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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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

 

AUTUMN TIPTOES IN TO SAYEN GARDENS

Autumn Tiptoes in to Sayen Gardens

Autumn Tiptoes in to Sayen Gardens

Those of you who read my articles in the Packet and U.S. 1 (Business!) Newspaper, and sometimes the Times of Trenton, know that I am often asked to signal an upcoming or newly present season for these generous editors.  I am always overwhelmed that our enlightened heads of journalism in this region increasingly realize the importance of nature, on so many levels — from the aesthetic to health to native species to tempering climate change and consequent dire storms.  Recently both U. S. 1 and the Packet generously published my entry-into-autumn stories.

Sayen Hydrangea of early October

Sayen Hydrangea of early October

Today, I was privileged to stroll Sayen Gardens with two friends, Jody and Melisande.  Both artists, both highly keyed to nature, they know that lovely haven off Hughes Road, off Quaker Bridge Road, in all seasons and all conditions.  They study the plantings and waterways along each path with the intensity of owners in their own gardens.  They frequently express wonder at the ever-changing beauty, and often voice thanks that our counties around here know how to care for gardens so that we may marvel in this way.

Mr. Sayen's Handsome 1912 Home

Mr. Sayen’s Handsome 1912 Home

Autumn is subtly arriving at Sayen.  Come with me and see what you can see.  Even by the time this post is published, the burgeonings, the fadings, the colorings will have altered.

Sayen's Autumnal Juxtaposition

Sayen’s Autumnal Juxtaposition

Sayen Fruiting Magnolia

Sayen Fruiting Magnolia

Color In the Dark Woods, Sayen Gardens

Color In the Dark Woods, Sayen Gardens

Old Wood and New Grasses, Sayen Autumn

Old Wood and New Grasses, Sayen Autumn

Autumnal Transformation of Japanese Maple at Sayen Gardens, October

Autumnal Transformation of Japanese Maple at Sayen Gardens, October

Bench Memorializing Legendary Sayen Gardener

Bench Memorializing Legendary Sayen Gardener

Rainbowed Spray in Sayen Garden Pond

Rainbowed Spray in Sayen Garden Pond

If Monet Painted Rainbows

If Monet Painted Rainbows

The Pledge, Sayen Fountain

The Pledge, Sayen Fountain

TWILIGHT KAYAK IDYLL – MID-AUGUST

Entry from the Turning Basin into the D&R Canal

Entry from the Turning Basin into the D&R Canal

My new favorite kayaking hour has become 5:30 p.m.  Although a life-long morning person, the twilight hours have lately come to enchant me on these sacred preserved waters.

Stillness surrounded us, as yet another ‘virgin kayaker’ and I glided out of the Turning Basin at Alexander, heading south on the shimmering D&R Canal.

On both sides, and reflected in curiously profound waters, the banks were still garbed in high summer’s uninterrupted green.  Lush and bountiful ‘wine-dark’ greens negated hard trunks, melded single leaves.  It was as though some mad decorator had strewn enormous sofa cushions all along our route.

At outset, there were few clouds — but that billowy forest did a superb and startling role as stand-ins.  Here and there, the long red throats of trumpet flowers (hummingbirds’ favorites) punctuated the text of the forest.  As clouds arrived, their reflections and those of canalside trees, reminded us first of Monet, then Constable.

The old maritime word, ‘williwaws’, came to mind, as gentlest breezes wrinkled first one side of the water, then the other.

Its color fascinated — various rich tones of grey, beyond pewter to black pearl.  One or two curled gold leaves had somehow materialized, bobbing along like miniature watercraft, turning this way and that against the darkness.

Silence was everywhere.   Time stopped.

Ever since Sandy scoured these historic banks, we have been deprived of many wildflowers and most turtles.  Reparations brought in new stoniness, so far inhospitable to most blooms.  Furious torrents swept all the slanted turtle logs downstream, (up-canal).  Downed trunks have yet to reappear, making it hard for turtles to emerge from the depths, bask in the light.

Marsh mallow was our first floral gift.  Because it was twilight, pink blooms, then later white ones, were “folding their tents like the Arabs.”  Twined, from a distance, these towering hibiscus-like plants seemed more lily than mallow.  I told my (enormously skillful already) kayaking companion, “The Lenni Lenape made a sweet out of their roots, which was white and sticky.  We named marshmallows after those roots.”

Goldenthread vines wove in and out and over and under on the banks to our right.  It seems to smother the plants that it covers.  But late light on gold webs was stunning.  Long ago, a woman from Jamaica told me, “We use this plant to treat prostate problems in my country.”

A few double kayaks of new paddlers gave us pause along this usually empty route.  Their skills led them repeatedly toward the tangled banks, rather than up-canal or down-canal.

I was deeply aware, listening to their laughter, of the sounds we were not hearing — no wood thrushes, though evening.  No kingfisher, rattling in his fishing dives.  Not a goose yet — proving again that we are still in summer’s hands.  Not even a mourning dove, although neither of us unfortunately ever needs to be reminded of mourning.

Only a few round tight golden spatterdock blooms remained among the lily pads.  About the size of ping pong balls, these waterlily blooms will never enlarge.  They seemed to be playing hide and seek in the shadows.

I had alerted my traveling companion to be on the lookout for shy cardinal flower.  Fondest of deep shade, often solitary, these slender stalks hold tiny trumpet-y flowers the color of the bird for whom they are named.  In sunlight, they can be visited by ravening hummingbirds.

She found the first stalk, and most thereafter, until my eyes adjusted to such minuscule splashes of crimson hidden in underbrush.  It reminded me of snorkeling – when you don’t even realize there are tiny fish at first; and then, they are everywhere.  We lost count of cardinal flower last night.

For all the high heat days we have had lately, the canal water was surprisingly cool.  I always dip eager hands into that secret-keeping surface, ritually baptize my legs with her waters.  A certain communion with the canal is essential.

This night was the most contemplative of all my shared ‘rides’.  There is such a thing as ‘walking meditation.’  I think we were given ‘paddling meditation’.  Occasional companionable talk, –of art and of camping, of books — drifted from her chartreuse craft to my cardinal-flower-hued one.

Two deer, mirrored in the canal, strolled down to sip.  Being in their calm presence was either mirage or tapestry.

I had told her, “If we’re lucky, we might see the green heron at this hour.”  Riding tall and proud as a skilled Lenni Lenape, her bright eyes missed nothing.  My friend discovered this wild herald, high overhead, exactly matching leaves in late light.  Silently, it coasted more than flew, from its observatory branch, angling down along the bank to our left.  The lowering sun was taking on subtle flame hues itself, highlighting its coppery feathers.

We had been wondering what would be our turning point.  The green heron was the deity we had awaited.

Heading South from Alexander, 5 to 6:30 on a golden Sunday evening

Heading South from Alexander, 5 to 6:30 on a golden Sunday evening