(Here)”…you feel more than you reason because, in this instant, you enter the territory of poetry.” – Miabeau“
First, it was off to Fountaine-de-Vaucluse, a tiny town very close to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. (Recommended by a very nice man selling multi-chopping scissors in the market here – not sure how else to describe them.) Vaucluse is the name of this local area and literally means ‘closed valley’.
This ‘source’ (or fontaine) of the Sorgue has from ancient times drawn visitors, inspired worshippers and poets including Petrarch, Chateaubriand, Frédéric Mistral and René Char.
The river Sorgue emerges from a 300m deep spring at the base of massive limestone cliffs and produces 630 million cubic metres per year of the purest water making it the biggest spring in Europe. The water comes from an immense network of underground sources, all of which even to date haven’t been fully traced and just bursts into an instant river. Yet the actual pool it emerges from at the base of the cliff seems still and shallow because of its bright aqua colour. When we were there, the swirling and broiling didn’t start for a few yards downstream, and then it continued to build.
The water temperature, we’re told, is a constant 13 degrees throughout the year – those ducks’ legs must be constantly numb – like the skulls of the dills who’d jumped the safety fence to have a closer look at the spring or pond itself. Ignoring the signs to stay back, these people horsed around and peered into a seemingly harmless, but 300m deep, body of water totally oblivious to equally high and unstable cliff directly above their heads. Wonders never cease.
The town itself is small and, like most of these places, has the usual tourist shops and restaurants. But being tucked down in a valley and with large trees and grassy areas where people can sit and watch the river, or have a picnic or just sit, it has so far seemed to have escaped that overdevelopment and gentrification that detracts from some of the beaux villes nearby. There really is magical feel to this place. Happily we aren’t here in the middle of summer with the hordes of visitors, when it might be more difficult to enjoy and be touched by this gentle, sparkling energy.
The old paper mill still operating was fascinating too. A huge water wheel drove the shaft connected to giant wooden hammers that pummelled the pulp in big wooden buckets inside. Then inside a further partition, away from the noise of the hammering, an artisan used a rectangular sieve to scoop just the right amount of fluid pulp out of a huge vat, carefully draining off excess liquid so that the residue settled evenly, then turned these sheets out on to a pile interleaved with some other sheet to stop them all sticking together. Then the piles would be further dried. It was wonderful watching it all happen. The paper made is high quality rag paper and used a lot by artists now. There was lot of papermaking and printing here in the past because of the ready access to water power.
Another historic claim to fame is Petrarch’s link to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. As a child his father brought him to this area and he was captivated by it, returning to it later as a man and buying a house here. He stayed here on and off for many years finding it the perfect place to study and write. Over the centuries other poets have subsequently been drawn here following this connection and erecting a tall column in the centre of the place in his memory. There is now a museum on the site of Petrarch’s house housing an important collection of engravings and literature, not only of Petrarchs, but there is a great collection of the editions René Char’s works done in collaboration with various artists – Picasso. Miro, Braque, to name but three… And keeping with this poetic and artistic tradition, the top floor of the museum is a contemporary art gallery.
On the way back to the car Heather came across some workmen restoring an old house and emptying things out of the cellar. They were lining up all these old bottles and casks in front of the house as they were packing up for the day, and she stopped to take a photo of this interesting array. Each one was about 15” high and very round. Noticing her across the road, one of the men, obviously charmed by Baroness Ferguson and her Canon G12, offered her one – a gift! Free! Worried about the transport implications, she demurred, but was convinced by his insistence.
He was very friendly and chatty and in French asked her if she knew much English and being so used to saying her French was very little, she replied ‘very little’. She then suddenly remembered that actually, she spoke quite a bit of English!! Once they sorted that out, he began to laugh and said that actually he was Spanish and that his French was not so good either. Amazing how we can communicate so well in spite of the words! He then wanted her to take more bottles, wanted to make sure she had a love life and was happy, and they wished each other well and she scurried off with her treasure. How she’ll get it back to Australia is anyone’s guess. We might run a competition and ask for suggestions.
Tina and Heather
PS At the International Antique Fair in L’Isle Sur La Sorgue a few days later there was a stall selling these things for 100 Euros each. Naturally Baroness Butler wished we’d scooped up the lot and brought them to town and started the first Aussie Car Boot Sale.
PPS Vicki and Kris the patron saints of the Baronnesses have taken custody of said bottle and are currently escorting back to Australia!