(The following was written Monday, May 19th but due to technical difficulties  – i.e. I am a dolt with computers – this is going out Friday, May 23rd.  And be warned – this is long!)

For some it is meeting the Pope, for others the President or maybe the Queen – for me royalty turned out to be Steven Spielberg and meeting him was a bigger thrill than I could have ever anticipated.

But, I am getting ahead of myself as the week began in a very different way.

Sheep.

When last I left all of you Trish and I were doing our best to hit every highlight across Provence.  It was great for me to re-visit all the beautiful towns of Provence one last (?) time and for Trish a first-timers delight.  Patricia Deux left Saturday and I declared a “no drinking day” and stayed in with my own company and a bottle of water.  I’ll admit it was a tad odd to have so much quiet around me but I knew it was necessary to rest up for round two.

Dan and Susan arrived late Sunday afternoon (which gave me ample time to nap) and after a simple dinner in the village everyone settled in for a good nights sleep.

Dan and Susan had arrived over a long holiday weekend – from May through August it seems that every weekend is a “long holiday”  celebrating some feast or another.  This time around Thursday and Monday were the holidays (that I still can’t figure out) so it all just combined into a 5 day holiday for the French.  All I know is that gas stations, grocery stores, banks and business in general becomes a challenge – open, or not, is the constant question.  The fridge was bare, there was no gas in the car and there was no hope for either until Tuesday.  We made do with our feet and some good cafes.

On Monday morning, Dan and Susan were treated to the Transhumance Festival.  What the hell is that, you ask?  Basically, they parade 3,000 sheep through the village.  My village is typical of many Provencal villages – it has a main ring road that in total is about 1/2 mile around (maybe less) –  it is lined with cafes and shops.  Smaller streets and alleys criss-cross through the center of the circle with more shops and cafés.  In a ceremonial nod to the old days of moving sheep from winter pasture to summer pasture, they now parade the sheep around the main circle of the village three times.  We were warned to get to town early to secure a good position so we rallied by 9am to get a street side table. While waiting, we enjoyed the obligatory fresh croissants and café crème for a good two hours before the bells could be heard.

The excitement grew among the crowd as the bells rang in the near distance.  All of a sudden, a sea of sheep came running around the corner.  They fill the entire street “baahing” in a chorus.  They are led/herded by men and boys dressed in old fashioned garb – puffy peasant shirts, black overalls, big black country hats.  The women follow in long pretty Provencal dresses, their hair woven with flowers.  Everyone cheers and squeals.  It’s quite a site to see.  Susan and Dan love these small native festivals and I have to admit I found it rather unique and fun.

Of course, with sheep, there is a lot of poop and by the second time around the circle, the streets were well covered!  We picked our way carefully out of town and wandered back home.  We thought seeing them circle twice was sufficient.

Our afternoon was spent in the ancient village of Oppede.  It’s a beautiful village in the Luberon Valley built high into the hills with the remnants of a castle and church towering over the main square.  Beautiful gardens surround the village and you have to hike up through the hills and gardens to reach the village.

It was hot and muggy as we settled down for a quick lunch before exploring.  There were two places in the village to eat lunch and the first one was already full so we went to the less fancy café across the square.   We wanted to eat outside and settled at the last table under a small awning.  As we ordered lunch, we could see inky dark clouds roll across the valley – right towards us.  The lightning was streaking in the distance and the thunder was rolling like the Mid-West storms of my youth.  We loved it!!!!  We were thankful to be under the awning but even that didn’t lend much coverage when the storm really began to brew.  The husband finally came out of the kitchen to move some of our tables into the garage next door that had a more sturdy overhang.  There was nothing to do but wait it out and order some more wine while we shared the small shelter with other diners and a group of bikers sitting out the worst of the storms fury.

When the storm passed we rambled around the ruins and enjoyed the stunning views of the countryside with streaks of sun fighting through the clouds.  Of course, while watching the storm move across the valley I noted it was headed right for my house and calculated the water damage we could expect to see when we returned!!!  (I warned Dan and Susan that we may all be sleeping in one twin bed!!!).

