Monthly Archives: September 2011

A MIS-STEP IN TIME Part ll – 22 September 2001

22nd September 2011  Part II   
We arrive at the last field of grapes to be harvested by hand, both the last of this season and perhaps the last, period, to be hand-picked in this region. Now the grapes are harvested by machine, for the same reason that machines have replaced man forever: time and money. In the vineyards, machines make night-harvesting possible. But here at Chateau La Canorgue, considered the best in the region, a combination of machine and hand is used. And this is an organic vineyard that has been in the same family for 5 generations. Nathalie, the daughter, has been kind enough on this busiest of days to take time out to show us the cellar, tell us a bit about the process and direct us to the last field about to be picked. 
The pickers, who are from all over France as well as a few from Algeria, are taking their afternoon break and so our box of pastries and bag of cold sodas are much appreciated on this day that has a sun as hot as any in August. There is a slight dis-ease between us – us being the pickers and the photographer and writer, and I feel frustrated to not have enough language to break the barrier with a bon mot or bit of self-mockery. 


Furthermore, my left big toe is f–king killing me. I’ve jambed the joint at least, if not broken it in my haste to get to this last available harvest in time. As if the success of this book rests on this one event. And so, in my Kamakaze suit, I failed to notice – and not for the first time – the one-inch concrete and tile step in the bathroom. It hurts like buggery, already as swollen and blue-black as the grapes themselves. I’ve done the ice thing, the arnica, anti-inflammatory, blah blah, but the book goes on, so here I am standing on one leg in the blazing heat at the end of 2 rows of vines where the pickers are carefully and steadily snipping bunches into their buckets. 


Once full they empty them into the wagon and move on. 



Some chatter. Most are silent, focussed, intent. In the course of these few paragraphs they have snipped half-way down the two rows with a rustle of leaves, the snip of clippers and a plop as each bunch of grapes hitting the bucket. Rustle, snip, plop. Rustle, snip, plop. And its not like the bunches hang in solitary uniform rows, no, they hang in clusters of bunches and each must be snipped in the right place to keep the bunch whole.

Every once in a while the rhythm is broken by an outbreak of chatter and laughter that has the tone of ragging – as on each other, or maybe us.

The toe is singing now and we decide to take it home. My darling husband piggy-backing me down the hallway until I collapsed in a puddle, he made me laugh that hard. And now I’ve taken to my bed for the evening. Out the window I see that same rosy gold light that I saw yesterday evening. It’s so soft out there. And in here? Like a swallow in its cave.

As I type the passage about the harvest onto the iPad – I write by fountain pen – I realize I’d make a lousy journalist. I never get the facts. Funny. Fact. Is it truth? Or merely a truth upon which to found one’s imagination?

And not 5 minutes later I read this from Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet:

Balthazar: “To imagine is not necessarily to invent.”

THE FLIGHT OF IMAGINATION – 22 September 2011

22nd September 2011   

We thought we were in for the night, last night, until we opened the big window and looking out to the west saw that the sun was beginning its descent. So, out we went. Joel with his large format Leica and me, handsfree. Joel was already heading toward the light, which from our street appeared to be down there, that’s how high up our apartment is. But there are greater heights to go. I had just noticed, for the first time, a flight of stone steps across the street, which called to me strongly. And so we took them.
This is part of our creative process as a couple: when one of us has an instinct that arises from being called by something unseen but strongly felt, we always go in that direction. “There’s mystery up there,” I said, “Let’s go find it.”

It would be the first of several flights of stone steps, this first one taking us to a tiny street that had its own atmosphere, as if we were in a different quarter of the town.

At the end of the street we made a right and ascended the second flight of stairs…

The light was gathering even as it was descending, as if in nearing the earth it was set ablaze, the flame of it spreading a rosy gold over and through and around everything in sight.

The ancient walls and crenulations, the worn steps, breathing once again beneath one’s feet. The magnificent fir trees, stalwart in their tall guardianship…
And then another right turn, another flight of steps. Midway, beneath an arch, I stopped to look at Joel, himself on fire, and said to him, “How I would love to to hear the bells.”


