterdam taste favorite – Café Winkel’s best-in-the-city Apple Cake, brimming with cinnamon-scented apples, topped with a generous dollop of rich whipped cream. . Don’t miss it on your next trip – the café is right beside the NorderKerk – easy to find.
One more concert – an evening with a rising star, the engaging mezzo-alto Christianne Stotijn. It’s standing room only in the oval concert salon of the historic Felix Meritus building on the Keizersgracht. Mademoisell Stotijn enthralls with her voice and presence, masses of red hair tumbling about her shoulders as she flirts with twinkling eyes and lilting voice through Strauss, and brings us to tears with hushed whispers of sorrow through Tchaikovsky.
We walk home, the magic of the evening continuing with the glimmer of lights on the canals.
Thursday is departure day, and I can’t help but snap a few more photos along the quiet morning streets – one building after another waving good bye with distinctive Dutch finesse.
Music by the Water
Tuesday, 15 August, Amsterdam
We interrupt Italy
to bring you ….Amsterdam! A couple of marvelous days filled with music, picturesque canals and homes, and lovely cool August weather.
The annual Grachtenfestival
(Canal Festival), which started 25 years ago with one concert on a floating stage on the Prinsengracht Canal, has grown to 9 days of concerts in unique venues, such as historic private homes, verdant gardens, rooftop terraces, and majestic monuments. This year, in addition to those wonderful locales, not usually open to the public, the festival organizers have expanded across the water to outdoor terraces along the IJ river, the impressive new Musiekgebouw, and private conference halls in the former Shell office complex. Part of the fun of enjoying concerts in these new locales is riding the free ferry (for foot and bicycle passengers only) across the river to the waterside venues.
In addition to wonderful concerts, I have a couple of favorite dishes in Amsterdam that I make sure to enjoy each visit…so before beginning another favorite Amsterdam activity, shopping (the best city I’ve ever been in for clothes shopping for TALL women!), I stop at De Oude Wester café, across from the majestic Westerkerk, for a Dutch pancake. Thinner and larger than a pancake, thicker than a crepe, these eggy, chewy, delicious platefuls are a don’t-miss of Dutch cuisine. My favorite is apple and bacon, with paper thin rounds of apple and bacon tucked into the crispy brown pancake. Yum!
century canal-side home on Keizers gracht is the location for my first concert, the Trio Ismena, three young women dressed in adorable contemporary takes on old-fashioned outfits, playing the violin, cello and piano. In the majestic room, its ceiling, 15 feet above us, extravagantly painted with a gallery of listeners in sepia-aged jewel tones, the trio entertains us with a Mozart piano trio…a rousing allegro, delicately nuanced larghetto, and a sprightly allegretto.
Then to the 20th century, and Dvorak’s “Dumky Trio” with a multitude of contrasting styles, from a majestic slow first movement that transitions to a polka- like vivace, then a rousing folk song twining in and out between measured gorgeous melodic lines. A pleasure to listen and to watch, in a room that I would NEVER get to see otherwise.
After exploring more shops, I meet my wonderful hostesses, Noor and Maartje, and the three of us ride bicycles to dinner and a concert. What fun to join the throngs of cyclists I’ve always enjoyed watching on our previous visits to the city. We take the ferry across the IJ river, looking across the water at the bright orange restaurant where we’ll eat dinner, dwarfed by a huge cruise ship alongside. We ride, a park on one side and a quiet canal on the other, into north Amsterdam, where it feels like we’ve gone miles into the countryside, but it’s only a few minutes from the bustling city center.
Wilhemina dock is our dinner stop, a fun place that quickly fills up with diners. Delicious creative cuisine, great views, and an intriguing change from city center restaurants.
An unusual waterside venue, the former Shell office complex, now scheduled to become a museum, and an unusual concert this evening – a silent film of a spring day in Berlin in the 1930’s, accompanied by live music. In addition to clarinet and saxophone, the primary instruments of the two musicians, they play a concertina and several percussive instruments. Quite entertaining.
As we wait to board the ferry to return home, we listen to a Chopin prelude wafting across the water from an open-air concert …a lovely ending to the day.
