Author Archives: guillaume1947

About guillaume1947

Retired Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Emeritus Professor of French

Champagne Country by Former EVCAA Guillaume

We spent the last three days of our stay in the company of friends saying good-bye and celebrating life in the inimitable French way – animated conversations around the table with food, wine and cheeses. With friends Hélène and Xavier we walked along the cliffs of the littoral.IMG_3219 Later at Hélène’s apartment, we were joined by her friend, Asti, a delightful fellow. We all sat on her balcony, with the cool evening breeze and the soft glow of the setting sun. Delicious apéro, cold Belgian beer and refreshing Alsatian white wine added to the relaxing ambience. Leaving Provence is not easy. After seven weeks immersed in Provençal culture, we became French in our daily activities, our American identity submerged. Boarding the train in Marseille meant that soon we would be transformed once again into the Americans we really are. With ten days remaining before returning home, we would be making slight detours to Champagne, Paris and Amsterdam. As the fast-moving train (TGV, train à grande vitesse) en route to Paris zoomed through flat expansive terrain, the sloping rocky Provençal countryside in its wake, movie frame images of the last several weeks sped rapidly in my mind. Each frame pulled at the edges of a saddened heart, consoled only by the certitude that we would be returning. But for the moment, we were heading to Champagne country to visit friends we had not seen in thirteen years. It was Easter weekend and each train car was packed with travelers like us, en route to visit family and friends. When we last visited our friends, Jean-Luc and Alexandra, they had one son, Victor. Now two additional children, Justine and Louis, and a cute mixed Spanish terrier, Ficelle, add to the brood.IMG_3268 We were eager to see them all. Alexandra was one of Melanie’s ESL (English as a Second Language students) in California in the eighties; Jean-Luc owns a champagne vineyard in the village of Verzenay. Since our last visit their production and export of champagne have grown. One of the by-products of visiting the Lallement family is that we get to drink extraordinarily high quality champagne (91 rating by Spectator) as an apéro (apéritif) each evening. To those reading this blog, we recommend highly Lallement champagne; distributors are in the New York and San Francisco markets. Being with the Lallements is like being with our own family. Their children are like grandchildren to us. In our few days with them, we taught the kids a new card game, Kings’ Corners, and we all watched a feature movie, La Guerre des boutons, which included Victor in several scenes. We took walks and spent time with them individually, listening and laughing. And oh, we enjoyed the parents as well. Alexandra prepared delicious meals; Jean-Luc was happy to prepare some of his favorite delicacies — escargots prepared with wild mushrooms and cream, a separate serving of black mushrooms called trompettes de la mort, and large sautéed white asparagus which is very popular this time of year. He obviously took great delight in seeing me delve hungrily into each dish. Easter Sunday afternoon, after Mass and a delicious dinner, Justine and Louis took us for a walk in the village and surrounding vineyards. They were actually on their trottinettes, (scooters) and we sauntered along. Verzenay is a small village of about one thousand inhabitants but there are over thirty separate champagne vineyards.IMG_3292 The town, about forty minutes from Reims, dates from the Medieval period in a pastoral setting amidst acres (hectares) of vineyards and yellow Colza(canola) fields. This part of France with expansive, flat open-spaces is a stark contrast to hilly and rocky Provence. But like Provence, its neatly arranged rows of vines strike an unparalleled beauty. After sauntering among the vineyards, the children took us to the cemetery to see the Lallement gravesites dating back several generations. The only shortcoming of this weekend en famille was its short duration. Our bond with the family became stronger. We were honored and privileged listening to the parents speak about parenting. In that respect they are part of that universal parenting club and have concerns in raising children as every parent across the globe shares. My only regret about that weekend is that we didn’t stay longer. And I’m confident that the children feel the same way. I’ve already received an email from my copain, Louis, as he referred to himself, and from Justine. A highlight of our brief visit with the Lallements was an afternoon visit at the Cathedral of Reims. In this Gothic masterpiece the Kings of France were crowned.IMG_3230 Built over three centuries, the cathedral remains incomplete, lacking spires on the towers. We did not have enough time to visit the impressive canonical section adjacent to the cathedral with its extensive sculpture collection nor the city itself. Those activities are already high on the list for our next visit.

