Goodbye to all that

Time’s passage is visible here in ways that don’t quite square with the clocks and calendars back home.

Canoers in the shadow of my aqueduct, making their way to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue downstream.

After only three days, the poppies along the canal where I run have begun to hang their heads. Brilliant and gaudy as dollar-store baubles when I arrived, they’re starting to fade. I was lucky to have seen them. But other wildflowers are replacing them, and still others are as fresh as when we arrived, hosting an all-day pilgrimage of bees and butterflies.

Fig trees, slowly fattening with fruit, proceed at a different pace.

The Petrarch Museum gate was still closed the other day, the proprietor visible on the grounds, dozing in the shade, steps from the wrought iron table where he had laid out the informative pamphlets no one could read. What’s the rush?

What you might see at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, once you get there.

And at breakfast, the cured foods represent an even fatter slice of time. The cheese board always has five or six soft cheeses collapsing in slow motion. Beside that a steel contraption holds a cured ham, together with a knife for slicing off as much as you want. And beside that, a miniature iron gallows from which three dried sausages hang. You unhook a sausage and cut off what you need.

The sausages remind me of a photo I saw last year, of what was purported to be a seven-inch mummified penis “valued” at £100,000. The erect penis was removed from a criminal after he was hanged. Apparently Oscar Wilde was an “admirer of the artifact.”

Wavy tree
Back at Petrarch Garden, in Fontaine de Vaucluse.

Restaurant Philip (1926)

We’ve been here two weeks, and each week has ended on a high note, with dinner at Restaurant Philip (1926), which is purported to be the finest in Fontaine de Vaucluse. It is good. But it’s hard to focus on the food in this enchanted spot.

 Restaurant Philip (1926) is famous, with photos to prove it. There’s one of Winston Churchill and Clementine, who would have been dining a couple of tables over from where we sat. Charlie Chaplin is in another, like us, enjoying a view of the ducks. The Sorgue and the spreading plane trees haven’t changed.

Restaurant Philip (1926) occupies the best site in town, almost at water level and beside the newborn Sorgue emerging from its rocky cradle. Ducks duck underwater to display their bums, as waiters and waitresses whisk around us in crisp uniforms. This entire theatre plays out beneath giant spreading plane trees.

You’ll find ducks everywhere at Fontaine de Vaucluse.

Scrooge McDuck

The next day, we returned to Restaurant Philip (1926) for some lunch and for the soothing, intensely green midday light, filtered through the canopy of trees and reflected from the watery bed of greenery that trails like mermaid’s hair in the sparkling cold water.

We also wanted to watch the ducks. There is no absolute prohibition against feeding animals here — no friendly cartoon characters on a sign explaining that people food is not the same as animal food. So families throw bits of their lunch at the ducks, and the otherwise placid birds turn into turbocharged fiends, thrashing through the water to muscle each other from a crust of bread, leaf of lettuce or shred of magret de canard.

There is no absolute prohibition against cannibalism either. Laissez-faire is French, even if it’s been hijacked to mean that making pots and pots of money, no matter how you make it, is good for everyone.

I can’t help reflecting on this, as I read the papers so far away from home.

Red Rum
A glimpse of Red Rum, in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

We’re leaving Fontaine de Vaucluse tomorrow, taking the TGV from Avignon to Strasbourg. I doubt if I’ll ever see this place again.

My office
My office, from where I’m writing this.

10 thoughts on “Goodbye to all that”

  1. Simply wonderful writing! The bit about feeding the ducks had me cackling with laughter. The descriptions truly transported me to this magical spot, all the time wondering, can it really be as delightful as Spyro makes it out to be?

    It’s funny that you wrote about time. Just yesterday I was thinking how quickly the two weeks has gone by and wondering how the second week of workshop went.

    Great photos to, by the way. Have a great time in Strasbourg.


    1. Yes, it is as delightful as I describe. Or even better than I describe, but I can’t manage to get it across. Two weeks flew by, and thank you. I’ll be in touch.


  2. I’d love to share that office with you. It is a wonderful thing to be somewhere long enough, away from the routines of home, to absorb the cycles of nature. When we bicycled with Devon a couple of years back from Menerbes to l’Isle Sur la Sorgue it was early spring and the greenery was largely dormant – but not the gusher. Another time we tracked poppies in season all the way from Bulgaria to Belgium and it seemed like we were members of a travelling show which featured storks – which we took every opportunity to observe. Thanks for triggering these memories and entertaining me with your own in the making. Enjoy your ongoing travels.


    1. Thanks, Gerry. That’s very funny about the poppies, and a terrific image. Also, today I was in the town square and saw dozens of cyclists with high-end bikes cranking up the hills. Made me think of you.


      1. Except that we are not on the “high end” spectrum. Yesterday we were climbing some local (Vermont) terrain popular with Quebec cyclists in flashy spandex with carbon fibre set-ups worth as much as a small car. Lenore was on her chromoly steel Surly with a carrier rack and a kick stand. One of the riders (passing us) exclaimed “Elle est en acier!” incredulously. It gave us a welcome energy boost and we have not stopped laughing since. Your comment on my comment and an image of your frencher than our french in the square has given our triumph legs. Thanks!


  3. Beautiful,
    Why won’t you see it again? It’s better the second time.
    The place sounds like heaven.
    Vive La France.


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