Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A&G Off to France--Day Eight

(Author's note: This entry is the eighth of two weeks of daily entries about our trip to Provence.)

23 October 2005

It's another mixed morning of clouds and shafts of sun, which is perfectly fine if you live in a castle (at least for one night) and get views like this:

Although to be honest by this point in our trip, I'd be happy to live in a French house that looks like this:

We check out of the Chateau and the 12th century and head into town to get pain au chocolates and cappuccinos and watch a man feed a cat some of his croissant (yet somehow French cats don't get fat). Through the country on the road to our next destination we get caught in a sea of sheep; while other cars on the road seem frustrated they are trapped and have to wait out the woolly herd, we get the camera out and thank the French travel bureau that clearly is sending goats and sheep toward our car at regular daily intervals.

While we wait for the parade to pass, we try not to think about the lamb we've eaten. We continue our winding descent along the Route Napoleon (although he was heading the other way after he returned to France from exile on Elba), neither eating the pastry to which he gave his name nor singing "Waterloo" by Abba. We're heading to the sea we cannot yet see, thanks to the clouds.

In Grasse we stop as it's the center of the perfume world so it's what you do if you're in the neighborhood. The major factories all offer tours, but we opt for the one at Fragonard, which includes a terrific perfume bottle museum, too. Of course the free tour ends with a sampling of scents in the showroom where you can buy, just like the glass-blowing tours in Murano, Italy. Even though we like the smells wafting to us from the little white smell slips the tour guide offers up, we don't make any purchases, as neither one of us is too fond of announcing ourselves in a room by our aromas before we even enter the room.

We go through a few confusing minutes trying to get our car out of the garage where we've parked. This one only takes coin Euros and a credit card we don't have, we don't know the French to ask for change (and aren't sure that's really acceptable, anyway), all the stores are still on the French siesta. We sit at a cafe and order cafe we don't really want just to get change from our Euro bills, then run back to the garage, where now we owe more, but at least we have enough. At least we hadn't demagnetized the payment card. Amy did that the first day in Avignon with the closure on her purse, so I took the card the second day in Avignon, only to put it in a pocket where I had also put the Pont du Gard refrigerator magnet we bought--we got really good at finding the offices in parking garages this trip.

Through the Gordes du Loup we go, as we can't have enough gorge-ousness. Plus there's the Florian candy factory, where we skip the tour and just get down to business and buy treats, including violets and roses made into candy, I guess so in case you get in trouble with your spouse you can bring flowers and sweets in one handy package. The French certainly know amour. We also stop in Tourettes-sur-Loup, which leads to many jokes and some window shopping.

We eventually make it to St. Paul-de-Vence, our home for the next three nights at the Hotel les Vergers de Saint-Paul, the most modern of our places to stay, a study in clean lines and stripes, with a pool that's very inviting but too cold to jump into. After checking in we walk up to St. Paul which is completely abuzz with day-trippers on a Sunday, and gives us the first hint what things must be like during high season in France. Not just another sleepy lovely town on a hillside, this one is perhaps the classic example, but it's also, in a way, the world's coolest mall, as every doorway seems to be a shop. Some offer art and some offer "art," but there's a lot of people-watching and object-watching to do. The sad part is the village's chapel is closed (and tomorrow we learn it's under renovation), which means we don't get to see the Tintoretto there (St. Roc in Venice is busting with Tintoretto brilliance, and one of the highlights of our last Europe trip, so I have a soft spot for the religiously fervent guy). We do get to be mesmerized by the stone paving patterns:

Back outside the village walls we go to the popular Cafe de la Place and have our first beers in France, two Pelforths, a beer Amy's parents recommended from their French visit. A malty brown ale akin to Italy's Moretti La Rossa (visit your Trader Joe's and taste away), it's a good thing after a lot of walking. But then it begins to shower, and we must scuttle back to our hotel, about a half mile away, in the rain, which, at the least, is French rain. Still it obscures the view of St. Paul we got on our way walking into town:

After a quick towel off, we ask the very friendly, if oddly always at the door to meet us even though our room is quite far from the office, just as if he knew we were coming every time, innkeeper to recommend a place to eat. He sends us to the next town over to Le Blanc Manger, where for about half our meal on a rainy Sunday, we are the only guests. Luckily, this is not a bad sign about the quality of the place, except for one oddness--the host/waiter/owner?, who is incredibly friendly to us, when he wanders off into the kitchen seems to mutter to himself, twice, "shitshitshitshitshit." Nothing seems wrong, so we simply assume he was born in Tourettes-sur-Loup.

This dinner is when Amy has a kir violette, and why we now have violette liqueur in the house to replicate her divine aperitif experience. The food kicks off with what's clearly the seasonal amuse, some mushroom soup, this one rich with cream and roasted garlic. As we are within 15 miles of the Mediterranean we switch from meats and game to seafood and for entrees Amy has a classic preparation of grilled filets of rouget (red mullet) and I have le petit pagare rotie with aoli bread. For mains Amy goes with the monkfish with artichoke ravioli and I have the filet de loup roti (I was in a roasted mood, I guess) with breaded zucchini and mashed potatoes and roasted tomatoes, one of those dishes where, as good as things tasted individually, it really took off when I got a little bit of everything in my mouth. Luckily my mouth is big. Since our eyes are also big there's dessert, and Amy has a millefeuille with caramel and pear tartin and ice cream and I have a heart attack watching her eat all that. No, seriously I have le fondant au chocolate chaud et la glace l'amande, and you don't need to know French, even, to be able to taste that, do you? As for a wine, we opted to drink what Provence is so good at offering, a real rose. Damn white zinfandel ruined the name of good blushes who have nothing to be ashamed about, and a 2004 Terrebrune from Bandol is perfect for seafood.

And if you go to France, one piece of advice--don't think the French movies on TV will be better than American films on the USA network. We watched something that was very sub-Buffy about an archeology student who transforms himself into a monster/Saxon (perhaps it just was a long dig at the British?) only to get his butt kicked by his girlfriend and it wasn't good, although not being able to understand the dialogue surely was a point in its favor.


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