The colours of Roussillion

Red Wall Roussillion

The earth’s surface in the French village of Roussillon is the color of cumin, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. At sunset it is the color of the hottest cayenne and the palest of gingers and its name, ochre, conjures images of the exotic. Ochre was first used as a natural paint in the painted caves of prehistoric man. It was later rediscovered at the time of the French Revolution, and was sold throughout the world for over a century. Ochre has been an ingredient in the dyes of fabric and in the pigments of the yellows the reds of Renoir and van Gogh.

images Unknown-2 young-girl-with-long-hair-pierre-auguste-renoir

The Languedoc-Roussillon region has been inhabited by humans for over 450 thousand years and because of its strategic location has always been a battleground. Legions of Romans, Visigoth tribes, Frankish armies, Moorish colonialists, French, Spaniards and Portuguese armies fought over domination of the area and much blood was spilled.

Two gates at Roussillion

During the Reign of Terror French Revolutionaries fought back the armies of the Spanish and Portuguese kingdoms in the war of Roussillon. A brutal outcome after its three-year war saw the execution of all French royalist prisoners and the guillotining of French generals who disfavoured the local deputies while fighting for them.

Marianne

It was a key post for the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation in the Second World War . The writer and decorated Resistance fighter Samuel Becket lived in Roussillon after escaping the Gestapo for his work in the Resistance in Paris. He wrote his second novel while living there.

Roussillion village

The village of Roussillon, perched on ochre cliffs, is a quiet spot in winter. Few restaurants and boutiques are open but the empty streets resonate with its long history. Arriving at noon via a journey from the south side of the Luberon we had lunch at one of few open restaurants – a Bar/Pizzeria. It was excellent. Omelets du jour, served with ratatouille, really hot, skinny frites, a Pichet à rosé from the Roussillon region, fromage frais avec fruits rouge et café.

It was meal substantial enough to brace us for cold, but sunny afternoon and provide energy to discover this most exceptional place.

Cat taking in the sunshine

 

The reds and pinks of Valentine’s

The universal symbols of St. Valentine’s are the heart and the colors red and pink.Valentine - graffityForgotten is the story of St. Valentine, imprisoned, tortured and killed under the Roman emperor Claudius for secretly marring couples in the Christian Church. And just as well! This time of year a little love and color is to be welcomed.

Valentine - laundryThe color red is the warmest color. Red, symbolizing spontaneity, courage, good luck, prosperity, fire, passion and appetite glow almost florescent in the gold light of Provence. Pink, the color of unconditional love, tenderness, hope, and passion is the power of red softened with the purity of white.

I used clippings of a beautiful bush that produces tiny red, pink and white together with flowering rosemary and olive branches to make my, “unfinished” heart wreath.

Valentine - heartThese bushes are prolific and are often pruned into topiaries and hedges.

Pink and red and rosemary mauve are everywhere in Provence in February and tonight, while Lovers everywhere open their Champagnes Rosé, the sky outside our cozy house in the Luboron is turning fiery red, pink, mauve and gold.

Happy Valentine

Valentine - bathtub

In search of “bewildering beauty” in Provence

Tree shadow

Perhaps it is the ghost of ancient rituals; the penetrating light diffused on occasions by smoke, mist, or wind, or the abstract random cubism of the villages, the layered heterogeneous  human and geological history carved into every stone that makes it challenging to capture what Albert Camus described as the “bewildering beauty “ of Provence.  It is an country of its own in France where it has for centuries been the mother of a poetic language and muse for the songs of troubadours. Provence has an energy that writers, artists and musicians have tried to capture and articulated since time immemorial.

For me the Driving Question is: How to capture and portray the visual feast that passes through time bathed in thousands of shades of light? In many ways this is the essential enigma of the photographic process where the key tools are just that – time and light.

Windmill in the Ansouis region

One of the first lessons of photography is that of Aperture, the intensity of the light, and Shutter Speed, the time it takes light to travel and expose film. Et voila une photo! But the process is not what makes you happy. Non.  It is the challenge to make the resulting artifact a thing that speaks to and of its subject in a unique way. It is an achievement, not impossible but difficult, which the French have a poetic expression for: “batir des chateaux en Espagne” – to build castles in Spain.

Paul Cezanne lived in the of city of Aix en Provence. He spent his entire artistic lifetime seeking a completely innovative way to create not a copy but “a harmony parallel to nature” in his paintings. Cezanne has been called the father of modern art. Picasso, who had a home in Provence and Matisse who lived on the Provincial Côte d’Azur, were both directly influenced by him and his somewhat geometric perspective. It is one that you see everywhere in Provence – the villages are like cubist arrangements, the stony Alpilles and Luboron Mountains are geometric forms in shapes and color. The vineyards and meadows are like Provencal Quilts hanging in a market.

Cesanne image

We are living in Provence for the winter. It is a time of year when tour busses are parked in their homelands of Holland, Denmark and England; when many hoteliers, chefs and shopkeepers take their holidays in North Africa or Miami where they are accustomed to the heat while we are here in their chilly homeland being treated graciously as part of the scene in their beautiful villages. Our charming rental house in the Provincial region of the Luboron is just outside the town of Ansouis, a small hilltop village, classified among “the most beautiful in France”.

Ansouis, Lourmarin, Lacoste, Oppède, Bonnieux, Ménerbes, Vaugines, Cucuron, Grambois. Cavaillon, Roussillion and Cabrieres d’Aigues are just a handful of the 35 village names that are, to pronounce correctly, a humiliating journey through silent l’s, guttural g’s and tongue flattening aig’s. It is a relief that the inhabitants of these towns are very forgiving and even so, many speak English, they allow us make an effort in our nascent French.

provenc town

We have become Provinceophiles having a tireless love affair with the climate, the wind, the culture, food and needless to say the plentiful wine. It has been just one month and it feels like much longer. There is so much to discover and I hope to tell you all about the adventure of doing so.

I am looking forward to post my next blog and share the story of how to find a perfect Provincial house to rent; of shopping in les marché, the markets that pop up in every village on a different days of the week; food glorious food and the gusto of Provincial cooking; wine glorious wine; and the marvelous “Mediterranean paradox”!

Cheers

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