The beauty of France is difficult to capture with simple words, as well as the beauty of a thirty-five year marriage and lasting friendships, but I will venture and try. This is our trip for the third anniversary in Europe over fifteen years with the same hexagon of friends and we hope to continue the tradition “until death separates us”.
Simone Signoret says that “chains don’t hold a marriage together. They are threads, hundreds of small threads that unite people over the years. “That’s why we travel, we go in search of colored threads for our emerging tapestries, memories so vivid as to abandon our predictable lifestyle and live, really live. Okay, really eat. Yes, and drink, really drink. “Le monde est a livre do not chaque pas nous ouvre ae page”, says Alphonse de Lamartine. The world is a book ~ every step we open a new page.
I would just like to say that the transportation needed to get us safely to our destination was a challenge at best, but as with most things in life, a little perseverance and flexibility can overcome many obstacles. I wasn’t going to compare the travel difficulties with relationships, but how could you?
I found myself trying to get into uncomfortable spaces, focused on the destination rather than on the journey, private sleep, impatient, afraid of my possessions, to relieve the boredom that I had fallen looking at The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a little nervous about final approach and was forced to handle many inefficiencies. How is it possible that over seven million people visit France every year? You will be relieved to know that we survived the ten-hour flight, the intact marriage, the mission accomplished.
Vérité vaut bien qu’on passe quelques années sans la trouver. Jules Renard (The truth is more valuable if it takes you a few years to find it.)
On the train to Avignon, slipping in and out of sleep, I underwent one of those instant consecrations, no longer Cheryl from the suburbs, but Cheri, a traveler consumed on the brink of a daring escapade. From the window I let my eyes absorb the rolling green hills, the small castles, the extravagant farms, the majestic churches and the winding streams. It is a full-fledged fairy tale, and by God’s grace and a generous impact on my visa limit, I manage to join the damned story. With joy, joy, joy, life is only a dream …
We arrive in Avignon (main characters of my dream ~ Greg, Phyllis, Jill, Steve, Cheri, Larry), we found ground transportation and we arrived in six at Rue de La Republique 23 with padded suitcases, waiting impatiently for a taste of our new dig. Our apartment is located in the center of the historic district of Avignon, spacious, European, elegant and so French (we didn’t know that we would have managed to escape death within these fascinating walls).
Through the narrow door on the sixth floor we entered as a unit, pouring into a spacious and lightly lit room, on the left an enchanting red kitchen, behind us a modern dining table, above a room with glass floor (only in France) , and ten steps beyond, a roomy family room with inviting sofas, our view of a sea of tiled roofs, dotted with church bell towers, and an occasional garden balcony. The four bedrooms are located on the third level, each with its own air conditioner and on the private bathroom (embarrassing European style), but without windows.
After throwing ourselves on the sofas, opening the windows, we sat enchanted by a light rain and the sweet fragrance of southern France. All I can say is that after a ten hour flight, two hours of waiting at the station and three hours by train we are ready for a glass of wine. We certainly arrived in the right place because the boys took about ten minutes to return with several bottles of wonderful regional wines. And let me just say that we are excellent consumers.
Someone famous has drawn the lines, when a door slams, a window opens. I think the quote is something like that, but you get the general drift. There was a frustrating confusion with our rental car, but apparently, it was a huge blessing (Jill may disagree). They didn’t have the car we ordered, the price mysteriously doubled and without any options in place we canceled the whole deal. So French of us.
But the window I mentioned earlier came in the form of a rental driver, one we happened to meet on our city trip, and Philip was happy to accompany us. It achieved the world record for deeper scuba diving in 1985 (showed us a magazine as proof), owns a quaint hotel on the edge of town and is adorable. We hired him for the whole week. Good boy.
Our first night in Avignon we relied on providence and we left without a plan. As Anthony Bourdain used to say, “something unexpected or wonderful is not likely to happen if you have an itinerary.” Walking along the ancient cobbled streets recently baptized by the rain, we walk up and down the fascinating tracks, following the ebb and flow of the ancient sandstone buildings, with carved wooden doors that will enchant your shit.
This is what I would call a clean city, splashes of color from simple floral displays contrast beautifully with the cream-colored buildings, the cafés with tables overflowing on the sidewalk, a sumptuous papal palace (referred to as the “Babylonian imprisonment of the Papacy” during the 13th century), moss-covered fountains, statues, multiple pub churches, lush gardens and swarms of well-dressed people. I’m rethinking my shoes, my lingerie, maybe my whole wardrobe down to my horrible socks. I caress the credit card hidden in the bag, take a deep breath of cleanliness and smile because I am clearly getting nervous Larry. Love.
