Thursday, 24 March 2011

The tree of French life



               The road swooped in and out of plane tree avenues. By early summer they would form green tunnels under a high canopy of leaves, a reminder of the old rural France.

The dappled arches over sun-bright country roads are a symbol of an older, slower time: some of these stately plane tree avenues have been growing and providing shade for two hundred years. Even at this time of year, when they still lack leaves, they are a quintessential image of France.

Here, on the road from St-Rémy-de-Provence to Cavaillon, the route is wide enough to take the traffic easily, and is straight for much of the way, as befits a town with the proud remains of Roman settlement. But in some places, where the road is too narrow for large vehicles to pass comfortably, these avenues are gradually being uprooted for the demands of contemporary life: speed, convenience and safety.

Too many accidents are caused by wide modern trucks; by drivers losing control and ploughing head-on into the thick trunks, crashing into a wall of wood, hard as iron. Campaigners for their destruction say the flickering light between the tree trunks triggers headaches and even epileptic fits.

The tree-lined road across open countryside from Céreste to Manosque, where the large-scale lavender fields begin, is one of the prettiest in the region, but there’s no doubt it is narrow in places. If a bus is coming towards you, you have to keep a steady hand on the wheel and pull as far over to the right as you dare. But what a crying shame it would be to lose these characteristic beauties of the landscape just because drivers couldn’t be relied on to slow down to ensure safe passage.


Even in winter and early spring, when the trees are bare, they are still a stirring sight. The bark peels distinctively into a patchwork of palest pistachio green and brown, but there is a curious rippling of the core structure which gives the impression of a tight, wrinkled skin covering the body of the tree and exacerbates its nakedness.

In the towns, these are the trees that will shade busy squares full of restaurants and outdoor cafes during the summer months. But they are viciously pollarded after their leaves drop, so that in winter their deformed appearance can lend an atmosphere of surprising menace over the streets at night.


We once stayed in Avignon on a February night. The medieval streets twisted under stone arches, and cold street cobbles rang under our booted footsteps. The great papal palace loomed across the vast square, but most striking of all were the great plane trees on either side of the boulevard, lit grey by street lights and pointing gnarled witchy fingers into the black sky.

35 comments:

la fourchette said...

I adore these allées and never tire of passing through them - in all seasons. Shortly after my arrival in France, I ran across the word "palimpsest" in a reference to the bark of the plane trees...and I can't see that lovely layering now without thinking of this word.

Once again, you've captured it all - ancient and contemporary history, words and pictures, light and shadow.

RICHARD MOISAN said...

Moi aussi, j'apprécie beaucoup cette route de St Rémy, bordée de platanes. L'une des dernières... Napoléon en avait plantés énormément le long des routes principales pour rafraîchir ses soldats, en été.
Et puisque tu aimes les platanes, connais-tu le gros, à la sortie de St Rémy, que Van Gogh a peint? Son tableau figure à côté. En porcelaine.
Bonne journée, Deborah!

Samantha Sotto-Yambao said...

"But what a crying shame it would be to lose these characteristic beauties of the landscape just because drivers couldn’t be relied on to slow down to ensure safe passage." 100% AGREE. I wish more people would realize that we are stewards of nature - not its master.

Adiante said...

Ces arbres font partie du patrimoine mais pour combien de temps encore !
Cela change de la monotonie de certaines routes ...

renilde said...

Hello Deborah,it's always such a pleasure to read your posts. Since the first time travelling through France ,long ago, this country has been very near my heart. I know these plane tree avenues and they so belong to the French landscape. I enjoy your beautiful photos (lovely home)holding that typical atmosphere.
A very dear friend of mine lives in France. She lived in the East- Pyrenees,close to the Spanish border , in Bourgogne, the Nièvre,and now in the Languedoc-Rousillion,the Aude department. I have been loving every visit, such a rich history, culture and beauty everywhere.
I can find back that feeling in your writing.
Thanks for visiting my blog, x Renilde

Forest Dream Weaver said...

When a tree is in the way of some human activity(frequently connected with speeding up our lives even more),the answer is usually the same.......chop it down!

Lovely images!

Charley Appenzellar said...

These trees are one of my most symbolic images of France. We have many of them lining the country roads up here in the Lyon area. I am aware of their story, aware of their gradual destruction along the roads, and hope that they can be preserved to some extent. In the spring, when you drive through them, it is as though you are entering another world, a magical place--especially on a bicycle. A tale nicely told.

Charley

litlove said...

A beautiful post, as ever. I adore those avenues of plane trees - quintessential French indeed! And the pollarded winter versions do look very angry and fist-shaking. It's sad in a way to think that they are being taken down in the interests of safety, but I know what you mean about the flickering light as you drive through the avenues. It can get quite disturbing over time.

Fifi Flowers said...

BEAUTIFUL photos!!!

versus said...

