La Tour Philippe #1

It was around 1974 and I had split from my Anglo-French fianc√© Philippe Amos. We had arranged to fly to Marseilles and spend time in Arles and Aix but it was not to be. Off he went to wander soul searching around his beloved Greek isles leaving me on my Tod!  Not to be done out of my annual summer holiday as I was teaching English at St Giles school of English in London, I flew to Marseilles where a dancer in Brazil had given me the phone number of a choreographer in the Roland Petit ballet company.

I was driven to Aix without knowing where to stay. After all we didn't have in the 70s, nor Lonely Planet to help us plan ahead. In that era everything was Happenstance. After a good lunch with the dancer I wandered on down the beautiful boulevard Cours Mirabeau and came across a shoeless long haired British busker from Manchester singing and strumming his guitar. We chatted over a coffee, as I had lived 2 years in his city when I had left home at 19 and moved from Liverpool. Thus as a fellow Lancastrian, Mancunian Paul invited me to join him where he was staying as his hosts were making a special birthday pizza and I would be welcome. He hardly spoke French and, as I did, I suppose he thought I would be helpful linguistically. He had a sleeping bag. I did not nor a back pack. Not my style. I travelled with a suitcase.

We had a charming evening with music, singing and copious amounts of good wine but where to next?  Our host suggested 'La Tour Philippe' just outside the beautiful town of Bonnieux in the Luberon. He knew the couple, Marie and Patrick who owned it and that we would be welcome to stay. However we had to bus it to Bonnieux and then walk several kilometres along the 'route de cedres'. Soon we would see the tower on the left, open the gate, walk in and make ourselves at home! 'Just like that' as Tommy Cooper would say.

I don't recall how we made it to Bonnieux but I can visualise the straight long road of the cedar trees which seemed to go on as far as the eye could see. We were told later that the tower was built by an eccentric who wanted to view the sea from the top of the tower except there was no sea!

We finally arrived exhausted by the late afternoon and cautiously opened the creaky gate. The tower was to the left of the farm house and bolted. We knocked on the farmhouse door but no one came, found it unlocked and so in we went.

Facing us was a large music stand holding an ornate guest book full of comments and thank yous from all the international travellers who had found their way there. Silence reigned in the kitchen off the hall. There were big notices on the cupboard doors in French saying - If you are hungry, the frying pans are in such and such cupboard. Matches on the counter, eggs and bread in the pantry, blankets and pillows to make yourself comfortable!

Paul put his sleeping bag on the living room floor so he was alright Jack, while I stretched out on a day bed with a blanket and fell soundly asleep. Some hours later I was awakened by Marie, my hostess, asking me who I was. Confused I asked her who she was! Thank God I spoke French because she knew no English. She explained her husband was coming out of the army the next day and there would be a big celebratory dinner to which we were invited.

That night we followed her to a nearby borrie, a stone shepherds hut, with an open fireplace where an hippy American woman was making pizza. She was a writer and had rented the rustic hut in the middle of nowhere for a year.  I recall crossing the fields in the eerie moonlight aware of the dark skies and the stars. We, the outsiders, had nothing to bring and felt guilty but were made so welcome by our new warm open abundant hostess that it didn't matter.

The next morning Marie had to do her food shopping at the Monday market in Cavaillon for the big dinner and in the process drove us around the area including Lacoste where the Marquis de Sade has had his chateau. Up and down narrow streets she drove with difficulty in her Renault. Then something went wrong with it so she knocked randomly on a door and a distinguished American novelist helped out pushing her car. I remember being invited into his rented house where a British author friend was visiting him. We bought some good wine as our contribution and enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the weekly food market.

That night Patrick came home in army uniform to his adoring wife. Music and singing and a wonderful evening with copious amounts of red local wine was had by all. We only stayed and both signed the guest book with glowing words and 'merci' for their hospitality. A never to be forgotten experience!

Paul went back to Aix to busk and I continued on hitching to Arles. Little did I know I would return to La Tour Philippe 4 years later.

Written at Cortijo Romero in Orgiva, Spain on 23/5/17.


Wikipedia - borrie
Wikipedia - foret des cedres
Google - Roland Petit
Amazon - A year in province - Peter Mayle