Friday, December 27, 2013

Monet, Renoir, Chagall Show Closes Jan 5

The former Cathedrale des Images, now called the Carrières de Lumières (Quarries of Light), is a magical space in a vast cave-like quarry at the base of the village of Les Baux. There in the cool darkness, close to 100 video projectors generate the choreographed movement of 3,000 images over an area of more than 75,000 square feet, onto walls as high as 45 feet, onto the ceilings and even the floor. The sound-and-light show changes roughly once a year and the site is one of the most-popular in Provence.

The current show, called ''Monet, Renoir...Chagall: Journeys Around the Mediterranean'' (top photo) closes January 5. 

The new show (second photo) will be unveiled on March 7. Called "Klimt and Vienna: A Century of Gold and Colours,"  it leads visitors on a journey through 100 years of Viennese painting to the heart of the bright, colorful works of Gustav Klimt, his contemporaries and the artists he inspired. The Klimt show runs until January 4, 2015.

Klimt was one of the great decorative painters who worked on the majestic monuments of the Ringstrasse in imperial Vienna at the end of the 19th century. At the dawn of the new century, he led the Viennese Secession. Gold and other decorative motifs, which are characteristic of Klimt's works--the most famous of which is "The Kiss"--remain a symbol of this artistic revolution. This show presents the distinctive works which brought Klimt his success: his golden period, his portraits and his landscapes. It was designed to offer an original perspective on Klimt and his successors, through portraits, landscapes, nudes, colors and gilding, which revolutionized Viennese painting in the 20th century. 

On the walls of the quarry you'll also see works by Viennese artists such as Schiele and Hundertwasser, who were influenced by Klimt's work. 

A bit of backstory: The Cathedrale des Images closed in 2011 and re-opened as the Carrières de Lumières in early 2012, with new management (the folks at Culturespaces) and new state-of-the-art technology. More than €2 million was spent to refurbish the site. The first show after the re-opening (''Gauguin, Van Gogh: Painters of Color'') drew great reviews and 239,000 people. The current show, ''Monet, Renoir...Chagall" has been an even bigger smash, attracting 360,000 visitors.

The Carrières de Lumières is located in the Val d’Enfer, a stone's throw from Les Baux. The quarry was created over the years for extracting the white limestone used in the construction of the village of Les Baux and its chateau. In 1935, economic competition from modern materials led to the closure of the quarries. Dramatic and otherworldly looking, the area has inspired artists of all sorts; the Val d'Enfer provided the setting for Dante’s Divine Comedy and Gounod created his opera Mireille here. Later, Cocteau came to film The Testament of Orpheus in these very quarries. The Carrières du Val d’Enfer has been awarded Natural Monument status in France. 

The Carrières de Lumières is open for the holiday season everyday (including New Years Eve and New Years Day) from 10 am to 6 pm. (From March to September, hours are 9.30 am to 7 pm.) Tickets range from 5€ to 10€ and kids under 7 are free.

Route de Maillane  
13520 Les Baux de Provence 
Tel. : +33 4 90 54 47 37

Friday, December 20, 2013

Rent This: An 18th-Century Olive Mill

Travel planning for the 2014 season is in full swing and I've been spending a ton of time running around visiting homes and villas of all sizes, for clients coming to Provence in the year ahead. Here's one I just had to share. 

Down a rutted, gravely driveway, on a high plateau in the foothills of the Alpilles Mountains, this four-bedroom, four-bath home sits in a gorgeous olive mill built in 1717. I've seen a lot of vacation rentals (in all price ranges) but this is surely one of most unique. 

Converting the crumbling stone building into a welcoming home was a labor of love for its charming owners:  Stephane Blanc (who grew up down the road in the village of Mouriès), his mother, Marie José, and his sister Julia.

Today Stephane is the sales director of the 14th-century Palais des Papes in Avignon, traveling the world (he's just back from China) to lure tour operators and groups to Avignon. But no matter how far he wanders, it's clear Stephane's heart remains here on this 60-hectare property, which has been in his family since the late 19th century. 

The home, called the Moulin de Payan, can accommodate 10 people. The living room has eight enormous ceiling vaults and all sorts of vestiges of the time when it was one of biggest, busiest olive mills around. I'd call the decor rustic, Provencal farmhouse chic; Stephane filled the interior with antiques, painted pieces, big comfy couches, a piano and a handmade dining table that seats 20. You can also eat outside, in the shade of a enormous willow. The pool sparkles in the sunshine, surrounded by a large lawn. Beyond that, you'll see white Camargue horses grazing in the distance and vast fields of Foin de Crau, a highly prized local hay that's used to feed race horses. 

