Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sur le pont d'Avignon, l'on y danse...avec Anny Blatt

That 15th century children's song is still sung today. "On the bridge of Avignon, we all dance, we all dance..." The bridge is no longer in use because part of it was destroyed many years ago, but it's still one of the highlights of the beautiful city of Avignon.

After our visits in Paris, Alex and I boarded the famous TGV train for Avignon in the south of France. The TGV goes so fast that you get dizzy staring out the window. The darned thing can get up to 357 MILES PER HOUR, but we cruised at the snail's pace of only 200 MPH. Several times, Alex tried to capture a photo when another train whizzed by us, but it was very difficult. He didn't have time to push the camera button before train had sped away. Isn't that amazing?

When we got to Avignon we rented a car so we'd be able to drive to the Anny Blatt/Bouton d'Or factory in a village outside the city. Our friend, Jean-Christophe had arranged for us to meet with Brigette and Patrick Testaniere, the CEO of Anny Blatt. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to see the factory because it produces some of the finest yarns in the world. From a little village in the South of France, Anny Blatt/Bouton d'Or acquires high-quality fibres from throughout the world, manufactures absolutely stunning yarns, creates sophisticated patterns and markets to quality-conscious knitters everywhere. It was a real honor to be welcomed by them to their facility.

Well...if we found it.

WARNING TO ALL: If you're going to rely on Google Maps to get you someplace in another country, be sure to print out not only the instructions, but also the actual map. I was armed only with instructions and once they went awry, I was toast. (Several years ago when we divided marital responsibilities I somehow got stuck with electrician, navigator and filer of taxes. To this day, I don't know how I ended up with the really crappy jobs that could result in electrocution, endless wandering, or prison.)

Anyway, I was responsible for getting us from the south end of Avignon to a village north of the city. And I really screwed up. Once I realized I was completely lost because I couldn't find D225 (which Google claims is somewhere near A7 but I really think this is a Google gag they like to play on unsuspecting travelers) I had to improvise using just the little bit of information I could make out in the written instructions. They told me to go 30 km on A7, but because I couldn't find A7 I chose to send Alex along N7 which eventually somehow (miraculously) connected to A7...30 km later.

We were terribly lost and were late for our appointment and, yes, we tried to call but the phone number we had was missing its last digit. Alex didn't say anything...not a word...for miles and miles...not a single, solitary word. And I knew he was really annoyed that we were going to be late for our meeting. He doesn't like to be late and I don't like to be navigating in foreign territory without a map. So you can imagine how pleasant the drive was.

When we got to the village, now following the Google instructions that were getting finer and finer (go 300 meters, turn left, go 20 meters, turn right...) we couldn't find the factory. We made several attempts going up and down the streets, following the instructions, before we realized they were not to the address we were seeking! (Not my fault, I swear. Alex was responsible for pulling the direction from Google. He gave them to me. Blame him! Blame him!)

Again, the God of GPS smiled on us because out of desperation I had Alex drive us to the center of town and then I intuitively sent him where I thought the factory "ought" to be. Sure enough, there it was! Despite my screw-up getting to the right highway, Alex says I'm like a homing pigeon because I always end up finding my way...eventually.

The factory was right there on one of the main streets of the village and -- best of all -- it was surrounded by pussycats. I got some soothing pussycat pats in before we entered the facility.

Brigette, our hostess, and Patrick didn't seem to be offended at all when we showed up an hour and a half later than planned. We showed them our instructions and the telephone number we had and they laughed that both were incorrect. I'll bet they were thinking, "Dopey Americans." And they were right!

Accompanied by the sweet dog who lives at the factory, they took us on a long and interesting tour of their facility. Wow! What a place! We saw the wool roving as it arrives...the carding machines...spinning in action. I thought part of the process was really fascinating. The yarn gets spun into plies that are then spun into the gorgeous yarns that Anny Blatt/Bouton d'Or is famous for.

They had the softest angora, some lovely linen, and sheep's wool that traveled all the way from Australia and South Africa.

Brigette and Patrick showed us the dying equipment and explained the dying process to us. They had some lovely organic dyes they're now using, too. We couldn't believe how intense the pigments were and how little dye is used for a really big batch of yarn.

Luckily, one of the ladies was in the process of spinning yarn -- several skeins at a time -- while we were there so we got to see how it was made into the final product, labeled and put into the box. The boxes are so nicely packed with tissue paper. Everything seemed so luxurious...and French.

When we finished the tour, still accompanied by the dog, we went to the building that houses the factory store. Outside there were so many birds and critters that Alex asked where they kept the corporate cow. "Ou est votre vache?" he enquired. I suspect they thought we were insane, and didn't know it was a Monty Python-esque joke based on the Spamalot line, "Cherchez la vache." Sometimes Alex and I make obscure references to things that only we know we're talking about. The rest of the world thinks we're nuts.

The factory store was heaven! They had all sorts of samples on sale, and special deals on lots of their gorgeous yarns. I controlled myself, though, because this was before the Euro was kind enough to fall to below $1.40.

We stayed at the factory for a long time, learning all about the yarns, watching the process and taking photos. (Check out the original door to the factory. It was started in 1817!) We saw how everything operates -- from the arrival of the fibers to the cleansing of water used in the manufacturing process to ensure that don't pollute the environment. The trip was very informative and a lot of fun.

If you're ever lucky enough to visit the Anny Blatt factory outside of Avignon, make sure you've got the right address and get yourself a really good map of the area. Or, better yet, hire a chauffeur and don't make your spouse be the navigator because nobody can afford a divorce lawyer these days.

Many thanks to Jean-Christophe for setting up the meetings and to Brigette and Patrick for kindly showing us their facility.

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