Monday, July 2, 2012

Steak and Ale style, circa 1783


Saturday night, I returned from the land of clipped hedges, potagers, grapevines draping over walls, hollyhocks springing up from cracks in the sidewalks and hideous graffiti covering every possible surface along the highways and train tracks.

I have been a francophile ever since I first stepped into the country on February 2, 1966.  I still have a pale colored photo I took of a friend in front of the Eiffel Tower on that cold, gray day.  From Paris, we went to Aix-en-Provence, where I spent the spring semester of my junior year in college.  When our bus rolled into town, I was taken aback.  That winter, the branches of the enormous plane trees which line the Cours Mirabeau, the main street of Aix, had been clipped and looked like giant, ugly stubs atop tall, thick trunks with multi-colored bark.  I was disappointed.  But by May, the wide street, dotted with fountains in the middle and lined with cafes, was completely shaded over.  It was an aesthetic I grew to love - allees of trees in almost every little town and along roads in the countryside.

It's hard to know where to begin for this trip.  I took hundreds of photographs, and wish I could show them all at once.  But, I'll start here in Versailles.  Many of you will recognize the Hameau de la Reine, Marie Antoinette's contrived country village near the Petit Trianon at the far end of the gardens of the Chateau de Versailles.  As old as these buildings are (built in 1783), the rustic compound still reminds me of a Hollywood set.  Only the various vegetable gardens, tunnels covered in grapevines, winding canals and paths bordered by clipped hedges make the farm village appear more authentic.

I had several views of this cottage, which was surprisingly planted on one side with a mix of cabbages and calla lilies.  I purposely cut off the top of the house, because the roof was too pointed and reminded me of a cross between the old lady's house in Hansel and Gretel and a small Steak and Ale restaurant (do they have those anymore?).

But the vines draped along the front, the low clipped box borders and the clever plantings were inspiring and quite charming.  If you look along the top of the cottage on the right side, you'll see what I assume are Iris tectorum (Japanese roof iris), growing on the thatched roof.

For at least 25 years, I've had stones piled up along my driveway.  They came from the walls of a late 19th century lodge that was up the hill from me.  The abandoned house burned, and my late husband and I scavenged the granite from the sides of the house.  I have enough for a small stone cottage and am always looking for ideas.  I wouldn't copy this house, but the approach and and the thought of being surrounded by vegetables and flowers are definitely appealing.  All I need now is a sunny, flat piece of land surrounded by centuries-old trees and a lot of euros or dollars to help me realize my dream.