Monthly Archives: March 2011

Glimpsing the Glimpse – 22 March 2011

pile  burning leaves, These photographs seem to come from a new place for me, one that is organic and elemental, like the season itself. 

We prudently decide to turn around and head back up the steep climb to the house – got to break in the old bods slowly here! Back at The House Of Remembrance we make a picnic of cold chicken, salami, olives, tomatoes, radish, and chunks of olive bread and eat the whole thing out on the terrace. It’s a truly gorgeous day, made for a read and a nap. I do the former, Joel the latter. The forecast for New York is snow. Refreshed we get back on the road. At the top of ours, we stop for Joel to photograph a cistern he espied yesterday and both get distracted by a patch of virulent green grass so shockingly alive beneath the still-black, winter trees. 
The cistern is both magical and foreboding. That’s magic for you. What is it that I find so sinister?  Is it the cement holding tank which reminds of Japan’s still-threatening nuclear disaster? The water itself looks menacing, its black depths superficially lit by the sun, so as to make the reflections of the trees even blacker.
We drive on to Vence. We have a mission: those AMAZING chocolat truffe that have wiped the praline fondant of the map. We round a bend in the road and are caught by surprise at a glimpse of the Meditterranean. The sea is just over there! ALWAYS! And yet we completely forget about it because we are living in the mountains. Mountains, sea. Winter, Spring, Verdant grass, leafless trees. These exciting juxtapositions come at us in glimpses – or apercus as the French would say. And indeed we are just getting an apercu of how this IS the terrain here: we are in a Land of Glimpses. One must remain alert to this in order to “get” this part of Provence. 
Suddenly I feel enormous relief:  this is what I had not been willing to see before because my expectations preceded me. These expectations we have of life become demands if we don’t let go of them. The less we get what we want, the more we demand it and the demand blinds us, literally blinkers us, so that we are unable to Glimpse The Glimpse.
To take in that which reveals itself in a moment is to experience the vista of the moment:  the immeasurable expanse of now.

In Vence we buy 8 Chocolat Truffles and 4 Dark Chocolat Caramelwith Fleur De Sel.  Oh, God, help us. Furthermore Joel buys the specialte de la maison: a long puff pastry filled with hazelnuts and caramel. We choose a café on the sunny side of the square, order tea and commence to stuff ourselves with the recent purchases. On the corner the carousel goes merrily around. And yes, life is sometimes a caramel, I mean, carousel!


On the way back to the car we pass the little bio store we shopped in yesterday. The shop sign says “La Vie.” Next door is the funeral parlor.
Home again we heat up the old soup, light the fire and the candles and talk about the day. The hand is more than holding steady – it’s growing new skin. The living and the work we did today are fulfilling.  The Cape house begins to slip away and we realize that we are not only making a book together, but we are getting what is our hearts’ desire more and more of the time: to be together:
WE CAME AWAY 
TO BE TOGETHER

Emergency rations – 21 March 2011

Monday, 21st March
Today we take the hand to the hospital. It’s okay as far as hospitals go, but still a hospital: you know, press this button, sign here, wait on these chairs – the kind they first introduced at Port Authority a couple or three decades ago: anti-tramp seats. In the waiting room two tween girls – unrelated – have foot injuries. One left. One right. Which maybe qualifies them for a 2-legged race? A man with a nose-bleed sits next to me. On another chair a woman obviously in pain. And a stretcher with something awful where the face should be. More waiting. Now we’re in the examination room:
Between 2 nurses, 1 doctor, a photographer and a writer, we manage to stitch together enough English and French to get Joel’s hand bandaged too tightly for 83 Euros. I redo the bandage in the parking lot.
We decide to treat ourselves to St. Paul de Vence, the town where every Artiste you ever heard of, once paid for their lunches and dinners at La Columbe d’Or with paintings. But we are too late for lunch. It’s 2:30. We’re starving. We go across the street to the antithesis of la Colombe d’Or. No paintings here and the food, not so good. But we’re sitting outside. The sun is hot on our faces and the still-naked, heavily pollarded trees are formidable, as are 3 teams of Boules players: all men, all older, all good players. The clack of the metal balls, the dull thud as one lands on the baked ground, the exclamations of victory and exasperation create a nice piece of theatre distracting us from the lack of belle cuisine.

