Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Come Out and Play: It's Fête de la Musique!

Tonight is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and it's also the 35th annual Fête de la Musique. Sunset in Paris will be at 9:58 p.m. tonight, a full 1.5 hours later than in New York.

All over France--all over the world, in fact--musicians of every type will be performing, in every venue imaginable: from public parks to cafe terraces, from elegant châteaux to village squares. Anyone who wants to can come out and play: soloists, full orchestras and everything in between. I read that almost 8% of the country, some five million people, have played an instrument or sung in public at Fête de la Musique! The rules state only that all musicians must donate their time and that all concerts should be free. The event was launched in France in 1981 and this year, 700 cities in 120 countries will participate. (For the program in countries other than France, try here. In the US it's called Make Music and you'll find all the info here.)

To find out who's playing where in France, don't bother checking the festival site. Instead try a local listings site like Time Out (for Paris and Nice)...or Le Parisien Etudiant for Provence and other regions. If you Google search "Fête de la Musique" and your village, you'll get lots of good results. Or, ask at the Tourist Office, check out the signs around town or just grab your friends and go...

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Love Lavender? Try This!

Game on! The lavender is finally in bloom in Provence and over the next month or so I hope to share with you a couple fun ways you can experience it. Here's one...

Born in Paris, Elsa Lenthal now lives in Les Baux de Provence where, for 10 years or so, she's been making fresh lavender wands every summer. She sells them in local markets (see schedule below), in luxury hotels and on her website. And she's just written to tell me that, for the first time this year, she's offering workshops for people who want to make their own. 

The wands--known as fuseaux--are an 18th-century Provencal tradition still popular today. Used to perfume drawers and linens while keeping moths away, they were a popular part of the bridal trousseau, representing love and happiness. They're handmade with fresh lavender, from mid June to mid September, and they keep their natural aroma for years. (Gently squeezing the wand from time to time releases more fragrance.) Lavandin is the preferred variety of lavender, because of its high essential-oil content.

After harvest, the flowers must be worked quickly while they're still supple. The stems are folded back to make a protective case for the fragrant blossoms...and the weaving of the ribbons requires great dexterity.

Sign up for a workshop and Elsa will show up at your hotel or rental villa with her basket of freshly cut lavender and lots of colorful ribbons. "At the workshop's end," she says, "you'll have a souvenir of Provence which for many years will scent your home and revive your memories." Or, if you prefer, you can request your workshop outdoors overlooking the olive trees at Elsa's house, five minutes from Les Baux.

Lavender wand workshops are offered mid June to mid September and last about 2.5 hours. Price: 45€ per person, three people minimum.

As of about June 25, you'll find Elsa making and selling fuseaux in the following markets: Tuesday in Gordes, Wednesday in St Remy, Thursday in Maussane, Friday in Eygalières and Saturday in Uzes. 

Elsa Lenthal
+33 (0)6 13 17 46 46

Photos: Elsa's promo piece shows her out in the fields gathering lavender, a fuseau being carefully woven and finished fuseaux in various colors.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Magical Evenings at the Pont du Gard

The 2,000-year-old aqueduct called the Pont du Gard is one of the most magnificent sites in Provence; I never get tired of tromping around on it, photographing it, splashing in the river beneath it or just hanging out enjoying the scene. In the 15 or so years I've lived in Provence, the Pont du Gard site has changed dramatically, with a new visitors' center, museum, cinema, kids' play area, expanded hours, tour offerings, night lighting, hiking paths and much more. One of the biggest changes is the number of cultural events that are now held here every year: art exhibits, museum shows, live music, dance evenings (more on that below) and annual spectacles such as Les Féeries du Pont’’ (Fairies of the Bridge), which takes place this weekend and next. 

Every year when I write about Les Féeries du Pont, I try to get my story posted a few weeks in advance of the first performance. This year,  I totally blew it...the first show should be ending in a few minutes. But there's still tomorrow night and next weekend...so here's what you need to know.

Les Féeries du Pont combines video, light, flame, fireworks, original music, narration and more. There's always a theme and a loose story line and, each year, some new over-the-top special effects. This year's show is called Feux Galois and you can catch it tomorrow night, next Friday or next Saturday. Showtime is 10:30 p.m or at dusk. But definitely arrive early as there are "animations" before the main event, starting around 8 p.m. 

Once again, the producer is Groupe F, the internationally acclaimed pyrotechnician group known for their shows at the Eiffel Tower, Versailles and the Olympics. If you want a smile, have a look at their website; their work is technically dazzling and incredibly beautiful. 

