MY TRIP TO FRANCE..Four Chapters

July 09, 2006

Hello Everyone;
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I want to tell you about my marvelous trip to France and even though it was a year ago. I had such a wonderful time that it feels just like yesterday!!
This newsletter is soooo long that it is in chapters. So get a cup of coffee and enjoy!

It was a combination of nostolgia and adventure. I lived in Europe for many years during the seventies and to tell you the truth, I did not want to leave. I have returned several times but always in a working capacity.

My son Jason was raised for the first three years of his life in Europe and I think that is why he returns every year. There is just something about the way of life that makes us yearn to return.
We were so young back then. We camped every weekend that we could and there it is easy to get from country to country. We spent a lot of time with my Aunt Bessie and Uncle Gene who lived in Crest Volonde, France and Geneva, Switzerland. They were very happy times filled with long evening meals, lots of discussion, shopping for the daily meal, our first child, living as the only english speaking people in a small German Villiage. Friends of all nationalities became a way of life. It was all good.

We arrived in Paris around 7:00 a.m. and arrived at the Hotel d'France three hours later. We were delighted with the location of our hotel...one block from Hotel D'Invalides (Napoleon's tomb is housed there) and three blocks from the Eifel Tower. This small hotel is nestled in a street of large apartments with a very posh restaurant attatched. We had a very small room with a very tall window overlooking the gold dome of Hotel D'Invalides and the street noises were wonderful to hear....how I love Paris!!!

I can highly recommend this little hotel as I will return next year. The staff is well versed in many laguages. The breakfasts are delicious and the beds are comfortable...all for 92 euros per night. You can reach them at their websight www.hoteldefrance@wanadoo.fr

We walked through the park to get an evening view of Paris from the Eifel Tower. On the way we paused several times to chat and to admire the great variety of dogs being exercised by their owners. The French love their pets and
they can be seen everywhere...even in the restaurants...which I think is wonderful and as it should be.
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I also find that if you attempt to speak french with the people..they really appreciate it and will go out of their way to be helpful. My school girl french (we have to study it for seven years in Canada) is quite pathetic but after a few days phrases started coming back. I was really glad that I had purchased a "Speak French in Seven Days" phrase book and had listened to the c.d. that came with it..... After a week of strangled french I was feeling quite smug and navigated all through the Paris Subway with nary a hitch.
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This was Ernest's first visit to France and it was wonderful to see it through his eyes... The first thing he noticed was the vast number of nationalities living side by side....then the number of mixed race couples.... We were just an ordinary couple in Paris!

The next day we walked to the Rodin Museum and ate lunch in the park. The roses were in full bloom and the gardens were amazing with Rodin's very strong full-figure sculptures highlighted by the towering trees and shrubs. It was amazing to see "The Thinker", "The Gates Of Hell" and "The Kiss" in real life. Along with all this beauty are the works of Camille Claudell (the tragic lover of Rodin). I personally think she was the better sculptor!!
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On the way back we stopped to view Napoleon's tomb at the Hotel D'Invalides. Such a huge display for such a little man.... The Empire style is marvelous to see and the museum is excellent. The buildings were originally established by Napolian as a hospital for his soldiers. The Archetecture is a delight in it's own. As Ernest and I walked out the side gate we were amazed to see old war veterans still being cared for in the hospital wing by nurses in startched caps and uniforms.
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The next day we visited the Louvre....I was last there with my son Jason when he was two years old..he is now thirty three!! The change is wonderous...The subway takes you directly under the Louvre and there is a whole underground series of marvelous shops and boutiques. We started an organized trek through the museum and saw so many amazing pieces of art that we were awe struck by noon and thoroughly drenched in art!!.
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Ernest managed to fight his way through a crowd of Japanese tourists to see the Mona Lisa....each one trying to get him to take picture for them because he is so tall..... other than that we were very fortunate to be able to get around without big crowds and to really enjoy the art work. You are allowed to photograph in the Louvre and I got lots of photos of the sculpture collection. Because it was Thursday the mueum was open til nine and we made use of every minute. We had a light meal at the Louvre and trekked home exhausted but happy.

