Monthly Archives: January 2013

PORTRAIT OF A MARRIAGE

January 27 2013             
When Joel and I decided to make a book about this year in Europe it was because we wanted to make “our” book, not a commissioned one, as have been the 3 we’ve collaborated on so far. We wanted the shared experience of creating an artists’ book free of imposed preconditions. We thought it would be fun to allow ourselves to go beyond the frame, so to speak, and include anything and everything; not only photographs and essays, but drawings, recipes, videos, bits of string, blood stains, inserts and pull-outs.

With these criteria in mind, Joel came up with the idea – before we left New York – of drawing/painting/inking a line a day in a separate book which we will scan, shrink and concertina into the finished book. So every day, starting on January 1st, we have alternately made a line, the only pre-condition being that each line must start where the previous one left off. A linear calendar, you might say, or a one-liner made up of many; each unique, each individual and yet each intentioned and willing to take energy from the one before yet be freely in the moment.

The making of this book is, of course, a gift to ourselves, but we hope it will also be of interest and value to our readers in that it will be a document describing what it’s like to be in your 60’s and 70’s and leave behind all that is familiar and beloved to go live “abroad” for a year – or more – as both a married couple and as two artists working on separate projects as well as the shared one. 

To this end we agreed that we would not only let you in on the fun and hilarity, the beauty and the splendor, but also the horrors, disappointments and fears that accompany all of us throughout the course of a year, no matter how old we are, how much we love each other or where we are living. The previous post: “To Paris And Back,” was a fairly good example of the former. In today’s post I will try to have the courage to explore the latter, as it is presently arising.

We’ve noticed since we’ve been away (and note that I write been ‘away’ as opposed to been ‘here.’) that we can just about handle 3 consecutive days of joy and happiness before we resort to negative behavior. For what it’s worth, Joel is a Pisces and I’m a Leo. When I first learned that Joel was a water sign I was somewhat dismayed. I’m fire, and my fear was that he would dampen my spirit. But then an acquaintance remarked, ‘Oh, fire and water: steam.” (And at our best we do indeed make steam.) We each have qualities that are representative of our respective signs. I tend to burst into action, while Joel can retreat like the tide.

What we are now realizing is that we often experience these qualities in each other as defects, which allows us to judge the other instead of looking deeper within. For instance, when my fiery nature is coming from a negative source, it presents as anger, while Joel’s retreat presents as withdrawal. And here’s where what I call the Matrimonial Two-Step turns into the Death Spiral: I get angry when Joel withdraws which makes him retreat more and I get angrier and so on.

But why do we need to be enemies after 3 days of bliss? Is it really so pathetically banal as needing to be in control of the loss of bliss? Or do we need to hate each other just a little every once in a while as a misguided way of maintaining independence? Sorry to leave you hanging, but we don’t have all the answers yet. However, it is all of apiece with the commitment we made on New Year’s Day to heal ourselves and each other in the place of deepest wound: my defensiveness, Joel’s constraint.

My daughter, in a recent text, observed that relationships are complicated. I’ll say. Of course, it is we the people who complicate relationship. Yet isn’t it so incredibly wonderful that we tend to choose partners who will not only bring out the best in us, but also the worst? What a gift it is that we provide each other with the opportunity – over and over again – of working on these painful issues. Yet, oh, how we resent it at the same time. To be reflected back to oneself at one’s ugliest…who wants to see that?

Well, actually, I do. I’m tired of the pursuit of unattainable perfection. Bring on the ugly and let’s have a good look. What Joel reflects back to me is my rage. What I reflect back to him is his cowardice. It doesn’t matter that those qualities are not who we are, but only a part of our humanness. What matters is that when rage and cowardice are abroad, love is absent.

In a little while, I’ll go to the table and look at the line Joel made yesterday. How interesting to note that, if one didn’t know better, one might think I had made it: it’s a highly energized, almost enraged line of thick red acrylic paint. When I saw it yesterday I envied its courage. But more than that I love Joel’s courage. Perhaps I can carry on from where he left off and have the courage to make a line so gentle as to barely leave a trace.


