Monthly Archives: March 2013

LOVE ALL

March 13 2013

Yesterday was one of those days that interrupts the idyll. Funny how it almost brings a sense of relief for, as we know, crap must eventually encroach on the good times. As a result, a prolonged stretch of happiness ultimately must cease and perversely one almost invites its demise rather than waiting for it to come of its own accord. Control freaks, every one of us.

I liken it to a long volley in a game of ping-pong: at first you’re just happy to return serve, then you go into a stretch of ecstasy as the ball continues it’s uninterrupted journey over the net and for a moment you’re lost in the rhythm of it and then you remember it’s a win/lose game and the tension mounts and you can’t stand it and bingo…you drive the ball into the net and the tensions ends. Thank God, you mutter, only to immediately feel the despondency of being closer to defeat.

So that was yesterday. It started out sunny and warm and we decided to drive to Sault where, nearly 2 years ago, we had enjoyed a lovely lunch during lavender season, Sault being known for its panoramic view of a multitude of lavender fields. The town is also known for having the best artisanal nougat in Provence; that honeyed taffy confection studded with almonds. And wasn’t the drive itself a nougat metaphor, the day soft and sweet the journey up the gorge randomly punctuated with blossoming almond trees?

Sticking with metaphor, you could say that while geographically Sault was the peak of the day, the actual arrival was anti-climactic. The town, which in summer had been bustling with energy and outdoor dining, was now half-shuttered. The lunch we had looked forward to was nowhere to be found and the nougat shop had one of the sourest of salespeople we have yet encountered, a sourness made all the more ironic for being surrounded by so much sweetness.

And the day went downhill from there…literally and figuratively. Whereas the drive up had been sunny and invigorating, now the sky was a grimace of cloud through which a harsh glare did nothing to enhance the landscape. Suddenly spring seemed to have turned and fled leaving behind the detritus of winter; the tiredness of trees and fields devoid of color, the all of it resembling a threadbare tapestry beyond repair. Hungry and dispirited we drove in almost sullen silence, having decided we’d lunch in Apt before heading home.

By the time we got there the sun was doing its best to breakthrough the pall and we thought we might have a bite in one of outdoor cafes on the square which, on market days, always seem filled with sunlight and laughter. But no; the sun declined and the wind was up. So we returned to a little restaurant on a back street that had looked promising. But it, like the day, started out well and gradually disappointed. The first course, bright and tasty, gave way to a bowl of ingredients in various shades of brown, a culinary feat that inspired a dessert in the same hues. Oh, well, we thought, at least let’s accomplish something and stop at the Post Office and pick up the 3 boxes of Provence books that were awaiting us there.

It was at this moment, as if to ward off any possible hope for a rebound, that we embarked on one of the most maddening and ridiculous arguments we’ve had in a very long time, consisting of a volley of accusation and denial that would have sat well on any stage performing a gender-defining play, possibly with the words ‘Venus’ and ‘Mars’ in the title. As it was, we enacted our drama within the confines of the parked car so that, while we had definitely regressed to a point we both thought we had long ago passed, there was some small comfort to be had in at least having the wisdom to not be engaged in battle while speeding along a four-lane highway. Although I’m sure to any passerby the car could be seen to be dangerously rocking from side to side. And by golly, neither of us was going to let the ball drop, let alone smash it deliberately into the net. I’ll give my husband credit he’s got a great backhand. Then again, I can put a wicked spin on that ball.

I don’t remember which of us called ‘time-out’ but we eventually got the car back in gear and made it to the Post Office where I sat glumly in the parking lot for 20 minutes while Joel did his best to retrieve the packages, to no avail. We would later learn we had gone to the wrong door. Who knew? And who, on a day like that, was going to tell? Still, maybe it was a blessing as when we finally got them today we found many of them had been damaged due to improper packing; something that would have brought us to our knees yesterday.

As it was, Joel had a headache and I a sore throat. And as we tried to unravel the knot of the argument and our heightened responses it occurred to me how infantile we humans are in many regards, no matter our years.  In a strong relationship like ours, most of the time it’s possible, if not always easy, to be there for each other when one or the other is in need of comfort. When both are in need of comfort at the same time the relationship becomes rudderless and even in a ridiculously small event like yesterday’s bleakness the sense of aloneness can be frightening and rather than accept that in fact we are, all of us, actually always in this alone, we create an ulterior situation which allows us to lay blame. For where there is blame, there is hope.

