WHERE ELSE?

June 30 2013

This time 6 months ago we had just arrived at the house in Bonnieux, Provence; the first day of our year in Europe. I don’t remember much about that day. I do remember arriving at the Marseille airport and the relief I felt at seeing out two suitcases tumble onto the conveyor belt. I vaguely remember joy breaking through the stupefaction of jet lag as we were shown around our new home, doing our best to take in instructions on fuse boxes and appliances and an alarm system we never used. And then, if memory serves, we unpacked, bathed, and ate a cursory dinner fireside before falling into an early bed.

Over the next few days and weeks the pinch, pinch quality of actually living in Europe would overcome us and we’d have a bit of a giggle. We’re still giggling 6 months later, only now we’re giggling because we realize we aren’t halfway through our time here: we’re just here. Neither of us can imagine, come December 30th, saying, okay, that’s it, the year is up and then getting on a plane back to New York. Why would we want to do that?

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I’ve been struggling with a bladder infection for 2 weeks, nasty thing; and such a shock. It’s been 20 years since I had one of those and really, when you reach a certain age you do feel that if you must suffer wrinkles and crummy eyesight then it’s only fair that you be spared pimples and UTI’s. I did my darnedest not to resort to antibiotics and instead deleted sugar and flour from my diet, took herbal remedies and drank gallons of water, but the darn thing kept coming and going until last Monday evening when it returned with a vengeance, encircling my lower back and abdomen with such severe pain I couldn’t stand up. By 2 in the morning it was so intense I wondered if I should go to the hospital. Then the middle-of-the-night fears began: what if it had infected my kidneys? What if it was cancer? What if I’m dying? And then I thought, well If I am, this is a very nice place to be doing it. And I realized with inarguable clarity that I wouldn’t return to the States to die. Why would I do that? I’m where I want to be. And I assume that those who care enough to say goodbye would come here to do so.

I know I’ve talked about death several times over the past couple of years and I’m aware that it’s a difficult, if not unwelcome, subject for most of us, and maybe particularly for modern Americans, many of whom are convinced there is a cure for it, or at least there will be before their time comes. I’m not a big fan of it myself but as I, along with the rest of you, have been hurtling toward it since I took my first breath, I’m trying to make friends with it.

I’m also aware that I don’t get to choose the mode of my death, although if I were religious I would fervently pray not to exit via snake-bite, plane-crash, or burning building. My preferred departure would be via laughter, in which case the location wouldn’t matter. But as I’m already in Paradise here, then here would be a good place to die laughing. In the meantime, I’m quite busy living in a manner that isn’t at all busy.

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Yesterday evening we took a young relative who’d been visiting with us for a couple of days, to the train station from whence she was departing on the next leg of her adventure. As young as she is, she is also an old soul, an artist and a wonderful eccentric, so our brief time together was easy, our similar sensitivities dissolving the measure of age.

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After dropping her off we were to attend a local race where Joel was to be the Photography Judge of images taken digitally by the contestants during the course of said race. However, as we neared the station, a puppy ran in front of our car causing Joel to brake suddenly which in turn caused his Leica, which is always ever ready in his lap, to fly off and bash him in the ankle, which immediately swelled up like an egg, completely hobbling him.

I dashed into a nearby restaurant for a bag of ice, then stretched him out on a bench on the station’s platform before the relative and I struggled with the infuriating ticket machine which, in typically dramatic Italian manner, issued the ticket to Siena with just seconds to spare before the train departed, which it did just as our dear passenger realized she’d left her iPhone back at our house. Of course it contains her entire life along with the only proof of her purchase of ticket for the overnight train from Florence to Paris. As of this writing we await news.

Also in typical Italian, or more particularly, Tuscan manner, Joel’s injury was met with hoots of laughter when I drove him to the Piazza where the race was due to end.

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Tuscany humor being based in the irony of life, our friends found it thigh-slapping-ly funny that the Photography Judge had been felled by a Leica, although they were kind enough to fetch the attending doctor who wiggled Joel’s foot and recommended…ice.

I drove the patient home and put him to bed with arnica cream, a painkiller, and…ice. We decided that Tuscany is a great place to be living while enduring UTI’s and ankle injuries, and the inevitable visitation by the Man with the Scythe. Where else would we be given a custard-filled cake, hot from the farm’s oven? Where else would we have a pot of lentil soup rich with local vegetables? Where else would we have bed-trays draped in linens that had been woven and embroidered by Luana’s and Gianni’s mothers? In fact, where else would we find Gianni? Gianni, the Tuscan poet/philosopher; Gianni, the great cacciatore of ancient Tuscan objects; Gianni who, 4 weeks ago, extended his hunting talents to procuring an Ayurvedic doctor from India who now lives here, in a neighboring village, and who now, for 35 bucks apiece, comes to our house every Sunday and gives us each a massage; today pouring his healing powers into Joel’s ankle and my kidneys.

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And where else could I be living in such harmony with my own rhythm; so content to serve breakfast in bed, to tend my plants, to sit outside braiding hemp and wire into a chain from which to hang a flowering plant? Where else could we be sitting now, side-by-side, on the cool grass under the enormous, ancient Quercia tree? A breeze has just picked up, rustling both the leaves of the tree and the leaves of this journal as if to say, yes, you are here, now; you are a part of all of this, now. Just as, when I opened my eyes at the end of the massage, I saw the soft blue rectangle of sky framed by the open window and watched as birds entered the frame like winged darts and departed, leaving the sky to a solitary white butterfly that came and went, as we are wont to do.

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