Monthly Archives: June 2012

DUH MOO OF BEING

June 22 2012                      

Between reading Proust, studying Italian and stumbling through a heat wave, I have no idea, really, what I think or feel or remember about the past week. We’ve just had our second Italian lesson and have come outside to sit on our loungers which seems like a ridiculous thing to do; we have just fried our brains on conjugation, along with definite and indefinite articles and now, as if enough damage has not been done, we are sitting semi-naked under a Tuscan sun the intensity of which has driven the thermometer to 90 + degrees and after a week of this has just about driven us into the mesmerizing desert of hallucination.

Are we mad dogs? Certainly one of us is English. Do we hope to incinerate what is left of our brains until the cells are ash and we are relieved of all human understanding, not to mention comprehension of a language with which we have been struggling for years?  How can we know so many Italian words and still have so many left to learn? And why is it that when I don’t understanding something in Italian I suddenly understand nothing in English? And is this so bad?

I’m beginning to realize that if you really want to step out of your familiar life, with all its preposterous beliefs and thoughts, then there is nothing like throwing yourself into another language, especially if you are of a certain age where the hard-drive is already full. In order to make room for the new language you do have to throw out some things that may have been of use in your former life but which suddenly become clutter when, for instance, you try to tell your teacher, in Italian, that you have absolutely no idea what she just said or what you are supposed to do with it.

At first, these moments are somewhat frightening; to read or hear words that you are familiar with and yet have no idea how to apply them to the task at hand is, I think in any language, to experience the profound ‘duh’ of being. And if you really want to know, it gives me the giggles. I find it absurdly comforting to be reduced to nothing. After all, isn’t that what we all fear, being nothing? I, too, fear it, until it happens and then I find it a huge relief.

Joel, ever the one to maintain control of his thoughts, had the urge to do so the minute our teacher left. Instantly, he set to work organizing his exercise book and coming up with a list, which he so generously shared with me, as to all the things we ‘should’ do in order to become ‘A’ students. I gave him the bovine stare for a while, during which time I searched around for some remaining English words, ultimately forming the sentence, “I don’t want to do any of those things.” I think I may also have moo-ed, because he asked me quite kindly what would I like to do? To which I simply replied, “nothing.”

And what better place to do it than out here, hammered by heat, not 50 yards from 40 head of cattle whose only universal utterance is used sparingly yet with great authority, “Moo.”


AN INTIMATE DINNER FOR 350

June 17 2012            
We’re having a heat wave here in Toscana. The local’s say it’s coming from Africa. Who cares? I’d like to know where it’s going next and when. It is so hot you cannot be outdoors, unless you are next to a body of water, between noon and five. And on the farm, the heat comes with a bonus: a hatch of no-see-um’s that, while not biting, busy themselves exploring every part of your anatomy and seem particularly fascinated with the landscape of the inner ear. I am not amused.

So we have come down to the village where we are now lounging on our picnic blanket under a grove of linden trees just outside the ancient wall. Fortunately, the evenings are beautiful, with fresh breezes coming from the hills, the insects gone to wherever it is they go and it is once again possible to sit outside and watch the blue of the evening sky deepen until it becomes a star-studded inky blanket.

Yesterday evening we celebrated the festa of the first moon of summer, albeit a few days early. We first attended this festa 16 years ago, but although we come here every year, this is our first return since then that coincides with this celebration. Having learned, many times, that even here in Tuscany nothing stays the same, and having witnessed in the last few years some changes that we deem not for the better, I was a bit apprehensive about going last night, preferring to be satisfied with good memories rather than hoping for repeat performances. But Joel was eager and so we went, and I’m glad we did.

It’s quite something to enter the main street of this medieval village and see a long table snaking down the center of it. Even before the 350 locals sit down the table holds the promise of all that is good about community. And it is all about community. The men have spent the day checking, fixing where necessary, and assembling the tables and chairs. The women known for their cooking talent have been in the cantinas all day prepping and cooking, and the children and teenagers will be serving and bussing the food which is brought to us on table tops fitted with four handles to form enormous trays. 