We had to pack and get ready for the next part of our train journey on to Provence and the village of Menerbes which is an hour south of Avignon. We had to be up bright and early to catch the fast train to Avignon and there was a little French Reneau Elf waiting for us at the car rental!! Thank god we didn't let the snobbish rental agenct talk us into a bigger car because then we could not have driven ion the narrow streets of Menerbes!

CHAPTER TWO------------------------------------------------------------------------

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I cannot begin to describe Provence to you. It is the people,the food,the wine, the scenery, the lavender fields, the ancient stone buildings, the sun, the sence of history and time standing still. The light has a magic quality which attracts artists worldwide. Perhaps these postcards can show you what I mean!




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Our main reason for going to Menerbes was to meet our brother and sister-in-law Babs and Brent Seawell and our friends Joan Hanley and Charles Eakin (all from La Veta). Charles' sister Jane Eakin was a well known artist and lived in Menerbes for over thirty years. When she died, she left her home and paintings to the village with the express wish to have it all become a museum. At the annual three day Art Festival she was the honoured artist and it was wonderful. We were joined by Charles' neice Mimi and her daughter Patty as well as good friends Whealen and Laura Koontz (we stayed at the same bed and breakfast, they live in La veta part time.)
After three days of music, film showings, art gallery openings, dinners and dancing....we were madly in love with Menerbes.

But most of all we were in love with Joe Downing, the dearest man, the most gentle, all knowing soul and an internationally aclaimed artist. He has lived in the village for over 30 years and was Jane Eakin's best friend. We met him at his house when he hosted Charles, his family and friends. I could wax on lyrical for paragraphs over that gathering.
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Joe lives in the most amazing ancient stone house...surrounded by art, the clutter of bachelor life, old dottery dogs plus Jane's cat who appears like a wisp at dinner time..... He has been with his partner Manny, a reclusive frenchman for fifty-two years... (a lesson to us all) They met in Paris when Joe arrived, a young painter from Tennissee, with a peanut butter jar filled with the red earth of his birth and the determination to never go back.
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Jane Eakin was married to an American news correspondent and after their divorce she rented rooms out to Joe and Manny. They became instant friends and shared their love of art and life with each other for a lifetime. Jane was an amazing woman and artist. She became the lover and partner of Issac Stern..... When that love affair ended she became the consort to the Prince of Cambodia....Oh be still my racing heart....there is a novel in there somewhere!!!
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After several years Joe and Manny moved to southern France and settled in a derelict house in the village of Menerbes. (this is the same village that Peter Mayles made infamous with his novel "A Day In Provence".) The locales were incensed over the unwanted publicity... even Joe says that when he moved to Menerbes he knew he was bringing "a little drop of poison."

A few years later, at Joe's urging, Jane Eakin moved to Menerbes and continued on with her art career. The rest is history.
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The light in Menerbes is amazing and it draws artists from all around the world. The village is home to a great array of artists, writers and musicians. We are years too late to afford living there. ( The patrons arrived like buzzards, buying up all the properties, boosting the cost of living sky high) but we can always return and my heart will remain always.

The Art Festival was a three day whirlwind of activity. The gallery openings were amazing and we met so many wonderful artists. The musicians were superb and everywhere we went there was beautiful music. All day long there were showing of documentaries and movies. Include readings by authors and streets lined with art vendors and you have an idea of what the Menerbe Art Festival was like.
The most moving documentary was an outdoor viewing of Jane Eakin's life with the music composed by her brother Charles. It was a very proud and emotional time for our friend Charles.


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Each night there were wonderful parties and meals but the high light was a celebration banquet, held in the town square. We had the most amazing meal and it lasted five hours....served outside on the cobbled stones, surrounded by ancient stone walls, shafts of warm summer light playing off the walls, the buzz and laughter of a joyful crowd, swallows swooping in the evening light, music from a cello played by a beautiful raven haired woman...it was like a dream.
The meal consisted of wine and more wine, local cheeses, salamies, crusty breads, succulent canapies..... then the piece de resistance!!!.... lamb so perfect
it melted in your mouth. We later found out that the lamb was from the Carmogue area, on the coast, famous for it's salt marshes and white horses. There the sheep graze on wild rosemary along with other wild herbs and the salty sea grass....soooo they come already tenderized and self marinated!!! Yumm Yumm Yumm.