We pay l’addition and stroll through the archway to this ancient mountain village above the Mediterranean. Within yards we are horrified. These once charming narrow streets – too narrow and steep for anything but foot traffic – are now studded with cheap boutiques and galleries where once there must have been charcuterie, boulangerie, alimentation, and surely a cobbler and ironmonger. But this is the 21st Century. There isn’t a piece of cheese in sight, and yet the whole town strikes us as cheesy. But salvation waits at the top of the village: an ice-cream shop and a church. And yes, I take them in that order. 
Inside the church the stained-glass windows are catching the mid afternoon sun, splashing kalidascopic color on saints and sinners alike.
We drive back to Vence with relief. It’s real. Like Grasse. I mean let’s face it, the Columbe d’Or is not the restaurant those artists went to last century. Try bartering for a meal today. This is the 21st Century, you have to make your way through a lot of crap to get to the pay-off. And you know what? It’s worth it. In Vence the pay-off is the Bio-Patisserie. An organic bakery that makes breads from spelt, quinoa, and other whole grains. No yeast. Amazing sugar free cookies. Down the street another Bio shop, stocked with organic grains, jams, oils, herbal remedies and teas. The owner puts down her crystal long enough to help us pay for a few treats.

Soup, Nuts and Bolts – 20 March 2011

Sunday, 20th March, 2011
I really miss playing my piano.

A piano.

Oh, Piano.  I miss you.
We’ve had an indoor day. Downloaded the Sunday Times puzzle. Typed up more writing. Set up the printer. The fireplace going the whole time. Late afternoon I prepare
Soup de Jour

 from 3 different kinds of sausage from the local butcher, 
which I brown along with leeks before adding 
parsnip, cabbage, tomato, fennel powder and white beans.  
Water to cover.  It French simmers on the stove for 2 hours,

while I finish typing.
It was important to have a “down” day. Joel’s hand is sore and in need of rest and the setting up of the Blog – our first – is time-consuming.  At 7 we stop, turn on the Ipod, and sup on soup. But first, the locking of the doors. There are a lot of keys and locks and bolts and bars here in Provence. We’re told the thieves are everywhere. And each of the four doors to the house has a different system. Turn this bolt this way, turn this one the other way, put this bar through here, turn this lock twice. For instance one door has
3 bolts

2 hooks

3 locks

2 bars



By the time I’m finished with the last door I’m not sure if I’m the jailer or the prisoner. Did I mention there is a revolver by the bed?

Sometimes you search for the land – 19 March 2011

Saturday, 19th March 2011.
Today we set off for Bar sur Loup and Grasse. I decide to give my boots a rest and wear my little pointy-toed kitten heels. I want to be French. The road to Bar sur loup is vomitously winding and I keep searching for “countryside” that turns me on. I’m having a hard time finding it. We both are and have to keep letting go of comparisons to Tuscany where the land just kept coming at us all the time. It’s not like that here and we’re trying to get beyond expectation and accept what is. This is tough terrain. Mountains and gorges. There is no horizon it seems and isn’t it the horizon that gives us the sense of expansiveness and possibility? So how do we find our way in here? What is it we are not willing to see? 
We arrive in Bar sur Loup famished. Park the car and climb up and up and more up, to the top of the old village where the sole restaurant is closed. A nearby statue of Admiral de Grasse looks to be admonishing me for my ridiculous shoes.  
I take them off and we wend our way down like mountain goats to the parking lot and voila, ici il y a un bon restaurant!  We sit outside in the boiling hot sun and eat fish and shrimp and then the sun is gone and the rain starts and off we go to Grasse.
This is where I feel we begin to feel our way into the country 
and into a work of art at the same time.

Now it’s pouring. And cold. Bloody shoes! 
But we do manage to find the Musee de Fragonard.
And a pair of new jeans for me.  And a little café for tea and pastry and a sweet brocante shop that has a tiny, old glass bottle which I purchase to add to the collection on our kitchen window ledge in NY. Grasse feels good to us, authentic, unpretentious. Joel finds a bookshop – one of those Dickensian places. Who is the French equivalent of Dickens? Joel asks the owner if he has an original edition of Robert Frank’s “The Americans” Puh, he says, Non. Il est tres cher. But he shows Joel another book, a collection of master photographers and there Joel is! Four pages of him. The owner is most impressed. We will return.  But now it’s time to go home to TSL. On the way back this happens:
Sometimes you search for the land and

Just when you have given up hope

You find the sky

And the evening pours down on the land

You couldn’t see before and

It doesn’t matter that it is populated

Beyond your desire for what the land

Once was:  what is, in nature,

Will always be beyond us.



