I was wandering around
a few weeks ago, on a day of coshing heat. After a lovely shady lunch opposite the northern end of the Palais des Papes, I set off through the great cobbled square, looked up and really noticed for the first time the frieze on the Hôtel des Monnaies: festoons of ripe fruit and vegetables amid the coats of arms of the Borgia family. Avignon
It is so typically Provençal – even in the stones of the most ostentatious buildings, are celebrations of the pure joy of living here in the sunshine and the natural produce of the region. Grapes and pears and courgettes are carved with acorns and the pumpkins of the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ now stealing up on us.
The Hôtel des Monnaies, a mansion built in 1619 in the Baroque style, is now used as a conservatoire of music. It was dedicated to Pope Paul V, one of the more restrained Borghese family Popes, though there’s still a sense that those overblown fruits were alluding to the culture of excess in the papal palace across the way during previous centuries.
If you’ve read The Lantern, you’ll know important the landscape and the fruits of the land are to the story, and what they represent. Among all the blog reviews I’ve had the pleasure of reading over the past few months, are some that have really engaged with this aspect of the novel. A lovely one that came out this week, on Reading the Past by Sarah Johnson, from which I quote this paragraph:
“Reflecting the bounty of the land, the language is ripe and sensual (tomatoes are "as ribbed and plump as harem cushions"). The regional specialties, like vin de noix – sweet walnut liqueur – sound mouth-wateringly delicious. Armchair travelers will revel in Lawrenson’s lush descriptions of the lavender harvest, an event in which Bénédicte participates in order to share the experience with her blind sister, Marthe, who grows up to be a renowned parfumeuse. The cycle of life is evoked in full, from birth and growth through death and decay – as it affects local crops, the structure of Les Genévriers, and the affairs of its human inhabitants.”Click here to read the whole review.
Throughout August and into this month, The Lantern has been on an internet blog tour run by TLC. There are all sorts of views and reviews, which you can access by clicking here to the blog list.