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How Has Provence Changed?


Twenty Years Later

A look at Saint-Remy de Provence

Obviously things change in twenty years – anywhere; our house, the garden, the community, not to mention ourselves. Sometimes, we like the change, other times we wish it would go away…or come back depending on how you look at it.  It’s probably a good thing I changed a bit since coming to Provence 20 years ago – my Seattle grunge attire when I first arrived didn’t set so well in the chic French attire (those dreadful looks of French woman when I entered a boutique kind of got to me).

Saint Remy de Provence bicycle outside of restaurant
Bicycle restaurant in Saint-Remy, 1996

Saint-Remy de Provence – Restaurant 20 years later

Recently I was in Saint-Remy de Provence with my sister buying some decedent chocolates at Joel Durand. While we were roaming the streets and savoring a lavender chocolate, we stopped in front of the restaurant that we refer to as the bicycle restaurant.  In 1996 my sister spent a two-week summer vacation with me in France and to this day we love, beyond a thousand others, this particular picture. She had it converted from her 135mm print to a jpeg format about 5 years ago when she was printing classic shots of France on canvas boards for a French touch in her house.

The « bicycle » restaurant, which at the time was called « L’Assiette de Marie », holds two very memorable moments for me. It was my first restaurant ever in France and it’s the place where my husband asked my dad’s permission to marry me.

Saint-Remy de Provence
Same restaurant in Saint-Remy de Provence – 20 years later

So here’s the before and after. If you look closely you can see the date 1995 on a green window sticker, probably an equivalent of a Routard or Trip Advisor approval. You can also see the prices in Francs.

On the newer picture you can still make out some of the same objects and writing on the window. The name changed to “Le Bistro de Marie” and the antique bike that was worth a thousand words is no longer there.

I have not been back to eat at the restaurant in a really long time. It would be nice to reminisce my two lifelong memories inside at “my” table but what if that round table in front of the widow is no longer there?  What if the food and service don’t match up?  What if the ambience diminishes the exoticness of my memories? Perhaps some places from the past are best left untouched?

The restaurant reminiscing got me to think about other things that have changed in the 20 years I’ve been in Provence. Nothing major if it’s not for the adoption of the Euro in 1999, but a few that did make me chuckle as they are (were) so “French” :

The smoking car on the high speed train (TGV):

the high speed train has existed since 1981; the first line was Paris-Lyon. The line that runs to Avignon and Marseille was established in 2005. I remember the construction very well as the line passes 500 meters from my house (upside – it’s better than having a road built). In my earlier years (life before kids) I remember taking the train to Paris a few times and walking from the car where I was seated to the dining-car. In-between was the smoking-car. To say the least, you did not smell the same when you returned to your seat. In fact your clothes and hair were in need of a good washing. I guess even the smokers thought it was more than awful to have all that smoke in a concentrated closed space for a certain length of time – there were no protest to the ban in 2005.

Dog poop!

If you have ever been to France you know that stepping in dog poop is a high risk (along with getting pooped on by a pigeon). France has, at last, warmed up to the pet waste bags. I was in Paris this week and saw many dog owners using them. My hometown Cavaillon seems to be applying this courtesy too. The awareness (politeness?) is rather new though and depending on the community, you are still safer to look down every now and then when you meander your way through Provence.

A line – What line?

it seems like such a civilized normalcy for some of us but if you have ever been to Europe you know that it’s not embedded in social protocol. The worst for me was at the post office. I still remember my first years in France, waiting, not in a line but in the mob, to get to the post office counter. My heart would race with the anger of injustice when that somebody next to me felt entitled to take his place in front of me. About 5 years ago, post offices started putting in ticket distributors. So, in an essence, lines are still not formed but you no longer have to pretend your in a competitive match to get what you need.

Are you an expat in France? How long have you been in France? Have you travelled to France or Saint-Remy de Provence on many occasions? What changes have you seen?

Click here Restaurant Guide for Saint-Remy de Provence

p.s. – I particularly love having a café or aperitif time at Café de la Place!