The late afternoon was spent at a local domaine tasting wine just below the village of Menerbes and checking out their Corkscrew museum (musee du Tire-Bouchon).  Fascinating stuff.

Tuesday was a big day.  Dan had arranged a driver to take us to Chateauneuf du Pape.  Dan is a huge vinophile (?) – you know, people who know a lot about wine – and their entire trip was designed to appreciate the various grapes of the Rhone Valley.  We began at a lovely family owned vineyard called La Bastide St. Ominque.  We tried 8 or 9 wines with a great deal of explanation.  After number 3, I was pretty buzzed and the wealth of information was lost on me!

Had a lovely lunch in the village and then wandered to La Nerthe – a winery Dan and I had been to before.  It’s the complete opposite of the family run winery we visited in the morning.  The house is an imposing Chateau that sits atop a hill with sweeping views of the vines below.  Sexy place but the tasting was a bit dull – they had already sold out of most of their stock.   Well, at least we know it’s good.

Our favorite was the late afternoon visit to Domaine du Pegau.  Again, a family owned, small domaine but one that makes their wine the old fashioned way.  As the grapes ripen they are hand picked and thrown directly into the vats.  Unlike other winemakers who rely more on the science of mixing the various elements – grapes, skins, oak barrels vs. steel, time, sun, etc. – this family relies on their instinct and taste.  Until a year ago they labeled their bottles by hand.  (See the enclosed picture of the “factory”).

All of their wine was superb.  They are known world wide for their vintages and much is sold in futures.  We not only tasted a few good years – 1997, 2003, 2005 – but had the opportunity to barrel taste.  Our guide put a long eyedropper into the barrels lining the wall and let us try the grapes that were aging for the 2007 vintage.  It was delicious – I can’t wait until it’s in a bottle.  We chatted with the father (Paul Feraud) who clearly did this for the love of the wine and was proud that his daughter Laurent was following in the family business.  He and I found a mutual love of food and wine and had a wonderful conversation about all the restaurants in the area.  To all of you it will not be surprising that I knew almost all of the restaurants he discussed – Paul on the other hand was enamored with my passion for what he considers the best things in life.

I’m already trying to figure out how to ship over 60 bottles of wine in my cellar and now I found myself buying a few more.  It was hard to resist his charm and passion for the grape.  Oh, well!

Wednesday, we enjoyed the market in my village where we shopped for dinner from the various farmers who create displays that rival a Gourmet Magazine photo shoot.   Patrick and Andrea arrived around 6pm and we all shared a lovely simple dinner at home where we managed to put a little dent in my wine cellar.

Thursday, Lorna (from London) joined us.  It’s been a few years since Patrick, Lorna and I were together and we relished sharing a laugh and a bottle of wine in the garden.  I had arranged for Willy to cook dinner for us that night which is always great fun as we don’t have to do a damn thing!!!  There were 6 of us at the house and we invited Ed, Patti and of course Willy and Cornelius for the evening.  Willy out did himself with a Leg of Lamb in a wine reduction sauce and prunes, fresh Turbot grilled with lemon and herbs, scalloped potatoes and a beautiful green salad.  The 10 of us made much more than a “dent” in the cellar.  With Dan’s knowledge of wine he was given free reign with the selection and often disappeared into the dungeon under the kitchen to retrieve bottle after bottle.  Vieux Telegraphe, La Nerthe, Carraine, Gigondas, it all flowed!

I was thrilled to have one last dinner party in the garden with good friends.  But it began to hit me that I was experiencing “the last moments” of the adventure.  A tad bittersweet mixed with a healthy dose of gratitude.  I silently toasted the coming end of my French adventure.

We all awoke Friday morning a tad shaky and fuzzy.  The count of empty wine bottles lining the kitchen floor told the story.  But we were not to be deterred from today’s planned activities.  Lorna, Patrick, Susan, Dan and I had a reservation at La Chassagnette for lunch!!  Knowing the crowd staying with me, I arranged a lunch with Armand where he would cook for us and pair wines.  A boozy, 3 hour lunch.  Perfect!!!  (Monsier Feraud would be proud and jealous – it turned out this is one of his all time favorites.)