For $20 you buy a ticket with a corresponding seat number and will find yourself plonked down amidst the locals, none of whom will speak English and all of whom, when you tell them how badly you speak Italian, commence to machine gun you with rapid-fire conversation through the ensuing 4 courses, during which we find ourselves alternating between understanding and speaking whole paragraphs and then completely losing it for the same amount of time, our lack of comprehension completely ignored by our dinner companions, either because they cannot image such a thing or because they presume that if they keep on talking we’ll eventually get back on the train and find the right compartment, which we eventually do. Besides, we are familiar enough, after all these years, with the rhythm and tone of the conversation to fake it during the brain-dead passages with the appropriate phrase of agreement or dissent.


And so it is that we joyfully make our way through the antipasti di crostini con fegatelli (toast with boars’ liver pate), bruschetta con fresca pommedori (bread with fresh tomatoes) salami and prosciutto. Having already agreed to sign a protest against the installation of new grain silos on a particularly beautiful stretch of countryside, we move on to the zuppa di ribolitta (vegetable and bean soup) which, like the natives, we eat with great chunks of raw onion, all the better to fire up the powers of conjugation. Next comes scottiglia (a stew of pheasant, rabbit, boar and chicken) with piselli (peas) followed by – for those who still have room – a light and lovely tiramisu without alcohol. And of course, bread, wine, and water, is in constant supply.


The food, all made fresh that day, is a miracle in itself, what really moves us is the way the whole community volunteers to work for nothing but, perhaps, the greatest recompense of all: the continuation of tradition and a way of life that is heart-warming in this age of isolation. We didn’t see one cell phone in play during the entire evening. Everyone was with everyone else in an intimate, animated way, occasionally interrupting conversation to sing along with the accordionist and guitarist as they strolled along the street.


AN INTIMATE DINNER FOR 350

June 17 2012                
We’re having a heat wave here in Toscana. The local’s say it’s coming from Africa. Who cares? I’d like to know where it’s going next and when. It is so hot you cannot be outdoors, unless you are next to a body of water, between noon and five. And on the farm, the heat comes with a bonus: a hatch of no-see-um’s that, while not biting, busy themselves exploring every part of your anatomy and seem particularly fascinated with the landscape of the inner ear. I am not amused.

So we have come down to the village where we are now lounging on our picnic blanket under a grove of linden trees just outside the ancient wall. Fortunately, the evenings are beautiful, with fresh breezes coming from the hills, the insects gone to wherever it is they go and it is once again possible to sit outside and watch the blue of the evening sky deepen until it becomes a star-studded inky blanket.

Yesterday evening we celebrated the festa of the first moon of summer, albeit a few days early. We first attended this festa 16 years ago, but although we come here every year, this is our first return since then that coincides with this celebration. Having learned, many times, that even here in Tuscany nothing stays the same, and having witnessed in the last few years some changes that we deem not for the better, I was a bit apprehensive about going last night, preferring to be satisfied with good memories rather than hoping for repeat performances. But Joel was eager and so we went, and I’m glad we did.

It’s quite something to enter the main street of this medieval village and see a long table snaking down the center of it. Even before the 350 locals sit down the table holds the promise of all that is good about community. And it is all about community. The men have spent the day checking, fixing where necessary, and assembling the table and chairs. The women known for their cooking talent have been in the cantinas all day prepping and cooking, and the children and teenagers will be serving and bussing the food which is brought to us on table tops fitted with four handles to form enormous trays. 


For $20 you buy a ticket with a corresponding seat number and will find yourself plonked down amidst the locals, none of whom will speak English and all of whom, when you tell them how badly you speak Italian, commence to machine gun you with rapid-fire conversation through the ensuing 4 courses, during which we find ourselves alternating between understanding and speaking whole paragraphs and then completely losing it for the same amount of time, our lack of comprehension completely ignored by our dinner companions, either because they cannot image such a thing or because they presume that if they keep on talking we’ll eventually get back on the train and find the right compartment, which we eventually do. Besides, we are familiar enough, after all these years, with the rhythm and tone of the conversation to fake it during the brain-dead passages with the appropriate phrase of agreement or dissent.

