Friday, October 17, 2014

Sometimes simple, Part two

I can hear my neighbor, Michel, clipping flowers across our steps-wide street. He is slow and methodical in his movements and yet is never pretentious about his plants despite their beauty. He is retired now after having worked for years as a coiffeur in England and when he first moved to this village many years ago they called him "L'Anglais" despite his being very much French. His first attempts at potting flowers were met with secret scorn as was his arrival. He would wake to find petals ripped from their stems or poisoned roses.

Le méfiance is still present, running like an underground current, although happily there are now so many "foreigners" who live here that they are no longer mistreated. But I can feel that Remi and I are being watched to see how we will behave, if  we will offer a "Bonjour" or not, whether we will be respectful of keeping noise to a minimum (we are) and if our dogs will be a nuisance (Kipling, occasionally).  I don't mind it actually. It seems something of a normal reaction in such a particularly delineated space where families have been rooted for generations and the neighbors are never anonymous.

It is definitely a change after Arles where it took years to be identified or recognized even in my neighborhood. So many people would come and go throughout the day but not so, here. I can identify the time not only by the tolling church bells but also by the man who drives by with the dog that barks in the backseat or the boy who runs home from school everyday at lunchtime. "How are you settling in? Do you like the house?" the mailman asked this morning in between casual drags on an Indian cheroot. I told him that I did and how I was appreciating the quiet after having lived in Arles. "Ah, if that is what you are looking for, then this is the place for you," he responded before pushing his cart down the lane.

Downshift, downshift, downshift. Manhattan, Paris, Arles and now this old village. At times the lack of sound pools around me like a grandpa sweater, at others it feels as tight as a leather glove against my skin. It is just a change to get used to, even if a positive one and yes, sometimes simple is best. But now that I am settling in to this new house, I have inklings that even that word is just a label, another question of perspective. What I see and feel remains complex no matter the backdrop. And that is just fine by me. It's all good, really good. For now, as the dust of new continues to settle, I can always count on the reliable gifts of the golden tick of the light and beauty's swan sway as compasses instead.

Have a great weekend everyone...

PS. The wonderful La Contessa just wrote about meeting a special blog friend while she was in Paris recently.  Ellie is an American expat married to a Frenchman who writes at Have Some Decorum. Most of us know how fantastic such meetings can be and this was no exception. La Contessa encouraged us all to take a look at her writings. Well, I have to pass on the word because I am crazy for her blog. As in I just might need to go back and read every post she has written, verging on stalker crazy for her blog. She tells amazing stories, is hysterically funny, smart as a whip, has phenomenal taste...and has ALS disease. It certainly doesn't define her or her relationships but it also means that she has decided to tell it exactly how she sees it without mincing words. I find her and her writing incredibly inspiring not to mention just really fun and you might too. You can find her blog by clicking:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

You will return

Remi had something that he wanted me to see. I was beyond jet-lagged as it was only the first full evening after my return from the States, so we walked slowly as we headed towards the edge of the village and into the orchards beyond.

I felt as if I was floating under the rising moon when all I wanted was to feel grounded. I threaded my arm through Remi's and leaned in.

"Eh voila," Remi announced with a wave of his hand. In front of us was a scraggly patch of terrain that clearly hadn't been cultivated in years. One lone cherry tomato popped up bravely from the weeds, waving like a flag that had refused to surrender. is ours to care for now. While I was away, Remi went to local gardening association's yearly meeting to see if it would be possible for us to become members (at the behest of our guardian angel, Mr. W). There had been a waiting list for the past four years but as luck would have it, there was a plot available. For only 20 Euros a year ($25 US), we could have a garden.

Photo courtesy of Rémi Bénali

Remi wasted no time in the waning light and immediately set claim by delineating our land from our neighbors. I watched in wonder at his energy in my zapped state, shaking my head at the size of the task in front of us.

As the mosquitos made their nightly entrance, I persuaded Remi to drop his hoe and head back. He paused at the outer-reaches of the gardens to pick wild grapes that were nearly covered in bramble and yet still held such sweetness. "No one knows who this land belongs can't be farmed." I tried to cast about in the twilight for imaginary shadow figures of past owners - those who had planted and raised these vines - without success.

"I will be back in time for lunch," Remi called out joyfully the next morning as he closed the gate behind him, garden-bound. "I'll see you then, good luck!" I returned. The hours passed and yet still no Remi, no word. Finally, he answered his cell phone, his voice weak with thirst. It was time for reinforcements.

When I arrived, the entire plot had been cleared. Remi had done the grunt work and then the soil was turned by Francis, who waved off Remi's offer to thank him with a bottle of wine after he had worked miracles with a rototiller. "We help each other out," Mr. W explained. "As it gets hot in le midi, we will water each others gardens when they need it, things like know, it is just how it is done here." 