Also on the property are a number of large, unoccupied buildings that Stephane plans to restore one by one. The olive mill was the first project and it took roughly 18 months.

The appeal of this property is obvious: natural beauty, seclusion, history and architectural appeal. Kids will love this place and have fun running around exploring. Stephane speaks perfect English and I sense he does whatever he can to make his renters happy. Marie-José and Julia are very involved in the management of the property and work to insure that everyone gets a warm and personalized welcome.

Five minutes away in Mouriès (population 3000), you'll find all the typical businesses: grocery, produce market, butcher, boulangerie, pharmacy, newsstand, cafes, restaurants and a weekly market (Wednesday). Mouriès calls itself the olive capital of France, with 80,000 olive trees and another 500,000 or so in the surrounding area, which constitutes the appellation Vallée des Baux-de-Provence. Its farms and mills produce roughly 500 tons of oil per year and another 140 tons of table olives. At the turn of the century there were 11 oil mills in Mouriès, of which Le Moulin de Payan was one; today there are still three in operation, all of which may be visited year round. (My friend Anne-Marie Simons devotes a chapter of her terrific book Taking Root in Provence to the Mouriès Olive Festival.)

From what I can tell, the only negative to renting the Moulin de Payan is the access to the house. In the daylight these winding roads are very beautiful, all rolling hills, green valleys, vineyards and olive groves. But at night they can be quite daunting; they're narrow and they're not lit. Still, we all drive them all the time and live to see another it's probably ok.

From the house to Les Baux it's a 15-minute drive; St. Remy is 25 minutes.  The mill is 35 km from Avignon and Arles, 60 km from Marignane (Marseille) Airport. The small, sweet village of Maussane is close by...and dinner there on the church square is a wonderful way to pass a summer evening.

The Moulin de Payan rents for 1500€ to 2500€ per week, depending on the season (if you ask me, the price is low). If you do contact Stephane, it would be lovely if you told him you read about his house here.

Le Moulin de Payan
Tel: +33 (0)6 12 17 17 43
For info in English: 
For info in French, click here.

Photos: The living room is enormous, with high ceilings and eight enormous vaults. The four bedrooms are welcoming and colorful, with lots of light. The kitchen, bathed in afternoon sunshine, faces the dining patio and pool. A living room vignette. Dine in the shade of this enormous willow. Stephane Blanc owns and runs the house with his mom and his sister. The co-op in Mouries sells their own olive oils and other delicious locally made goodies. (If you still need Xmas gifts, they make up terrific holiday baskets.)

*Like this story? Then why not subscribe to Provence Post?  Just click here... 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Another Fine French Book Giveaway

I met writer Luke Barr a few years ago in New York, at a panel discussion at NYU.  Luke was discussing  his ongoing research for a book partially about his great aunt--the legendary author M.F.K. Fisher-- and a very specific chapter of her life in the South of France.  Listening to Luke’s anecdotes,  I knew the finished book would be a terrific read. It finally came out (in late October, in hardcover) and has gotten  wonderful reviews.

Luke and his publisher, Clarkson Potter, are graciously offering three copies as a giveaway to the readers of Provence Post.

In the course of her long career (she died in Glen Ellen, California in 1992 at age 83),  M.F. K. Fisher wrote 27 books, starting with Serve it Forth in 1937.  Her style was a unique combination of food literature, travel and memoir, and W. H. Auden once remarked: "I do not know of anyone in the United States who writes better prose.”

The American-born Fisher was a frequent traveler to France, returning again and again, for months and even years at a time. She lived in Dijon in the late 1920s and early ’30s, then returned to France--this time to Aix en Provence-- in 1954.  Between 1955 and 1971, she bounced back and forth between France and St. Helena, California (and lived for a time in Lugano as well). Contemplating her future in a letter to a friend, Fisher once wrote: “I know, at this far date in my life, that I was meant to live and if possible to die on a dry, olive-covered hillside in Provence.”

In the fall of 1970, M.F. (as everyone called her) and her sister Norah (Luke’s grandmother) rented an apartment not far from Plascassier,  near Grasse, where Julia Child and her husband, Paul, had built a vacation home five years earlier. Julia had come to Provence to escape her American fame… to cook for friends…to shop the markets…to relax. The Child’s house sat on the estate of Simone “Simca” Beck, Julia’s great friend and co-author of the two volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The Childs named their vacation home La Pitchoune. 

