There's a distinctly arty-bohème vibe in the village of Viens. The tiny widow in dark clothes buying a single artichoke in the general store seems on good terms with the cosmopolitan gentleman in pressed white slacks and a red Gucci belt, as are the younger crowd in their dusty layers, harem pants and dreadlocks. The communist mayor (communism à la francaise), the farmers and the families who have been here for generations and often have brave tales to tell, the wealthy Parisian and Swiss second homeowners, the artists who live and work here, all contribute to the mix.
They say the village has been here for a thousand years, and its narrow medieval streets have seen it all. It sits at the edge of a plateau, protected on two sides by precipitous rocky cliffs, and the name Viens means "Come!" but in the sense of "Come on then...if you dare!"
It's a special place for Rob and me - especially Rob, as it's where he spend his long boyhood summers. His headmaster father could take off to Provence for the duration of the school holidays, and the family loved the area so much they bought some land close to the cliffs in Viens and built a house on it. Staying there in my early twenties was a revelation: the heat and light and colour and laid-back atmosphere were intoxicating.
Every summer Viens hosts a week-long art and culture event and this year it was bigger than ever. The Mistress of Ceremonies towered over everyone on her stilts.
At one point she came careening up through the Saracen gate in the old ramparts, having to duck under the part of one ancient house built in a bridge over an alley, in order to round up the spectators who were unaware a venue had been changed at the last minute. How did she manage it with not so much as a wobble?
Bands played every evening. Theatre and mime acts came. There were talks under the plane trees of the central square. There was even a burlesque singer and dancer on a trapeze (who deserves her own post, and will get one - watch this space!). Artists opened their studios and invited other artists to show their work too. Painting workshops were set up outside in gardens and on terraces.
And the village itself was decorated with life-size figures around every corner: lavender girls slumped by a laden wheelbarrow in the castle courtyard, a Spanish dancer stood by the animals' drinking trough, a gangster lurked at the edge of darkness, with many more. Even a bicycle was dressed for the occasion!