Note:  We have heard that some of you have trouble finding the “submit your email “place. You need to go to the Blogsite itself for this.  http://joelandmaggie.blogspot.com  If you are receiving these posts by email, it will not show up. You will have to click on the Title of the blog. For instance, on this post you click on “Portrait of a Marriage.”  Only by doing this and being taken to the website can you “submit your email” or “leave a comment.  With love, M + J.

TO PARIS AND BACK

January 24 2013            
We took the bullet train last Friday, hurtling through the snow-clad fields and villages to the great city of Paris where, courtesy of La Maison Europeenne de la Photographie, (MEP) we were to stay for the next 5 days at the Hotel Lutetia.

To our surprise we were given the David Lynch Suite, complete with his lithographs and photographs. One could almost feel the atmosphere of Blue Velvet and the horror of Dennis Hopper’s imminent approach. Or had he already been and left? The suite was ice-cold, the air duct exhaling a whisper of barely warm breath; the Nespresso machine was on the blink, literally, while outside a heavy snow began its descent. 


We called the front desk for help. Apologies were profuse; the suite had just been vacated by a heavy smoker – Dennis, methinks –  and so while the maids had prepared the room they’d kept all the balcony doors flung open. It was 21˚F in Paris that day. Two space heaters were sent up, tout suite, along with a man and his ladder to attend to the heating vent. A florist arrived with an armful of the most glorious poppies for me from the Director of the MEP, but no vase. I call the front desk again. Meanwhile I’m trying to have a Skype conversation with my daughter in New York while Joel prepares to leave for a meeting at the museum. 

The doorbell rings again; the vase. Back to my daughter. Doorbell; Nespresso man (not, unfortunately, George Clooney). Daughter. Front desk calls; have the heaters arrived? Daughter. Nespresso man, ici, regardez vous la machine, ca va? Daughter. Joel leaves. But not before turning both space heaters up to 2000 volts instantly blowing all fuses and plunging the suite into heatless, nespresso-less, daughter-less, dark-ness. A British farce couldn’t have done better.

And so the days went by in a blur of snow and ice; the parks heartbreakingly beautiful in their white velvet attire, the streets and sidewalks a slick challenge, cars at a crawl. The Parisiennes, nonchalant as ever, sitting at outside cafes with their coffee and cigarettes, pursed lips exhaling smoke and vapor. The air perfumed with butter and sugar, and a chocolate shop on every block; the women a study in the art of wearing a scarf and men carrying baguettes, albeit sans berets.



January in Paris is a feast. The month of soldes, or sales, you could just drool over the bargains – or go bankrupt buying them! It is also the month of the Gallette des Rois, the airy almond filled flaky cake inside which a little crown hides…or if really traditional, a favé bean. Whoever gets the slice with the trinket becomes King or Queen for the day and wears the gold crown that comes in the cake box.

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a northern city in January that is so filled with warmth. You hear so much bad-mouthing of the French, particularly the Parisiennes and their attitude, but I have never experienced this in the many years I’ve been coming here.

I first came to Paris as an 18 year-old, back in the 60’s. It was my first stop on a 3- month hitch-hiking trip around Europe. I had worked 2 jobs a day for months, in London, in order to be able to make that long-held dream come true. I had decided, as a 5 year-old, that I was destined for France after we had a French student live with us that summer. Pierre was 16 and spoke no English when he arrived, but he called me Marguerite and I fell in love with him and the sound of his language. Many an hour I spent in my room speaking pretend French and then, as he gradually learned English, I, too, would speak it with a French accent deigning it superior to the affectless accent of our region. 

Pierre was fluent by the time he left, 6 weeks later. I, on the other hand, after 5 years of grammar school French, was shocked to discover on that first and heady trip to France, that the French I had been taught by a Welsh teacher, was far from fluent. But really, who cared? To be that young and yet to have dreamed for so long of Paris, and then to arrive at dawn, just as the city was waking up! The sluicing of the streets, the chairs being put at outdoor tables, awnings unfurling, metal shutters rolling up with a squeak and a clang and yes, the air, perfumed with butter. 