“For a few weeks in 1970, the kitchen in the Childs’ house in Provence was the epicenter of the American food world,” Barr explains, in an April, 2013 Travel + Leisure article entitled Return to Provence.  “James Beard and M.F. came to dinner, or stopped by on their way back from a day at the Fondation Maeght museum; Richard Olney, the reclusive American author of the just-released French Menu Cookbook, who lived a few hours away outside Toulon, came to pay his respects. Judith Jones, the editor at Knopf who’d discovered Child and Beck, visited with her husband, Evan, staying at a nearby inn.  

“The trip that fall of 1970 was a fateful one, not only for my great-aunt, but for the entire American food establishment,” Barr continues. “They were all there in Provence together that fall and winter, more or less coincidentally… the people behind the seminal cookbooks and food writing of the era. They ate and drank and cooked together (and talked and sniped and gossiped, too), and they were all, in one way or another, rethinking their attachments to France, where they had each fallen in love with food and cooking to begin with.”
To write Provence 1970, a project that took him three years on and off, Barr (who was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Switzerland and now lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two daughters), took two leaves of absence from his job as an editor at Travel + Leisure. He combed archival research, interviews and the letters and journals of his great-aunt to re-create this pivotal moment.  He also used  the journals and letters of Fisher, Child, Olney, Beard and Beck…and the pages of Paul and Julia Childs’s “Black Book” (an “astonishing” binder of details about their home in France).
Luke also made multiple trips to Provence. “A few were trips in summertime,” Luke tells me,  “and one wonderful trip in November, when the weather was cool and beautiful, and there were no tourists or traffic. I had tracked down Raymond Gatti, who was the chauffeur everyone hired to drive them anywhere in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and who still lived in Plascassier. We spent days driving around together, visiting places that come up in my story, like the Fondation Maeght and the diet clinic where James Beard was enrolled in 1970, which had been torn down and was now the Grasse police headquarters. Raymond also showed all his old photos....’’
Luke also rented Julia Child’s home La Pitchoune  and you can read about that experience here.
And while the book itself has no photos, Luke has some wonderful images on his website here.
Among the flurry of positive reviews Library Journal calls Provence 1970 “…delightfully engaging, highly narrative, and intimate,’’ saying Barr does an excellent job of tying together the various threads of their collective stories through a blend of travelog, cultural history, and biography. “His account is quick and episodic in its pacing and feels vivid, authentic, and authoritative…” the review continues. “This small gem of a book is a fascinating delight.’’

And here’s what chef Alice Waters--owner of the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley--has to say: “Luke Barr has inherited the clear and inimitable voice of his great-aunt M.F.K. Fisher, and deftly portrays a crucial turning point in the history of food in America with humor, intimacy and deep perception. This book is beautifully written and totally fascinating to me, because these were my mentors—they inspired a generation of cooks in this country.”

My old friend Clark Wolf, a culinary historian and food consultant who splits his time between New York and Sonoma, knew all the characters in Provence 1970. So I rang him up to find out  what he thought about the book. “I love it but I may be prejudiced,” Clark told me. “For a lot of us it’s the pre-quel to our lives.  Like M.F.K., there is a real sound and feel to this writing that stays with you long after the story ends.  With food and wine we call it a long, fine finish.  With writing, we call it brilliant.”

To enter to win a copy of Provence 1970,  simply leave a comment under “comments” below. Be sure to leave an email address so we can reach you; signing in with your Google account is not enough. Tell us why you simply must have this book...or what the food and cooking of Provence means to you…or tell us about a fabulous French meal you’ll always remember…or which of M.F.K. Fisher’s books have been most-memorable for you. The more personal and evocative your comment, the better!

If you’d like to buy the book (288-pages, hardcover), you can find it on Amazon here or in the Kindle edition here.

Bonne Chance and Bon Appetit!

*Note: If you live in the New York area and are interested in food and food history, get yourself on the mailing list for Clark Wolf’s terrific discussion series at NYU. Called “Critical Topics in Food,” it’s held at the NYU Bobst Library on Union Square. Events (three or four each year) are open to the public and video archived. To get on the mailing list:

Photos: There are no photos in the book but Luke has these beauties and a few more on his website ( 1. Julia Child on the terrace at La Pitchoune, her vacation house in Provence, in the early 1970s. 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]. 3. Bert Greene, James Beard and Julia Child cooking together at M.F.K. Fisher’s Last House, in Sonoma County, in the late 1970s. Child, Beard, and Fisher remained lifelong friends, seminal figures in modern American cooking.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Holiday Gifts from French Museums Online

Haven't found the perfect gift for the Francophile in your life?  Culturespaces, the leading private manager of French monuments and museums, has recently launched an online boutique in French and English; you can see it here.  

