Perfect days in Provence

A perfect Sunday in Provence May 25
(Trying to get the pictures inserted!)

The Cathedral at Marseille

On Sunday Krishna had planned a family day visiting the calanques near Marseille. These are inlets in the sea like small fjords amidst tall cliffs where a boat takes tourists and is a popular outing which we were all looking forward to. But when we reached Cassis the small port from where the boats leave we were informed there were not enough passengers and their boat would not make any trips till the afternoon. It is not yet tourist season and there were certainly no tourists other than our family. Disappointed, we turned around and headed for Marseille. This turned out to be an excellent idea. We headed for the newly opened Museum of the Mediterranean, where there are exhibits from the countries that rim the sea. The most impressive was the collection of bronze artifacts on display from Morocco, Libya and some parts of Egypt. These remarkable pieces date to the period between 2nd century BC and 2nd Century AD from Volubilis. The bronzes were probably not actually made there but brought from other regions of the Roman Empire and made from Greek artistic models.
Volubilis was the seat of King Juba of Mauretania, who married Cleopatra Selene, daughter of the great Cleopatra and Marc Antony..
In the culture section there were displays of masks and traditional carnival celebrations from different countries.

We walked across the plaza to the cathedral which is an impressive example of
Byzantine/Roman style of architecture built in the early 19th century near the site of the old Cathedral of the 12th century. I was fascinated by the arches and tried to take a good picture to show the construction, to the new architect in the family – Nandita!

Last day, but yet another perfect one in Provence — May27th

The only shopping I wanted to do in Provence was to buy cheese! So we put it off till the last day and Priya took me to Carrefour – a large yawning Mall full of everything one would want – Priya wanted things for the household, and I spent the time looking at the cheeses. To our surprise we found Cheddar in addition to the French varieties, sheep and goat cheese, and my favorite ripe Rocquefort.

On the way back home we made a detour as Priya wanted to take me to St. Maximin and the Basilica of Mary Magdalene. Although the large monastery can be seen from afar dominating the skyline of the village of St. Maximin la Sainte Baume, it is not a very striking building from outside, having been sacked by the Huguenots and later rebuilt by Charles of Anjou nephew of Louis IV.
Anjou discovered the remains of Mary Magdalen in a sarcophagus in the crypt. There was some dispute because in a church in Vezelay in the north of France the priests claim they have the remains of Mary Magdalen. But Charles Anjou verified that the remains in St. Maximin were indeed those of Mary Magdalen. Soon the Basilica at St. Maximin became a centre of pilgrimage and many miracles were attributed to the grace of Mary Magdalen whose skull and other remains are in the sarcophagus along with those of Sr. Maximin and other followers of Jesus. It is said a group of them fled in a boat without sail or rudders and miraculously landed safely on the coast near Marseille. St Maximin, a blind disciple of Jesus along with Mary Magdalen and several others were in the group who fled to the coast of France. The town is named Sainte Baume after a nearby mountain, where Mary Magdalen is said to have lived and died. (Baume in Provencal means Cave)
The monastery is now a hotel and restaurant. The church was rebuilt by Charles Anjou King of Naples but never finished because construction stopped with the Black Death in 1348 which killed nearly half the population. The front face of the church remains unfinished to this day.

We were fortunate that when we entered the church, looking up with awe at the soaring arches, a young soprano in the organ loft was practicing for a recital and we heard her sing accompanied by the organ which dominates the south side of the church. The clear notes rose to the high arched ceiling in beautiful resonating cadences that left me overwhelmed as the music wafted and died away.
It was totally serendipitous and indeed a memorable “concert”

It is interesting that parts of the movie DA VINCI CODE were filmed in this church and monastery!

After our visit Priya and I had lunch at a little café across the street from the church.
As we drove back home through the vineyards we stopped at a domaine to buy some bottles of the local wine.

My departure on the 28th was as smooth and comfortable and stress-free as my outward flight from India. Krishna dropped me off at Marseille airport, which was quiet and empty. I was sad to leave. As I wrote to most of my friends and family it was the most flawless, perfect holiday I have had, doubtless due to the love and caring of Krishna, Priya and family. Vacations should be like this – where the mind is rested and the spirit healed.

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