I just got back from Provence. I have wanted to go since I was fifteen years old. I was attracted initially by curiosity about the French countryside and its accompanying lifestyle: fresh flowers, fresh air, fresh food. Provence lived up to my expectation in each of those ways. Visually, in particular. It was, in a word, breathtaking. I was able to capture digitally, as well as indelibly in my memory, images of hill villages, rivers, sunflowers, lavender, and even random ruins. There was so much beauty everywhere that my friend and I were continually saying, “Look at that!” or “Oh, my goodness!” I’ve been trying to decide what to write about, going through photos. The choices make my head spin. Yet the theme emerges in the astounding loveliness of the Provençal windows, gates and doorways.
The French do have “a thing” about beauty, don’t they? The presentation of French cuisine is beautiful, small parks in the city are dressed up, entrances to towns sport flowers, even the walls of city buildings have something of visual value to offer. It’s actually true throughout most of Europe, at least from what I’ve seen. It seems rather obvious when you look at my photos from this trip. In the US, the fronts of houses are attractive, usually, and some people make an extra effort on their front yard, but not like this, not at all like this. Very few people I know put in window boxes with flowering plants. Perhaps in some isolated neighborhoods, but it is not at all a common American thing to do. And many, if not most, Amercian houses and apartments have little or no front decoration other than perhaps a little landscaping. Now, please don’t think I’m bashing my country — I love the US! I just appreciate this difference. The French make a marked effort to create beauty that they rarely see — they see it when they come and go, but not all that often. They simply create a lovely space for their neighbors and passersby to enjoy.
Each and every town offered us something special. Even the towns that were already spectacular showed us their pretty windows and doors.
We almost didn’t see one of the towns that became a favorite of mine; it wasn’t on “the list” my friend had made in her research. Luckily, I saw a photo of it in a little mini-guide book of the area. Le Thor is a particularly picturesque town, with waterfront doors and windows on the river Sorgue. Many houses front right on the Sorgue, so their faces are already unusual. The residents dress them up anyway, though. And the heat is more bearable, thanks to the river.
But don’t disregard little Velleron, the town where we stayed. It is a tiny town, but it is a giant in terms of beautiful images. Everywhere we turned was something lovely, from the Chambre d’Hotes where we stayed to the little town itself.
Arles is one of several small cities whose residents surprised us by their attention to detail. Arles is an ancient city, founded in the first century AD. The city’s Roman arena is still in use, albeit for far less gruesome events than in its earliest existence. It’s historic doorways ignite the imagination.
Nice’s grandest doors and windows belong to a Russian Orthodox church, seemingly out of place in this Mediterranean playground. And Aix-en-Provence, that small Paris in Provence, won’t be outdone with its stone strongmen holding their heads as if holding up the doors of this commercial court building is giving them a headache.
Still, it is the humbler settings that grab the attention, that won’t let you turn away without taking in your breath and pausing for a moment to appreciate the effort that everyday people put into creating beauty. Nearly every home’s windows and doors are dressed for summer, evidence that the good people of Provence value beauty in the simple things God makes: flowers, color, scent.
La Medievale, Bed and Breakfast in Velleron. Rebecca speaks perfect English (she’s from England). http://www.la-medievale.com/