Monday, May 27, 2013

The Many Fountains of Aix-en-Provence

Take just a minute to think about the importance of a fountain to a neighborhood in a medieval village. There was no convenient plumbing to bring fresh water into the house nor sewer lines to carry away the waste water. Every home, rich or poor, depended on that neighborhood fountain.
Much of coastal Provence was inhabited by the Greeks until the Romans moved in an took over. The Romans  liked their baths and considered a good source of water essential. They put a lot of time and money into building canals and aqueducts to get the water from its source to where it was wanted.
By the Middle Ages, fountains had developed into some pretty ingenious water supplies. Whether the water came from a spring or was carried by an aqueduct, it finally arrived at the neighborhood fountain via lead pipes.
The water came from either a wall or a central feature of the fountain via tubes called 'cannons.' The water that came directly from the cannons was theoretically clean. It was collected in jars or jugs and carried back to the house for use as drinking or cooking water. Many of the fountains in Aix still have metal bars under the cannons where the jugs can be rested while they are filling.
(This would be my neighborhood fountain, but I can't imagine going down four flights of stairs, walking a block and a half, filling a jug, walking back home, and carrying it up four flights of stairs.)
Once the water falls into the large basin, it is not quite as clean, but it is available for other needs such as drinking water for livestock.
The overflow from the basin ran into another basin, called a lavoir in French, that could be used for washing clothes and, very occasionally, bodies. I have often seen these washing basins in towns in Latin America.
The overflow from these basins were carried away to be used to water gardens. Once the water had been used for washing clothes, it had a residue in it from the home-made soap that worked as fertilizer for plants. I suppose it might also have been used to flush waste from the gutters than ran down the center of the streets.
Of course, none of these fountains are used for all that anymore. They do, however, offer just about the only free seating in town (as opposed to a sidewalk café.)
This is just a sampling of the fountains in the medieval village center. I believe there are over forty of them. I hope you have enjoyed seeing them.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

From the Knights Hospitaller to Bach and Beyond

OK, so I know this is a very weird title, but it gives you an idea of how my brain works. Last Monday, Pentecost Monday, I attended a "Spiritual Hour" at the Iglise Saint Jean de Malte (Church of St. John of Malta,) which was built in the early 13th century.

How did this come about? I love the architecture of the church, which I can barely see from the windows of my apartment, so I looked it up online. Along with the history of the church, I found out that they had a free concert of Bach music scheduled for Pentecost Monday (which I also had to look up since I had never heard of it.)

The first time I had visited the church, I had wandered in during the tail end of a mass that had less than ten people attending. It seemed kind of sad - like this beautiful church was not loved by the people any more. As the church filled to standing room only for the concert, I was happy to see that my first impression was wrong. I don't know how to explain my feelings on this. I am not a religious person, but as I look at this building, it is as if I can feel the hope and faith and love of all the people who worked so hard to build it and those who have worshipped here over the past 700 years. It would be a shame if that faith faded away.

*** A note for my non-American readers: We Americans pretty much consider anything over 100 years old to be really old. It is hard for us to really comprehend a building that was built before the Aztecs or the Incas ruled their empires. That far back in history, almost all of us were Asians or Europeans, or Africans. More recent immigrants still retain some of their cultural history, but most of us lost that when we got mixed into the "Cultural Melting Pot" that our country became.

The concert was quite interesting! It turns out that Bach wrote music specifically to be performed for Pentecost in 1724. BWV 173 and BWV 184 were first performed on Pentecost Monday and Tuesday of that year. Singers from the Bach Academy of Aix performed the pieces, accompanied by musicians playing violins, a cello, a bassoon, and flutes, plus the huge pipe organ. The pipe organ was also played during the half hour before the concert began; it reminded me of the  Phantom of the Opera - kind of spooky.  The singing was all in the original German, but the program provided a translation to French and English. I do have to say, though, that the chairs became less and less comfortable as time went by.

Now, back to the Knights Hospitaller. They were founded in Jerusalem in 1023 and ran a hospital that cared for the pilgrims to the Holy Land. After the first Crusade, in 1099, they became a religious and military order which protected the pilgrims as they traveled to the Holy Land.

During the 12th century, they built a hospice and chapel just outside the walls of Aix. An ancient Roman road ran right through Aix, so this was a natural route to the Holy Land.

The order had grown, and during the 13th century, they built the current church and priory on the same grounds as the original hospice. It became the burial place for the Counts of Provence.

