Since arriving back in Provence, it has felt as if someone has been playing with time … I can’t quite believe that nearly two weeks have passed since Tom and I drove back. It is more like moments have passed, than days, but at the same time I have the sense that I have been back forever, and all that time spent in Exeter is a distant memory.
We’ve just had a very gentle time, settling into a routine that still feels so very different to our normal days in Provence. Our morning walks have taken on a different feel, as the cafes are shut, and the boulangeries are no longer able to have tables on their terraces, where we would normally sit and enjoy a coffee (or two).
I’m still not able to cycle, but there are positives from that, as we’ve been able to make the most of the cooler weather, enjoying long walks that we simply can’t do in the summer, when it’s far too hot.
There is a real joy of walking in Provence at this time of year, kicking our feet through deep carpets of autumn leaves, along the stony, empty trails in the woodlands around the valley.
The area has an incredible peace, with none of the insect or bird chatter of the summer, and the subtle, muted colours are such a contrast to the vibrant, bright fields and foliage of high season. The views take on a totally different feel, with the high snow-caps of the Mercantour National Park clearly visible in the distance, a bright, and jagged flash of white against the blue winter sky….
Although, the colours of the Ochres around Roussillon are the same all year round, with the vivid oranges, reds and yellows, always glowing with warmth under the cobalt blue skies…
Our walk, through the lavender fields, above Simiane La Rotonde, was particularly lovely. The morning started with pains au chocolat from the boulangerie, eaten not on the terrace, as we would normally do, but sat on a rock in the sun, high up above the village.
The stripes of lavender were starting to show the very early signs of growth, with the harsh ‘post-harvest’ shapes, being softened slightly with the pale olive-coloured new growth showing above the old, cropped stalks.
It’s strange how reassuring it is to see some early growth, especially after this particularly difficult year, when it is hard to believe anything will ever return to ‘normal’. Just seeing nature continuing with its annual cycle, uninterrupted by external influences, has done me the power of good, it’s hard to explain why, but it has made me feel so much more positive, and at the moment, particularly after the news of the last couple of days, that has to be good.
The snow, that was making the distant mountains sparkle, has also been rather closer to home too, with Mont Ventoux being covered in a heavy white blanket, after snowfall over the last weekend. We love to walk on the mountain, when the road is closed from the snow gates above Chalet Reynard, and Millie simply adores skittering about, chasing after snowballs, and bizarrely biting into the deep snow-banks, making herself snort, before shaking her head and running on again.
The restrictions on the distance we were allowed to travel, and the need for attestations was lifted on Tuesday, so the following day we piled into the car and drove across, making our way to Sault, before heading up the mountain, beyond the snow-line that started some distance below Chalet Reynard. Stopping by the snow gates, we made our way around the barrier and headed on up the road on foot. It was a cloudy day, and as close as it is possible to come to total peace, with simply the sound of the wind keeping us company as we walked.
It was strange not to have a view, but the white-out from the cloud and the snow gave the summit an ethereal beauty, that I haven’t experienced before. The road was clear at first, thanks to the snow-plough, that has obviously been through there, but the higher we climbed, the narrower the track became, until, about 2 km from the summit, it became too treacherous underfoot to continue any further. To be honest, I’ve had enough disasters this year, and I wasn’t too keen to tempt fate again!
As we made our way back down to the car, we passed an old chap, slowly making his way up on his bike, through the snow banks towards the summit. We’d passed him earlier, just by the sculpture of the Stag, where he was determinedly turning the pedals, supported by someone, following in a car. I say he was an old chap, he looked to be in his late 70s, possibly early 80’s and I was just in awe of his efforts on such a cloudy, cold and treacherous day. I am sure he didn’t get all the way to the summit, as it was so dangerous underfoot, and the track between the snow banks was far too narrow, but I take my hat off to him and hope that he got as far as he could.
It’s hard to imagine, that in just a few months time this stretch of road will be the focus of attention for all cycling fans, as the riders of the 2021 Tour De France make their way along it on a double ascent of the mountain. The peace, and lack of colour will be a distant memory, and if the situation with the virus allows, the banks will be packed with people, flags, noise and colour, cheering the riders on….. such a shame that they weren’t there to celebrate this old chap’s achievement, as it certainly deserved a cheer and recognition.
Hopefully though, by the time Le Tour comes back to our little part of Provence, I’ll be back up to speed on the bike again, as after so many months of worrying about how my clavicle has been healing, I waa able to start physio yesterday. I can’t even start to say how excited I am about this, and it is certainly the best news I have had for a while, so hopefully early in 2021, I’ll be back on the bike again, although I think it will be a while before I am back at the summit of Mont Ventoux.
