MISSING PROVENCE

at-cap-d-antibes by Claude Monet.In case anyone wonders why I am always homesick/depaysee for my life in Provence, this is Monet’s answer.

In 1987, I sailed free aboard the good ship QEII because I gave two lectures based on my decade of Transition Consulting: one on Success and one on Change, key topics in the Transition years.  I was also blessed to launch my poetry chapbook, Gatherings, , which had just been published prior to sailing.

The French line didn’t exist any more; and Cunard ships did not deign to dock in Le Havre.  So I tooled around Cornwall in search of King Arthur for a bit, after arriving in unwillingly in Southampton.  I then flew to that adorable casual palm-fringed gull-populated airport, right on the sea, named Nice.  Once, in early February of 1976, my MIchigan friend Bernadette Thibodeau went for the luggage there, and I for the car.  On the autoroute to St. Jean-Ca–Ferrat, we discovered that neither had somehow gone through customs.  Ever since 1964, Nice had been the gateway to paradise for me,.  It has not diminished in importance in all these years.

That view, which you might think Monet embellished, was a normal everyday scene for me, living on Observatoire Hill above Cannes in 1987 and ’88.  The simplest errands also took me past this idyllic spot in Cap d’Antibes.  After the market, I would take in either the Picasso Castle or the Napoleon Museum, if not both.  My neighbors scoffed at my Napoleon-mania:  “O,” they would sniff.  “That Corsican!”

Cap d'Antibes beach FRanceThis scene is but my screen-saver now.  I yearn day and night for the Mediterranean’s beauty and the hearty human interchanges bestowed upon me, year upon year, in that environment.

For example, in 1976, Bernadette Thibodeau and I dined nightly at table, next to Leslie Charteris (author of The Saint televisionseries on television, as well as of priceless gastronomic sagas in Gourmet).  Charteris was there for the winter.  We for around ten February days.  Both exquisite tables tucked into a glass corner of La Voile d’Or, one of the most perfec establishments I have ever encountered, even in France.

The sea wrinkled and twinkled at our feet as we supped.  As night fell, the three Corniche roads glittered, sinuous ruby and diamond necklaces bedecking dark velvet rocks.  The identity of the gems depending upon whether vehicules were hurtling toward nearby Italy or back into blessed France.

On our second night, I dared question our sommelier’s choice of red wine to accompany our legendary lamb of Sisteron.  If a person can twinkle, he did:  “I’ll just bring it, and if you don’t like it, I’ll drink it myself.”  We laughed so very hard.  Of course his choice was perfection with Sisteron lamb, so much more delicate than ours in the States.  My fear had been that his suggestion could not stand up to that entree.  Soon we were laughing,  rather ruefully, in the elevator returning to our rooms, discovering that that our mentor had just been named Le Meilleur (BEST) Sommelier de France. 

Do not forget that it was February in St. Jean-Cap=Ferrat.  Sweaters over our shoulders were enough, sauntering the exquisite shore path from our hotel over to Beaulieu-sur-Mer and back.  Blossoms framed every view out our windows.  Their scents suffused our senses, as we drove through stony garrigues to Provencal hilltowns:  Almonds.  Mimosa, Cirtons, such lusty fragrances penetrating through closed Renault windows.

back streets old antibes

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I spend my life praising New Jersey.  I do my best.  I mean my enthusiasms.  But sometimes, I just cannot bear not being on the South of France.

Especially as I tuck into interminable layers of gear just to drive to work – from earmuffs to lined gloves to lined hiking pants to fleece-lined tights and thick boots with crampons on for New Jersey’s invisible ice. January and February returns to the South of France, as well as my wanderjahr residency, proved me that it’s not winter in Provence, not EVEN when it snows!

This street scene just above is in old Antibes.  But it could be almost anywhere — Roquebrune, Mentone (although more colorful, because closer to Italy), San Rafael, Biot.  Each a town of magic — Roquebrune for its castle’ Menton(e) for its citrus festival, San Rafael where the Invasion of Provence (Le Debarquement) took place August 16, 1944, Bior of the bubbly glassware and the Leger Musee.  Mougins with its multi-starred temple of gastronomy, Le Moulin de Mougins, found along La Route de la Transhumance — the way that shepherds, goatherds led their flocks to and from winter pastures.