For at the top of this flight is the ancient church, which in the spring had tolled for one who had died.  And then, as I stood there, still under the arch, a single bell pealed above me like a summons and I flew up the remaining steps to the golden flank of the church, it’s warmth spreading and beckoning me on…



And then the mystery appeared.  Call me crazy, but I swear I saw the ghost of my spirit etched into the trunk of that tree…


BACK ON OUR FEET – 21 September 2011

21st September, 2011    
We made our first foray into foraging today, making a pact with each other to let go of expectation in terms of what we might be capable of both physically and creatively. Thus, having admitted and accepted today’s limitations we were free to ask for help. And so we drove down the hill to Paul and Caro at Les Trois Sources – the 13th Century B+B we had the good fortune to stay in both in the spring and summer. We felt that their friendly faces and Paul’s magical sense of direction would be a great jumpstart, and so it was.
Although, even before we turned off the road and onto their lane, I found I had let go of something.

Our first 2 trips here this year carried with them expectation and-particularly 

on the first trip-a certain amount of anxiety as to whether or how we could find Provence. This pressure had to do with our years in Tuscany, the openness and availability of the landscape that we had come to know so well and the fear that if we opened to a new land we might lose the old one; a sort of betrayal that could have dire consequences and which, as a result, had us making comparisons – a defense which we eventually let go of. So it was a wonderful feeling this morning, as we left the village and drove down into the valley, to find ourselves scintillated by everything; the light, the heat of the sun, the trees just beginning their turn toward autumn, the vineyards, some still heavy with grapes, you could almost hear them groaning to let go. And I realized I was free now to love Provence having just spent 2 months in Tuscany and finding that love to be intact and not in the least jealous.

We pass the spot in the lane where we had stood in a memorable embrace one evening in July and then pull up to the building just in time to see a cartload of blue-black grapes being hauled away and suffer our first disappointment on learning that not only is the harvest almost over but that here it is mainly done by machine. Although Paul did say there are a couple of places left that harvest manually and that he would make some calls for us.

After hugs and a promise to have dinner together soon, Caro went on her way, leaving Paul to take us to his fig trees where we popped a couple right off the branch. There really is nothing like eating from the source, at the source. To eat a piece of fruit touched only by your hand, a piece of fruit traveling only 2 feet from tree to mouth, as opposed to days spent in crates, refrigerated trucks and thousands of miles of road, maybe even rail and sea, it’s incomparable.

After 3 figs apiece we asked Paul where he would recommend we go today. He uttered, as always, a string of names which we have learned to let go of remembering and stick only with the one that pops out when we look at the map. And so it was that we headed to Oppede, which actually was the first out of Paul’s mouth, and a more perfect place to start on day 3 of jet lag would be hard to find.

Some 15K west of Bonnieux, Oppede at first glance seemed a bit one-horse and therefore manageable if possibly lacking in opportunity. How wrong we can be. Fortunately we were hungry for lunch and as there was only one option available we took it, sitting on an arbored terrace at the T junction. The whole village seemed to be napping. Hardly a car passed while we ate a mussel casserole, a kitchen sink salad and homemade fig tart with caramel ice-cream. It was a simple, happy meal served with a kindness that fortified our spirits. And then, as we ambled back to the car, we began to see things.

The quintessential French country school…


The library and its beautiful sculpture…

Oh, and look, back there, look at that tree…

Just a plane tree, but oh, how it sings. It seemed to me to be a perfect marriage between nature and man, the husbandry of years of pollarding having encouraged this tree to become the very best it could be. The branches themselves appearing to be the roots of the leaves.

Back in the car again we decided to take the opposite route and then after 100 yards noticed a lane calling out to us. And look what it gave us…


This lane led to another, on which a row of crumbly buildings had us fantasizing about restoration. Fortunately, on thinking it through, we realized both the buildings and we were about 30 years too late.

By now the combination of the Indian sun and the lunch had our still-exhausted bodies beginning to droop, rather like the grapes. So we headed back home stopping in Menerbes, at one of our favorite Provencal shops for the evening supplies for dinner, to accompany the fish we’d bought early in the morning from the Wednesday truck in Bonnieux.


A wonderful day with a surprising harvest of glimpses. How extraordinary to be here in Autumn, the season of gathering and letting go.

