Did I say a small fishing village? That's what Rick Steves said. Turns out Cassis is a thriving resort with cafés, bistros, shopping, fine dining, incredible turquoise water, cold and wavy. It's been years since I've put on a bathing suit in public, but nothing was going to stop me from swimming in the Mediterranean. Initially freezing, once I was completely submerged it was glorious. The heavy salt content keeps you afloat so you don't even need to tread water. We could have bobbed around in the waves forever, surrounded by cliffs and terra cotta roofed houses. Only one thing I could have done without...no sand to speak of on the beach. It's all pebbles, which hurt. Especially going into and out of the water. But so worth it.
We had seafood lunches at an outdoor table with a beautiful rose wine, went back to the beach for one last dip, and headed out for one more location, stopping en route to snap pictures of the incredible countryside. Jerome always takes the scenic route, no matter how far out of the way.
Oh no! It's almost over! Ellen left today for Dallas. Kippy and I took her to the train station in Avignon, a half hour away. She was to catch the bullet train; a ride which would get her to the airport in 3 hours. It would have taken 6 hours by car. Ellen was a little frantic, as I would have been, because we were cutting it kind of close and directions were confusing. She was concerned about finding the train, her seat, not being able to speak French, pulling her heavy luggage onto the train. "Don't worry," Kippy assured her, "I'll get you to your seat."
We parked in the temporary parking space on the curb, Kippy pocketed her keys and we pulled the heavy luggage to the train platform. Within minutes the bullet train sped silently into the station. I stood back on the platform, watched as the passengers (with Ellen and Kippy) jostled to get onto the train, and waited for Kippy to reemerge. When the door closed and the train slowly started to move, I expected it would surely stop and relinquish a very flustered Kippy. If anybody can stop a train, Kippy can. I covered my mouth with both hands, bemused and surprised, as the train sped silently away and disappeared in the distance.
I stood there a few minutes wondering, did this really happen? I do not have a phone here. I calculated... 3 hours to Paris, 3 hours back plus delays or complications. If Kippy were for some reason unable to call Jerome to retrieve me, I could be waiting for up to 9 hours. Just to make sure there was no quick remedy, I went to the information counter.
"Bonjour, Monsieur (the French are very polite. You always begin a conversation with a bonjour or you're likely to be corrected ...very politely). I spoke slowly in my broken French. And I'm spelling it badly here because I don't know how to spell French since all I've learned has been through audio CD's in my car: "Bonjour, Monsieur, J'ai une probleme, et Je ne parle pas Francais bien (I have a problem, and I don't speak French well). He nodded, indicating I should continue. "J'ai deux amis. Un ami a pris le train a Paris (I have two friends. One friend took the train to Paris)." He nodded, waiting for more. "L'outre ami accompanied (inserted English here because I didn't know the French word, but knew it sounded similar) elle sur le train avec les baggages (the other friend accompanied her on the train with the luggage)." He nodded, grinning, encouraging me silently me to go on. I don't know if he was grinning at my bad French or if he knew where this was going. "Le train a depart," I continued. He shook his head ruefully, said nothing. After a second or two of silence, I continued in a supplicating way, "Trois heures a Paris et trois heures return (insert English again)? (Three hours to Paris and three hours to return?) He nodded ruefully. We both nodded ruefully for another long second or two. I was hoping he could offer a solution. I thanked him, went in search of food and something English to read and parked myself near a door where Jerome most likely would enter in 45 minutes.
I had not finished the first chapter of a John LeCarre book before Jerome walked through that door and stood before me. Without a word, we both shook our heads ruefully.
Turns out it was not a non-stop trip to Paris, so Kippy was able to catch a return train in Lyon. Jerome and I had a drink and waited an hour and a half for her return.
In the early morning hours, before the sun rose we were awakened by crashing thunder, flashing lightening and banging wooden shutters. I got up once to push open the exterior shutters all the way to keep them from swinging violently in the wind, that way we could still enjoy the drama. Ann got up the second time to close the interior glass shutters, so we could enjoy the storm and keep dry.
Back to the train station in Avignon this morning to deliver 4 more artists. Kippy's back is out from hoisting heavy luggage, so I drove the Mercedes with Mimi, Ann and their luggage, following Jerome in his Mercedes with Michelle, Joan and their luggage. I told Jerome afterwards that that was the most fun I've had since I've been in France: speeding smoothly through roundabouts and curving roads, listening to a French rock station.
I think I want a Mercedes.
So the only people left here in our gite in Provence are Kate, Alice, Kathleen, Kippy, Jerome and me. We ordered pizza for dinner and went to bed early because we leave in the morning for a day trip to Cassis, a small fishing village on the Meditterranean Sea!
Early Monday we loaded up into two vehicles and drove to Arles with our pastel boxes and drawing boards. We were going to paint where Van Gogh painted. With limited time several of us stopped at the closest of the few remaining spots still surviving intact, the old Hospital of Arles. While Van Gogh was hospitalized there, he painted its courtyard garden (that's his painting pictured here, not mine), framed on all four sides by bright yellow arches.
I finished quickly (or got disgusted with my painting) and left to search out the Cafe Noir, the yellow cafe which Van Gogh painted on a starry night, while Michelle, Jane, Mimi and Ellen continued painting the courtyard. Being directionally handicapped, as I discovered many of my artist friends are, and with map in hand, I wandered hopelessly through the crooked streets and instead happened happily upon the Van Gogh Foundation, which housed several of his pieces I was thrilled to see. Time running out, I hurried to a cafe, scarfed down jambon et melon, and hurried back to meet the others at a predesignated place, stopping to ask directions several times, my usual method of getting somewhere.
We piled back into the cars and drove to Les Baux-de-Provence, a medieval village hewn into a stone mountain which towers over the province. It was a hot and cloudless day as we climbed steep twisting cobblestone streets seeking souvenirs, ice cream and shade. Jane, Michelle and I paid 8 euros for a tour of the chateau, and wandered back and forth through cemeteries and ruins wondering where we missed the turn to the the grand house, only to learn from a passing American tourist that it didn't exist anymore; only the ruins we had been stumbling over the past hour remained.
Car trouble on the way home: a loud whump whump whump noise firm the left front tire, so soft-spoken and seemingly (but deceptively) delicate Susie, one of three formidable ladies from Tasmania, solved it by yanking a large piece of dangling rubber from the car and heroically hoisted her trophy overhead. We drove the rest of the way home without the whump whump whump sound.
We had our final dinner together; Ellen departs for Dallas tomorrow afternoon. The next day, most other students depart as well. It'll be sad.