On the morning of our departure from Verzenay, we all had breakfast together before heading to Reims. After many hugs and bisous, we boarded the train to Paris to see our Parisian son, Louis, who spent a year with us ten years ago as an AFS (American Field Service) exchange student. We had not seen him since. Now he is a chef in a Paris bistrot, God Save the Kitchen. Although he knew of our visit, it was difficult to reach him. Repeated phone calls proved futile. Fearing that our trip would be in vain, we went to his restaurant only to discover that it was his day off. But we did have a nice lunch there. Finally, after many unanswered phone calls and e-mails, we were able to connect with Louis on the last day of our Parisian stay. He invited us to the restaurant where he works. And what a wonderful three-hour reunion, reminiscing and catching up on his life in the intervening years! When he came to the States, his English and mannerisms were those of an American. Then he wanted to be recognized as American. He spoke impeccably well having learned English since the age of four in a bi-lingual school. An obviously brilliant kid, Louis’ only ambition that year was to skateboard. He had no interest in studying and got into mischief at home and at school. Several years ago, we were astonished to receive a long letter from him apologizing for his behavior. Though older and more mature, Louis still retains his playful charm. When asked by Melanie what he got most out of that year with us, he mentioned gratitude.IMG_3350 He was thankful for all that we had done for him. In his AFS application, he had expressed a strong desire to be in a family with a father. His mother, a writer, was raising two adopted children, he from Brazil, and a daughter from Russia. And now we can look back and appreciate his time with us as well. During his year with us, Louis spoke lovingly of his grandfather who told him that ordre et discipline were the keys to success. Though those were lacking when he attended high school in the States, it is quite obvious that those lessons finally took root. He’s enjoying his success as a chef. “I want to make people happy with the food I prepare,” he chimed. Before saying good-bye, he treated us to one of his specialty dishes, a chili of shredded beef, prepared à la Louis. He’s making a name for himself and gave us a copy of a Parisian pamphlet that featured him on the cover with several of his recipes included. He also makes a jambalaya that he says the Parisians love. Other highlights of Paris included our visit to the Rodin museum and the Musée du Quai Branly where we met Diane Pinderhughes, a Notre Dame professor and fellow congregant at St. Augustine’s who was in town for a few days to attend an academic meeting.IMG_3338 The Rodin museum and its surrounding gardens is a must-see. Majesty and power seemed to emanate from the tall dark bronzes spread over the gardens, each a testimony to the genius of a masterful sculptor. Each bronze with its realistic and graceful stature held secrets for the viewer to unveil.IMG_3326 I could not resist having my picture taken with perhaps the most recognizable Rodin, The Thinker.IMG_3317  Within the museum itself were other sculptures from which we could follow Rodin’s maturation as a sculptor. Even his earliest work showed indications of a great artist. Alongside some of the pieces was a special exhibit of Robert Maplethorpe whose textual and sensual black and white photography was influenced by the same elements in Rodin’s sculpture. Like Rodin, Maplethorpe’s contorted poses of the body mimicked the forms and shapes of the natural environment. But unlike Rodin whose poses also evoke sensuality, Maplethorpe’s sought to shock. At the Branly museum where we met Diane, time allowed for a visit of only three exhibitions, one on Nancy Cunard, one on the American Indians of the Plains, and the third on the cultures on Oceania. The Cunard exhibit was particularly fascinating. Shamefully, I had never heard of Nancy Cunard, and I should have since I’ve studied the art and literature of the Harlem Renaissance. Nancy Cunard was a rebel English heiress who fraternized with the likes of André Breton, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and other literati and artists. She bristled at global and ethnic inequality and inequity and used her wealth and influence to fight these injustices. In 1934, she published a massive tome, Negro, an anthology of art and letters. The exhibit featured her vast collection of bracelets, period jazz music, and Langston Hughes reciting his familiar poem, “I, Too, Sing America.” We had initially decided that we would bypass the Plains Indians exhibit because it was a theme far too familiar to us, but at the last minute we decided that we could pass through it quickly. Oh, how wrong we were! To our surprise, it was a large exhibit, tastefully done, respectful, detailed with a rich and accurate depiction of American Indian life. The exhibit in many ways paid homage to the traditions of the Plains Indians while at the same time exposing the horrors of the forced land abandonment and migration by the American government. Unlike most exhibits of this kind, the narrative was told in reverse, from the traditions and modern cultural arts, and the living conditions of the twenty-first century reservations to the period before the Native Peoples’ encounters with the European invaders. The last exhibit — and I could have spent the entire afternoon there — was an exhibit on the cultures of Oceania. The masks, and the rituals in which they were used, were the most appealing of all the artifacts.IMG_3347  Examining the tools, the wooden boats, modes of dress, ceremonial objects, and the like, gave me a perspective on a world I know so little about. To anyone visiting Paris, a visit to the Musée Branly is on par with a visit to the Louvre or to the Musée d’Orsay. Nearby are the Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides, where Napoléon is buried. No visit to Paris is complete without a concert of classical music. In France, and throughout Europe, concerts and theatrical events abound. Musical concerts are often held in churches at little or no cost. On the Left Bank, a stone’s throw from Notre Dame, in the Medieval church, St. Julien-le-Pauvre, we heard beautiful renditions of Chopin and Lizst. I remembered walking in that church many years ago as a student and happened upon a rehearsal of organ music.IMG_3332 The deep tones of the organ still resonate in my brain. In Paris, we also met a colleague whom we met a couple of years ago in Brussels where I gave my talk on the literature of the Louisiana gens de couleurs libres. Melanie and I met Jean-Marc for a coffee and then a couple of beers at a well-known nineteenth century café, Le Rostand, near the Sorbonne. Jean-Marc had just spent the day in the library doing research; he is working with several scholars from across the globe on literatures of the Atlantic. Our visit to Paris was too short. To appreciate all of Paris’ artistic and cultural life, its architectural splendor, its gastronomic delights, its night life and the joy of walking through its gardens, would require a lifetime of leisure. Alas, our three days were just a soupçon. Luckily for us, this was not our first visit to Paris, and hopefully, not our last. From Paris, we took the train for Amsterdam to visit Melanie’s high school friend, Beverly and her husband, Jan. Details of that visit to follow in the next blog.

It’s Melanie again in italics. Leaving Provence really changed the nature of our stay in Europe. In the Toulon area we had a home base rooted in a small town outside the city. We took day-trips and came back home. Only once, when we went to the Antibes area, did we stay over night before returning. We didn’t feel like tourists. We felt like long-term residents, albeit non-French ones. Once we left our car in Marseille, we were on the road staying only three or four nights before moving on. Even though we felt that we had not learned everything possible about the Toulon area, we stayed long enough to revisit places that we liked, to go dancing three times, to go to the movies, to shop at the open-air market on Fridays and get to recognize our favorite vendors, to have a “carte de fidélité” (a grocery story frequent shopper card!), to invite friends to dinner, and to explore the smaller, more intimate sights that weren’t at the top of the tourist agenda but which gave us a deeper understanding of the rhythm of everyday life. Alfred got his hair cut, we had a flat tire repaired, we sat in cafés sipping a drink and reading as we watched the ocean and the people walking by, we had long conversations with people about their health care and their politics. We feel so grateful to have had this time to explore one place in depth. Of course, it was also wonderful to visit people whom we haven’t seen for years. My former 19-year-old ESL student, Alexandra, has grown into a lovely mother of three, who manages the family business while her husband works the land and produces champagne.

IMG_3254She speaks 5 languages, so she can handle exporting champagne all over the world. It was so much fun to see her brother in Juan-les-Pins in his restaurant and then bring greetings and photos of that reunion to his sister in Champagne. And visiting with our former exchange student, Louis, in Paris was a great three-hour review of where he had been when we knew him to appreciating the young man he has developed into. What a treat to see his excitement about his culinary creations and his growing confidence and maturity. This short but intense meeting made our quick travel to Paris worth it.

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The Continuing Provence Travelogue by Former EVCAA Guillaume

Driving in France offers its challenges.   The narrow passageways of ancient towns and villages that easily handled the flow of ox carts and pedestrians present obstacles for modern day modes of transportation. Sometimes traffic flows in both directions with little space separating the passing cars. And there are times when only one vehicle can pass through.

Row of platanes, typical along French national roads

Row of platanes, typical along French national roads

Even in the more urban areas, vigilance is de rigeur.   Not much space separates vehicles and pedestrians.   After five weeks, I have a heightened attentiveness to my surroundings.  Pedestrians have priority; motorists have to be ready to stop on a dime as pedestrians often launch themselves forward into oncoming traffic. Adding to driver anxiety are motorcyclists that unexpectedly weave in and out. Even the open road has its unique trials as shoulders are lacking on many of them.

Inattention can result in a precipitous drop along winding hillside roads. A hairpin turn, and there are many, can spell disaster for the unobservant driver who unexpectedly happens upon a group of bicyclists.    But these are just minor distractions obviated by the joys of driving in the captivating Provence countryside.

Since my last blog entry, our wayfaring journeys through Provence have taken us to distant northern towns like Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, in the east along the Riviera to Antibes, and toward the west to Aix-en-Provence and Marseille.   Along the way I’ve reveled in the luscious greens of the rolling hills, the reddish orange tinge of the rocks, the crisp blue of the Mediterranean sky, the aquamarine of the sea, and the rustic wooded colors of the ubiquitous vineyards spread out in the valleys or tucked away among the hillsides, lazily soaking in the sun’s rays.   The olive trees too, in neat rows, parade their gradated green foliage.   The colors of spring are teeming as trees and flowers bloom.   Small wonder how this area seduced artists like Cézanne and Van Gogh.