Belle photographie symptomatique du Sud de la France ! J' ai de beaux platanes au-delà de ma terrasse et ils amènent quelque retombée d' ombre sur celle-ci. Les écorces forment une belle et évolutive carapace autour et lorsque des fragments tombent, on peut en faire de beaux collages !
C' est ce que j' ai parfois fait..( je vous en réserve un, si vous aimez, cela fera une confraternité ès platane !)
Bon après-midi !

Rachel said...

Your post is beautifully written. It captures the essence of a place I've never visited and helps me to imagine it more clearly.

llevinso said...

I love your posts because I've been to France but I was younger and I didn't get the chance to truly appreciate the beauty. Just wonderful!

Genna Sarnak said...

Hi Deborah! I loved this post, it was truly beautiful. The opening line, "green tunnels under a high canopy of leaves, a reminder" is wonderful writing. The whole entry leaves me with a strong sense of how these trees of France shape and define their environment.

I look forward to reading more from you! :)

✿ ♥ France ✿ ✿ said...

PLUS trop de temps ce soir mais je te souhaite une belle soirée

LESAPEA MUSINGS said...

I love your way with words. Thank you for stopping by and leaving a lovely comment on my blog. I love these trees, they seem so romantic to me.

Lisa xx

Airelle said...

unfortunately the symbol of Southern France has another ennemy apart from the speed: there is a sickness spreading to the plane trees here that can only be eradicated by chopping down and burning them. the cut trees are usually replaced by something else.

Stacey Donaldson said...

I feel like I get a little piece of heaven everytime I stop by your blog! I have an affinity for trees, so this post drew me in. The pic of the tree-lined road is amazing! And you have an amazing knack for stringing words together to make beautiful sentences too!

MuMuGB said...

Hi Deborah! You almost made me feel homesick ...there were plane trees everywhere in my school. Thanks for this post!

Suzi said...

Deborah, thank you so much for visiting my blog, yours is delightful.
I recognised this road when I saw your photo, I have driven along it.
What a crime it would be to get rid of these wonderful icons.
I am looking forward to our return to France. Where these trees will be filled with leaf! I am staying in Saint Remy with my husband. It will be pure joy.
To have a house like yours in Luberon would be a dream...lovely. I will be back to visit. x

aneyefordetail said...

I do know that lovely road leaving St. Remy. It is magnificent, whether the trees are "in bloom" or not; we often think/dream of those wonderful, stately trees. Very nice post and so evocative!

Belle Wong said...

What a beautiful picture - it must be lovely driving those roads. It's very sad that such old, beautiful trees must be demolished just so people can drive fast.

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

Having driven this road and others like it, I would hate to lose the gentle tunnel of trees to "progress." The bark is a gorgeous mosaic of patchwork in soft colors.

I have only seen these avenues when they are a verdant green but love the stark white/gray look of the bare plane trees as well.

Bisous,
Genie

joanny said...

Beautiful photo, such a pity that the only thing they can think of is to chop down such life giving beauty , certainly there is better options, with a little imagination, no?

Joanny

Maria Zannini said...

So nice to meet you, Deborah! Thank you for stopping by.

BookGeek said...

Beautiful trees, but yes, they certainly seem eerie in the right context.

Irene Cortez said...

Lovely photos! I wish I could travel to France someday. I would feel really sad if such beautiful sight won't be preserved because of people who don't care much about the environment.

Take care, Deborah! :-)

~Irene~

Lisa Erin said...

Such exquisite trees. Within a natural landscape, trees are my favorite fixture. It's a shame that they are destroying aged trees that have stood the test and earned their place. Especially when the trees appear to have the significance of the ones you speak of.

Omoy said...

Anything beautiful can be made frightening.However that winding road with those tall trees is so beautiful.

Leovi said...

Excellent photo with a pretty spectacular view with these poetic trees. Summer really have to give an exquisite shade a real tunnel as well describe. A greeting.

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

Gorgeous beyond words!

vanessafrance said...

One of the symbols of France, these beautiful trees are, alas, under threat from diseases and from less than careful drivers. When a programme to cut them all down was announced a few years ago, my reaction was that it would be more effective to spend the money on teaching people to drive better. Happily, there are still many roads in our area graced by these long vistas of trees - almost ghostly in winter.

BookQuoter said...

Love the last picture and your description. Brings me back, I miss it!

Deborah Lawrenson said...

What a lovely set of comments and information! Can you believe, I just spent the best part of an hour responding to everyone - and Blogger "could not process my request"...so I'm sorry but I'm so cross and frustrated this will have to do now.

I do appreciate each and every one of your visits and comments.

✿ ♥ France ✿ ✿ said...

Je viens te dire bonjour et je voulais dire que j'adore les arbres comme toi. BISE je file

Christiana said...

Les platanes, symboles du sud de la France...Quand j'en vois, c'est déjà un peu les vacances!

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