A Parisian Weekend with Mom

The days fell into October and it was the perfect ending to my mother’s visit in Provence.  We boarded the train and quietly snuck away.  When is time in Paris ever a bad idea?

It was a weekend escape to the City of Light.  The finale to a fabulous two weeks, to celebrate her birthday and to share this magical place together… for the first time ever.  Paris was the enchanting backdrop to two wonderful days… a weekend filled with wandering, admiring and watching.  The life, the city, the beauty, the people.

Under temperamental skies, the weather and light were ever-changing but as always Paris was charming and timeless.  We played Parisians, sharing our afternoons with Renoir and Dior, and celebrating her year with a memorable dinner at The Grand Colbert.  It was special.  Spending time in Paris is always magical... sharing it with my mom was the icing on the cake...

Les Calanques

Life has moved back into routine after a busy September and October.  Fall seems to have finally resided in Provence and I now awaken to brisk mornings and crisp air.  I happily welcome my favorite season of the year and always anxiously await for the cool temperatures to hush away the heat and for the colorful transformation of the foliage.  And yet not too long ago, October was unusually mild, warmed by lingering Indian summer days, and it brought me back to the end of summer… and a luxurious day spent on the waters of the Mediterranean.

It was the last weekend in August and we were celebrating the 18th birthday of Eric’s nephew with a day visiting the Le Parc National des Calanques.  Located between Marseille and Cassis lies an almost 20km stretch of protected terrain and ocean, a watercolor palette chiseled with dramatic rocky white limestone cliffs that sharply descend into inlets of the crystal teal blue waters of the Mediterranean.  Designated a National Park in 2012, Les Calanques is a stunning display of nature and the elements.  Only accessible by foot or sea, we choose the later… and chartered a boat and guide for the day.

The attractions are obvious… the sheer beauty of the ocean, high cliffs, private coves filled with brilliant turquoise waters, hidden caves only approachable by swimming and even a nudist beach option for those who fancy… but what surprised me the most was the warmth and the color of the open sea.  74-degrees of deep sapphire blue colored ocean as I have never before seen. 

Breath-taking... 

Floating amid the salty waves felt like being adrift a million miles from life.  The worries of the world washed away by the warm sea breeze, the shimmering blue water and the therapeutic sounds of the ocean.  Being at Les Calanques was new, but the being at the ocean felt… familiar.  Seaside memories of moments passed fluttered to mind… family summer vacations spent at the east coast, life in Laguna, an oceanside summer in Italy, walks on silky white Florida sand and lazy days at the beach listening only to seagulls and the rhythm of the waves.  It felt nostalgic, a return to a place that has been part of my life.

Blissful comes to mind.  It was a leisurely day of boating, swimming and savoring this pristine, Caribbean colored corner of France.  We sipped rosé while anchored in a quiet cove followed by an al fresco lunch in the charming seaside village of Cassis.  This was probably one of my most enjoyable days since living in Provence.  It was a day of nature and of discovery.  The beauty of Les Calanques was matched only by the vibrant youth of teen-agers… silly, daring, filled with hope and excitement for their next chapters and for life yet unchartered…

The Colors of Summer

Labor Day has come and gone, marking the end of the season and the start of those lingering Indian summer days.  Summer has begun to release its grip, the shadows of the light are changing and the nights are finally cooling.  A heatwave completely enveloped Provence this summer, arriving in early June, lying like a thick blanket over the countryside through much of August.  It was hot, some days stifling hot.  We became shade seekers, with the days cast around the hours of the sun we found peace in dim light behind closed shutters.  The Provençal sunshine is relentless, illuminating the days in profound brightness and blurring the focus between the the haze of the sun and what seems to be reality.  It is during these summer months that Provence falls captive to a brighter, harsher hue.  The heat can be intense, usually dry and still, except for those days filled with the howling Mistral, effectively forcing life and us to take a slower pace.  The days like us move slowly and the hours seem to melt away.  The heat lingers, steadily crisping the green grasses and drying the meadows, that by the end of this season the landscape seems parched for days of rain.  And yet.  The colors of summer shine right through...

