In search of “bewildering beauty” in Provence

Tree shadow

Perhaps it is the ghost of ancient rituals; the penetrating light diffused on occasions by smoke, mist, or wind; the the abstract random cubism of the villages; the layered heterogeneous  human and geological history carved into every stone that makes it so  challenging to capture what Albert Camus described as “the bewildering beauty “ of Provence.  It is an country of its own in France where it has for centuries been the mother of a poetic language and muse for the songs of troubadours. Provence has an energy that writers, artists and musicians have tried to capture and articulate since time immemorial.

For me the Driving Question is: How to capture and portray the visual feast that passes through time bathed in thousands of shades of light? In many ways this is the essential enigma of the photographic process where the key tools are just that – time and light.

Windmill in the Ansouis region

One of the first lessons of photography is that of Aperture, the intensity of the light, and Shutter Speed, the time it takes light to travel and expose film. Et voila une photo! But the process is not what makes you happy. Non!  It is the challenge to make the resulting artifact a thing that speaks to and of its subject in a unique way. It is an achievement, not impossible but difficult, which the French have a poetic expression for: “batir des chateaux en Espagne” – to build castles in Spain.

Paul Cezanne lived in the of city of Aix en Provence. He spent his entire artistic lifetime seeking a completely innovative way to create not a copy but “a harmony parallel to nature” in his paintings. Cezanne has been called the father of modern art. Picasso, who had a home in Provence and Matisse who lived on the Provincial Côte d’Azur, were both directly influenced by him and his somewhat geometric perspective. It is one that you see everywhere in Provence – the villages are like cubist arrangements, the stony Alpilles and Luboron Mountains are geometric forms in shapes and color. The vineyards and meadows are like Provencal Quilts hanging in a market.

Cesanne image

We are living in Provence in the early winter m9nths of 2013. It is a time of year when tour busses are parked in their homelands of Holland, Denmark and England; when many hoteliers, chefs and shopkeepers take their holidays in North Africa or Miami where they find the heat they are accostomed to during the hot Procençal summera. And we are here in their chilly homeland being treated very graciously in their beautiful villages. Our charming rental house in the Provincial region of the Vaucluse is just outside the town of Ansouis, a small hilltop village, classified among “the most beautiful in France”.

Ansouis, Lourmarin, Lacoste, Oppède, Bonnieux, Ménerbes, Vaugines, Cucuron, Grambois. Cavaillon, Roussillion and Cabrieres d’Aigues are just a handful of the 35 village names that are, to pronounce correctly, a humiliating journey through silent l’s, guttural g’s and tongue flattening aig’s. It is a relief that the inhabitants of these towns are very forgiving and even so, many speak English, they allow us make an effort in our nascent French.

provenc town

We have become Provinceophiles having a tireless love affair with the climate, the wind, the culture, food and needless to say the plentiful wine. It has been just one month but it feels like ot has been much longer. There is so much to discover and I hope to tell you all about the adventure of doing so.

I am looking forward to post my next blog and share the story of how to find a perfect Provincial house to rent; of shopping in les marché – markets that pop up in every village on a different days of the week; food glorious food and the gusto of Provincial cooking, a marvel to unravel the “Mediterranean paradox”.


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