Paris is still that magical to me and this sojourn no exception. On Sunday, we had tea in our dear friend’s home near the Seine, the fire ablaze, the tray of luscious dates and plump apricots. The two cats as storybook as ever. Our friend’s son a surrogate son of ours whose generous heart always makes us feel ageless. The snowy walk back to the hotel hours later, sharing a cone of caramel ice cream as we went.


And there were soufflés that lifted us heavenward, white truffle and hazelnut macaroons, crab bisque and steamed bar…well, enough with the food, because really this trip was about Joel’s retrospective exhibition at MEP (it will be up for 3 months in case any of you have a trip to Paris planned).

What an exhibition! Look, I’ve lived with this man for more than 22 years, I know his work pretty well, but here’s the thing about Joel’s photographs: they keep on coming. Every image gives you more the more you look. The wonder of his vision, timing, humor, his toughness and his tenderness fills me with awe every time…as it does everyone else. The opening was packed; hundreds and hundreds of people shoulder to shoulder for 3 hours. Bravo my Joely! Bravo!


After the opening our generous friend, Philippe, took 9 of us to dinner, including our friend and her son and friends from London who’d come over just for the opening. We ate and talked and laughed until midnight; 9 of us ranging in age from 27 to 75, all of a piece. We closed the place and then stood on the street fooling around like teenagers before going our different ways; on foot, by metro, and taxi. And so perhaps the lasting image for me will always be our friend who lost the love of her life last spring. A true Parisienne and a profound spirit, we watched as she bicycled into the night, golden hair and coat flying in the icy wind.

We, too, took flight the next day; back on the bullet to Bonnieux, to the beauty of this medieval village and the tranquility of the countryside. Back to the fireplace and our cozy bed. And this morning, blue sky and sun warm enough to enjoy our cappuccinos out on the terrace.


In a little while we’ll make dinner; fresh chicken livers with salad from the farmers’ market. Oh, and we’ll be shaving some of that black truffle we bought on our afternoon walk…up there on the hillside, far from the madding crowds.

NOTE: a reminder and a request:
            Remember to submit your email address on the Blog-site’s opening page 
            upper right hand. That way you’ll receive each post directly into your   
            inbox. And we would love it if you would recommend our blog to friends
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            from you.  With thanks, Maggie and Joel.



TRANSITIONAL WOES

January 15 2013              
A couple of days ago I received an email from my good friend K, in response to the last post, wherein I moaned about our adventures with French cell phone plans. He wrote, “I’m sure there was a bunch of other transitional woes….” K is a musician and writes like he composes, eerily on pitch and somehow between keys.

Transitional woes. Yes, in both senses: the woes that come from transitions and the woes that transition, themselves. So, yes, there’ve been a few of the former since we arrived: the toaster that takes 10 minutes to heat up and then, in one fiery second, devours the bread into the unreachable-without-electrocution depths of its slat-y coils. The firewood, which must first be seasoned inside the fireplace before it will burn, the fire needing to be lit with store-bought, kiln-dried wood the cost of which makes one think of the phrase, “money to burn.” The narrow turn at the top of the lane between centuries-old stone buildings; the façade of one now wearing a layer of paint from the front right fender of our rented Citroën. The oven controls, the hieroglyphics of which were totally unfathomable to us until finally deciphered courtesy of Google. 

All of the above being absurdly trivial hurdles compared to those which the truly suffering have to face everyday of their lives. Nonetheless, when you are of a certain age and alone with your spouse in a foreign land these ‘woes’ can give your sense of reality a good shake. In these moments, we are feeling our way around like sightless kittens and the realization that we are each other’s sole teat, can be very frightening for two independent adults like us.

But these woes come and go and are balanced by the daily shock of beauty that surrounds us. This morning we awoke to snow, the kind that obliterates distance and, as such, the future. What solace to be ensconced inside a moment of silent beauty; the pollarded plane tree embracing an inch of snow on every skyward-reaching limb; the cypress trees as still as eternity, their dark, densely-woven forms dusted with flakes.

