Monthly Archives: February 2013

Shh…

February 22 2013

All is quiet now, except for the breath of the fire. The crest, the hills beyond, even the sky, have been relieved of color and sit dormant in the landscape not a whisper issuing from their pale grays.

The vacuum cleaner had its say earlier, along with the washer and dryer; yet even they were briefly silenced by a blown fuse. The chop, chop, chop of stainless steel blades which, for half an hour, argued with cauliflower, broccoli, shallots and an apple, now lay mute in the drawer, the ingredients simmered and lullabied into soup.

Conversation and laughter shared with friends to and from the Friday market most likely still echo somewhere in the valley, along with the vendors urgings, the slick swish of ice beneath the glistening fish, the gasp of pastries as they were lowered into their box. The air itself, still all day, yet far from silent, spoke to us in rare frigid terms, icy tongues licking at lungs, the sun useless in its bed of blue.

Even Joel has stopped wheezing for a while, his bronchial cough napping quietly along with him on the couch. I read the manual to my new digital piano hearing notes yet to be played, the strains of yesterday’s refrain perhaps harmonizing with today’s laughter. If I’m lucky their echo will visit me later when, as it always does, silence slips away as soundlessly as it arrived.

piano

BREEZING ALONG

February 17 2013                    (For Kevin and Patty)

As it turned out, we cooked the artichokes for dinner on Valentine’s Day. Joel’s cold had turned to a nasty, wheezing cough and the cartilage on the rim of my right ear was so sore it was keeping me awake at night. So, in the afternoon we walked into the village to Dr. L’s surgery.

We’d been to him a year and half ago when I was suffering from a sinus infection, so we were well aware of what a great character he is. He trained in Boston at one point and so his English is superb, especially as it comes with an accent to rival Peter Seller’s Inspector Clouseau.

He checked Joel first. A dab-hand with the stethoscope, he diagnosed mild bronchitis in the lower right lung and then began his typically nonchalant list of optional cures, advising against antibiotics unless Joel eventually found it difficult to breath – pronounced ‘breeze’ – and in Joel’s case, to breeze is to wheeze. Dr. L continued with his list: he could prescribe something to stop the cough at night but recommended lots of fluids to promote expectoration during the day, “Zee French,” he said, “Are great believers in zee spitting.”

Then it was on to my ear, which, upon examination he exclaimed, “Zees eez very interesting,” as he squeezed the painful area between his fingers causing me to exclaim, “Zat hurts.”  Have you zee gout? he asked. To which I replied, “Pleeze, I don’t drink.” Turns out I have a ‘crystal’ under zee skin caused by an accumulation of uric acid. Cause unknown. He said the only way to get rid of it was to cut it out and course zair would be a lot of blood for two or zree minutes. And it would probably come back anyway. He asked if I believed in God, to which I somewhat indignantly replied, “Non,” and was rewarded with the gaelic shrug and his pronouncement that “in zat case zair is no ‘ope.”

But back to the artichokes, literally; before we left for our doctor appointment the fire, rich with embers, was beginning to die down and rather than stoke it we decided to bury the artichokes in it and let them roast until our return.

Several years ago we were in Tuscany during artichoke season and had been invited to an outdoor party in their honor. Out in the garden a fire pit some 20’ by 6’ had been made using olive wood and we watched as hundreds of artichokes were buried in the embers by two local men who, an hour later, donned asbestos gloves to remove them from the ashes. They were then disrobed – the artichokes, not the men – soaked in olive oil, garlic and salt for 30 minutes before being devoured, the sound of communal orgasm issuing from the mouths of some 50 guests.