Apricot Jam

With an abundance of fresh local fruit in Provence I was determined this summer to finally make homemade preserves.  One of my goals for this blog is to share more Provençal recipes.  My mother-in-law, Simone, who I have mentioned in other posts and who lives nearby, is a native Provençal with an arsenal of authentic dishes learned from her family.  Truthfully I have shied away from food photography as I have not been happy with my results, but as my photography skills improve, I want to share more food from this very special region.  While apricot jam is not a Provençal dish, this recipe is and is also unique… and easy.  Admittedly I have never made jam before, finding the whole jar boiling and sealing process a bit daunting.  This recipe however requires no special jars and no pectin.  The ingredients are ripe fruit and sugar.  With a little bit of time, the end result is fresh, sweet jam. 

At end season in Provence, the farmers begin to sell the fruit specifically for confiture. The apricots are extremely ripe, to the point of being over ripened, and should be used within a couple of days of buying or they will rot.  If you are not privy to fruit being sold explicitly for jam, you will just want to make sure that the fruit you are using is really, really ripened to ensure your jam is full of flavor and natural sugar.  Although this recipe involves an overnight process with three different cooking times, don’t let this dissuade you, as overall it is really rather easy to make.  I used the full 500 grams of sugar (per 1 kg of fruit), however this can probably be adjusted down a bit if you prefer less sugar, depending on the type and the ripeness of your fruit.  The recipe calls for 2-3 tablespoons of preserves – homemade or store bought - to be added in the second round of cooking, which is basically added as a thickening ingredient.  Simone adds her previously made homemade jam, but if this is not an option for you, make sure to only use a high quality store brand of the same flavor.  As I did not have any jam in the house when I began this process, I actually used a small teaspoon of gelatin (diluted in water), which also worked. 

Throughout cooking the jam slowly thickens and turns a luscious rich apricot color, filling the house with the sweet scent of simmering fruit and sugar.  The easiest part of this recipe is that no special jars are required.  Any store bought glass jar (containing other food) can be used but they must have a tight sealing lid, be thoroughly washed (dishwasher) and fully dried before using.  Rather than recycling empty jars, we save them for homemade jams, especially those with unique shapes and non-branded lids.  Using miscellaneous jars is a fun way to mix and match different shapes, sizes and colors for your finished jars of preserves.

After having made apricot jam, I hope to make peach before the end of the season. I find it a bit nostalgic to savor the taste of summer in other months of the year.  Whichever fruit you choose, I hope you enjoy this recipe and find it less daunting than the typical jam making process.  It is very gratifying to spread a little sunshine on a piece of toast in the colder winter months and to let your taste buds transport you back to the warmer sun-drenched days of summertime.  Bon chance et bon appétit!

 

FRESH FRUIT JAM

5-10 kg fresh, ripe fruit

500 grams/1 kg of fruit sugar

2-3 tbsp jam (homemade or store bought) or 1 tsp. gelatin (diluted in water)

Jars with lids, washed and fully dried (I used 13 jars for 6 kgs of fruit)

1.    Wash and de-pit the fruit.  Chop into large chunks (halves or quarters for larger fruit).

2.    In a large stockpot mix the chopped fruit and sugar well, cover and let rest overnight.  Two pots may be needed depending on the amount of fruit used.

3.    In the morning, cook the fruit/sugar mix over medium heat for 25 minutes.  Stir often to avoid the mixture from sticking to the pot or boiling over.  Let the mixture settle and cool.  A layer of foam will develop, skim all and any excess water before covering.  Let rest overnight.

4.    In the afternoon, add the jam (or gelatin) to the fruit and cook, stirring often, for another 15 minutes.  Skim any additional foam.  The color should begin to change to a darker apricot hue.