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Sometimes, what I miss most are the olive trees. Renoir bought his property in Cagnes-sur-Mer because he wanted to save the (then) 100-year-old olive trees.  He would paint the late nudes under their leaves.  It is said that the artist did not ask if a new maid could make the beds and serve the meals, or a new cook could cook.  All that mattered was the way the light of the Provence sun bounced off the silvery olive trees and onto their flesh.  We think Renoir was being an Impressionist.  He considered himself a realist.  And this man painted, despite crippling arthritis, with his brushes and palette taped to his two arms, wheeled in a wheelbarrow to his olive trees.

I also am a realist.  I cannot live in Provence now.  I won’t be seeing flame-hot tomatoes at Thanksgiving or pale feisty daisies in January.  I cannot buy an ancient liqueur made of wild thyme by the monks of Isles de Lerin.  I cannot walk the open Cannes Marche, the mistral swirling my scarf hither and yon, as the olive oil man won’t take my francs because I am an American, and he’s pleased that I chose the fruity one.  I won’t be buying lace-delicate ravioli from a costumed young woman who rose at dawn to make and bring and sell it.  I won’t encounter dates so dark and succulent that them seem to melt off the table.  Or try to choose a fish, when all are so near to having been in the sea that some, especially sandre, flip themselves off the oilcloth-over-ice on the fishwife’s table.  I won’t walk past the Provencal woman selling her white chickens, tying their legs, balancing them in jer hand-held scale, sending them home flapping wings.  The apicultrice isn’t bragging to me about the succulence of her lavender honey.  There are no brioches still hot from the wood-fired oven hewn from  ancient rocks of old town/Cannes, otherwise known as Le Suquet.

When I’m this homesick, I have my most courageous friends over for a Provencal Sunday supper.  It’ll be some peasant specialty I encountered there, and cannot find authentically in this country.  (I was once served cassoulet made with KIDNEY beans, in Kingston!.)  At my Lawrenceville table, we’ve shared cassoulet de Toulouse; choucroute garnie such as filled South of France markets abruptly in November, though its newly ready sauerkraut and all those hefty sausages came from Alsace.  On a hot May afternoon, golden aioli took center stage, each friend bringing a different vegetable or hard-boiled egg, I supplying the prepared salt cod.

No, this is New Jersey and this is February, and soon it will be boeuf a la gardiane — otherwise known as le boeef sauvage — which thelegendary cowboys of the mouth of the Rhone concoct with the meat of the wild bulls of the Camargue.  Friends will bring a lighter Rhone wine for the Provencal cheeses and an artichoke melange; a heftier one for the boeuf; and a delicate Muscat de Beaumes de Venise to accompany the dessert tart. This dish I have not tasted, but it’s a question of flavorful real beef (Brick Farm Market of course, my being fresh out of cowboys and bulls ).  It’ll be crafted with fresh herbs, Rhone wine, a swirl of orange peel, a pig’s foot.  No, I haven’t made this before, but the Intrepids weren’t given that name for nothing.

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The gardianes’ stews were cooked long and slow over driftwood fires on Mediterranean shores.  Mine will, of course, depend upon the Crock Pot.

My Provencal specialties will have one ingredient more precious than all the rest, however.  When we savor our boeuf with wild thyme and Rhone wines, the multi-hued South of France vegetables from one friend,  a complex tarte from another — all will be seasoned with Fellowship.

In my year in Provence, I lived alone.  My neighbors in the villa became dear friends.  But somehow, they would not let me cook for them.  We could dine out, and I could lead them to places, like Auberge des Seigneurs in Vence after the Matisse Chapel, which I knew better than they.  But I was not to be in the kitchen for their sake.  Thank heaven, my New Jersey friends have courage, eagerness, and I will even say, Love.  They let me play in the kitchen for them.

My wildest wish, I must admit, is that we could all appreciate Provence together.  Meanwhile, boeuf a la gardiane will have to do!

 

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PURPLE MARTINING — MAURICE RIVER, Cumberland County, New Jersey

Martins by Joseph Smith martinmigration

Purple Martin Migration in Texas, Joseph Smith, from Internet: Typical Numbers of Martins over Maurice River in New Jersey, for Autumnal Migration

Major memories were granted last night, on the Bonanza II, on the Maurice River, in Shellpile, Cumberland County, New Jersey.    Come cruise with us, as we awaited dusk (martin-coalescence time).  And, –even more important, in the night’s exceptionally high tidewater–, see if we could get UNDER the Maurice River Bridge at Mauricetown.