HERE WE GO AGAIN – 20 September 2011

20th September 2011

I’m all right once I’m on the plane – well,  let me qualify that and say that I often pop 5 mg of valium before take-off – but really, once I’m on the plane I’m totally out of control so I can let go. Yet it was precisely that, the being totally out of control that caused my first panic attack some 15 years ago when suddenly, flying alone to England, I felt that if I didn’t get off the plane right then I would go completely mad as well as suffer heart failure. The thought of opening the exit door and leaving the plane while mid-Atlantic seemed the only reasonable thing to do. I hadn’t realized I’d become such a control maniac that even if the only option I could exercise would be to leap to my watery death, well at least I made the choice.
I still don’t like flying, for all the reasons most of us dislike it. But now I pop the valium to sleep through what little of the night there is when overtaking time. We arrived back in Province yesterday. Is that right? Last night, Monday night, it seemed like it had been one long day since Saturday even though we didn’t leave until Sunday. Are you with me? Lord knows, Joel and I keep looking at each other in bafflement. It always feels like one’s missing a day when flying west to east.

We’re knackered. Two weeks of New York madness after 2 months of Tuscany scrambled every cell, deepened some wrinkles and had us bickering with each other most of the way from Marseille to Bonnieux. Actually, that’s not fair. We interrupted ourselves many times to remark on the light which, as there was a strong mistral on the go, had everything dancing and waving. The trees particularly seemed to be waving at us; an arboreal welcome that sent a confetti of light-scattered shades of green all over us. And the pale turquoise water of a reservoir was whipped into dancing pyramids, as if the energy came from its great depths and maybe it did, maybe it waits down there for the mistral to magnetize it to the point of frenzy.

The sun, the wind, the turn from summer to autumn, the thrill of seeing the grapes still on the vine, the now familiar roads as we pass through Loumarin and make our way here to Bonnieux, all felt so rich it was almost more than these tired souls could absorb. We’re back, we kept saying. We’re back in Provence. Doesn’t it feel great?

And then we drag the suitcases up the stone stairs, unlock the enormous door and we’re home. We’re home because our dear friends Sharon and Paul have generously lent us theirs. It is a home filled with light; from the sun, the moon, and from their spirit. It embraced us immediately. 



And urged us to unpack and settle in, which we did, so that by 4:30 we had placed the emptied suitcases under the bed, shopped at the little store down the hill and cooked scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and tomatoes which we ate while looking out at the hillside. For dessert we smeared some honey- drizzled Banon cheese onto petite-beurre biscuits, drank a nightcap of vervain and lavender tea and sank into our divine bed.


Lights out at 9pm and we, out like lights, until the sun warmed our faces at 8 this morning.


We’re still tired, still a bit disoriented and as you can see, the writer in this team hasn’t got her mojo yet. But we’re here and ready to begin…



HERE WE GO AGAIN – 20 September 2011

20th September 2011

I’m all right once I’m on the plane – well,  let me qualify that and say that I often pop 5 mg of valium before take-off – but really, once I’m on the plane I’m totally out of control so I can let go. Yet it was precisely that, the being totally out of control that caused my first panic attack some 15 years ago when suddenly, flying alone to England, I felt that if I didn’t get off the plane right then I would go completely mad as well as suffer heart failure. The thought of opening the exit door and leaving the plane while mid-Atlantic seemed the only reasonable thing to do. I hadn’t realized I’d become such a control maniac that even if the only option I could exercise would be to leap to my watery death, well at least I made the choice.
I still don’t like flying, for all the reasons most of us dislike it. But now I pop the valium to sleep through what little of the night there is when overtaking time. We arrived back in Province yesterday. Is that right? Last night, Monday night, it seemed like it had been one long day since Saturday even though we didn’t leave until Sunday. Are you with me? Lord knows, Joel and I keep looking at each other in bafflement. It always feels like one’s missing a day when flying west to east.

We’re knackered. Two weeks of New York madness after 2 months of Tuscany scrambled every cell, deepened some wrinkles and had us bickering with each other most of the way from Marseille to Bonnieux. Actually, that’s not fair. We interrupted ourselves many times to remark on the light which, as there was a strong mistral on the go, had everything dancing and waving. The trees particularly seemed to be waving at us; an arboreal welcome that sent a confetti of light-scattered shades of green all over us. And the pale turquoise water of a reservoir was whipped into dancing pyramids, as if the energy came from its great depths and maybe it did, maybe it waits down there for the mistral to magnetize it to the point of frenzy.