Antiquities in Naples
Saturday, 8 July, Vietri, Naples
We were happy to have Enid
Hyde join us today to guide us around the National Archeological Museum
. She’s an art and architecture historian and experienced tour guide and a lovely person to spend time with.
This museum is where many of the finds from Pompeii are displayed and protected. The finely detailed mosaics, elaborate frescoes, and the don't- miss segregated “erotic room.”
The Pompeian citizens seemed to have a belief that displaying wildly exaggerated phallic symbols would ensure their fertility. Who knows if it helped or not, but it was great entertainment for contemporary adolescent Italian boys who snuck in and there were some red-faced American ladies rushing for the doors in disbelief. None in our enlightened party of course - just made us laugh!There was a special temporary exhibit of the silver of Pompeii
. It included goblets and trays from private collections all over the world brought together in one place. After the third or fourth room, I started to feel a tinge of what Enid
called “museum fatigue". After all, when you’ve seen 100 or so silver goblets, you’ve seen them
Maybe we were all just hungry for lunch, so we headed south to the Piazza Bellini for a bistro break and a look at the foundations of the Greek wall there.
A few blocks south of there and we were in the lovely ceramic cloister of the Santa Chiara convent and church again. We sprinted from shade to shade and were glad to see the museum open. They had photographed much of the results of allied bombing in World War II that left the church’s four walls standing but without a roof. They also chronicled the renovation and had on display many rescued artifacts from the rubble.
Home to Vietri for another delicious dinner (the Lloyd's Bahi Hotel laid out a scrumptious buffet of local specialties each evening). Enid
brought Ann and Lewis Townsend, whom we’d met just weeks earlier in DC at a promotional concert for the Amalfi Coast Music and Arts Festival. They’d just been setting up museum exhibits in Malta
Our last concert of the Festival was performed by the young artists. These are late teen age students of some of the instructors at the festival. Three of the best were chosen to play and they were very impressive. We’d seen these kids being kids all week and now in a new light as they displayed their fabulous mastery of the piano. A terrific farewell concert for us, as tomorrow we'll head north to Tuscany.
Angels and Thunderstorms
Friday, 7 July,Vietri, Capri, Cava de Tirreni
We took an early morning cruise with many from the festival from Salerno to Capri, stopping at Amalfi and Positano. We’d visited both already this week and pointed out to our festival friends the points of interest we could see from the dock. We got to know Elyse Mach better on the boat and were glad she and David and Ronja decided to take a bus with us up to Anacapri, quieter and less glitzy than Capri town.
Jill had read Axel Munthe's memoir, and was eager to see his island home, so we walked up to the museum and gardens of Villa San Michele, the home that he built on top of one of the island’s twelve ruined Roman villas. Some of the Roman antiquities scattered around the premises were ones he and the workers found while building the house but he collected others and added some Egyptian statues including a dark pink sphinx that is about 3,000 years old. The setting is magical, the serene white home surrounded by exquisite gardens. At the end of a long covered walkway, by the sphinx, there is a statue of Saint Michael killing Satan with a sword, driving him out of the Garden of Eden.
We made it to Il Solitario for lunch just before the storm that had been threatening hit. We were sitting in a covered porch between the inside dining room and the patio sheltered by ivy vines. So we kept relatively dry by frequently moving the table and chairs away from the driving rain during lunch. Scary booms of thunder echoed all around us as we imagined what we would do if this kept up and the ferry back to Salerno was cancelled…would there be hotel rooms for all the stranded daytrippers? We heard emergency boat horns bleating from the port, and wondered what they were trying to tell us.
The rain began to let up just as we were finishing lunch and after another delizia di limone (can you tell we like these??) we visited the San Michele church with the majolica floor depicting the Garden of Eden where David explained that “Michele”or Michael, in Hebrew means “who will be like God?” There was another statue of Saint Michele driving Satan out of the garden and we all made the connection with the name of the Axel Munthe’s garden and the church. We took the micro bus back to Capri town and walked down to the Marina Grande. The rain had stopped and the ferry was willing to make the trip but it was really choppy getting back to Salerno.
