That's Me

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A wanderer. A bon vivant. A movie aficionado. En amour avec 'A'. These four remain constant. New interests develop every day. Latest being photography. And mastering the French language. Training for the marathon. And blogging.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lavender Fields Forever

A million thought blurbs are swimming over my head – trying to simultaneously recall the ‘conjugasions’ of several verbs that I have learnt in my French class. I am trying to, at the same time, listen, recognize, comprehend, think, form the answer in English and then translate it in French. In between there are verbs and tenses and moods and structures to think of. Yes, life is definitely not a holiday for me right now. So much for learning French.

My fellow travelers – A, his cousin T and his wife N, who have travelled from Germany to join us in Cannes for the weekend, have officially designated me as their trip planner cum guide cum translator. Well, the first two designations – I comfortably fit in to. It’s the translator bit that’s giving me hiccups. But I have committed now – there’s no turning back. So from ordering food to asking for directions – I am the one who’s responsible, while the other three crowd around me with a smirk on their faces, waiting for me to make a fool of myself.

However, I have been lucky so far. A typical conversation would go like this.

Me: Bon Jour. Nous – mmm - aimerions commander des …mmmm….repas…no no…. boissons maintenant.
Waiter: Sure. What should…mmmm….would zou like?
Me: Nous no…voulons café, s'il vous plait.
Waiter: Café? Sure. Zou would want zee café withz or withz no milk?
Me: No milk. I mean…err…. je veux dire - sans lait.
Waiter: Thank you.
A: I think I will have a beer.
T: What did you just order? Coffee? I will have a beer too. No...make that a rosé.
N: I want my coffee with milk.
Me: Excusez-moi (shouting after the waiter).

You see, like I have been taking French lessons, it seems these French have also been taking English lessons. And like I am eager to show off my French vocab, these French are also showing off the same way – the result – me speaking in French and they, in English. Not that I am complaining.

So, having settled down in this daily routine of practicing my French with English speaking French people, I am suddenly at loss when I am confronted by a sweet old French bar keeper, who, obviously, has missed his English classes and speaks only in rapid French. But his astonished look and encouraging smile when I declared I know ‘un peu’ French persuades me to try honestly to speak the language.

We are on our way to the lavender fields. I have been trying to do this trip for 3 years now. We have been at the right place at the right time – south of France in end June – when the lavender fields are in bloom. But since we don’t have the right mode of transportation – lavender fields are not possible to access unless you have a car to drive around – I have been missing it always. 

This year, when T decided to join us, I was super excited. He is a very dear friend and good fun and all that, but more importantly, he’s got his European driver’s license recently and is willing to try his hands on the steering wheels across any place in Europe. However, my joy is short lived. It has been an unexceptionally rainy summer in the south of France and I have been warned by my forum friends not to expect much of lavender fields when I started my holiday.

I make sure I let my travel partners be aware of the situation, lest they dump me in the fields once they find them empty. Well, the drive across Provence amidst the Verdon Gorges promises to be exciting and the few little villages I have marked on the way as stopovers sound charming enough. So we decide to give it a try anyway.

We start on a bright sunny Sunday morning, which soon turns cloudy and eventually stormy, the moment we pass through Grasse. The A8 Auto route is so washed out that we have to stop our car and wait for the rain to blow over. We follow N85 Route Napoleon from Grasse, which, true to its name, was the route taken by the great Napoleon in 1815 on his return from Elba. It is a scenic route, with vast golden wheat fields adorning either side, with odd villages nestled in between.

After about an hour and half drive, we reach Castellane, our first stop - located at the cross-roads of the Route Napoléon and the Upper Verdon road. My travel partners drop me off at the Office de Tourisme, while they look for a parking spot. I get on with my job and collect all the information needed about the lavender fields and the Verdon Gorge. Between broken French and equally broken English, I figure out that the lavenders are blooming late this year. Looks like lavender is not ever going to be my favourite colour.

