Winding Back the Clock!
It was my turn at the wheel of Moving Being’s long wheel base Mercedes, as we travelled south from Vienne’s roman amphitheatre – where we’d caught a Frank Zappa concert. We were heading for the Cote d’Azur to try our luck busking with elements of the ‘M. Apollinaire et le Cirque du Zodiac’ show – that’s Jessica Cohen, Pete Wooldridge, Nick Birkinshaw and myself. They were sleeping when I made a detour to Mérindol, the sleepy Provençal village where my folks had bought and restored a ruined Bastide some 25 years earlier, in the vague hope that we might get a gig there to help pay for the fuel to get us home to Wales. As I pulled up on the Place de la Mairie, the first person I caught sight of – and this was at 7.30 in the morning – was the cousin of our oldest friends in the village, Rémy and Jacqueline Combe. As it turned out, his mother was the Mayor’s secretary and he said he would do his best. By the time everyone was compus mentis, we’d secured the Salle des Fêtes for the Saturday night and having put up a number of posters and photographs we took off for the coast.
All that was 35 years ago! So it was with great trepidation that we drove into village – well actually we left Emma outside and cycled in. Who might we meet from that last visit and who would remember the mad Green family who’d settled in a dilapidated house in the old village up on the hill, with no water or electricity, in the mid-fifties!?
Well, I very much surprised the son of the Combe family when we arrived on his door-step…. Only 2 years younger than me, he had given up his father’s farm, following a devastating winter and developed a very successful gite business on the edge of the village with 9 houses, swimming -pool – the works! Pierre and his lovely wife Jacqueline who, for just over a year now, has been Mayor of the village, welcomed us with open arms and not only allowed us to get Emma off the road and park her up behind one of the ‘cottages’ but said we were free to use their shower and swimming pool whenever we wanted. So far we’ve only met one other person from my childhood days, the indomitable Max – the subject of one my father’s most unusual paintings:- While having a siesta in Paris, my father had a dream/vision of someone leaving the seat of a motor-bike, having taken a level-crossing far too fast, and flying through the air. As luck would have it, he ended up head first in a pile of dung, sustaining no major injury. My father went straight to his studio and put the episode on canvas in sweeping strokes. Later that day he received a call from friends in Merindol who related the very story he’d ‘witnessed’ !
Pierre proudly showed us round his spacious house, where many of the walls were hung with Alf’s pastels, lithographs and framed posters – the only painting was a portrait of Pierre, poignant for me as Alf said I could never sit still for long enough
After I’d dropped Ruth off at Marseille airport for her week’s teaching in Croatia, I picked up a hitch-hiker, something we’re not normally able to do as we have the only two available seats in the ‘cab’. He’d flown in from Alicante and had come to pick up his daughter to take her back to Spain for her Summer holidays. We got talking about organic farming and permacultures and I mentioned that Ruth and I had met someone in Lauris a few days previously, who made oils and essences from locally collected herbs and flowers which grow in profusion in the Luberon. ‘Ah, Laurent!’ he said.’Give him my regards when you next see him.’ Small world eh!?
Here’s a photo of Laurent and Frank outside our Emma:
Lauris, some 8km east of Merindol, also hosts an extraordinary garden on the terraces of its Castle, with seemingly every known plant related to colour dyes, which Ruth and I visited and to which I returned for an open-air Sculpture exhibition (with Jazz accompaniment on the opening night).
One of the beautiful flowers from the garden:
Back in Merindol, I give a return Massage to a therapist who had treated Ruth before she left and, as an added bonus, receive a treatment from her daughter who is a ‘gentle’ chiropracter. She becomes very interested in my case and asked me to bring my back x-rays when I next come to Paris, where she normally practices. I then find out that the local garagiste, who is a cousin of Pierre’s, has a problem with an arm/shoulder. I offer him a treatment and when I come to pay for an oil-change on Emma, he waives the fee !!! whoopee…
The temperature has now reached the top 30’s/early 40’s and so I find myself getting up between 6 and 6.30am and doing stuff before it gets too hot. One morning I take to the hills behind Merindol, le petit Luberon, to gather thyme and rosemary and realise I’m walking in the footsteps of Ruth’s horse-riding trek: fabulous views over the Durance valley and inward to hidden micro-climate valleys. I spend an evening in Salon at a Renaissance festival, complete with street performers/musicians and an outrageously long and varied procession through the town.
Lourmarin has a local growers/organic market, which I go to in the hope of finding a good selection of Ratatouille ingredients – I end up buying from an organic farmer from Merindol! Over the next few days I go into ratatouille production but am amazed how much it reduces in cooking, so end up with far less than I’d hoped…Hey Ho !
The night before Ruth’s return I go to Mallemort, a small town over the Durance, whose old bridge we had camped under in the Easter of 1955 and from where we had first sighted the abandoned village, known as le Vieux Merindol. They were hosting an evening of Polyphonic Music. First on the bill was a group from Marseille, called appropriately ‘Radio Babel – Marseille‘, ( tho you get a better idea of what they are like live, if you listen to their ‘Teaser’ on YouTube) whose vocal style drifted seamlessly from beat-box to slam-poetry, to rap and back, bound together with delicious harmonies reflecting the cultural melting-pot that is Marseille.
The next morning, I attended a christening but sadly could not stay for the huge family lunch, elegantly laid out in Pierre and Jacqueline’s garden, as I had to drive Emma up to Lyon to pick up Ruth and continue our journey.
For more photos of the Renaissance procession in Salon, click here
For photos of the house that Frank’s folks bought in the mid 50’s, as well as miscellaneous photos of Merindol and its inhabitants, click here
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