Citizens United Purple Martin Cruise

Devoted Preservationists Purple Martin Cruise

Citizens United to Save the Maurice River and Its Tributaries:

Devoted Preservationists – Cruise Sponsors, Educators, Heroes and Heroines

Experts on board predicted “a million and a quarter”, if recent-night tallies were to be repeated.  What no one would predict was whether that exceptionally high tide, –swamping the boards of the docking area as we boarded–, would permit us to go under the Maurice River Bridge.  This year’s martins have been gathering about a half-mile north of that structure.

This is the largest martin-staging (for migration) area on the entire East Coast.  Endless phragmites marshes, and their abundant insects, call these swallow-relatives year upon year, to fatten for long, essenttial journeys to winter feeding grounds.

I carefully warned that night’s Intrepids — Anne Zeman, Mark Peel, Karen Linder, Mike Brill, Mary Wood and Susan Burns — that the trouble with this night would be that we would never be able to describe it, convey its magnitude, to others.

Shell Pile of Shell Pile NJ on Purple Martin Cruise night 2017

Shell Piles, of Shell Pile and Port Norris, Cumberland County, New Jersey

In earliest days, shell piles here and in Tuckerton were so tall, they served as landmarks guiding ships at sea.  In these tiny towns, there were more millionaires per block than anywhere in the world, due to the thriving oyster industry.   A nearby town was named Caviar for the abundance of that project, but that tragedy is another story…  MSX (multi-nucleated sphere unknown) equaled or surpassed biblical plagues in terms of the bivalves of Bivalve.  Now, this sleepy region stirs anew, as Rutgers-sponsored science brings resistant and succulent New Jersey oysters back to an expanding market.  My favorites are Cape May Salts, but a myriad of musical names heralds the resurgence of native oysters in our time.

Bonanza II High Tide Purple Martin Cruise

Bonanza II, at Exceptionally High Tide – due to prospective hurricanes and eclipse

 

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Cruise Night Weather

Birders and preservationists will “pay any price, bear any burden” to see the objects of their passion.  So, I admit, –we who filled this boat this night, and others during pre-martin-departure weeks, would be scorned by Sarah Palin as “extreme environmentalists.”  Many in that group, if not most, spend serious constellations of hours doing whatever it takes to save habitats and species.

You ‘hear me’ prating of courage often in NJWILDBEAUTY.  Frequently, I call for these qualities anew, those embodied by our Founding Fathers and Mothers.  These Maurice River and purple martin and rare bird aficionados are right up there with those who caused our American Revolution to succeed.  Everything from science to publicity to education to hands-on- heroism – building and cleaning their homes each year;  martin-feeding (buying and tossing them crickets in a time of insect famine) and banding which reveals ‘our’ martins in faraway places, has been practiced by the group on board last night.

My camera does not do justice to small birds.  Therefore, enjoy Texas flight above for a sense of numbers arriving, descending, rising, feeding, interacting with one another, circling the boat, all the while half-muttering, half-singing, as dusk won its nightly victory   Bear with my feeble words in trying to bring the magic to all of you.

Feeding Frenzy Gulls Purple Martin Cruise

Gull Frenzy, Dusk, Shellpile NJ Dock

Gulls on HIgh Purple Martin Cruise

Gulls on High

Peak 'o' The Moon Battle site Purple Martin Cruise AugustPEAK O’ THE MOON, REVOLUTIONARY BATTLE-SITE on the Maurice River

This is my favorite battleground name in all history.  Trouble is, no one can ever tell us who won!

Awaiting Tidal Change Purple Martin Cruise

AWAITING TIDAL CHANGE ON THE BONANZA II —

Can we fit under the bridge…..????

 

Where Eagles Watched Purple Martin Cruise

WHERE EAGLES, PERCHED, OBSERVED BIRDWATCHERS, AFLOAT

Eagles were present, as were osprey and osprey nests – even natural ones, i.e., not on platforms  But they all took second billing, as we waited for martins to gather and swirl.

Clammers Return Purple Martin Cruise

“DAY IS DONE” — CLAMMERS’ RETURN ON THE MAURICE

 

When Systems Collide Purple Martin Cruise

WHEN SYSTEMS COLLIDE

Do not lose sight of the fact, NJWB Readers, that these wild weathers are the fall-out of climate change.  That those vanishing floorboards in the boarding/docking area, under strange moon tides, are not only climate-change generated, but visual proof of sea-level rise.  Let NO one try to convince you that this is a myth.  It is no myth, but an enormous threat, in New Jersey, the only state with three coasts.