Of all the places we’ve visited within the last couple of weeks, it’s hard to pinpoint a favorite. Each has its unique joy. At Aix-en-Provence, we visited Cézanne’s hillside studio.IMG_3042 (5) As I listened to our guide give details of Cézanne’s daily routine, I imagined him painting in this squared space with large wide windows on facing walls. The windows draped with curtains permitted him to alter the incoming light from diffused to intense as he worked on his canvases.   I particularly enjoyed walking around the gardens surrounding his home. We also walked further up the hill to a favorite spot where across the valley Cézanne enjoyed a panoramic view of Mont Sainte-Victoire.   That view, repeated in several of his tableaux was instantly recognizable. Four of the nine paintings of Mont Sainte-VictoireIMG_3040 that I am aware of are in the United States, at Princeton University, Kansas City Museum of Art, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.   Although the exact location where Cézanne sat with his brushes and easel is heavily urbanized, the valley below and Mont Sainte-Victoire remain unchanged from the way I imagined he saw them.

Not far from Aix was our visit to Silvacane.IMG_3030  Like the other two Cistercian abbeys in Provence, its graceful architecture mirrors the simplicity of the monastic life.  And like the others, the acoustical sound in the chapel is impeccably crisp.  During the late spring and early summer months, concerts are held there regularly.  We’ll keep that in mind when we schedule our next trip.  Imagine IUSB’s Euclid String Quarter performing there!

Another favorite trek was to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, a Medieval village in north Provence in an area called la Verte Provence, Green Provence. Nearby is the area called the Grand Canyon of France. Situated atop a hill, as many of these Medieval villages are in Provence, Moustiers is noted for its faiencerie (ceramics). Though the day was overcast, we enjoyed walking through the tiny cobblestone streets of this isolated place. As we climbed the steps, meandering from one small street to another, we happened upon a little restaurant, tucked away from the center of town, La Grignotière. There we had a delicious lunch. Melanie ordered the plat du jour of pork filets with the most delicious ratatouille imaginable.   We were among only three customers, and much to our delight, we had a glorious time chatting with the cook (the proprietor) and her daughter, our server. IMG_3049  Luckily for us, the tourist season had not yet begun, allowing leisure time for conversation and pictures with them. We chatted also with the other customer, an accountant who travels occasionally to Moustier on business.

In a week of highlights, our visit to Saint-Paul-de-Vence, another perched village from the Middle Ages, was equally spectacular. There we visited Fondation Maeght whose permanent collection of paintings and sculpture is indisputably impressive. The collection of buildings, where art and architecture come together in conversation, was designed in 1964 by Spanish architect Josep Lluis Sert in concert with other artists like Miró.IMG_3132 The open and airy glassed-framed spaces create unimpeded distance between interior and exterior environment.   Sculptures by Miró, Giacometti and Picasso grace the gardens creating a gallery of art contiguous with the art by Chagall, Léger, Braque and others in the interior spaces.     At the front entrance of the buildings a potpourri of Miró sculptures across a grassy green lawn greet the visitor.     In the middle of two of the buildings sits a sculpture garden of Giacometti pieces, at the end of which lies an expansive panorama of the valley below.   To the right of the Giacometti garden is a labyrinth of Miró sculptures planned by both Sert and his friend, Miró. Prior to this visit Melanie and I had never known Sert.   Apparently, he is one of the major architectural giants of the twentieth-century.   Many buildings in European cities bear his signature. He was also a former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design .   Several buildings on campus bear his architectural imprint as well as a re-design of Harvard Square.

After our visit to the Maeght Foundation, we took a stroll in the old village with its charming maze of narrow streets and alleys. For the first time, in our stay in Provence, we encountered hordes of tourists, mostly English and Italian. Saint-Paul-de-Vence is the most visited village in France. And we now know why. The village is a center of chic clothing stores and high-end art galleries. We didn’t dally long,  preferring to lave the crowds, but not before walking to the end of the village where over a lovely vista sits the cemetery and Marc Chagall’s grave.

From Saint-Paul-de Vence, we headed to Antibes and Juan-les-Pins to visit the Picasso museum and to say hello to the brother of one of Melanie’s former English as a Second Language student. And we celebrated my sixty-seventh birthday there. In fact, we visited two Picasso museums, one in Antibes and the other in Vallauris. In Antibes, Picasso established his studio in the Grimaldi chateau along the Mediterranean. The museum housed a number of his paintings, sculptures and painted ceramic plates. The painting that struck me most for its simplicity of line drawings, made all the more enchanting by suggestive playful movements and shades of coloring, was La Joie de vivre. The wall of painted plates of faces and linear, triangular and octagonal drawings, might have seemed bland done by an artist whose name was not Picasso. The Vallauris museum was less impressive, save for its powerful wall painting, La Guerre et la Paix in the chapel of the chateau there, and the statue, L’Homme au mouton, that Picasso made of himself and gifted to the town.   In Vallauris, a town noted for its ceramics, we stumbled upon an interesting exhibit space of Jean Marais paintings and ceramics. Marais, an actor in La Belle et La Bête, starred in many Jean Cocteau films. After retiring from film and theater, he took up residence in Vallauris and learned the trade of ceramics from some of the masters. Melanie and I were quite impressed with his work.

Closer to home, we visited with friends, Jacques and Daniele Martin, the Museum of European Civilizations and the Mediterranean (MUCEM) in Marseille. Opened about a year ago, the museum at the end of the Vieux Port is a catalyst for urban renewal. Indeed the site offers expansive vistas of the sea and where we watched the car ferry from Algeria arrive.  The MUCEM grounds are a gathering place for visitors and local residents alike. As our friends say, the French like to denigrate the tawdriness of Marseille but take great pride in its ancient and cultural history. It’s well worth the visit to the MUCEM to explore the ancient beginnings of the civilizations along the Mediterranean. There were also two fascinating temporary exhibits, one on the Roman sculptures of Morocco and the other on Mediterranean and European carnivals. After a two-hour visit and then lunch, we walked through the immigrant quarters of town near the old port to La Charité to see an exhibit of Picasso, Warhol, and Magritte, titled Visages (Faces).   Ninety artists were represented in three themes: Visages de la Société, Visages de l’intimité, and Visages de l’esprit. I’m not a fan of the modern abstract idiom, but I found myself liking several pieces, particularly by an exiled Prague artist, whose name I remember as Marie Tolen, but whom I can’t find on an internet search.   Like so many in the exhibition, her pieces were melancholic and dark. But it was an excellent introduction to artists that were new to me. There were, of course, several Warhol pieces, but was deeply disappointed that there were only two canvases each by Picasso and Magritte. I’ve been to exhibits like this in the States, where the name of a famous artist is used as a ploy to attract visitors. Not long ago at Notre Dame, there was an exhibit of Mary Cassatt and her generation; a fine exhibition but, disappointingly, only one tableau of hers.

It seems as if this accounting of continuous Provence travels has been a survey of art exhibitions. And indeed, the seduction of this beautiful region is its rich artistic and cultural legacy. But we’ve spent lots of time with friends here, almost always around a good meal accompanied with the requisite cheeses and wines.  On the very first really warm day here, our friends, Jean-Louis and Catherine gave us, with several of their friends, the first barbecue of the season at his vineyard, Chateau Trians.IMG_3105  Jean-Louis is a financier who has worked in New York, London and Paris, and now Monaco.  Catherine teaches Chinese in a lycée.  I met her a few years ago she she was teaching at the university in Toulon.

