Yarsky Yadventures-Pics and Story
Once upon a time, some chick named Caitlin got invited to go live in a villa in the south of France for a whole week in the middle of July. At first, Caitlin thought she had been tricked by Evil Monkey Email Pranksters. However the invitation was soon validated by her stepfather Danny and his wife Laurie, who assured her that no, they were not Evil Monkey Email Pranksters. They really wanted her to go to France.
This is a trip I will never forget. The day I left was a bit hectic because my bank froze my bank account when I tried to take out money at the Newark airport. And that was a Saturday, after 5pm, so there was no one in customer service to talk to. I finally got someone to talk to me and unlock the account eventually, so crisis averted!
The trip there was pretty easy, until I got to the train station in Paris that would take me to Avignon. That’s when I noticed something. No one was speaking English! The NERVE!! A few misunderstandings and halting inquiries later, I made it to the train and met Danny and Laurie in Avignon.
On the ride to Saint Remy de Provence, I was looking out the window and every single thing I saw, from cyprus trees (ever-present in Van Gogh paintings) to sunflower and lavender fields, to old farms and streets and buildings, EVERYTHING was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.
The villa where we were staying was huge, and had a pool (where there was a gang of wasps hanging out and swimming in it), and the building was this beautiful stone surrounded by trees and fields and flowers. I know, it’s disgusting, isn’t it?
I visited the town, which was small and went around in a big circle, with smaller side streets inside the circle. There were street markets and craft fairs a few times during the week, which was full of colors and delicious tastings.
A note on food- the culture in France is so different. They seem to stop to enjoy life, and don’t ‘live to work’ as we tend to do here. And when they eat, they sit down at a cafe and take their sweeeet time. Everything just moves at a very relaxed pace. Laurie and I spoke as much French as we could the whole week, ordering food and drinks and asking for directions, and buying groceries. The people are not nearly as snobby as we think they are. In fact they were mostly very friendly and hardly ever switched to English when I spoke to them, which was awesome!
We went to Avignon, a beautiful walled city that was hosting a huge festival called OFF, in which thousands of buskers and street performers of all kinds dressed in really strange costumes went around town advertising their evening shows. There we met up with Marni, one of Danny’s friends and fellow band member from the Euro-gypsy type band called Mad Juana (she plays accordion, Danny the sax). She is from NYC but speaks fluent French and did a one-woman show in French at a performance art space. Later we went to a cafe where someone she knew was playing his music and Danny and Marni sat in and played some tunes on the street with him.
One day we checked out Van Gogh’s sanitarium, where he stayed while being…um..crazy. All around it (and around Saint Remy) there were spots showing a picture of a painting he did. These spots were THE spots where he painted those paintings, and nature was left as is so you could point out specific trees and fields he painted by looking at the pictures. It was pretty incredible, and the first time I really understood the colors he used. The light somehow is different in the south of France, and suddenly all the light he used in his work made total sense (and caused me to understand what attracted so many famous painters to this region). As a side note, Danny has a theory that Van Gogh went nuts because he was painting all day every day while the cicadas, which are DEAFENING and don’t stop until evening, chirped relentlessly. I’m just glad none fell out of their trees and on, you know, me.
We also visited Roman ruins and a town called LesBeaux, which is in the mountains (Les Alpilles- “mini Alps”). It was absolutely incredible, the view, the stone buildings….although a bit touristy. It was interesting though, that although I saw a lot of tourists in France, in the south they tended to be European tourists, not American tourists. Most were from Paris I think.
Some days we just hung out and swam and ate and napped. I walked into town (a 30 minute walk) and back a few times, and took lots and lots of reference photos. I mastered how to ask whether I could take a photo of someone for reference for a painting: Excusez-moi, mais je suis artiste de New York, et je pense que vous avez un tres beau visage. Est-ce que je peux prendre un photo de vous pour faire du peinture?” :D Usually they were happy to let me take a photo, if a little confused that I didn’t want them to take a picture of me, but of them.
The food- the food was out of this world. Admittedly I was spoiled by Danny and Laurie, who went out every night. But even just the simple things- breads, cheeses, fruits- everything was so fresh and rich. I tried chocolate at a place called Joel Durand, (see pics below of a CHOCOLATE FOUNTAIN!), and they had infused unusual things into their chocolates, like lavender, that were really interesting.
In just 6 days my French improved drastically and I had very few problems getting around and talking to people. I got to draw a little bit, but not as much as I had hoped. I guess I wanted to actually relax for once, rather than use every minute of the vacation thinking about painting. Laurie and Danny were wonderful company and we had some great conversations over bottles of Rose (a favorite wine in the south- made with red grapes but without the skins, so it looks lighter, like blush wine. Delicious!).
One of the coolest parts of the trip was that, when I walked around town alone, something about the way I dressed or looked suggested I might actually be french and not a tourist. This was very awesome, as I got to blend into the crowd a bit and was often approached with people speaking to me in french. Of course as soon as I opened my mouth and began butchering their language, it was all over. But it was a fun game. :P
All in all it was a wonderful experience and got me to seriously consider one day moving to France. It was definitely inspiring. All the music and food and art, the language and the small windows into the worlds of the people living there, everything made me want to drop everything and hide away in Saint Remy forever. :)
As promised to an ever-wheedling San Franciscan redhead, here are pics of my trip to the fanciful land of french people. There were lots of pretty things, and good foods, and cicadas. :)
For those of you who have seen this on facebook already, my apologies. For those who have not, enjoy! Or hate me, whichever you prefer.
I won’t hold it against you.
I would hate me too.
Just know that I still love you even if you hate me….