Zapiro is the most talented and famous cartoonist in South Africa – fertile ground for a person with his talents.

To see more of his cartoons go to: www.zapiro.com and you are able to buy this T-Shirt for ZAR225 via the site.

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All power to the Free Press.

The cynic will no doubt say that if you spend all your life ‘selling the sh-t no one else wants’, you’ll end up being a bit eccentric yourself.

These characters snapped randomly in L’Isle sur l’Sorgue give some credence to our cynical friend. Please note these are traders – not customers – but it was after lunch!

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[Trader is third from the left]

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[check out the legs]

Twice yearly the eyes of the antique, bric-a-brac, collectable and junk retailing world fall on L’Isle sur l’Sorgue in the heart of Provence. L’Isle is a small village continually bisected by the river Sorgue and was a favourite haunt of the Romans and French down the ages. It’s provencal name is ‘Little Venice’.

L’Isle is reputed to be the third largest antique centre in the world – after London and Saint-Owen (France). Huge fairs to complement the literally 100s of permanent shops and stalls are held over the Easter weekend and in October.

Collectors come from far and wide. However, bargains are few and far between – it’s not for nothing that the L’Isle traders are said to charge like wounded buffalos.

We’ll leave the reporting of the fair to the experts. Let’s look at two other fascinating aspects of the village – the dustbins (trash/refuse) and the characters!

First, the dustbins.

Due to the network of canals criss-crossing the village, there is a rampant rat and mouse population. Ever inventive, the French have decided that the refuse bins should be mobile – that it, the garbage man uses a little remote control to lift the bins up into view to place the garbage in – or out – and then returns them to their underground compartments.

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[The parking area – our man in the fluoro suit (partly obscured – left) is getting ready for action]

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[The main container has risen from the ground]

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[The wheelie bins are taken out and filled with garbage]

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[Back they go – and time for a chat with a mate]

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[All finished – gives new meaning to the word ‘rats’]

About 20km from the iconic village of St Remy-de-Provence lies a non-descript Provencal village – Paradou.

It’s famous probably only for two things: Le Bistro Paradou (aka Chez Jean-Dennis) – the perennial top Country Restaurant in France; and, La Petite Provence du Paradou. Agriculture is what the locals do here in the heart of the Les Alpilles mountain range: olives, wine and wheat.

More about the Bistro on another day.

However, last week we turned left after St Remy and travelled through the olive groves to Paradou and a collection of 32 incredibly authentic buildings .

It took 8,000 hours of work to create these works of art – 50,000 clay tiles all hand-made, one by one for this miniature Provencal village where more than 400 figurines are seen going about their daily business in astonishingly picturesque scenes.

Daudet, Mistral, Giono and even Pagnot himself might be deceived into thinking they were seeing their characters true to life.

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[yes, he is having a wee!]

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[she’s having her bum pinched]

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See it – www.lapetiteprovence.com

               It seems as the days lengthen and we moved our clocks forward an hour, the pace and tempo of life within the Provencal region has quickened considerably. Even the Menerbes ATM is being rebuilt (albeit slowly!)

Everyone is out and about and, apart from a few showers, some thunder and lightening, and some hail stones, we’ve been able to get things going in preparation for the stream of visitors and renters approaching.

We had to drop off a portfolio for Charles and Marguerite Gotthard in the tiny village of Lacoste. There, behind many closed doors adorned with tiny brass plaques, lies the Savannah College of Design and Art: an American based college which has branches in Hong Kong and the USA. Added to the fact that Pierre Cardin owns the Marquis de Sade’s ancient castle then you can start to understand why the village has become a ghost devoid of local population to prop up the few remaining bars and restaurants. Quite sad really.

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[On Monday morning Jose arrived with a chilled bottle of champagne to pay his debts on backing England against France. Suitably scrubbed up we enjoyed the bubbly on the back terrace along with some fine canapes.]