Now, 24 hours later, we sit by the fire working side by side, stopping once in a while for a cup of tea or to bring in firewood. The score: love-all.

 

A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

March 10 2013

Spring is indeed in the air; birds and bees and butterflies winging their way to procreation, some of them busying themselves in the blossoming almond tree outside our bedroom window, the newborn petals as close to white as pink can get.

Almond treeWe’ve just returned from a walk to our lavender field, a stroll really, pausing to look over a stone wall or garden gate…

Joel Arbor

…marveling at how we managed to land here, on this piece of the planet at this time of our lives which, if one were to measure metaphorically would put me in the late autumn of mine, while Joel has wended his way into winter having, this past Wednesday, celebrated his 75th birthday. And what a celebration it was.

A day of rain showers and bursts of sun, my boy bursting with vigor. The day progressing as if through a ticker tape parade, festooning the victor with cards and calls, emails, messages and Skype visits from his children, not to mention Facebook greetings from all over the world.

Joel Bkfst

In the middle of the day, like a long season unto itself, we lunched here at the kitchen table with dear friends and for nearly 5 hours ate and talked and danced and laughed and ate some more:

Joel Bday

BIRTHDAY LUNCH MENU

1st Course: smoked salmon on toasted brioche topped with a swipe of basil tapenade accompanied by artichokes roasted in our fireplace the hearts having bathed in garlic and olive oil overnight, plus a variety of olives and the first of 3 baguettes.

2nd Course:  A hearty bowl of lentil vegetable soup (recipe upon request) and the second baguette.

3rd Course:  A salad of local mixed greens with sliced kohlrabi and apple, simply dressed with olive oil, lemon and sea salt.

4th Course:  Somewhat refreshed we headed on to abate pears and 3 mighty fine cheeses: Roquefort, Brebis, and a creamy goat…and baguette #3.

Just when we needed a serious breather Joel’s son Skypes and his son plays Grandpa an exquisite piano piece he’s just learned, its somber tones and thoughtful phrasing bringing silence and joy to the table.

And so it is that we make our way to the couches and sit fireside for the…

5th Course:  Tarte Tatin with a dollop of salted caramel ice-cream; for the brave, praline almonds dusted with cocoa powder made for a last nibble before Drano was imbibed in the form of espresso.

As I looked around at the circle of love and friendship I felt as though we had all set sail on the vessel of Joel’s birthday and it seemed to me that the biggest gift of the day was the man himself. And whereas for a few weeks leading up to this day I had at times wondered where the years had gone and had even once or twice caught myself wishing him to be younger, to be in fact, in the late summer of his life as he had been in that late summer when we met, now, as my gaze came to rest on him, his animation ageless, his curiosity and enthusiasm still almost childlike in intensity, now I understood the necessity of time; that the accumulation of it, the time it took to bring this man to this moment in time, is what has made it possible for him to realize and manifest the fullness of his potential; a man not only immensely creative and disciplined but a truly free spirit whose heart is wide open to the giving and receiving of love.

Slowly the afternoon begins to give way to evening and as our friends rouse themselves from the couches one of them notices my new digital piano and I, knowing that he has a background in jazz, invite him to play. And so it is that Joel is serenaded for the 3rd time that day with a subtle, poetic rendition of Happy Birthday, the first rendition having been given voice to spontaneously when our friends had arrived and I, noticing we were standing in a circle, invited us to join hands, swooping Joel into the middle as we sang and danced around him.

I can honestly say that Joel’s birthday was the best birthday I ever had! May his Indian summer last another quarter century.

Shrine BdayAnd so the week has loped along and we along with it. Thursday we didn’t so much lope, as loll, managing to make it to the post office to pick up another birthday present and arriving back at the house in time for Joel to receive an enormous vase of tulips from his daughter and her family, the tulips bold as only tulips can be, bordering on brazen in their scarlet and yellow petals, ablaze on the table.

Tulips

Friday we were gifted with rains of monsoon intensity giving us permission to read and write all day, the fire a steadfast companion, the birthday greetings still coming. Yesterday we shopped at the outdoor market in Apt, the sun as intense as the rains of the day before, the stalls overflowing with all the produce we love so much, the vendors and shoppers all abuzz with spring. The first asparagus and strawberries of the season have arrived, the former fat and succulent, the latter robustly red and juicy.