We stop for a coffee and then graduate to rosé and beer at the little café by the village square. The village is charming but has nothing much to offer other than the Romanesque Eglise St-Victor dating back to the 11th century. It is, however, an important stop since the “Grand Canyon” of Europe, Gorges du Verdon starts from here.

Recuperated and reenergized, we start the second leg of our journey. This part of the journey promises to be exciting since it crosses through the gorges. However, the boys have just realized that there is a Brazil vs. Côte d'Ivoire match in the evening and they are more concerned about yellows and greens than lavenders. 

They are promptly shut up once we hit Route des Crétes that cuts through the Grand Canyon du Verdon. Sheer massive slate coloured ravines, intercepted by lines of green in between greet us a few minutes into the journey. The Verdon river flowing down the gorge is the only sound that we can hear. Occasional cars zoom past us as we veer through the meandering road. The immensity of the canyon hits us and we are all rendered speechless.

Except for my dear A, who after a while feels like having a beer. He also manages to spot a little café amidst this solitude and it is here that I manage to floor my cynical fellow travelers with my French vocab. The old man insists on giving me directions to a spot from where the view of the canyons is awe inspiring. He makes me repeat his instructions to ensure that I do understand his language. While I try and form sentences in a very complicated language, I see from the corner of my eyes that the smirks are gradually disappearing.

However, my sense of triumph is short lived. As I tell A and the others about the place that the old man was talking about, they go back to their former mocking selves. Apparently I confuse between my left and right in English – hence they don’t trust me with my French directions. To think, I have been the navigator all through and though we have got lost sometime, I would like to pin the blame on the GPS and not me. But we do stop en route several times to admire the ravine and I would like to believe that we did make it to the spot the old man suggested. It is hard to tell though, since every view is overwhelming.

About an hour later, we reach Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, a charming village, sitting below a narrow indentation at the base of rocky cliffs, astride a rushing mountain stream that divides the two halves with a narrow rocky canyon. 

The village is packed with summer tourists but it has its own charm. The Notre-Dame de Beauvoir chapel sits atop the village, behind the ruins of the ancient defensive walls, and there are several viaducts that run across the village. As we make our way through the pebbled narrow vaulted roads, looking for a place to eat, we girls indulge in a little shopping. Moustiers is famous for "faïence" ceramics – typical of Provence. We find a café and relax a while, watching the world go by. Buzzed on rosé, we explore the village – the highlight of which is the 12th-century Notre-Dame church, topped by a four-level Lombard Romanesque bell tower, carved from golden-brown tuff.

The clock is showing 4.30 now and according to my itinerary, our next destination should be Puimoisson, where the lavender fields are located. But the local tourist office was not too sure of the bloom and we debate if we should continue further or head back home. I can see the guys panicking as they are sure they will miss the match. I decide not to press harder, as, by now, I have resigned to the fact that “champs de lavande” are not for me. I ask around still and even the locals shake their heads in dismay and suggest that we come back after 10 days or so to catch the beauty.

So, we take the road back. We stop at Pont de Soleils, near Rougons, where the distinct divide between the water running through the canyon and the main river can be seen – the former is muddy and brown and then suddenly transforms into crystal clear azure blue. 
Once we hit civilization, we pass through the vineyards of Provence and small sleepy villages that I would have liked to stop by. But by now, the agenda has shifted, we need to be back home by 8 to cheer the Auriverdes.

My mind, however, has already started working on a plan. If I find myself in this part of the world again sometime in future, I know exactly how to do the trip without a car. It will take a couple of days but I think I have worked out how to reach the lavender fields. Hopefully it will be a bright and hot summer and the lavenders will bloom on time.

PS: Yellow and Green were, afterall, the colours of the day. 

1 comment:

  1. Green is indeed the colour. Of my envy as I read thy exploits mon ami (my French pretty much ends there). What a trip. What a description of a trip!
    And I especially love the sprinkling of humour like: "You see, like I have been taking French lessons, it seems these French have also been taking English lessons. And like I am eager to show off my French vocab, these French are also showing off the same way – the result – me speaking in French and they, in English. Not that I am complaining."


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