We went to Arles for a few hours in the morning to wander around and enjoy a coffee. A little sluggish, we drove out to the Camargue for the afternoon feast.  (I’d like to say we managed the directions a little better this time around but, once again, we got lost and this time it had nothing to do with Michelle!!!).

When we arrived a little before 1pm we were warmly greeted by Michelle and Armand.  Deja vu!  Glasses of champagne mixed with fresh squeezed juice of blood oranges and strawberries were quickly placed in our hands.  Ahhhhh, that seemed to help settle last night’s indulgence.  We walked in the garden with our champagne and admired the unique ambience of the place.  I always worry that friends won’t find it as fabulous as I do but my worry was quickly put aside.  Everyone seemed charmed.

Michelle called us to lunch and another gastronomic experience began:
A cold herb soup poured over thin slices of cucumber and fresh goat cheese – a lovely Chardonnay/Viogner wine
Small slices of grilled Red Mullet with olive oil decorated with edible fresh flowers (beautiful) – a local Chardonnay Gammay blend
Succulent baby calamari with lemon and arugala – some more Chardonnnay
Seabass encased in a mound of sea salt (from the Camargue) that steams the fish to perfection.  Garden fresh vegetables and potatoes – and another local Chardonnay
White chocolate mousse with fresh strawberries – served with a sparkling cold red wine.  Delicious.

Course after course was nothing but perfection.  Although a great deal of food, each dish was light and fresh.  Every bottle of wine perfectly matched.  We were the last to leave at 4pm.  Once again Michelle and Armand went above and beyond giving us an experience we will not forget.  The five of us laughed and shared stories while wondering if we would be able to get into our jeans at the end of the trip.  I already know I cannot.

Andrea did not join us for lunch but preferred to go for a 5 mile run and explore the Camargue.  Needless to say, Andrea can get into her jeans.  We were thankful for a designated driver home.  We took the long way back (because we took a wrong turn) but found our mutual love of John Denver.  As we drove through the countryside of green fields and red poppies we sang Rocky Mountain High, Annie’s Song and Thank God I’m a Country Boy.  Lorna and I learned that both of our fathers were big John Denver fans.  I’m sorry they will never meet.

Needless to say, Friday night was rather quiet with everyone packing and some picking at the leftovers in the fridge.  We all had to be up and out in the morning.  Dan and Susan were leaving to taste more wine along the Rhone, Andrea was leaving for Barcelona to see family, Lorna returning to hers in London and Patrick and I were off to Cannes.

On Saturday we all said our good-byes and departed in 5 directions.  Ed had gone ahead to Cannes for a lunch, Patrick and I did not arrive until 6pm.  Patrick found a B&B up in the hills over-looking Cannes.  It was a 15 minute walk down the hill but a challenging hike up.  Ed was able to arrange a room at The Carlton through Warner Bros.  Patrick and I were jealous until we heard how big the bill was!!!  No thanks.

The owners of the B&B offered to drop Patrick and I off on the edge of the madness known as the Cannes Film Festival.  We quickly cleaned up and hopped in the car.  We were dropped off a few streets behind the main drag.  Cannes is a city on the edge of the Mediteranean.  One main road – La Croisette – runs along the water with hotels and luxury shops dotting the strip.  It’s the adult version of Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale.  Huge posters for all the movies were hanging from every possible position.  The beach clubs along the water had all been rented out for private parties and screenings.  Big burly security guards and tough-ass PR girls holding a list of names stood at every entrance – the girls looked tougher.  Huge crowds walked both sides of the street – some in tuxes and cocktail dresses, others in business suits talking on cell phones, and others in t-shirts and shorts just gawking at the madness and hoping to have a “star” sighting.

Patrick and I found Ed firmly ensconced at a small table on the patio.  The Carlton, The Majestic and The Martinez are the three main hotels were everyone goes to be seen and network over cocktails – at all hours of the day.  I’ve been here for numerous TV conferences over the years but, let me tell you – the movie people are a lot prettier than the TV people.  Big mistake.  I should have gone this direction.  We didn’t join Ed until 7pm and learned that we were lucky that evening as we actually got a reservation in the next village over (Antibes) at 9:45pm.  I’m not being facetious.  We were really thankful.  There was no way we were going to get in anywhere in Cannes.  And besides, Antibes is where the really cool people go.