Artichokes

Ours proved just as climactic on Valentine’s Day; a day that started out with the serendipity of a heart appearing in my morning latte. It was such a Zen shock to see it as I had just been musing what fun it would be to make some hearts with which to decorate the table as our friends Sharon and Paul, great lovers themselves, would be joining us for dinner. I had just drawn my line for the day, a single line of red ink spelling ‘love’ (part of our ritual, started on Jan 1st of taking it in turns to draw an unbroken line starting where the previous one leaves off), and so it was that I married the heart to the line turning it into an a card.

photoAnd here are 2 more creative cards we received from friends:

2henfriends in the snow_7810sPhoto: Kate Kirkwood

 

imagePhoto: Jon Smith

And when I went out for my walk I found this

stone heart

Photo: Maggie Barrett

So, when Sharon and Paul arrived we started our 5 – course meal with the artichokes, our exclamations far outdoing Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm in When Sally Met Harry. Then we moved on to one of Joel’s, by now, famous lamb Navarin’s, this one voted the best to-date. Sharon had made a marvelous salad with fresh local greens with which we pretended to cleanse our palettes before making fast work of 3 goat cheeses and baguette #2. By now our exclamations rivaled the soundtrack to a porn movie and we decided to heat things up a little more by eating dessert by the fire. And so we drooled our way through a mix of clementines and blood oranges which I had de-membraned and drizzled with a warm caramel sauce, all of it accompanied by fleur de sel dark chocolate. By now we were beyond control, conversation reduced to bestial moans and religious incantations, which no amount of fennel tea could dampen. In fact, by then we could barely breeze.

 

HERE AND THERE A SNOWSTORM

February 12 2013

The days continue to amaze!  Last weekend, we checked the weather reports for New York City, hoping that the forecasted blizzard wouldn’t bring more tragedy to an area of America that had already been dealt the blows of Hurricane Sandy. Having family and friends in NY who had suffered during the hurricane we were relieved that they received only enough snow to experience the stillness of that great city and not its sorrow. And, although it’s been over a year since we sold our seaside cottage, I found myself checking the Provincetown forecast, the high tide chart and wind predictions, still afraid for that little wooden tent we called home for so long. But it and everyone survived and so we were free to relish our blue skies and sunshine, here in Provence.

So it was a shock to wake up on the Monday morning and find the world outside our window in a snowstorm of its own. It kept up for most of the day and as Joel was still shaking off a cold we lolled on the couch, fed the fire and our faces and read.

Toward late afternoon the snow stopped, the sun once again bright in its blue sky and so we bundled up and walked up and around the deserted village, all the way to the top from where we looked across to the lavender field and it’s seven cherry trees sitting like an etching on the side of the crest. Then we carefully picked our way down the slushy, icy, ancient steps and slopes and streets, the snow already melting off roofs, cascading down pipes, dripping off eaves in a veil of tears whose music was yet light-hearted. And thus we made our way back to the warmth of the fireplace and a game of Scrabble.

L1026113

L1026115

Having been housebound for a few days, we decided to drive to the village of Cucuron the next morning. Tuesday is market day there and we thought it would be fun to check it out. What a difference from our last visit to that village in mid-October, 2011. That day had been an Indian Summer one and in the village center, around an ancient reflecting pool, locals and tourists were eating at a string of outside cafes, faces turned to the sun, the reflecting pool a virulent green, the trees already turning copper.

L1009289

Today the pool was frozen solid, some of those copper leaves suspended beneath its surface, reminiscent of a Kaiseki dish we had in Kyoto many years ago. The air was raw and damp and we were chilled to the bone within minutes. But nothing deters the locals on market days, vendors and shoppers alike.

Our favorite Patisserie man from the Lourmarin Friday market was there so we fortified ourselves with a mouthful-sized lemon merengue tart apiece and bought one of his brioche loaves to make ourselves French toast for breakfast on Valentines Day. Not to be outdone by the locals, we moved on to the fish stall for a piece of cod for dinner and then the vegetable stand for some grand-looking artichokes, by which time we were ready for the warmth of the car, but how can you leave without buying a petite handful of wild figs, oh and look at those capers?

