Moving day; we have grown to hate these days with a passion. The packing up, the throwing out, the finding stuff you needed three days ago and wonder whether you will ever need it again - to pack or not to pack? Cleaning the place, remembering where to put the key for the owner. Leaving before the designated time (10am? Not possible.) It is clear to us, however, that moving day with a car is much better than moving day on the train. We have not had a car since our first day in Paris - about three weeks ago - and have moved around via trains since. This can be fun, of course; you can read on a train and sleep on a train, but it is also tiring and stressful and timetabled by sadists (11pm trains, anyone?). So we had our snug car for this journey.
Myles had picked up the car from Carcassonne airport and had fought with the car hire people who wanted to give him a small hatchback although he had booked a stationwagon - apparently they are in the same 'class'. So he had to pay extra for a seven seater thingy. Nice; annoying.
It is powder blue for those of us who like to 'see' things.
Amazingly, we managed to pack everything into our suitcases and get them all in the car. Myles cannot see out of the back window for love or money, but he is used to this now. At least the kids no longer have to sit on miscellaneous cases, and I don't have to crook over like a hinge with my knees under my chin so that the other cases can occupy the space under the dashboard. Small wins.
We said goodbye to Carcassonne, cranked Samantha up to take us to Avignon (our first stop before we stepped up the pace onwards to Antibes) and settled in for the drive.
This countryside - just here in the far west of France, close(ish) to the Spanish border, reminds me strangely of Australia (here I'm taking about the Languedoc-Roussillon region, rather than that of the Atlantic side). The soil is burnt solid by tough sun, and the trees are spindly and spiky; to survive here you really need to stick your elbows out fully. I'm describing here the native vegetation. That which is planted and cultivated is mostly vines. Lots of wine. In the north, when we were driving about, foggy with the stories of the world wars, the fields were all about root vegetables.
The landscape reminded me so much of Australia, I started to think about the writers who has speculated on what Australia's landscape (and particularly her food supply) might have been like had it not been the English who colonised Australia, but some one else, someone like the French. Marion Halligan particularly wrote about this in Eat My Words. She thinks that the French might have known how to husband the landscape more gently, would have use the local fauna for food rather than import the hard hooved roasting beasts. I can see this here, paddocks that look a little like rooms with thick hedges ringing them to protect the land. Michael Symons wrote about Australia and the problem of not having a peasant population in One Continuous Picnic - and how this affected what we used the land for, and how we thought about food. Perhaps the French would have imported the concept of the peasant and held on to it longer. Danielle Clode wrote about the French and Australia in Voyages to the South Seas and how Australia interested them in a scientific sense rather than a colony - but they were very intrigued by the flora and fauna; wanted to study it. Empress Josephine even had an Australian garden at Mal Maison. You can see how the peasants from the South West of France might have had an inkling into farming most of Australia. But not to be.
So we drove through hard light and tough land. The day was dazzling and we felt blessed.
As we drove on, we came through Arles and I began to think about Elizabeth David and her writing about the Camargue, a remarkable marsh land that houses birds up the wazoo and mysterious white horses. She was writing in the 1960s when the French government was busy draining these lands and planting rice fields every where. This has ceased from what I can work out, and the marsh lands are now protected. From what we could see from the motorway - much of the land is used agriculturally. But nice to know that the white horses can still pick their way through the salty, damp land at will.
We pulled into Avignon at about 1pm. We had tried to book a place to stay here, but had had no luck in finding an apartment. Now we had arrived, we were sad we only had a few hours. It looks like the French version of Bath (another place we were sad not to have stay longer in). The old city, where the Popes held court in the fourteenth century, is all stone and light yellow or dark yellowy browns. Little cobbled streets everywhere. The city square with a clock on which there are figures that perhaps dance on the hour or something; the obligatory Christmas market - we are less impressed by this now - pigeons everywhere. We had lunch - a sad affair at a sad pizza place. The less said really.
And then we walked the streets and up past the Pope's Palace, into the gardens that hang above this. The day was as clear as a bell - you could practically hear the air ringing, and the park was full of people wandering or hiring these little horse and carriages for children that they powered around the park using pedals. See the pictures at the end of this post.
But we had little time. We had to meet our host at the apartment in Antibes at 6pm, and there were still two and a half hours to go. We have promised to come back here - along with swimming in Barcelona and more time in Bath, we have quite a full itinerary for our next trip - and off we went.
As we went futher east, the air changed again. The flat dry air that we saw between Carcassonne and Avignon now mellowed and lilac and lavendar air filled the sky. You could catch this air with a fine butterfly net if you chose. I can see why Provence has such a reputation. This is no elbows akimbo, survival at all costs place; this is (and quite suddenly) all scented gardens and flighty romance.
The sun was settling and there were a million versions of purple and pink in the sky. We had hoped to see the sea before the dark settled, but didn't.
We careered into Antibes with seconds to spare and met our host who took us through the apartment. It is huge with enough bedrooms for some segregation, two toilets (oh joy!) and a separate shower room. There is a fully equiped kitchen. Bliss. From our bedroom window we can see the sea. Or at least we were told this by our host, but it was too dark to confirm.
I think this will suit us just fine. Perhaps the glamorous South of France is just our pace.