16 March 2012
I’m sitting on the stone ledge of the big window in Bonnieux, relishing the sun on my face and hoping that age spots don’t RSVP to this invitation. It’s been like this since we arrived Tuesday afternoon: full-blooded spring with impeccably blue skies and a warm sun, although the shadows are ready to fling an icy breeze in your face should you step over the line.
We drove here on roads that surprised us with their familiarity, passing villages and landmarks that showered us with a confetti of memories. We ooh-ed and aah-ed over buildings and orchards and twists in the road that had gone in even deeper than we realized during the months we spent here making our book.
This is the homecoming that can only be experienced from having opened up to the unfamiliar, inviting it to penetrate the inner space where that which composes the soul lays ever-open to receiving the substance that is its nourishment…and this substance bears no noun; and in vain I search for adjectives.
I’d had no expectation of what it might be like to return here without the need to fulfill a commission and had merely thought that if we had to go to Toulon to see the museum where Joel will exhibit in May, well, why not tag on a few extra days to visit the friends whose home had housed us during the course of our work?
Really, it wasn’t like we had felt a hunger to return, the way be feel the necessity to return to Tuscany as often as possible. So we were both surprised by this sense of homecoming and in some ways disturbed by it. Amazing how easily I turn abundance into a deficit; in this case the deficit manifesting itself in the problem of how to divide one’s life between 3 countries, a prospect that, having felt myself divided between 2 – England and America – for so many years, seemed overwhelming.
It is ridiculous, this fear of not being able to manage the bounty of life, as though to partake of it all is either impossible or, if possible, will surely lead to demise, if not death. Fortunately my old tricks wear thin quite quickly as I age, evaporating with the implementation of reason and the certain knowledge that you can’t have everything, that there is no forever, and that the proverbial sand is gathering speed as its dwindling mass slips through the gullet of time. And then, having re-routed my thoughts, I am once again in the moment; sitting on the window ledge, feeling the warmth of the sun, listening to the early conversations of the avian mating season. Across the valley, the field of lavender with its 7 cherry trees sits in a haze of silver light, the rows of still gray lavender striping the sandy earth like corduroy, the trees still leafless and without bloom. Unlike the almond trees which, this week, are illuminating the landscape with sunlit blossoms of the palest pink.
Everywhere, the drastic Provencal pruning has laid bare vistas we have not seen before and, in 3 weeks from now will not see again for several months. This harsh pruning – an art in itself – gives the landscape a more expansive feel and at the same time puts forth the energy of the rebellious growth to come.
This is our fourth trip here in a year – a fact that has us looking at each other in gleeful awe: how did we manage to pull this off?! It would seem we have entered the European era of our golden years and I am convinced that the carafe of water we drank at lunchtime will give us longevity.
We had visited the market in Lourmarin this morning, buying an organic cauliflower, raisins and pine-nuts, which Joel will combine and cook as part of tonight’s dinner with Sharon and Paul who will be grilling salmon and asparagus on the fire. We also bought a hunk of bread and a Brebis cheese, thinking we might add some other goodies to them for a picnic lunch. But then we thought, oh, why not lunch in Buoux or Saignon, but which one? We decided, as we so often do, to let serendipity be our guide and so it was that we found the road to Buoux barred and drove on to Saignon, hoping that the little restaurant by the fountain would be open this early in the season.
Yes! We chose a table in the sun beneath the still barren trees and let the mossy fountain sing to us while we waited for Anya to prepare plates of jambon, salmon, and mushroom pate. “Would you like a carafe of water from the fountain?” she asked. “Mais oui,” we replied. Oh, what eau! Light and pure, coming straight down from the mountain, it quenched a cellular thirst.
At the end of the meal, Anya stayed a while to talk with us. A gentle, generous woman, she had come to France as a teenager from Germany, coming here with the youthful belief that in order for her generation to escape the burden of their nation’s history it was their obligation to unite Europe. Now, some 20 years later and wise to the limitations of student movements, she nonetheless believes, and is committed to, the difference one human being can make, one day at a time. She says she feels she accomplishes this by teaching German to schoolchildren, helping to balance their prejudice against the history of Nazi-ism by living proof that there are “good” Germans.
I would say she also does more than her bit to maintain the balance of goodness in this world by sharing this beautiful old hotel and restaurant and maintaining a fountain that for this writer, today, was the fountain of youth.