Saturday, July 23, 2016

Casa Kirkpatrick - interiors chez La Contessa



Do you remember what it was like to discover the imaginary landscape of books in your childhood? The ones that marked you? To understand that somewhere between the author's words and your imagination, an entire universe could enfold?

I would close my eyes and try to conjure the wisps of snow and taste of Turkish Delight in Narnia or the newsboy cries and horse-hoof clops of Dickens' London. Crouched amidst my dirty clothes in the oak closet of our Victorian house, I knew, I knew that those vistas were the key to a world far bigger than what my little mind with an open heart could fathom. That time travel and possibly even magic just might exist. Perpetually hungry, I would feast on each word until I could picture every detail and not a solitary crumb remained behind.

Fast forward many years and adventures in the real world to this past May. Despite numerous novels consumed, for various reasons, my vision had shrank to almost not knowing...that is until a truly wonderful friend invited me to be a guest in her home. 

Those of you who have been reading here for nearly any length of time (for which I thank you with all of my heart) are aware of Elizabeth, aka La Contessa. Some of you might even refer to her as "All Caps Contessa" for her tendency to exclaim rather than calmly state the obvious. She has long since been something of a Fairy Godmother figure for me (this despite that our ages are not so very far apart), having first sent me as a nearly beribboned present to the amazing Ellie O'Connell Decret (who has since become a dear friend) and then tempting me Westward in order that we could finally meet in person after nearly seven years of correspondence. Her timing was impeccable. She knew that she was needed.

And perhaps, she had an inkling of the delight that would wash over me from the very first instant that I stepped inside the home that she shares with the Italian (more about him soon) and a menagerie of animals. The charm spell was immediate and permanently cast. I clapped my hands in delight for the décoration that had been lovingly set over the 22 years after the couple had bought and renovated the house perched over a rose-filled ravine. The Italian set the brick floors by hand to remind La Contessa of one of her favorite castellos in the Italy where they had lived together while their boys were small things. The many years of having her own antique shop, the Hen House, brought about the arrival of myriad objets, such as a sleigh in the center of the living room, which made sense to her as well as to me. 

"So, what do you want to do today?" she would ask, as I would stretch sleepily after a night of deep dreaming. Sheepishly I would always reply, "Can we just stay here?" and often she would accommodate my wish, as a good hostess tends to do. For I could and did spend days exploring in the miniature and relaxing in the grandeur. Transformed, I was Alice and had found a Wonderland.


















Our mutual friend Ellie was in my thoughts constantly, for I knew that she would be as fascinated as I was. And so I picked up my camera for the first time in months so that I could share this novel landscape with her, far away on the other side of two oceans...and with you too. The allure of such enchantment is irresistible to all but the unwisely hardened, non?

Like Winston, their beloved Corgi, I find myself perched and waiting for a return - mine - to Casa Kirkpatrick. I have a wishing feeling it will happen but until then I can summon it in my mind just as I did while savoring the tales of my youth.



Today is Elizabeth's birthday. I spoke to her this morning as she was setting up a table under the enormous bronze chandelier in the garden for this evening's festivities. She sounded happy and relaxed as she does more often than not. How I wish that I was there to join the celebration...but from a far I raise a glass of virtual Prosecco to you, my beautiful friend.

Félicitations et Joyeux Anniversaire! 
Tanti baci,
Heather 

I actually also did a post for her birthday last year, she deserves no less.
And she is also the only person who I have ever asked to write a guest post for Lost in Arles.
Lastly, chez elle she currently has up a wonderful story about how she met her Husband - thanks to the House of Gucci - in 1984. 

****

PS. As she is one of the most generous people that I have ever met, I don't think that La Contessa would mind if I add a word on "her" birthday post to thank all of you. So please know that your incredible responses to my previous post touched me deeply and yet did not surprise me in the least. You are a wonderful group of people and I am very fortunate to be able to welcome you here.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Counting back to light



It feels like we will never be the same sometimes. I understand.

Because we won't and we aren't, already. How our life changes and changes us, so swiftly, every day, so that we are swept up, often mercifully unaware, just breathing, moving through.

A wise friend counseled me not long ago that sometimes, there are no answers. I wanted so desperately to understand what had happened in my life, to get that knowledge all under control so that I could heal but I couldn't. Because the answers were not mine to give. And finally, I can only be responsible for myself.