Back at the house we unpack our baskets and lunch on the deck, faces to the sun, birds flitting in and out of trees and hedges, mad with song. And oh, the street carnival! Quick!  We climb to the top of the village where perhaps 200 villagers and their children have gathered, the children dressed as clowns and princes and various comic book heroes. It turns out it is the children who are the carnival as, led by a singular float shooting us all with confetti, we wend our way down the narrow streets accompanied by a Fellini-esque sound track.

Carnival2

The sun is hot, the children still innocent and we are filled to bursting with joy and gratitude for the simplicity of this life; that it has come down to this: the small things, the food and firewood, the lavender field, the almond blossoms, new friends and long lunches, flamboyant flowers, the olive trees shivering in the breeze, the sun like a warm hand on our backs as we return once more to this house that isn’t ours but that we so easily call home.

Olive trees

 

WINTER OF OUR CONTENT

February 28 2013

So, here we are, at the halfway mark: 2 months we’ve been here, two more to go. But who’s measuring?

We just returned from a sweet walk down the country lanes below our house, the day having finally made up its mind to stay on the sunny side. It’s that time of year when the temperature veers between comfortable and chilly and for a while it had us in and out of the house like cuckoos; sitting in the sun on the deck for 2 minutes and then, cloud obliteration, and off we scurry back indoors. Shall we light the fire this early, we ask, after a late lunch? Oh, why not, isn’t comfort to be had when it can be had? Besides, my pastels are calling…

I’ve had an image in my mind for a few weeks, something in the landscape that took my breath away. I’ve learned to wait when this happens, to wait long enough for the image to retain its form in such a way that I’ll be able to let go of its literalness. Then I begin, and can trust that the creative process will take me beyond the image to the energy that was pulsing in the landscape, energy that could be felt but not actually seen, so that now, the visual energy can marry with the mystical energy. And so it was that I spent some time playing with my pastels.

L1020690 drawing

And then, voila, the sun came out strong and we could see that the only clouds in sight were now in the far distance and not overhead and so we took our walk in the heat of the sun. And this walk was something of a celebration, partly because Joel is now well enough to venture out and partly because even though we are officially still in winter, nonetheless spring’s arrival is announcing itself both visually and energetically. The tiniest of flowers are poking through the earth.

photo          Maggie’s Photo

While whole orchards of cherry trees now bear clusters of buds that will soon be blossoms. The vineyards are lined up in sturdy stumps, each of which already has a single shoot secured to a wire line. The air is busy with birds and neighborhood cats are on the prowl. This morning when I walked into the village to buy our daily baguette, tables and chairs had been put outside and were already occupied by locals. I love these moments between seasons when you can feel the qualities of both. And how happy we are to be in a place where winter has been so enjoyable that we are not yet ready for it to end.

L1026466

On the way back from our walk we stop at the edge of the village to check out a ceramic shop that we haven’t yet explored. We made a commitment when we came here that we would, during the course of our stay, visit every shop and buy some small thing in each one. Of course, many of the shops closed for the season, right after Christmas, but so far we have bought honey and truffè up the hill, old linen and a jug from the antique store, a tiny ring for our granddaughter at a little boutique, a camisole for me at another.  And of course we have made regular purchases at the Tabac, the mini superette, the boulangerie, charcuterie, florist and pharmacy. All of these places are small and basic…you will not find a Styrofoam ice chest in this pharmacy! In the ceramic store we find 2 sweet little bowl/cups, perfect for tea or cappuccino, a dollop of ice cream or some olives.

We bid the potter au revoir and continue home. By the little school an elderly man is pruning an olive tree. I bid him Bonjour and he stops to chat and gesticulate. I apologize for my French and he kindly says pas problem, he can understand me perfectly and I wish I could say the same to him. But we agree that the day is good and that Bonnieux is paradise. We have everything we need here, he says, and he lists all the places I just mentioned, plus the library and the boules court.

L1026432

Next week a street circus is coming to town. Tomorrow we go to the Lourmarin market. Yesterday we spent hours up the hill at Paul and Sharon’s sunny dining table, eating, talking, and laughing. Now we’re sitting by the fire christening our new little cups with ginger green tea. The fire is chuckling in the hearth. Soon I shall light the candles.

L1020689 fire          Maggie’s Photo