Sometimes you search for the land – 19 March 2011

Saturday, 19th March 2011.
Today we set off for Bar sur Loup and Grasse. I decide to give my boots a rest and wear my little pointy-toed kitten heels. I want to be French.  The road to Bar sur loup is vomitously winding and I keep searching for “countryside” that turns me on. I’m having a hard time finding it. We both are and have to keep letting go of comparisons to Tuscany where the land just kept coming at us all the time. It’s not like that here and we’re trying to get beyond expectation and accept what is. This is tough terrain. Mountains and gorges. There is no horizon it seems and isn’t it the horizon that gives us the sense of expansiveness and possibility? So how do we find our way in here? What is it we are not willing to see? 
We arrive in Bar sur Loup famished. Park the car and climb up and up and more up, to the top of the old village where the sole restaurant is closed. A nearby statue of Admiral de Grasse looks to be admonishing me for my ridiculous shoes.  
I take them off and we wend our way down like mountain goats to the parking lot and voila, ici il y a un bon restaurant!  We sit outside in the boiling hot sun and eat fish and shrimp and then the sun is gone and the rain starts and off we go to Grasse.
This is where I feel we begin to feel our way into the country 
and into a work of art at the same time.

Now it’s pouring. And cold. Bloody shoes! 
But we do manage to find the Musee de Fragonard.
And a pair of new jeans for me.  And a little café for tea and pastry and a sweet brocante shop that has a tiny, old glass bottle which I purchase to add to the collection on our kitchen window ledge in NY. Grasse feels good to us, authentic, unpretentious. Joel finds a bookshop – one of those Dickensian places. Who is the French equivalent of Dickens? Joel asks the owner if he has an original edition of Robert Frank’s “The Americans” Puh, he says, Non. Il est tres cher. But he shows Joel another book, a collection of master photographers and there Joel is! Four pages of him. The owner is most impressed. We will return.  But now it’s time to go home to TSL. On the way back this happens:
Sometimes you search for the land and

Just when you have given up hope

You find the sky

And the evening pours down on the land

You couldn’t see before and

It doesn’t matter that it is populated

Beyond your desire for what the land

Once was:  what is, in nature,

Will always be beyond us.



Everything we needed today – 18 March 2011

Friday, 18th March 2011
The hand is not doing well. Time for a doctor!  I manage to find one, Dr. Varrant, who speaks English and call for an appointment. He says to be there by noon, which is 20 minutes from now. He is in Vence. This would take 20 minutes if you knew where you were going. We don’t. Joel insists on driving. I insist on screaming at him either to SLOW DOWN at roundabouts or GO FASTER on the straight-of way. In Vence we go around in several circles before locating Dr. Varrant’s street. We find underground parking, The width of the tunnel was made for an emaciated donkey. We bash in the entire right rear passenger side of the car and keep going. We are already 5 minutes late. Above ground we frantically search for the Doc’s building, enter the wrong one, exit, enter the right one. The sign says he’s on the third floor. In the elevator we press 3. It takes us to 9. Interesting. The building is only 3 stories tall. In Dr. Varrant’s surgery an assortment of ailing, coughing, rash-covered people await his cure. We get VIP treatment. Oh, says Dr. Varrant, zees eez uh beauteefool burn. He writes a prescription and instructions and sends us to the Pharmacy next door. Closed. Siesta time. I’m sorry, but f—k your siesta, buddy. I bang on the door holding up Joel’s bandaged paw and the prescription and yell URGENCE in my best French accent. A sweet young man foregoes his lunch and lets us in. 
And you know what?
We got everything we needed today, all in French!

That’s what I like about being a stranger in a strange land: You really learn how to communicate. Get right down to the basics. Love, it.
In the square the market is closing, but we manage to find an Egyptian selling Pecorino cheese from Pienza. He throws in a runny goat cheese for free. The last stall still open is manned – and I use that word seriously – by an aging hippie who actually does keep her money in the depths of her bra. She loads us up with apples, parsnips and satsumas and recommends the restaurant on the sunny side of the square for lunch. Once we have ordered, I do triage on Joel.
The sun is hot. The food is good. Our relief is enormous. The profiteroles are beyond beyond. 
Stuffed and happy we wander into the old part of town and find some truffle chocolates which we will eat this evening, by the fire. They will render us speechless. 