 After breakfast we walk to the Charcuterie; we have decided on lamb navarin for dinner and in stumbling French, ask the butcher which cut he recommends; the meat case of red loins and legs, livers and kidney, a stark contrast to the grey and white world outside.


Back home, while Joel prepares the navarin, I sit by the fire and watch the snow come and go, come and go and, finally, address a woe that has been a constant since we arrived: the steady drip of anxiety which, at first, I had put down to jet-lag or exhaustion had not only not abated but seemed to be ratcheting up to the point where, and shame scalds me as I write this, I was on constant alert for danger: the car too close to a roadside ditch; the merging traffic at every roundabout; the image of myself falling down stairs. What the hell, I thought, am I always like this? Is this a transitional woe or a way of life? Haven’t I been over this, countless times? Does this shit ever stop? What else is there to learn?

Finally I talk with Joel about it and, as always, re-learn that sharing feelings is the first step to changing them. Of course I’ve been anxious. Why do I always forget that every time I manifest something positive in my life the old fear that it will be taken from me or that there will be some awful price to pay, arises immediately? Some things really are so ingrained that it takes a lifetime of work to smooth the rut. You can’t be told as a child, almost daily, that if you laugh too much before dinner you’ll be crying before bed and not internalize that as an unconscious belief that pleasure will always end in pain.

This time 24 years ago, I was spending my last evening as an active alcoholic, working like a mad scientist with bottles of booze in my kitchen. I was convinced that if I could just make the right concoction I would be able to drink “properly” for the rest of my life. I’m not sure at what point, after hours of drinking my experiments, divine intervention made me realize it was never going to work, nor where I found the courage to pour the remains of every bottle down the sink. But I did, and after spending the next day in bed with the shakes, managed to get myself to an AA meeting where I would learn over the next few years that some woes are only transitional if you surrender your will and accept that you are powerless. 

So it goes with anxiety. It will, for those of us prone to it, arise time and again. The only way out of it is to accept it when it arises and speak it out loud, thereby banishing the need to indulge it.

The snow stopped this afternoon, making way for a pure blue sky. We walked to the top of the village and looked out to the crest of the Petit Luberon. There, nestled in its side, lay the lavender field with its seven cherry trees, still dusted with snow; a perfect gateau. 



We’ve picnicked there in the months of lavender and cherries and we’ve lain there on an autumn afternoon. Three days ago we walked its perimeter, the trees sturdy in their nakedness. In the neighboring field we noticed a swing had been hung from the branch of another cherry tree. How could one not sit on it, kicking off, legs pushing and pulling, propelling oneself higher, watching it all come and go?


   