Tonight’s concert was supposed to be in the cloister of the church in downtown Cava de Terreni, but unfortunately it was moved to a non-descript room beside the cloister because of the threat of more rain. The acoustics for the Fine Arts Quartet were great, although it was hard to enjoy the music in the very warm and very packed (standing room only) room. We much preferred the Royal Theater in Caserta!
Eye, Mouth, and Ear Candy
Thursday, 6 July, Vietri, Ravello, and Amalfi Kirk writes: Before hitting the Amalfi Coast Road, signposted with ceramic mile markers garlanded with lemons, Anne and Jill attended a session of the Amalfi Coast Music and Arts Festival conducted by Nelita True, a master pianist and professor of piano. Continuing the 2006 focus on Mozart, she discussed performance practices of his music -lots to think about.
We survived all the deadly turns on the notorious road due in part to young traffic cops with red wands and walkie-talkies who stop traffic going one way when a large bus is coming the other way. Even with all the stops, it’s faster than having to stop and back up every time a bus needs both lanes to make a hairpin curve. This is a new development; and on the road up from the coast to Ravello, there’s even an unmanned automatic red light area that stops traffic one way when a bus is attempting to make a curve. It’s similar to the control in the States when construction closes one lane and the lights let one lane at a time get through. There are parts of the road to Ravello where I can’t imagine encountering a bus, but everyone’s been negotiating space without the controls for as long as there have been buses and trucks on the highway. I predict the next development will be width restrictions for cars entering the highway. It’s truly not wide enough for just any vehicle that wants to drive on it.
We found the expensive parking in Ravello and walked up to the row of three 5 star hotels which are also new since the last time we were here in 2001. We pointed out the house where Humphrey Bogart and friends got together each night after filming “Beat the Devil” here back in the 40’s.
We were ready for lunch on the terrace of the Hotel Rufulo where, in addition to the most photographed view on the Amalfi Coast, we enjoyed a delicious lemon risotto, a plate of four huge broiled lobster-sized shrimp, and some octopus salad.
Before enjoying the lush and expansive clifftop gardens of Villa Cimbrone we stopped in the flower-filled cloister of the Convent of San Francesco.
On our way back to Vietri, we stopped in the town of Amalfi to see the mosaic front of the cathedral. Anne found a string of spiky rose coral and some earrings to match.
We made a long awaited stop in Minore at Salvatore di Riso Pasticerria for a delizia di lemone (a dome of sponge cake filled and frosted with lemon custard) and another granite di lemone, plus a bottle of crema di limone to add to our previous purchase of crema di melone (we have certainly enjoyed sharing these incredible after-dinner treats with friends since returning to the states).
Back at the hotel in Vietre, after another huge buffet dinner, we groaned to see there was delizia di lemone for dessert. Of course we had to try just a bite to confirm that di Riso’s is better.
The concert tonight was in the Oratorio. This is what we call the sanctuary of Vietre’s majolica domed church. It has a blue neon AVE MARIA sign over the altar. It always makes me think it should say JESUS SAVES. The concert featured four pianists playing different Schumann pieces. We talked with Bridget de Moura Castro and arranged to buy some CDs of her and her husband, Luiz playing the piano.
Back to Italy - July Music and Markets in Amalfi
Wednesday, 5 July, Pompeii and Caserta
When you visit Pompeii in the summer, you get started EARLY to avoid the worst of the heat. The heat, dry and dusty streets, and lack of shade were unforgettable on a previous visit, so we arrange to meet our guide at the excavations at 9 am.
For a couple of hours, Elisabetta leads us around the mysterious ruins, Vesuvius brooding in the background. The mix of history and culture and even touches of beauty is fascinating. The distinctive Pompeii red shows up on one wall after another, and glittering crystalline glass mosaic walls are a beautiful touch that I had not seen on previous visits. We’re always learning!
We return to Vietri with a few hours to relax at the pool at the base of the cliff – only way to get there from the hotel is in a long tall elevator that snakes up the rocky cliff.
This evening is a special treat – the wonderful Fine Arts Quartet entertains us in the Royal Theater at Caserta, Italy’s palatial answer to Versailles.
First, a tour of the majestic palace and sumptuous gardens, where we welcome the refreshing natural air conditioning of the cascading water as the evening remains hot.