5.    In the evening, cook the jam again for a final 15 minutes.  The jam should begin to thicken and should now be a rich apricot color.  After 15 minutes, let the jam cool slightly.

6.   Using a soup ladle and a funnel, slowly add the jam to the jars, almost filling complete but not to the rim of the jarl.  Be careful not to spill as the mixture is very hot and you can easily burn yourself.

7.    Once all the jars are filled, gently clean the rim (and jars) of any spilled jam, seal each lid tightly and turn the jars upside down.  Let the jam rest (upside down) for at least 24 hours before turning upright.

8.    Label and store in a cool dark place.  Always refrigerate after opening.

 

 

Golden Rays of Hope

After recently suffering a back injury, a week in bed led to incessant reflection about life, paths, age, dreams, happiness and ultimately to a lot of questions.  A fire sparked with time and pain.  I moved to France to change my life, to forge and walk down a new path.  This adventure and living in Provence has truly been a dream… and while I am so blessed to even have this opportunity, like everyone else there are still moments of stress, tears are shed, concerns about life decisions, money and the future can creep their way back into mind.  Selling a home, moving across the world and trying to build a recently launched shoe brand with my husband, while having no income stream, is definitely not for the faint of heart.  At times it can be completely daunting.  Will all of my efforts be in vain or will this be that brilliant moment of life when I whole heartedly took a leap of faith into the unknown? Questions that can easily linger and wither away my soul if I allow them to. 

One morning turning the corner from my road, I stumbled (literally) into a huge field of young sunflowers just beginning to bloom.  A morning painted in Van Gogh.  Gazing into the meadow, an inexplicable shower of warmth and clarity washed over me.  My heart filled but the worries were replaced with an overwhelming sense of calm and trust.  Life and fears fell into perspective.  Being in nature.  The sunflowers transformed into golden rays of hope.  That morning a sea of warm, smiling faces were whispering “it's all going to be OK.”  And through these blossoming flowers, I was suddenly again reminded that without constant courage and change, we simply cannot grow...

La Campagne en Été

Provence is hot, sun-drenched from intense sunshine, summertime is in full swing and Provence is in bloom.  The countryside is a patchwork of green and golden yellow, shifting light with the rhythm of the season and with each new sunrise.  Fields of lavender have turned to fields of gold, stretched out against the backdrop of rolling hills, burgeoning crops, blossoming vineyards and verdant plane tree lined roads. The countryside is ablaze, bathed in months of blinding summer sunlight and sweltering heat, yet somehow it remains alive, transforming along with the passing of these summer days.  It is almost magical to watch the countryside unfold, a new birth with each season, it adapts with the transition of the year, its colors continuously changing but no matter the hue, forever etched in the memory of my Provençal painting...

Les Villages

It is easy to explore Provence; the rolling green hills are a beautiful backdrop to the scattered villages, aging castles and stone farm houses cast throughout the countryside. The Luberon is full of picturesque villages, many perhaps lesser known or less trendy, but each offering their unique version of Provence.  The villages are part of the fabric which makes Provence special and well, so very Provençal charming.  Whether tucked into a valley, watching over vineyards or perched on a hill... they are full of history, everyday life and simple beauty.  I often find the villages to be similar yet still they feel so different, each with their own special hue enriching the color palette of this region.  Part of my joy since moving here has been to explore our neighboring villages, to discover their life and uncover their secrets.  I often take a day to tour, never knowing what I may find, wandering only with open eyes to capture the many Provençal treasures along the way...

Les Limaçons

I love nature.  After having lived in Provence for over a year, I would even venture to say that I have become a nature girl.  Early morning, my favorite time of day, is now spent taking a long walk in the countryside with my dogs and has become my time for peace, reflection and discovery.  It is easy to discover something new during our wanders… a delicate spider's web, a seasonal scent, fresh rain puddled on wet leaves or a new bird not yet seen or heard.  Nature is ever-changing and I love to experience it each day with new eyes.