Ed’s fabulous contact/friend set us up at Michelangelo.  A charming Italian restaurant (with gorgeous waiters/waitresses) – it’s a must visit for the big studio brass and celebs alike.  The stars of Indiana Jones had dined there the night before and Clint Eastwood was due the next night.  Our evening seemed to be a lot of industry people from the studios enjoying a night in between big screenings and parties for their particular films.  Lots of nervous energy with all the big screenings taking place that week – The Women, Chez, Indiana Jones, etc.

The chef/owner warmly greeted us as we were referred by the woman who takes care of many of the big stars – Angie, Brad, Clint, blah, blah, blah.  I don’t care much about the celeb angle but I like that it gets us in the door.  We finally made it to the table around 10:15pm and had yet another amazing meal.  There truly is no end to it in France.  I saw pasta with fresh black truffles on the menu and that was a no-brainer.  Thank heaven for stretchy t-shirt dresses.  No more jeans for a while!  Salads, Pasta, Red Wine, Bread, Dessert, oy!  Patrick was flirting with the waitress, Ed was making eye contact with someone at the table next to us and I was making love to the truffles.  We were all pretty happy.

We arrived back at The Carlton around 1am and started in on post-dinner drinks.  Patrick and I enjoyed meeting the various people Ed knew.  We knew nobody!!!!  Everyone appeared to have the same kind of dinner that we did, as nobody seemed particularly sober.  Keep in mind that it was pouring rain at this time and everyone was still out on the terrace huddled under the large umbrellas keeping the party going.  I called “uncle” around 2:30am and Patrick and went in search of a taxi.  Why we thought we would get a taxi at 2:30 in the morning when it was raining during the Cannes Film Festival was sheer stupidity.  Patrick thought it was great fun to walk thru the town and hike up to the B&B – it was not a highlight for me.  Enough said.

Sunday was the main reason Ed and I were in Cannes.  Ed had been invited to the screening of Indiana Jones and the party that followed. He was kind enough to invite me as his date.  There was a lot of confusion regarding tickets so we did not get confirmation until 5:30pm.  Ed told me to be at the Carlton by 6:30pm!  It was black tie and I was wearing a long gown.  I had begun to think we were not going so I was taken by surprise.  With a fury I managed to get cleaned up and blow dry my hair with the typical French Blow dryer – an item that look like a vacuum hose and works about as well!

The taxi arrived early to tote me down the hill – $30 for a mile – that’s Cannes during the Festival!!!  The main drag – La Crosiette – had been closed to allow for the fans and paparazzi outside the premiere at The Palais.  The taxi could only drop me a few blocks behind the hotel and told me it was best to walk.  (I do believe men should be required to wear 4 inch high heels for just one day of their lives!)  Holding my long dress in one hand and my oversized purse in the other I wobbled along the cobblestones dodging fans wearing shorts, t-shirts and the obligatory camera dangling around their necks.   I finally met Ed in the lobby of his hotel which was mobbed with hundreds of people in tuxes and evening gowns.  The movie is a Paramount and DreamWorks project and it seemed every executive and celeb was staying at The Carlton.

Ed and I joined the long line of people beginning the  walk down to The Palais.  The Croisette was closed so we walked along La Plage (The Beach) – there is a strand and we strolled down enjoying the breeze.  About 500 yards from The Palais we were besieged by photographers.  Handfuls of professional photographers came out of nowhere snapping photos and yelling to me and Ed:  “Stop”, “Smile”, “Give Us a Minute”, “Look this way”, “Take off your sunglasses” – it was a little disorienting yet quite fun and funny.  Now keep in mind these photographers are not The Papparazzi.  They all have websites and post the pictures of all the “others” going to the premiere and if you like the photo you can buy it from them the next day.  However, some people walking along the beach must have assumed we were “someone” and began to take our picture too.  How disappointed they will be later!!

