Provence: Driving into the Absurd

Provence turns anticlockwise, like the untwisting of a bottle cap. Like turning down the volume so you can hear the wind, or the nothing. It unwinds you; you have no choice in the matter. It laughs in the face of your plans and pending emails, it shames you with fields of crimson poppies. It pulls out a chair under a trellis of vines, pours you a glass of rosé and says, there, now spell ‘schedule’, define ‘purpose’. You can’t remember what those words look like; the sky is far too blue, everything is absurdly beautiful. You shrug, your mouth makes the little fart-like sound that’s French for ‘Who knows?’. You sit back and let the dappled sunshine untangle the muscles in your shoulder and try not to hum that John Denver song.

Life is better when it isn’t chased. People in these little villages in the Luberon – the hilly middle of Provence – get that. The locals look like tourists even as they go about the business of making a living, earning their bread and butter. Well, baguette and sea-salted Normandy butter, in this case. All the villages in the Luberon, seem to tumble slowly down hillsides onto newly sown rows of lavender, which will all be purple come July. We spend our days sitting on stone walls that drop many feet to the hills below. Sometimes, we take our little red, rented Fiat and drive through winding roads, exploring sleepy villages, stopping for no reason. We follow miles of dirt road to hidden restaurants set in acres of wild countryside singing with cicadas. And come home to a tiny apartment that stands near the local boulangerie in the most beautiful village in Provence, where I sit and write this post.

We’re in Lourmarin. A village of blue shuttered windows fringed with roses, shiny cobbled streets, pavement cafes and women in loose linens. Everyone has a dog, everyone knows everyone else, the dogs know each other. Bonjjouurrr, they sing. After the first week, everyone knows us too. They always stop to chat as we walk to the boulangerie for croissants in the morning – broken English meet broken French amidst hand gestures and big smiles. They all have a wicker basket on one arm filled with the day’s groceries, and tucked under the other arm, three fresh baguettes. Always three.

The village is scattered with old fountains swimming with fish. Chotto-ma talks to the fish as we sit in the village square with our morning coffee. She comes back and tells us their names, she tells us that each fish has a distinct personality. When she’s not talking to fish, she is following the little creek that runs down the alleys between the houses. We follow her, she leads us nowhere, we have nowhere to get to. When the sun gets too hot, we stop for a beer.

Albert Camus lived in Lourmarin, his house still stands in the village. When I was sixteen, I read ‘The Fall’ and my day shifted on its axis. His work shuts out the world with thick stone walls, it isolates you. At sixteen, isolation was the one thing I craved often. I read him and reread him for two years, till the need to read him left me as suddenly as it had come, much like Camus’ own life – a short, intense burst followed by sudden death. If someone had told me then, as I read his books in my humid Calcutta afternoon, that I’d rent an apartment in his village someday, stroll by his house and the grave where he lies, I’d have laughed. Absurd, I might’ve said. A word Camus would no doubt have approved of.

At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.

PS: I’ll try to put together a photo-list of our favourite villages and restaurants in Provence next. Till then!

24 thoughts on “Provence: Driving into the Absurd

  1. Let me pour myself a glass of rose and gaze at the fields of lavender…as I tell you once again I just love your writing… I travel and experience the sights, tastes and aromas you describe so wonderfully that the vicarious pleasure I get from reading your blog makes me wonder “why travel at all, when Pia will bring it all to me anyway?”

  2. Whoa! This is like reading A Year in Provence all over again! Beautiful writing and why not, you are in such a place. Would love to hear more…

  3. Thank you. Your description of the Luberon coincide so lyrically with my own happy memories of holidays there over the past (ouch!) fifty+ years. It hardly seems to change, though it must. Thank heavens there is no longer the omnipresent pervading smell of drains which overlaid the visual beauty in my early memories. It is high time that we returned to top up our Provençal batteries

  4. Welcome back and as always loved every bit of this post right from the title to the tales you weave so magically that always takes me to these beautiful places…At times I feel reading your posts is like reading a fairy tale, it almost always stirs my imagination…lovely pics too…I only hope the comment reaches you unlike a few comments in the previous posts that perhaps got eaten up by the blog 😄

  5. AD, you funny thing 🙂 Remind me never to tell you too much about Cambridge then, so that you travel to us someday! A slow glass of rose by the river – that much I can promise 🙂

  6. Thanks, Meera 🙂 Yes, it was such a beautiful place to write in and about. Though the only writing I did was bits of this post on a piece of paper. It was a place for non-doing.

  7. How wonderful to hear from you, Chris!
    The Luberon is certainly a place to return to again and again, isn't it – we actually stood by the window of a small real estate office looking at apartments and houses for sale and dreaming of growing old in one of the little villages. Thank goodness, dreams cost nothing 🙂

  8. Thanks Tandra! I know the pleasure of armchair travel well, and do it often. So it makes me very happy to make you travel 🙂
    Na, none of your earlier comments have reached me; I really do hate that.

  9. Dear Pia, you wrote so beautifully, transporting me to French country side. Thank you for that!! And of course, at the end of the blog post, a rush came over me to drop everything and go to France! 🙂 But like you said, am glad dreams cost nothing!

  10. I'm so glad I could take you there, even for a bit, Vani.
    To 'drop everything and go' is always the dream, isn't it? Nothing's impossible though 🙂
    Thank YOU for reading.

  11. What a wonderful post – so relaxing to read, and it brought back memories of my trip to Provence last spring. I never made it to Lourmarin though, and it looks utterly charming, so I think I'll have to take another trip as soon as possible.

  12. As usual I had come back and read this again, with more time and a generous shot of self control to curb the want to get right there. Next best thing of course is to let you take us. Your travelogues are spectacular, if I were as good as you with words I'd find a suitable metaphor.
    Love chotto-ma's hats, she has quite a collection, I'm sure comes in handy for the world traveller that she already is.

  13. Spring is such a beautiful time, isn't it? The French countryside looks its best (even through the itchy haze of my hayfever!)
    Lourmarin is beautiful, Sara. You must go back soon 🙂
    Also, did I mention? – It's lovely to have you here!

  14. I'm sure I wouldn't often find the enthusiasm to write my ramblings here had it not been for wonderfully kind notes like yours, Lakshmi. And I mean that.
    Thank you. Not just for reading, but taking the time to write back.
    The hat (one) is shrewd and deceptive – it has two faces 🙂

  15. Pia, Thanks for letting me into the beautiful nooks and corners of the world topped with your beautiful writing , everything appears dream like and I just love it… waiting to read a book written by you one day.. and I am sure I will.. hugs and warm regards,

  16. Let me just give you a big hug for writing this note today. I came in the midst of a crazy morning, and it made me stop and smile and breathe. Thank you.

  17. I love the way you write, Pia. I love the way you travel. You look for the soul of the place, find it, and then write all about it, bringing the place alive in the minds of your readers. This is no ordinary travelogue – I aspire to write like this some day. Honestly.

    I have only read about Provence. Thank you for giving me a visual tour of the place. It looks, and sounds, absolutely gorgeous!

  18. Thank you so very much. I'm always humbled by your words, and so happy to have you reading along as I write. I'm glad I could give you a sense of Provence as I saw it.
    Much love!

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