One evening Melanie prepared a Moroccan fish tagine, which is becoming one of her signature dishes.   It was such a hit that we’re going to have the same dish again tonight for other friends. Locally, we did a tour of an olive orchard not far from our apartment where we listened to absorbing facts about the cultivation of olives and the production of olive oil. And we spent an afternoon in the neighboring hamlet of La Garde walking through –you guessed it — the Medieval section.  But the most unusual thing we did was to search for wild asparagus in the nearby woods with our friend MariThé.  Later that evening, Melanie made a delicious omelet with them.

Within a week, we’ll be in champagne country and Paris, and then a few days in Amsterdam before heading home. I’ll miss Provence and treasure the memories as I hold her dearly in my heart, taking comfort in knowing that I’ll travel this way again.IMG_3108

Melanie in italics again

Alfred spoke of the small streets and the tight driving conditions. But what has fascinated me is how the French have adapted to this closer living. For the driving, it’s obviously smaller cars, narrower lanes and parking spaces, making narrow streets one-way or eliminating traffic altogether and creating pedestrian areas, which have the advantage of opening up a communal and festive space. In those pedestrian areas, sidewalks are used as dining rooms for restaurants, sales spaces for small stores, and places to erect a merry-go-round for children. On market day, parking lots and/or streets are closed to make space for vendors of clothing, flowers, and fruits and vegetables. Then when the market is over, a truck comes through with water hoses to clean up, and the space becomes a street or parking lot again. Multiple uses.

 One of the things that has really impressed me is the French ability to parallel park. You can imagine on a busy narrow street through the village, a person who cannot parallel park well. That driver would stop traffic in one direction while he/she tried multiple times to get into a tiny space. Tempers would flare. Well, over and over, we have watched as drivers make perfect 3-point maneuvers in a matter of seconds. Sometimes this also involves putting two tires up on the sidewalk. Other drivers wait patiently and then proceed quickly.

Parking can really be a problem so most people walk to the market and carry their own baskets or take their rolling carts. Others walk to the stores and then take the bus home as another lady and I did week. Uphill with groceries is not a picnic.

The other thing is bathrooms. Where do you put restrooms in a small building that originally didn’t have any? Once again, you adapt. Many restrooms are unisex, others are separate, but the hand-washing station is for everyone outside the toilet area. A corner can be used to make a triangular area with tiny sink. Or restrooms are public in parking lots or squares. And we have been impressed at how clean the modern ones in big cities are.

As I used to say to my students over and over, customs fit the culture; they are not good or bad necessarily, just different.

 

  

 

 

“Ils Font Une Fete” by Former Executive Vice Chancellor Alfred Guillaume

“Ils font une fête dimanche.” Those are the words spoken by our landlady on our way to dancing rétro. It’s what they call ballroom dancing here. We had just driven past a dance club, but she decided there were not enough cars in the parking lot, a strong indication in her view that the band was not very good. But she was quick to add that there would be a big party at this place on Sunday. When asked what was the occasion, she simply responded there was none. So such is the ease of life here in Provence, along the Mediterranean. So we continued our journey across Toulon to Seyne-sur-Mer to a different ballroom with expectations that the orchestra would be a better one. And we were not disappointed. We arrived at the dance hall about 3:30 in the afternoon. The hall was packed. Obviously, this is not the working crowd; they were mostly gray-haired folk like us. There were many couples for sure, but, like our host, there were many unescorted ladies for men without partners. The music had a distinctive European flair, dominated by the accordion with fewer brass horns. The popular dances were samba, tango, rumba, rock (swing), cha-cha, Viennese waltz , Paso Doble and merengue. Popular dances also included line dances European style (la tarantella).

The style of dance was different as well. Practically all the waltzes were Viennese; dancers glided across the floor in a fast-moving tempo. The quick-step was also popular, a fast-moving foxtrot. The other dances were more measured. Though line of dance was lacking; the dancers typically moved within a confined space, their dance movements more closed and controlled. Watching them dance reminded me of two of my favorite Renoir paintings, The Dance at Bougival and the Dance in the City. Melanie and I are accustomed to the Arthur Murray style of dance as taught by our dance studio, Dan O’Day, that includes larger steps that travel across the dance floor accentuated with expressive body movements and, depending on the dance, wide outstretched arms. Only one waltz (They call it le Boston) was played at the moderate tempo, and although we do not do the quick-step, we did manage a couple of foxtrots, and we squeezed in a couple of boleros, foxtrots, cha cha, rumba, and tango. All in all, we had a grand time. We’ll go back next week with our host to a different dance hall and dance the afternoon away.

But dancing is certainly not the only fun activity we’ve had. We’ve been feted to wonderful evenings of dining with friends. Last Saturday evening we drove with Gabriel to Brignoles for dinner at Karine Tournier-Sol’s family.IMG_2947 Karine was the exchange professor from Toulon two years ago. The pouring rain made the drive less pleasant, particularly in the dark, among the rolling hills. Laurent and Karine’s three children, Lucie, Noé and Tom are just delightful (Tom, the youngest, is missing in the picture because he went to bed early). The next day, Sunday, the winds (le Mistral) were howling. But that did not prevent us from taking a walk along the coastal cliffs, which was interrupted by a posted sign advising us of soil erosion and deteriorating conditions. So we had to abandon that journey,IMG_2962 but we’ll try again in a different location, perhaps next week. The cliff walk abandoned, we took a casual stroll along the beach where we watched a game of pétanque, a very popular game played mainly by men, similar to horseshoe, and of the young and athletic, wind surfing.

Sunday was also election day. Melanie and I were amazed at the large numbers of people walking on their way to vote. We learned later that 69% of the eligible voters participated. If only we can have that caliber of interest in the United States!

On Monday, we explored the neighborhood, walking downtown, visiting the small, but very nice park in the center of town. A circular small path in the park offered several exercise stations, IMG_2960several of which we tried. During our trek homeward, we walked through a wooded garden and followed a path up a hill that ostensibly would lead to our apartment. Unfortunately, we took a wrong turn that led us back to the main street in town. Next time, we’ll hopefully choose the right path.

Tuesday, we explored an old Roman village, Fréjus, about a hour and half drive from where we live. We had a lovely day exploring the old parts of the village but were disappointed to find only vestiges of Roman ruins. On top of the old ruins of the ancient Roman theater and arena, the city had built modern steel and metal structures that were not aesthetically pleasing. However, we could take comfort that these places have been repurposed and continue to retain their original functionality.

Underneath the arena, we were able to walk through the passageways where placards told the stories of Roman times. We also visited the Episcopal IMG_2991Group, the collection of buildings (the church, the cloister, the large baptismal fount with its Corinthian columns, the cathedral) that housed the bishop and served as the center of the diocese. Most impressive was the archeological museum attached to this conglomeration of buildings. This small space had beautiful stone and marble sculptures and a representative collection of ancient decorative and household artifacts

In Fréjus, we were surprised to see hordes of police downtown, particularly around the town hall. Our curiosity piqued, Melanie asked a vendor at a local boulangerie why. Apparently, the far right wing party, the Front National, made significantIMG_2987 gains in the elections and the police were preparing for any troubles that might ensue. Though we stayed the majority of the day, things remained calm; there were no demonstrations, at least from what we could tell. Here in Le Pradet, in the mayor’s race, the right won, displacing the current mayor, much to the chagrin of our landlady whose political persuasion is on the left. As she related to us, the right is not good, but the far right is worse (in her words, pire).