And so it is that we joyfully make our way through the antipasti di crostini con fegatelli (toast with boars’ liver pate), bruschetta con fresca pommedori (bread with fresh tomatoes) salami and prosciutto. Having already agreed to sign a protest against the installation of new grain silos on a particularly beautiful stretch of countryside, we move on to the zuppa di ribolitta (vegetable and bean soup) which, like the natives, we eat with great chunks of raw onion, all the better to fire up the powers of conjugation. Next comes scottiglia (a stew of pheasant, rabbit, boar and chicken) with piselli (peas) followed by – for those who still have room – a light and lovely tiramisu without alcohol. And of course, bread, wine, and water, is in constant supply.

The food, all made fresh that day, is a miracle in itself, what really moves us is the way the whole community volunteers to work for nothing but, perhaps, the greatest recompense of all: the continuation of tradition and a way of life that is heart-warming in this age of isolation. We didn’t see one cell phone in play during the entire evening. Everyone was with everyone else in an intimate, animated way, occasionally interrupting conversation to sing along with the accordionist and guitarist as they strolled along the street.

REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST


June 14, 2012                  
This morning we awoke to a light breeze wafting through the open window, finding its way to our faces where it teased us awake with its fresh breath. Proust, I am sure, would luxuriate in such a breeze, staying with it long enough for it to dazzle his mind with such consciousness and reminiscence as to encourage him to write of its spiritual and metaphysical properties for at least 2 pages. 

Perhaps it is the same breeze. Perhaps he inhaled it so deeply that it has taken a century for his exhalation to reach me, carrying to my senses, if not illuminating them to such a great depth as he was wont, the urge to journey to the linden tree atop Rocca D’Orcia, with the vision, which awoke with me, of sitting beneath its ancient, blossom-laden branches whilst reading In Search Of Lost Time.

Back in the 90’s, when Joel and I were teaching our workshop here, we would give our students the middle weekend off, not only so that they might digest what they had learned during the first week, but also so that Joel and I could have 2 days of replenishing solitude. The students were free to go wherever they wished and we made a point of not telling them the location of our retreat, knowing it was highly unlikely that they’d find their way to this tiny village. We would drive the 30 minutes there, after Friday lunch, climb the winding road up to the top of the village and just disappear into sleep and silence until Sunday afternoon when we would once again become Ma and Pa workshop to some 30 students of writing and photography.

Back then, Rocca D’Orcia boasted perhaps 20 houses and one 3 bedroom Inn above a small, exquisite restaurant. We would be given the enormous key to our room, the window of which looked out and over the whole Val D’orcia, and would immediately flop onto the horsehair mattress and, drugged with the scent of star jasmine, disappear into the first siesta. Perhaps we’d take a small walk before dinner and an early to bed night.

Our second siesta, on Saturday afternoon, would be taken on the bench beneath the linden tree in front of the Inn. At that time the tree measured some 20’ wide and stood twice as tall in a miniscule piazza between two cisterns. Its presence was profound. The space it inhabited being barely wider than the spread of its branches and, as our workshop took place during Linden season, would be just dripping with thousands of clusters of flowers of a shade of cream resembling old ivory, and whose perfume, unlike bottled perfumes which, after the first sniff cease to deliver their so-called bouquet, would continue arousing the sense of ones’ nostrils, the aroma, instead of lessening, becoming headier with every inhalation until, after a quarter of an hour the cortex of the brain felt to be lined with pollen.

And then there were the bees, numbering as many as the flowers. Invisible at first, it was the hum of their industry, thrumming throughout the tree that would awaken the sense of hearing to their presence, the deep drone of which was like a never-ending Ohm.

So, imagine our disappointment when, after a delicious lunch in neighboring Bagno Vignoni, we drove in great anticipation to the top of Rocca D’Orcia only to find ‘our’ tree so drastically pruned as to not only appear unremarkable, but worse yet, be without a single blossom; its energy, one supposes, being used for the sole purpose of spreading its branches back to the radius where they belong.