Four trees and the river – 17 March 2011

Thursday, 17th March, 2011

Joy of Joys!  The sun came out for 10 minutes after breakfast. I was standing in the kitchen and suddenly the whole valley lit up. But what excited me most was four trees, which thanks to perspective appeared to touch each other and in so doing provided a picture of the four seasons:
Winter –  The Cypress

Spring – The Mimosa

Summer – The Palm

Autumn – The Olive
It is winter here, and I’m glad of it. We wanted to be introduced to the land sans frills. We take the road from the house, down, down around the many twists and turns until we come to the River Loup at the bottom of the gorge. The river is its own Tsunami today, swollen beyond itself by a week of torrential rains, the trees along its banks naked and hard-bitten, the water rushing to the Mediterranean as if it can hardly wait to get there. In fact, when you look up-river the water is the grey of the mountains, whereas looking down river, toward the sea, this same water takes on a hint of the turquoise to come. The sun comes out for the second time today and we are surrounded by a million illuminated beads of rain clinging to branches, twigs and moss: the moss a strident green that pulses with the urgency of spring.

Making the most of what we have – 15 march 2011

Tuesday, 15th March  2011
In the morning we drive to the Pharmacy – oh, have I told you yet that it is fucking freezing here in Provence and raining non-stop (now for the 5th day). The pharmacist provides a dressing and gives it the A-OK. We drive on to Vence where we find the most fabulous Biologique: organic everything. We load up our bags and feeling triumphant walk back to the car, which is now MORT. Not only is the battery dead but when we try to turn the key the alarm goes off. It’s a French alarm. Insistent and obnoxious, and from the looks of the residents coming out on their balconies they have judged us similarly. We stop passersby. No one speaks English. I run up the street in search of a man. Any man will do. I have always had great success with this. But evidently I have turned a corner around which I find myself less seductive than in a former life. We go for lunch. 

The food is good. Someone calls for the equivalent of AAA, which promises to arrive in 20 minutes.  An extremely kind, if somewhat crusty, Englishman takes us into his home to dry off and warm up. A cup of instant coffee, a sugar-coated imitation English biscuit, interrogation on the nature of our book.  And finally, the gem of the day:  I ask him what drew him to Provence. “The weather,” says he.  How dry is that?

Back to the car to wait pour l’assistance. We stand in the rain for an hour. We stand shivering in a shop for half an hour. Finally l’assistance arrives, the battery is jumped and because of Joel’s injury I am the designated driver. I must navigate 8 miles of winding roads, 3 roundabouts and blocked traffic WITHOUT STALLING. Yes, of course it’s a stick shift.  Mon dieu.

Make the most of what you have

Funny how hackneyed a phrase that’s become. We all know it, have all said it. But isn’t it usually said with a too-bad-that’s-all-you’ve-got connotation? A sort of oh, well, resignation? But think about it. It’s actually an opportunity to experience the fulfillment of the moment. 
By the time we got home we realized we had forgotten to buy fish for dinner, which we had been craving. We, or I should say I, as Joel will be one-handed for a while, decide to steam some barley and sauté a bunch of vegetables. We have to make the most of what we have and here it is:

 Barley Risotto
1cup barley to 2 cups water
1 zucchini

4 mushrooms

dash of hot pepper

10-ish shavings of stinky French goat cheese

salt


Bring the barley to a boil, cover, and then when you realize the French don’t simmer, place the cover part way, so that the liquid doesn’t boil over and then while scratching head, think, oh, okay, barley risotto.  Remove lid altogether and start stirring. Forget steaming the veggies.  Add small cubes of zucchini, knifed straight into the pot, ditto the mushrooms.  Keep on stirring.  Intuitively add water.  Keep stirring. Add some olive oil. Some hot red pepper. Salt of course, Taste. What does it need?  More oil?  A drop more water to soften the barley? Done. Serve straight from the pot into small bowls.  Add that stinky cheese and eat the whole comforting mess with a spoon.

Serve with a salad of
Mache

Pear

Oil

Lemon

Salt

Pepper

VOILA!
For dessert we highly recommend sitting by the fire and eating thin grain biscuits smeared with orange/ginger confit accompanied by nibbles of praline fondant chocolat.