In the meantime, Islamic forces had retaken the Holy Land and the Knights Hospitaller moved their base, first to Rhodes and then to Malta. Their name became the Knights Hospitaller of Malta. After Pope Clement V turned against the Knights Templar in 1312 and dissolved the order, much of their property was given to the Hospitallers.

Now we jump forward a few hundred years to 1629, a really bad year for the plague. After it was all over, they seem to have decided it had something to do with a small pastry that is traditionally made here - the Calisson. Or maybe the Calisson bakers started that rumor to encourage people to eat more of their treats.

Calissons are small (and expensive) little goodies made of almond paste, glazed melon, and fruit syrup and covered with a white icing.

As the story goes, on January 20, 1630, a mass at the church was dedicated to the Virgin of Seds, the patron saint of the city, to thank her for keeping them safe from the plague. The Archbishop blessed a bunch of Calissons and they were given out to the people.

Every since that time, on the first Sunday in September, they hold La Benedicion des Calissons. The celebration includes parades, people in traditional clothing and doing traditional folk dances, a may pole. The photos here are fun (click on the tiny British flag to see it in English.)

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Je ne parle pas francais...

No, I don't speak French! It took a week before I could even get over my panic and get that phrase out of my mouth. Generally, when someone unexpectedly turned to me and spoke French, my brain just went into panic mode and shut down. Although I knew perfectly well how to say that I couldn't speak French, I just could not seem to get it out of my mouth. The same thing happened to me when I first moved to Mexico, even though I had studied four years of college Spanish only ten years earlier. I've been studying French fairly regularly since I decided to take this trip, but studying and actually speaking it are two completely different things.

The first time I came to Provence was in 1999. My father had died a couple of years earlier, and my mother wanted to go to France. Some friends of hers had talked her into it, and she wanted me to come along. The trip they were planning was a walking tour of Provence organized by a company in Oregon.

I had never had any real desire to go to France, and I am not a 'tour' kind of person. I'm independent, I can be impatient, and I'm a loner. However, since I knew nothing about France and couldn't speak any French, I couldn't see any way of going without being part of a tour with an organizer who could speak the language. Also, my mother hadn't done anything alone since she'd married at the ripe old age of 17, and she really wanted to go, so I agreed to join her.

By the time we left on that trip, I had done some reading, mostly history, and I was excited to go. I couldn't wait to be in the midst of this land of ancient hilltop villages and vineyards. I was right about not being a 'tour' kind of person, but I fell in love with Provence. By the time we went home, I was determined to learn some French and return on my own.

I did take a French class, and I bought up all kinds of books and cassettes to continue learning. Then I moved to Japan. As you can imagine, my concentration shifted to learning Japanese. I didn't get very far with that before circumstances forced me to return to the US. And not too much later, I moved to Mexico. Studying French and then Japanese, combined with no opportunity to speak Spanish for ten years, meant that I practically had to start over. The same thing happened when someone spoke Spanish to me - my brain went into panic mode and shut down. But I was determined to remember what I'd learned in school, and it did come back pretty quickly.

OK, back to French... One day I walked into the tourist office, and, totally on it's own with no input from my brain, my mouth said, "Parle vous anglais?" I was so surprised at myself that I almost couldn't think of the question I intended to ask! Obviously, all that stuff I had been studying was in my head somewhere, I just had to get brave enough to let it out. I went back home determined to resume my studies.

So, now that I have been here for three weeks, I have figure some stuff out about this language learning problem. There are different levels of language learning.

For me, it is by far the easiest to read in the new language. I find that I don't get stuck on understanding every single word. I just concentrate on picking out the words that I do understand. In most instances, it does not matter about the verb tense, the direct and indirect objects, whether the word is feminine or masculine. Because it is important that I avoid gluten in my food, I check ingredients lists on any packaged foods. I know that "ble" means wheat, but I seem to understand what most of the other ingredients are, too. The cooking directions seems pretty simple, too. I can understand enough of the French in the signs in front of historical sites that I do take the time to read them. I can also understand everything on the bus pass that I bought. Unfortunately, that didn't help me figure out how to tell the driver where I wanted to get off during my first trip. I've got it figured out now.

The next step is to understand spoken French. I find that I can understand quite a bit if it is not spoken directly to me. It seems like I panic and my brain shuts down when there is pressure to understand. Of course, part of that problem is that people tend to speak fast when they assume you understand. When I first met my neighbor downstairs, we were both panting from climbing, so she spoke slower than usual. I was able to understand her and put in a breathless "oui" or "non" in the appropriate places, so I'm not sure that she even realized at first that I don't speak French. Later, I cheated and used a translation program to help me write her a note introducing myself and explaining my poor French. When we met again, she again spoke slowly and we got by just fine.

