It used to be summer. It used to be the only season that had colour lasting longer than a week. And nights that were warm. It was the warm nights I loved the most. It was never spring. Spring was too short, in Toronto, if you blinked you would miss it. Suddenly there was no snow and blossoms appeared and then a rain storm would take them out. And summer started.
Here, spring lingers, warmth slowly creeping in and around rivers, forests, stone buildings. Like the wind, it swirls around the damp and the cold and pushes out winter, creating new space for life to grow. Fruit trees delicately began to leaf and then bloom. The rose bushes sprang to life in our yard, the jasmine began to bloom and fill the air with scent. The fields of wheat began to blow in the wind with poppies and thistles dotting the landscape. It is a feast for the senses. The light has also changed dramatically. Bright blue day time skies filled sometimes with crispy white clouds, and a coolish wind, make for sun that is hot and shade that is gorgeous. The sunrises are more confident and the sunsets have new pinks and purples that went away in the winter. It is a joy to see these changes.
This weekend we took a wee road trip away from our little village and the joy of our midnight marauder. This meant no rushing through lunch and the restaurant didn’t have to be chosen on the basis of whether or not it had Margarita pizza.
We started off with a stop for the first lunch in St. Remy de Provence. I have been told by numerous people that it was beautiful but I hadn’t been until now.
I am not sure if it could have been prettier. It was perhaps, even a little too pretty. In the old city it seemed that every other store sold wine. All the buildings seemed to be restored and painted in the most perfectly “provençal” way.
The light seems to have changed this week. It is warmer, there are rich undertones of gold and even in the shadows there are casts of yellow.
After a quiet lunch on a patio tucked away from the street (the Tarte de Citron was everything) we headed off to Aix en Provence.
And after wandering around in a daze of stores and restaurants we finally found the non commercial part of Aix, the quiet part I had remembered from 20 years ago when traveled there on my own and was delighted at the almost empty streets.
Walled private gardens and clean public fountains where you could hear the birds singing, really differentiates the portion of the city south of the Cours Mirabeau from that north of it. Here there are no retail stores and the buildings are restored and or maintained meticulously.
Noon mass was being conducted at the parish St. Jean de Malte. I am not overly religious but the sound of a choir in a church, always makes me take pause.
This trip was too short. I almost didn’t want to come home. It made me relish in the urbanity, small in comparison to Toronto, but it had everything you need to be happy in an urban life, perhaps even richer because it is so compact and you don’t have to drive.
This weekend there was a spring festival in our village. I think St. Chaptes either has strong ties to the manade community or they really like to drink – because we often have the abrivados in our village. This weekend there were two abrivados each day and 2 bandidos each night, and in between, very cheap aperitifs. This meant a lot of whoo hahers, (my affectionate term for drunken yellers).
The horses are simply wonderful. And while I understand the bull is the main event, I go for the horses. Their thundering hooves, extraordinary colouring and incredible work ethic make for in unbelievable display of Provencal tradition.
It all begins for bystanders to choose a spot on the street to stand. The horses and bulls are stationed at the arena, just on the outskirts of town. A bull is released from the truck and two or three riders encourage / goad the bull through a route in the village. The young men run after the bull and attempt to stop it through sheer force.
Most of the bulls this weekend had their horns blunted and wrapped in leather. This prevents goring but doesn’t really take away the physical threat that the bull possesses.
When the riders and bulls approach from down the street, the suspense quickly builds. From relative quiet, the air quickly fills with the sound of pounding of hooves on the pavement and the shouts of communication between riders and runners.
The thrill of the event is in the closeness to the animals, the suspense of waiting for the galloping horses and the unpredictable nature of the bulls. In spite of all the boozy boys, filled with adrenaline and testosterone, the thrill of danger combined with the mastery of man over nature, causes even the calmest of hearts to pound.