First Impressions – 14 March, 2011

Monday, 14th March 2011

We venture out for our first exploration of Tourettes-sur-Loup:

A side street

 The mayor’s office

Entrance to City Hall
Curtain on window 

Mimosa tree
And lunch by the fire at Chez Grandmere, a local bistro with fantastic couscous this and couscous that.  We have them all, topped of with a chocolate and pear cake. Oh, all right, I had the nougat ice-cream too!
Josje, who owns the house, calls to see how we are doing. First impressions, she says, are most important, because after that you no longer really see. She’s right in a way, one can never see the same thing again for the first time and yet while one cannot repeat the experience one can caress the impression repeatedly so that it may yield new interpretations. 

When I first came into this house my “first impression” was: “Too much stuff!” I was afraid I would find it claustrophobic to live here. Usually I remove “clutter” in a rental home. But this is not a rental home. It is a home.  And when I open my eyes beyond my habitual judgement I see that everything in this home has been collected and placed with love and tenderness. This is a house filled with memories. Bought 31 years ago by Josje and her husband when their 3 children were small. It was originally a shepherd’s hut, the hut now forming the dining room around which the house has been built in a simple rustic style: humble beams, plaster walls, no straight lines. The entire house is filled with photographs, going back generations, each in its own idiosyncratic frame, probably collected from the many markets of Provence and Paris. Written over the desk in the little study : Je t’aime. . A photo of Josje’s late husband guards the entrance to the house. And in the living room a Mexican saint watches over us. 


We name our new home.
“The House of Remembrance.”
And how appropriate that we arrived during the annual Violet Festival, violets symbolizing, as they do, remembrance.

 We have been talking of the fragility of life.  I say to Joel:
There is a certain kind of inevitability to be alive at this age…..

I came here to shake that feeling.

I will be nicely tested by that in the next twenty-four hours, starting with Joel pouring boiling water on his hand tonight, the skin immediately blistering and peeling, the immersion of hand in cold water, the calling of Ember (our New York studio manager and guardian angel) whose sister works in a burn unit, the many simultaneous calculations of how serious is this burn? Do we need to go to the hospital? Where is it ? And, oh God, I have to drive the rental monster for the first time? At night?  In the rain? ON WINDING ROADS !@#*.  I downgrade the seriousness of the burn. Dress it with ointment and gauze, give him anti-inflammatory meds and 2 Excedrin PM, call our NY doctor to find out if I can also pump in some codeine or will that kill him and then I will either HAVE to drive the car to the hospital or lie by the dead body until morning.  Fortunately the med cocktail is approved and my poor husband goes to sleep for 9 hours. Me, not so much.

Some more of Maggie’s new photographs

The friendly sink where the not so friendly burn happened



Violets and Conundrums – 13 March, 2011

13th March, Provence.

Here, re the letting go of the Cape house, is a relationship conundrum:

 I dread the long goodbye
that Joel longs for.

Then I realize that:
Relationship IS conundrum!

Today was the big day of the Festival des Violettes. Freezing. Soggy with rain. The Umbrellas of Tourettes-Sur-Loup. A glimpse of the floats behind a partial open warehouse door.  One can only imagine what will happen to the thousands of handmade paper violets decorating them once they enter the street. I mean we’re talking relentless downpour here. It’s too wet to take a photograph. Can you imagine? Oh, but the violet chocolate truffles!

We have found 2 things we don’t like today and changed them for the better. One of them is the television that sits in the corner of the living room, a room which is otherwise filled with consciousness. (I have an abhorence of TV sets sitting in “living” rooms.) We’ve had a fire going all day and I had put the firescreen down in the corner to allow the hearth to throw out more warmth on this best of Sundays.

When we finally come together in the early evening we begin again to wander through our individual thoughts fascinated by the way in which they weave in and out of each other adding to the tapestry of 20 years of excited conversation. Then suddenly I see the fire screen by the TV.  I open it up and it becomes the TV screen. Perfect.

Joel just clicked the shutter of his Leica. It’s him, the tripod and the Leica and the feeling of him absorbing the image of the TV screen.

We will of course turn it on once in a while to remind ourselves that while we are living the privilege of this book commission, there is another world out there. When we flew into Nice yesterday, the Mediterranean was crashing at the edge of the airfield and I thought of Japan, where they are living in a chaos of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear leakage.
Still Sunday. Still raining. Reading “Justine” by the fire I find a sentence that could be the mission of this book:
“For us artists there waits the joyous compromise through art 
with all that wounded us or defeated us in daily life; in this way, not to evade destiny,
 but to fulfill it in its true potential – the imagination”