The final step to learning a language is the speaking part. There is always (for me, at least) a fear of sounding foolish that is a real handicap. I've learned to get over that in Spanish, especially after my neighbor told me that my Spanish is better than most of the people in the neighborhood. A Mexican guy I dated a few times when I first arrived told me that my book-Spanish is great but my street-Spanish isn't so good. By the time I got off my first French bus trip, the one when I couldn't figure out how to tell the driver to stop, I was able to tell him that, while I may have been lost for a while, it was a beautiful trip.

So now three weeks have past. I am trying to be sure that I sit down and study for an hour or so each day. I find myself forming sentences in my mind all the time, although it may be 30 minutes or so after I would have liked to have said it. I am usually surprised to realize that I can do this. I have five more weeks to pick up as much as I can. I am determined to let go of this perfectionism that holds me back.

There are some things that I'll never figure out, though. For example, why is it that my microwave and dishwasher "depart" (leave) but my washer and dryer "marche" (walk) when I want them to start?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Windows of Aix-en-Provence

I try to pay attention to windows and doors when I walk around old towns like Aix. If you think about it, the doors and windows in villages like this are much like the front yards of houses in the US. They are the face that the occupant presents to the outside world. Many are just plain, one more in a row of many others just like it. But some people go out of their way to make sure there is something special that sets their window or windows apart from the others nearby. It is like these special ones have a personality all their own.
This first one, for example, is a fairly simple window set into a very plain building. But, to make it special, the owners painted a white rectangle around the area where the window is located. Add those blue shutters, and it was like no other window in the area.
This one is in a very interesting rounded building of very old stone blocks hidden back on a little side street. Under that window is a very ugly garage door that ruins the whole effect. But I like that this photo shows how the tiles are built up under the edge of the roof.
This is just one of a long row of matching windows, probably all belonging to the same apartment. Every window has its own matching gray shutters and red geraniums.
This next one is above the entrance to a restaurant. The owners probably live in an apartment above. As I stood across the street taking this photo, I realized that the owners were standing in the doorway of the restaurant below and that they were talking to me.  We were able to communicate a little, but it sure would have been more fun to have a real conversation with them. I would have liked to tell them that I, too, would have my window full of plants if I had a window like this.
This last one reminds me of a woman who is passed her prime but hasn't quite figured it out yet. You know the type: hair dyed to cover the gray but always just a little bit messy, make-up that is a bit too much and never quite straight, and wearing clothes that were probably stylish when they were purchased 20 years ago. It may need some work to get it back into shape, but I would love to have long windows like this that could open to let the world inside but with shutters to preserve my privacy.
Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Le Tholonet

I had an adventure today. After carefully pouring over all my bus schedule brochures, I decided to take the shortest trip first; Le Tholonet is only 5 kilometers east of Aix. It is a place where Paul Cezanne used to like to hang out and paint pictures of Sainte-Victoire mountain.
I walked to the bus station and bought a carnet worth 10 voyages for 7 euros - just about $10. That worked out great. I even said it in French; I was so proud of myself!. I had already noticed the spot where the bus would arrive, so I was ready when it got there. I got a window seat close to the front so I could see everything as we traveled.

After a few stops as we made our way through Aix, we went along a very narrow country road with trees on both sides of the road. It looked like I wouldn't mind camping anywhere along the way. After only about 15 minutes, we pulled into the village of Le Tholonet - and kept right on going out the other side of the tiny town. I had assumed that there would be an automatic stop. I had assumed wrong.

I had the schedule with me so I knew that the bus would go to four other places and then turn around and go back the other way. And I knew that my fare paid for any of the stops, so I wasn't too worried about it. When we got to the village at the end of the line, the last few passengers asked to be dropped off at various places. As the last person stepped off the bus, I approached the driver. He asked (I'm sure) where it was that I wanted to be dropped off. When I told him Le Tholonet, he said (I'm sure) "Well, why didn't you say something?" Then he said that we would just turn around and I could get off when we got there again. I thought he might make me pay again, but he didn't.