I was introduced to everyone and then poured rounds of cold rosé, a perfect way to toast the end of the first day of work. Remi made a ham and cornichon sandwich and munched on it silently with dirt covered hands. 

I spread my skirt out on the grass and looked around for treasures in the surrounding plot, still untouched. The rosé warmed my cheeks as the sun patted the top of my head. I felt present, happy and calm.

The earth is rich, soft and surprisingly springy underfoot. There is a steady water supply, readily available. And now it is up to us to make something grow. To return the land to what it once was.

Will we have gardens as impressive as those created by les professionnels, as they are half-jokingly called?

Oh goodness, I doubt it and certainly not at first. We have made a point of letting everyone know that this is an entirely new experience for us both and that if we truly don't have les mains vertes or even a green thumb then we will turn the plot over to more deserving patrons.

But it will be wonderful to learn, to try. The tomatoes and beets that our new neighbors have given us are the only encouragement that we need as they taste like the food of my youth, long since forgotten. Soon, we will layer the compost to make the land rich and then let it sleep for the winter. The laying of seeds before the seeds and then the real adventure will begin.

Today's post is my contribution to the monthly international blog get-together "By Invitation Only" which is hosted by the lovely Marsha at Splenderosa. The theme for October is: "What can you not live without for autumn?" For me, fall is all about discovery. Perhaps it is due to all of those years of living in Manhattan (New art openings! New Broadway shows!) or the joy in France of eating new dishes (Choucroute! Cassoulet!)...but while some might think of autumn as a time of getting ready to shut down, I think of it as a time to store up; to prepare for the winter ahead through the amazing gift of diving into the unknown. And that is what our new garden will most certainly give us. Wish us luck!

The title for this post was taken from a really wonderful song by Quantic featuring the ever-soulful Alice Russel:

To find out what the other contributor's have to say on this topic by all means don't hesitate and please do click: Here.

With my Best from Provence,

PS. Remi sends heartfelt thanks to all of you that sent along birthday wishes! That was very kind. :) And I have been told that some of you are having trouble leaving comments. I am looking into it but as always feel free to send me an email instead at robinsonheather (at)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Two of a kind

"I like your don't take yourself too seriously." It was a great compliment about my blog, especially as it came from Mr. W, who is not only our Ange Guardian in this village (who, along with his companion, the lovely Ms. L are responsible for our renting this house) but he is also one of the original Mad Men who rocked out the advertising world of Manhattan in real-time. 

His words gave me the inner yep to go ahead with this post, one that several of you have been asking for...and you know who you are. While there will be a second part to my previous post, this qualifies as well for it is just about...the puppers. Parfois, je ne veux pas prendre la tête...simple photos et c'est très bien comme ça...

So, as to that title? Eh beh oui. Ben and Kipling are so very different in many, many ways. Don't be fooled by Kipling's sweet demeanour, he can be one tough customer. We have had a surprisingly difficult time with him since we have moved here. This previously abandoned dog has a new territory to conquer and claim it he has. He continues to challenge all that cross his path. We have had to be more vigilant than I have ever experienced with a dog. But...after a few hard incidents, I think, I hope that he is beginning to trust the here of Home.

Ben, however, is everyone's friend. He is unbelievably smart, wise even - with lessons that we can all learn from - and gets along with anyone and their complicated dogs...

...such as Kipling.

Who could resist that face? He is great company and a good friend.

But here is the interesting thing. Each one has slowly - and I do mean slowly - had his effect on the other. Kipling has made Ben a little more daring, a dash more masculine "dog" while Ben has certainly calmed Kipling and show him the importance of using manners and charm to get what you want..

And while they still don't play together as I had initially hoped, they are definitely now a team (shown above at the airport where they were my Official Welcoming Committee). They lay closer together and somehow communicate without a sign passing between them - whether it is the moment to convince me  to feed them or take them out. It is amazing to watch. So while they remain uniquely different, in their connection and affection they express for us, they are two of a kind.


Have a wonderful weekend. Today is Remi's birthday...

...and we are all enjoying it quietly. C'est ça la grande luxe...

Happy Birthday Honey, I love you and our doggies do too.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sometimes simple

In a haze of jet-lag, I grabbed my camera and headed outside with a determined gait in order to try and stay awake. And to remember where I was and why. My little village. It looked so scruffy and simple.

 But we all know that sometimes simple is best.

I mentioned that recently and sans doute due to a stray-dog memory, I will most likely say it again.

I tumbled around with a propped-up eye... rediscover all of the details and feelings that made me fall in love with this odd corner of Provence for the first time.

My gaze was radically hungry - down, across and certainly, uppity up. 

For as soon as Remi picked me up at the airport - with les chiens in tow - I started exclaiming about the light. That autumn shift that brings a brighter blue, a softer gold.

And it scratches the sides of surfaces to make them sing.

Architectural traces of better times...

