Notre Dame des Anges, Isle sur la Sorgue, Roussillon et Ménerbes

Planning forward to Barcelona, we failed to follow the advice of our SFR salesman, who’d sold us the SIM Card, which was to go to McDonalds’s, buy a coffee, and use the free WIFI there; we sought out GecoSystem, Espace Internet, an island of geekery, on the island, clear perspex seating and the special arrogance of those whose livelihood relies on computer know-how: and used the contact the B. family had in Le Puy recommended of Friendly Rentals for accommodation in Barcelona. Sent an email. The site didn’t work for us. Now, we’ll have to go back to Geco or succumb to McD’s to receive the reply.

A note on so-called French arrogance: it’s not. Unwelcoming sometimes. Stony-faced. And playing dumb, withholding information. But only seemingly out of a kind of pedantry, a preciosity about the question; as if to imply that the information given will only ever be as good as the way it is asked for.

And this off-putting reserve about practical matters, an idealism. Taken to extremes in strangely inappropriate circumstances. We were following a car home this evening, when it had to stop to allow another vehicle to turn off. Rather than simply braking and coming to a stop, hazard lights came on. Or, consider the overstatement surrounding the strikes. Today, every service we might have required was available to us: food, information offices, ticket boxes for tourist sites. We didn’t need gasole – diesel – because we’d taken the queues at petrol stations to be a warning.

One wonders at F.’s self-description as ‘Latin.’ The context was the difference between the two cities we’d encountered travelling from Berlin to Paris. We Latins smoking, dropping paper, here and everywhere. But the French are not the Italians, and a town like Carpentras, had Italians lived there, would not have projected that reserve, that tightness, that vaguely depressed air. One wonders where it is from? And experiences the frustration in communication of not understanding what is operating under the conversation, what cultural code is not being adhered to. Consider our Fat Tires bike tour guide’s joke that the waggle of the finger is more powerful for the French than any number of Anglo-Saxon expletives. It constitutes the absolute injunction. A joke which succeeds because it is true.

We travelled to Roussillon, ochre village, sitting on a red hill of glauconite, left by seas of 110 million years before, mixtures of quartz and oxidised iron-like stuff. A rusty hill, worn away, as we saw on the Chaussee des Geants, into runnels, gorges and pinnacles, from cream to blood red. We went via Goult. Which looked very pleasant. In the lee of the hill, out of the mistral, the sunlight felt warm at last.

Rousillon attracts sheep-like tourists in stupid numbers. A flock followed us. Seemed to be looking for something and restless, could not settle, as if not finding it. Up hills, down lanes and alleys, all over the town, with closed shutters, as if the locals were hunkered down, lunching for the duration. Made for not the most enjoyable visit. The presence of the tourists not the absence of the locals.

The Sentier des Ocres was fun. A walk in the rust. Even the firs’ trunks were ochred. And the white giant, white whale, of Mt. Ventoux was visible in the distance. A distance subject to variation, now closer and closer, as the day progressed.

A sudden gust shook the chestnuts from the tree above us. One spiky fruit landed on Q.’s shoulder, raising red welts. Another in the list of freakish mischances.

Roussillon is also where Sam Beckett holed up for a year in an attic. Worse places to do so. But nowhere could we find the attic marked.

On the way out of the town, we thought to search for La Chaussee des Geants, not realising we’d walked it, and circled Roussillon through the vinyards several times before we found out from a police woman.

Menerbes straddles a ridge at the base of the Montagne du Luberon, another part of the Petit Luberon. You’ve got to like a town that welcomes you with covered troughs to water the horses. The place was in fact entirely lovable. And empty of tourists. This is allegedly a rare thing. Perhaps to do with the time we got there, magic hour, more or less. Long shadows of Menerbes out towards Gordes and Roussillon, on the other side, the green-sided hills, and a valley full of vines here as many shades of red and gold as the ochres of Roussillon.

Home late again. J. excelled herself with pork, apple, marinated garlic, Provencal herbs, roast fennel bulb, creamed potatoes and French green beans, shoestring beans, and the famous tapenade, and beetroot. I ate the last of my Venetian chilis. The wine is Luberon: Alidon, Cave du Luberon, 2009. White like all I’ve named. But today we picked up at the Maison de la Truffe et du Vin in Menerbes a bottle of Domaine du Coulet Rouge, Cabernet, 2006, from the Vaucluse, as strong as fortified wine, which we might open to have with cheese, bouchons de chevre, later.

Q.’s watching of all things Lord of the Rings. For J.’s English fix, I managed to find a Vanity Fair. On the subject of language, it’s surprising how many of the people we encounter, whether booking an hotel, as today, for Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer, speak no English. You might suggest this is affectation, that they do but choose not to. No. French service culture, for tourists, particularly, is remarkably under-developed.

The only operators who have been forward in coming forward with inflicting their hard sell on us in English have been stall-holders in markets, perhaps because they are representing only themselves, and working for their own livelihood, rather than organisations or institutions. Another aspect in which France bears similarities to NZ pre-free-market revolution.