Friday, 22 August 2014
Seventy years ago today, the American-led liberation of southern France reached the town of Apt. The previous day, the tanks and Jeeps had rolled into Aix-en-Provence (above), chasing the fleeing German army of occupation. But today is the day remembered in Apt, with a plaque on a small roundabout planted with cypresses and flowers where the main road, the old N100 now the D900, arrives from Céreste.
This plaque is no anniversary special; it has been here for as long as I can remember, passed daily by the locals as they go about their business, and the tourists who swell the town's life during the summer. It is a poignant reminder not only of the event itself, but that - contrary to myth - the French remember it with profound gratitude. In the villages and small towns of the Luberon, the wartime cooperation between the brave members of the resistance and the RAF is recalled with pride and enduring mutual respect. Should the war be discussed with visitors from Britain, the US and Canada, it is with a sense of shared history.
This was the starting point of my novel The Sea Garden, in which the story plays out against the background of the Liberation which began with the Allied invasion on the coast at St-Tropez. The settings in the book can be seen here: the island of Porquerolles just below Hyeres, and Manosque to the north-east of Pertuis.
For weeks, the local newspaper La Provence (from which this map is taken) has been telling the story day by day. Yesterday's page included a fascinating piece by Yves Reynaud about the day the Americans arrived in the village of Tour d'Aigues near Pertuis on the southern slopes of the Luberon mountains.
What the French noticed first of all was that the harsh sound of hobnailed Nazi boots had gone from the silent streets, to be replaced by the soundless rubber of the American footwear - and music! The "Yanks" chewed gum nonchalantly as they offered cigarettes and chocolate to the villagers - the French offered fruit in return. In the village centre, the whole population clamoured around the Jeeps and Dodges, vehicles so modern as to be curiosities in themselves. Upbeat tunes were playing from the Jeeps: songs they had never heard before.
The momentous day ended in the Café Innocenti - today, the Café du Chateau - with laughter, talk, drinking and dancing. One of the GIs sat down at the old piano and started pounding out Boogie-Woogie. Two days later the Americans had pushed on north, but the villagers continued the party by collecting eggs from every farm and smallholding. An immense celebratory omelette composed of more than a thousand eggs was cooked and shared by the whole community.
This evening in Apt, the town's liberation will be marked by two parades through the town with some of the original vehicles; the laying of wreaths and honouring of the dead; the unveiling of a new memorial plaque in the Place de la Mairie in the presence of Lieut-Col Tim Stoy and Captain Monika Stoy, representing the US Army; a showing of a newsreel film of the event; an aperitif outside the Hotel de Ville; and dancing under the trees to a swing band.
For more about the activities of the French resistance in this area, you can read more in these past blog posts about Céreste, and Samuel Beckett at Roussillon. More on Apt tomorrow.
Friday, 15 August 2014
In July and August there are entertainments every night up and down the Luberon valley, from relaxed jazz concerts in the squares of hillside villages, to dancing at the fetes votives to the more formal performances at the castles of Lacoste and Gordes offering opera and famous names. This booklet has suggestions for every day of the week. And with it is my choice for an authentic Provencal scent for the warm evenings: L'Occitane's Ambre Santal, which is not nearly as heavy as it sounds, just sweet and spicy.
The lazy days that follow can be justified by a bit of heavy lifting in the garden, where there are always jobs to be done, like the clearing of ivy from the "secret" door to the old walnut wine cave that was starting to disappear again under a cloak of green. It was a tough task, that called for urgent rest and relaxation afterwards...
When we do rouse ourselves to go out and about, there are always brocante shops to be explored. These pots were outside one in Lourmarin.
Tuesday, 5 August 2014
Saturday, 2 August 2014
Monday, 28 July 2014
Hiring a bicycle on Porquerolles is a must. It allows you to cover so much more ground than if you walk everywhere, and adds to the sense of childhood adventure that includes rocky coves, forts on tiny bay islands and shaded paths that always lead to another vista of the sea. You could take a boat, of course, but then you'd miss out on one of the most sensuous aspects of this lovely place: the fragrance.
There are few reference works in English that offer information beyond superficial facts about the island, and those I did manage to find were old. The best was published in 1880, by a journalist called Adolphe Smith. Here is his ‘description of the most Southern Point of the French Riviera’:
No one was there, and we decided against a swim because when we looked carefully, the shallows were full of small mauve jellyfish - meduses, as the French call them: Medusas, after the Greek Gorgon monster with the face of a woman and hideous hair of snakes.
We hopped back on our bikes and pushed on, until we found a lovely beach for swimming and snorkelling within sight of the Fort du Petit Langoustier.
Wednesday, 23 July 2014
We definitely struck lucky with our room: cool and very spacious, with lovely touches of Provencal style.
We headed out, the temptation round every corner before we even got out of the Auberge. Who wouldn't want to take a seat here in the shade and try a Kir à la Figue?
Sunday, 20 July 2014
The crossing only takes fifteen minutes, and the boat really does go fast once it gets underway. Yachts and sail boats skim across the blue alongside, and anticipation rises. I love islands, the way they are cut off and self-contained, and Porquerolles, with its paths through pine forests and beaches in rocky coves, seems the perfect size for exploration.
"Oleanders and palms waved a sub-tropical greeting from the quayside"
"The white and steel needles of the marina extended out to the ferry dock. A warm breeze rang with clinks of metal rigging. This shore felt far more foreign than the one they had left, as if the sea voyage had crossed much more than the few miles of the strait."