In the south of France, about 45 minutes drive northeast of Avignon, past Carpentras with its medieval walls and its giant supermarket, its market that consumes the city on Fridays, there is a small picturesque town called Le Barroux, stacked on a hill on the border. from the Rhone plain and crowned by a massive sand-colored castle, all in classic Provencal style. Behind the village, looming sullenly over the overgrown hills and silent plateaus and the vast platform of busy, fertile plain, lies the lone, lunar peak of Mont Ventoux – the dreaded stage of the Tour de France, géant de Provence, lonely harbinger of the massive ranks of the Alps to the east.
In the village there is a house with an orchard of olive and apricot trees. It was converted from a barn in the late 60’s by my grandfather, an architect from Geneva. It is still owned by my mother and her sisters. I have been on vacation there since I was born (they named me after the olive trees); I paid a visit in more than half of the last forty-odd years. But not since 2018, because I had a baby and then you know what happened. Maybe next year. But my mother and aunts are not getting any younger, and the diaspora of cousins is distant and scarce, and the place is becoming more and more difficult to use and maintain with each passing season. I can feel that time is running out.
So when, inspired by Bertie’s question, I finally turned on Microsoft Flight Simulator for the first time this week, I knew there was only one place I wanted to see.
My Cessna ascended from the Avignon airfield and patiently crawled over a network of commercial towns, vineyards, and business parks toward the Ventoux. Sailing is easy when a kilometer-high mountain dominates the entire landscape. To his left, extending toward me, the jagged limestone teeth of the Dentelles de Montmirail; He knew the groove in this range of hills where the town should be. There was Caromb, the neighboring town with the good cheap wine available straight from the vineyard. I changed my course to the left. There was the bright blue patch of the Lac du Paty, a place to swim high in the hills; and there was D938 snaking along the valley floor; and there was Le Barroux itself, an unmistakable shape even without its distinctive castle silhouette (maybe it’s in the world update that is still downloading); and there the green square that must be the orchard; and there, the cube of the house neatly hidden in the corner of the garden.
My heart raced. It’s actually a common wonder nowadays, it’s just a fancy version of Google Maps, but it packs an emotional punch anyway. Perhaps it is the way the landscape comes to life from this vantage point, suspended somewhere between the objective, flat gaze of the satellite and the subjective map built on the paths of his memory. In a way, this is more than a map. It is a landscape that you know by heart, instinctively. You recognize not only how it looks, but how it feels. You know their moods.
After seeing the town, I decided to take my Cessna up the bald summit of the Ventoux. But it was my first flight and I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t climb fast enough, and then when the dark green flanks of the mountain rose to meet me, I climbed too fast; AI had to take over to avoid a deadlock. The little Cessna worked, but it wouldn’t make it. Like so many before me, I came to the slopes of Mont Ventoux after having underestimated the giant of Provence.