On show days, the Pont du Gard site will be open all day but only until 7 pm, after which special show tickets will be required. After a certain hour it will be impossible to cross the bridge from the left bank to the right--where seating is for the show--so check the website for specifics. Be sure to bring cushions, chairs and blankets or you'll be sitting on the ground; the shops on site should sell seats if you forget. My best advice is sit as close to the bridge itself as possible for maximum impact.  ''And don't forget to bring also warm wears,'' my contact at the Pont du Gard sweetly tells me. 

Tickets for Feux Galois range from €15 to €25; kids under six are free. You can buy them at the Pont du Gard anytime including the day or evening of each show, as long as there are still places available. You can also buy them online here (if you have a French credit or bank), at FNAC stores and on FNAC.comFranceBillet.com and Ticketnet.com. Group rates are available (call 04 66 37 51 10). If you have an annual pass to the Pont du Gard, you get a discount; an annual pass is 26€. Parking these evenings is free. 

So what about dinner? Casual food will be sold on site or you can bring a picnic in with you. There's also a restaurant called Les Terrasses that serves excellent Mediterranean cuisine (04 66 63 91 37). A special Féeries du Pont menu will be offered at Les Terrasses but definitely reserve ahead. 

If you can't go to the show but plan to visit the Pont du Gard at another time this summer, it's open in summer until midnight and it's illuminated beautifully. The museum and shops close at 7 or 8 pm, depending on the month. 

The Pont du Gard is a highlight in the region...a must-see for anyone visiting this part of Provence... a UNESCO World Heritage Site spanning the Gardon River near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard. Built around 19 BC, it was the critical link in a 30-mile canal that supplied nine million gallons of water per day to Nîmes, one of ancient Europe’s largest cities.

As you're planning your site-seeing days, I suggest making it your morning or afternoon. That leaves ½ day for exploring Avignon (on its own day, below) or for Uzes, the first Duchy of France. Uzes is a beautiful village with pretty architecture and history, narrow traffic-free medieval streets and shops both elegant and artsy. If you love pottery and ceramics, tack on a visit to the tiny village of St. Quentin la Poterie, where 20-plus potters have open studios and shops.

In July and August, guided half-hour tours through the water channel at the very top of the Pont du Gard (third level) are available. 4€/adults and 2€/children. No reservations are required or taken...just ask for this at the welcome desk.

Also in July and August  you can "Dance at the Bridge" every Friday "with live music from an orchestra and a very  jazzy atmosphere." 

You can also see the Pont du Gard by kayak; the outfitter is KayakVert and you leave from the town of Collias. You can keep the kayak all day if you like but most people like the basic two-hour paddle, taking them 7 km on the Gardon River, up to and under the Pont du Gard. What a fun way to see this magical relic up close, particularly on a hot day. The two-hour trip is 23€ for adults, 11.50€ for kids...info in English is on their site here.

The Pont du Gard is located between Remoulins (RN 100) and Vers-Pont du Gard (D 81).  Its 40 km from St. Remy, 27 km from Nimes,  21 km from Avignon and 19 km from Uzes.  

For info on the Feux Gaulois show or on visiting the site at other times, click here. For historical info, click here. To contact the Pont du Gard directly: contact@pontdugard.fr or 04 66 37 50 99....and yes, they speak English. 

If you want to catch a Groupe F show at another time, check their schedule here. On Bastille Day (July 14), they'll be doing the fireworks in both Paris and in Arles. And once again they'll be staging their musical fountain display called ''Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes'' at the Chateau de VersaillesAll the info is on the Versailles website here. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Vivre Côté Sud is June 3 to 6 in Aix

The 18th edition of the popular design fair called Vivre Côté Sud takes place June 3 to 6 in the Parc Jourdan in Aix. As in years past, the exhibitors (250 or so of them) will be organized by theme, the cumulative effect being a delicious, over-the-top paradise of beauty, creativity, craft and taste. To see all the themes, click hereIt's like Disneyland for Design Lovers!

The event is organized and hosted by the magazine Maisons Côté Sud, widely known and loved for its focus on celebrating the Mediterranean style and lifestyle.  (The magazine's tenets: "a search for beauty, a respect for talent, a desire for authenticity.")  Vivre Côté Sud, the organizers say, brings the pages of the magazine to life offering thousands of products and ideas for the home, garden, kitchen and more.

