I am down in Provence with Hannah on what is apparently called, by certain subeditors and those who frequent certain prenatal messageboards, a babymoon. I was kind of worried that January would just be cold and wet down here, but actually, although we have to wrap up quite well, the skies are clear blue and the landscape is just as enticing as ever, with old walled towns everywhere you look surrounded by cute rocky hills, mediaeval forts, clumps of oliviers, and vineyards stretching off as far as the eye can see.
We did a few tastings yesterday, stopping at one or two of the some 300 wineries which surround the nearby village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. For once we went on holiday with a car so we can actually buy plenty of it and take it back with us. Hannah, being pregnant, is demurely spitting out her mouthfuls as indeed you're supposed to do, whereas I am glugging them back contentedly so that by the third visit I was a little bit tipsy and not unreceptive to a delighted sales pitch from someone who wasn't expecting any visitors today. In summer this area is swarming with tourists, but we have it completely to ourselves: vineyard owners are unlocking the cellar doors when we ring the bell, and uncorking new bottles to show us what they make. Up the hill, the ruined castle itself looks amazing, and we drive up to clamber around it in peace and quiet. You know you're in an area with plenty of history when a 14th century ruin can be described as neuf.
I have been doing my reading on the 100 year period when the papacy was, bizarrely, based here in Avignon because of political instability in Rome. The papal palace in town is a massive, looming presence for such a small settlement, although despite what Durrell repeatedly says in the Avignon Quintet, I find its huge bulk rather beautiful, especially when it's being hit by the gold afternoon light. An intersection of two alleyways nearby marks the spot where Petrarch first saw Laura, thus beginning literature's most famous case of someone obsessing over a girl they've put on a pedestal without ever having properly met. I am reading his Canzoniere too. I am also reading something I picked up in town yesterday, a two-volume collection of the works of the troubadours in the original Old Provençal with French on facing pages, which I am somewhat unexpectedly enjoying very much indeed – I had not realised how deliciously secular and fun this tradition is. A lot of it goes back to very pagan fertility songs of the spring, and indeed the earliest lyric in the book is an anonymous song sung by all the married and unmarried women of a village who for one day could, symbolically or actually, it's unclear, hook up with any man they wanted. The chorus line is, A la ví’, a la vía, jelos! Roughly, ‘hit the road, jealous one!’ Even later stuff is not what you'd expect from courtly romances – one canso by Guilhèm de Peitieus includes the line
Enquer me lais Dieus viure tan
C’aja mas manz soz so mantel!
Which means, ‘May God let me live long enough to get my hands under her robe.’ You have to be kind of impressed.
The sun is out and I'm off to hunt out a breakfast.
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- Current Location:avignon