Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A&G Off to France--Day Thirteen

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

28 October 2005

This is really our last day as the next will be consumed by travel home, so it's sad even attempting to write up this entry. In Aix we head back to Bechard for breakfast, try not to order everything (oh, I didn't mention their ice cream cakes yesterday, and they are amazing, with eye-catchingly colorful scoops built right onto them), eat on a bench along Cours Mirabeau, stop in a cafe for coffee (my stomach is caffeine-ready this AM), check out of the Saint Christophe (its art deco touches are quite lovely, did we say that?), and make it out of town on the way to Avignon without getting on the autoroute, although we worry, briefly, that we've blown it. There's more gorgeous French countryside, more grapevines green-going-to-red, more cute villages (although in this region, not really any on hillsides). We also almost see a tiny car get smashed by a truck on a roundabout, but even this miraculously doesn't happen. It is the last day of our vacation, and all must be well.
Outside of Avignon we visit a hypermarche, since we want to know what the French equivalent of Costco is. And it is frightening, at least to me, a place where you can buy anything, probably even French children, but we didn't get to that corner of the store because we ran out of breadcrumbs and I was afraid we'd lose our way. We were hoping to find violette liqueur, so Amy could replicate her fave aperitif once we got home, but no such luck (we would find some in Avignon, but had to ask for it even there in the store with 800 Euro calvados from 1927). (Kir violette are as tasty in the U.S. as they are in France once you get the proportions right, yes, thanks for asking.) We do have a picture of the hypermarche, but do you really want to see a photo of a big box store?

We drop off the car at Hertz. And it does.

We take the bus from the car rental at the TGV station to inside the walls of old Avignon, and as we did 12 days ago, wheel our suitcases up Rue de la Republique to Le Banastiere. We check in and decide we have to live it up as it's our last day. We wander about town to places we didn't hit two weeks ago, doing some window shopping, lots of admiring of the architecture, lots of looking up at all the trompe l'oiel windows, some of which are a bit whimsical.

Or are they? It turns out that France is much more willing to celebrate the weird, wild and positively Americanly pagan than we imagined, as this bar, which admittedly announces its UK-ness with its name and Guinness sign, shows:

Still, much else is very French in a way we might have imagined just perusing guidebooks. I hope to get one last shot of a great clocktower, but there's no good angle to get it around the trees--it's a picturesque tease. In America you'd assume every tree within two miles of something possibly a sight would have been cut down. We go to one last museum, the Musee Calvet, and it's not even clear which of its many doors from a courtyard is the entrance. A tour guide/guard reins us in and brings us to the entrance desk. The art here offers you paintings from 300 years ago that show how little Avignon has changed in centuries. And there's a Brueghel (the Younger) which I could look at for a long, long time.

Since we must be waiting for our cab at 6 a.m. the next day, we decide to eat early, and therefore aperitif even earlier. At one of the many charming places along the Place de l'Horloge I have one last pastis and Amy tries the house kir, and discovers if it bubbles, it causes few troubles. We keep taking pictures, as we have few such chances left. Here's the town hall, and we never did see the figures in the tower dance, which is sad, but a reason to go back.

And then it's impossible to stop taking photos of the Palais des Papes, which simply gives you too many angles of wondrousness, like this one I call Heavy Held High:

Speaking of heavy, there's one last terrific night of eating. We go to La Fourchette, a restaurant owned by the folks who run Hiely Lucullus, but just as second labels from French vineyards are often a great deal, so is the case here. We almost don't get in, not having a reservation, but the kind hostess seats us, warning us that another table will be close by. We are happy to be here, although pass on our last chance for pieds et paquets (mutton or lamb tripe with pigs' feet). After all, I've never been one to believe all traditions are good things (slavery, hunting, oppression of women, eating pigs' feet--all seem mistakes from another era, if not all of the same magnitude). We do feast here on terrific things. I can't remember Amy's first course, but I have a chicken liver pate that also comes with an onion confit, so it's a witty re-creation of liver and onions. For mains, I have another delicious duck but Amy's dish takes the (beef ) cake--daube de boeuf, a beef in red wine stew that is delectable. And it comes with the world's most luxurious macaroni and cheese that makes you want to find the folks at Kraft and slap them a few times for besmirching what can be such an elevated dish. We drink a 2002 Gigondas Cuvee de la Tour Sarrazine.

We also end up chatting with the folks at the table so close that the hostess warned us about its proximity. They are two men from Wales, so we can actually talk. They are witty and worldly-wise and we and they chat off and on in just the right, not too intrusive proportions. Not only are they fun, but we are pleased to know we can still carry on small talk after talking English at any length only to each other for two weeks. Or the Welsh couple was just so nice that they flattered us by laughing in the appropriate spots.

We all got to laugh about the desserts, particularly Amy's, which was nearly as big as her head. But when you're meringue with nougat ice cream stuffed in your middle, you really can't be big enough.

I promise you that objects on the blog are more delicious than they appear. My dessert was very very good, but couldn't hold an egg white to Amy's. It was just pastry with chocolate and raspberries. Heck, any wonderful kitchen could whip that up.

That's it. France is over. I left you with 2 desserts.

OK, there will be a postscript tomorrow, without photos, since the only 3 we took that day are of us, boldly trying not to bawl on the TGV and at Charles de Gaulle. This evening we did walk up by the Palais for one last lit-up look at its hugeness. Of course we took pictures. Sure enough at 6 the next morning when the taxi would speed us off to the train station, he would have to circle about a bit to get out of the walled city not built with cars in mind. Along the Rhone I would get one last look at the Pont Benezet, and then crane my neck to get one last glimpse of Avignon, still lit bright in the dark of pre-dawn. It's a scene like ones in paintings from centuries before at Musee Calvet, one on websites today. It's one in my mind now even without this photograph. How odd it is you can have something and miss it at the same time.


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