Monday, November 07, 2005

A&G Off to France--Day Six

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

21 October 2005

We check out from the altogether pleasant and peaceful Les Romarins in Gordes and hit the road for our next destination, Moustiers-Ste. -Marie, land of ceramics. In case you were wondering, traveling along the plane tree-lined roads of France looks something like this:

On the way we stop in Apt, as it's supposed to be fruit candy land and I played the game so many times as a wee-child that I had to go look. Seriously, Apt is a modern city on the outside, a confusing, soft commercial old town in its center, and we didn't really find anything like the fruit candy they're supposed to have, beyond stuff wrapped in cellophane that may have dated from when France had problems in Vietnam.

Finally after hill and dale and teeny towns with tinier roads we make it to Moustiers and our next inn La Ferme Rose, which seemed a bit rustic from its website, but maybe I'm just confusing rustic with rusty, as the website is only in French. Actually, we were blown away by how nice the place was, with spacious rooms and high-ceilings, super modern bathrooms, and in the public areas all sorts of nifty collections, from old movie projectors to seltzer bottles. There was also a view to die for, or less melodramatically, photograph every light-changing hour, and here are two examples, one at midday, one at sunset:

Je regarde seulement -- just looking -- turned out to be a very useful phrase, not only for shopping, but also for all of Provence. We walked from the inn to town, a pleasant jaunt that also took us past La Bastide, an inn and restaurant founded by Alain Ducasse, owner of more Michelin stars than I have fingers. I had originally thought I wanted to dine there, as it was expensive but not so jawdroppingly dear as most Ducasse establishments, so we eye the menu listed outside the closed gate. It looks good, but there's no dish we have to have, and we do have to have sometimes, and I take this opportunity to apologize to every goose's liver I have loved. So we figure we'll find another dinner spot, but first a word from Moustiers.

Another sleepy lovely town on a hillside, this one has a couple of even more endearing features, namely a creek that runs down its center, cataracting and waterfalling and calling all sorts of attention to itself, and a 12th century chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Beauvoir high above the town. We would discover in the next few days the real reason French women don't get fat is they are all Catholic and have to walk uphill--very far--both ways to church. When they thank God for their fine physiques, they mean it very literally.

Here we wander the narrow streets and shop and windowshop and examine, very gingerly, all sorts of faience, the highly glazed plates and pottery that the town is famous for and will sell you for an arm and a Euro. The church in town is merely Romanesque and spooky in the way only churches can be, but we have to make the hike up to the second church above the town, too, as we're tourists, and that's what tourists do. The view from there is a bit swoon-suggestive, but no less gorgeous.

[there will be a photo here if I can beat Blogger into submission; ed. note, as of 11/8, still can't--thanks, Blogger]

On our way down it begins to rain in earnest, which is only a problem because someone forgot his umbrella. Someone manages not to get too wet or fall down lots of stone steps, so God only wants to make the heathen uncomfortable after he goes to a church, not out and out kill him. And in case you're wondering, the Faience Museum is interesting if slight, nonetheless a great place to spend a half hour when it truly pours.

Back at La Ferme Rose we nap, drink some Pastis and watch a French television game show we're not sure would make sense even if we understood the language. Mostly it's about 20 or so 20-somethings looking good on camera, but it confuses us when the main contestant cries about a third of the way in, but stays on for the whole half hour and doesn't lose. It also is a mainstay of the show to throw a come-hither look over your shoulder when called upon by the host, a pose we try to perfect in photos form the trip that you won't see because this website isn't about looking at us. But one piece of advice: watch where you put your hands when you look back over your shoulder or the pose can make you appear as if you're taking a leak.

Dinner is at Ferme St. Cecile, where we cannily ask for non-smoking and thereby get a dining room all to ourselves (everyone else here seems French tonight, for which we are extremely grateful after our Maison Gouin experience). The amuse is a mushroom soup that is mushroom's very distilled essence. Amy's entree is a duck foie gras with fig, and wonderful, and I have Coquilles St Jacques, the scallops perfectly cooked and accompanied with a quenelle of some sauce I still can't figure out even looking at the menu on the website (some vanilla? some garlic?--all good). For a main Amy goes with a sea bass (bar de ligne) that you have to eat with the skin, or so the waiter tells her, and for good reason, as it does that lovely crisp versus firm fish flesh texture trick and is perfect with her "garlic ice cream" that melts a superior sauce over the dish. I go with Perdreau rouge aux raisins, which is partridge (I insist on calling my dinner Laurie) with grapes, and mushrooms, and a potato cake. The cheese course is a surprisingly mild ash-covered goat on a fruit-bread-toast. The desserts are again out of this world (I know, I know, why act surprised, it's France, George): Amy's apple tart with both nougat cream and almond ice cream and my roasted banana on a brownie with thyme ice cream. Oh, with partridge and sea bass, you can't go wrong with a surprisingly dry 2004 white Chateaunuef-du-pape Domaine de Fontavin.

On our way back to La Ferme Rose, we decide to drive through town only to learn that the few folks up are 5 teenagers who maybe are rioting since we left France, if for no other reason than their town is asleep by ten. On the dirt road to the inn, Amy has to get out of the car and lift a frog to safety, as he was frozen in our headlights. We do not have to apologize to him, enjoying no grenouille legs on our trip.


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