22 February 2008

A « gîte rural » in Provence

Early in 2001, Walt and I started talking about our travel plans for the year. We were both working, so we had to coordinate some time off. Our first idea was to go to New York City around Labor Day and try to get some tickets to the US Open tennis tournament.

The gîte we ended up renting in Cavaillon —
rustic but big, comfortable, and well located

We went so far as to find an apartment we might rent by searching the Internet. It was in Lower Manhattan, not far from the World Trade Center. But it was really expensive -- something approaching two thousand dollars a week for a small apartment. It looked nice and was a good location, but I started wondering about paying that price.

The "non-public side" of the gîte. Provençal houses often have
no windows or only very small ones on their north side because
the strong, cold Mistral winds blow so often out of the north.

Instead, I started searching the Internet for places we might rent in Provence. I had a couple of weeks of vacation that I needed to take or I would lose it. It had been six years since our last trip to southern France. I was always ready to spend a few days or weeks in France, anyway.

Then we asked our friend Sue if she would like to go with us. She was interested and she had been to France before but never to Provence. I found a gîte -- a house rented out by the week -- in Cavaillon, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms for about $400.00 U.S. a week. Even with plane fare and car rental, it would cost less to go spend two weeks in Provence than to spend two weeks in New York.

Another view of the gîte, which was just about 2 km
from Cavaillon — a 15-minute walk.

I don't know if we would actually have been in Lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001, but we might well have been. Instead, we were in Provence that day. It was a Tuesday, and we drove over to Gordes in the morning and then on through some of the other villages toward Lourmarin. I had a bad sore throat and was definitely coming down with something, but the weather was nice.

The kitchen/dining room was enormous. This give you an
idea how a typical gîte rural might be furnished. This place
was extra big though, compared to others we have rented.

That evening, we got back to the gîte and put something on the table for supper. At about 8:30 we decided to turn on the TV to see the weather report for the following days. When we turned it on, what we saw was the World Trade Center in New York with smoke pouring out of the two towers. It was 2:30 p.m. in New York, so we weren't seeing it live. Walt and I stood and listened in shock, trying to figure out what was going on. Sue doesn't understand French, so she just watched.

The biggest bedroom had these nice twin lits-bateau.
Boat beds? Sleigh beds? What are they called in English?
The French-English dictionary says "cabin beds."

At first, I thought we might be watching a science fiction movie or some kind of documentary about something that in somebody's imagination might happen one day. And then when it became clear the buildings really were the Trade Center in New York I thought it might be some kind of documentary about the earlier terrorist attack on those buildings. And then they showed footage of the towers collapsing.

Anyway, it gradually became clear what was going on and we explained to Sue as best we could, translating what we were hearing on French TV. We all went to bed that night pretty freaked out, and none of us slept much, I'm sure. It felt strange to be so cut off from big events taking place in the U.S., but that has happened to me many times in my life.

By the next morning, I was exhausted and had a raging fever. Walt and Sue didn't know what to do, but it didn't make sense for them to be stuck at the gîte with me. I certainly couldn't go anywhere — I was too sick and needed to rest. Sue had never seen Provence, so there was a lot of stuff she wanted to do and places we wanted to show her.

She and Walt left for a day trip to Aix-en-Provence. I didn't need to go to Aix again, I thought. I'd get better and then go see some places I hadn't seen before. But I was feeling a little sorry for myself, I'll confess.

A view of Provençal skies from the gîte

So what was there for me to do all day? Take aspirin, drink hot tea, and eat soup. Wrap up in a blanket and watch TV or listen to the radio. I couldn't read because my eyes were stinging, burning, and teary. Besides, I didn't have the mental energy to focus on the written word. And what was on the TV and radio? Nothing but full-time coverage of the situation in New York. It was pretty depressing.

Another view from the gîte. I spent a lot of time
at the house and had time to take a lot of pictures.

I heard on the radio that it was impossible to put a telephone call through to the U.S. All the lines and cables were saturated, over capacity, with calls. And we didn't even have a phone at the gîte, or a cell phone. So all I could do was sit there and try to get over the cold or flu or whatever it was I had. That was Wednesday 9/12.

I stayed in all the next day too. On Thursday night, I actually got in the car and drove into Cavaillon at midnight to try to call my mother from a phone booth and tell her we were fine. I couldn't get through. I made a call to a French friend in Normandy just because I wanted to talk to somebody and not feel like I had wasted my time by going out.

This is Ménerbes, a village we had visited earlier in the day
11 September 2001

By Friday the fever had broken and I was starting to come back to life. The three of us went into Cavaillon to go to a pharmacy. I wanted something stronger for my cold and sore throat, and we needed some kind of sleeping pills because none of us was getting any rest at all. The shock of the New York events on top of jet lag had us all completely discombobulated and worn out.

The living room
was also spacious
and simply furnished.
Several evenings,
we had fires in
the fireplace, with
the Mistral blowing
hard outside.

When I explained to the woman behind the counter at the pharmacy that we were Americans and we needed something to help us sleep because we were having nightmares and were exhausted, she looked at me and said something like, "Monsieur, I understand. We are all having nightmares right now, you know." She recommended a somnifère that turned out to do the job.

We continued our trip and sightseeing, of course. There were no flights back to the U.S. those first few days, even if we had wanted to fly back home.

That Friday, the woman at the pharmacy also gave me something for my cold symptoms. I told her I had bad pollen allergies in California, and she said with the winds we were having -- the Mistral was blowing -- there was a lot of pollen and dust in the air. Maybe all that was aggravating my condition.

I still think it was just a cold that I caught on the plane on the way from California to France. But a year or two later an allergist in San Francisco told me that I shouldn't even consider living in the South of France because I have severe allergies to the pollen of cypress and olive trees, which abound down there.


  1. I love all the blue in the post, especially how the blue shutters contrast with the grey sky in the first shot.

  2. From Claudia in Toronto...

    Such a comfortable and Provençal gîte. The way to travel, n'est-ce pas? When I read "Hotel:4-stars", I feel people might as well wake up at home.

    On those days, the whole world stopped sleeping. You would have felt better if you had been able to see how your country reacted. Standing up. One for all, all for one. People never buckled down. Personne ne flancha. It was admirable, a bit unreal, also very reassuring.


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