TRANSITIONAL WOES

January 15 2013           
A couple of days ago I received an email from my good friend K, in response to the last post, wherein I moaned about our adventures with the French cell phone plans. He wrote, “I’m sure there was a bunch of other transitional woes….” K is a musician and writes like he composes, eerily on pitch and somehow between keys.
Transitional woes. Yes, in both senses: the woes that come from transitions and the woes that transition, themselves. So, yes, there’ve been a few of the former since we arrived: the toaster that takes 10 minutes to heat up and then, in one fiery second, devours the bread into the unreachable-without-electrocution depths of its slat-y coils. The firewood, which must first be season inside the fireplace before it will burn, the fire needing to be lit with store-bought, kiln-dried wood the cost of which makes one think of the phrase, “money to burns.” The narrow turn at the top of the lane between centuries-old stone buildings; the façade of one now wearing a layer of paint from the front right fender of our rented Citroën. The oven controls, the hieroglyphics of which were totally unfathomable to us until finally deciphered courtesy of Google. 
All of the above being absurdly trivial hurdles compared to those which the truly suffering have to face everyday of their lives. Nonetheless, when you are of a certain age and alone with your spouse in a foreign land these ‘woes’ can give your sense of reality a good shake. In these moments, we are feeling our way around like sightless kittens and the realization that we are each other’s sole teat, can be very frightening for two independent adults like us.
But these woes come and go and are balanced by the daily shock of beauty that surrounds us. This morning we awoke to snow, the kind that obliterates distance and, as such, the future. What solace to be ensconced inside a moment of silent beauty; the pollarded plane tree embracing an inch of snow on every skyward-reaching limb; the cypress trees as still as eternity, their dark, densely-woven forms dusted with flakes.
After breakfast we walk to the Charcuterie; we have decided on lamb navarin for dinner and in stumbling French, ask the butcher which cut he recommends; the meat case of red loins and legs, livers and kidney, a stark contrast to the grey and white world outside.
Back home, while Joel catches prepares the navarin, I sit by the fire and watch the snow come and go, come and go and, finally, address a woe that has been a constant since we arrived: the steady drip of anxiety which, at first, I put down to jet-lag or exhaustion had not only not abated but seemed to be ratcheting up to the point where, and shame scalds me as I write this, I was on constant alert for danger: the car too close to a roadside ditch; the merging traffic at every roundabout; the image of myself falling down stairs. What the hell, I thought, am I always like this? Is this a transitional woe or a way of life? Haven’t I been over this, countless times? Does this shit ever stop? What else is there to learn?
Finally I talk with Joel about it and, as always, re-learn that sharing feelings is the first step to changing them. Of course I’ve been anxious. Why do I always forget that every time I manifest something positive in my life the old fear that it will be taken from me or that there will be some awful price to pay, arises immediately. Some things really are so ingrained that it takes a lifetime of work to smooth the rut. You can’t be told as a child, almost daily, that if you laugh too much before dinner you’ll be crying before bed and not internalize that as an unconscious belief that pleasure will always end in pain.
This time 24 years ago, I was spending my last evening as an active alcoholic, working like a mad scientist with bottles of booze in my kitchen. I was convinced that if I could just make the right concoction I would be able to drink “properly” for the rest of my life. I’m not sure at what point, after hours of drinking my experiments, divine intervention made me realize it was never going to work, nor where I found the courage to pour the remains of every bottle down the sink. But I did, and after spending the next day in bed with the shakes, managed to get myself to an AA meeting where I would learn over the next few years that some woes are only transitional if you surrender your will and accept that you are powerless. 
So it goes with anxiety. It will, for those of us prone to it, arise time and again. The only way out of it is to accept it when it arises and speak it out loud, thereby banishing the need to indulge it.
The snow stopped this afternoon, making way for a pure blue sky. We walked to the top of the village and looked out to the crest of the Petit Luberon. There, nestled in its side, lay the lavender field with its seven cherry trees, still dusted with snow; a perfect gateau. We’ve picnicked there in the months of lavender and cherries and we’ve lain there on an autumn afternoon. Three days ago we walked its perimeter, the trees sturdy in their nakedness. In the neighboring field we noticed a swing had been hung from the branch of another cherry tree. How could one not sit on it, kicking off, legs pushing and pulling propelling oneself higher, watching it all come and go?

WINTER RECESS

January 9 2013                  
The day has gone, sliding into the valley to await tomorrow morning’s frost. These days of misty beginnings that clear by late morning to cloudless sky, the air still, pungent, bracing.


When we left for St. Remy the children were on their mid-morning break at the little school down the lane, the sound as sharp and sunny as the air, their energy pitched high, like school children everywhere, their voices ringing with the rhapsody of recess; ah, these brief respites from routine and rules that we are introduced to at such a tender age and which many of us will struggle with, or succumb to, or survive with some degree of success, or none, for the rest of our lives.

We too, are on recess, a reprieve to which we are slowly adjusting. How ingrained we’ve become with the do’s and don’t’s, the should’s and shouldn’t’s of the universal rulebook. And how entrenched is the belief that we must be continually accomplishing something that will gain the approval of others?

On Monday we arose with this old behavior strident in us. Well, for heaven’s sake, we’d had a week “off” and now it was Monday: time to get to work. First we drove to Apt to attend to our mobile phones only to find Apt is closed on Mondays. Ok. Back home then, to laundry and housecleaning and emails.