Back in the car we turned up the heat, put in our Adagio CD and set sail through the back lanes, past winter-bare fields and remote farmhouses, smoke curling from every chimney, and every once in a while another little village would appear, each one a temptation to explore, but the day did not beckon. A rare grey sky and the damp of the valley cast a pall on us and suddenly that which can be so beautiful seemed sad and lonely and as the strains of Samuel Barber added to the atmosphere, I found myself feeling bereft of all that was familiar. Not that I longed to be in New York, I didn’t, but that I longed to feel the nearness of loved ones and for a melancholy moment wondered if I would ever see them again.

We continued east for a few miles and then turned northward, deciding to make a large circle home. And so it was that we found ourselves climbing up and up the Grand Luberon, the road becoming more deserted, the terrain changing from the flat fields of the valley to the terraced ones of the crest.  The weather, too, changed; where the valley had shown only scratchy remains of snow now, on either side of the road, the landscape was deep in it and huge clumps still clung to the pine forests; hardly a house in sight. And up we went, our hearts lifting along with the light, the sky now a pure, deep blue, the sun glinting off every branch and needle.

At the top of the crest, like the Hallelujah Chorus, vast swaths of scrub oak shone rusty red, vying for prominence against the rich greens of the firs and pines, the all of it dazzling, like a jewelry display in which every precious stone on earth has been flung at random and then adorned with diamonds of melting snow drops. It took our breath away.

L1026132

As did descending the other side of the crest, which because it is north-facing had not been thawed by the sun, the road a snaking surface of snow and ice with a steep drop on one side and of course, no railing. We made it down in second gear.

And so another day closes. Peach colored clouds, riding on the backs of slate grey ones are scudding across the evening sky, hurried along by a brisk wind. The fire is crackling and cackling away and soon we’ll prepare the fish and artichokes, once again grateful for this particular journey on this particular day.

L1026410

BOOK ENDS

February 9 2013

It feels like a minute ago that I was standing at my desk in New York covering this journal with French linen, making the holes for the elastic binder, gluing the edges down to the inside covers, then inking Book IX on the front. Now, in a little while, I’ll go over to my desk here in Bonnieux and cover the next journal and ink Book X on its front; Ten journals since March 1st, 2011 when we started this blog; 6 trips to Provence, 3 to Paris, 2 to Tuscany, 3 to England, and 1 to Los Angeles.

Book

Inside the covers of this journal are housed a hurricane, a presidential election, the slaughter of 20 children, a lot of dental work, wonderful times spent with my daughter, an exuberant Christmas and a great celebration of Joel’s 50 years of photography, and yes, the publication of our Provence book which, while disappearing into near-oblivion, garnered some nice emails and more than that is the vehicle that brought us here, not only on our 8th trip to Bonnieux, but to these months of living here in peace and joy, to sharing the wonder of our friendship with Sharon and Paul which, although at 2 years may seem in its infancy actually holds many lifetimes of kinship.

Now we spend our days allowing for death’s accompaniment, tapping us on the shoulder as it does at times throughout each day, its inevitable forefinger beckoning. We do not follow yet but, after the initial icy jolt of its reminder we let it be and allow for its gift which is the knowledge that everyday is precious only for what it is, not for how we spend it, but that we spend it guilt-free, without desire, ambition or the need for achievement of any kind save that of love and gratitude.

Sure, death isn’t the only outside visitor; regret whiffs at the door now and again, along with a waft of sadness. They deserve their place on the doorsill, for how can one live life fully without realizing one will never have lived to maximum capacity or kindness.

The afternoon is late. Joel is making a pot of Earl Grey tea between shooting still-lives. The fire is busying itself as fire’s do, burning itself up yet leaving us enough embers to rekindle the flame of this day.

Fire                  Maggie’s photos 

HAPPINESS, PLAIN AND SIMPLE

February 7 2013

It’s a mischievous day. The mistral is here, lunging and pirouetting, then quivering en pointe before leaping here and there maddening the trees, and me; the mistral plays the chimney like a Peruvian flute sending a twirl of smoke toward the opening of the fireplace and then I’m up, en garde and parrying, pushing a log further back or more to one side in the hopes of getting the flames to hungrily lick up the wayward smoke.

