St. Tropez and Eguilles

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Recently, we had the great good luck to be invited for a few days on a friend’s sailboat for the “Voiles de St. Tropez”—an annual sailing regatta in the Bay of St. Tropez the first week of October–where boats of different categories (from beautiful wooden three-masters from the late 1800’s to today’s fiberglass models) compete for a week. It’s a beautiful sight, those white sails and brightly colored spinnakers against blue skies and the pretty backdrop of St. Tropez village. During the regatta, we had dropped anchor in front of La Madrague, Brigitte Bardot’s former house in a quiet cove, for a spot of lunch on deck, and were surprised to have a small motorboat come alongside afterwards to ask if we had any garbage. How chic! The City of St. Tropez collects your wine bottles, plastic bags and other “déchets” before the terrible thought of throwing it overboard might even begin to germinate. In the evenings, the local bars were crawling with crews from New Zealand, England, Italy and elsewhere, and it struck me that they are all good-looking. Healthy, rugged, tanned good looks on all of them–not a single nerdy type among them. The latter may have paid for the boat, but they surely were not sailing it. Since we settled in Provence, we have attended numerous celebrations of one thing or another–saints, foods, animals, summer solstice, etc.–and we hope to keep doing so. But some of the old traditions are in trouble, as witnessed by this headline in the local newspaper: “Avec la disparition du dernier berger, le pastoralisme menacé.” In the village of Eguilles, the last shepherd died and there is nobody to take over. For the past 18 years, this shepherd had been taking his flock of several thousand sheep up the mountain until he took a fatal fall there. The paper waxes nostalgic about the “transhumance”–the annual passage of the sheep through the village on their way to a mountain meadow, the shepherd in front with his staff, his shotgun and his small lantern, the flock flanked by a few sheepdogs, and all the villagers standing in their doorway to watch the passage which could take up to four hours! Today’s young are not up to the task, and the lonely shepherd who for all his solitude can barely make a living is difficult to replace. Add to that the problem of wolves who at the insistence of the Greens have been re-introduced into the region–and who sometimes decimate the flocks–and you can see that the Transhumance may soon be a thing of the past. Quel dommage! We finally gave in to the call of the local siren, la Montagne Sainte Victoire, revered by the locals and painted by Cézanne more than a hundred times. To scale this table-shaped mountain of just over 1000 meters seemed a nice Sunday activity and within our increasingly limited abilities. A guidebook of regional nature hikes indicated various ascents and we chose the shortest one, thinking a three-hour hike (from the 400-m level) would be a better start than a five-hour hike. We chose unwisely, as it turned out. The unforgiving logic of the shortest distance to the top meant the steepest and most direct way up. Less zigzagging, more climbing, more catching-our-breath stops, more dehydration and the panicky realization that we did not bring enough water. When we finally got to the summit, we barely took the time to enjoy the splendid view, visit the 17th-century Chapel of Notre Dame de Sainte Victoire and take a brief cool-down rest at the refuge. We feared the waterless and difficult descent ahead of us and knew that dark comes suddenly at this time of year. Well, we made it, but just barely, and have been aching all week. Another painful lesson in humility. While I nurse my aches and pains, here’s a bit of franglais for you. Among French TV programs: “Le Bestophe” – by the network that brought you “Bigdil” and “Pipole” (come on, you can get it… People!!). The French say “tennisman” for tennis player and sometimes ask for a “postite” (pr posteet) which is a yellow sticker (Post-It). They like to do “footing” (jogging) and clean their paint brushes with “du white” which is short for White Spirit (terpentine). And a “douche” in France is a shower in America, but of course an American douche is not a French shower. It can all get very tricky… —- Anne-Marie Simons has worked as a translator, teacher, journalist, sportswriter (covering Formula One races) and director of corporate communications.  Now happily retired, she lives in the south of France. TAKING ROOT IN PROVENCE by Anne-Marie Simons is available on Amazon.com. If you’re coming to France (or for that matter anywhere) you can reserve your hotel here. To rent a car, Bonjour Paris recommends Auto Europe. This completely renovated apartment is located on charming Rue Elzévir in the historic Marais district of Paris, France. Contact us via email or visit our paris apartment for rent web site.
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