In our bathroom I discover a puddle of water on the floor. Where did that come from? The sink is so clogged we haven’t used it for days, waiting for the caretaker to return from his New Year’s vacation. I leave a text message for him and meanwhile place a pan under the drip, which I have discovered is coming from where the pipe connects to the wall.

Time for lunch. I start to wash salad greens and think how strange that I hadn’t  noticed before how much noise the water makes rushing down the drain. I open the drawer under the sink to get the salad spinner and see that the pipe has become disconnected sending the water pouring into the drawer which, as I open it, then pours all over my feet and the floor. Alors! Joel!

The caretaker, having returned from vacation that morning, responds to my text within minutes and arrives half an hour later, good natured and efficient. He reconnects the pipe and then explores the bathroom leak, fearlessly putting his hand in the trap and pulling out what appears to be a dead skunk but which is actually god knows how many years of hair plus a razor blade…go figure.

Monday night I have apocalyptic dreams. Tuesday morning Joel has a headache. We return to Apt and after looking at too many options, most of which are incomprehensible, we choose a phone plan only to find that for this one, one must have a French bank account. We do not. I’m ready to throw my iPhone in the nearest ditch and return to writing letters.

The health food store has no pears. We are now having words with each other of the unkind kind.

We light a fire, make dinner and while soaking in the tub talk about our sudden distemper. What happened to life in Paradise, you know, the one we had last week? 

What we come to realize is that it isn’t easy to go from 100 mph for 4 months down to zero in just one week. Is that burning rubber we smell? And when one comes to a screeching halt, does it bring forth the fear of imminent death to such a degree that one wills oneself back into the routine of work instead of trusting that we’re still responsible adults who will take care of business in due time?

So we decided to treat ourselves today in the manner in which we are committed to now living: open heartedly and leisurely, albeit with truffle salt and chocolates in mind.

La Maison de Truffles in St. Remy is serious business. We’ve been there before so not only do we know which truffle salt we want, we also know that we will be strictly advised to not only keep the jar tightly closed but to ensconce said jar inside another airtight container, the better to preserve its intensity. What we hadn’t noticed is the little restaurant next door which today calls to us as one of those discoveries that will not disappoint. We will lunch there, but first to Joel Durand’s chocolate boutique. While deciding which seasonal flavors to purchase, we sip on a hot chocolate with ginger, just the thing for a frosty late-morning and it indeed helps us to settle on 16 dark chocolates, 4 each of saffron, cardamom, coffee and Szechuan pepper. Now we are ready for the market.


What joy to meander down a narrow street beckoned by the aroma of olives, a stall of which greets us in the sunny square. A few of those please, and on to the fruit stall for those pears we were denied yesterday. Every stall we pass insists on giving us tastes. We have a prune each: a prune of prunes, I might add, grown organically, brought to perfect size and moistness, we buy a bagful and think how sad it is that the American prune has come to represent old age and constipation as opposed to this French fruit which you want to spread on cheese or add to a beef stew.

The shops are to close soon, lunch is serious in Provence, but we have just enough time to buy a little jug for the house and a pair of corduroy pants for Joel and then it’s off to that restaurant, L’Estagnol.

I promise I won’t resort to food blogging on a regular basis but this meal was worth a review. Mussels draped in aioli for me and toasted goat cheese and smoked bacon for Joel, followed by a piece of fish, cod I think, that had been steamed to perfection before receiving a wash of another sort of garlic sauce that was light browned under a salamander for just a few seconds. A lovely cylinder of butternut squash seasoned with cumin partnered a slightly larger dollop of crushed potatoes, their pale yellow flesh earthy with flavor. But how on earth do they manage to cook broccoli so that the stalk is al dente while the florets are like mousse. Joel meanwhile was rhapsodizing about his pork, which was deep and tender. Neither of us had room for dessert but managed to polish off most of an apple crumble with cinnamon ice-cream and possibly the best crème caramel of the 21st century.


And so it was that we sailed back through the French countryside, once again relaxed, happy and grateful, and in this state could allow ourselves a late, dreamless nap by the fire. Before the day slid away it, too, blushed with pleasure, spreading a rosy smile across the land.


