Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ansouis, Provence, France

 We spent one week in Provence, staying seven nights at Un Patio en Luberon in Ansouis, a 16th-17th century building recently renovated. Michel most willingly spoke French with utter clarity, offering us excellent ideas for day trips and things to see, and warning us away from some of the tourist traps promoted so enthusiastically by American writers. Once in the Luberon, we focused primarily on the hill villages, those small but fascinating villages seemingly made solely of the light and somewhat soft local stone. I will be creating a number of blogs on these villages. They seem to have begun as modest hilltop fortresses which protected locals from northern bandits and warriors. Huts and then modest houses would eventually be built within easy access to the safety of the castle's tower. However, in the 19th and 20th centuries, these villages fell on hard times economically, and were severely depopulated until perhaps 30-40 years ago when visionaries devoted resources to refurbishing the infrastructure. In each village we saw evidence of recent excavation for new drainage/sewage, of electric and phone lines, artisan shops, and places which support tourism and locals alike. The tile roofs fascinate me, as workmen create layer after layer of tiles and cement. All of this initially seems exceptionally sturdy, but one eventually realized that the several Mistral winds from the north, the rains and temperature changes take their toll of the soft stone masonry, and cracks inevitably appear and require attention--constant attention.

The castle in Ansouis is no longer open to the public, for it has recently been purchased by a doctor and will likely be refurbished. The fortified church was open only on Sunday, the somewhat modest market is also only once a week, and there are relatively few shops (1 each of restaurant, bakery, news stand, bar, tea house), no bank or bank machines, no gas station or school. So it is a very quiet sleepy sort of place, ideal for peace and quiet. Evenings could hardly be nicer, with the clouds overhead, the village bell tolling on the hour and half-hour (7-10 both morning and evening, with a perfectly-tuned minor third overtone).