One morning in early summer, we awakened to a sprouting of new blossoms scattered throughout the meadows and amongst the wild grasses.  With curious eyes, I inspected the buds, wanting to identify the new blooms. Imagine my surprise when what appeared to be tiny white flowers were instead tiny white shells.  Snails… a myriad of them covering the Provençal countryside.  

Reminiscent of tiny seashells that wash upon the shore, the snails suddenly appear, blanketing the Provence landscape and coloring it with speckles of creamy white.  Known in France as “Les Limacons”, they move at night and when the soil becomes too hot they congregate on anything structurally vertical.  Wild fennel is one of their favorites but I often observe them dressing the wild flowers, fences, street signs or merely clinging to a blade of grass.  Unbeknownst to me, these little creatures are actually considered a culinary escargot and are an old Provençal fare.  Often flavored by the fennel they eat, the snails are traditionally cooked in aromatic water then eaten directly from the shells, a dish known as "Limaçoun à L'Aïgo Sau."

Perhaps landowners may not agree (?) but for someone who has never witnessed them before, I find the snails adorable, a bit whimsical and perhaps even magical in their mysterious flight.  One day they simply arrive.  For a fleeting summer season the snails remain, decorating the meadows in silence, reminding me of musical notes cast upon a blank sheet.  As the summertime fades and the temperatures begin to cool, in what seems the blink of an eye, les limaçons are again suddenly gone... magically disappearing, only to return with the next summer season...

La Lavande

We recently went lavender peeping... rows of the fragrant violet flowers are now blanketing the countryside in hues of purple and green.  The sight, the smell, the sound of the bees buzzing... the joy of standing amidst a sea of lavender is completely intoxicating.  Loulou even seemed to enjoy the meadows as much as we did!  To experience a field of blooming lavender is to experience Provence... it is a must see if you ever find yourself here during peak season.  

It is very special, almost ethereal, to stand in the middle of a lavender field, smelling the flowers, listening to the murmur of bees, felling like you are a million miles away….

Ansouis

I discovered Ansouis while visiting France for the first time with my husband. We were dating and I was here to meet the family.  It was August, the cicadias were singing and like now it was hot.  Days were spent cooling around the pool, visiting local villages and savoring Provençal food and wine through what seemed a non-stop rotation of scrumptious meals.  One afternoon, to escape the family, my husband suggested that we venture out solo to discover a new village together, Ansouis.  In the days prior, I remember seeing signs for Ansouis and wondering to myself how do you pronounce that name?  While I didn't quite understand where we were going that day or what town my husband actually suggested, someplace "Swiss", it wasn't until I saw a street sign at the entrance of the village that I realized, oh that's how you pronounce Ansouis!  Pronounced "on-swees" (roughly).

Walking into the village years ago I was charmed.  In fact each time that I visit Ansouis I am still charmed.  Named one of the "Plus Beaux Villages de France", it is a quiet town which sits on a dominant hill and is surrounded by vast lushness of vineyards, olive groves and fruit orchards.  Overlooking the Luberon, with its castle perched at the pinnacle, the village is small and filled with cobblestone walls, stone houses, an old bell tower and probably more flower pots, boxes and vines than you can count.  The views of the Provence countryside are beautiful as is the quietness that usually fills the sleepy village.

Ansouis is easy to explore, mainly due to its size, but also with few roads and no driving in the main center, it is a quick tour and simple to navigate without getting lost.  The village hosts two good restaurants, La Closerie, a 1 Michelin-star and Le Grain de Sel, serving more simple Provençal fare, both good and both recommended.  The village also hosts an annual flower show and different events throughout the year at the castle.

