While my Provence retreat was a working holiday, I did also go out to do the touristy thing on occasion. [I have to add that my laptop died on the very first day – the third gadget in three months to do that, so perhaps that contributed to my lack of progress regarding my WIP.]
I was going to spend the morning in a café in Roussillon, working on my novel, but it was surprisingly busy (it was a sunny day after several cloudy ones), no seats to be found, so instead I bought nougat for the boys at the weekly market and wandered through the picturesque streets.
This area was a major producer of ochre pigment for approximately two centuries, and if you look at the cliffs surrounding the village, you can understand why.
The village itself ticks every box in the quaint category.
On another evening I accompanied my hosts to an event at the beautiful Dora Maar house in Ménerbes. The villagers of Ménerbes were originally flattered to be featured in Peter Mayle’s series of books set in Provence, but he turn was not always flattering about individuals (and did not believe in anonymity), plus it led to it being completely overrun by tourists. Not hard to understand, when it looks like this.
The Dora Maar house was bought by Picasso for his mistress when he was trying to get rid of her (he himself never lived there). It had fallen into disuse, but in 1997 an American philanthropist and friend of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston bought it and renovated it. It now offers midcareer artists, writers and film-makers the opportunity to work in peace for up to three months on a project of their choice.
I had no battery to take any pictures (the pictures above and below are from the website of the house), but it was an unforgettable evening, featuring readings and film excerpts from two film-makers (from Australia and the UK), a Mexican writer and an American poet. My favourite place was the cosy living room/library, of course. The evening was animated by the charming Gwen Strauss, who is the director of the fellowship programme but is herself a writer, so knows all about artistic temperaments.
So you know where to find me when I am more … mid-career, shall we say?
I also made the acquaintance of Canadian artist Wally Ballach, who has been living in nearby Gordes for 25 years. His paintings (some of which you can see on this site) are unusual, rather dark and disturbing, full of artistic and literary references, but Wally himself (like most crime writers) is a lovely, sunny personality. Provence is full of artists and authors who take advantage of the quieter winter months to work really hard… but they also socialise and the cultural life in this rural area is amazing.
Finally, here is an image of Gordes, the golden hilltop town that I only passed through in the car. Next time (and I’m sure there will be a next time!), I will be sure to stop.