Wednesday, we lunched with a friend at her home. Marie-Hélène is the former university librarian who came to IUSB in 2000 as a Fulbright Scholar. Also invited was the current head of the library, a delightful and charming guy. In my academic career, I’ve never met a head librarian with whom I haven’t good relations. Generally, I find that librarians have a genuine openness to others and a friendly demeanor; and, they are fascinating people with inquiring minds. In the afternoon, we toured the Asiatic Museum here in Toulon. For a small museum, it had an impressive collection of Asiatic art and artifacts dating centuries before Christ up to the late nineteenth-century. We thought the Chinese collection of jade and ivory artifacts was the most impressive. It was a wonderful way to cap off a lazy afternoon.

Thursday’s activities are captured in the opening paragraphs. Friday we spent a lovely evening with Jacques and Daniele Martin dining on Coquilles St. Jacques (scallops) on a bed of creamed leeks, ratatouille and lamb chops, followed by the requisite cheese plate. Dessert was a delicious serving of vanilla ice cream topped with grillotines, a small tart cherry in liqueur. We arrived at 7:30 and didn’t finish our meal until 11:45pm. But no complaints here, a sumptuous meal and great conversation aided by exquisite regional wines and tasty cheeses made a perfect evening à la française.

To cap off the week’s events, we spent the afternoon at La Sanary-sur-Mer beginning with lunch at Le Bar d’ô overlooking the Mediterranean. Melanie and I both ordered salmon dishes but prepared differently. IMG_2994 She had salmon prepared on a plank over a hearty serving of lentils, and I, marinated smoked salmon with fennel. Sitting on the sunny terrace with beautiful Provençal homes on one side of us and the expansive blue horizon of the sky and the sea with the wind slightly blowing were moments of unparalleled spiritual peace.IMG_2999  I feel so fortunate to be here, but more on that in a later blog.

Time is passing so fast I’m wondering if we should have scheduled three months instead of two. I say to our friends here that we’re fast becoming Provençal. The weather here has been ideal – moderately warm days and cool nights, so unlike the cold weather and snow that continue to assault northern Indiana. Perhaps spring will arrive by the time we return to Granger.

This is Melanie in italics again. I wanted to add a few things.

In the cloister in Fréjus, there was a wooden ceiling, which we had never seen before and along the top of the wall there were dozens of plaques of wood that had been painted with scenes of daily life from the 12th century — scenes of devils, animals real and imaginary, a woman washing her hair, people working. Beautiful colors were illustrated in a video, though of course, they had faded on the real plaques. A really unique artistic look at that time.IMG_2974

We’re really impressed with the parks here. The one in downtown Le Pradet, in addition to having the exercise course, also has a huge aviary where there are all colors of parakeets and related species and a large gazebo where we speculate that marriages are held in good weather. (Many people here get married twice — once in the church and the obligatory civil ceremony at the Mairie afterwards on the same day.) There is also the ubiquitous monument to the citizens who died in the “Grande Guerre” 1914 . Even in little towns the list is long. But here in Le Pradet there was also a list of sailors who died in the Second World War. As we looked at the list it became apparent that all of them had died on the same day or a day after in August of 1944. This history lesson was about the “débarquement” of the Allies in Southern France.

In the park on the sea coast in Toulon we saw 5 or 6 matches of pétanque, a skateboard course for kids on scooters and bikes too, two huge trampolines for little kids, basketball courts being used, the activities on the ocean that Alfred described, lots of dogs being walked, people sitting in- and outside in cafes and restaurants, soccer balls being kicked around, cyclists, families with strollers and lots of people out for a stroll. Lots of facilities for the young and old and lots of people taking advantage of them.

One more comment about the Asian museum in a lovely old house on the coast which belonged to the son and grandson of Jules Verne. The city runs this museum and you can go for free. Most of the artifacts were brought back by sailors from Toulon who had been in Southeast Asia or other Asian ports. A history lesson also of the town and it’s opening to the world because of its position on the Mediterranean.

 

Art and Architecture of the Sacred by Former Executive Vice Chancellor Guillaume

Now in our third week, we’re comfortably settled into the pace of life here.   My morning walks are refreshing; we’ve had several one-day excursions exploring the region; we’ve had late dinners with friends, enjoying splendid conversations well into the evening.   Most of all, we’ve enjoyed being immersed in the language and culture.  And to keep up with the rhythm of being French, we speak French to each other.  Each day, we pick up new conversational phrases that aren’t to be found in Flaubert or Zola.   Evidence that our integration is taking hold is a paucity of media news of the United States.  We’ve avoided for the most part reading the American newspapers online, preferring to get news from French television and newspapers.   In the French press, and, I suppose, as it is elsewhere around the world, there is great interest in the Russian and Ukrainian crisis.   Locally, the French press is focusing on election scandals of former President Nicolas Sarkozy.  And there is practically no mention of the domestic situation of the current president, François Hollande.   When President Hollande visited the White House recently, the American press seemed obsessed about his personal life.   The French are fairly blasé, allowing the president to have his personal life without public scrutiny.  What I find most refreshing about the news here is the extensive coverage of Africa and Asia.  The American press gives little attention to these continents unless there is some crisis.

Life here is also a continual lesson in art and architecture.  The buildings in the villages and towns dating from Medieval times have interesting stories to tell.  The simplest to the most ornate constructions are works of art.  Their durability, lasting through the centuries, affirms how the science of mathematics and the aesthetic arts merged to create the optimal practicality for daily living.  In every place we visit, we are drawn to these structures.  Each town has a plaza, and at its center is a church, a reminder of how integral the church was in the dictates of the political and cultural life of the people.  From that simple little chapel of the penitents in Grimaud to the grand and majestic basilica of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume to the equally imposing cathedral of Saint-Sauveur in Aix-en-Provence, stands indisputable evidence of the religious fervor of the congregations and the overarching power of the Church.   Inside the larger churches, the tall stone pillars ascend toward the heavens, symbolically transporting the prayers of the faithful.  Their towering height stands in contrast to the humbleness of the prayerful congregation.  The Roman and Gothic architecture recall the engineering abilities and artistic tastes of the period.   Engravings, sculpture and painting adorn the interior and educate the faithful.  The walls of these damp and dark interiors are lined with beautifully detailed tableaux depicting the life of Jesus.   Many of the artists of these huge canvases are little known or forgotten.  I’m intrigued by a studied look at their composition, marveling how the artists use light, or lack of it, to evoke a sentiment or deliver a message.  These paintings, often austere, can provide a light moment.  At Saint-Maiximin-la-Sainte-Baume, I stood for a long time gazing at a retable, altarpiece, by the sixteenth-century artist, Antoine Ronzen,IMG_2856 which depicted various New Testament themes.  The various tableaux, darkened over the years, still illuminated rich, deep, coloring that added to the rich and intricate realistic portrayals by the artist.  In a painting of the Holy Family in the basilica in Saint-Maximin, dating from the Middle Ages, the face of the baby Jesus was re-done in the nineteenth century to resemble Napoleon Bonaparte!

