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Jun 26, 2014

In With a Bang: Tronc des Baronnies

THE STORY:

In with a bang: Pippa welcomes our Bay Area friends to Paris, and France, and Europe by squirting them from our balcony with a water gun upon their arrival one hot afternoon. James and Trina dub it the "Best Welcome Ever," but, alas, Pippa is to hold the crown for less than 24 hours.

In with a splash: The morning after their arrival, we train down to Avignon together, where we will be staying as the guests at the rather wonderful villa of James and Trina's friends. We arrive not only to a beautiful villa with a swimming pool, but also to three succulent chickens roasting on the grill, served with some great local cheeses and wine and sparkling conversation. After dinner, the villa's owners drive away, leaving us as kings of the castle. It's heaven and, upon reflection, slightly outshines a water gun and a fold-out sofa bed.
 
  

In with a thwack: From the villa, it's a quick drive to the medieval Château des Baux, where we all try shooting crossbows. The arrows go in with a satisfying thwack, and nearly all of us at least hit the target. For those that don't, it's the stockades.

  
 
Out with a bang: At the 1100 year-old château, James gets to help wind up the second largest trebuchet in the world (the first being by Loch Ness in Scotland) and then be the one to pull the "trigger" rope, sending a volleyball to its untimely and rather explosive end. He volunteers extremely enthusiastically -- and explains medieval armature to Trina, myself, and the children in such detail -- that I am once again reminded of the difference between boys and girls. As with Anthony in la Dordogne last year, it's also fun to see James' 12-year old self emerge at the prospect of a day spent as a knight.

 

In with an "aaah": Exploring the town just outside the castle walls is, as always in Provence, pure pleasure.

 

In with a clang: After the château, we continue our day of testosterone at the 2000 year-old Roman arena in Arles, where the clanging and grunting and sweating (and even occasional bleeding) of gladiators is alive and well. It's fun to think that this was already a thousand year old ruin when the thousand year old château was just being built.

 
And one of the most interesting facts I've learned while in France -- or possibly ever? -- is that in recent renovations of this arena, they discovered that inside some of the many-meters-thick stone walls, after 2000 years, the mortar had not quite dried. Beyond being just a seriously cool factoid, this also helps explain why it's still standing; the fact that the mortar is not brittle allows it to shift over time without crumbling. 
 
 

While there are no deaths at our gladiator spectacle, we do notice at the meet-and-greet-and-try-on-equipment afterwards that the main gladiator (the guy holding the pitchfork in the photo) has a mangled, swollen, and bloody hand. All of them have battle scars on their backs, legs, and arms. They take this seriously.
 
 
 
 
THE CHEESE: Tronc des Baronnies
 
A "tronc" is a trunk in the sense of a coffer or chest, which is the shape that this cheese resembles. It also works in the sense that when you open it up, this cheese is a real treasure. It comes from the area called les Baronnies, which is located in the Ouvèze valley of Provence.
 

It's a raw goat's milk cheese that is infused not only with the subtle thyme and other herbs from the lands where the goats graze but also the hit-you-over-the-head herbs that are just under and sprinkled on top of the crust. It's a creamy cheese with a faint golden hue on the outside and creamy white inside. Warmed up, the outside gets runny but deep inside the treasure chest is a thick, creamy, medium tangy, absolutely heavenly cheese.

 
THE CONNECTION:
 
Not only is this a cheese from Provence, but also the name "Baronnies" suggests the ancient baronies (two Ns in the French spelling) from the area most likely got its name. Baron and Baroness were titles of nobility in ancient France from the 15th century until the revolution of 1789 abolished -- officially at least -- such hereditary titles.
 


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