These are dark times. Since the Thursday night terrorist attack in Nice, I have been crying and praying. I collapsed on my knees from the pain and buried my head into the seat of my reading chair like a child, spent. 

One night, right before I left Provence, she gave me an au revoir sunset. Spectacular. I leaned out of the window from the room of my own and photographed each phase until night. I sat with the weight of my shattered heart and every time I have looked at these photos since then, I am taken directly back to those emotions of deep loss and fear. And yet I kept them. 

Yesterday, I realized that we could reverse their order and count back to the beginning, to light.

And in so doing, we can gently remove layer after layer of the veils that cover our truest nature. 
Love.

Therein lies the path to sanity - one that I need to consciously be on right now - and eventually, through our grieving, to Peace.

There is no room to apologize for what might sound overly sentimental in emergencies such as these, so I will just say, "I need you. Can we do this together?" Ok, then, thank you. Here we go.










To Peace.

I am sending you all so much love and strength right now. It is all I know to do. My prayers are for all of us, for those directly touched by this unspeakable tragedy in my beautiful adopted country and beyond.


 



       
I have been listening to this album by Moby before going to bed. It has helped me. I find the first movement especially beautiful. You can find it for free by clicking here.

 On Thursday, I stayed up late praying and meditating. I use the Insight Timer app on my phone and one of the things that I really appreciate about it is that I can see who else is using it at the same moment all over the world. Well, at around 2am, I could see so many people waking up in France and joining me, far more than I had ever seen online before. That gave me so much hope. It is our instinct to survive and find our way out of the darkness, be it personal or collective. I only have an inkling of "why" we are being put through such trials but again, having an answer is not really the solution. 

We are.









Saturday, July 9, 2016

Ghost blooms



#blacklivesmatter #bluelivesmatter #alllives matter

All lives matter.



I woke up at 4:30am in a cold sweat, my sheet had somehow wrapped itself tightly around my body. Mummylike, immobile. When I blinked, my eyelids ached and slowly my awareness drifted down through my bones until I accepted that I was ill.
The last thing that I had read before turning out the light was of the ambush in Dallas. I had rolled onto my back, staring into the darkness. Helpless then, also. My sadness broke my body in two.

"How much longer will it be?" I whispered towards the lowing moon. Is this the apex of our shredded state? Through this roiling hatred, I don't recognize my country anymore. And how I chewed on those words like dice rattling, too similar, too recent.

And yet,



amidst the stillness I could feel my heart opening like ghost blooms unfolding with silent stealth,
I choose Love.
I choose Unity.
I choose Faith.
I choose Hope.

I believe. Like petals pushing on my burning forehead, open. 

Tell me we are together in this and I will take it as a balm. 
For I know you to be true and that is healing, our humanity.
Change will come.


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Summer treats - La Fabrique Givrée & "Markets of Provence"



Long-time friends here know that I can be a bit squirrelly - no, not just in the sense of being loopy, although there is that too - but I have been known to tuck special things away to save for a later date.


So when my beautiful Mom (top photo, one month ago she celebrated a milestone birthday and no it wasn't 50 or 60) and her husband Leonard, were visiting last September and we just happened to try the fine wares at La Fabrique Givrée in Uzès...


...I immediately thought, "This place is fantastic. I should absolutely do a post about it...for next summer!" Eh oui, call it the Rainy Day Modus Operandi (one that life has been none too subtle about demanding that I abandon as of late).


But I digress, for no matter where you are right now, no matter the time of day, wouldn't you be tempted by a densely packed scoop of say...Vanilla from Bora Bora, Thai Lemongrass, Ethiopian Coffee or Iranian Pistachio? Can you feel the cold brushing across your lips? Of course, you could always fall back on the ever-reliable salted butter caramel or sesame praline (I did)...but regardless, one quickly gets the drift that this is no Dairy Queen (sorry, wonderful Ellie).


Can't decide which way to go? No one can, really, so don't worry about it. The line (and there will be a line) is full of indecisive hmmer's. Plus, if you are really in a bind, one of the cute staff just might give you a taste. If you are friendly. And it always is best to be friendly, now, isn't it?