Yes, a table for six “, written the same in both languages, but with a totally different pronunciation. I never understood it, so I fell in raising a hand and a thumb. It just works. I’m not sure how happened, but we came across the most delicious coffee. By persevering at our table until the day turns into night, they start with a tray of sumptuous salami and cheese, olives, wine and bread, but when the pizza is served is worthy of a lament! Enjoy your meal!
Jet lag is a real thing, our first morning in Avignon we took a break, focusing on coffee, hot croissants, fresh yogurt, assorted cheeses and other coffee (thanks Greg for getting up early and looking for the village for these delicacies) , we remained immersed on the sofas in wrinkled pajamas as if we woke up from a party in pajamas. Total bliss …
For over a century Les Halles has been an emblematic place in the center of Avignon, a fascinating covered market made famous by the authors Peter Mayle and Jean Viard. Les Halles is only open until one in the afternoon, so we ran away from our pajamas and into town to guarantee fresh products, meat, bread and cheeses for dinner. Of course, we immediately found ourselves sitting at a table to indulge in raw oysters, muscles and local wines. It took several hours as you can imagine, with the market now closed, we went out on the street, happy and full of malice. I’m not sure of the names of the coffees we visited, sipped, tasted and enjoyed but were they memorable, or were we most likely memorable? Somehow Greg organized a fabulous dinner and I have no idea what time we went to bed. Good night…
“I was only told the snob kiss once, or those unfortunate ones who suffer from congenital froideur.” Peter Mayle
Phillip arrives at 10:00 on the dot to take us to the construction site to see. I would like to say that we were punctual but we weren’t even close. I watch the countryside pass through the rear window, silent, absorbed, slightly drunk. An hour later we get out of the car and walk into the enchanted village of Gigondas.
There is a scented aroma of thyme that lingers in the air mixed with a pinch of lavender, baked bread and rosemary. It forces you to breathe deeply, holding back the delicious emotions inspired by these natural perfumes. Simple terracotta pots filled with geraniums decorate porches, balconies and windowsills, sometimes forcing them to walk the stone streets. The atlases form a natural canopy, intertwined branches, which shade us from the hot sun. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant but I will never forget the food. Our dishes are works of art, designed to satisfy all the senses, and so they do. Reanimated after a splendid lunch, we stroll up and down the cobbled streets, have a wine tasting and admire some galleries. The sky is so bold.
“Beauty is the harvest of presence”. David Whyte
After a fabulous dinner in town with roast duck, veal and beef fillet, we returned to the apartment sipping wine, the windows wide open, allowing a light breeze to cool off. It was a few minutes to midnight when the whole apartment went dark and we all smelled the smoke (no smoke alarms). This is when you are severely reminded that you should have identified possible escape routes in an unknown six-story apartment. Using our dead or dying phones as torches, we move on to the putrid smell. He takes us to the fuse box that we play with for a while but to no avail. When we are relatively sure we are not in immediate danger, we decide that there is nothing we can do until morning, we go to bed, with backpacks ready to grab. Larry sleeps on the sofa acting as a sentry for the night.
In the morning our landlord appears promptly, his name is Fredrick and reminds you of a bird. Flighty is a good description. With the advantage of daylight the boys check the damage, find that one of the wires has caught fire inside the wall, located near the door (the windows are on the opposite side of the apartment, six floors higher, the door is the only way out), which detonated a fuse (incinerated) and plunged us into darkness. If it caught fire while we slept, there would be no escape.
The days merge with each other as we merge into the provincial lifestyle. It is hard to explain. On my way I said that I was consecrated, during my stay I am consumed. This is Avignon.
We spend the next few days exploring the lively open-air markets of L’lsle-sur-la-Sorgue, rummaging in antique shops, attending mass in the Cathedral around the corner, walking the beautiful streets, shopping, talking to the people and of course indulging in the unique experience of good French food.