This evening the Fine Arts Quartet becomes a quintet, honoring the birthdays of Shostakovich and Schumann with the addition of Luiz de Moura Castro’s excellence at the piano.
Kirk, Jill, and I have a birds-eye view of the stage as we sit in box number 1 in the jewel box of a theater, gilded, frescoed, and laden with chandeliers. Heavenly!
A Picnic in the Garden
Friday, 28 July, Lourmarin, Mont Ste. Victoire
After a week of seeing the colors and smelling the fragrances of fresh summer fruits and vegetables, creamy cool cheeses, pungent spices and olives, and rustic sausages (have you ever tasted boar or donkey sausage ??) today we’re going to gather a picnic at the busy Lourmarin open air market. Before the eats, though, we all peruse the stalls of lavender, fabrics, soaps, gauzy summer clothes, and pottery one more time, finding a few last-day goodies to squeeze into our suitcases.
Bernadette, mistress of the lovely 18th century Villa San Louis, generously shares her peaceful garden with us, and we enjoy the market bounty in a private oasis.
A few times during the morning, we had to shelter from scattered raindrops, and later in the day, after rumbling threats, the rain really starts to come down. We’re disappointed that our last concert in the woods at La Roque d’Atheron is cancelled, but thankful for the relief from the intense heat that the storm ushers in.
There’s always more beauty to discover in Provence, so since we don’t have a concert to go to, we explore a few more villages : the hamlet of Vaugines, it’s cafes clustered around a mossy fountain ; the steep streets of Cucuron, leading up from a unique large rectangular basin/pool to the church at the top of town (we tell the story of the village May Day festivities we happened upon many years ago, and smile to see this year’s huge May Day tree trunk still in place in front of the church) ; and finally the château-crowned village of Ansouis.
Our last Music and Markets evening, and a drive in the countryside, as the sun sets, to a welcoming inn at the foot of Mont Ste. Victoire. The garden dining room of the Relais Ste. Victoire is full of locals celebrating special events – a promotion at one table, a birthday at another, and we thoroughly enjoy a bountiful, delicious and beautifully-presented « last supper ». When we think we can’t take one more bite, the waiter brings a huge goblet of « Meringues Cezanne » and glasses of champagne. We toast to a wonderful week.
Provencal Sights and Tastes
Thursday, 27 July, Aix, Luberon villages
Continuing our celebration of the Cezanne anniversary, we include a visit to Aix’s Musee Granet, hosting the Cezanne in Provence exhibit that we had seen in Washington DC, and that Kirk, not expecting to come on this trip, saw here in June. Helen and I enjoy the scenes of provençal countryside, especially after being enveloped in the paintings yesterday in the Cathedral des Images in Le Baux.
Through the week, we’ve been pointing out Mont Ste. Victoire, subject of nearly 100 paintings and drawings of Cezanne, from different angles – what a pleasure to see the scenes LIVE, then gaze at the artist’s conception.
Aix and Cezanne had quite a rocky relationship during his life, and a former director of the museum swore that «these walls will never be sullied by a Cezanne » Of course, today Aix is pulling out all the stops to honor « their »Cezanne.
We enjoy a delicious lunch at Le Formal, where we had planned to go for the opening night dinner, which had to be cancelled since Helen did not arrive til around 9 pm. The three course meal is a treat, each course beautifully presented by the black-clothed (the usual uniform in hip restaurants here in Provence, we’ve seen) young staff. On this, another scorcher of a day, their air conditioning has broken, and the chef, in addition to supervising the meals, and hostess are working with a repairman to get it working as soon as possible. Meanwhile, they’ve placed fans in the dining rooms – I can only imagine what the kitchen feels like !
Helen prefers not to sit through another hot concert, so we rearrange our afternoon and evening schedule to avoid the hottest part of the day, leaving after 4 to head north to the lovely villages of the green Luberon.
We wander the cobbled lanes of hilltop Bonnieux, pausing for photos of fountains and doors, stopping in Henri Thomas’s bakery-salon for some ice cream, then head for another village via Pont Julien, a milleniums-old Roman bridge that was still used by cars last time we drove this way. Now, it’s a tourist attraction, with a new bridge just downstream.
