After successfully exiting Remoulins, we take various roads including the D986l to Beaucaire and onto Tarascon. We are quickly approaching French author Alphone Daudet‘s territory. The town of Tarascon is notable for his novel Tartarin de Tarascon and our next destination is on the D33 is Fontvieille, home to the Moulin de Daudet.
Alphonse Daudet is the author of works such as Le Petit Chose, Contes du Lundi and the highly celebrated Lettres de Mon Moulin, letters of my windmill. He was born in Nimes in 1840 and twenty years later, he spent the summer near Fontvieille, discovered the region and its old windmills including that of Tissot and gathered impressions which later became his Lettres de Mon Moulin.
The old windmill, dating back to 1814 had been abandoned for over twenty years when Daudet made it his own and wrote his famous letters. Situated on a hill of oak and pine trees in the Rhone valley in the heart of Provence, the Moulin is a favourite site to young and old who have grown up reading his works. Today, a museum inside the windmill depicts his works, with illustrations of his tales, paintings and the desk on which he wrote l’Arlesienne.
We follow a small procession of visitors in the direction of the signs and arrows towards the moulin. There’s a sense of excitement in the air, with francophone adults educated on his books, children growing up with his tales, and the conglomeration of cars, buses and people of various origins arriving in pilgrimage to visit the historic site.
I am no exception. I take a few steps towards the windmill and stop to admire it from the distance. An emotional wave washes over me just as it did when I saw le pont d’Avignon a little earlier. The unabated Mistral that has followed us from Avignon gently propels me in its direction. Childhood memories flood back with images of the classroom, the French classes, the lectures of French authors, the excitement of learning and the imagination committed to memory.
I can almost see the goat of Monsieur Seguin in the distance as I quietly recite the popular line as if I were back in class.
“Ah! quelle était jolie la petite chèvre de monsieur Seguin!…”
I take a few photographs of my windmill and take note of the emotion on people’s faces when they first see le moulin. Like me, they would have thought it to be theirs, an emblem of childhood and captivated imagination.
On the windmill, the year 1814 is engraved in stone. A white tablet quotes Daudet in what the site symbolised to him.
“Ce coin de roche qui m’était une patrie et dont on retrouve la trace – être ou endroits – dans presque tous mes livres.”
This piece of rock has been a country to me, one which can be traced to people or places in almost all my books.
We take a few photographs of the neighbouring Chateau de Montauban then return to the car.
We drive through narrow roads, lined with tall trees on both sides providing momentary shelter from the sun. We fly through several small villages with distinctive character that makes you want to stop and explore. We spot a chateau that exudes romance and history.
We pass Arles, with its Augustinian gate and the maison carrée, a town with a Roman arena that still hosts Spanish bull fights. We stop for a for a closer look at the fields of sunflowers that adorn the road sides. The bright yellow tournesols dance in the wind like jeunes filles coquettes. The attractions are plentiful and our stay in Provence has been far too brief. I would have liked to see the lavender fields in bloom, the Luberon mountains, the Roman arena in Orange, les Baux de Provence as well as the odd stop en route through little villages just to sample daily life.
La prochaine fois.
… continues tomorrow
‘Le Tour de France Gourmantic’ series is the story of a young couple from Australia who took to the French roads on a whirlwind Tour of France back when the internet wasn’t at everyone’s fingertips, phones were still attached to sockets, GPS was an unfamiliar acronym, digital cameras were a pipe dream and the Euro hadn’t replaced French Francs. With just one fold-out map of France and boundless enthusiasm, they took their Renault 19 and went on a cultural and culinary discovery.
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