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After the three days of celebrations, our friends and family left for Paris and home. We had planned to move on to other villages and down to the Camargue
area to see the white horses but Menerbes was too much of a siren and we stayed for another six days. It was the best decision we ever made.

CHAPTER THREE------------------------------------------------------------------

We stayed at the most wonderful bed and breakfast "Les Douze Oliviers".
It is a mile out of Menerbes, along a very narrow and windy road. It is a little bit of paradise owned and run by Bart and Lieve Hoorens-Mullie, a Belgian couple.
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Bart is a real-estate agent in Menerbes and Lieve runs the Bed & Breakfast with precision like ease!! She is an ex head-nursing professor and it shows! They have a beautiful daughter Louise who became a favorite of ours.
We highly recommend "Les Douze Oliviers" for its' beauty, the beautiful rooms,
The gorgeous breakfasts and hospitality. Please check out their websight at
www.les-douze-oliviers.com

Each morning we ventured out to visit the local market of the day. Each day the farmer's market is held in a different village and nothing is more than a few kilometers away.

The first market we visited was in Oped...all of four miles away....It was a feast for the eyes and stomach. The fruit and vegitables were gorgeous but best of all were the flowers and plants for sale!! We couldn't stand it and bought a Ballerina rose bush and two beautiful iris plants to take back to Lieve. Ernest planted them and we plan to return to check out their progress.
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This market is a true farmers' market and the people are as interesting as their wares! I loved the little trucks and vans and the pride the farmers have in their produce. The Opede Market was ablaze with flowers and perenial plants. We purchased some cheese and sausages along with dried lavender and some beautiful table clothes.

So that became our routine...get up for a nine a.m. breakfast, toodle off to the
daily farmers' market and then back to Menerbes for a leisurely lunch at Rebas Cafe ( wonderful hangout for the locals) and then off for a visit with our newfound friends and then an evening meal with one of them....

We really did fall in love with the area, the village and our new found friends. Each day was a little adventure. We were able to take each day as it came and there was no set plan..... We drove to Bonnieux Tuesday morning Just to enjoy the scenery and to stroll along the many streets of the hill top villages. At least that was our plan but we only got as far as Lacost and Bonnieux! That was more than enough because I could not stop taking photos!
We stopped in Bonnieux for lunch and to take photos from the highest point which was the church yard. The views across the valley were breath taking and the roof tops formed a special grid pattern. We wandered along the back roads towards Apt and paused many times to watch the farmers in their fields.
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I can see why artists are always talking about the light in special places around the earth. After being in Menerbes for a few days we started seeing the special play of the light across the valley, the way it played off the stone walls and the shimmer it gave to the trees.
We spent our afternoons visiting various artists. One of our favorites was Jean Francoise Ganas who paints amazing still lifes. We admired his work here in La Veta when friends returned with his paintings from a previous visit to Menerbes. It took us two visits to decide on a pastel of a bundle of asperigus, two acryllics of canned fruit and a floral using pastels and old chintz fabric.....
Jean Francoise lives across from the local Butcher shop and his cat is sooo fat from his frequent visits there!

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Every afternoon we would stop at the local tobbacco shop and Bistro (just across from the local tourist shop) to say hello to the dearest little dog named Snoopy. He sat on the front steps everyday and in spite of the traffic and pedestrians he never left his post. The owner told us the little dog just showed up one day many years ago and he has been his faithful friend ever since....
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I studied fine art in University and really never appreciated modern art until my visits with Joe Downing and watching a documentary about his work. I suddenly realized that Joe was painting the light and the atmosphere that is Menerbes.
After our visits with Joe and walks through his studio, we realized that we just had to have a piece of his work....so off we went to choose.
It took us three hours and ended up with two because Ernest fell in love with one and I with another.