As we rode along, I was now on the mountain side of the road so I got a lot of photos with my iPod Touch, which works faster than my camera. This time, when we got to Le Tholonet, he made sure that I knew where we were and that I got off the bus. By that time, it was mid-afternoon and I was hungry. I had hoped to find a small market to buy some fruit and something to drink, but the only open business in town seemed to be a restaurant - Relais Cezanne - a place where  Paul used to hang out. I figured it would be expensive, but what choice did I have?

It had very nice outdoor tables across the street from the restaurant. As I watched the waitresses go back and forth with trays of food and dirty dishes, I wondered if there had ever been an accident. The menu had lots of pizzas for under 10 euros, but of course I couldn't eat them because of the gluten. I felt like I wanted something more substantial than a salad (which started at 16 euros), so I ordered something with salmon from the entree menu. Gluten-free and vegetarian did not seem to be an option, but it rarely is except in Portland.

When the waitress brought my 16 euro salmon entree, it was a handful of mixed salad greens, half a tomato, and four very thin slices of raw salmon. This is why I prefer to eat at home! It was actually very good, but I was looking for something a little more substantial to energize me for walking around mountain-y roads.

There really isn't much in Le Tholonet: a old windmill without the arms, a chateau from the 1640s that now belongs to the canal company, an old church and cemetery, and pretty scenery. I couldn't visit the church or cemetery because there just happened to be a funeral going on. I feel bad for the people who lost a loved one, but really, what are the chances in a town of 2,200 people?

I walked down the road and considered walking to the dam that Emile Zola's father built, but it turned out to be another 35 minutes away. I don't like hiking like that by myself, so I ended up hanging out at a park where people were playing petanque - or maybe it was boules. I don't know. I thought boules was Italian and petanque was French, but the petanque balls that I have are much smaller than the Italian boules balls, and these people were playing with large (maybe 4" diameter) stainless steel balls.

Because I do have a set that Terry and I used to play on the beach (and the salt and sand caused them to rust) I kind of underestand how to play. I found out a lot, though. We used to throw the target ball about 30-40 feet from where we were standing. No wonder it was always so darned hard to ger near it; sometimes I could even see the danged thing! These people threw the little target ball only about 12-15' - much easier to aim for. And of course, our beach sand was softer than this hard-packed sand that they were playing on. But I'm sure that they had played there for so long rhat they knew every single slope and hole in that ground. They must have been playing in teams, becuase there were about six of them.

Using very interesting deliveries, everyone would get as close as they could to the target ball, and then the oldest guy, who must have also been the best, would take his turn and I swear he never failed to knock the closest balls way out of the playing field.

A few of the players tried to talk to me, but none of them spoke any English. We communicated enough that I was able to say that I had played, but that was about it.

Actually, I find that I can understand people pretty well. I just can't seem to call the French words to mind when I need them. I can't begin to count the number of times I have said "si" instead of "oui".

The adventure of my day continued when I got on a different bus to come home. This time, I made sure that I asked if he went to Aix and then to the old center of town. Everything confirmed, I got on the bus. However, this one did not go back to the place where I had orignially boarded this morning. The bus drove all the way around the outside of the old town and then turned away. I thought (hoped) that he would turn back and go to the bus station, but when he cought sight of me in the rearview mirror, he said, "Didn't you want the village center?" when I said yes, he answered (I think), "Well, it was back there" and pointed behind us. Fortunatedly, we were still close enough that I knew where we were and I hurried off the bus and walked the few blocks to my apartment.

I had a bottle of rose in the fridge calling to me.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Grocery Shopping, French Style

You know how all the health articles tell us to shop around the outside edges of the grocery store and skip all that processed sugar and flour in the center? That is so easy in France! Just buy your food at the street markets!

Everything is so wonderful and fresh. Of course, it is spring, so that is how it should be!

Much of this stuff must come from Africa - just across the Mediterranean Sea to the south - because it is too early for it here.

Honey in every flavor that you can imagine! I love the lavender honey.

These tomatoes must be some kind of heirloom variety. They come in yellow, orange and red.

Eggs are sold by the half-dozen. The hens must be healthy because I have a hard time cracking the shells. They are really strong. Of course, they also cost $2 - $2.50 per half dozen, so they'd better be good. In Mexico, eggs are sold by the kilo or half-kilo and cost about half that price.

This is the booth that makes me drool! I try to hurry by as quickly as possible. Since my Celiac diagnosis, I haven't missed plain old white bread at all. What I miss is wonderful crusty rustic breads. Some day I will find a recipe that I can eat.

