A most sublime day, Part One

Trip Start Sep 25, 2012
Trip End Oct 16, 2012

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Flag of France  , Provence,
Monday, October 8, 2012

"My whole house is my studio," said Nanou.  As you can see from the photos, this is true not only for her house, but her yard and garden as well.  We spent the morning with her, discovering beautiful things in every nook and cranny.  The bare overlap of languages was only a minor impediment to Annie and Nanou reestablishing their connection. 

Nanou's husband, Pablo, called from work (he’s a dentist).  She told him we were visiting, and within a half an hour he had arrived with two beautiful bottles of wine.  Only in France can I imagine a dentist coming home in the middle of the day to share wine with sudden visitors!  Nanou broke out the cheese and crackers and we toasted our friendship—both the old ones of Annie and me with Nanou and Pablo, and the new ones which included Carole and Manfred.  There was so much to talk about, and to see. 

Finally we hugged goodbye and drove down the hill to La Colle sur Loup for lunch at Douceurs Café, where we ate outside on the terrasse.  Excellent pasta and chèvre chaud salads were had by all.  Before knocking over a bottle of fizzy water, which shattered on the stone floor, the server announced that their clientele was “90% locals and 10% tourists.”  Maybe he broke the bottle to somehow keep the ratio intact.

With full bellies we drove up the hill to Vence, where we lived during our second year in France.  As we headed west from the village toward our old neighborhood, Notre-Dame des Fleurs (Our Lady of the Flowers), I told Carole and Manfred about what we used to call "The Stonehenge Bakery."  This was a mysterious site just off the hilly road that was dominated by huge stacked granite blocks.  For 6 ¾ days of the week it was totally unoccupied, but on Monday afternoons it suddenly came to life:  Cars began to park in the little dirt parking area just below the monumental blocks and people formed a line.  Then, without ceremony, an old white van would come lumbering down the road and park next to this structure.  The people in the line began to stir in anticipation.  The van doors opened and fresh bread and rolls of all sorts, still warm from the oven, seemed to tumble out and filled the granite surfaces.

As usual, we couldn’t remember exactly where along the road the Stonehenge Bakery (which was only our name; I don’t think it had an official one) was located.  But suddenly, rounding a gentle curve in the road, there it was!  As we passed I noticed a beat-up white van parked next to it—blimey, it was Monday afternoon!  Annie ordered Manfred to make a U-turn at the earliest opportunity, if not sooner, and soon we were in line.  It was a true Proustian moment of reliving the past with all senses on anticipatory overdrive!  We bought baguettes, batards, rolls, olive bread, and a brioche loaf filled with fresh fruit—apricots, nuts, pears, and figs.  Not able to wait until we returned to Angie’s to sample the booty, we had a spontaneous French tailgater right in the parking area: Manfred whipped out his Swiss army knife and we made short work of the  brioche, which was indisputably the world’s finest!  Exercising ultimate self control, we managed to wrap up most of the rest of the baked goods, and went on our way to Notre-Dame des Fleurs.

Our old house looked just the same, so we dismissed it with a fond wave, and drove around the corner to the trail head of our very favorite hike.  It began right next to the Galerie Beaubourg, the neighborhood art gallery.  Just outside the gallery gates, where the trail started, was a raised concrete platform that held a 12 meter tall brass thumb!  (See the photo below for us with the Thumb 10 years ago, and another version of the same sculpture.)  But the platform was empty—the thumb was gone!  We saw some grounds workers and, with great agitation, asked them, “Où est le pouce?”   Ah, they said, several years ago it was sold to an American who had it shipped to his home.  A 36 foot brass thumb, weighing several tons, shipped from Vence to America?  Well, why not? 

A little research reminded us that the thumb was a self-portrait of that of the French sculptor, César Baldaccini.  And some hyper-Goggling found the precise story of the thumb of the Galerie Beaubourg:  It was sold in auction in 2007 to an anonymous American collector for a cool $1.745 million!  It weighs a not so cool 18 tons!  I wonder how César’s thumb made it to the USA; undoubtedly not by hitchhiking!  Given the sales price, maybe it flew first class.  We briefly mourned the loss of the iconic le pouce, meditated on change and the passage of time, and started up the hill. 
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