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Provence Confidential is a locally owned one-woman show. The one woman lives here after having lived in Canada and the U.S. She creates personally guided tours of the region for tourists and ex-pats. She’s also a friend of Jocelyne’s. Bonne chance pour moi, eh? Her recommendations for local sights made their way to Joce and me.
We drove a short distance to Lançon de Provence to a family owned winery and olive mill, Chateau Virant. After glancing at afternoon hours we motored on for a bite of lunch before returning for our visit.
Le Clos des Oliviers ("grove of olive trees") is a neighborhood restaurant in a town that’s a street. Les Baïsses. We followed the street until it became a parking lot with this little gem of an eatery situated at the end. That was it. The entire village.
We waited for lunch to arrive, ready to document another meal with photos, when a jovial man in a jogging suit popped by the tables to shake hands with patrons. He had a somewhat proprietary manner about him leading me to believe he may have been the owner. However his casual attire and slightly forward deportment left Joce with the unfavorable impression he instead was a local oddball. He spoke a few words of English thinking her a U.K. visitor which didn't help his cause. After immediately correcting him, she gave him a French cold shoulder to shoo him away.
Joce is an atypical French woman, never missing an opportunity to flash an engaging smile and give an American benefit of the doubt. But. Not. This. Time. Mr. Congeniality was a breathing violation. He approached from behind, surprised her with a touch of her arm, and mistook her for a tourist. Oh-la-la. Yet even with this wanton affront to her French sensibility, that he might be a friendly owner with an informal style niggled at her after I raised the possibility.
Joce asked our server who he was. The answer, “Le propriétaire.”
Mon Dieu. Très embarrassment. Joce tracked down the man to apologize and explain. How I wished my French adequate to the translation task. The real 4-1-1. I can say it was a lively conversation. My friend offered her regret. The offender easily and happily accepted.
As I approached le bar to handle our check, they continued their exchange, biensûr, now as dear old friends. I understood him to ask if I was British, and her to reply, No, American, from San Francisco.
Heads sprang from drink and conversation to snap in my direction. Le propriétaire needed to reappraise my presence and viewed me with fresh eyes. He demanded of the barkeep a bottle of wine as a gift for me, a souvenir of my visit.
I understood as never before in my travels, in this village of one street, where a school of a single building was modestly identified by a word carved in the façade above the door, “Ecole”, and a pigeonnier original remained in a front yard as testimony to an earlier time, I was unique. I traveled from a place they’d seen only in books, TV or Internet, to the nearest large town, then wended narrow roads, passed ramparts and hedgerows, vines and olive groves, to find my way to their very spot. As their town was for me, I was their unlikely event.
This is the brilliance of travel. Of course we learn about the rest of the world and see the people, buildings, and history our teachers labored to impart. We also learn a bit about ourselves. What we know, what we thought we knew, and what we might never have known. Having jetted coast to coast as part of a semi-monthly commute, it doesn’t often occur to me that some are unlikely to fly in a plane, or leave their neighborhood; their country is out of the question.
This I had forgotten. As well as my good fortune. Especially in that moment.
The last thing I remember of lunch was their best American impersonation – broad smiles, hands waving, in unison they called to us, “Byeee-byeee.”
Had we not gone on to the winery and mill it would already have been a perfect day.