Thursday, August 4, 2011

STAMP #5: Aix en Provence

This morning I explored a tiny village, more of a hamlet really, called Le Tholonet on my way to the boulangerie for my daily baguette.

There are no shops in Le Tholonet, just a church, a restaurant/cafe, a few houses, and a moulin. Moulins are windmills and this one is an original. I was walking in the footsteps of Paul Cezanne, the Impressionist painter of the late 1800s who was obsessed with Mont Ste-Victoire. He also painted this windmill on one of his many sojourns in Le Tholonet.
This moulin is now a tiny art gallery and was open today. I talked with the artist, Laure Willems. She wore floral leggings and a loose linen top, and her hands were stained with the pigments of her trade. She spoke no English and I spoke little French, but we talked animatedly for over half an hour. Laure too is obsessed with the mountain and paints in the Cezanne style in water colours and pastels. I liked her work enough to buy a small reproduction from her of MSV at sunset with rust red fields in the foreground.

The mill has three levels. The top holds the original millstones that ground the grain for the local farmers. The lower two are now the gallery. Outside is a memorial plaque to Cezanne (top image) and a magnificent view of MSV just as he saw it with the red soil, grey rock, pines, and a brilliant blue sky.

Le Relais Cezanne
Cezanne used to make the journey to Le Tholonet by coach and it must have been a bone-breaking ride up and down mountainsides on a  winding track heading deep into the countryside. He loved the village and returned often to stay at the Chateau Noir in a small room. He ate his meals at the restaurant that still stands at the road junction. It was called Berne in his time and now, Le Relais Cezanne. I was allowed inside to take photos although it wasn't open. I imagine it looks much the same today as it did when he sat at a corner table. Quite utilitarian and none of his paintings, even as repros, grace the walls. However, don't be misled by appearances, the food is excellent and can be enjoyed with the local vin de La Palette. The villages here are surrounded by vineyards producing the famous rose of Provence, which I love.

The 17th century chateau, also painted by Cézanne, is just across the road junction: golden in the sun with a short avenue of trees leading your eye to the front door. It now houses the headquarters of the Société du Canal de Provence, the company managing the extensive irrigation projects in Provence, and is closed to the public. I snuck in the front gate for more pix and was hurried out by a gardener. Then home to write during the heat of the day in the cool villa and maybe a swim.
IMAGES: (c) Julie H. Ferguson 2011

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  1. Don't you love Provence? Bringing back childhood memories :-)

  2. Nice to know you're reading and enjoying my posts that will eventually turn into 6-7 articles already sold. Yay!!
    This is about my 9th visit - I know it well.
    Hubbie arrives on Saturday for 2 weeks.