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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Summer in Provence

We left Italy for lavender-laced Provence on the Friday with mixed feelings--regret but feeling very much like we might benefit from a two-day fast. What gorgeous gluttony it was! The guilt from the gluttony did nothing to dissuade us from stocking up what teensy space we had to spare in the car, what with two sets of duvets and pillows, books, kitchen condiments and utensils, suitcases and various dog paraphernalia, with a shocking amount of predominantly nonperishable foodstuffs. We bought dried porcini mushrooms, dried oregano (that our host assured us was top-notch), various vinegars and specialty oils and easily 20 liters of olive oil between us, not to mention huge chunks of Parmesan cheese, numerous jars of specialty spreads and sauces and, yes, loads of dried pasta. My only regret about our upcoming week in Provence was that I could not then stock up on fresh pasta which I could have then frozen. Yes, despite our gluttony, we were still focused on food!

We drove along the coastal road abutting the Mediterranean as the signs for Monaco, Cannes and other well known spots on the Cote d'Azur beckoned, exiting at St. Tropez for the northbound road that would take us to Haute-Provence, up in the hills along the gorges.

Once we'd left the motorway and joined the local roads, our jaws dropped. What on earth? Everywhere we looked, trees were uprooted, cars were nose down in ravines and everywhere had a strange, almost barren appearance. We tried to stop at a shopping center to pick up some perishables before we reached our gite but even the huge hypermarkets were closed. The military swarmed through parking lots, trying to re-establish order. We were baffled. Clearly some major storm had come through--a tornado perhaps?--and ravaged the area. We couldn't help but wonder what awaited us at our gite (vacation cottage rental), and prayed it was still intact.

We stopped briefly at a farm stand further north, where the woman behind the trestle table shared with us the details of the storm. It had been a deluge of rain that swept more than 100 houses right off their foundations and, she confessed, nearly a dozen people so far had been reported killed, most of whom were in their cars at the time. (That accounted for why we saw all those abandoned cars that looked like they'd run off the roads and crashed. They'd apparently been lifted by the water, their drivers powerless to prevent it, and washed into the ravines.)

We continued our journey northward into Haute Provence, relaxing slightly when we left behind the damaged terrain. Sure enough, the house and adjoining gites were untouched. But as we entered ours and looked around, we could not help but think the place would have been improved by such a tempest. What a dump! A clear example of how photographs can be very deceiving! There were even clumps of soil and dead leaves in the bathtub--left, our caretaker sheepishly replied, by him when he'd opened the windows to air the place and then proceeded to use a weed whacker to strim the grounds just outside the bath window. It was dingy and damp and furnished with the oddest assortment of furnishings. And not so much as a single bottle of cleaning fluid or a toilet brush, despite the fact that we were expected to leave it clean for the next guests or pay a cleaning fee.

However, there was naught to do but make the best of it, and make the best of it we were determined to do. Trekking all the gear and kitchen accoutrements that we'd been teased about finally paid off. And, after all, we agreed, we had a shower, and a toilet with a door. That's something!

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