The River Sorgue flows green and glassy through Fontaine de Vaucluse. The green is extraordinary, a malachite composition of underwater meadows of emerald weeds, reflection of the deep greens on the steep valley above, and the ice-blue purity of the mysterious source that boils up from a pool beneath the cliffs, a pool so deep they say it has never been accurately measured.
from The Lantern
The village is a dead end, a beautiful place where the river rises from a wall of rock. Held captive on three sides by fractured precipices that climb steeply into the sky, Fontaine de Vaucluse is the place that gave this part of
its name, from the Latin Vallis Clausa, the closed valley. Provence
The stones breathe a tangible sense of antiquity. People have been drawn here since Neolithic times; a ruined castle perches high above. The Italian poet Petrarch (1304-74) lived here and wrote love sonnets to his Laura. An unrequited love, it was, that brought "a rain of tears”. Though a hundred years later, when the poet was being recognised as the Father of the Renaissance, his worship of Laura from afar was already being romanticised. And I’m not sure, but I think it’s possible that the water coming down from the mountain in this image could well represent the river at Fontaine de Vaucluse.
Petrarch, Laura, and Cupid c. 1444 (from the Bibliotheca Nazionale Centrale di Roma)
But there are mischievous Provencal fables, tales told for centuries by the shepherds as they walked their flocks between the summer and winter pastures, that take a different view of Petrarch’s doomed love. A rather macabre slant, as it happens, involving the switching of plague-victims’ bodies in
, and much more besides for the storytellers to relish on their interminable journeys. The tale of The Shepherd of Fontaine can be found in the collection The Provencal Tales by Michael de Larrabeiti. Avignon
Nowadays the paper mill driven by the Sorgue prints Petrarch’s words on single hand-blocked sheets, embedded with tiny dried petals, among many other tourist offerings. Along the side of the mill, a path leads from shops and restaurants up to the source of the river: the great bowl of spring water that is the only exit for the vast caverns of water in the subterranean basin that stretches from Mont Ventoux to the Lure in the east.
Looking deep into the greens and blues in the pool is like a meditation; you can get lost in the shifting dreamscape of colour, cold-clear and almost iridescent. This photograph was snapped with our basic little camera and simply cropped. I’ve done nothing to the colour.
Trying to describe the river here, as it rushes and then stills close to the weirs, I often feel inadequate to the task of capturing it in words, tasting the bitterness of inarticulacy, perhaps trying too hard. Better perhaps simply to sit and absorb the scene at one of the café terraces, where you can sip a glass of rosé while the timeless flow of extravagant sea-greens gurgles and rushes past your table. Then the pictures form, half-real, half-imaginary, and the words come too.