This morning, the Caromb village centre is busier than we have seen it since we arrived a week ago – cars dashing up and down the narrow streets, women darting purposefully in and out of shops with marketing baskets. Some of the merchants are a little less patient than usual with us when we take too long to make a selection, or when we puzzle over the number of French coins to hand over for our purchase. However, in spite of their urgency to serve the next customer, they wish us “Bon Dimanche,” in place of the “Bonne journee” that we have heard from Monday to Saturday.
There’s no doubt that Sunday is a special day in Provence. In Caromb, as in many other French villages, the shops will be closed up tight by 12:30 p.m. Sunday lunch is a time for a relaxed family meal, and the afternoon is devoted to other leisurely pursuits – touring the countryside by car, bicycle or foot, or simply lounging in the shade. So, when in France….
After breakfast at our apartment – an omelette for Lorne; yogurt and white peaches for me;baguette with lavendar-essenced honey for us both – we drive a few kilometres to a 12th century chateau in Le Barroux. It provides stunning views of the surrounding countryside, the red-tiled houses and vineyards shimmering in the heat. The chateau has undergone several renovations to repair the effects of marauder attacks, the most recent when the Germans set fire to it in 1944. We wander the stone-shaded rooms, which display well-preserved antiquities next to modern day sketches and paintings available for purchase. When we arrive back at the entrance, we find the iron gate locked from the inside and the elderly ticket seller nowhere to be found. A couple peers in at us and asks how long we’ve been imprisoned. They locate a buzzer on the outer wall, and soon we hear the rustle of the returning gatekeeper, more than a little embarrassed to have kept us waiting. Perhaps she was only trying to enjoy a little of her own Sunday relaxation.
After our release, we drive a winding road to Suzette, a Rick Steves-recommended town, but like Caromb, all is locked and barred. We head instead to Malaucene, where one of the Mount Ventoux ascents begins. It is bustling with an afternoon flea market,groups of cyclists weaving through traffic, and people lunching under umbrellas. I find a menu that features aioli Provencal, a dish that has so far eluded me in our gastronomic adventures. Aioli is a heavily garlicked mayonnaise, and becomes the featured dip for the chef’s choice of accompaniments. My plate arrives with tiny roasted potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, hard-boiled egg halves, prawns, and swordfish. Accompanied by a glass of sangria, it is the best lunch I’ve had since we arrived.
By the time we get back to the Peugeot, the temperature has climbed to 30 degrees, and a hot wind is tossing the trees. As we have been at the end of every tour day, we are grateful to open up the massive wood and iron front door of La Vieil Hopital, and step into the cool stone courtyard, peacefully shady and green with potted plants. Axelle, co-owner of the house, is in the workshop off the courtyard, practising for this month’s music jam which she and her partner Ian will host on Friday evening. Her ethereal voice and electric guitar,both flavored with East Indian tones, follow us up the stairs to our apartment. We open all the doors and shutters and try to read, but the afternoon heat soon makes napping the only reasonable activity.
Et alors, I wish you “Bon Dimanche.” I hope that your own day is one of good food, connecting with family and friends, and the most leisurely of Sunday activities.