Fortunately, I have found a gluten-free multi-grain bread  that tastes fantastic with my lavender honey, but it's not quite like these.

Although I'm not tempted to eat these dried sausages, I think they are interesting to look at. I imagine that each type uses a different meat and different spices.

Since it's spring, it is asparagus season! Each market has whole long tables with these asparagus all neatly lined up like this. I guess they prefer these that haven't had sun exposure to turn them green. I bought some green ones last week, but I'll try these this week.

And, finally, if all this wonderful fresh stuff needs more flavor to suit your taste buds, there are also booths that sell spices. I like to just stand in front of the table and breathe in all these different aromas. Somehow it seems more special to buy it like this rather than in a little closed-up jar.

I can't believe I don't have a photo of the cheese booths! It is my very favorite type. Most of the cheeses seem to be made from goat milk, but they are soft and fresh rather than the dry and crumbly types more often available in the US and Mexico. Because I like strong-flavored cheeses, I prefer the kind I'm used to. But there are other cheeses to choose from, too. Quite a few are made from sheep cheese, including my all-time-favorite, pecorino. And, of course, there are also cheeses made from cow's milk. Many of them are flavored with different herbs and spices that give them very interesting flavors.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

My First Week in France

I have explored most of Aix and am about ready to venture out to more distant villages. I plan to find out about how to take the buses tomorrow.

Two years ago, I found out in Croatia that Lonely Planet books don't work very well on a Kindle. Now I know that it  is almost as bad on iBooks. It is wonderful to avoid carrying the heavy books around, but the LP books just don't work well for me unless I can highlight important stuff and put all kinds of little flags and stickynotes wherever I need them. It just means that I have rely on the tourist office more than I normally would.

Of course, other problems have come up as well, as you might expect when I don't really speak the language. For example, my appliances don't speak English. I took a morning off yesterday to take care of laundry, but it sure took a lot of guesswork to get it done. The clothes got washed and then they got dried, so I guess that's what counts, right?

A few days ago, I realized that my computer was not charging when I plugged it into the voltage converter. It turned out that the voltage converter had died. I bought it in Portugal in 2008, and it worked great through Portugal, Spain, Italy and Croatia, so I guess I did pretty well for 8 euros. But when I tried to find a replacement, I had one heck of a time. I walked all over this town, looking for any kind of store that might carry any kind of electronics or electrical stuff and that also had an employee who spoke English. Just in case, I also had the original box to clarify what I wanted. Finally, my blistered (really!) feet were about to give up when I stopped at one more place near my apartment. I found an English-speaking clerk and we were trying to figure out what I needed when two (Mexican!!) women joined the conversation. They pointed out that I didn't need a converter for the computer, just an adapter, because the computer could accept the 220v electricity. I just needed the plug adapter. The store didn't have one, but they knew where I could get it. Thinking that I could charge my iPod Touch through the computer, I bought the European cord rather than the adapter. Worked fine! Then I realized that I still couldn't charge my almost-dead camera battery. It also could use 220v, so I went back to the store and bought the plug adapter. It cost 20 euros in all, but well worth it for computer, iPod Touch and camera.

A sign on my door says that I must tie up my garbage bag and put it out any evening but Sunday after 7pm. So when I'd finally filled up a small bag, I took it downstairs about 8pm. I figured I'd see other garbage bags and know where to put it. Noooo. I stood there, trying to figure out what to do. I certainly didn't want to cart it up five flights. It wasn't heavy, but still... Then I noticed a rather small trash container. I'm sure it was designed for all the people walking the streets, and I'm sure I was not supposed to put my garbage in it. However, all I had was one small plastic grocery bag. I quickly put it in and ducked back inside the door. I still don't know how it is supposed to work but I have another couple of days to figure it out.

I have Celiac Disease. I cannot eat gluten without getting sick. I have adapted over the past five years since I figured out what is wrong. I know how to eat in Mexico with no problems. I hardly ever get any accidental exposures to gluten. It is also very easy in the US. Everything is labeled. There has been a huge gluten-free industry that has developed over the past five or so years. Many restaurants even offer special gluten-free menus. However, I accidentally glutenized myself in Portland when I assumed that tortillas for tacos would be made from corn like they are in Mexico. Apparently they had adapted them to the gringo preference for flour by mixing some in with the corn. That little oversight on my part meant that I had a very unpleasant flight over here. It took about three days in France before I was really recovered. Then I went to a market and bought some bleu cheese. I absolutely love bleu cheese! For a long time, I thought I couldn't eat it because the bacteria that puts the bleu in bleu cheese is grown on bread. Then I found out that Rosenburg (I think that the name of the brand,) which is sold in those little triangles the US and Mexico, is made with something gluten-safe. I've been eating it happily ever since. But, of course, I forgot all about it when I got here. The home of bleu cheese would never think of making it in some fake way - nothing but real bread for French bleu cheese. It took two days of eating it before I figured out why I was still getting sick so long after the tortillas. It was the cheese. It hated throwing it away, but I did it.