Joel is home after two days on the road, and in the air, to Barcelona and back where he was the keynote speaker at an HP conference. He left with a sore throat and returned with it, and a bad chest; mileage isn’t the only thing you get when you fly. So we sit now, by the fire, drinking hot chocolate and looking out to the valley all a-bluster below a pale blue sky with low lying white clouds tumbling along the crest like almost-clean laundry, and we are happy; happy to be alive, and to be living in such peace and harmony both with each other and with this beautiful part of the world we’ve landed in.

Much like the mistral, the unpredictable, impulsive energy of which cleanses the air and revives the spirit, we, too, are experiencing the rewards of our recent emotional work. “Feeling our way around” suits us well, although I’m aware that it might make for a boring blog: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” as Tolstoy famously wrote in his opening line of Anna Karenina, and we all know how that turned out….

So, is happiness boring? It certainly isn’t boring me. Nor did it yesterday when, spending my second day alone and having just brought in a load of firewood, I found myself twirling around the living room shouting, “I’m so happy!”

There were many reasons I felt that way, not the least of which was waking up and finding I had slept through the night without being robbed or raped, neither of which are happy experiences, as I well know. There is always an element of fear that arises the first night I sleep along in a strange house. No matter how many times I rationalize that the likelihood of disaster befalling me the minute Joel goes away is very slim, still I find myself double checking the locks, contemplating taking a knife to bed, wondering if the car not being parked outside (Joel having driven it to the airport) will be the all-clear sign the local robber/rapist has been waiting for.

So, yes, I was extremely happy to awake unsullied and further more to a crisp clear day, the morning sun spreading its rosy blush on the ruins of the Marquis de Sade’s castle (thank god he’s long gone!) and one of the neighboring cats sitting stock-still in the pollarded branches of the plane tree. And who wouldn’t be happy to walk to the Boulangerie for a baguette and a croissant, the latter of which I lathered with goat cheese and honey, relishing every flaky morsel accompanied by café au lait?

It’s funny really, or not, to think of all those moments in life, especially when we are young, or younger, moments of deep unhappiness when we fantasize about what we think would make us happy. The lists of ‘if-only’ tending toward the grandiose; fame, money, a bigger house, more of something, or everything and hey, I know I’m living in a nice house in Provence and I don’t have to set the alarm, or get the kids off to school, or borrow money – I did all that – but the point is, the things that made me happy yesterday (and today) have nothing to do with those fantasies of bigger and better. What made me happy was waking up; that walk to the bakery, every flake of the croissant, sweeping the floor, doing a load of laundry, bringing in 3 loads of firewood, preparing a pot of soup, making a drawing, sitting outside during a few moments of becalmed sun, reading by the fire, and watching the evening sky; the golden light parrying with a bank of storm clouds, the gold changing to orange and red and in the distance veils of rain descending and somewhere, I thought, there’s a rainbow.

L1020645Maggie’s photo

And here’s a happy coincidence: as I was musing on the rainbow that I could feel but not see, Joel was driving toward me, capturing it in frame after frame. Talk about bringing home the bacon!

L1025972

UNRAVELING

January 30 2013

I write this date and remark to Joel how this month has flown and he says, it’s been so great it’s hard to know how to measure it.

Why do we even try? To measure it, I mean. It seems to me that the inherent problem with measuring – or any sort of quantifying – is that the answer is never adequate enough; we measure and then we compare. For example, a month has gone by since we arrived in Provence and the moment I say that I’m immediately trying to measure it in terms of how much time have left here in the hopes of discovering that it is more. Well, there you have it. I always want more. Of course, if it had been a rotten month I’d want measure it so that it came up less. Absolutely absurd.

Even more absurd is that I’m writing about this instead of writing the harder thing; that which follows on from the last post. Let me digress a little more. I received a lovely email in response to the last post in which the writer said, “The difficult, ugly and beautiful are often entwined in ways that can’t – maybe shouldn’t – be unraveled.” I agree with her, in terms of the necessity of accepting the flawed nature of reality as it exists, instead of how we think it should be or want it to be.

