Pont du Gard Aqueduct, Provence, France
A few years ago, wandering through the internet maze on a very cold February night, I saw an image of an old stoney abbey in the middle of purple lavender stripes and decided I had to take that photo myself. I needed a motivation to get over one of life's hurdles I was dealing with at the time,  and the goal of taking that photo was as good as any.  A little bit of research revealed that the abbey was called Senanque and was located near  Gordes, in Provence, a region in the south of France, known not only for lavender fields, but also vineyards and olive groves. Roman ruins seem also to be found all over Provence, the one that caught my eyes was the Pont du Gard Aqueduct, near Avignon. So it was decided, I will go to Provence that summer and take the photos of the abbey and the roman aqueduct.

It was also around the same time that I became more aware of a list that seemed to reveal itself at key moments, aka life's hurdles.  It was not a bucket list, but more of what's left once one crossed an item from the bucket list, a random collection  of bits and flushes, colors and sounds. The list seemed to have a life of its own where some older items were pushed out of the list, while other seem to last forever.  Provence promised to offer plenty of opportunities to update the list and I was curious what would be the outcome.

Pont D'Avignon and Palais des Papers, Avignon
"Sur le Pont d'Avignon
L'on y danse, l'on y danse."

I used to sing this song as a kid, little did I know that the bridge was real and one day I would walk on it, and even do a little dance. Avignon was the center of all my adventures in Provence. The most well-known attractions in the city are the above mentioned bridge and a big palace, known as Palais des Papes, both with interesting stories. The bridge goes to ... nowhere, it stops somewhere in the middle of Rhone, it kept being torn by water and its construction was abandoned sometime during the 17th century. The palace served as residence for the leadership of the Catholic Church which was moved from Rome to Avignon at the beginning of the 14th century. The popes were also wine lovers and they played a role in the development of the wine industry in the area, the most well-known wine being Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape made at a vineyard close to Avignon. The vineyard offers tours to enthusiastic travelers that want to learn everything about the different types of grapes (13) and soils (4) involved in the process of producing this wine.

Avignon is surrounded by many villages, one more beautiful than the other, many hosting roman ruins. Among them the most interesting were the Theatre in Orange, one of the best preserved of all Roman theatres,  the Amphitheatre in Arles, and of course the Pont du Gard Aqueduct, in Gordes. From the villages I visited, Uzes was a nice surpise, Roussillion and Baux-des-Provence both impressed with their unique architecture and colors, and  L'Isle sur la Sorgue did not disappoint with its open market. All had beautiful houses with lots of flowers, and beautiful doors and windows colored in vivid colors. It was Provence that started my obsession with taking photos of windows and doors, there were so many of them, all amazing.

Lavander fields, Gordes, Provenc

I did take the lavender fields photo -- the one with the Senanque Abbey was not the best. The year I went there it was a cold summer and the lavender fields were blooming late, at the abbey they were still green. I got a great photo of myself though in the middle of purple fields, the resourceful locals knew all the fields that were blooming so we drove to those, they also knew the right angles, you need to stay low, take the picture up, so the lavender seems taller that it was.   It reminded me of one of the fashion photos seen in magazines where from the front everything looked perfect, but from the back the dress was pinched in different places to get that perfect fit and the model stayed in an uncomfortable position to get that perfect pose.

The photo with Pont du Gard, was much better, I got there late in the day, and it was not very crowded. It was one of the most impressive constructions I have ever seen, (and I don't mean just roman constructions). Up close, once I got to walk on it when I realized how big it was and I had a better appreciation of the amazing engineering skills and effort that took to build it, during the first century. Three tiers bring it to 160 ft (almost 50 m) height, the highest roman aqueduct. It functioned as a bridge after the fall of the roman empire.

I spent most afternoons I was in Avignon in the  Palais des Papes Square drinking pastis and eating olives at one of the places that had seatings outside listing to a guitar player. He had his own ritual, arrive at the same time with his little chair, find his own place in the square hiding from the sun under the palace's shadow, place the bottle of water always in the same location, together with a collection of cd's of his own music.  He stopped in the middle of the show for a coffee, then would play a few more songs, always ending at the same time.  Once he started playing he will just disappear in the music. The acoustic of the square was perfect and the light afternoon breeze carried the music across the narrow streets that opened in the square.  At the end of the show there was a moment, a few seconds of silence, when the eco of the music lingered on the walls around, the musician stayed still with his hands on the guitar, and the rest of us barely breathed. Then there was applause, and talking, and laughing.

It is hard to have genuine emotions today.  The social media is full of photos and videos about every place you've ever dreamt of going to (with different flavors, funny, cool, sad, serious, informative and the list goes on); everything was seen, eaten, drunk, instagrammed, tweeted, youtubed. So, it seems rehearsed,  when one runs, waits in line, takes the desired photo. I do the same; sometimes, if it's not too crowded, I stay still, no picture taking, and just wait for that something to happen, that stab to the heart, the little shiver, the tears in the corner of the eye. For all the beauty of Provence, and it's such a beautiful, beautiful place, for all the photos I have taken with lavender fields and roman ruins, for me that something was brought by a guitar player in the shadows of the Palais des Papes  in Avignon, during a summer afternoon,  and it is those few seconds of silence after he finished playing that made the list.

Places to see: Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Chateaunef-du-Pape, Nimes, Uzes, Orange, Gordes, Arles, Roussillion, Les Baux-de-Provence Senanque Abbey, L'Isle sur la Sorgue market and much, much more.


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