sign of the great poet René Char in his home town, at market, Gordes, Frédéric’s Mistral & rain

The Sunday market in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue gets two Parasol d’Or, Golden Umbrellas, from the Syndicat des Commercants des Marches de Provence, Union of Market Merchants of Provence, more than any other market. It stretched today right the way down the river bounding one side of the old town and extended into its centre, making sense of the phrase ‘Doing the rounds,’ ‘Faire la tournee,’ as in, Thank you Madam for giving me a try of your creamed chili sauce, extra hot, but I am doing the rounds of the market, or making a circuit, and may choose to return, although it is unlikely, because your sauce does not impress me. It is not as hot as you claimed.

The market possibly exceeds that of Amboise for variety of products on offer, from regional handicraft, wines, local cheeses and sausages, to Italian shoes. Here as in Amboise there were enormous pans, like woks, with rounded bases, of paella; there were also woks of Chinese food. Knives seem to be very popular, an entire stall; bedwear is also a speciality of the area, quilts, and tablewear, cloths, embroidered mats; rolls of ‘traditional’ tablecloth material, either cloth or plastic, in blue and yellow patterns of wheat and lavender.

It is interesting how many of the foodstuffs seem to be engineered to offend, the sausages that look as though they’ve been dug up, or recently buried, like dog turds, the cheeses that have rotted, magotty and black-molded, or been dropped down chimneys and rolled in soot, that smell like they might have been. Even the fresh meats and vegetables left sitting out in the sun, wilting, attracting flies. However the prevailing sensation today was… cold. The brilliant air freezing out the sun with its icy blasts, and in the sun, the mistral somehow evicting the heat. Excoriating the bones, evacuating the spirit. A wind sharp enough and a blade that fine to strip images from off retinas.

J. was taken for a ride by the tapenade-maker’s daughter. We said yes to a spoonful of marinated garlic in Provencal herbs and yes to the olivade, black, without anchovies. A great dollop of tapenade dumped in the box. To which one wanted to say, TOO MUCH! But too late. Weighed up it came to over twenty euros. Tapenade for ever. Ripped off… However, it is probably the best tapenade I’ve ever tasted. Light and mousse-like. A salty-savoury chocolate ganache. Olived. And the garlic. Delicious, not a hint of the sharpness of the wind, with a rumour that it would keep away any maladies brought on by the mistral, as if a traditional Provencal preventative against agues and fevers, colds and flus.

With excessive tapenade and goat’s milk cheeses and new slippers, made in Italy, we returned home for lunch. Our Loft trapping sun outside the front door. Q. made coffee.

I read Rene Char. Thinking, What sort of contretemps could Mme. Char have had with the municipality to remove the Char museum? Had she wanted more money than they had?

We took a car-trip up to Gordes. Not far. And before leaving L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue found more market! Antiquey stalls our town is famous for. And every seller boasted a coffee-grinder. Most by Peugeot. I’d conceived a hankering for one, since the last of our coffee was in beans.

We shopped around. Clearly the manual grinder has become a collectible. There were some cool models. I especially liked the geared ones for semi-commercial quantities. And the metal ones in the shape of rubbish-bins. Coloured grinders. Metal. Wood. The first we’d seen ended up being the best value, at twenty euros, not even the cost of the tapenade.

With magic grinding box, we set forth decisively once more. And discovered why Gordes is the hang-out of film and beautiful people in these parts. It looks out for miles over the patchwork of lavender and vines. And in its uniform pale stone, with its twelfth century chateau, is perfectly photogenic. Like the people it is said to attract.

Here the next weather event: rain. Freezing, hardening the wind. We retreated to where we’d paid three Euros to leave our car. And went over the hill to Senarque Monastery, Cistercian, which sits at the bottom of a chasm, facing onto fields of lavender bushes clumped in rows, pressed mud paths inbetween. And we couldn’t get out. So I only know that’s what it is, looks like, because we stopped halfway up, in a passing bay, so I could look down on what the guides consistently describe as a stark and splendid place.

Stopping at the Lavender Museum, we learnt the all-important difference between Fine Lavender and Lavandine, from representatives of the Lincele family, ‘producers and distillers of fine lavender for many generations on the Vaucluse hills… a plant which has a existed for a thousand years.’ Lavandine is a high-yield clone. Fine Lavender ‘grows on the arid mountains of Provence above an altitude of 800 metres.’ While Spike Lavender is little used in France – very ‘campho-rated,’ its perfume too strong. But there was something wrong with the way the info was given. It sounded like an argument in favour of Lavandine. Was it intended to stress that with lower oil yields and against the economic odds the Provencals were fighting the good and moral fight for medicinally efficacious and naturally propagating Fine Lavender? The story was repeated several times, made a point of, from cultivation, to harvesting, to distilling, that Fine Lavender is… not Lavandine. A curious contender for self-deprecation as self-inflation. We heard a talk, saw a movie, and passed through a room full of various sorts of stills, wood-burning, water-cooled, and steam, mobile, or in place, converted from fruit-distilleries, and purpose built, most of polished up copper, some like inverted tear-drops, and a thing called a lavender concrete maker, specifically intended for lavender going into soap. I think. The smell so pervasive. So heady. In the film, you wondered why the men opening the steaming thing full of lavender didn’t fall over with the fumes and pass out in unison. Then the shop. Samples of oils and room-sprays and eau-de-colognes being sprayed around, soaps and energising lotions for legs, feet-invigorating stuff, an after-shaving-skin-fury-calming emollient.

Home to test-grind coffee. Q.’s new metier overseeing the process from bean to expression. And lentil stew with pork-chops, a modified soup, mashed-potato side. Sort of cassoulet. J. cited its Provencal credentials. A second bottle of the very good Demoiselles Coiffees, aka girls with haircuts.