This year's overall theme is "nature" and everything that nature's beauty and diversity inspires. You'll see it expressed in gardens, materials, eco-design, on fabrics, wallpapers, carpets...in paint tones, furniture, ceramics and much more. The design of the Parc's lounge was this year been entrusted to Fanny Piriou Desvignes while other talented designers, landscape designers and stylists oversaw the creation and decor of other.

For professionals such as architects and interior designers, there's a special area called Côté Sud Projets. Every day there will be an informal conference (for pros and consumers) on trends in residential and hotel design.

This year the show will be open two evenings, with dinner available on Friday night.

As in years past, attendees can sign up for coaching sessions in decor and garden design. Sign up in advance and be sure to bring your plans, photos or videos. 

Everyone who signs up for deco coaching takes home a shopping list along with recommendations for colors, materials, furniture and accessories. One-hour appointments are 89€. (For info or to book: info@vivrecotesud.fr or +33 1 75 55 43 66.)

Garden coaching will once again be offered by Thomas Gentilini and his team, with their particular expertise in the vegetables and plants of the Mediterranean. They're happy to help with any project, including maintenance, renovation, garden creation, pools, pergolas, terraces, etc.  One-hour garden coaching appointments are 59€. (For info or to book: contact@thomasgentilini.com or +33 4 42 02 56 86.) 

The cooking demos at Vivre Côté Sud are always a big draw. Among the top local chefs participating this year are Marc de Passorio (L'Esprit de la Violette, Aix),  Jany Gleize (La Bonne Etape, Château-Arnoux), Ronan Kernen (Côté Cour, Aix), Edouard Loubet (Bastide de Capelongue, Bonnieux), Alexandre Mazzia (AM Restaurant, Marseille), Mickaël Féval (Restaurant Mickaël Féval, Aix), Lionel Lévy  (Intercontinental Hôtel-Dieu, Marseille), Guillaume Sourrieu (L'Epuisette, Marseille), Nadia Sammut (Auberge La Fenière, Lourmarin), Ludovic Turac (A Table au Sud, Marseille) and Glenn Viel (Oustau de Baumanière, Les Baux). See the website for the schedule, the dishes and more.

Vivre Côté Sud is at the Parc Jourdan in Aix, Friday June 3 through Monday June 6th. The show opens at 10 am daily and closes at 11 pm Fri, 9 pm Sat, 8 pm Sun and 6 pm Mon. Tickets are 10€ (full price) and 7€ (reduced). The website in French with decent English translation is: vivrecotesud.fr

Photos: A taste of Vivre Côté Sud over the years...and some of what's to come.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Van Gogh Show Opens in Arles May 14

This summer the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles will hold its third retrospective devoted to the famous Dutch artist who lived in Arles in 1888-89. 

Opening on Saturday, Van Gogh in Provence: Modernizing Tradition is considered an exceptionally important show with regards to both the number of paintings and to their "dialogue" within the exhibition space, which has been redesigned specially for the occasion. Thirty-one original works by Van Gogh will, the museum says, "allow us to comprehend how deeply his painting is anchored in the traditional genres to which he never ceased to lend new expression." 

Selected by curator Sjraar van Heugten, one of the world’s foremost Van Gogh experts, the 31 paintings offer a panorama of seven years of intense activity, culminating in the artist’s time in Provence, during which he produced some 500 works. This is a major show for the city and it's expected to be a huge success.

Van Gogh is a huge presence in Provence but few of his paintings actually stay here in permanent museum collections. (At present I know of just one, in Avignon.) The Fondation Vincent Van Gogh, which opened in 2014, was created to underscore and celebrate the inseparable link between Van Gogh's work and the city of Arles, by showing his paintings alongside the work of contemporary artists. (My story about the creation of the museum and the people behind it is here.) 

The Fondation Van Gogh is located at the Hôtel Léautaud de Donines,  a 15th-century building elegantly restored by Guilaume Avenard and Hervé Scheider of the architectural firm Fluor, who said that the light of Arles was their “guiding thread.” It's located in the heart of the city's historic center, a setting classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Fondation has more than 1000 square meters of exhibit space spread over two floors.

The museum is currently closed while the new exhibit is being installed. Van Gogh in Provence: Modernizing Tradition opens Saturday May 14 at 11 am and runs until Sunday September 11, 2016. Hours will be 11 am to 7 pm, seven days a week; last entry is 6 pm. All the info is on the website here and on the press release, which you can read in English here.