The sun, the wind, the turn from summer to autumn, the thrill of seeing the grapes still on the vine, the now familiar roads as we pass through Loumarin and make our way here to Bonnieux, all felt so rich it was almost more than these tired souls could absorb. We’re back, we kept saying. We’re back in Provence. Doesn’t it feel great?

And then we drag the suitcases up the stone stairs, unlock the enormous door and we’re home. We’re home because our dear friends Sharon and Paul have generously lent us theirs. It is a home filled with light; from the sun, the moon, and from their spirit. It embraced us immediately. 



And urged us to unpack and settle in, which we did, so that by 4:30 we had placed the emptied suitcases under the bed, shopped at the little store down the hill and cooked scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and tomatoes which we ate while looking out at the hillside. For dessert we smeared some honey- drizzled Banon cheese onto petite-beurre biscuits, drank a nightcap of vervain and lavender tea and sank into our divine bed.


Lights out at 9pm and we, out like lights, until the sun warmed our faces at 8 this morning.


We’re still tired, still a bit disoriented and as you can see, the writer in this team hasn’t got her mojo yet. But we’re here and ready to begin…



PICKING AND CHOOSING – 17 September 2011

17th September, 2011 
We leave for Provence tomorrow, to gather material for our book. Glaneurs that we are, we’re off to pick up whatever nourishing tid-bits we can find. It will be harvest time in the Luberon where we will be living and it will be harvest time for us as artists: a time to reap whatever thoughts and visions and ideas we sowed back in the spring on, our first trip to Provence, and then, added to on our second, in the summer. Later will come the sifting, the wonderful winnowing process of editing, choosing what to keep, what to let go of and what to let sit on the darkened shelf so that it might come to fruition in its own time.
I love the editing process and wish I could do as good a job editing my suitcase which, no matter how spare I try to be, somehow always carries too much weight, some amount of redundancy and a certain amount of worry over whether or not we’ve chosen the “right” combination of layers to cover 2 seasons: in this case the end of summer and most of autumn with the possibility of some early winter nights.

Packing a suitcase is a bit like writing a book: you cram in as much as possible to begin with and then, as the journey progresses, you whittle it down, get surprised by something that turns out to be the thread(s) you keep returning to and, admit it, often chuck out a couple of articles to make room for a new pair of shoes, perhaps a cheese or two and whatever else might present itself as representing the essence of the place one has temporarily inhabited and if lucky, have been permanently inhabited by.

But for now we are still in New York. Joel at his last 9/11 talk and I, on the couch, once in a while turning my gaze to the melancholy grays of river and sky. 

Between times always make me feel somewhat disconnected. I know there really is no such thing as between times; wherever you are, you are. But there’s something about being between seasons and between leaving one place and going to another that has a suspension to it that must be the weight of waiting. Even if I stay busy while waiting for something or someone there always seems to be an edge of fear and distraction. I think I’ve lived my whole life either waiting for it to improve and then when it does – and it really has! – waiting for something to take it away. Surely as a glaneur I should chuck that bit of rubbish out of the sack.

I’d better go check my suitcase again.

RUNNING ON EMPTY – 15 September 2011

15th September, 2011  
Do most situations get worse before they get better? And if so, how does one measure better in relation to worse?
Why is it that in trying to simplify one’s life it seems to get more complicated?

Why do I tend to view life in terms of opposites and extremes?

Why do I ask so many questions?

All the time?

And for God’s sake, what’s with the answers?

I’d like to gong for a while. You, know those Tibetan gongs with the little wooden gonger stick thingies. We have 2 in our bedroom here in NY and 1 in our bedroom in the Cape house which we hope will be reunited with us– the gong that is – when – if? – the house closes on 21st October. The gongs here are pitched, tonally, one above the other (I’m sure this is not how Tibetan monks would describe it), so shall we say that if you gong the gongs from the one on the left to the one on the right you get a sort of ding-dong, which I equate with “Good-night”, while, if you gonged in the opposite direction you get, yes, dong-ding or as I choose to interpret it “Wake-Up.”
Right about now I’d go for a string of ding-dongs until my mind vibrated with emptiness at which point would I be able to remember how to get into bed? Because actually, you can’t run on empty, can you?

