She arrives and departs in a whirlwind of laughter. A week ago, she knew nothing about our part of Provence. Today, she left reluctantly, armed with garlic and Madelines and memories. There’s been no time to write this journal.
‘What’s a santon?’ We’re up at Frigolet. We haven’t progressed very far because we arrived at midi so everything’s shut: the churches are closed as is the gift shop. Fortunately, the buvette is open and for 12 euro a plate of Provencal style tapas is available, sufficient for two people. I’m recounting the story of the crèche that housed all of Daudet’s characters and which is now missing from the gift shop. Mrs Proust, intellectual though she is, has never read Daudet, doesn’t know what a santon is, misunderstands the notion of a crèche, can’t get into the gift shop and is never likely to see that which has disappeared. It’s a tricky tale to tell.
I have an idea: we’ll go to Le Paradou where we can see an almost complete social history of Provence in miniature. And where they have a much better gift shop. Mrs Proust is delighted and subsequently leaves with an illustrated copy of Letters From my Windmill (in English) and a new specialised subject for future pub quizzes.
‘Why are we going to a hospital?’ We’re at St Paul-de-Mausole where Vincent spent two years after the business with the ear down in Arles. I’ve left my camera behind as have both Karil and Mrs Proust. It’s a shame because, as we emerge through the arch into the garden, there’s a once-only photo opportunity: a large, brown and not unattractive man in a straw hat is cutting back the rows of lavender. It’s a well-practised art form: this way, that way; up and back he smoothly travels. We dispatch Mrs Proust into the little museum alone. We’ve seen it before and we’ve also noticed a party of 4000 Dutch folk making their way up there. Karil returns to the garden and, locating a scrap of paper and a pen in her bag, produces a superb sketch of the lavender harvester. Mrs Proust returns with news that it has been necessary to speak severely, in French, to a large Dutch woman who has caused an altercation in Van Gogh’s bedroom. This is particularly impressive as Mrs Proust didn’t speak French three days ago but is now the protagonist in a major international incident.
‘There won’t be many people there because of the rain’. It’s the Wednesday morning market at St Remy. We push, shove, jostle and elbow our way through the masses. Mrs Proust oohs and aahs continuously. Mrs Proust purchases purple garlic and lemon infused oil. Mrs Proust buys two green ceramic birds, one with a happy face and one with a cross face. She gives me the happy faced green bird to remind me of her. And the cross-faced one reminds her of? Possibly, Paul Weller who she has spotted looking exceptionally cross when I was inspecting the facilities. Or so she says.
‘I like Noves’. It’s Mrs Proust’s mantra. In this briefest of times we have also visited Chapelle St Gabriel, the market at Eygalieres, the perfume museum, St Sixte Chapel, Avignon and been entertained at two different swimming pools. And what does Mrs Proust like? Noves. Nobody goes to Noves because there’s nothing there. Why does Mrs Proust like Noves so much? She likes the doctor in Noves because he kept her fan safe when she left it behind after insisting on joining me on a visit. She likes the pharmacy in Noves because it has a wide range of L’Occitane products and because the staff are extremely pleasant and helpful. She likes the scruffy little bar on the corner where they serve fairly good coffee for only one euro and where you can eat your pain au chocolat purchased in the friendly boulangerie. But, most of all, Mrs Proust likes Noves because of La Plancha where we ate on her first night in Provence.
Actually, it’s the sports bar where, every night, they lay out their green tables in a part of a car park that they’ve laid claims to. It’s constantly packed with French folk in families and parties – there’s not another foreign voice to be heard. They only serve frites, salad, ratatouille and a choice of either red mullet, steak or gigantic prawns. It costs 12 euro. Peter and Karil brought us here on Mrs Proust’s first night in Provence and she asked to return for her last night. As Mrs Proust says, it’s SO French.
Au revoir Mrs Proust. We are missing you already.