Of the two cloisters that we visited, the cloister at Saint-Sauveur was the most impressive with its decorative columns. IMG_2826   At the top of each of the four corner columns were decorated reliefs representing a story in the life of Jesus as told by one of the four gospel writers.   And only one column showed a realistic image of St. Matthew pointing the way to the sanctuary.   Atop the other three columns were symbolic representations of the Mark, Luke and John.  The cloister at Sainte-Marie-Madeleine was plain,IMG_2907 void of any reliefs, but still architecturally beautiful with its graceful arches.  Walking through these inner sanctuaries of monastic life brought vivid images of monks in silent prayer or singing together the evening’s vespers in the angelic resonance of Gregorian chant.

Earlier this week we visited one of the three Cistercian abbeys in Provence, Abbaye Thoronet, dating from the twelfth century.   Built in the Roman style of architecture,  its plain design and its isolation in the surrounding hills announced a serenity of time and space.  The beautiful stones with their geometric simplicity and clean lines reflected the austerity of the monastic life.  The inner cloister recalled a life dedicated to prayer, made more chillingly apparent when, in the church, our guide sang a Gregorian hymn that resonated throughout the structure producing a sound that seemed to pour from the stones themselves.  I closed my eyes in meditation, believing the cantor stood the whole time in front of me, when in actuality she was moving about the church.  It was the purest sound of surround-sound music I’ve ever heard and a testament to the genius of Medieval acoustical engineering and architecture.

Another architectural detail that we’ve noticed peculiar to Provence is the open-air metal bell towers  (les campanilles) atop the churches that allow the wind to pass through and carry the sound longer distances.IMG_2870

Appreciation of these centuries-old structures began in my interdisciplinary freshman year seminar in the humanities at Xavier University of Louisiana.  There we studied the convergence of art, science, literature, religion and philosophy.   What I learned in that course marked the way I viewed texture, form, structure, line, shape, and color, lessons that ultimately illuminated my approach to aesthetics and art.   Once I retired, I sat in Professor Andrea Rusnock’s art history class to deepen my understanding of art and architecture. It was well worth the investment of time; I find myself re-thinking how I view art and more fully appreciating its effect on me.

The drive to Thoronet was also fascinating as we drove through magnificent countryside and through the most charming small villages.   Along the winding ascending and descending roads were swaths of vineyards.  In the distance were verdant hills varying in color from a forest green tint to a greyish green.  One of the towns, Entrecasteaux, had a beautifully manicured French garden.   In our search for faiencerie, we stopped in Salernes, noted for ceramics, but managed to find only a small tile to our liking.  I’m confident that we find what we’re looking for before our departure.

This time in Provence is allowing us to do what many locals do, sitting or lunching in cafés.  Two weeks ago we lunched in Aix-en-Provence with our friend from Granger, Cheryl Barker,IMG_2817 and her family.   Cheryl’s daughter and her husband, and their daughter, live in Fos-sur-Mer.  Earlier in the week, we went with a friend to visit her daughter in a town adjacent to Cannes.  We lunched at the port and then took a pleasant drive along the seashore in Cannes.  There, mobs of people were on the beach; others walking along the shore.  Traffic was horrendous, and it isn’t the summer season yet.  We did manage to see the infamous red carpet of the Cannes Film Festival.  There were no stars there, just another curious mob.  Last week we lunched with Gabriel Popescu who is here in Toulon as an exchange professor.IMG_2895  He’s giving a public lecture on Monday on geopolitics.  Today we had lunch with two exchange students from IUSB. As we did with Gabriel, we lunched at a quaint  crêperie we discovered in the old town of Toulon.  Kudos to their French teachers at IUSB, Lesley Walker and Anne Magnan-Park, as the students were quite comfortable in speaking French with us.IMG_2946 Tonight we’ll pick up Gabriel and drive to Brignoles to dine with Karine Tournier-Sol and her family.  Karine was an exchange professor at IUSB a few years ago.

Eating well is important here.  And we have certainly had sumptuous meals here, but we do eat modestly.  In the evenings, we are often content to sit in our apartment with a bottle of rosé or muscadet, with a salad, bread with cheese and some fruit and dine royally.  While eating may seem a pastime for the French, I’ve noticed that there is increasingly emphasis on eating healthily.   Posted on the walls of the bus stops are cautions not to nibble between meals, and on the television there are rolling bands across the screen encouraging the viewer to eat five fruits and vegetables a day.  In the States, I remember the strong reactions against Mayor Bloomberg’s attempts to limit the size of sodas in NYC and Michelle Obama’s efforts to get sweets out of the schools and her campaign against obesity.  Some Americans viewed these efforts as an assault on personal liberty.

In a future blog I will write about the colors of Provence.  Traveling across Provence it’s easy to understand why the Impressionists like Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin were drawn here to paint.  This sunny region of vineyards and olive orchards tucked among rolling hills and sea views offers a spectacular palette for the eyesight.

This is Melanie in italics again.  We are really enjoying renewing friendships with professors and others whom we have met before.  We’re able to talk with real French people IMG_2888about their everyday lives, from family concerns and worries, to how to travel most efficiently (the bus to this town because the parking is horrendous or the train because what you want to see is near the station or recommendations for cheap hotels or other places to see), to how to retire gracefully and happily, to where are the places to go ballroom dancing.  It’s the real life here with people who live here that is so much fun.  We’re going to the marché every Friday, discovering hikes in the area, finding the movie theaters that play films in the version originale (not dubbed), trying the flea markets and the yard sales.  It’s really fun.

Little vignettes.  When we went into the cathedral in Aix-en-Provence, Alfred gave a coin to the woman begging outside the cathedral.  We got separated when leaving and I couldn’t find Alfred.  I looked outside and then went back inside and didn’t find him.  When leaving a second time, the woman begging at the door, noticed that I was looking and told me where Alfred was standing.  A little bit of grace from an unexpected quarter.

Living in a land of drought.  Showers with very small water output.  A rain barrel in the yard across the street.  Toilets with dual flushes. 

Talking to the English class of a friend about the American education system.   A young music student in the class was chaffing under the French system of having to study only classical music and having to think and write only in prescribed ways.  He wanted to go the Berkelee School of music in Boston and play jazz and broaden his horizons.  Alfred, since we go often to Boston, offered the young man his email address.  Our friend, the teacher of the class, remarked that this was a very American thing to do, offer friendship and access to one’s private contacts to a stranger.

This morning at the market.  Our friend Mari-Thé had told us about the best cheese stall at the market.  When we went there, the fromagier (cheese seller) smiled at us and said in French, “I hear we have an acquaintance in common.”  So off we went asking him about the best cheeses that he would recommend.  I asked how much our purchases would cost and an elderly lady waiting next to us hearing the repartee looked at us and with a big exaggerated wink and a smile said that the purchases were free.