...still give proof to something good.

Colors blend...

...lines sway...

...and I feel plenty of calm just looking out my window.

I feel a hidden promise of doors yet to open...

...and yes, friends (Why does that word now have a corny context? Says who? Banish that! It is a good word!) are still to be made.

Cheers to you. Thank you for all of your kindness and for being here...

PS. Apparently, "sometimes cloudy days are best" too. Woof woof! ;)

Friday, October 3, 2014

Limbo vertigo

The color of the roses is making me dizzy. Leonard, my Mom's former fiancé and now husband, buys them for her every week. It is a habit that hasn't changed just because they have said, "I do." They are grocery store roses but that doesn't make the meaning behind them any less beautiful nor the curves of their petals any less fluid. My Mom lets me arrange them. "You are good at that...You get roses a lot don't you?" I look at her for a moment and then reach into the drawer for the big scissors.

Air France was on strike. When I mention it to people here in Michigan, I am met with an "Oh, really?" for it has barely bounced on the American news. And yet tens of thousands of people (according to Air France, the New York Times went for the more dramatic hundreds of thousands) have been stranded. I am one of them.

Of course, we knew about the impending strike before it happened, Remi and I. But still I had no choice but to take the plane for my Mom's wedding to Leonard, just as Remi had no choice but to stay behind. We couldn't afford to be two. And yes, it is France so there were jokes about the frequency of les grêves and the greediness of French workers, depending on who was doing the joking but in the end, the strike went on for fourteen days. No solutions were reached between the two parties.

Two weeks may not sound like much but I wonder about the many stories of what happened for others like myself. How many lives were somehow utterly changed because of not being able to get back to a place called "Home." I have been lucky, of course, in that I have the guest room to inhabit, not the blank walls of a hotel to shut me down and in. "This is your second home," Leonard often says. It is as generous as he is and he means it. Their love and kindness - along with that of my Sister, Robin, who lives a half hour away - is as profuse as the perfume from a technicolor bouquet. I lean in instinctively to catch the ghost scent in remembrance.

I prick my thumb while cutting the stems. A grimace and a swear escape. I should know better for I do love roses. My mind must be wandering. Back to Provence I suppose, back to Remi and the dogs and that other Home, the first one, that I was only just beginning to know three weeks ago.

On my cell phone are little pictures that I return to, something like memory paintings. Olive trees, tails wagging. Instagram talismans. I realize that it isn't the color nor the thorns prick that are making me dizzy, it is the pull. Of limbo vertigo. If Air France behaves, tonight I will take the plane. And I will cry to leave this part of my family (age doesn't shame me into doing otherwise) just as I will crumble with relief into Remi's arms at the other end.

This is just how it is within an expat's life. It is full and complex and confusing and I chose it. But for me, this aspect of it doesn't ever get any easier. There are parts of my heart in many places and I can feel them beating boom, boom, boom.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Our first vendange

One of the most romantic elements at our new home is the vine-covered trellis that takes up a third of the courtyard. It charmed me immediately. In the mornings, I would be bathed in a soft green light in the kitchen while my tea brewed...

...this after having pushed back the shutters in our bedroom to sail on a sea of green below. Such a lovely start to my day.

The vine's branches twist under and over each other like happy snakes and the grapes grew downwards with a lush promise...

...until they didn't. 

Oh, dear. 

Remi and I watched with consternation as our beautiful bunches turned sour. Within a week, they were shrivelled with disease and began to fall in moldy clumps to the ground. While we scrambled to pick them up, the dogs soon learned the hard way that those left behind were not exactly the tasty treat that they had expected. The sickly sweet odor was attracting a steadily increasing swarm of bees that would dive bomb us throughout the day. Ben is very allergic to bee stings.

Something needed to be done.

The owner had already assured us that as the vine is so old (one friend estimated that it is seventy years of age) that it only produces a decent crop every other year. It was clear that a good pruning job was definitely in order as well. 

Remi and I had already helped a friend pick the grapes for his wine and know what back-breaking work it is. But what to do when the branches are far overhead? We headed to our trusty Mr. Bricolage, the hardware store, for the longest cutter that they had. It was an investment but one that would also be useful for trimming the olive tree in the courtyard at the end of autumn.

 Remi angled the instrument in-between the leaves as best as he could and then with a tug on the red cord to pull the blades shut...snip! snip!...

...the grapes fell to the ground. My job was sweep them into a pile as best as I could. I chased after the rebel rollers with determination. The fruits of our first vendange - or harvest - left little to be desired!

As the hours passed, more of the sky peeked through our previously shaded canopy.

I kept turning my head upwards, missing both the privacy and the touch of character that the grapes had represented.

Eh, oui. Sometimes what is beautiful needs to be sacrificed for practicality. That is just how it goes.

And besides, there is always next year... :)

Have a wonderful week ahead everyone.