A week in Provence isn’t enough

We drove out to see Madame in Vaugines. In her white painted village house with a fig tree in the courtyard she had still more boxes of books. She told me her grandfather had been a baker in Biscarosse. She sold me some enormous registers from the early 1900’s documenting his customers and his sales.

In the small square by a mossy fountain a man was selling vegetables – large, glossy aubergines, fragrant tomatoes. We had lunch in Lourmarin, an altogether different atmosphere. Galleries, cafes, boutiques – the Provence of Peter Mayle – chic and expensive. I went to say hello to a well known dealer there, with his exquisitely painted decorative pieces – but just to look.

Bonnieux, with ochre shuttered houses jumbling together on a hillside looking over the Durance valley was picturesque to say the least. Down a steep narrow lane in two dusty, vaulted rooms I find an antiques shop.  The dark haired man, profusely sweating and mopping his brow with a cotton kerchief, launches into a monologue about escalating house prices, swimming pool permits only for the foreign visitors, inheritance taxes and Sarkozy. “La Provence has become a garden of the rich”, he said morosely.

I was looking at a three seater rushed bench, a radassier, and he reassured me that it was good and solid – “Allez, let’s all sit down on it ,“ he said, gesturing to me and to his son. And so we all sit as if in some obscure waiting room. We haggle a little, and with a shrug, he says, “Eh, I don’t want to see it here again during another winter. Take it away.” His son carries the bench on his head, up the narrow street to the van.

On a hot, hot day Graham and I drive out of the hills down to the sea. Near Aix-en-Provence we find a huge old building, perhaps an old mill or warehouse, with large faded letters painted along the wall – Antiquites. It looks like another dusty, half-forgotten sort of place with old beams, high ceilings and crowded with furniture. Is there a loo here? I ask. But of course, Madame. A large chest of drawers that was blocking a door is shunted out the way. The door opens onto the “cabinet” woven with cobwebs. Madame brooms the air as if making candyfloss from the webs, then brings a bucket of water and loo roll. Such service!

Exploring the two shadowy floors of heavy furniture and miscellania yields a large wooden trug for grape harvesting and a beautiful crested mirror.

Next day I am wandering through another picturesque Luberon village, Ansouis, and come across a small house being refurbished. “Always stop and ask builders if they have anything from the building that they don’t want”, someone once said to me. So I stop and ask, and they give me a small wooden window frame with its old glass and lovely old catch, and I tuck this under my arm as I continue up the cobbled street!

There are so many places I didn’t visit on this trip, but it’s time to make the journey north. Violent winds buffet the van until we are out of the Bouches du Rhone. Graham’s motorbike breaks down outside Bourges and is taken away on a recovery vehicle. I just about manage to create a bit of space between boxes and bags for him to travel home with me!

Vaugines. On a bench here, Yves Montand learns the terrible truth….

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