Photos: (1) The entrance to the Fondation Van Gogh, which opened in the heart of Arles in 2014. Not visible in the photo is the 15th-century building that houses the exhibit spaces. (2 - 6) From the show:  Self Portrait with Grey Felt Hat (1887), Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (1888)Still Life with Absinthe (1887), Field with Irises near Arles (1888) and An Old Woman of Arles (1888). (7) Front of the Fondation,  gates closed. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Avignon Rose Festival is May 5 to 8

The glorious rose festival called Alterarosa happens in Avignon every two years...and it starts Thursday. It's an extremely popular spring event for families, with a huge rose garden blooming in the majestic cloister of the Palais des Papes plus lots of new events around town including a "pink tour" pedestrian circuit with a contemporary art exhibit at the Église des Célestins (map above). Everyone is invited to a "Pinknique Picnic" at the Rocher des Doms on Sunday at 12:30, with a concert for 100 voices at 1 pm. (Bring your own picnic or buy the pre-packaged ones at the Les Halles market; only drinks will be sold on site...and yes, they'll have rosé!). Shops all over town will be selling rose-themed products.

This is a great opportunity to meet top French rose breeders as they'll be presenting their latest creations at the Palais des Papes (make sure to vote for the People's Choice!). The French Rose Society will be leading seminars and there will be classes and workshops for all ages. There are special garden tours (see below) and a special Rhône river cruise. 

This year, a guided exhibit and garden tour will be offered in English as well as French. The tour includes the gardens atop the Rocher des Doms (where Avignon was first settled), the recently restored Church of Notre Dame des Doms and its private gardens (except on the Thursday tour) and the elegant garden of the five-star Hotel La Mirande, once the home of a 14th-century Cardinal. This tour is available in English on Thursday May 5 at 2:30 pm (cathedral gardens not included on this day), on Friday May 6 at 2:30 pm and on Saturday May 7 at 10 am. More info and ticketing is on the Avignon Tourist Office website here.

For the Alterarosa website, click here or find them on Facebook hereTickets for Alterarosa at the Palais des Papes are 5.50€ for Avignon residents and kids (age 8-17) and 9€ for adults. Kids under 8 are free. Tickets can be bought online, at the Tourist Office (41 Cours Jean Jaurès) or at the Palais des Papes.  

For help in English, you can also call the Avignon Tourist Office at 04 32 74 32 74 or email: officetourisme@avignon-tourisme.com.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

You're Invited: Cannes Film Fest Luncheon

The annual Cannes Film Festival Luncheon Party hosted by the American Club of the Riviera always attracts a great mix of locals and visitors. This year it's Saturday May 14 and everyone is welcome. There are 75 seats available on the terrace but if they sell out and the weather looks good, more tables will be set up on the beach.

Guests will gather for Bellinis and hors d'oeuvres at noon at the restaurant Vegaluna Plage Restaurant, just in front of the Carlton Hotel. During the three-course lunch (foie gras, sea bream, apricot tart), film industry folks will provide insider insights and, as in years past, there will be a famous film quiz.

If you're going on to the Palais des Festivals afterwards, it's an easy ten-minute walk along the seafront.

Water, wine and coffee are included in the price: members 65€, guests 75€. The reservation deadline is Monday May 9th and the event is expected to sell out. For all the info or to reserve: americanclubriviera.com

The 69th annual Cannes Film Fest launches with a screening of Woody Allen's new film, Café Society, on Wednesday May 11 in the Palais des Festivals’s Grand Théâtre Lumière. The festival runs until May 22 and all the info is here.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Julia Child's Provence House is For Rent

Now that it's possible to rent Julia Child's old house in Provence, it's only a matter of time until someone settles into that famous kitchen, whips up some delicious new recipes and publishes a cookbook titled In Julia's Provençal Kitchen or Channeling Julia or something similar.

From the moment I heard that Sotheby's had listed the house for sale (asking price: €880,000), I had a half-real, half-ridiculous fantasy of buying it and transforming it into a cooking school. And now that's exactly what Makenna and Yvonne (Evie) Johnston have done. They swept in, snapped it up and announced they'll be offering week-long "courageous cooking" workshops there, for six people at a time, in 2017.

In the meantime they're renting the house out via Airbnb, as of June 13, 2016.  Which means that alone or in a group, you could fulfill that classic foodie fantasy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in Julia's actual kitchen! Or, of course, write your own master work. When one of her students spied the house on Airbnb, food writer Molly O'Neill quickly booked it--along with another next door--for two one-week writers' retreats in October. (Molly is former NY Times food columnist, author of six books, a multiple James Beard Award winner and founder of LongHouse Food Revival. For info: molly@cooknscribble.com.)