In between the walks, we have been continuing to do bits around the house, with the biggest change coming when Andy and Tom fitted the beautiful Oak, french doors in the new kitchen. Since Pascal had dropped them around, they had been left leaning against the wall of the room, and we got to the point where we just couldn’t wait any longer to fit them. It’s always nerve-wracking putting new doors in, especially when they are as beautiful as these, but as Tom removed the old hoardings there was no turning back.
In fact the worries were unfounded, as Pascal had made the frame to fit perfectly and it slotted easily into place, secured with the fixings he had given us…
Then the doors had to be hung in place… They may be slightly shorter than standard doors, but still were heavy to lift and hold in place, before they could be lowered onto their hinges…
And that was it done, the french doors were in place and we could finally see what we had envisioned, nearly 4 years ago, when we had started getting the plans drawn up, in order to apply for the permissions. It looked even better than I had imagined it would, and now the light floods into the room, that hadn’t previously had any natural light at all.
The glass for the other door should be arriving early this next week, but we’re not sure whether the little walk through porch will be fitted in time for Christmas, but just having this first door in place has really put the smiles on our faces.
For the time being though (until the new porch is fitted), we still have no direct access from the house to the new room, and are managing quite well in the makeshift kitchen, we’ve maintained in the old space. It’s a bit chaotic, with the hob, oven and fridge being all we have in the room, but we’re managing rather well – mince pies have been made, bread has been baked and I finally got round to cooking the Christmas cake this week.
The interesting bit comes with the fact that we don’t have any running water in the room, so are constantly dashing upstairs to fill the kettle, or carrying pans straight from the stove, to strain the veg over the bathroom sink. The washing up is piled onto a tray and then taken on a bit of a trek, being carried through the living room, down the stairs, out through the front door, along the side of the house, then up the steps to the new kitchen, where it’s loaded into the dishwasher.
We haven’t lost any crockery or glasses yet in the process, but it may be only a matter of time. It may be a little bizarre, but with three of us here, it’s much better than trying to get everything washed in the shower!
On top of all this, we have had a little, not particularly welcome visitor this week. A few days ago, in the early hours of the morning (3am to be precise), we were woken by a strange sound, that appeared to be coming from the ventilation pipe, leading from the bathroom to the roof. In our slightly blurred, rather sleepy state we leapt into action, determined to free whatever could be trapped there. Andy quickly grabbed a chair and an empty washing bin, not a bad choice for a middle of the night decision, and clambered up to remove the grille at the base of tube, expecting something to fall out and be caught in the bag.
We didn’t know what to expect, and as the grille was eased out, we girded ourselves for what may happen, holding our breath as he slowly opened the end of the tube ….. but to our surprise, absolutely nothing was there. Perhaps whatever it was had managed to escape of its own accord, or had simply been on the roof scratching above the tiles. One thing was for certain though, and that was that the noise had stopped, so we settled back into bed and hoped that that was the end of it. Eventually my heart stopped pounding and I started to doze off again, only to be woken by the sound of our little visitor tap-dancing above my head!
Over the last few years we have lots of little visitors to the house, so we’re not exactly taken aback with our latest resident. I recently wondered why I was struggling to put on one of my shoes, only to find a mouse curled up in the toe, most indignant that I had disturbed its comfortable, warm and ‘cat-safe’ existence. Then there are the ‘many-legged beasts’ or ‘house centipedes’ and the scorpions that seem to know when to make an appearance to the best effect. We also have a very pretty, green frog that lives in one of the drains, happily chattering in the evenings and occasionally making a bid to join us on the house.
However our new visitor is the first to take up residence in the loft space, and we may fall out very quickly, if it continues to practice its dance routines and test its sprint speed above our heads in the dead of night. Let’s just hope it decides outside is better than inside and leaves us to our slumber.
So life continues to keep us on our toes and well-entertained, even though we are self-restricting our activities to those that keep us generally away from other people at the moment. We’ve just got to sort out the last few things now to make sure we’re ready for Christmas. The tree is up, presents are wrapped and we have just about everything we need, in fact just the last few bits for the traditional roast to buy. It will be a very strange Christmas Day, our first with just Tom, as George is back in Devon and can’t travel.
However we are determined to make the most of it, whilst we watch carefully what is happening and plan to get Tom back to Uni in Bristol, using whatever means we can.
It’s been a very strange, disrupted and disturbing year and I’m not sure when things may start to settle down again. But from today, the days start to lengthen and that is one little positive, that I am determined to enjoy.