Next stop, the ochre-red village of Roussillon. After walking around admiring the multi-hued cliffs and houses, we sit at a shady table for a middle eastern supper.
A Yummy Day
Wednesday, 26 July, Saint Remy de Provence, Le Baux
A sweet start to another fun day – Sacristans, long twists of crisp pastry filled with almond paste and garnished with toasted almonds – which we pick up from our favorite bakery in Saint Remy when we arrive. Kirk has dropped us off, and is searching for a parking place, always a daunting task on market day. We dodge the shoppers and grab a little table at a café, order our breakfast sips, and enjoy the sacristans, and soon Kirk joins us, mission accomplished.
On to the bustling market stalls - I choose a selection of artisanal soaps, lemon, lavender, and tilleuil, for a friend, and Helen finds a couple of pretty tablecloths for her new round table at home. Other temptations soon fill our sacks – a provençal print makeup bag, a cool linen shirt for Kirk, and the music we are listening to as we shop – a CD of gypsy jazz from a booth across the aisle.
Next stop, Kirk’s favorite restaurant in the world, the Bistro du Paradou in the tiny village of Paradou. The meal is as wonderful as ever – the usual Wednesday dish of roast lamb (only one menu is available each day, sketched on the chalkboard – and it’s always delicious !). What makes it such a favorite ? The food is terrific, the atmosphere is simple and comfortable, the service is friendly and welcoming – you almost feel like one of the locals at the next table.
That olive oil on the table is from the next village, Maussane, where the Mas de Barres has once again won the prize for the best olive oil in the world this year. We stop at the mill and pick up a few olive oil products – already have a supply of their fruity oil at home.
Our musical event for the day is a multi-media spectacle in the cavernous former bauxite quarries in Les Baux. This year, honoring Cezanne, the program is Couleurs Cezanne. We are surrounded, in the cool caves with towering walls, with the art of the provençal master, and walk around feeling like we’re inside the paintings, while listening to glorious music filling the space.
We return to Aix, and the action continues til the wee hours along the Cours Mirabeau. We check out the artisan stalls along one side, and the one-night-only authors festival at the end of the street. Can’t resist a nicely-done book about the Languedoc, which the author autographs and includes a pretty sketch on the title page.
We’re entertained by a young clarinetist and his combo – jazz and standards from the 40’s draw a crowd as midnight approaches. There’s always something going on on the Cours Mirabeau !
From Town to Sea
Tuesday, 25 July, Aix,Cassis
Years ago we found a bakery/cafe in Brussels that has become a real favorite – Pain Quotidien. They have expanded throughout Europe, and even to the states – we’ve enjoyed breakfast at the one in New York City a couple of times. What first got us in the door was the scent of fresh-baked bread, what keeps us coming back, besides the delicious breads, is the long communal table, friendly welcome, and most of all the platter of spreads to smear on our country bread or croissant : white chocolate, dark chocolate, hazlenut chocolate, praline, pear butter, apricot jam….what a way to start the day !
Before showing off some of Aix, which we didn’t get to do Saturday night since Helen arrived several hours after she had planned, we stopped at the Place Richelme location of Pain Quotidien. It was still cool enough (did I mention that the heat has been smotheringly intense ???) to sit outside, but since the fish market shares the square, we prefer inside. The fish market has been in Place Richelme WAY longer than Pain Quotidien, so I guess they have dibs on the place, smell and all.
We peeked in the dramatic entry of the Musée de Vielle Aix, and the nearby trompe l’œil stairway in an office building, and then stopped at the cathedral. In honor of the day of St. Jacques – Aix must be another pilgrimage stop on the route to St. Jacques de Compostela in Spain – there was a well-attended mass, and organ music filled the triple-naved church.
After wandering through the market, always a delight, we headed to the coast for a seaside lunch.
Cassis, a picturesque old fishing village that has become very popular, is the departure point for boats visiting the Calanques, France’s answer to the fjords of Norway. As we ate the catch-of-the-day at the historic family-owned-since-the-1800’s Poissonerie (Poisson is fish, not poison), we watched the boats head out, one after the other, for the crystalline turquoise water of the calanques. Colorful little fishing boats bobbed in the nearby water.
