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
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
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
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. Avignon