Pat and Joan in Giverny
Yolanda in Provence
Me with my favorite landmark
The Arles 6 minus 1 (Richard) plus 1 (Steve) gathered Friday night for dinner at Pop's here in Durham. Betty was back in town and we hadn't all been together since our reunion trip in June 2008. This top photo is from our first trip, in 2006. We are in Provence, with the village of Gordes in the background. Yolanda brought her computer to Pop's and Pat and Joan were able to watch the slideshow of the 2006 trip for the first time. What wonderful memories. It was, without a doubt, a trip that could never be duplicated...
Betty, Yolanda and I met up at RDU. Yolanda and I have worked together for years and we were nervous that Betty would think we were a couple of goofballs (do the nicknames of Lucy and Ethel mean anything??). We discovered, however, that Betty was exactly our type of traveler when we arrived in Paris and got stuck in the turnstile as we attempted to leave the airport and board the train for Paris. Betty stayed calmer that we did and finally the three of us and our bags got over, under and around the turnstile and on the train. We found our hotel, Les Jardins D'Eiffel, on Rue Amélie, in the Rue Cler area and the adventure began. Betty introduced Yolanda and me to Veuve Clicquot yellow label champagne late one night in a little café on Rue Cler and we were forever bonded. (We discovered why she always carries a large Longchamps bag...)
Pat and Joan joined us on Bastille Day, arriving in time to check into the hotel and trek over to the Champs-Élysées with us for the parade. By this time, Betty's son Alex had also joined us. I had never been in Paris on July 14 and was so excited about the parade. It is very military in nature, with tanks, soldiers, and planes flying overhead.
Alex found wonderful restaurants for us and we picnicked one evening down by the river. This is a group that loves good food! We went to the shops on Rue Cler, as well as La Grande Epicerie at Bon Marché, for provisions for a picnic in the gardens at Giverny, Claude Monet's home. We took a bus tour there on a beautiful sunny day. We had enough wine to have a glass on the way there, toasting our new friendships and memories in the making. Betty accidentally spilled her red wine on the very well-dressed Alex (a white polo and khakis) and Yolanda and I were very curious to see his reaction. He took a deep breath and didn't say a word. Our picnic was the envy of everyone who walked by. I distinctly remember very ripe cherries, creamy cheese, crusty baguettes and chocolate. Yolanda was asked to photograph a young man from Texas proposing to his unsuspecting girlfriend. We had all gone our separate ways at that point, wandering around the house, gardens and workshop/giftshop. When we met back at the bus, Yolanda was in tears as she began telling about the proposal.
We left Paris on the TGV to head to Arles and Chef Érick's B&B and cooking week. I had been there the previous summer and was very anxious to get back. My room that summer was the yellow one-- a swimming pool sized bathtub and a gauzy netting over my bed. Yolanda and I became roommates this time, safely ensconced in the blue room, surrounded by the smell of lavender (I later found out that this room just naturally smells of lavender... there are no hidden grains or sachets). One evening we discovered Leonardo da Vinci staring back at us from the painted shower. (I voted for Victor Hugo, though, just for the record.) We even confessed this to Erick at dinner one night and he very quietly went upstairs for a look. He is the one who painted that wall. When I returned the next summer, he had painted a frame around the mysterious visage.
This is where we picked up Richard. We discovered that another "chef" had been added to our Mini-Gourmand cooking stage. At first, we weren't sure we wanted anyone else. Richard, however, very quickly endeared himself to each and every one of us, especially after he responded so well to the hot water incident at breakfast the first morning. Yolanda swears that she did not scald him and we have not seen any scars, truth be told.
We had Erick all to ourselves that week. His wife, Madeleine, left us to attend a workshop, taking their younger son Jonas with her. Leo, the older son, was in Michigan visiting his grandmother by the time we arrived. Erick took us on his own personal tour of Arles, including the library where he has researched many of his recipes. We visited the lavender fields at the Abbaye Notre Dame de Sénanque, picnic in hand. One day we went to visit a potter friend in the village of Séguret. We visited an organic winemaker, Jean-David, and his wife, once more with a picnic to enjoy in the shade of a large pine tree on his property. The only problem there occurred when we locked ourselves out of the house for the second time while visiting the bathroom. This really tried the winemaker's patience. The chocolate shop of Joël Durand in Saint Rémy de Provence was a must on our list. (We had seen photos of the handsome chocolatier...) Only Yolanda got to actually meet him that day. The rest of us had elected to stay in the van, napping, if memory serves me right, when we made our second stop there to pick up the chocolates we had bought earlier in the day. I have since been back there several times, most memorably on my 49th birthday. I have a photo to prove it!
At the end of our cooking week, we bid Erick, his assistant Barbara, and Richard good-bye, picked up our rental car, packed it to the hilt and set off for Aix-en-Provence. With me behind the wheel, no less. We only took a couple of wrong turns leaving Arles and were soon on our way past Mont St. Victoire, the white mountain that Cézanne painted so many times. Yolanda, my navigator, was instructed to put the damn camera away by someone in the back seat as we passed the mountain and pay attention to the route. She and I stiffled our giggles and we made it to Aix in an hour.
Our hotel, chosen for its central location and parking garage, was easy to find on the Cours Mirabeau. Yolanda and I dropped off the luggage and other passengers and set off to park the car. That was an adventure and the main reason why I do not like to drive in France... many very narrow streets and confusing entrances to those streets. We did indeed finally get the car parked, only scratching the mirror a little on the way in to the underground garage.
The main reason we chose to spend a night in Aix was to see a Cézanne exhibit at the Musée Granet. We did not get tickets in advance and were so scared that we would not be able to see it. This was my one truly anxious moment as the organizer of this trip. However, we walked right up to the window and got the tickets for that afternoon. So, after a lovely lunch at an outdoor restaurant (my first warm goat cheese salad), we spent a few hours wandering around the exhibit.
Our last stop of the trip was two nights in Nice. Our hotel was just a couple of blocks back from the Promenade des Anglais and the Mediterranean Sea. We ate dinner at a restaurant in Old Nice owned by M. Alziari. Divine. Pat had found this one in an article in the NY Times. It was simply charming. We decided to drive to Vence to visit the chapel decorated by Henri Matise there and to have lunch in a nearby restaurant that a chef in Durham had recommended to Pat. We had even planned to go to mass at the Chapel of the Rosary and then take the tour. However, Yolanda and I had a very difficult time retrieving our car from the paid garage and then we completely missed the exit and were almost back to Aix before we turned around. Betty and I were convinced that the French must number their exits differently. No one who knows me well would believe me if I said that, but Betty is much more believable. We made it just in time for the tour, though, led by one of the sisters, delivered in the most beautiful French I have ever heard.
We found our lunch destination, La Table d'Amis de Jacques Maximin, just outside of Vence, without much difficulty. This restaurant is called "...one of the Riviera's grandest treasures" by Frommer's. Robert de Niro is known to dine there when he's in town. Unfortunately, he was not there that Sunday afternoon, but we were convinced that we had found a corner of paradise as we ate outside, surrounded by beautiful flowers and very attentive waiters.
We made it to the Nice airport in plenty of time to miss the turn at least twice and get all the bags checked and through security. The woman who took the rental car back didn't seem the least bit upset about our scratch. The car next to us was the exact same color and model and had a large scrape all the way down the passenger side, making ours seem very minor indeed.
So, my Arles 6 Gang, here's to all of you for giving me ten days that I will never forget.