The store stocks goodies from all the sites managed by Culturespaces as well as a wide range of specially developed spin-off products. The e-boutique currently has more than 570 items, from all Culturespaces museums, historic monuments and cultural sites including The Cité de l’Automobile, Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, Greek Villa Kérylos, the Carriere de Lumieres and the Jacquemart-André Museum.

Categories include books, stationery, home, fashion and accessories, games and toys, reproductions and delicatessen.

Another nice site lets you access the shops at Versailles, the Musée d'Orsay, the Louvre, the Matisse and Chagall Museums in Nice (and many more) in one convenient place. For that site, click here.


Turgot Map of Paris Plate (45€) from the Louvre. 

Edward Hopper iPad Case (36.50€) from the Grand Palais.

La Renaisance et la Reve pillow case (35€).

The Maison Carrée (Nimes), in handpainted resin (7.50€).

Porsche Cabriolet 356B (17.50€) from Culturespaces here.

Sumerian filigree ring from the Louvre (280€)

Musées de Sud t-shirt (15.50€) here.

Gardening set from the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild (30€)

Tea towel (9.50€) from Versailles and other museums.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Painting Workshops in Provence

Provence-based artist Julian Merrow-Smith became something of a celebrity in the art world when he launched his daily oil-painting concept “Postcard from Provence” in 2004. The idea was ambitious and at the same time, quite simple: Julian would create a painting a day, which was auctioned online to the highest bidder. He's now at painting #2053 and averages five to six original oils per week. He continues to sell them very successfully online, using both the auction and a traditional pricing format. 

And now, having lived and worked in the landscape around his home near Mt. Ventoux for 15 years, Julian and his wife, Ruth Phillips, will be offering a second season of painting workshops at La Madelènelocated in a 12th-century priory between the villages of Malaucène and Entrechaux. It's 10 minutes south of the ancient Roman town of Vaison-La-Romaine; 30 minutes from Orange and Carpentras; and 45 minutes from beautiful Avignon.

"There are no frills to this workshop," Julian says. "We usually visit one of the local markets; otherwise the week is all about painting—talking, living and breathing it together. Our aim, above all, is to give you the experience of living the painter's life in the south of France."

Julian says the workshop is best suited to painters with some experience, those who wish to broaden their scope and learn by example or experience the rigors of plein aire (outdoor) painting for the first time. There are 12 students max per class. 

Two of the six planned 2014 sessions are already sold out. Remaining sessions include May 18 to 25th; May 28 to June 4; and sessions in September/October with dates to be confirmed. 

During the first part of the morning, Julian gives a short plein aire demo followed by individual help and instruction. The group breaks around 1 pm—for a seated lunch, an on-site picnic, or a meal in a simple restaurant--and lunch is usually followed by a bit of free time. Then there's another three- to four-hour session, followed by an informal critique during the aperitif. Then it's time for a three- or four-course dinner, served with wines from top local vineyards.
All painting materials and equipment are provided. The classes concentrate on small-scale paintings, using the same palette and materials that Julian regularly uses. These consist of a set of artist's oil colors, fine hog-bristle brushes, a pochade box, a tripod, prepared gesso boards and cleaning materials, all contained in a small rucksack. Umbrellas and chairs are also provided. "All you need is your straw hat!" Julian says.
The price is $2,725 for shared occupancy and $3,185 for single occupancy. This includes seven days’ full board and lodging, all painting materials and equipment, transport to and from painting locations, and transfer to and from the Avignon TGV station.
For all the info on the workshops, click here

To see Julian's work and sign up for his email alerts (which are sent whenever there's a new painting for sale), click here. To see his blog, click here.

La Madelène, run by Philip and Jude Reddaway, is known for Rhone wine holidays, wine classes and other wine-themed activities.  For all the info, visit their website here.

Photos: (1) Doug, a workshop student, painting by the pool in October, 2013. (2-5) Four of Julian's paintings: Apricot,  House and Vines, Garden Roses and Sunset through Trees. (6) Another student, Gina, painting lavender in summer, 2013. (7-8): Lunch might be on the terrace at La Madelène or it could be a picnic like this one, from July 2013. (9) The workshop gang, July, 2013.