The castle of Ansouis which dates back to the 10 century has been restored but still retains some of its older walls and watch towers.  Now privately owned, it is open to the public and events are often hosted in the park and garden.  While on my last visit, I discovered the castle chapel, which has since become the village church.  Very old and small, it is filled with tapestries, chandeliers, paintings, arched stone walls and ornate details.  I was alone at dusk, the chapel was dimly lit with candles and the Provençal light softly filtered through the stained glass windows.  Sitting in the shadows, surrounded by the history, I was enveloped by the complete silence and by thoughts of those that once sat in these same pews so long ago.  The past and the stillness around me felt thick.  I sat quietly sensing as if the spirits of another lifetime were there sitting with me on that silent evening in Provence.  

Ansouis is perhaps a lesser known village and a bit off the beaten path, but nonetheless worth a wander if you are nearby or want to dine at a good Provençal restaurant.  What I have found to enjoy about Ansious is that it is quiet with usually no crowds but still shines some of that special Provence allure and is a peaceful escape if only for an hour... 

Les Coquelicots

Fields full of wild poppies saturating the countryside in a blanket of vibrant red... Postcards from a crimson colored Provence, because Les Cloqeulicots are too magical not to share...

Bon Dimanche!

Venise

We boarded the train to make our way south, winding through the Italian countryside, the fields of green slowly turning into a sea of blue.  A two-day getaway from work in Milan, our destination the magical city of Venice... 

Venice is a world all her own.  An intricate maze of canals intertwined with narrow cobblestoned alleys, all aglow painted in hues of rose, pink, pastels and terracotta.  The buildings are weathered and worn, a melange of textures and colors, perfectly imperfect, as if Mother Nature herself was the painter. Stepping into Venice is like walking into a fairytale placed in a city of long ago.  It is surreal.  Aside from it being the world's only pedestrian city and built on a lagoon, it is breathtakingly beautiful.  You can't help but to be enveloped by the magic of this city upon the vision of your first canal.  All things Venetian explode before your eyes, it is a visual feast not be be believed.  On arrival we took our time and walked to our hotel, forever capturing those first moments in our hearts and our minds.  I smiled profusely as Eric proclaimed "I feel like we are on the set of a movie."  Venice has that affect on you.

It is hard not be captivated by Venice and her worldly uniqueness, grandeur and romantic charm.  This old world city has changed but seemingly not changed... the color palette, the marble palaces, palazzo after palazzo, canals abuzz with never-ending gondola rides and the unique blend of Venetian architecture adorning the city.  Timeless splendor that seems to age gracefully.  The Grand Canal, Piazza San Marco or the Rialto are to name a few of the beautiful sights, but many of Venice's treasures hide in her backstreets. Our days were filled with exploring the hidden passages and alleys endlessly twisting and turning throughout the city.  Navigating Venice can be challenging, we were lost more than not, but that was part of the adventure. We walked for hours, meandering different neighborhoods, admiring the many churches and exploring the outskirts of the city, all the while gasping at the charming detail, the non-stop views and countless canals.  There are a myriad of nooks and crannies to discover and with each turn a new sight to be seen.  I imagine that no matter how many times you visit Venice, you see her through virgin eyes, with each stroll discovering something new - a corner, a color or a facade - perhaps not fully seen or noticed before.

This was my second trip to Venice and Eric's first.  It was interesting for us as visitors to observe the lifestyle and I often wondered what it must be like for the locals to live in their home now crowded with strangers.  Venice is a duality, an old world city layered with modern day and inundated with millions of visitors.  Our days were planned around avoiding the non-stop flow of tourists who move in, out and around the city daily.  There are a lot of people visiting a small and isolated area, which at times was daunting.  It was disheartening to see plastic bottles floating in areas of the ocean... sadly a current day reality possible even in the most beautiful of places but more so a reminder of how much more we all need to do to protect this beautiful planet and its wonders.  But despite the infrastructure challenges and despite the masses of people, Venice is truly a rare gem.

After two days I wanted more time to explore, to visit Burano and Murano, and I left knowing that I will one day return.  My favorite time of day was early morning while the city still slept.  I walked the empty street and watched the colors of dawn softly light the city and saturate the aged facades.  The only sound the sea, the boats swaying in the docks, birds fluttering overhead and the the distant murmurs of fisherman... sheer heaven. I soaked up every beautiful image to cherish forever in my memory... and lost my thoughts as I watched the glassy water softly reflect the world of yesterday...

Les Roses

Like much else in Provence, the roses here seem to radiate a different aura; a tranquil softness and fairytale like beauty, befitting for their magical surroundings.  Perhaps it is the nourishing Provençal light, keeping them saturated with happiness and warmth the year through… or the restorative energy of Provence allowing them to flourish, safely protecting the fragile buds as they quietly hibernate during the cold, gray winter months… 

Our rose bush has dramatically burst into life; it is now a delicious mélange of pale and creamy pink voluptuous blooms entwined with thorny green branches which lavishly adorns the corner of the garden.  The flowers have flourished and with each passing day of spring they slowly mature, gradually showcasing their layers of soft, velvety petals to the world.  I marvel at their beauty, simplistic yet intricate, delicate yet durable.  After living here for a year now, I have come to understand that roses are one of nature's many elements playing in the symphony of Provence.

As the spring marches onward, I admire as the buds tranquilly transform into ravishing blooms, their life journey elegantly unfolding before my eyes.  I observe as the rose bush slowly crawls the old stonewall reaching ever upward towards the brilliant Provence sun… and cannot help but to smile by the beauty of Mother Nature and by the daily reminder to stop and smell the roses…

L'Angleterre

After a whirlwind of travel I am home in Provence settling back into life.  I have thought a lot about these last few trips, being away from home and the desire to travel.  With the world of today, travel has changed.  Many aspects of flying are really no longer glamorous; it requires patience and time to tackle the bustle of the masses, the treachery of the airport process and the usually crowded planes.  I am just thankful each time that I arrive to my destination safely.  By no means am I complaining; I am grateful that I even have the opportunity to travel and consider it a privilege that I never take for granted.  I still think it is magical that we can board a plane and cross the entire world to land at some near or faraway destination.  And it is still bewitching to step foot into the unknown.

What is about wanderlust that infatuates so many?  The allure of new discoveries, the enchantment of unknown cultures or the sheer wonder of exploration?  Traveling provides an escape from the daily routine.  It is enlightening to see and experience a new point of view on life, location and food.  While I have been fortunate to where I have traveled for both work and vacation, I would like to think that no matter the destination, traveling is always a means to further enrich myself.  Experiencing different cultures and different ways of living certainly puts my own life into perspective.  Albeit some trips are more magical or meaningful, more glamorous or luxurious than others, but for me traveling is always a learning experience - mind, body and spirit.  And each voyage always a simple reminder that missing awakens our appreciation.  

England has been on my travel wish list for a long time now.  Although the main reason for me taking this trip did not come to fruition, the end result was time spent with a girlfriend touring the English countryside.  It was beautiful.  Spring was just beginning to blossom and we were enveloped in rich history and humbling nature.  Lush greenness, rolling hills, crumbling castles, classic estates, pristine gardens and probably more sheep then people softly adorning the green countryside in dots of cream.  We moved at a slow pace with no schedule, filling the days with leisurely breakfasts, long walks, small villages, English pubs and even a venture to the rugged coastline painted in a sea of turquoise with cliffs of putty white.  

Simple elements, girl time, talks about everything and nothing, and new discoveries made for a lovely and memorable first trip to England.  I survived the wonky driving and the sun shone more than not.  And although I am always happy to return to Provence, I left the English countryside hoping to one day soon return…

La Californie

In mid March I journeyed back to the states to work in California, my first return there in over a year.  Filled with anticipation of this trip, I thought a lot about returning to our “home” of Laguna Beach and to our old life.  I wondered how would I feel to be back in our old neighborhood.  Would I miss it instantly?  Would my heart melt?  Would I feel the need to return as soon as feasibly possible?

After arriving I was filled with mixed emotions and yes my heart swelled in my throat on more than one occasion.  It was so wonderful to see our dear friends, to visit familiar places, to hear the soothing sounds of the beach and to smell that salty ocean air.  Laguna Beach is beautiful, I think probably more so than I remember.  But that’s just it, more so than I remember.  Walking on the beach early one morning, it dawned on me that you can live in the most beautiful place in the world, but if you aren’t fully present to your life, the location of your home is irrelevant.  While this may sound trivial and apparent, sometimes being wrapped up inside a bubble isn’t so transtransparent.

I loved our life in Laguna but sadly enough by the end of my time living there that life no longer loved me.  I became someone that I didn’t want to be.  Being back again in Laguna, I realize just how much I needed to leave, to refresh life and start anew.  California is beautiful and will always hold a special place in my heart, and although seeing our former home is still bittersweet, to be honest I am not missing the noise, the amount of people or the traffic... especially the traffic.

While I was sad to say good-bye to dear friends, I know that we made the right decision to move on.  Life pushed us to change and to move forward.  We arrived to a new chapter, a quiet pace and a simple being.  The nature and space of the countryside are helping to heal a part of me that was broken.  Living in Provence and in now returning back to Laguna, I now fully comprehend that the life I choose will be built based on what is on the inside, not the outside.

As I am now back in France, I will cherish my photos and my memories.  I smile for my friends, my time in California, for the life lessons learned and still to be learned.  Maybe we will return to live there one day or maybe not.  That path is not yet paved.  For now I know that sometimes leaving what you thought you wanted opens you up to receive what you need in order to live the life you were meant to…

L'Hiver

Another winter has almost come and gone.  As I sit listening to the rain pitter-patter against the windowpane, I think about the wintertime and how life adapts to the changing seasons.  I arrived in Provence with arms open wide to experiencing Mother Nature’s diversity, her glorious beauty and ever changing moods captured with each new season.  And as my first full winter in Provence nears an end, I realize how silent life seems in these colder months and how my feelings about this season have evolved over the years.

As I have aged, I have begun to welcome the colder months.  Winter is a time for hibernation and seems to take a slower pace.  And although life moves on, with the colder weather comes an innate sense to pause, reflect, recharge and slowly just like the flowers and trees, rejuvenate, reawakening into fresh new blossoms with the arrival of spring.

Although there are cold, wet and windy days, winter in Provence is manageable, it is a brief respite in an otherwise usually warm and sun-drenched year.  The villages sleep and life is quiet.  As we meander through empty streets, our footsteps are the only noise to echo through the silent cobblestoned alleys.  Chimneys busily burn filling the sky with their gray clouds of smoke, Mother Nature visibly rests and the land is barren.  The rain arrives, saturating the dirt roads into muddy puddles.  The mistral blow piercing the stillness with its fierce howl, whistling through the roof tiles and slamming any unhinged shutter in its path.  And that Provence light, most surprising of all, dusty hues of pink and blue softly paint the cold winter skies into a warm array of pastel colored clouds.

As the raindrops continue to fall, I listen to their soft melody against the garden stones, the fire burns and my mind wanders to this year in Provence.  I think about the four seasons and how we adapt, just like the nature surrounding us, to the seasonal changes of the year.  With each season comes new discoveries and a new way to see life... and if we are lucky, much like the bud of a rose, to transform into a beautiful new blossom... 

Un An

One year ago this month, we first arrived in Provence to start a new chapter in our life, to walk away from the known and enter into the unknown.  We found the courage to sell our house in California (which we were blessed to even own) and to move across the world, to give ourselves a chance to do something new, something entirely different from the life that we had lived, and for me, fulfill a life long dream of living abroad in France.

Provence is vastly different from southern California in so many ways that I could even say they are opposites.  In what used to be palm trees, sandy beaches and freeways is now open green meadows, olive trees, vines as far as the eye can see and narrow winding roads.  Provence is everything that you imagine and more.  It is purple fields of lavender, medieval villages perched high on a hill, a glass of chilled rosé, that delicious sun-drenched cuisine, simple but overflowing with flavor, and yes that beautiful Provence light, seducing you no matter the season.  But for me Provence has come to represent much more.  It is simplicity.  It is quiet.  It is rejuvenation. 

Life has significantly changed from my California world, but I would venture to say now for the better.  There is something to be said about simplifying your life so that you can actually see and feel it.  To remember what it is to simply be.  One of my goals in moving across the world to the countryside was to slow down, to give myself time to listen and to hear.  There is no clutter here, no noise and no distractions.  And although I still don’t have all of the answers, I am learning.  Learning to listen.  Learning to hear my heart and not the chatter in my mind.  Learning to be more patient, especially with myself.  But most of all, I am learning more about myself and understanding the importance of self-love.  I have thought a lot about the timing of this move, why now?  I realize that I was meant to be here in this moment of time because it is in this moment that I needed it most.

This year has been one that I won't forget.  A new landscape, new seasons, new rhythm and new outlook.  Postcards of my Provence that I will take home are fields filled with crimson colored poppies, morning walks through old villages, long Plane tree-lined roads, laundry hanging on the line because there are no dryers, cicadas singing in the summer heat, warm buttery croissants fresh from the oven and winding country roads leading to nowhere... all colored in that special Provençal light.  But aside from this incredibly romantic place in France where I have lived, perhaps Provence will now live inside of me and will be that time of my life that I found myself a little bit more...

Les Chevaux de Camargue

It almost feels like a dream.  Standing in a marsh at dawn, the air cool and still, my breath fogging my camera as I awaited the warmth of the sunshine which was slowly starting to filter over the horizon.  In the distance the murmur of rumbling ground began to seep into the quietness of the morning, awakening my senses with the fast approaching noise.  I could hear the voice of the handler calling his group closer to him and could not help but to smile in anticipation of their arrival.  The beautiful horses of Camargue.

Once upon a time at the end of the fall, I spent a weekend at my first photography retreat set amid marshes and old villages located in what is known as the wild west of France, the Camargue.  The purpose of the weekend was to learn about photography, the main attraction of the weekend was their magnificent horses. 

Indigenous to this area in France, the horses of Camargue are an ancient breed, considered to be one of the oldest in the world today with origin unknown but relating back to prehistoric horses found in France.  Smaller than other common horses bred throughout the world, the horses of Camargue are born brown but, like many of us their hair turns to a lighter shade as they age, eventually becoming white gray for which they are known.  With a love of salt water they have often been referred to as “the horses of the sea”, evolving into the breed of today suited for living in the wetlands of France, living semi-feral amid the marshes of the Camargue.

The riders, known as Guardians, are the real life cowboys of France, known for their traditional black hat and their trident (long stick).  With traditions dating back hundreds of years, Guardians have lived in the Camargue using the horses in part for herding cattle and Camargue bulls, also native to this area.  The devotion and trust of the Guardian and horse is visible, an understanding with a connection based on mutual respect and time.  Animal lover aside, the unspoken bond is both inspirational and moving.  The balance and cooperation of human with nature and animal, in complete and total harmony.

I think back to that weekend and there are no words to express the beauty, the grace and the peacefulness of these majestic creatures.  The elegance in their every move, they are strong but vulnerable, energetic but calm, mystical yet present.  Galloping through the sandy lagoon, drops of water magically splattered the air like paint on a blank canvas. The droplets spraying the horses and coloring them from white to dark gray, their manes dancing in the breeze in unison with each step taken through the shallow, salty water.  Although my camera did not capture every shot of the horses, my heart certainly did, and despite being covered in mosquito bites by the end of the morning, I was completely filled with joy.  The natural beauty of the wild Camargue and the magnificence of their white horses was a very special backdrop for an unforgettable experience.