08 June 2008

Nyons - Haute Provence

Dear Phil and Diana - You were kind enough to invite us to share your Provencale home for my latest reading week in late May. In fact it's been almost a non-reading week - because the only texts I got through were on the Ryanair flight between Liverpool's misbegotten John Lennon airport and Nimes, on a trip to your beautiful little town of Nyons in Haute Provence. Still, I was happy to re-visit Henry James in his best late-flowering period, as he played with the unreliable narrators in the ghost stories 'The Friends of the Friends' and 'The Turn of the Screw'.

But the week was culturally and geographically quite overwhelming in my exposure to French culture and the topography of that region. Back in Manchester, I can remember all the details of the stone-work of the steps, the gulleys and crevises in the pavements, and of course the arches of the medieval town centre in Nyons; the colours of the stone; and the textures of the pathways and handrails one clutched whilst navigating its ancient streets.

I have retraced all the journeys we made using Google maps - and can confirm that no, the Eygues does not flow into the Ouveze. That mountainous scenery is a bit scary, but it's also awe-inspiring. To be able to stand on the summit of the Col d'Eye and look out over a whole series of mountain ranges and valleys stretching for miles and miles is truly breathtaking. I would even brace myself for one of Phil's white-knuckle drives to see it all again.

Your country-living style is quite different from ours - but I loved the way everything was so comforting - from the puffy-plump bed to the capacious armoirs, the lavish kitchen, and the multi-level patios and garden.

Your town itself is a delight - authentic, old, graceful, unpolluted by vulgarity, and poised between mountains and the plain which gives you the best of both Provences. If you can walk downhill in five minutes to buy a freshly-baked bagette, goat's cheese, local olive oil, and the New York Herald Tribune - you've got it made.

It made me seriously re-consider my decision to buy in Spain. There, we have the same conveniences (at the cost of some local tat) and there is plenty of ancient history nearby (including even Roman ruins) - but you have a lushness of landscape and vegetation which must be almost the envy of the world.

I enjoyed every minute of our visit there, and quite apart from hoping that I might be invited back again, my sojourn has inspired me to reconnect more seriously with mainland European culture. That's something of which I imagine The Master would approve.

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