Yet all was not lost. Out mottos for a year now have been ‘More Fun Now’ and ‘Make The Most Of What You Have.’ And so it is that we remembered that during our post lunch passegata around the village of Bagno Vignoni we were pleasantly surprised by the scent of linden blossoms issuing forth from 5 relatively small trees standing in a circle in the little piazza; a piazza which, because it is early in the tourist season (and because of the economy tourists are far fewer than usual) and because vehicles are not allowed in the village, was practically deserted and most tranquil.

So we drove back, parked our car on the outskirts and, grabbing two chairs from outside a closed café are now sitting peacefully amidst the circle of trees.


Although I have been writing, Proust has not been forsaken: he’s in Joel’s lap on a Kindle (don’t tell Marcel!) from whence Joel is inhaling a plethora of poetic prose in the perfumed peace of a piazza. 

BRING ME A NIGHTINGALE

12 June 2012              
We move around, outside, following the sun or shade, as we wish, circling the house much like the cows across the road that circle from hay feed to the woods, down to the pond and back. Sometimes, when the sun becomes too strident or the wind in the shade rustles the pages of my journal, I come inside to write, either upstairs in our studio, or, if Joel’s clacking away at emails, I retire to our bed from where, with the French doors open to the afternoon light I can see into the shade of the tree and beyond, to where the sun still illuminates the land.
   Maggie’s photo
Yesterday, the Gianni Magic began. He came for us late afternoon in his pick-up, which I call his Silver Steed, and took us down the road to a semi-derelict building that used to be a winery. He wanted to show us the color of the walls; a fleshy pink reminiscent of medieval Sienese stone. In the back of the building stood the long-unused, enormous wine barrels, which Gianni will re-purpose for the floors of his house.


From there we gallop along an old Etruscan road so that he can show us an example of the 50/50 nature of reality and the reality of nature; the former, a field where someone has been dumping old broken vehicles. To see this kind of ignorance bordering on criminality, in such a place of beauty really hurts. I mean, you can literally feel your heart twist, as if it has received a direct injury.  Less that a 100 yards further along we stop to look at the reality of nature: a rape field rolls down the side of a hill with a shock of color no Persian rug could hope to equal. We alight and walk into the field, its energetic hue seeming to flood our beings with health and radiance. The hills multiply in every direction and in the distance is the faint outline of Mount Amiata.


We return to the truck and journey on. There is no sign of humanity: no electricity, no traffic, no radios or TV’s and I wonder, instead of having all these ridiculous ‘days’ like Presidents’ Day, Secretary’s Day, National this and that Day, what if we had National Nature’s Day and every single person was given access to a field or a beach or a forest of pines in which to spend an entire day?

We turn a bend and there, coming out of a clearing in the woods, appears a beekeeper! We stop. He removes his netted hat and we greet each other. He tells us to wait, puts on his protective mask and disappears for a minute, returning with a small wooden box filled with bee pollen. “Eat,” he says, and we each take a big pinch. It is like nothing we have ever eaten before; sweet and soft and crumbly, like aerated felt. It disappeared in the mouth like ambrosia, nourishing body and spirit.

Gianni asks him where he’s from and what he’s doing here. He says, simply, “Nature saved me.” Originally from Abruzzi, he now lives on a neighboring hill to Gianni’s where he is the director of a rehabilitation home for boys who are drug addicts, having been one himself for many years. Now he is helping nature save them, teaching them how to make honey and other bee products in order to support the home.

We continue on, Gianni dropping us off at our house with the promise we will dine together later to celebrate the first official day of work on Gianni and Luana’s new home. I bring a soup I made yesterday from vegetables, sausage and cannellini. Luana has grilled eggplant topped with cheese and tomato. We eat peaches and cherries for dessert and then walk down the lane to the site that will be their home.

