June 8: Avignon, roses, procrastination

A stray photo of our landlady Toni and me having a drink on the beach after having spent the afternoon cycling.

A stray photo of our landlady Toni and me having a drink on the beach after having spending the afternoon cycling.

Procrastinating is probably my most finely honed skill. This evening I should be doing a final fact-check on a travelogue about the small, walled city Avignon before I send it to its commissioning editor.  I should also be continuing to write up an interview with the perfumer for Dior that I did in Dior’s rose and jasmine fields in Grasse, and I should be doing the last bit of research on an artist I’m going to interview tomorrow in Paris.  Instead, I’m sitting here with my laptop on my knees, a glass of rosé on the coffee table and Williams thrashing Sharapova on TV, tapping out a blog. What is it with procrastination? I’ve always loved that saying, “to travel is better than to arrive.” Isn’t that the essence of procrastination? I guess it’s part of my DNA, as inarguably as being a left-handed endomorph

The balcony at the Studio

The balcony at the Studio

The Studio is really getting into its stride now. The guests seem to love it. In some ways I have to say, who wouldn’t, at that price, with that balcony? But I’m still overjoyed when they seem happy.  Today  was a changeover day, with a short time between a wonderfully tidy couple from the East Midlands, and a young Canadian couple whose luggage has gone astray. I arrive laden with cleaning products, vacuum cleaner, clean linen and towels. Even if the departing guests are better cleaners than me, Dowager Scrub, I do it all again, for fear, for example, of stray hairs in the drawers. Joel might show up with a sandwich if there’s time, which we eat on the balcony.  When I was showing these Canadians the awning buttons, etc etc etc, I noticed the guy took off his shoes immediately and padded around barefoot like he was at home. I could have hugged him! He IS at home, that’s the whole point!

A courtyard, Rue Petite Fusterie, Avignon

A courtyard, Rue Petite Fusterie, Avignon

The French have a way to describe a certain kind of grand private city house surrounding a courtyard, built by aristocrats and successful merchants  in the 1700s or 1800s: hôtels particuliers. Avignon (and other cities, of course) is full of these buildings – 130 or so still standing.  Fortunately, many restaurants now use the courtyards, so you can get into them and dream (L’Essential, for instance), but the best ones are private – the ones you get only a glimpse of as you pass. These were my favourite part of trudging around town finding good stuff for the magazine’s readers  – but there was much else. You can get to Avignon from London by train, which seems pretty amazing in itself – it’s still surrounded by perfectly preserved ramparts that date back to the 12th century.

Rue de Teinturiers, Avignon

Rue de Teinturiers, Avignon

City walls, Avignon

City walls, Avignon

Gargoyle. Avignon

Christian Dior parfums has an exclusive deal with  Le Domaine de Manon in Grasse. This is a small family farm (three generations now) that produces roses in May and jasmine in August to October. Apparently, the rose and jasmine produced here is unique because of Grasse’s  position between sea and mountain. In the same way that certain areas produce particularly fine wines, due to the combination of soil and water and light, Grasse produces flowers that are more exquisitely scented than anywhere else in the world. Well, I could believe that with my nose in one of Carole Biancalana’s roses.

Carole and Hubert Biancalana of Le Domaine de Manon

Carole and Hubert Biancalana of Le Domaine de Manon

I had a chance to chat with her dad, Hubert, and said, politely though honestly, that his life seemed very enviable: his parents bought the land, he worked it, his daughter has made it an international success, yet he still lives by the seasons, surrounded by the scent of flowers. He seemed to agree. Carole, on the other hand, reminded me that there’s always the weather to worry about, getting up with the insects is pretty early, it’s backbreaking work… I can see that, but maybe she’s never slogged through the London rain on a Monday morning to discover the Tube has been cancelled, to miss her meeting with some self-important moo who’ll chop her head off for the sake of looking good in front of the boss? I want Hubert to adopt me, and to be Carole’s sister, and to collect rose blooms in a linen bag.

Dior's roses growing on a cloudy day.

Dior’s roses growing on a cloudy day.

Actually what I want is to get stuck in to finishing my work. But! I’ve been so skilled at procrastinating with this blog that now it’s time for dinner!

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About Suellen Grealy

In 2011, a series of coincidences led my husband Joel, our cat Ted and me away from London, where we lived quite happily for 30 years, to Nice, where Joel grew up. While he and his sister ran their restaurant, I wrote a novel. Family being family, Joel and his sister no longer work together. Writing being writing, the novel lingers on... Meanwhile, we've found ways of living a completely different life from the one we had in London, including running our own restaurant together, 7 Villermont. The only constants are our Ted, our now-battered Peugeot, and each other. Everything else is a complete surprise
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