Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas at our house this year



I love Christmastime. 

It has been a wild run of a year, hasn't it? So much so that I can't believe that at last we are here, preparing for our first holiday season in our new home.



It feels kind of wonderful.



So much so that I didn't want to come up with a "theme" for the decorations. That seemed more awkward and "put upon" than need be! I just wanted...to find the joy in putting them out that I felt when I was kid...and to let this house do what it does best, to shine in its perfect imperfection.


On my morning walks with the dogs, I would gather up stray pine cones and branches that had been knocked over by the Mistral gusts from the previous night. Each day, there would be a few more, so many that I could pick and choose à la Goldielocks.


As always, we are the only people in Provence not to build an elaborate crèche filled with santons depicting characters from traditional village life but rather we will stick to our nativity scene made out of banana bark and bought during a safari in Tanzania, which makes it all the more special to us.


Remi's insistence on choosing the bright red cords for our light bulbs in the small salon seems especially fortuitous now, a festive touch for this time of year. 


Despite my glee in thinking, "Where can I put this?" I tried not to get too carried away and so the guest bedroom only has one woodsy garland on the old shutter headboard (I feared anything more might fall on the heads of our guests!)...


...and certainly, Mr. Zen Buddha in our bedroom is far too deep in his meditation to be concerned with such frippery...


...even if it is tempting to bebauble...


...and bedackle even le benitier in the bath!


But there is only so much austerity a girl can take at this time of year...come on, it is Christmas!


And so with trembly fingers I pulled out the crystals from their storage in a vintage glove box one by one. But rather than spend hours patiently affixing them to the tree as I usually do, I balanced on our ladder for a few minutes and attached a few to the iron chandelier in the entry to help welcome the winter light in. Et c'est très bien comme ça...


All in all, the house doesn't look that much different really, which is what I love. Proud to the rafters, it is a house that retains its own character no matter what. I still feel so lucky to live here, I can't quite believe it!


So tell me, do you find the happiness that I do in this one little act? Or has it become a chore? Are you already counting down to midnight on the 31st so you can breathe a sigh of relief for the arrival of the New Year? I know that for me, I feel a lot of freedom here in France in knowing that nothing has to be the "ultimate." Not the gifts, not the tree. Hey, they don't even grow perfectly shaped sapins here so there is no point in searching for one (although I have to admit that I am so excited to finally have room enough for a proper tree. Begone the Christmas Branch)... 


It doesn't matter, not in the least. Not for Christmas at our house this year.

Now, is the time to turn on the lights - on the tree, inside your heart, on the roof if need be! - and let them glow.

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To see the Monster Tree from my first year of blogging when we lived in the amazing apartment, click here.
To read more about the differences between Christmas in the States and France, click here.

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I am actually planning on posting during the holidays, albeit on my currently scaled down "Shh, it is winter" schedule. For those of you that are in the midst of an especially hectic and tiring time (like my my wonderful Mom and her Husband, Leonard, who are working so hard right now - I love you both!), please know that there is a redhead in Provence who is sending you good energy filled with calmness, strength and joy...


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Night Light


I love that at this time of year even Evening's swanning light cooperates with Mr. Electricity to say, "Happy Holidays!" 


Do you see it too?


So much gold shining bright...


...mixed with wondrous sapphire skies keeping the Christmas star well-hidden until the night of the 24th.


There is peace here...


...within a quiet so profound that my footsteps, my breathing feels muffled, scarf-covered and warm.


Or maybe that is just how it is for me in this little corner of Provence.


I am thinking of you all and that it has been over four years for me of writing at Lost in Arles. I have seen so much beautiful spirit in the blogging community recently and not only because of the time of year. I find it incredibly inspiring and hope that you do as well. May we all continue to be night lights for each other in the dark.


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Camera update: These were taken with an SLR that Remi is lending me. Apparently, I don't know as much about working in manual as I thought that I did. But I will get there and it still felt wonderful to head out with a camera in hand just because I could. Thanks for staying with me during this bumpy time. And if your eyes are left lacking, there is always the archives to dig into. ;)

With my Best from Provence,
Heather

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The gift of wonder



Late last Saturday afternoon as the light was fading to blue, I found myself at a private event of the type of which I am not used to attending. It seemed that little expense had been spared for the corporate holiday party for a select group of cadres or executives of an important construction company and more importantly, their children.

The little ones arrived into the elaborately lit reception room at the rented mas or farmhouse with blinking eyes as they struggled out of their coats. Wiry arms flailed with shuffling feet, hands brushed mittens off roughly, leaving a trail that the parents would gather in their arms. There were only twelve children in all, ranging in age from four to thirteen or so. The littlest were carried around the room by their parents to see the decorations, the tinsel, the fairy lights. But each would end up, one moment or another, staring wistfully and slightly slack-jawed at the Christmas tree that was surrounded with carefully wrapped presents.

A band of three brothers, the littlest cupping the hand of the biggest, were especially interested. They pointed and whispered and nudged each other in the ribs, trying to find the package that was inscribed with their name. "Don't touch!" their Father would call out if one of them got too close and they would immediately back away slightly before hypnotically inching forwards again.

But the show was about to begin. Un petit spectacle! Without being told the children all sat down in rows before the playing area, some on their knees, other crossed-legged but each with faces raised towards the host in his gold glittery top hat. He charmed them effortlessly into hanging on to his every word and made the adults seated in the back giggle with muffled laughter. When it was time for volunteers to come onstage, so many hands shot up with urgency, backs arching to get pointed fingers higher in the air. Each storyline presented was then acted out with gusto with only the occasional waves of shyness stealing a voice under the glare of the spotlight. When the youngest of the brothers, only four and half, was chosen to play a prince, he arrived onstage with a polite bow. The host turned searching to the audience and said, "Now, we only need a princess." Lo and behold, the tiniest of the girls, who had been dancing on the tips of her toes, bounced forward and raised her hand - same size, same age. Everyone in the room let out a sigh of sweetness. It was too perfect to be true and yet it was.

The buzz of hopeful energy blazed brighter after the show ended. For here he was, enfin, Papa Noêl! