Place St Charles Avignon

Avignon, Day One

We all converged on Marseilles airport where we were greeted by the bride and groom, Xavier and Sarah, who are in this photo.

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In this photo are two Frenchmen, one now an American, a woman who is half French, marrying a Frenchman, a Pole who is American and and two full blooded Americans. Two of these people are ex-brothers-in-law. This is only a small segment of the diverse group converging on Avignon for the wedding. There will also be former students of my sister ( the mother of the bride) who are also friends and colleagues. Some old friends of the bride will be people who were once her mother’s students, and the father and mother of the groom were also the bride’s host family when she studied abroad in college…what a global mashup.

Clear skies allowed me unobstructed views on the trip from London from my roomy economy seat on BritishAirways. The low sun angle of early morning made the southern mountains and hill country stand out like a relief map. Although i could see a hydrocarbon haze over the continent as we climbed up over the English Channel, there was not one cloud in the sky for the entire flight south.

White limestone ridges and escarpments in the area close to the southern coastline stood out against the green of pine vegetation.

From the ground, the tall pillars of cypress that are quintessential landmark trees in the Mediterranean, reached straight up into the cloudless sky. This is my first visit to France, and this region of the planet, and the sere landscape is fascinating. In spite of the intense sunlight, it is surprisingly green.

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It’s very difficult to snap a photo from a car going 90 mph! The Canon had a faster focus and shutter than the iPhone, but I have no means of uploading on the fly.
I am fascinated to see these limestone formations so clearly from above, and then from the ground, where they loom in all directions like fortresses tucked between stands of trees and a tapestry of dry grasses.

After dropping our bags off at Court Inn at Courtine, a few kilometers from the center of Avignon, Halina, Chip and I walked along the Rhone, a broad turbulent river, until we reached the gate to the old center of Avignon. This ancient settlement, once the home of the Catholic Popes when they abandoned Rome in the 1300’s and built the Palais des Papes, the Pope’s Palace, which is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The city is enclosed with an imposing wall with a long history dating to Medieval times and earlier.

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After a few blocks inside the old city, we turned back to get refreshed for the four course barbecue at the Donat’s (parents of the groom) lovely home. There, Yves wast cooking local sausages, shinny links the thickness of a finger about eight inches long, over cypress coals in a home made stone stove by the kitchen entrance. In the back yard terrace, a long table was set with twenty places.

The Donat’s compact but lush yard is defined by a hedge of grey feathery cypress, which encloses a pool, vegetable garden, bee hives and several fruit trees, along with planters and discrete borders of lavender. An arc of native stone paving curves around the house. Xavier told us that the house and yard was a barren area but for pear trees when his parents first began construction about eighteen years prior. You could not imagine that this oasis had not been there for centuries.

As cool descended, and we munched through bread, a crudités of intensely colorful vegetables, sausages, cheese and fruit. The piece de resistance arrived in the form of fluted goblets of raspberry tiremisou in rich red and a gorgeous shade of yellow that matched the color of the stone wash on the walls of the house.

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Sarah gave me a lesson in the proper means of cutting a wedge of Roquefort, after I pulled the unpardonable gaff of cutting off the thinnest pointed end, which had little blue, and to my uninstructed eye seemed the most modest way to try some while leaving plenty of good stuff for others.

She had learned the proper etiquette of cutting a wedge from Xavier’s grandfather, she told us, and this was a fond (though probably difficult at the time) memory. The correct way is to cut from the narrow end toward the rind, as the inner part of the round, which will be the thinnest part of a wedge, is considered to be the premiere piece. What I had done was hog this delicacy for myself, proving (of course) that I am an utterly un-cultured American, which is entirely true!

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