Candy stores like fairy land

Trip Start Sep 24, 2009
Trip End Oct 04, 2009

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Flag of France  , Provence,
Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I'm not sure how much I can get down tonight because I'm dog-tired, but Lucy has gone off to the cyber-cafe and I'm here. Let's see what I can come up with...

Food here is pretty cheap, restaurants are very expensive, so we went back to Les Halles, the marketplace in Avignon to pick up some supplies for some lunches, snacks and dinners. Also, of course, we went for fun because Les Halles is a very cool place. Lucy bought seafood salad, marinated mushrooms (she estimates about 20 kinds), a multigrain bread in the little basket it was baked in and some green olives that had been cured with fennel. The olives were sweet, not salty at all, which was interesting. I bought fresh pasta and a separate container of basil sauce. At the herb shop I purchased a few gifts of Herbes de Provence, sun-dried tomatoes and a pizza spice blend for Kathy and Pat. The cheese monger provided chevre fraiche. I also chose some mixed olives and shallots which will probably get tossed with pasta one night. So far the highlight of this morning’s shopping trip was some amazing local grapes that are like little flavor bombs of violet juice in the mouth. We've never had anything like them.

When we got back and unpacked I realized that the basil sauce got left on the pasta counter. Grrrrr. The proprietress was distracted and I was juggling bags, camera and money and we both missed it. So back we went before heading out to Aix-en-Provence.

Some random observations on the way to Aix: parking is much better in Avignon than I would have thought. There is not a whole lot of parking in the city walls, but free parking is available in large lots just outside the walls and even up against the wall. Men do hang out and play bacce ball, just like in the books and movies. There is a group that loiters about the tobacco shop that I have seen several times. Lucy’s preferred breakfast is the brioche sucre; mine is the pan au chocolat. King Tut was panhandling near the Eiffel Tower the other day when I was there. He wasn’t holding his hand out or anything, he was merely swathed in gold lame, wearing his ceremonial headdress, seated next to a donation plate.

I think that all travel experiences include at least one encounter with a crazy driver. Today we were impressed with how badly one guy wanted to pass people. He'd pass one, wait, then pass another. We were laughing about how much effort it was taking him to get almost nowhere when the guy in front of us slammed on his breaks. The guy in back of us, rather than slamming on his brakes as well, seized this as an opportunity to pass four cars at once! Absolute lunacy, I tell you! We thought we had front row seats to a high-speed head-on colision for sure. The best part is that he saved less than 30 seconds with that maneuver. He turned off the main road a few miles on and he was still only 3 cars in front of us.

Aix has a gorgeous fountain in a circle named for Charles de Gaulle. The guide book told us that also nearby was a fountain that was naturally hot. Water comes out at 93 degrees and the fountain is covered with moss. The moss part was correct, but I walked over and stuck my hand in the water and it was 50 degrees, tops. The streets and buildings and churches in Aix were all very nice. The orange-yellow buildings look lovely in the sun and really set off the colors of the flowers in the boxes. We were lucky enough to arrive before they closed up the flower market and the fruit/vegetable market for the day. We didn't have long, but we were able to appreciate the riot of colors and smells. The mint was very powerful in the veg. market.

Lucy read to me about a scandalous murder that took place on the Cours Mirabeau and then bought me a Provencal treat called calisson d'Aix. They are diamond shaped, made mostly of sweetened almond paste and glazed with royal icing. There is a little hint of melon in them as well. They seemed like a good treat to bring back, but they are crazy-expensive.

Visiting the Musee Granet. They have just closed an exhibit of Cezanne and Picasso original paintings, but they had a terrific permanent interactive installation that explores the relationship between the works of the two men and how they helped pioneer modern western art. I found it so interesting that I really didn't miss not seeing the originals. The museum also had marble sculptures. Most of them were busts of important men or Greek or Roman figures, but the two I enjoyed most were one of a shepherd who was distressed by the loss of his bees and a marble relief of a modestly dressed woman nursing a chubby baby by Charpentier (I think that's the spelling). One was funny and the other was beautiful.

The Saint-Sauveur Cathedral. It was a slightly bizarre mix of the very old and the very new and everything in between. Very old frescoes are visible in one part of the baptismal area, but other parts have been covered with paintings that are only a couple hundred years old. On the altar, the bishop's chair looks like a gilded piece of modern art modified to be a bidet. Also there is a statue of a saint emerging from the back of a dragon who, according to the available literature, barely had time to make the sign of the cross. This sits just down the way from a 3-foot tall doll of the baby Jesus carrying a cross. At the end of our visit, Lucy tried to get us in on a tour of the cloister, but the tour guide had already locked the door. We could only peer in from outside and see a small part of the cloister while the tour group walked away. Later, when we visited the Musee Granet, we saw a painting by Granet of that same exact view, from the outside of the cloister looking in. Apparently Granet missed the tour too. Very funny!

The sweet shops are so beautiful. Every little candy, every tea biscuit is a small work of art and they are displayed so elegantly and offered in sophisticated and attractive containers and arrangements. Each shop is special and feels like Mary Poppins might be there. We so wanted to buy cookies or caramels or calisson d'Aix or chocolate olives or something, but at roughly $60/lb for most of these treats, we just couldn't do it.

Lunch was not worth mentioning, I am sorry to say.

We made dinners at the house. Lucy opted for the seafood salad and a mélange of marinated mushrooms. I boiled a handful of my soft pasta and tossed it with sautéed shallots and basil sauce while I ate my bread and chevre fraiche and shared olives with Lucy. Afterward we walked around Avignon, taking note of which public buildings are lit at night and how very many cafes there are. Of course, our real purpose was dessert. At the gelato stand Lucy got chocolate hazelnut and dark chocolate. I wanted to fit one more serving of fruit in for the day so I got passion fruit and lemon.

No pictures tonight...but here is a link if you want to read more about how those dainty little calisson are made:

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