I'm so delighted that Julia's old digs--the summer home she loved so much--will continue to be a magnet for French food- and wine-lovers!

In reality this isn't the first time the house will be used as a cooking school.  In 1993, Kathie Alex, who knew and worked for Julia, took it over and ran a program there called Cooking with Friends in France.  She put it on the market in November 2015.

The story beyond the house--how Julia and Paul Child came to have it, who hung out with them there, why it was important to the whole American food revolution--has been well documented so I won't go too deeply into that here.  (If  the topic interests you, you'd love Julia's book My Life in France and as well as Provence 1970 by Luke Barr, which you can read about here.)

The house is called La Pitchoune ("the little one") but everyone calls it La Pitch or La Peetch. It was built in 1963, on a property belonging to Simone Beck, one of Julia's original cookbook collaborators. M.F.K. Fisher and James Beard were frequent guests. It's set amongst the olive groves near the villages of Châteauneuf and Plascassier,  not far from Cannes and Grasse.  (Not that Châteauneuf...but one of many villages with the same name.)

Makenna and Evie say that La Peetch Ecole de Cuisine will be more than just a cooking school. It will also welcome high-end retreats, family experiences, food and wine journeys and more. 

The Airbnb listing calls it "a space to cook, commune, explore and walk in the footsteps of the culinary greats." On Facebook they call it "A Center for Food, Culture and Community." 

Evie, a former U.S. Air Force captain who left the military in 2014,  is now studying at the International Culinary Center in New York. Makenna, a business strategist and life coach, will train at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, where Julia earned Le Grand Diplôme in 1951. (Like Julia did, Makenna graduated from Smith College in Northampton, MA.) 

The house has three antique-filled bedrooms, a sitting room, gardens, a pool...and of course that famous kitchen, which is virtually intact. Even Julia's pegboard is still there, the one Paul made and painted with outlines so Julia knew exactly which implements went where. The only thing missing is Julia's beloved white La Cornue stove, which now belongs to that other famous American cookbook author and cooking teacher in Provence, Patricia Wells

So of course I had to ring up Patricia to ask how she got Julia's stove.  "When the time came for Paul and Julia to give up La Pitchoune," she told me, "I asked her if I could buy it and she said no. Then she changed her mind and said I could have it as a gift, as long as I replaced it. So that’s what we did! We went to Darty, bought a new stove, went to her house, took the La Cornue and replaced it with the new one, which I believe is still the one in the house."

The La Cornue has two gas burners, a side burner where you can set a series of pots and a small, single gas oven. If you have Patricia's most-recent book, The French Kitchen Cookbook,  you'll see it in there. "The oven is bit cantankerous," Patricia reports, "and it's very difficult to adjust the heat so we don't use it often. But we definitely use the cooktop with our students, who of course love to cook on it. I always joke that having Julia's stove is a bit like having Freud's couch!"

As to what Julia would say about all this, I have no idea. I met her a few times over the years at food-world events but didn't know her. So I turned to someone who did,  my old pal Bob Spitz. Bob is the author of Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child and he's currently putting final touches on the script for a one-woman show of Dearie, which will open on Broadway early next year.

"Julia always filled La Peetch with friends and guests," Bob says, "so I’m sure it would delight her that the house was continuing her gracious tradition.  The fact that it will live on as a cooking school and retreat would be the icing on her, well, Reine de Saba.”  

Want to know more? Check out the stories on La Peetch in Vogue,  Conde Nast Traveler and People, then go to Lapeetch.com, where you can sign up for email updates.

Photos: (1) Julia's famously colorful Provence kitchen has been kept (almost completely) intact. Rent the house and have it all to yourself...or come take a weeklong "courageous cooking" workshop next year. (2) In the kitchen at La Pitchoune, Paul Child painted outlines of Julia’s tools and equipment on the pegboard walls. [Photo by Benoit Peverelli, courtesy of Luke Barr.]  (3) Julia Child on the terrace at La Pitchoune in the early 1970s, courtesy Luke Barr. (4-8) Interior and exterior shots of the house. Makenna says "Our goal is to maintain the house as much as possible, we have no intentions to remodel or update the house itself.  But we definitely are updating some elements of decor, including furniture and linens." (9) Julia's old La Cornue range now lives with Patricia Wells at her home and cooking school in Vaison-la-Romaine, Provence. Owning it, Patricia says, is like "having Freud's couch." (10) Julia at La Pitchoune in 1969. [Photo by Marc Riboud/Magnum Photos, from the Wall Street Journal.]


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