I have been reading Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck and it has made me think a lot about traveling. We traveled a lot in May. We entertained neighbors from Lansing at the beginning of the month by showing them some of the sights and sites of our area and then made a trip to Porto, Portugal to meet up with other friends for the end of the month. Traveling familiar roads with neighbors who have never seen the area forces you to adopt a different way of looking at the area based on their questions and reactions. Their visit expanded our ways of seeing and enjoying beautiful Provence.
Traveling to a different country or a different region of France I notice things that remind me that I am no longer in Provence. It is like the first time we drove to New York via Canada. Once you cross the border, you begin to notice that the houses are just a little different from American houses. It might be construction materials or decorations or maybe gardens but the houses are different.
The same is true when we crossed the border from France to Spain. The houses south of the Pyrenees were different from French houses. Of course, the predominant culture of the Pyrenees is related to the Basque people and their customs and life style spill over to the style of their houses. Basque houses have wood beams and stucco and thus seemed similar to houses in Switzerland.
Porto and its architecture was different from what we witnessed in Spain. Many houses, buildings and churches were covered with ceramic tiles - some were geometric patterns, others were pieces in a mural. The tiles were predominantly made of shades of blue but there were other bright colors as well.
In Provence, houses are built of stone or cement blocks and covered with stucco. The roofs are orange Spanish tiles and the shutters (everybody has shutters that work and that they use) are painted in muted blues and greens and grays...
No matter where we went, one thing was constant: local residents recognized us as foreigners - English-speaking foreigners to be exact. I thought that I would have become less recognizable as a foreigner since we have been coming here for so many years but I must have “American” printed on my forehead. Whenever we walked into a restaurant, the waiter would ask if we wanted menus in English. The landscape may change, the architecture may change but we are recognizable no matter where we are.