At the Abbaye de Thoronet that Alfred described.  The moving, mystical, otherworldly sound of the young woman singing the chants of Hildegard of Bingen.  With my eyes closed I would have said that there were several people singing instead of just one because of the reverberations in the church.

 

  

Living à la Provençale by former Vice Chancellor Alfred Guillaume

We’ve been here a week and seem to have settled into the rhythms of daily life.  Our neighborhood in Le Pradet is becoming our own.  The center of town is full of little shops and cafés.  We now know where to find the best bread and pastries (la patisserie et la boulangerie), where to get meat (la boucherie et la charcuterie) and the best place to find fruits and vegetables (le marché aux fruits et légumes).   We frequent the nearby supermarket for other staples.  The downtown square with the small church at its center is lined with shops and cafés, and always full of life.  People gather to talk; they sit seemingly for hours in open-air cafés; they greet and chat in small groups.  In the shops and on the narrow sidewalks neighbors greet each other, if only for a moment.  There is vibrancy in this small village.  In my daily morning walk, I watch the town awaken as merchants begin to open their shops.  Tables and chairs are being set up outside the restaurants and cafés.  The warm and inviting whiff of pastries and recently baked bread fills my nostrils.  Mothers and fathers are dropping off their little ones to school, bidding goodbye with kisses on both cheeks (les bises).  The bike path that runs through the center of town where I take my brisk walks is a thoroughfare of speeding bikes in each direction.  At the end of my exercise, I often stop for croissants and bread at our chosen boulangerie, one of five near the central square, before climbing the hill homeward.

I use my walking time to meditate, reflect and observe the Provençal life around me.  The posters attached to walls tell stories about what’s happening in the village or reveal some political sentiment.  The flow of traffic and the whirling of diesel engines of the small cars affirm how conscious the French are about energy conservation.  The cost of fuel here is high.  We recently filled the tank of our rented diesel Peugeot at an equivalent cost of ninety-three American dollars.  There aren’t many SUVs or large sedans around here.  And as a reminder that driving can be hazardous here as anywhere, on my walking route, I’ve stumbled upon two bouquets of dried flowers tied to trees, a symbolic reminder that someone died in a traffic accident.  These are ubiquitous in the States, but here the Christian cross is not to be found.  The French are primarily Catholic but not outwardly religious.  Though they claim Catholicism, they remain for the most part non-practicing.  France’s cultural politics is defined by secularization, the identification of the state apart from religion.

As expected, life in the provinces moves at a slower pace than in the big cities.  But cars are indeed everywhere and parking is always a challenge.  I am amazed how polite drivers are, stopping at crosswalks for pedestrians.  Somehow that politeness fades on the open road.  The drivers here are aggressive, and I’m learning in this land of continuous roundabouts to be equally aggressive when entering them.  A too long and timid pause could result in being rear-ended.  Since many of the streets in the connecting villages are one lane in both directions, the roundabouts allow swift movement of traffic.

Although we’ve been here just over a week, it feels as if we’ve been here a while.  We’ve done a lot in a short space of time.   We’ve seen some of our friends; others are traveling in either Switzerland or Singapore and we’ll see them soon.   We’ve taken advantage of our time simply relaxing.  Having the time to read has been a joy.  I’m reading a rather disturbing book by Jonathan Littell, Les Bienveillantes, that won the Prix Goncourt in 2006, one of France’s most prestigious literary awards.  The book relates in the first person an executioner’s view of the extermination of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and others considered odious to Hitler’s Germany.  The tale is terrifying and repulsive but I am determined to finish its over thirteen hundred pages.  The novel, written in flawless prose, offers insights into diabolical minds.  It is difficult to fathom how in civilized society such wanton violence and barbarity could ever have been perpetrated on human beings.  Yet we know from recent history, genocidal wars still occur.

But having quiet time to read is only part of how we’re choosing to relax.  Traveling around Provence, an area rich in history, arts and culture, is occupying our time as well.  Last week we drove to Grimaud, a beautiful medieval town in the Massif Central.IMG_2786  As we walked through the tiny stone streets, I imagined what life was like in this small village in medieval times.  I would love to hear the secrets of hundreds of years of history witnessed by the ancient stonewalls of the buildings.   Behind the doors of residences, tinged in the muted Provençal hues, I imagined life unfolding over the centuries.  But I was also interested in knowing what life is now like, and was tempted on more than one occasion to knock on those doors and invite myself in.   Like these homes, the churches in Grimaud still held their medieval flavor.  St. Michael’s is simple but inviting, and the small Chapel of the Penitents whose architecture reminded me of churches in the American southwest was more decorative but still somber.IMG_2800 I imagined penitents walking barefoot on the stone plaza in front of the chapel seeking absolution of their sins.  We also climbed the ruins of an ancient castle that gave us magnificent views of the Mediterranean and the countryside below.  As we descended the steep hill, we discovered a plaque on a wall dedicated to the twentieth-century author, Suzanne Prou, who sought inspiration for her work in Grimaud.  I’ve never heard of her, but now I have an excuse to read her work.

Another small town we visited was Hyères, a town where Jonathan Nashel and Rebecca Brittenham stayed when Jonathan was an exchange professor at the Université de Toulon-Var several years ago.  We’ve been there before and it’s one of our favorite places to visit.  It’s much bigger and more modern than Grimaud, though its old town is similar to Grimaud’s.  There at the top of the old town we visited a public garden and chateau where Edith Wharton lived on her many visits to the region.   We also passed in front of Alphonse de Lamartine’s home, now a hotel. No doubt, we’ll visit Hyères again, if only to sit in the central plaza of the old town either drinking a glass of rosé wine or eating crêpes at the local crêperie.

One of the exciting things we’ve done so far is a visit to the flea market, le marché aux puces, in the neighboring town.  Our friends have told us there are bargains to be found there.  To our amazement, the flea market is the largest we’ve ever seen, at least the size of four football fields, if not larger.  And although we only bought French translated paperbacks of Martha Grimes and Danielle Steele to read later, we know we’ll return.  One never knows what treasures there are to be discovered.

To vary our pace and stay closer to home, we took a ferry to the town across the bay from Toulon, St. Mandrier.IMG_2811   Instead of walking along the port, we decided to be more adventuresome and climb the hilltop where homes with spectacular views of the bay had lovely gardens.  After an arduous climb on meandering roads, we reached a neatly kept cemetery akin to what you’ll find in New Orleans with its burial plots above ground.IMG_2812  Each of the plots had beautiful bouquets of flowers in porcelain.  Many had portraits of the departed with inscribed remembrances.  One of the most touching, and one that I’ll remember, was “As long as there is someone who remembers you and speaks your name, you’ll always be present.”

This is Melanie speaking in italics now.  One of the other inscriptions in the cemetery that we saw more than once was “May your sleep be as sweet as your heart was good.”  The arduous climb that Alfred mentioned included a staircase and path that went through people’s backyards, fenced but right there.  I mentioned to Alfred on the way back down that the stair maker must have drunk a lot of wine because every stair seemed to be of a different height and a different depth.  The views along the way were breathtaking, vistas of the bays on both sides of the peninsula where St. Mandrier is.  It’s a place where we’d dream of renting a villa for a couple of weeks just to sit on the terrace, drink the local rosé and take in the beautiful surroundings.

