NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that, although this blog is devoted to beautiful, and all-too-fragile New Jersey, I am always longing for Provence.
Mediterranean Sea from Esterel Massif, en route to and from St. Tropez
I lived in Cannes from October of 1987 into August of 1988 – in other words, I saw the seasons ’round.
Normal Provencal Drive for me, even in winter
In February and March, along the Riviera, trees bloom. Driving in closed cars up to the sacred hill towns, the perched villages, the fragrance of blossoms fills the vehicle. Almond blossoms like snow against gnarled hillsides. Menton’s lemons, grapefruit, mandarines, clementines, and yes, oranges filling the air, until breathing was like drinking Cointreau. Mingled with the sweetness of flowering fruit trees was always the pungency of wild herbs in the garrigues: thyme, marjoram, rosemary in tall shrubs, oregano, savory and pebre d’ail, a truly spicy wild flavoring. Animals who fed in the herblands absorbed those savors into their meat, their milk, therefore infusing Provencal cheeses.
Menton’s Citron Festival around George Washington’s Birthday
The sense of smell was literally intoxicating during my stay there. One bitter January day in Biot, I was walking its narrow streets, marveling at flowers in small terra cotta pots even on back stoops of houses, blooming in what we know as winter. Then, I smelled peaches. I decided I’d just been in this land of enchantment so long that I’d ‘gone round the bend.’ Instead, I strode ’round the corner to find a small fresh food marche, with some of its produce out on the sidewalk in January sun. Peaches filled the air, as though someone were baking a peach pie.
Peaches in an outdoor market in Provence
The sense of hearing was newly called into play, not always pleasantly. The mistral reared its inescapable head day after day in winter, roaring down the Rhone toward that usually placid Mediterranean Sea. Some say, and I’d believe it, that Van Gogh cut off his ear because driven to this by the mistral. It can roar for days, causing pipes in your home and shutters on your windows to whine and twang. We don’t know anything like this wind. It’s as though Provence wind came through huge faucets, all turned on at full blast at the same time and the same impossible speed, by day and by night, interminably.
We don’t know wind like this, not even in hurricanes, which I’ve now lived through. Our winds rise and fall in intensity and sound. One of the greatest horrors of Sandy for me was the relentlessness of that howl. The mistral’s is more infuriating, more intense, –a more ceaseless and inescapable blast.
Cheese of Goats who Roam the Garrigues/wild herb fields of Provence
One time, my daughters had a good laugh on their romantic mother. Somewhere in the South of France, high above the sea, I enthused, “Isn’t Provence wonderful? The air smells like champagne!” We were at a picnic ground high above the sea. The mistral was so strong, it had blown over a family’s champagne, literally spilling it all over those ancient rocks.
Typical perched village – driving through fragrant collines to reach these treasures
It probably doesn’t make sense even to miss the annoying mistral, but I do. Afterwards, the Provencaux would say of that wind, “Il balayer le ciel.” (It sweeps the sky.) No bluer blue ever existed than post-mistral skies, unless you count the Mediterranean, reflecting that ethereal hue.
Everything’s electrifying in Provence. Breathing itself is intoxicating. Around any corner, anything can happen. In St. Tropez’ s Musee de l’Annonciade, one looks at Fauve masterpieces on the wall, then through the windows at the very scenes those vivid colorists painted so masterfully.
Fishing Boats of St. Tropez, from window of Musee de l’Annonciade
Baie de St. Tropez from windows of Musee de l’Annonciade
But the queen of all Provencal sense experiences is the amazing mimosa/ Delicate as these blossoms are, they come from a tree. One filled my second-floor bedroom window in Cannes. Tiny puff balls moved in the slightest breeze, wafting a scent of lemon and nutmeg in through those bottle-green wooden shutters. Nothing surpasses waking and sleeping to the delicate mimosa fragrance. Another miracle was peering through mimosa branches to discover Napoleon’s Corsica so very far away, but only in early winter months.
Magnificent Mimosa Tree in Ad by l’Occitane, house of superb Provencal fabrics
Even with my love of New Jersey’s soul-filling beauty, I miss the many electrifications of Provence, especially as March — the month of flower fragrances in that land – begins, with a nor’easter, no less. No flower fragrances for us, let alone peaches around the corner.
Flowering Almond Tree – subject of Pierre Bonnard’s last painting – he lived at Le Cannet, one hill over from ‘mine’, L’Observatoire of Cannes
In Menton, flowers and Fruit at Same Time, on February Trees