by Ian   August 15, 2014

Magic Night in Provence

Music, contentment and the dark

During the summer, we stayed in the Luberon region of Provence, in the gorgeous “perched village” of Bonnieux.  Bonnieux is a marvelously old medieval town nestled high on a hill. Its narrow, winding cobblestone streets and characteristically crowded little houses are packed behind gigantic city walls that still stand fast against the marauding hordes of the middle ages. In the centuries since then, the city has crept down the hillside and past the walls, but the oldest part still remains huddled on the top of the hill, serene above the spectacular views in every direction. The church that serves as the apex of the town was constructed by knights leaving for the crusades and later expanded to the modest size that it remains today. To reach it, a long climb up many stone stairs is required, snaking through alleyways and sandwiched between yards, with eight-hundred year old buildings on every side.


It was after one of these climbs that we filed into the beautiful church to attend a concert that began at sunset. Richly decorated side chapels lined the left and right of the nave, and the very stones around us seemed to sigh with age. But within the building, the atmosphere was very much alive as passionate French musicians presented lively Celtic songs and old English folk tunes.  They played reels, jigs and ballads we listened and tapped our feet. Then, as if to cap off the mood, thunder rumbled in the distance and the lights went out.


It was already full dark by then, and so for a second the blackness was total. To the band’s credit, they literally didn’t miss a beat. Their song played on as strongly as before in the pitch dark air, and I found myself wishing that the electricity stayed off. My wish was granted. A church member lit the many candles that were ensconced on the walls and in the huge, heavy altar candelabra one by one, slowly kindling a warm fire glow on the ancient stones. As the music rose and fell, the flickering light made the church look almost identical to how I imagined it must have looked on nights in the thirteenth century, and the rows of faces in the pews, softly illuminated, might have been those of peasants of long ago.


Later, as we left the church following the well-deserved encore, I noted the contented looks on everyone’s faces as we lingered for a reception with the musicians under the stars. Then we walked away, relaxed and reluctant, back down the many stairs to our homes and hotels. I breathed the clean country air and felt extremely lucky.  Just another summer night in Provence...