Since 2004, I've lived along a white limestone track in pine forest near Isle sur Sorgue in Provence. I wanted to live in Provence since I woke up on the sleeper train in Avignon in 1975 and stepped out onto a platform suffused with fabulous sunlight. It wasn't my first visit to France but it was my first time in Provence and it was love at first sight.
Now that I do live here, I fall in love over and over again each year. Usually in spring and summer. This morning for example, I took my coffee up to the far end of the forest garden and sat among the rehabilitated olive trees, wild asparagus plants and wild Provencal orchids and soaked up the sun. There were two elegant turtle doves flirting delicately in a tall pine tree. My chocolate-tipped Burmese cat, Coco, was by turns rolling around with his paws in the air then stalking the first small lizards to appear this year. The black-white-and-blue jays were bouncing around at the edge of the forest looking for grubs. They have a wonderful prehistoric squawk that I can imagine they were making when the dinosaurs were around.
The garrigue-y terrain is full of wild flowers including the first brilliant red poppies and those gothic (rather gloomy) purple-pink orchids native to Provence. Large dark and blonde morel mushrooms have started popping up in the last week. And yesterday I gathered about a kilo of fine wild asparagus spears that spike up beside the prickly whorls of asparagus plant and make a great addition to salads and omelettes.
Just looking around at the forest, the clearing and the house and feeling the sun beating down so early in April was bliss. It was tranquil, beautiful and idyllic.
True, the turtle doves decided to mate noisily, flapping about like two umbrellas, and watching the cat reminded me I need to renew his anti-tick treatment. But that didn't matter. I still had all the feelings that you get when you fall in love - that sensation that your eyes are dazzled, the desire to fling your arms round yourself as if you were hugging the object of your affections, the silly grin that fixes itself on your face. Yep, it's love all right. And I felt it again when I went into Isle sur Sorgue this afternoon and walked along the medieval streets, stopping to chat to acquaintances here and there, gazing into the beautiful clear Sorgue river with its emerald-green weed waving in the current, trout steadying themselves against the flowing water and ducks swimming by the riverside restaurants oblivious to the menus offering magret de canard.
I'm now looking out of my window at the white track, pine and oak trees, and a perfect blue sky, planning a cheap and cheerful dinner outside with friends this evening. Prawns and salad, a bottle of red wine from Sablet, big chunks of pain pavé, goats cheese from a little troupeau nearby at Mazan, and black olives from our own oliviers here in the forest.
The spring and summer in particular make you want to grab Provence and hug it. For me, it really is falling in love, again and again. This region never lets you down.