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Ernest chose one with abstract letters, beautiful blues and yellows. Joe told us about his childhood memories of walking out with his mother to the garden to look at the spider webs made by the alphabet spiders. if you looked closely at their webs you could make out letters of the alphabet.
I chose one that reminded me of Menerbes, a wonderful play of blues, oranges, greens and yellows in shapes of houses, birds,and trees....it captures the feeling of Menerbes.
Best of all this series of painting were painted onto a material call"Forte" which is used in tayloring. Joe found a roll of it in a dustbin in the garment district of New York and carried it to Paris and then to Menerbes!!!

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Go to www.google.com Type in the name Joe Dudley Downing, artist. The university of Kentucky has a wonderful bio and pages of his art work. I think you will enjoy seeing what a body of art he has produced.
The photo on the left shows sculptures made by Joe in his garden. The photos above are from the village and one of Ernest with Peter Montagnon the filmmaker and Joe. They are neighbours.


We travelled one day to the high walled city of Gorde...wow what a journey...it was our longest foray along windy narrow roads but well worth the visit. It is a much larger city and very touristy.
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The market there was wonderful because a spice merchant was selling his wares. Just as I remember...large baskets full of colourful spices with beautiful smells. We stocked upfor the next two years!
We also found some beautiful bright fabrics and home made soap along with more cheeses and sausages.(that became our main staple for lunch)
We walked and walked and walked some more. The streets are heavily cobbled and rough and the views from the walls are unbelievable.

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One thing that really stood out for me were the number of beloved pets in France. Every where we went there were dogs and cats who obvioulsly enjoyeed the good life. This Cat was huge and very protective of his space. In The yard were two little poodles. I think my animal photos are someof my favorites.

Last but not least we travelled to Roussion and I think it was the most amazing place because this is where ochre comes from!! As a painter it held a special fascination for me. We saw wonderful hues of ochre in the cliffs surrounding the village and the buildings were like a paint box explosion!! Everywhere we looked there was pattern and colour. We enjoyed a wonderfull lunch and then wandered the street so I could take more photos.
The market was enjoyable and I stocked up on a variety of natural pigments to paint the walls of the guest house and the studio. I purchased some extra to take back to artist friends.
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There were so many bike riders in Roussion which made for an interesting contrast between old and new. I took several photos for Jason who is an avid bike rider. On this trip we met a canadian family who was biking across Provence and shared a meal with them in Menerbes.

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It was wonderful to share this special time with Ernest. I can't ever remember a more perfect holiday. When we returned from Russion there was just one day left! We took advantage of that to go around and say goodbye to all our new found friends.
We reluctantly said goodbye to Lieve and Bart and to wee little Simon and his parents. They were staying at the B and B with us.
We went by to say goodbye to Peter and his sweet wife RoseMary. We lingered with Joe for one last visit and stopped in to say goodbye to Jean Francois and then up the road to say goodbye to a lovely couple Jonathan and Maria Duff. They were in the process of renovating a home and yet had time to invite us for dinner one night. We met at the Opede market and just hit it off.
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Next we went by the school to say goodbye to Louise. That was sweet as the children were really taken with Ernest. We stopped in to the two local restaurants to bid goodbye. Last but not least we had to say thank you to Sue Bastable ,her father and husband. Sue is a marvelous British artist who lives permanently in Chemin des Dumaines. We spent some wonderful time with them at their beautiful home......
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We were very quiet as we drove off but so thankful for all the beautiful memories.

CHAPTER FOUR-----------------------------------------------------------------------
We drove as far as Avignon and got there just in time to see Manny's Art Show in the old part of town. The gallery owner was on his way to another Art opening and invited us to join him. It was an Avante Guarde show that involved irridescent beattles and gold lame!!!! very different and fun. Next we were off to a beautiful meal at Joe's favorite restaurant and he was right...it was delicious.
Needless t say we fell into bed that night, eshausted but happy.
We caught the fast train back to Paris in anticipation of six gorgeous days of museums, fleamarkets and a trip to Monets garden.

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