However, in terms of personal evolution, while it is necessary to accept that we are, and will always be, works in progress, nonetheless it is also necessary to unravel the ugly and difficult so that they no longer warp the beautiful, nor hide in its shadow.

My “ugly,” (or one of many, I’m sure) of ‘rage’ which came rearing to the fore a few days ago and of which I spoke in the last blog, has been unraveling for some time. Yet I see now, that until this week I’ve only let it unravel so far, giving it a little lip service before winding it back around the core of my nature.

So here’s the beauty of making a commitment to healing ourselves and each other: once we have articulated the wound, out loud, to another human being, we free the space to allow the healing to begin. (Shame being the thing that takes up all the space.) It’s a bit like when you get a deep cut; first you stitch it, then you put on a dressing. Most of us when we are psychically or emotional cut will take those first two steps but not the final one, the that is necessary for total healing i.e., the step of taking the dressing off (or the defense/mask) and letting the barely knit-together cut get fresh air.

Remember when you were a kid and your parent said it was time to take the plaster off your scraped knee and you were terrified because maybe it wasn’t healed and would start to bleed again? That’s how vulnerable we feel when we take the defense/mask off our emotional cuts: we are always afraid we aren’t ready to be exposed, that the skin hasn’t healed over enough and we’ll get hurt in the same place.

My ‘rage’ is a defense again the pain of feeling I am not worthy of being held, unless it is sexually. I’ve known this for many years, but it wasn’t until this week that I knew it down in the subcutaneous layer of my being.

As most of you know by now, I was adopted as a 2 month-old baby (and it’s right around here that I can hear my adoptive mother admonishing me to just “get on with it”) having spent those first months in a post war hospital. I must have been held by nurses, but nurses, like my blood mother, came and went. I was then adopted by two emotionally crippled people. My adoptive mother obviously must have ‘held’ me as an infant and yet I have no memory of her ever holding me. Whatever unexplored wounds she lived with did not allow her to show warmth and affection. My adoptive father, with whom I felt a deep attraction, also never held me. In hindsight I came to realize that he and I held a spiritual attraction for each other that neither of us was equipped to grow, and so the attraction carried only a frisson of sexuality, which my father never abused. The price for his good behavior was that he had to remain distant from me, both physically and emotionally. My father was always withdrawn and no matter how hard I tried to get his attention, I never succeeded.

We are all “patterned” by our childhoods. All of us. Our mothers and fathers represent all women and men in our little worlds. So, being heterosexual it would follow that I would always choose distant men and that I would take into my adult life the misconception that in order to be held by a man I must have sex with him.

All of this, as you our readers know, is psychology 101. What becomes a little trickier to see is how we build our defenses against the pain of those misconceptions and how those defenses end up ensuring that those misconceptions become reality…the very reality we originally misconceived and the one we fear the most. Continuing to use my own story as an example let me explain.

The loneliness and unworthiness that I felt as a child never being held was, once I became a teenager, superficially ameliorated by having sex. And so I had a lot of it. With a lot of men. But underneath the quick fix I still felt worthless and I began to get angry as a way of defending against the loneliness of being unworthy. Being angry felt stronger and while indulging in it I could blame everyone else for not giving me what I wanted…to be held. But who wants to hold an angry person? Circle complete.

Here’s how the circle of negative energy looks:

Neg energy

 

As I said earlier, the way to healing is to share these discoveries with someone capable of loving. In my case, I had healed enough on the surface levels (thanks to sobriety and a wonderful therapist) to be able to choose Joel, a man capable of loving. So Joel has been holding me a lot this week, which has made me feel worthy and therefore not angry and therefore Joel not only does not retreat, but holds me some more.

Here’s how the circle of positive energy looks:

Pos energyI realize that’s a lot of unraveling, maybe more than some of you may have wished to read at this moment in time. Yet it is my sincere wish that by unraveling in front of you it no longer is all about ‘me’ but connects to some of you in the places where you are feeling frayed.