Our driver surprises us with a short trip to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and we gladly participate in a pilgrimage to the mouth of a natural spring, it is incredibly beautiful, the caves dot the side of the mountain, together with the ruins of a papal castle, and a water so bright that it seems almost turquoise as it flows into the city. It is a place that has attracted poets and writers over the years and which continues in the ancient art of papermaking. On the way back from our walk we are surprised by a downpour but we run away to a bar for a cold beer while we wait for the storm. It is so smelly French that I can hardly stand it. Storm clouds form, drenching the lush landscape, the rumble vibrates to your soul.
“Choisissez votre femme par the d’orille bien plus que par les yeux.” French proverb (Choose a wife rather for your ear than for your eye.)
How do you leave a place like this? At night the calls of cicadas from the cedars of the centenary atlas are fascinating, but the light breeze that miraculously raises the dense humidity of late spring is what holds your breath. When the sun sets, the sky turns into shades of peach, amber and honey. I would like to bring home a small pot of earth because it is the earth that nourishes this magical land which in turn nourished me.
“In no case will it no longer be necessary.” Marcel Proust (We only love what we don’t own entirely.)
Finally the day comes when we pack our bags and get on a train to Paris. Doesn’t it seem divine? We are silenced on the train by a sleepy French guy, so ugly Americans. We searched Google for the train label and the really exuberant rumors are a total misstep. The rest of the race whispered our thoughts to us.
Margaret Anderson says that Paris is the city where you love to live. Note that this is the only city in the world where you can get out of a train station ~ the Gare D’Orsay ~ and see the main spells at the same time: the Seine with its bridges and libraries, the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Tuileries Gardens, Place del la Concorde, the beginning of the Champs Elysees ~ almost everything except the Luxembourg Gardens and the Palais Royal. Which other city offers as much as you leave a train?
The exquisite timelessness of Parisian architecture is gradually revealed as we enter the city. In Paris we stay in different locations, Larry and I at the Marriott of Haussmann Blouvard, Jill, Steve, Phyllis and Greg in an apartment on 3 Rue Greffullhe in the Madeleine district. We take a taxi and separate.
The sandstone buildings line the streets, with curled filigree, angelic sculptures, mansard roofs and wrought iron that adorn the buildings as if they were expensive jewels, colored doors add general charm. The streets are littered with iconic palaces, tree-lined avenues, lush gardens, majestic churches with medieval towers and spiers, and it is impossible to describe all the fascinating cafes with colorful tables, awnings and flowers.
“Okay: go to Paris, check in to a nice hotel, and my plan is that I’m going to eat some fucking cheese and get drunk.” Anthony Bourdain
My senses are appropriately assaulted, drugged by spectacular sites and sweet smells. After unpacking, refreshing, we walk ten minutes to our friends’ apartment. It is an enchanter, high ceilings, complex moldings, two wings, one for each couple with private bathroom. It fits them perfectly.
Sipping wine in the apartment, we vaguely sketched a plan for our time in Paris. The first thing we do is hit the tourism board for bus tickets, go boating on the Seine and go to the Louvre. We are partially successful. Reservations are made for our Michelin dinner and suddenly we realize that Paris is our playground.
We take a taxi and head towards the left bank of the Seine at the extreme northwest of the Parc du Champ de Mars for a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, also known as the Iron Lady of France, it is one of the tallest iron structures built by the man. The tower was built in 1889, designed by world-renowned engineer Gustave Eiffel, and if you are wondering when and why the Eiffel Tower was built, it was built as the entrance arch to the 1889 World Fair. I am referring to her like the night light of Paris.
Stopping at Le Petit Cler in the Rue Cler neighborhood for some comfort was a spectacular way to end the day. Bonne nuit Paris.
“I ate and drank what I wanted in Paris. Butter, duck fat, liver fat, triple cream brie, intense cherry red wines, pear, clementine and lavender jelly, cream cakes, caviar, escargot in sautéed pine nuts and garlic butter. I did what the French did, I licked my fingers, I didn’t care if people saw what they thought. My father would have hated him, he would have told me that I was not sincere. I ate everything, ate his money, it was delicious wherever I went. I learned to wrap the language around the accented vowels, I spoke with this stranger and that. Nobody knew me, I didn’t expect anything from me. I wanted to stay like this forever. “Sarah Schmidt
At first Larry and I head for the Arc de Triomphe, standing at the western end of the Champs-Élysées, a 50-meter arch that honors the soldiers who fought for France. Under the arch is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the flame of memory comes back on every morning at 6:30 am. When you stand in the center of the arch, looking back towards the Louvre, the streets of the city stretch like the legs of a spider in all directions, it seems that I am on top of the world.