When we arrived at The Palais it was a site to be seen.  I have seen and been to a fair amount of red carpets events/premiers. They are fun and exciting but this truly is the Grand Daddy of them all.  The red carpet entrance is WIDE – about 50 feet across.  It is LONG – about 300 feet to the entrance.  And you have to walk up a grand set of stairs.  There were handlers controlling the volume of people walking down the carpet and ensuring that anyone the paparazzi would be interested in were given plenty of room before and after.  We were not “those people”.  When it was OK for us to walk they stepped back and let us pass.  It was an amazing and overwhelming experience to walk that red carpet and climb those stairs.  There were THOUSANDS of people crowded all around The Palais – in bleachers, on the street, standing on top of cars, hanging out on balconies across the road.

We walked slowly, watching the excitement of the fans but feeling much of the same thing ourselves. The paparazzi and video crews from around the world were all in tuxedos and at least 10 deep on both sides.  Beautiful men and women walked the carpet.  Goldie Hawn, John Hurt, Dennis Hopper, Selma Hyack, Harrison Ford, Calista Flockhart, Cate Blanchette, Shia LeBeouf, George Lucas, Karen Allen and of course, Steven Spielberg.  There were so many more but that’s all I can remember.

We grabbed our seats early to watch the rest of the people parade in.  As the movie is about to start they announce the arrival of the Director (Steven Spielberg) and he walks down the aisle with the cast and producers (George Lucas).  The whole place stood and applauded.  This was a bit of movie history happening and the crowd was excited to be a part of it.

I won’t give a review of the movie as you will all have to see it for yourself.  When it ended a 5 minute standing ovation was given.

Ed and I slipped out a back door to head back towards The Carlton.  The “after party” was at the beach club directly across from his hotel.  The party was intimate – whereas 2500 attended the screening, the party was for only 300.  Once again, the photographers were all over those walking to the party.  The entrance was mobbed with fans and Ed and I had to fight and push our way through the crowd to get to the entrance.  There was a lot of envy when we passed over our tickets to security.  The guards took the tickets from us and destroyed them immediately so there would be no interlopers.

The beach club looks like a very large living room that opens fully to the beach and water only 12 feet from the door.  Large torches burned along the sand and in the distance huge yachts were anchored with all their lights on hosting some good parties.  Beautiful couches and flowers where everywhere.  Sushi and champagne were being passed.

As soon as we walked outside, Shia saw Ed.  They had just wrapped Shia’s most recent movie – Eagle Eye (a Steven Spielberg production) – and Shia was thrilled to see Ed.  We chatted for a bit.  Shia was a little nervous as Cannes was considered his big “coming out” party.  He’s a sweet kid and was clearly enjoying himself.  We wandered a bit more saying hello to a number of people Ed knew from LA.  I’m not sure who was manning the offices back home as it seemed EVERYONE in the movie business was in Cannes.  The cast of Indiana Jones were all there and in a very festive mood.  We had a Star Jones sighting (oh, dear).  As we thought about heading out, Ed wanted to say a quick hello to Steven Spielberg.  We waited until he finished his conversation with Shia and race car star Jacky Stewart (that’s who they said it was – I thought he had died).  Shia was happy to see Ed again and Steven turned to say hello and talk to Ed.  Ed introduced me and I was shocked at what a thrill it was to meet my idea of royalty.  He’s a legend.  He will always be a legend.  And I was excited to shake hands, meet a very gracious man and share a conversation.

Patrick had texted me a few minutes earlier as we had hoped to meet him for a drink – I loved sending a note back to him saying:  “Sorry for the delay.  Was chatting with Steven Spielberg.”  How often do you get to say that????!!!!!

Patrick called it a night so Ed and I hit the hotel restaurant at midnight and re-lived the excitement of the evening.  Around 3am as we were trying to find me a taxi, a friend of Ed’s arranged for his driver to take me up the hill.  Me and my 4 inch heels were very excited.

It was a grand night and one that seemed to happen in a blur.  Ed has a big movie of his own in the works with Warner Bros. and I already warned him that I want to be on the red carpet in Cannes for his premiere.   “From your lips to God’s ears, honey”, is all he said.  I am praying really hard!!!

We are off to Annecy where we hope to get some R&R.  Much love to you all – More later…

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>