Thursday, December 04, 2014

searching for Orange

In the middle of the night, I decided to move on to another village. By morning, I changed my mind.

It's not that I woke up loving Orange and given the weather prognosis for the next several days, it would be tough to expect a total turnaround. Too, the B&B is a bit unusual: in having my breakfasts and dinners taken up to my rooms up on the top floor, I feel a bit like exiled royalty: never to see a soul, but living comfortably up there in the garret. 

And so long as I'm in my "let's find fault with everything" mode, I should add that if there is a croissant that is not excellent in all of France -- it is the one from the Orange bakery that madame brought up for my morning meal.

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But please know how trivial all of this is! The room is warm and quiet, the shower is hot and strong. The baguette is crispy, the leftover clementines from last night's supper -- divine.

More importantly, I'm thrilled to be on a trip! I just really love all minutes that make up a day of travel. And when I return to the farmette and think back to my trips, the ones that bring forth the greatest smile are the ones where things hadn't followed a predictable and glorious path. I've recalled fondly my last trip to Europe with my daughter -- that's the December trip where raging blizzards kept striking central Europe and we were stranded first in Paris, then in Berlin, then in Paris again. Flights were cancelled for days and days and it was sheer luck that got us back home for the holidays. Brilliant memories!

Now, too, I love the juxtaposition -- my insanely grand day in Arles followed by a kaput afternoon in Orange. When things are too smooth, you lapse into a dream like euphoria and one day runs into the next and there are no distinguishing features. Orange gave me the gift of providing a distinguishing feature.

Okay, time to go out. I understand that there will be showers today (and rain and wind tomorrow!) so I pack an umbrella. But I am enthused about searching out the orange colors in this place (as a euphemism for something that rises above my first impressions here, and too just plain old orange colors).

And predictably I find them.

It happens to be the big market day of the week. The crowds that were missing yesterday fill the snaking streets. Let me put up just a few photos. Yay for orange! Or, rather, let's give the town credit -- yay for Orange!

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(Orange also happens to be the name of France's largest cellphone service)

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(a loyal resident)

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(most of his fish have a touch of orange)

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(I rest my case)

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After the market I make my way to the greatest treasure Orange has to offer -- the theater from the period of the Roman Empire (and it is also the best preserved Roman theater in western Europe). It being December, I have to wake up the ticket agent. Admission is expensive. I ask if I am eligible for the discount given to the "unemployed." She answers -- no. I go in. For most of my visit, I have the entire place to myself.

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At the time of antiquity, the theater could house audiences of more than 9000. Today it is, of course (nearly) empty and you might think this to be a touch sad -- such a vast expanse, so devoid of humanity. And I would agree. On the other hand, there is a thread of sadness that connects us to our past and so what better way to feel the weight of history than to lose yourself in the vast emptiness of this theater.

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Afterwards,  I climb the summit (if you can call it that) just behind -- it's Orange's highest point and it offers some good views, though really not great ones on this day where the hills and mountains to the east are entirely shrouded in clouds. So let's look to the west instead.

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Back to town and more people photos for you. I have to admit that I remind myself just a little of the character in an excellent documentary I watched on the flight over -- Finding Vivian Maier. I can't help feeling a link to the subject of the film: Ms. Maier was a nanny (as was I once) and she was committed to photographing everything and everyone in her daily outings (I'm not so robust in my picture taking, but I do always carry my camera). She was also a little deranged (and I hope I am not as off balance as she appeared), but she was brilliant and bold (I am actually neither) and I try to remember her boldness as I want so much to snap it all in my rambling through town.

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(no orange, but oh so sweet!)

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My walk takes me to one last sight that I want to see here -- the Arc de Triomphe, Orange style. It dates back to the 1st century and I think it must look especially brilliant in the typical Provencal sunshine, but we have none today so you get the full effect of the gray skies by admiring it in murky brown.

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And now it's time for lunch. Nothing big, mind you -- I do have my evening meal back in the attic. I miss having some secret small restaurants, recommended to me by innkeepers. My Orange innkeepers keep to themselves and the folder they leave in the room has listings of teas I can purchase from them and wines I can find in local wineries and children's activities in the area, but nothing in terms of eating out. So I go by the looks, the popularity index, and the menus posted, and that actually works well enough. I find La Cantina -- a sort of cave like eatery that has good prices and a good list of specials and I'm neither the first nor last diner, but instead I am one of many and that's a good thing.

I order an artichoke salad and berries with chantilly cream...

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...and both are quite good, but I especially enjoy watching others around me. They're all French, of course, because even the most diehard off-season travelers (the Japanese) know not to come to Orange in December, because it probably is a lot lovelier in spring or summer months (I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt here). The French, as you know, have this bizarre (or at least very extreme) adoration of food and what's wonderful is that they do not hide it! They're proud of it! Their food arrives, the conversations cease. I watch this at a table of twelve -- 8 women and 4 men and the silence that falls over the group is profound. One person mumbles "c'est tres bon" (it is very good), but I am sure no one hears her.

To me, the idea that you should flaunt what you love and not what others expect you to love is very appealing and so I watch and smile and one person at another table thinks I am in that same enraptured state of food adoration because she smiles back and whispers -- good, no? I nod my head and bow down a little to show proper deference to what I have just consumed.

And then I go home. It started raining during the lunch hour.

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I search out madame the innkeeper and tell her that I will be leaving tomorrow. I explain why (let's just say the weather) and she is more or less agreeable. I go upstairs and take out my computer and search out the one small area in France that does not have rain in the next two days and then I go to the train station and buy my tickets for it.

Where to? Well now, you could check the weather maps of France if you're that curious. Or, just check back on Ocean tomorrow!

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(the last orange of Orange)