Bonjour Mes Amis –
My first guests are arriving in an hour.  I am excited and stressed to the
max.  I was up at 6am to make sure that everything was clean and at least
approachable if not liveable.

I begin the day with a list:

Wash the car – inside and out.  The dustbowl which is currently my yard
keeps the car in a fine layer of earth and the inside is littered with the
refuse of 12 Ikea trips and a small collection of McDonald’s cola cups.

Mop the floor of the Grand Salon (over a 100 square yards) – the floor was
painted a beautiful Provencal red and now has a black Sisal rug, two chairs
and a coffee table placed in the center.  Two gold couches have yet to
arrive but Fred and Mitch will get the general approach.  After the first
round of cleaning, the floor is a disaster – it looks worse than when I
started.  Alexander is appalled at my cleaning abilities and when he sees
the products I am using there is a huge woosh of air exhaled, the grabbing
of his hair in both hands and a loud “Merde!”

He jabbers on in very quick French with lots of flailing hand movements (I
have correctly assumed that he is scolding me).  I wrongly assumed that a
product called “Floors Plus” could handle my painted cement floor.  “Mais,
non!”  Alexander rifles through my endless supply of cleaning products
(purchased my first day here) and is pleased to find the right thing.  It
looks like Windex to me but whatever Alexander wants for the floors…

He proceeds to show me how it is done – all the while scolding me about my
ignorance of cleaning materials and the respect for the floor.  But, now I
am enjoying the show.  As he rants and raves at me Alexander is mopping the
floor from one end to the next (all the while smoking a cigarette).  He
does not notice that I sneak off to set up the bedroom…

A bed, dresser and a night-table.  My first complete room.  The joy of
simple accompishments astounds me.  However, something is odd here.  There
is a big square frame for the mattress but no bars for the middle – the
mattress falls through the frame.  A quick perusal of the Ikea directions
and a scan through the box brings me to the quick conclusion that once again
Ikea is missing a few parts.  It’s no wonder that you don’t pay very much
for the furniture.  My theory is that people pay so little for the
furniture that they will make-do with some sort of gerry-rigged system as
opposed to returning to the store.  I am no different…

OK – the mattress will now be a Futon that lies on the floor inside the
frame.  I will tell Fred and Mitch that it is very French!  At least there
are sheets.

One hour to go:
Clean the kitchen.
Clean the bathroom.
Clean the toilet.
Take a shower and put on a dress.

I grab my purse and fly into the Grand Salon where everyone is working.
They stop.  Alexander’s mouth drops open.  “Important guests – non?”  I
realized that all these men have only seen me with my hair twisted into a
birds nest on my head, coated with paint, dirt, sweat/cobwebs and wearing
ripped shirts or mumu’s.  I had put effort into a shower, actually blow
drying my hair (requiring 4 extension cords from the sun room to the bath
room mirror) and some eye make-up.  I love French men – they stopped for
one moment and appreciated my efforts.  And then they went back to work –
oh, well.

I arrive at the train station.  I have been told that this is a key piece
to the investment of my house.  A new TGV station has just been built – the
TGV’s are the high speed trains.  From Paris it takes 5-6 hours of driving
but only 2.5 hours on the TGV.  The station is new all right – still a
construction sight and no amenities.  Fred and Mitch’s train is due to
arrive at 2:21pm and the arrival board says it is on time.

2:21pm – a train pulls into the station with TGV all over the side – no
Fred and Mitch.
Missed the train?  Flight delayed?  Slept through their stop?
2:26pm – a TGV pulls into the station – no Fred and Mitch.
2:47pm – a TGV pulls into the station – no Fred and Mitch

I am very worried.

I ask an information attendant – excellent English!

“My friends were supposed to arrive on the 2:21 train from Paris.”
“Yes, it arrives 40 minutes late.”
“Oh, the board says that the train is on time.”
“Yes.”
“So how do I know when the right train arrives?”
“When your friends arrive.”

So, with that logic, I return to the bottom of the platform and wait
through three more trains.  As I begin to think something is wrong Fred and
Mitch are standing in front of me.  The French have a point – somehow.

How thrilled I am to see someone from home!  10,000 miles away from home
and familiar faces – it’s a good combination.

A quick drive back to the house and Chez La Vigne is showcased for the
first time.  I walk Fred and Mitch through the front doors hoping that the
Grand Salon will impress them – and stop short.  The electrician has finally arrived (yeah) and drilled through the plaster walls leaving a heavy layer of plaster dust all over the clean floor, the black sisal carpet, my new chairs and the glass coffee tables.  Voila!

It doesn’t matter – Fred and Mitch love my house.  They say all the right things:

“You’ve done so much work.”
“It looks great.”
“You are going to love this place.”
“The claw footed, antique, iron tub is fabulous.”
“Very unique.”

Fred and Mitch are the best!!!

The night begins with a bottle of Sancerre – outside at the patio table.  Later,
we walk around the village of St. Remy and stop in the little shops.  Fred
eyes a dark red leather couch with velvet cushions – I try to talk him into
it with the arguement that Americans don’t have to pay the TVA (tax) in
Europe.  Of course, the shipping fees balance that issue out.  Fred is a
smart man and says – “non.”