It’s a magnificent ruin atop a hill, sitting in a grove of olive trees with a 360 degree view. When you look in every direction from this place you see only ancient Etruscan land, starting with the sunrise, where their kitchen will greet the day and ending at what will be the veranda to our apartment looking out to the sunset over another field of rape. It is wild here, and yet tranquil. Boar roam here, and on a far hill a flock of sheep graze. The woods are filled with mushrooms and…wait…what do we hear?



The first day we arrived, Gianni told us that if there was anything we wanted, to just ask. “Oh, Gianni,” I said, “Bring me a nightingale.”

About 10 years ago, when we were all living on the estate down the road, we had 2 friends from Cape Cod visiting for a few days. One night, just as we had all gone to bed, Gianni came a-knocking;  “Come,” he said, “Come.” And we all piled into the back of his pick-up and drove to the far edge of the estate to an old farmhouse. Some 50 yards before reaching it, he shut off the lights and engine and, finger to lips, beckoned us to follow in silence. He led us to the back porch where he lit a candle and whispered, “Aspetto,” In a few minutes a nightingale began to sing…and sing…and sing. For an hour we sat in silence, listening, the single flame of the candle glistening the tears on our cheeks.

Now, 10 years later, Gianni stops, finger to lips, “Aspetto,” he whispers, and there, from the woods on the far side of the rape field comes the singular song of a nightingale.




THE BOVINE AMBLE

9 June 2012               
We had planned on going to Siena the other day for more supplies, but it felt too much like going to a city and neither of us were yet ready for that sort of energy. So the opening phrase of this paragraph: we had planned…dissolved as we began practicing doing what feels harmonious in the moment.

It takes some getting used to, this degree of letting go. A couple of days ago, we agreed to spend the day observing how often we use the word ‘should’ in the course of a day. It’s appalling! Who are we should-ing for? To whom do we owe this sort of obligation?

A few years ago I was in an elevator with a mother and her 10 year-old son. He asked her, “Why is Aunt Harriet always saying she shoulda this and shoulda that? Is shoulda Yiddish?

‘Should’ is one of those words that squeeze the enjoyment right out of life. A word that implies a negative judgment if you don’t do the ‘should.’ The difference between, I should make the soup now or else… and, I’d like to make the soup now so I can enjoy it for dinner, seems, to me, to be that the former carries the implicit threat that if I don’t make it now not only will we go hungry but it will be my fault. In fact, I didn’t make the soup because I wasn’t in the mood to and when we got hungry later I really enjoyed making a spur of the moment omelet.

As it turns out, we woke up full of beans – in spite of not having had soup! – and felt like trotting off to Siena so that we could go to the art store where I bought a wonderful box of pastels and 2 wooden palette knives – one for spreading butter! We also went to the bedding shop where we bought our linens last year. This year’s treat being a down mattress pad for our increasingly bony bods. 

What a pleasure, Siena, with its circular design of cobbled streets around the Campo. The Campo, as always, an open reward after the narrowness of the medieval alleys. And what pleasure to enter the shop and be greeted like family by the owner and the two saleswomen who helped us last year, all of us chatting away in Italian, remarking on how time flies and how it was just like ieri that we saw each other.

We lunched at our favorite restaurant, at our usual table outside, from where we could watch the comings and goings of students, tourists and the Sienese. Osteria Loggia has a fine cuisine: Italian with a light touch and a twist. Joel started with a delicate dish of anchovies in a saffron broth while I wolfed down the creamiest of buratta’s drizzled with the restaurant’s fragrant oil and a whiff of chives. So I was surprised when my main dish of tagliatelle with ragu arrived, sitting belligerently on its plate. Not only did it not have any signature invention, it was hostile; the pasta and sauce refusing to marry, remained irreconcilably divorced. I was just thinking I ‘should’ have ordered something else…and along with the should came an undercurrent of self-ridicule mixed with scathing, if silent judgment of the restaurant… when the waiter came over and gently asked me if I’d like to order something else. I demurred. In truth my appetizer had satisfied. But he actually, genuinely wanted to know in what way the dish was unsuccessful. He wasn’t asking because he ‘should’ but because he wanted to assist the kitchen in its quest for high standards. He thanked me for my opinion and brought us, on the house, two of the most magnificent desserts we’ve ever had: the lightest of light hazelnut sponges with a good daub of hazelnut ice-cream, alongside of which sat a cylinder of vanilla custard topped with sea salt, the whole thing sitting in a pool of melted milk chocolate.