Purple Martin Cruise August 2017 008

LOVLIEST BIRDER — INTREPID ANNE ZEMAN ON OSPREYS

No-Wake Zone Purple Martin Cruise

NO-WAKE ZONE ON THE MAURICE

 

Quahogggers Return Purple Martin Cruise

QUAHOGGERS’ RETURN FROM DELAWARE BAY

 

Impressionism Maurice River Purple Martin Cruise

BIRTH OF IMPRESSIONISISM — ON NEW JERSEY’S MAURICE RIVER

(Monet’s initially scorned masterpiece, however, was titled “Impression Soleil Levant” — Impression – Sun, Rising.  Ours was definitely “Soleil Couchant” — Sun Sinking, or ‘going to bed’, as the French naturally call it.

Where the Martins Roost Cruise

WHERE THE MARTINS ROOST — MAURICE RIVER PHRAGMITIES MARSHLANDS

 

Whistler Nocturne Maurice River Bridge Purple Martin Cruise

WHISTLER NOCTURNE – MAURICE RIVER BRIDGE

Sometimes I attempt to describe that sky obscured by martin hordes as resembling herbes de provence pressed into a leg of lamb.

Sometimes, I refer to skies banishing behind martins as giving us the lost esperience of tumblings and torrents of passenger pigeons, before we drove all of them into extinction.

Even last night’s experts balk at conveying this miracle to those who have not experienced it.  Next year, early on, contact Citizens United to Save the Maurice River and Its Tributaries, and be on board one of their (now six) dusk cruises into transcendance.

Home Is the Wanderer, Home from the Hills

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View From Florence Griswold House

NJWILDBEAUTY Readers know that Betty Lies arranged an artquest for us to the Connecticut town of Old Lyme.  Here, as you learned some posts ago, significant American artists of the Tonalist School boarded with Florence Griswold, turning out misty, moody, dreamy scenes of the bucolic surroundings of that stately home and town.  Others came along, electrified by the French Barbizon School’s approach to landscape, which had been (scornfully, by an art critic) christened “Impressionism”, with a nasty nod to Monet’s “Impression: Sunrise.” 

Neither school was a School.  Each evolved naturally, inspired by nature, in the days before ‘development’, which to me has always been a euphemism for ‘destruction.’

Our plan had been to drive up on Friday; stay in a nearby B&B; on Saturday, find the Museum that the Griswold home has now become;to  spend ‘the shank of the day’ with the artwork in frames and on walls, doors and panels of Miss Florence’s guests.  An adjacent gallery holds artwork of other countries and eras, all of it either leading to or influenced by Tonalism.

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Betty Studies the “Ticket Booth” for Outdoor Events on Florence Griswold’s Lawn

Fate had other ideas.

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Sign, Lawn and Gardens of Florence Griswold House, Old Lyme, CT

Betty’s early-morning fall on the Friday of departure led to nearly five Saturday hours in the Emergency rooms of (ironically) Middlesex Hospital (name of one of the hospitals in which my late husband long served, in New Brunswick, NJ, in the years of our marriage.)  This Middlesex is in Middleton, CT, and we now know more about Middlesex than we ever intended.  Her arm had broken.  Yes, the driving arm.  It was FINALLY splinted and slinged.  It is now cast, courtesy of Princeton physicians.  And we barely made it to Griswoldiana.

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Barn, Griswold House Grounds

Betty’s heroic and staunch.  I am neither, especially after spending this summer caught up in the dire plight of my nephew’s son James.  This musically gifted 20-year-old was snared by cancer inside his spinal column, abruptly and seemingly irrevocably discovered August 1.  James has now undergone two surgeries and God KNOWS how much chemo.  His walking remains a major challenge.

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Healthy Dahlia, Griswold Gardens

Betty drove anyway, insisting it did not hurt, as her insurance covers only the owner/driver.  I realized, that Saturday’s challenge was my first-ever experience of an Emergency Room.  That name, too, is ironic.  For no one seemed to comprehend the urgency in emergency.

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Palette, Griswold Garden

The art was lovely, dark but not deep.  Miss Florence remains overwhelmingly impressive, –such an independent woman making her indelible mark on the work of art, despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in HER life.  Another mentor for us, like Eleanor (Roosevelt) and Georgia (O’Keeffe).

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Miss Florence’s Lamp, Griswold House

I only managed a handful of pictures for my readers.  Put Old Lyme into the search function to see the internet scenes of the mystical art which catalyzed and still evoke our experience.

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Miss Florence’s Roof

And I wonder if I’ll ever be able to figure out this trip.

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Miss Florence’s House, Home and Catalyst of Tonalism in American Art