I love the story behind La Fabrique Givrée and it most certainly shows in their final product (and I haven't even been able to go back to try their more complex creations yet). Three childhood friends married their love for their region (all of the milk, cream, fruit and yes, saffron come from the Ardèche and Provence) and their joy in traveling the world (the foreign products, such as the Valhrona chocolate, are all responsibly sourced under a protected designation of origin) into ice cream...albeit, la glace as an art form. Coup de grâce? Their Uzés location is the only and I do mean only spot that I can recommend for fine eats under the arcades of the exceptionally lovely but highly touristy Place aux Herbes. Enjoy. 

La Fabrique Givrée
27 Place aux Herbes
30700 Uzès
There are other boutiques in Aubenas and Lyon.
During Summer 2016, certain tastiness is available in Paris at Fou de Patisserie in the 2nd.


 Sheepishly, I will concede that there is not one but two wonderful treats that I have been meaning to share with you. And the second is to be enjoyed all year around. Taking the admissions to the blushing red level, I will confess that while I was quite excited to read Marjorie William's "Markets of Provence," there was also a rather Grinchy side of me that was gleefully hovering over its pages, tapping my fingertips together, just waiting to be able to shred it to bits.


Quoi? I know. Je suis terrible. But, but just because Madame Williams has already had a galloping success with her "Markets of Paris," to the point where it is now in its second edition, who is she to think that she could just come strolling down to Provence and conquer, like une vrai Parigotte? The world of Provençal markets is a complex panoply that even someone who has lived in the region for over ten years would hesitate to take on for fear of slipping into clichés or making a false step.


Save that she doesn't. "Markets of Provence" is just perfect. It is an incredibly useful resource for visitors and locals alike. The book is divided into markets open by day of the week (as it most certainly should be), delineates the musts with the maybes and is served with a pinch of history and culture on the side for context. Occasionally, she "sees" what is on offer through the knowledgeable eyes of someone who knows each market best. "Now who would that be for Arles?" I wondered, the final gauntlet thrown. For the former capital of Roman Gaul, the phenomenally talented (if somewhat temper-driven) Michelin-starred chef Jean-Luc Rabanel is a fitting ambassador, one who offers a witty and wise selection. That Maison Genin is featured for its saucissons d'Arles had me nodding in approval - but truly each suggestion at every market that I know well is spot-on. Chefs and producers in other areas across a broad swath of le Midi add their own tips to the pistou


But it is the bright, crisp language of Marjorie's writing that makes this little big book sing with the precision of a cigale. The excellent index section (with restaurant suggestions and vocabulary plus specialty market listings) and encardrés throughout (asking such enigmatic questions as "What IS Provence?") are the final elements that make "Markets of Provence" something to savor slowly from a distance or keep tucked into our straw baskets when we are strolling like a conqueror - or just a happy flâneur - through each wonderfully unique marché provençal

(Amazingly, she grew up in York, Pennsylvania where I did most of my high school years and it is also the Sister City to Arles)
A list of upcoming events and her blog.

****

As always, these are suggestions that I am happy to pass along on their own merit! 
I hope that you find them as worthwhile as I do.
For those of you who delight me with your comments, I do apologize for not responding as much as usual - please know how much they mean to me - but, as I have mentioned, I am spending less time at the keyboard (typing on a phone just does not do it for me) and more reading at my Sister's house in the country.

Thank you all for being here and Happy Fourth of July to those of you in the States,
Heather


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Summer Solstice Shining



My Sister lives on a Christmas tree farm. And while last Monday was the polar opposite to the 25th of December, as I set out on my late afternoon walk, alone, I could feel the happy ghosts of holidays past around me, the slight echo of delight as families decided, "Yes, this one. This tree will come home with us!"


Visions of snow melted away in the heat of the sun, gold, as I followed the path up a slight incline as it snaked unknowingly out of sight. I stayed on the path as I have stayed on the path. It has been a time of feeling forward blind but my eyes were kissed with beauty at every step on this Summer Solstice day, the longest of the year and one brimming with good intentions.


I had been reading a bit of astrology - whispering to the mystical to come back in to hold me up if it could, just like it did in childhood - about this event punctuated with the second consecutive full moon in Sagittarius, not only a blue moon but a Strawberry one, previously so called by the Algonquin people as they were able to pick the sweet fruit under its soft glare. This conjuncture - the first during my lifetime - was predicted to be the end of a chapter, not only delineating the final phase of what has been a challenging first half of 2016, but to something greater within ourselves. 