And so these lovely days go. We’re taking on the bovine amble. Even the laundry is stress-free. Perhaps it is the gazing at the green and gold hills between pegging and unpegging, or the slow stony walk back to the house, the sun already soaking up the moisture from the sheets and towels – and probably doing the same to my skin. Some say one ‘shouldn’t’ stay out in it, but that’s another should I’m letting go of. Nothing can reverse the creep of crepe at this point, so I might at well wear it in the golden shade I prefer to winter’s deathly pallor. 

There’s more to all of this, but for now, rather than exploring the crevices of my mind I’d rather make a cup of tea and sit in the deckchair next to my lovely husband, the two of us doing sweet bugger-all.



HERE A MOO, THERE A MOO…



6 June 2012

We arrived in Buonconvento just after lunch, driving the last few miles south from Siena on roads so familiar and rich with memory, we wept. We had our Adagio CD playing and felt our bodies and inner spirits relax into that rhythm, it’s what I call the rhythm of ‘no should’s.’ It’s a gentle meander, a pace that describes the arc of a Tuscan day. The way it seems to stretch and beckon is so inviting to me. When I am here I feel as though I am in ‘right’ time, in that time becomes non-linear; it’s a voluptuous land and being here rounds my edges, softens my defenses and connects me to the moment in such a way that it is possible to feel every moment that ever was and ever will be.


Giuncheto, the house on the farm here where we stayed last year, is a year older now and plants that were spindle sticks last year – and looked to stay that way forever in the heat of the summer – have shot up this year already making a screen between us and the country road. The broom is in its bloom and with every breeze effuses its scent in powerful wafts. A row of lavender plants, also new, edge the border near the clothesline and it, too, is about to bloom. A pergola has been built, a welcome  addition that allows us to eat outside with shelter from the sun, and the welcome from Silvia and Vincenzo was filled with so much love and kindness: the bed made with our linens and all our things brought out of storage and placed exactly so.

Their herd of cows has doubled in size, now numbering 40, and after unpacking we strolled over to them for a conversation. I think I feel a bovine essay developing at some point this summer. But for now just let me say that as I write I can hear the soft clang of cowbells and last night we drifted into slumber with the lowing of the mamas, lullabying their babies.

 


We forayed into the village this morning to stock up on supplies and were not surprised by the warm and happy greetings from all the shop owners whose wares and produce we have been buying for 17 years. We all look a little older and all tell each other we look younger!

Tonight we’ll go up the hill for dinner with Gianni and Luana and begin to switch our brains to the narrow dusty track that holds our grammatically erroneous Italian. But you know, we’ll all say everything we want to say, and we’ll laugh; that wonderful sound that only humans make, the universal sound that needs no words.

ALONG THE WAY

June 4  2012          

We awoke at dawn, the air, still carrying the cool of the night, was filled with birdsong as if every winged creature had set its alarm for the same moment. What, exactly, awakens birds? Obviously not an avian alarm, their uproarious song is far too joyous to have been rudely pulled from sleep. We lay for some minutes listening and then breakfasted and packed the car, leaving the lovely Luberon behind until la prochain fois.

Six hours later, after 3 pit stops and miles of tunnels and turns along the Italian Riviera, we are poolside at the Grand Bristol Hotel in Rapallo, looking across a short stretch of sea to Portofino. But before the Luberon fades completely from view I want to tell the tale of the cherry ladies.

We first espied them in the woods alongside the rugged road to Lourmarin, but as we were running late for the market decided to stop on the way back, some 2 hours later, hoping they would still be there. And so they were. A little tribe of 3: 2 women and a man, presumably a husband, the latter asleep on a blanket behind the picnic cooler while the women played cards at a little folding table. A straw basket hung from a branch, while under another tree, wooden boxes of cherries were lovely arranged like bassinets in a nursery. Another, longer table was filled with cartons of cherries and homemade jams.