I take them to Bistro des Alpilles where Sebastian, Rudy and Nikola await.
I have friends – it is a miracle that I do not eat alone – St. Remy
celebrates.  A good bottle of red wine, escargot, salmon, chicken and good
friends.  Of course, everyone agrees Sebastian is a hottie.

I love having a house in Provence.

Saturday morning everyone is up early.  We walk to town and buy Pain au
Chocolats and strong coffee.  We are going to Chateauneuf des Papes.

The drive is easy and pleasant.  The town is tres charm!  We wander up to
the old Chateau, we wander down the streets, we wander into the wine shop –
quelle surprise.  It is 10:30am and time for some wine tasting.  A few
small glasses later with a quick description of the region from the young
shop-girl and we all walk out with two bottles.

Alexander has mentioned that he knows a man with a Chateau.  Doesn’t
everyone in France?  We call Alexander and he calls his friend.  Normally
the friend is not open – but for friends of Alexander that is a different
thing.  The three of us drive to Chateau de la Font du Loup – Chateau of
the Fountain Wolf – and meet Charles (pronounced Sharel).  He shows us the
house that his grandfather built and the vines that have been on the
property for over 60 years.  We see the oak fermenting barrels, the steel
drums that begin the fermenting process, the tasting room and the cellar with the
various vintages (which is actually upstairs).  The best part is that we
try many wines.

Fred comments that this is the sort of thing American Express arranges – a
private tour of a vineyard by the proprieter and a private tasting –
Alexander has arranged all this for free.  Well, actually…

We head to the office and all three of us are anxious to buy the superb
1995 vintage.  A case – absolutement!  Charles does not seem satisfied.
Well, I could use some white for guests (hint, hint) – OK 6 bottles of the
white.  Charles does not seem satisfied.  He suggests that a case of his
“Les Demoiselles” (named for his three daughters) is a must.  He waits for
our answer.  He waits for our answer.  He waits for our answer.  OK, OK – I
gave in –  I get it – and I can appreciate it.  I buy a case.  Who needs
American Express to charge you for this experience?

We return to town for lunch and I make the brilliant suggestion that we
drive just a little further in order to see the fields of lavender.  It
says in my book that the fileds are only 24 miles from here.  They harvest
the lavender in the middle of July so we would be lucky to see such a
sight.

Being the gullible guests that they are, Fred and Mitch said “oui”.

Three hours later we had driven through the entire Cote du Rhone Valley and
had yet to see a lavender field.  A special travel note:  24 miles does not
equate to 25 minutes.  Small roads, wrong turns, bad maps and no air
conditioning can turn 24 miles into 3 very hot long hours.

I am frustrated – the book SAYS that there are lavender fields.  I want
lavender fields.  The books SAYS that they are right here!  Frommers has
evidently not been here for a while.  Fred and Mitch are the two most
patient people I have ever met.

We never saw a lavender field but I think all of us were smart enough to
appreciate the beautiful Rhone Valley, the endless possibilities of
vineyards at the Chateaux and the most important fact – this was not LA.
We chased lavender fields hoping for postcard-perfect pictures and great
souvenirs of soap, bubble bath and sachets – we came up empty handed – or
did we?

Even going nowhere in Provence brings great beauty and an
appreciation for a life style that is so removed from our own corporate
city life.  I’m not ready for this now but I ponder the thought that just
maybe the idea of this lifestyle for my future is why I bought the house
to begin with…

Our evening is spent at Chez Bru – Le Bistrot Eygalieres.  It’s everything I
have waited for and dreamed of.  Good friends and a fabulous trendy
restaurant in the South of France.  See – I can be a simple girl!  Poached
eggs with truffle oil, basil/tomato risotto, John Dory (fish) with olive
tapenade and for dessert – figs and a selection of fromage.  We order a
fabulous bottle of Bordeaux from Le Gay Chateau (Fred and Mitch couldn’t
resist) and the coincidence worked to my benefit.  Tres superior!

Sunday we checked out the charming seaside village of Cassis – moules
(mussels), pommes frites, Saumon, salad and Sancerre.  A crystal day of sun
and sea – all of us wish we had brought our bathing suits.  I reminded Fred
and Mitch that suits were not really necessary on a French beach.  Mitch
was ready to go French!

The afternoon was spent in Aix-en-Provence – sipping coffee in the cafes,
walking through the local art display and shopping in the few open stores.
It was a full day and we were grateful to arrive “home” – how quickly that
word becomes comfortable.

Short naps, a bottle of Les Demoiselles, postcards and the setting sun left
all of us indifferent to the dinner reservations we had in Les Baux.  Mitch
had the brilliant idea of Vietnamese/Chinese take out  and more bottles of
Les Demoiselles.  It was accomplished in 20 minutes.  Another candle lit
dinner around the patio table with Chinese food and wine.  A tradition
perhaps?

I will finds fields of Lavender – someday.  In the meantime, I will take
postcard-perfect pictures of my friends at Chez LaVigne.  And, if all else
fails, I’ll just plant a field of lavender in my very own dustbowl and
people can chase my field of lavender!

A bientot mes amis!

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