FEELING OUR WAY AROUND

January 5 2013         
We left America one week ago today, (Saturday) and let me say that going away for a year, or more is a lot different than going away for 2 weeks, or even 4 months. We have successfully upended ourselves to the point where, yesterday, I said to Joel, it feels like one long day since we left New York.

Where to start? To say that we are still pinching ourselves is both cliché and inadequate. There are moments when I find myself just standing very still and in these moments I am trying to let go of thought and let all 5 senses imbibe the enormity of where we are:

Seeing the sharp winter light smack every surface with raw brilliance, the sky heartbreakingly blue. Hearing what at first seems impenetrable silence become punctuated with leaf rustle, a robin’s brief tune and then, silence again. Smelling damp earth and wood smoke. Feeling stone walls, their surfaces softened here and there by tufts of moss, feeling the lick of cold air on one cheek, the other gentled by sun. Tasting…well, here tasting is the most craven of senses, the food almost dirty with flavor. To throw a chicken breast in a skillet with a splash of oil, a sprig of thyme – from the garden – salt and pepper, sear it one side then the other, letting the center resolve itself on the way from stove to table and then, after one mouthful, wonder if the butcher sold you baby flesh…
We haven’t stopped eating since we arrived. Not only did we arrive deeply exhausted from the previous months of endeavor and preparation, we realize we also arrived starved, starved of nutrition. But let’s not compare. Let’s just accept and be grateful for the fact that there are still places on this planet where people live in direct relationship to the earth.

At least 3 times a day we both stand still and after looking around us we look at each other and say the tritest of things: “Can you believe this?”  “Look where we are.” “How did we pull this off?”  “We made it here!”  

And what is “here?” 

Here is a beautiful stone house looking out to the Luberon Valley, yet within 100 yards of the nearest baguette. Here is a kitchen that needed only the few objects from our New York table placed on this one to make it “ours.”
        Maggie’s Photo
Here is a long living room with space to dance and paint and write before sinking into the couch and watching the fire. 


Here are the stone stairs leading to bed and bath, the bed also looking out to the valley which, on New Year’s morn, came to life beneath a sky of banded pink and blue while this morning, like us, it lay abed until late, blanketed by fog.

Here is nothing on the calendar. Here is the discovery of what is needed to make us comfortable and the ensuing search for candlesticks and bath oil, a potato peeler and kindling. Here is the arrival of our sent-ahead suitcases and the joy of unpacking my pop-up sponges! Here is the space to contemplate what we would like to heal in ourselves and in each other. Here is the candlelit confession to each other: 

Maggie:    To become undefended
Joel:         To become unconstrained.

And here is the moment when, having declared our inadequacies, we realize that revelation is but the tip of the iceberg; the bulk is still beneath the surface. Melting must begin in order to discover where and how and why we are defended and constrained. 

Here is the ultimate salted caramel ice-cream. Here is spending New Year’s Eve with our dear friends, Sharon and Paul, who cook us a dinner of lamb – on the fire – roasted potatoes, carrots, broccoli, salad, baguette, cheese; a meal which I devour like the best Sunday roast from childhood – better, as this is a meal prepared not out of duty but with love and kindness. 



Here is the chime of 2013…the two of us standing in the crisp night air of the garden, wishing the world well, and hello moon. Here is a rainy, late afternoon walk on the first day of this new year, winding our way to the top of the village, to the medieval church. It’s open. Two figures in the now dusky light usher us in; an invitation of sorts of which the only word we recognize is “crèche,” and there it is, to the left of the altar, one of many in this village where Christmas is not flaunted but sweetly honored. And past the crèche, a tableaux of the village in monumental detail, made by the father and son bellringers, the village as it was hundreds of years ago.

Here is a market 4 times a week, a true farmers’ market with muddy boots and hands like roots, fizzy apples, truffles, salad greens that will stay crisp for days, all the root vegetables, quails’ eggs, wine, pear juice, a whole stall of winter squash. 

We buy a bit of everything and head home…here, where we’ve come to luxuriate in each other. Here is where we begin feeling our way around.