Back to Aix, then to La Roque a few hours later for a wonderful two-piano concert, all Mozart inspired. Helen and I kept our fans busy, trying to keep cool enough to enjoy the music. I keep thinking – those performers have to be hotter than I am ! My fingers would be slipping off the keys !
Soldiers and Scherzos
Monday, 24 July - Cadenet, Charleval, La Roque
This is always one of our favorite days of Music and Markets Provence – after breakfast at the historic Deux Garçons café on Cours Mirabeau in Aix (where if you want eggs, you have to wait til 9 am), we head for the village of Cadenet, where the weekly Monday market swirls around the vivacious bronze drummer boy, a remembrance of Napoleonic battles.
Then the fun really begins, when we arrive at Andrée and Michel Motte’s home, where friends and aperitifs await. Engaging and fun hosts, Andrée and Michel make everyone feel like family, and the breezy yard and welcoming swimming pool are a perfect spot for an alfresco afternoon. Andrée has set up a long table under the trees, and begins to bring out the Aiöli, a slow, meandering lunch : escargot, steamed cod, carrots, beets, little bundles of haricots vert, cauliflower, and bowls of aiöli, "mayonnaise with an attitude", pungent with garlic, in which to dip it all. Then a cheese course with a runny reblochon, chevre from a local farm, roquefort, and gruyere, with which Michel insists on opening a Bordeaux from a friend’s vineyard (a crisp and cool Provençal rosé accompanied the Aiöli)
Then a bowl of seasonal fruit – reine claude plums, apricots, red plums. Then a bowl of créme anglaise, then another bottle – this time Italian proseco. Michel calls himself Italian, although he was raised in France by French parents and his sole Italy connection is his Nonna (grandmother). He loves to speak Italian with us, so there’s a hodge-podge of English, French, and Italian flying around the table. Teasing us all, Michel teaches Helen a new word : scherzo, Italian for joke.
An early evening piano solo concert at La Roque
d'Antheron completes our day with Prokofiev, Beethoven, and Stravinsky.
Antiques and Abbeys
23 July, Sunday, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Abbaye de Silvacane
We started bright and early - on the road north by 8 AM to the antiques mecca of Provence, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. We wound our way through the narrow lanes of the village to the center square and sat down at an outdoor table at the Cafe de France, a belle-epoque jewel across from the church. We had a ring-side seat on the busy market, right by the colorful stall of the flower vendors. Helen and I had stopped at a patisserrie on the way for a couple of apple-filled chaussons
for breakfast. Kirk picked up a still-warm ficelle
(small baguette) and some creamy fresh goat cheese, which we all had a bite of. Oh those French baguettes!
Across from the flower vendors, the hat merchants were doing a brisk business on this hot summer day. Helen bought a straw hat and wanted a loop for under her chin, and the vendor said that her father would put one on. So we explored the church, it's over-the-top baroque interior with masses of gilded angels swirling up the walls such a contrast to the sober exterior, while he did his handiwork. The hat got LOTS of use during the rest of the steamy week.
No antiques or brocante for us today, but several little French treasures - some home-made foie gras ("I raise the ducks, I prepare the foie gras" read the sign), a bottle of verveine-citron scent for diffuser sticks, and shoes and a cool summer outfit for Helen.
We walked outside of town, by creaky old water wheels and burbling streams to Vivier de la Sorgue
, where we enjoyed a terrific modern French lunch on the riverside terrace. Beautiful presentation, delicious food, and don't-miss coffee - since it comes with a tray of house-made tiny sweets.
The concert we had chosen for this evening was a string quartet, part of the annual Luberon string quartet series. The foursome entertained us beautifully in the quiet cloister of the 12th century Abbaye de Silvacane, beginning with Mozart's dissonant quartet, honoring the composers 250th anniversary being celebrated worldwide this year.
We finished the day with crepes, salads, and ice cream fantasies high above the valley in the secluded garden of Le Repaire by the ancient hilltop ruin of Vernegues.
Labels: Abbaye de Silvacane, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue