Thursday, November 14, 2013

*Provincia Nostra

Written by Karen.
The Provence that I have long visualized in my imagination is full of shadows, intense colors and light.  It is full of long and colorful sight lines that pan slowly over the dancing sunflowers, waving lavender fields and geometrically orderly grape vines. It lingers on the clear warm light that is said to have drawn artists to Provence for years in an attempt to capture the landscapes and colors that emanate from that light. It showcases bountiful ripe fruits and vegetables that are extraordinarily well prepared. It is about hot afternoons languishing in shady gardens slowly eating local cheese, baguettes, charcuterie, olives and drinking Provençal rosé wine. It is slowly exploring the uneven cobble-stoned streets of tiny villages. It is full of scents, tastes, sounds and simple beauty that combine to totally captivate the senses.  In short, in my hopeful imaginative mind, the idea of Provence is a way of life - a celebration of life - sweet, slow, simple and extraordinary. I couldn't wait to experience Provence for myself.  

I have high expectations about visiting Provence, France. And, with having high expectations, there is every opportunity for disappointment.  I have often wondered as we drive closer to the Provence region of France whether modern Provence is simply marketing hyperbole.  What if Provence only exists in the imaginations of authors, artists and cleverly edited television shots?

We signaled to exit the French highway and begin our back road travels towards the Provence region.  I bounced a bit with nervous anticipation on the edge of my passenger seat.  Can Provence actually deliver?  

*According to Wikipedia, 'The Romans called the area of Provence Provincia Nostra, which means "Our Province". It was the first Roman province outside Italy.'

We saw these triumphant and stately tree promenades for miles as we drove throughout Provence. The trunks and branches that stretched upwards were a dramatic white providing a stark backdrop to the variegated green leaves.  As we drove along the promenade, it seemed like we were driving through a dappled, leafy green tunnel. 
Fields of sunflowers

Provençal grapes
Provençal Vineyards

Jumbled rock formation above a vineyard planted in the rocky soil below.

Can Provence actually deliver? Yes. Actually, an unqualified yes!  As we drove deeper into the Provence region, we noticed the light and the clarity of the air first. The light bathes the landscape in golden luminous hues, yet seemingly paradoxically the skies are so intensely blue it seems like you are looking at a painting. The air is crisp and crystal clear, highlighting shadows and exquisite details on stone buildings and landscapes alike.  It was like I suddenly started wearing glasses as I stared at the naturally occurring greens, tans, reds, yellows and oranges that shimmered in the sun as we drove down the back country roads towards Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.