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[Part of the Spring Provencal tradition is to have pots of colourful spring flowers such as pansies dotted around the house and surrounds]

On Wednesday we went on an outing with the Duncans. First stop the St Remy de Provence market and a quick side-swipe of the Gypsies as they try to find a suitable outside drinking table for Le Renard.

After a traditional lunch of roast chicken (market day classic fare) we went on an educational to the mental asylum where Vincent van Gogh spent his last days. The section where he was kept has been preserved as a monument but the balance of the hospital still operates. This is where he cut his ear off.

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[The hospital gates with the 14th Century chapel in the background]

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[The magnificent cloistered courtyard from which the wards are situated]

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[Van Gogh’s bath and wheel chair]

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[The view from his bedroom and the field which, legend has it, was the inspiration for his famous sunflower painting]

After this visit we went to the tiny village of Paradoux to see the santon display of ancient Provence (this will be a separate post as the pictures tell a great story).

Each day as we return to the house, the pool house kitchen and surrounds staggers over the finish line. It’s at the stage when it never looks like being finished, but surely will!

Our builders and gardener have been worried about our – in their view slack – attitude to thieves and potential losses of pots, ornaments etc in the garden. Taking matters into his own hands, Nicola has invented a clever way of keeping our front stairs pots fixed to the ground but still able to have water drainage.

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[A hole is drilled in the stone step, a long threaded steel pole is siliconed in place and, voila!, a washer and bolt fixed in place]

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[Try and steal this!]

Charlie and Ludo decided to take us out on Friday to say thank you for looking after them. We went to the Louramin market which was rained out but not before we had found some delectable coquelets (baby chickens), begging to be drenched in peri-peri. Off to Ansouis for lunch at a restaurant which Charlie had heard served great food.

We arrived at La Closerie. When we saw the ‘Recommended in the 2010 Guide Michelin’ on the front door, we were excited – and hungry. Madame has the menu du jour, the rest of us selections from the menu. This was probably the best meal we have ever had in France. This is not a statement made lightly.

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[Madame’s green bean soup with a tomato parfait]

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[Pork fillet with mustard and the most divine sauce imaginable]

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[The menu du jour option of squid risotto with a crisped parmesan wafer on top]

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[Dessert of the day – chocolate, chocolate, chocolate]

Merci bien Charlie and Ludo!

The week ended with a trip to the Sunday market at L’Isle sur l’Sorgue – more of the moving dustbins and the antique market characters in another post!

Meanwhile, we’re nearly there………..

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[on the left, the dish washer, then the fridge, then the ice machine then the sink, then the …..]

After a year we’ve managed to devise a clever little curtain to hide the electric board in the pantry. Madame’s antique sewing machine came out of the cupboard and before you could blink the rod was up and the curtain made, ironed and hung:

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[it’s important that it’s branded, of course]

Au bientot, Lovonne and Simon xx

 

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The above remote control is available for sale freely in Oz.

No comment.

 

On Sunday at 01h00, clocks in Europe move forward one hour to European Central Daylight Saving time. The UK does the same – only Iceland doesn’t.

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Over the past few weeks, we have been surrounded by pets – especially dogs, cats and also let’s not forget Luca’s tiny hamster!

The French, particularly, dote on their animals and the vets (called literally the ‘dog doctors’ do a brisk trade.

Madame supplied this little gem – a letter to all dogs and cats

Dear Dogs and Cats:

The dishes with the paw prints are yours and contain your food.. The other dishes are mine and contain my food.

The stairway was not designed by NASCAR and is not a racetrack. Racing me to the bottom is not the object. Tripping me doesn’t help because I fall faster than you can run.

I cannot buy anything bigger than a king sized bed. I am very sorry about this.Sticking tails straight out and having tongues hanging out on the other end to maximize space is nothing but sarcasm.

For the last time, there is no secret exit from the bathroom! If, by some
miracle, I beat you there and manage to get the door shut, it is not necessary to claw, whine, meow, try to turn the knob or get your paw under the edge in an attempt to open the door. I must exit through the same door I entered. Also, I have been using the bathroom for years – canine/feline attendance is not required.