One of the things that I have been so thankful for here is the exchange that Alfred started with the university here.  Over the last 12 or so years, we have been able to make friends with a number of French people and also with Americans who have, like us, made the trip to stay here and have also welcomed the French to our town.  It is so wonderful to be welcomed in a foreign country and also to feel so much a part of the culture.  We have been invited to dine with several friends (and en famille with the mother, sister and brother-in-law of our host) and also we will be able to entertain many of those friends in our own little apartment.  This week we will have lunch with the American prof who is here and later visit with the two American women who are students here.  There’s a warmth and mutual understanding that grow when people understand that it’s challenging yet so rewarding to explore a rich culture other than one’s own.

Our hostess has made us flan, veal with grapefruit, crêpes flambées, fresh raw oysters and mussels, baked apples with cherry filling, to name a few.  And then there was the lovely casserole of cauliflower, ham, gruyère and béchamel—an old-time recipe that was true comfort food.  She’s a wonderful cook.  We are doing easier meals – salade nicoise, omelet with spinach and mushrooms, ham and cheese sandwiches on wonderful baguettes with Moutarde Maille, croissants from the local boulangerie.  Simple and delicious.

 

 

 

 

Beginning Anew In Provence by Alfred Guillaume

March 3

Since my retirement last June, I’ve been anticipating our two-month stay in Provence.  Of the twenty-two regions in France, this is my favorite and the one with which I am most familiar.  I first came here in the sixties as a student, spending the summer with a French family.  Although my classes were in Avignon, I lived in a smaller village just over the river in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.  Each morning I rode a small scooter to class.    I returned to Provence several years later as a Fulbright student in the early seventies while finishing my doctoral thesis.   Then I was an American language teaching assistant at Lycée Thiers in Marseille.  Oh yes, there was an English language assistant as well.  Ian, my counterpart from Great Britain, thought Americans spoke a bastard English.  I sensed by that he meant we did not speak a proper English, certainly not the highbrow accent he spoke.   Nevertheless during our year together, we were pals.  To be so, I had to brush aside his superior demeanor.

On repeat trips to France over the years, I’ve always gravitated to Provence.  There is something special here.  The mellifluous accent, the strong winds, the rosé wine, the scrumptious dishes, the reddish soil, the clear blue skies, the bright sun, the varied colors in the gardens, the Mediterranean, the dusky landscapes lined with vineyards, all good reasons to return.  And we have friends here. IMG_0397 By chance, during a summer vacation in Brittany, Melanie and I took a side trip to Toulon at the invitation of a Fulbright scholar, who had spent the previous year at IUSB.  Once here she introduced me to the director of international programs at her university.   In a warm and delightful conversation he and I acknowledged quickly our mutual interests in furthering study abroad opportunities for our students.  And several months later, when he came to visit our campus at my invitation, an exchange program between our two universities was born.  For over ten years now, we’ve had students and faculty crossing the Atlantic in both directions.  Just before my retirement, I spent five weeks at the University of Toulon-Var teaching a mini-course on Louisiana culture.  And during this trip, Melanie and I will meet and spend time with two IUSB students and Gabriel Popescu, an IUSB faculty member, here for four weeks teaching a course in United States geo-politics.

But before that happens, we are beginning to do the necessary chores to integrate ourselves to the rhythm of daily life.  Groceries are high on the list, and we spent the early afternoon at the local supermarket where we even signed up for our faithful shopper card.  And no shopping in France is complete without a visit to the local patisserie where we bought a baguette for the ham and cheese sandwiches that we hungrily ate for lunch.   While in town, we pulled into a gas station that was also a women’s lingerie boutique, a new experience for us.  Later we will stop by Orange, a telecommunications boutique, to have our French phones re-charged.  Tonight we’re having dinner with friends on the beach at a restaurant that we know well.  Tomorrow we will go downtown to reinstate our bus passes and senior discount pass for the trains.  Once we’ve completed these necessities, we’ll begin exploring Provence.  As an artist whose gallery we visited in Brittany, and from whom we bought a small painting that now hangs in our family room, told us, “Il faut découvrir la Bretagne profonde.”  In other words, he encouraged us to venture out and discover the Brittany countryside.  The sunny weather with its cool crisp air is just right for exploring the Provençal villages and towns.  The magnolias are in bloom IMG_0394and lemon and orange trees have fruit.  And although I’m anxious to ensconce myself in new surroundings and learn new things, sitting in quiet places with a good book is very much part of my agenda in the next few weeks.

March 4

Wherever I travel, I like to fit in the daily flow of life and live like the locals.  That way I can soak in the infinite possibilities that any region has to offer.  But with those rewards come challenges.  Already three days into our Provençal adventure, we’ve had our share of mishaps.  Before leaving the United States, our flight from South Bend was canceled because of mechanical problems pushing back our journey one day.  And when we finally landed at Charles DeGaulle airport in Paris, a false bomb alert kept us, and hundreds of other passengers from across the globe, penned behind the customs barrier.   After an interminable wait in a stuffy room with little air, we were finally permitted through customs.   Then there was chaos in trying to find our luggage among the dozens of conveyor belts in two different halls.  Our seemingly phantom flight did not appear on any of the flight monitors.  The delay in finding our luggage coupled with the wait at customs erased the hour and a half early arrival of our plane.  Luckily, we had ample time to catch our train to Marseille.  The TGV, the high-speed train, is a marvel.  During the three and a half hours of our journey, we zipped by beautiful and changing landscapes of snowcapped mountains and pastoral vistas.

Once in Marseille, our rental car was waiting.  Dusk was approaching.  And foolishly, we programmed our GPS to avoid the toll roads.  Ordinarily, this would have been a rational decision that would take us along beautiful vistas along the coast through charming little villages.  However, darkness settled in quickly.   In the empty black night, there was nothing to be seen along the unfamiliar curving roads on the cliffs; and the pleasant journey we anticipated added stress to an already tiring day.

And, today, in our effort to maximize time, we decided, before meeting our friends for dinner, to drive into town to have our French phones reactivated and to have minutes added.  Again, not a wise decision; the rush hour traffic was horrendous.  After several attempts around roundabouts, and taking a wrong turn toward oncoming traffic on a one-way multi-lane avenue, we abandoned any hope of finding the parking lot of our desired location.   We went instead to the Lido, a restaurant on the beach we know well and frequented often, to meet our friends.  We got there an hour early and thought we would have an apéritif while waiting the arrival of our friends.  No, that was not possible either.  We were informed that the restaurant did not open until 8 o’clock and were directed by the waiter to a café across the street.  Instead, we waited in our car.   But the evening ended perfectly with a delightful meal of cabillaud, a white flaky fish similar in texture to cod. And the wine, of course, added to its delicate taste.  A delicious crème brulée made the evening more special.   As for the phones, we’ll try again later today, this time by bus.  It’ll be awhile before we dredge up the courage to drive downtown again.

To all my New Orleanian family and friends, Happy Mardi.  The good times are rolling.  And here, nearby in Nice, floats and maskers will greet happy revelers as well.  But not us, we’re content to stay put.