We pulled the car into a clearing in the woods and the women left their game of cards and sauntered over to their produce; hubby, who had obviously put out his do not disturb sign, remained prone.

There are moments such as these, when traveling, that seem to magically or magnetically pull strangers together and for a few minutes the strangers become intimates. It has nothing to do with anything we normally allow in through our complicated process of screening. No recognizable code of dress is needed to attract each other, but something pure and simple in each of us responds to the other and we want to rub up against it.


They offered their wares, in this case the jams and cherries, with absolutely no aggression. They were simply there, hanging out in a patch of dappled woods, probably since early morning. Perhaps they had caught the market rush, but they were in no rush; a picnic lunch, a siesta, a game of cards and come what may. We fell into easy chatter, as if we were suddenly fluent in French, urged to sample the cherries, informed as to their method of jam-making. We oohed and aahed, the women and I cackling like the kindred hags we are.

Meanwhile, Joel brought our wares from the car: our Provence book, of which we have one sample copy. We watched as the women now oohed and aahed over our produce. We shared a little of our process. They looked at every page and judged ‘our’ Provence to be the real thing. We were all gratified.


As we drove away I felt deeply moved by how at home these people are. Home for them is not a triplex with a roof garden. It is the honesty of their simple, rooted life; it is each other, the game of cards, the cherries, laughter, a simple lunch, a nap, some natural shade on a hot day and a meeting with strangers from a far away land.

ALIVE WITH PLEASURE

June 2 2012                 

We’re sitting in our favorite lavender field, its 14 rows lush with spears just beginning to show the merest hint of their color. You can almost feel their yearning; a few more days of sun and they will yield to the fullness of their being. 

We would love to be here to welcome them. As it is, we sit here now, by the 7 cherry trees whose fruit is also yearning to turn the last corner into their sweet juicy pop. They are in what I call their ‘fizz’ stage; not sour, not fully sweet, but alive with taste and energy.



We have just come from looking at a house that is also alive with taste and energy, which we would like to rent next winter. We have another to look at tomorrow morning, on our favorite little back street here in the village. It will have to be mighty special to win out over the one we just saw. Not only does it have my 2 must-have’s: a fireplace and a bathtub, it has two of each! It also has a garden and a winter sun terrace. What really speaks to us is the loving aesthetic with which it has be restored and furnished.

There are very few places one walks into and feels immediately at home in, and home, as I wrote about a few posts ago, is something I’m still looking for. Although, sitting here right now, on a piece of cloth that looks as though it were torn from the pale blue sky, feeling the sun on my face, listening to the intermittent breeze stir the leaves, my husband laying beside me, I know there is no finer home.


These days of roaming ‘our’ Provence, its valley filled with roses, honeysuckle and star jasmine, the cherry orchards a cascade of fruit-laden branches, the markets full of early summer produce, all of this and, if you’ll forgive me an oxymoron, the surprise of familiarity we feel in this small part of the world, well, it is a gift beyond any words I can put together.

    Maggie’s Photo

   Ripe, and sun dried on the vine, cherries
And mixed with this is another oxymoron; gratitude accompanied by a thin strand of fear. I am immensely grateful to have travelled this far in my life, to this life rich with love and adventure, curiosity and creativity. Yet at the same time, I am aware that it can be gone in a blink. It is a life that Joel and I have created together through hard work, a commitment to honesty and the willingness to let go of society’s meaning of success in order to discover that which is of true meaning to us.

When I was a little girl my vision of success was that one day, I would live always with a bowl of fresh fruit, a vase of flowers and candles. That was my vision of the perfect home. Wherever I go, I have these three things, whether it is a hotel room, a rental, or our apartment in New York. I understand now why those things represent home to me.

