My secret life in Provence…

Garden with Bignone & Wisteria before Moroccan tiles

Garden with Bignone & Wisteria before Moroccan tiles

It was planned ages ago, way before I had started bee keeping or looked carefully at the Academy of Chocolate events calendar, a 2 day trip to our small village house in the Luberon with James to meet the ace tiler Tom and to decide on the Moroccan tile layout in our pocket handkerchief courtyard garden and study. The garden, was a dusty neglected space, we had planted a black fig and Muscat grape a couple of winters back with a wisteria like bignone vine, otherwise known as a trumpet of Jericho, with its blaze of orange and yellow trumpet flowers when its established. The bignone did not make the first summer, and was replaced, the fig and vine much happier in that environment and have both grown enormously and the second bignone is now thriving.

So lots of schlepping of tiles, meditating on layouts, and even a 5am technical drawing session in the peace and cool of the morning to try and get my head around a few of the finer details and number of tiles required. With each tile weighing about 2kg each dragging the boxes of 10 up two flights of stairs from the medieval “caves” was not something to do lightly on a hot June day.

Dinner dates lined up for both evenings after the hard slog and much enjoyed shower – Monday was at the re-located Deux Lions in Forcalquier, as guest of Ernestine Heck, a fascinating former diplomat, who divides her time between Washington DC and Provence. She has a busy life in the US, as she reads the Washington Post every morning from 6-8, broadcasting to the blind, and that’s just the start of the day… The food was great, a whole baby fromage de Banon wrapped in chestnut leaves, baked in the oven and served with a thyme sauce, some girolles followed by rack of lamb, sweetbreads and sea bream. Sybil was the principal guest, really James and I came for the ride, and much enjoyed the company and the food, on the terrace looking over the countryside on a perfect evening.

Second night was a strictly English affair, with Uncle Max or Benny as my mother Sybil has always referred to him, his wife Barbara, and Chris and Christine Green who had driven up from Salernes, the tile capital of the world before people started laying wall to wall carpet everywhere. There is a great new museum at Salernes which I visited last summer and has the history of tile making on that site from the Roman times and even before into pre-history, through the centuries until the industry just about died around the middle of the 20th century. One room has all the stencils of the locations where the tiles were shipped, probably great ballast apart from being a really useful cargo – names which conjure another world: Montevideo, Tangiers, Mauritania, Senegal, French Guinea, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, anyway I digress.

Sybil had done her usual thing of preparing a lavish meal in 4 courses, tomato, basil and mozzarella salad, followed by a Jacques Medicin recipe of boeuf en daube, which had taken 3 days to make, with new potatoes, green salad and fresh baguette. Wonderful local sheep and goats cheeses from the village shop and finally to kill us all, apricot tarte…

Wednesday to Marseilles to catch the afternoon flight back to London – we had been very late arriving, they said it was the heat which had caused a back log on all the slots, not quite sure why, but I was more than a little worried by this, as I was one of the 3 speakers billed to debate the world of chocolate at the AoC event and needed to be in Dover St at 6pm.

The event went really well in spite of searing temperatures – no Aircon and a sell out audience, chocolates swooning, while we talked at length and tasted chocolates from Rococo’s own Laurent Couchaux, Paul A Young and William Curley. Lots of scribbling away in the front row, so I expect a few bloggers or journalists were present, in fact there was a rumour that one was from the FT – Andrew Jack? None of the audience flagged and even at the end, the chat continued for some time. Great contributions from Craig Sams of Green and Blacks and Duchy fame, and also from Joe Jacob, the Deputy Chair of Slow Food London.

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