My senses were on high. It felt so expansive to be out in the country, breathing deeply. How could I not feel a surge of joy? I withdrew the newly repaired iphone out of my pocket again and again, framing with decisiveness then to photograph, "Yes, this one. This I will take home with me." Dust on my toes, heel slapping flip-flops with the occasional vague swipe to clinging bits of pollen across my bare legs. Warmth spread around me without the sweat, no pain just a floating fearless fine being.


As I crested the hill, I caught at the breeze with outstretched fingers and began my descent, careful to crunch a little more quietly as I came towards the opening where my Sister had mentioned that deer could sometimes be caught unaware. No, today it was just the fields and me. I paused to look down at the patterns in the dust, fallen branches and traces of previous passerby, myself included. "I was here then and I am today." Click, click and click.



The shade beckoned, as did the promise of the creek that was my destination. Bubbling water holds an inexplicable draw - maybe for hopscotching back to memories of chasing crawdads or maybe with the promise of what it could carry swiftly away in its current.



Stepping onto the gray wooden slats of the open bridge, I heard a crash to my right and froze. Snaps of grass breaking drew my gaze downstream then up to the ridge directly noon in front of me where a deer - a young buck? - was bounding away. Mid-gasp of surprise, I heard the sound and saw the movement repeated as a second followed, fleeing, with a white undertail flipping goodbye. I reached to follow them with my camera, so late, having been paralyzed by their effortless grace. ("How can I describe the way that they leaped and hung in the air?" I asked my Sister the next day, knowing I wanted to write about them. "A jété?" she suggested and we both nodded in agreement.) The afternoon draped languidly across the treetops and the world seemed a bit proud of itself, this Summer Solstice shining so brightly with gifts given and the receiving of pure joy.

             (Click to enlarge and then look in the middle of the path)

I shook my head slowly, a smile lifting my lips and turned back towards the comfort of my Sister's floorboard creaking Victorian house, lighter than when I started out, buoyed with quiet if completely unspecific relief. The day played itself out with the lacsidaisical shuffle of an old-school card game. Me, I was waiting for the moon. I love la belle lune and always have.


With night finally ascending, I let the screen door sigh shut behind me and headed out, hunting. Through the stolid shelter of the pines, I could see a light and headed towards it...but it was no moon. Across the indigo sky a massive storm cloud surged, blotting out the stars. Within it, lightning snapped laterally, playing tag with pockets of humidity until the mottled gray throbbed, pulsing. But the pines sighed comfortingly and so I watched, open-mouth gazing without a worry that a stray bolt could find me until the game was no longer so amusing.


I know that I have mentioned Tara Brach quite a lot recently. Her talks and writing are what have helped me the most (along with my walking and walking) during these past few months. When so much of one's world has disappeared with a magician's puff of smoke, thoughts can take a "pride of place" in the mind, shouting out in otherwise empty rooms. Now, that can lean in the direction of obsession or make the place for change.

One of the themes that she touches upon repeatedly (and often with humor) is a gentle reminder that thoughts "are real but not true" and that with compassionate reflection we can trace back those of the consistently negative variety to our core beliefs about ourselves. While waiting for the devilish storm to pass and lifted with courage from the simple splendor of the day, I felt safe enough to admit my old ones deep - like worry beads rolled between my fingers - which keep me seprarate within our amazing world; those that declare "I am unlovable" and "There is something wrong with me/ I don't belong." But somehow, I was no longer afraid of those ideas anymore. I stepped back outside to find my friend.


The moon had risen, the storm passed on. There was mon copain, playing cache-cache behind the trees. "Move further back, out into the open," it said; so I did and was flooded in its rays that reached through to my bones, sweeping me clean. As I stood there on the grass, the light shown into the darkness of my misconceptions and told me that I was very much a part of our complex world, that I had an important place in it just as we all do. That while I have my faults, I am not broken and in that moment I felt very connected to everyone and everything and in so being, felt very loved. And loving too.

"I am grateful, grateful, grateful," I sang to the moon, the sun and the hope that a new chapter had just begun.

 ****


 Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.
I am heading back out to my Sister's where I have less time on the internet - and yes, that is a good thing - so I hope you will pardon me if I am not as present here in the next few days.
Be well,
Heather