Maggie’s photo
When I was a child, my parents had a front garden and a back garden. The front garden was filled with flowers; lilac, roses, lilies, forget-me-nots, wallflowers et al…the back garden was rich with vegetables and fruits; raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, strawberries, red currants, black currants, gooseberries and apples. Yet in the 16 years I lived with my parents I never once saw a bowl of fruit or a posy of flowers in the house. The fruit was always for the future, put up in jars for the winter. The flowers stayed in the garden to impress the passersby.

There were also 2 candles on the sideboard in the dining room; twisted ribbons of black and orange wax in matching brass candlesticks, their wicks forever white. They had been a wedding present, yet like the marriage, were never allowed to come to life; my mother dusted them once a week.

The idea that something was only for show, but not to be used for the purpose for which it was created, was an impoverished atmosphere that made me sad as a little girl, and is perhaps why I over-indulged in so many things for so many years. It was as though my parents had everything necessary for enjoyment but were unable to allow themselves the pleasure of what they had, as if there was something wicked and wasteful in lighting a wick or cutting a rose  –  although it would eventually be dead-headed – and enjoying it, say, in a vase on the kitchen window sill, while doing the dishes.

I often wonder what happened to the candles. They moved with mother to 5 different houses over 60 years, but didn’t make it to the nursing home. I like to think someone found them, took them to their home and lit them, perhaps watching the light from their flames play across the face of a loved one, before all became extinguished.

UNPLUGGED AND CONNECTED

May 31 2012                      

I did have to use the calendar just now…not to fill in an empty square but to find out the date. That’s sweet. I barely know what day it is never mind the date. We’re finally on vacation.

Vacation. That’s an interesting word, isn’t it? We have vacated the space, both physically and emotionally, that we had inhabited these last few months. And I must say we are greatly abetted in this regard due to the lack of Internet access. What at first seemed like a malevolent inconvenience is, we now realize, true liberation.

I should make the disclaimer that we are able to access the Internet via our smartphones but are not prepared to pay AT&T its outrageous roaming charges and so, except for a quick once-a-day check-in, we are nicely untethered from the faux reality that for the most part, most of us, have come to believe is impossible to live without.

The constant sucking at the teat of cyberspace is ludicrous. How many times do we now text a person whom we have arranged to meet? You know how it goes: 
‘just leaving,’ ‘entering the subway,’ ‘3 blocks away,’ ‘nearly there,’ ‘I’m here.’ Jesus. Come on, be honest, which of you has not yet experienced phoning someone to ask them where they are only to look up and see them 10 yards away…telling you…by phone!

So, yes we were pissed when the Internet went out a day after arriving here. Joel, who is one of the calmest people on the planet, spent hours doing his version of a rat on cocaine withdrawal: shut down the computers, restart them; move them here, there, lean out the window with them; flip off all the Airport switches, flip them back on; take the airport out of the socket, put it back in; sit for a while, then start the whole process all over again.

Funny thing though, 4 days have passed and the world hasn’t ended. Not only has it not ended, it’s larger, emptier, more peaceful. We move from surface to surface; bed to breakfast table to armchair to a bench at the top of the village where we gaze out to the valley and the Luberon Crest, while savoring a ficelle stuffed with prosciutto and Brebis cheese, sliced tomatoes, butter and mustard. The breeze at our backs whooshes through the cedar trees. Birds, whose variety I do not know, sing happy songs. And then it’s time for a little nap by the open window, the white muslin curtain catching the afternoon breeze like a sail.

Now we are lying by the pool down at Les Trois Source, our minds open to the blue, vast sky, smudged here and there with white cloud. I think of summer holidays from childhood, my father and brother on the motorcycle, mother and I in the sidecar; four people together yet separate, traveling silently through the landscapes of Devon or Cornwall or Somerset, the coming to rest in villages or seaside coves. The uncluttered, uncomplicated time to just be; no cell phone, no iPad, no computer. Just time adrift from the must do’s, should do’s, better do’s…or else…or else what?

The sun is beginning its descent toward evening. Soon we’ll mosey home, warm up last night’s saffron fish and vegetable soup and bring it back here to Les Trois Source to dine outside with Paul and Caro, to share some stories in English and French until, full of this day, we will surrender to the night.