Then I started having internet problems. The internet comes through the satellite dish here. Now it is coming  and going - mostly going when I am trying to work. I'm guessing it has something to do with clouds in the sky. Today I had one more essay to send back to the student. I'd done my work and just needed to send it back to him. I tried over and over again for an hour and a half before I finally got that essay to fly back through cyber-space to this poor guy waiting in New Jersey for my response. My rental agent is working on getting it reset for me, which should take care of the problem.

So, that's all the bad stuff. The first good thing is that I am drinking the local rose wine without getting headaches. Not that I'm drinking tons, but a glass or two without problems is fantastic. Especially when it costs 3 euros a bottle.

I can get real Italian pecorina cheese here!!! I absolutely love this cheese - ever since I discovered it in Italy two years ago. I have been eating some other cheeses, too, but I think I will just stick to the pecorino from now on while it's available.

Au revoir! Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Cours Mirabeaux

The Cours Mirabeaux is the most famous street in Aix and the place where everyone wants to be and be seen. Built on the ramparts of the old town in the mid-1600s, the richest folks in town immediately started building themselves townhouses along both sides to show off just how much money they had.
This road became the dividing line between the old town and the new. The old town has winding roads and alleys that could be easy to get lost in without a map. The new town was carefully laid out with very straight roads on a grid. It is actually only about six blocks square. All of the buildings look like they were built more or less at the same time and by the same person.

The famous restaurant Cafe des Deux Garcons has been here for a long time. Paul Cezanne wrote about hanging out there in 1906. Now everyone wants to hang out there. I had a peek at the menu but didn't see anything I would be willing to pay those high prices for. But I guess I've never been big on status symbols.
One of the really nice things about this street is the lovely plane trees that shade both sides of the street. There are two rows of them on each side, so it is always nice and shady. One of these days, I'm going to grab myself a spot on one of the benches and just sit and watch the world go by. Fortunately, my apartment is only a very short block to the Cours Mirabeau, so I can visit often.
Thanks for rreading!

Monday, May 6, 2013

My Neighborhood in Aix

I love that my apartment is in the old medieval part of Aix. Most of the buildings were built in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

The roads are narrow and wind around every which way. Theoretically, each road has a center section for one way vehicle traffic, and pedestrians should stick to the outer edges near the buildings. In reality, though, very few vehicles brave the maze - mostly just small delivery trucks. Because of this, the people think nothing of walking up the center of the road. That ocassional car has to be be very patient with them.

Although there aren't really any parking places in this area, any spot that is a few inches wider than usual can become a parking place.

The small door at the center of this photo is my door. It leads to a passageway to the storage room of the shoe store on the right and to the stairway up to the four floors of apartments above. I think the door on the left leads to bigger and fancier apartments next door.

Most of the buildings have shops on the ground floor. Many of the shops have a tiny front area (many as small as 12'X15') but I have no idea how big their storage area might be. Most of them look very modern, which is rather anachronistic considering the old buildings where they are located.

The streets seem to be full of people most of the time - not full enough to be crowded, but enough that the shops seem to have plenty of business.

I discovered yesterday that Sunday is an exception. I went out mid-afternoon for a bottle of wine and was very surprised to see that the streets were practically empty and almost all of the shops were closed up. I didn't get my wine, but I did note that most of the shops were covered with wooden doors that seemed to match the age of the buildings.

I will make sure that I never run out of wine on Sunday again!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Flower Market

Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning, the Place de l'Hotel de Ville is filled with a flower market. There are cut flowers for bouquets, young flowering plants for planting in the yard, and larger flowering plants in pots. There are also many starts of fruits and vegetables and lots of herbs.
These peonies were definitely my favorites!
When I walked by the same plaza in the early afternoon, all the flowers were gone, and the plaza had filled with tables and chairs from the restaurants facing the plaza. By late afternoon, the entire plaza was packed. By then, tables from the bars had filled any remaining space. A great place to meet friends for the cocktail hour!