Our tanks are dangerously low. They’re in the red zone and I’d be afraid to find out how many miles we have left before we grind to a halt. Please don’t let it be on the way to JFK on Sunday.

Simplifying our lives these past three years – since the crash of 2008 – has been interesting and exciting at best and frightening and exhausting at worst. It has involved laying off treasured staff, emptying the apartment we now live in – and emptying took 2 months, 3 junk removal trucks, 2 Housing Works vans, more garbage bags than is ecologically responsible, a few 100 cardboard boxes, 2 storage units and not 1 f–king partridge in a pear tree.  During this period we also got to experience supreme moments of hatred for each other interspersed with moments of clinging to each other like drowning rats. And then, just when the fun stuff of renovating was about to begin, I dropped a carving knife on my foot and severed the tendon to my big toe, which might actually be worse than running out of gas on the way to JFK.

But hey, we’re simplifying our lives. So, moving right along, we are – as those of you who’ve been so kindly keeping us company on this journey know – currently waiting for the current Buyers of our Cape house to buy the bloody thing already, having already had not one, but 2 previous buyers change their minds. I won’t go into what the emptying-of-that-house saga entailed because you all might go ding-dong.

So what the hell is reality? And why do I think there’s any such thing? What I really don’t understand is how it all got so complicated in the first place, although I have a nasty feeling it had to do with need and greed. I mean, really, who needs 2 homes? Is there such a thing? Or is home a singular place as in “you’re so nice to come home to”?  Ah, the heart. As in home is where the heart is. Is that where “hearth and home” came from, or did the guy have a lisp?

Obviously it’s time for a ding-dong. 

Good night!

BEING HERE – 9 September 2011

9th September 2011 Part II  
It’s challenging to be in New York now, for many reasons, not the least of it being the imminent 10th Anniversary of 9/11. There’s a palpable tension in the air. Today I notice an increase in police helicopters over the river. Bridges and tunnels are on alert. It’s hard not to be just a bit afraid. And of course, it’s non-stop media.  Everyone seems to have to have their say, to make some kind of point, to tie it up, voice despair, to judge what happened and why and how it was dealt with; to opine as to what might have happened if only…Some literary types even try to interject poetry. Please. I have no idea what to feel. Well, that’s not true. I’m just avoiding it. Because really, what I feel is a deep sadness for the all of it.
It’s hard to equate this with the recent memories that pay random visits daily, sometimes hourly: the lavender fields of Provence, the clink-clink-clink of the wind-swished bamboo grove at Les Trois Sources; a mouthful of sun-hot cherries, the sea at St.Tropez, fading now into the summer night as we sit on the terrace with glasses of vanilla ice-cream. A trail of morning mist floats to my mind, right there in the Ligurian mountains. The cows must be mooing toward midnight on our Tuscan Farm and Gianni and Luana are probably gazing at the stars.

We ate some sad tomatoes for lunch and dreamed of Libera’s sweet, juicy, voluptuous ones, picked straight off the vine. But at least we had a slice of pecorino brought back from Pienza, our suitcase redolent with its earthy scent mingling with the lavender that awaits its sachets.

I look at the rock again and then out to the sparkling waters of the Hudson. The day has turned blue. A blue September day. I think of all those who died 10 years ago and wonder how many of them thought “this is it,” as they left us.

THIS IS IT – 9 September 2011

9th September, 2011  Part I 
A few birthdays ago Joel gave me a beautiful rock inscribed:  
“This is it”

because over dinner one night he had said just that, “This is it, who we are, what we share, the life we are making together, this is it.”  I put the rock in the rockery – where else! – at the foot of the dune in our seaside garden and watched over the next few seasons, the various sedums and ground cover grow around it, always making sure they didn’t obliterate the words.

It’s an interesting trio of words. Only one of them – is – being specific, unless you’re Bill Clinton. This and it both pronouns, can refer to anything. The phrase seems to me both amorphous – unless you know what the this is, and ultimate, as in, “This is it, I’ve had enough” or “Believe me, I’ve seen a lot of great places but this is it.”

