Wanderlust Home and Pet Care
December 2: The morning is spent setting up the Provence Crèche (nativity scene and village). Some of the Santons de Provence are very old. The 3 Kings will be placed in the village 12 days after Christmas.
The Provence Christmas traditions:
On the December 4th, wheat is planted in saucers (Small packets of wheat seeds are sold in almost all bakery shops and the proceeds go to charity). If the stalks grow straight and green, the coming year will be prosperous.
Santon, deriving from the Provençal word "santoun" means little saint. They represent the inhabitants of the village visiting the Christmas crib: pétanque players (a type of bowling), fishmongers, doctors, bakers, shepherds, etc. Here the traditional crib is in fact an ideal model of a Provençal village and its inhabitants including the mayor. He calls the inhabitants to the crèche. The "great supper" is eaten on Christmas Eve, before going to midnight mass. Everything is minutely prepared. Each dish has its own symbolism and numbers are important : The table has 3 white tablecloths - 3 for the 3 members of the Trinity – with 3 white lighted candelabras and 3 saucers of sprouted wheat seeds planted on St. Barbe's Day. Absolutely no mistletoe which is believed to bring bad luck! The "great supper" is made up of 7 lean dishes in memory of the 7 sufferings of Mary. It is served with 13 bread rolls followed by the 13 desserts, which represent the Last Supper with Jesus and the 12 apostles.
Midnight Mass: In some villages you will be able to attend the ritual of the "Pastrage" ceremony during midnight mass: a new-born lamb is brought as an offering (it is alive and is not harmed in any way) either in a decorated cart, lined with straw and leaves or carried by shepherds who have come to the church in a procession after walking over the hills.
Too often traditions such as these are lost over time. It is a shame as that is one reason why we travel.
We enjoyed a savoy dish called tartiflelte with Reblochon cheese, lardons and cooked potatoes for lunch. Tonight, Michele is cooking shrimp for the main meal and foie gras for an appetizer with Alsace wine. It’s a good thing we are leaving as I know I have gained weight even with all the walking.
After dinner we have been asked to join Fabrice at the casino in Hyeres. This should be fun.
December 1: We are at home today but still eating like a Roi (King). Lunch was Alouelte saus tete (lark without a head) and Ravioles de Romans. We didn’t have lark. It was flank steak stuffed with ground meat and looked like the body of a bird. The Ravioli was pasta stuffed with herbs. Everything was delicious!!!
Dinner was at a local restaurant. Jeanine had Andouillelte a sausage made with guts. Gary & I each had a bite. We did not prefer the taste or the consistency. My bass was delicious and Gary enjoyed his steak tartar. Thank goodness we walked home as I was stuffed, (kind of like the lark - ha).
November 30: We attempt to drive to Marseilles to take a boat to the island to see the prison. Luck was not with us. The car should have had diesel and instead we put in regular gas. The car sputtered to a stop right after we passed through a highway toll booth. Gary must ride in the car on the flat bed while Jeanine and I ride in the truck to get to the garage. We are able to get a rental car through their insurance so off we go to Le Castellet a small medieval town. We had a glorious crepes to make us feel better.
November 29: Jeanine is an excellent cook and enjoys serving traditional favorites. For lunch we have magret de canard. Dinner is marmitle du pecheur (a fish stew) but this was donated by a neighbor that knew we were staying with Jeanine and Michele. The neighbor also gave us a jar of homemade Fig jam - OMG.
I hang our washed clothes outside to dry if we are to leave on Thursday.
We are in luck!!!
We have found a great fare to Prague (the train to Vienna was becoming an impossibility to purchase as it is an international fare with a sleeping car and not cheap). Jeanine can continue to spoil us for two more days - yea us!
As I am snooping around and I find a homemade strawberry bush. This has been made for Pauline and is an Palm Sunday tradition. Instead of the palm branch, a branch of candied fruits is given to children to commemorate Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Here the candies have a religious conection instead of our Easter Bunny being a legend.
November 28: We are off to Aix en Provence. They are preparing for the holiday season with the lights strung across the streets and the small chalets selling gifts for Christmas. The old town is lovely with the Pavillon Vendome and it’s wonderful atlanta (statues supporting balconies). I could feel the pain of the statue attached - he is saying, “I forgot to buy the foie gras!”
We are invited to dinner to Annie maison (house). She is serving reclette, melted cheese with charcuterie, potatoes, salad and lemon and apple tarts for dessert. She has designed and knits scarfs which are round. I have purchased one to keep me warm in the Czech Republic and because I hate it when the scarf won’t stay put around my neck. I glad advertise her web site here: verrelaine.blogspot.com (Google Chrome will offer to translate for you).
November 27: Geocaching at the Chateau d’Hyeres. We took a Santon, (small clay/ceramic figurine used in creating the nativity scene village). If I decide to leave it for a future geocach, I will attach a paper with the Provence tradition. surrounding this small statue.
Sophie, Fabrice, Pauline, and Florian arrive for lunch. We are having leg of boar called cuisseau de sauglier. Sophie has not changed since she stayed with us 18 years ago. Pauline is a chatterbox but I am so frustrated as we can’t communicate with words. Gary has the old version of Peter Pan which her mother is reading to her so we watch part of the movie. She bursts out laughing when the crocodile chases Captain Hook.
November 26: Market Day in Hyeres. The old town center is still alive with merchants specializing in foods for the gourmand. Olives of different shades of green, spices swirling in the air, and of course the aroma of freshly baked bread. Makes my mouth water. I have discovered that bee pollen has been helpful in protecting my health. I bought some in Paris. I am nearly out so the goal is to find more bee pollen. I am also told about the Royal gel from the queen bee which improves your strength. The gel must be refrigerated so I settle for the capsule.
The afternoon is spent walking around the old town of Hyeres. We climb the cobblestone streets to the church of Saint Paul. I can almost imagine the slop being thrown out onto the streets, neighbors talking to each other from the upper rooms, and using a bucket on a rope to lower to the street to purchase foodstuff for the evening meal so one’s apparel stays as clean as possible. We have taken a picture of a home built from the 12th or 13 century. The men restoring the home admire the workmanship of the builders from that long ago age.
November 25: A cooking lesson. Jeanine has contacted her fisherman. We arrived at the dock by 9am to purchase our fish for fish soup. The bag is full of several different varieties smelling the sea. Before returning home, we had a lovely walk around the town of Giens where Jeanine’s grandmother use to live.
The fish soup was a great success. We travel to the town of Collobrieres, a small provencial village.
November 24: Travel Day. We ride the train from Lugano to Nice where we will be collected by Jeanine and Michele - cousin to Christophe. Along the Cote d’Azur, the train pops in and out of the mountain tunnels with wonderous impressions of the Mediterranean. The sunlight warms the pastel colors of the homes with their rust colored terra cotta roofs. Occasionally a sailboat skims along the azure water with it’s sails swelling with the soft salt sea breeze. We converse with new friends from Hamburg and South Africa. Life is good!