The proper order for kissing is: Kiss me first, then go smell the other dog or cat’s butt. I cannot stress this enough.

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[thanks, Lx]

The pictures are so great and really tell the story of a memorable day. Here’s some more….

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[a renovated Citroen van having the day out]

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[the medieval graveyard overlooks the fair with the crosses peeping out]

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[the French love their gadgets]

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[it wasn’t all flowers – liquorice allsorts too!]

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[spring pansies]

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[pensive]

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[orchids on display in the town hall]

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Like magic, the curtain of snow and sleet has lifted off the Luberon Valley to coincide with the arrival of Flybe.com’s twin-prop aircraft from Southampton bearing Rachel and Dave.

The almond trees burst into blossom each day, the baby dog violets are starting to peep out from the undergrowth and yellow daisies proliferate day by day.

The advent of Provencal Spring (official day – 20th March) has meant that building has progressed well on the pool kitchen and other projects. On Monday the ‘inspectors’ – Jean Pierre and Genevieve arrived. During a lunch we were able to have Jose’s ‘papers’ checked and agreed to open the bank and release some money to him. The rest of the money is asleep until completion.

During the lunch we had a knock on the door and a young painter – Veron – arrived. He came bearing gifts for JP and Genevieve in a small white plastic bag : a clutch of pigeons, freshly shot down at the Durance river. Squeamish, they were dispatched to the deep freeze for preservation and cooking at a later date.

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[Nicola (right) and assistant throwing the concrete floor for the pool kitchen]

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[This is how it’s done in France. The visual reference on the left, the plan for under the counter on the right. Hanging from a string is the thermometer to monitor the temperature for the concrete drying time]

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[A jovial Jose plastering the wood shed – now christened Simons bedroom when he has a ‘dispute’]

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[The BBQ chimney outside the kitchen under renovation. Note the blanket to keep the sun off the drying concrete]

We gave Rachel and Dave the Golden Triangle tour for the Monday afternoon in an endeavor to wear off the demands of the long French ‘business lunch’. It had started with fine champagne (aperitif), rose and then a little red that JP had brought from the Montpellier cellar.

Tuesday was spoil day. Cuceron and Restaurant L’Etaing. We were happy to see that Patrick has not dropped his standards – menu du jour was a starter of a fine tomato and mozarella salad; a choice of lamb or mussels; finished off with chocolate gateau.

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[Moules et rites – The Grand Restaurant in Camps Bay, please take note! This how NOT to rip your customers off]

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[Traditionally, the French eat lamb during Lent and in the build up to Easter.]

After a quick scout around Avignon on the Wednesday and a delightful fish restaurant find just off the Palais des Papes square, we dropped Rachel and Dave off at the Avignon airport and headed for Aix-en-Provence.

The consultancy had an early morning Antipodean video conference on the Thursday and we bunkered down at a Novotel situated right next to the main auto route from North Africa, Spain and Portugal with all the trucks heading for France and the rest of Europe.

Needless to say, we did not sleep with the windows open and also reinforced to ourselves that corporate life sucks.

On Sunday we discovered one of the great delights of a Provencal spring – the Maubec Spring Flower Show. Situated in a small community aligned to Menerbes, Maubec is a relatively modern centre guarded by an old village which was abandoned in the 19th Century.

The locals were out in force. The flowers unbelievable. The vibe amazing. The weather played it’s part. The local brass and wind band played their tunes : starting with the theme from Loony Tunes! Pictures will try and do it justice.

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[one of the many pansy displays]

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[the old village in the background]

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[this couple are selling pruning shears – she looks terrifying]

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[geraniums, geraniums, geraniums]

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[a first sighting in France : a beer tent]

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[a rather dishevelled conductor leads his charges through Loony Tunes]

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[the French are proud of their roundabouts – this one is between Maubec and the village of Oppede. It pays homage to the many stone masons who have broken their backs over the centuries]

Lunch at La Bergerie with the Duncans rounded off a great Flower Show. We’ll be back next year.

Au bientot

Lovonne and Simon xx

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