It’s the is that makes it really interesting though, because it can fool you into thinking someone or something or some place really IS it. But in fact, it is constantly on the move because the present tense is just that, present – not then or soon or later.

So maybe that’s why I woke up with such urgency the day before we left for Provence and Tuscany at the end of June. I saw the rock in my mind’s eye and saw that it was in the wrong place. I had the overwhelming feeling that as long as it stayed there the house would not be free to move on.  So I asked our dear friend, Tom, if he would please retrieve it, cleanse it in the sea and send it to NY. We knew he was the right person for this ritual, knew that he would cradle it, bathe it and send it safely on its way.

When we returned to New York last week the box was waiting for us. We sat together on the couch and slowly unwrapped it, feeling the tenderness with which Tom had treated it.


It sits now in a corner by the fireplace, a solid thing bearing a transient message.

As I look at it now, I can’t fathom what the “this” “is” that “it” is referring to. It makes me want to turn its face to the wall.

Joel is fulfilling another 9/11 commitment. Tomorrow his Ground Zero Memorial Exhibition opens at the Houk Gallery. Sunday evening he will give a Ground Zero talk and power point show. The same in Iowa on Monday and at St. Johns University next Saturday. This is it for him. Ten years of carrying these stories, the months of being there, on the pile and in the pit while they cleared it. The years of archiving and making the book “Aftermath”, the State Department Exhibitions of the work appearing in almost every country on the globe, our attendance at several of those openings, the recent visits to the site to photograph the “this is it” now.
I look at the rock again. It’s annoyingly adamant. If I had the right tools I’d be tempted to obliterate the “it” and add “a rock.”  And suddenly I understand exactly what Joel was saying all those years ago, “This is it, baby, you and me. We are each other’s rock.”

RANDOM ACTS – 6 September 2001

6th September 2011  

A day of rain and cool air, the hum of air-conditioners suddenly quietened, the sky over the Hudson River a bleached cottony grey that, if this were winter, would herald snow. The river itself, sad, as if it carries all the tears that must surely have been shed upstate, where the season’s crops were devastated by the rains of Irene.
How random it all is. New York, braced for disaster, partially evacuated and batten-ed down, pretty much escaped, while Vermont, originally not on Irene’s itinerary, become her biggest layover.

Early Sunday morning we took the train to Boston for our Godson’s wedding and watched from the window as towns, woodlands and beaches scrolled by. Saw the scorn of Irene’s fury: trees split asunder if not uprooted and those left standing, scorched, their leaves already dropping, while others not 10 feet away stood fully adorned in their end of summer plumpness. And the train kept going. And then it stopped, not 40 minutes from Boston. In the middle of nowhere we listen to the conductor inform us that there is police activity on the tracks and it could be hours before we are allowed to continue.

What!  Hours! No! Joel is the Officiant at the wedding. That’s right, he has a one-day-only license to marry the Godson and his fiancee. It’s a big wedding, intricately planned. And we’re stuck on the tracks. Just as we’re trying to figure out a solution the train starts to move. We will have just enough time to dash to the hotel, change into our outfits and get to the venue on time.

It’s all so random. Boston is sticky with humidity, the sky threatening rain that will never come. The first taxi we get into is sullen and not air-conditioned. We get out of it and into another. We’re tired and stoic and unwedding-y. Until we see Zeke, the groom, and suddenly we’re energized and overjoyed and who cares about the heat and the high heels? Zeke and Michelle are getting married. And boy, do they get married! These 2 young people, whose lives have long been dedicated to helping others are now dedicating themselves to each other. And they do so with grace, and joy, and generosity, with thoughtfulness and intention, with kindness and inclusion, each of us implicitly aware of how we are a part of their lives and therefore of each other’s.


It is one of those weddings that has it all: babies, toddlers, teenagers, 20-somethings and on up to us and beyond, to the grandmothers in their wheelchairs. It has a Havanageela that’s sheer bacchanalia, it has schtick and swing and so-so food. Speeches written on sheets of paper and speeches straight from the heart. And perhaps more than anything, it has the momentary sigh of relief that in the random chaos of our 21st century world, 2 people who are so obviously made for each other actually found each other.