“Its imposing buildings, its huge cathedrals, its large avenues and ancient medieval winding streets – as vast and indestructible as nature itself. Everything was embraced by her, by her unstable and enchanted population who crowded the galleries, theaters, cafes, giving birth several times to genius and holiness, philosophy and war, frivolity and the most refined art; so it seemed that if the whole world outside of her had plunged into darkness, what was fine, what was beautiful, what was essential could still reach her most beautiful flower, ”Anne Rice.
We meet with everyone for lunch in an adorable bar, we board the panoramic boat that travels on the Seine, exiting the island to take a quick look at the notorious Notre Dame Cathedral. This is when we are surprised by a torrential downpour, rushing to the shelter in the nearest bar, we mark a table and wait for the storm with a tray of cheeses and wine. I feel so Parisian, wet to the bone, laughing, satisfied, looked at.
Near the Champs de Mars, in the heart of the small “gros caillou” district, you will find the Fables de la Fontaine restaurant. Fables De La Fountaine has been open for ten years and has earned the Michelin star, David Bottreau controls the kitchen, offering customers an exceptional presentation of seafood. We are sitting at a table next to a couple, perhaps ten years older than us, and before the end of the night we became friends. Veronica is charming, she tells us that there is a saying in French that is difficult to interpret, “L`art de Vivre”. It has to do with living life to the fullest or the art of living well ~ good food, good wine, free time, pleasure, love. If this is a cult, I am joining in this way.
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, stay with you, because Paris is a mobile party.” Ernest Hemingway
Larry and I spent half a day driving tourist buses through the various neighborhoods, jumping down to climb the stairs of La Basilique du Sacre Couer in Montmartre, for an impressive view of the whole city. We rested in a charming sidewalk cafe, sipping wine and giving us a sumptuous pastry. Getting on and off the bus we go like a carousel, going around churches, buildings, parks and cafes, but it was the Latin Quarter that caught our attention and we spent hours rummaging in the characteristic shops, touching, tasting, sipping, buying a expensive perfume, watching people watching people.
On Friday morning we meet in the Louvre, originally a royal palace, but it became a museum in 1793. Outside the museum there is a substantial glass pyramid where we get in line and wait for the doors to open. Once inside we head straight towards Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, with a slight smile following us into the room. Three hours later we are full of sponges, dripping with artifacts, artifacts and paintings from Egypt, Greece and Rome, unable to absorb more, traveling the streets of Paris for a little libation.
We meet again at Notre Dame, have lunch in an extraordinary way and spend an hour exploring this incredible cathedral. This is when we hear the overwhelming news of Anthony Bourdain who gave us lively wisdom, “Traveling isn’t always cute. It’s not always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But it’s okay. Traveling changes you it should change you. Leave marks on your memory, your conscience, your heart and your body. Take something with you. I hope you leave something good behind. “We will miss you very much.
“The waters of the Seine are contained and beautiful as they pass through the heart of Paris; so that the earth at that point, so shaped by blood and consciousness, had ceased to be the earth and had become Paris. “Anne Rice
Robert Black says that what you don’t know about Paris is that when you live there in time, an invisible thread forms around your heart, and therefore when you go it always sends you back. This is what we came looking for ~ discussions ~ especially those that bind us to each other. “There is only one happiness in life, loving and being loved,” says George Sand. We arrived in France with an open heart, we thought we were traveling abroad, but we reached the center of our being, only to discover a shining tapestry. This friend of mine is the secret to a lasting marriage and the art of living well ~ L`art de Vivre.
“Live every day as if it were the last. Spend your life hanging by a thread. Accept that you can drop at any moment. And when that time comes, rejoice, because the last day will be the first and you will become the thread itself. “Franco Santoro
I’m Living in the gapParis is missing, dreaming of my return.
I write for Through the advice once a month, cross over at any time.
- “And, as far as oil is concerned, it is a masterpiece. You’ll see. Before dinner that evening, we tested it, dripping it onto slices of bread that had been rubbed with the tomato pulp. It was like eating the sun. Peter Mayle
- “Your body is not a temple, it is an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” RIP Anthony Bourdain
- I’m going to go back to Paris one day and live in a swanky apartment for a month, I call it a blog search.
A version of this post was previously published on CheryLoreglia and is republished here with the author’s permission.
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