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It's Mimosa Time

Walk by a bucket of mimosa flowers at a Provençal market right now, and you would swear it was the height of summer. The sprays of yellow blooms and heady, honey-like scent seem to advertise sunny days and warm nights. The sun part is a given-Provence boasts approximately 300 days of sunshine a year-but warm nights are a ways off yet. The mimosa tree flowers in February and March, bringing a riot of jaune (yellow) to an otherwise wintry landscape.

This week, the yellow pompoms are the belle of the ball in Mandelieu-La Napoule, la capital du mimosa (the mimosa capital).* Situated on la Côte d'Azur (the French Riviera) just west of Cannes, Mandelieu hosts a yearly festival complete with une reine du mimosa (Mimosa Queen), parades, dancing and a carnival. You can even follow la route du mimosa (the mimosa road), a winding route that begins in Bormes-les-Mimosas east of Toulon, wends its way through Mandelieu-la Napoule, and ends in the perfume town of Grasse.

Last February I had my own route du mimosa as I drove from Nice westward towards Aix-en-Provence and beyond. It was a brilliant sunny day and yellow splashes of color covered the hillsides on either side of the autoroute (highway). Bouquets of mimosa dotted the open-air market in Aix when I arrived mid-morning. Later that afternoon, I visited the St. Paul de Mausole monastery near St. Rémy where Van Gogh spent a year before his untimely death. The blooming mimosas contrasted starkly with the solemn chapel and neighboring dormant trees.

And as if Provence wanted to make doubly sure I knew spring was coming, scores of almond trees offered up their pale pink flowers that day as well. I managed to capture this amandier in full bloom outside one of my favorite pottery shops just as the sun was going down.

In June a few months later, I snapped this photo of Van Gogh's rendition of the amandier in the gardens of St. Paul de Mausole. A perfect example of life and art coming together. I wonder if he ever painted the mimosa?

* For more information on the 2009 Mimosa festival, click here. This year's festivities run from February 13 to 22.

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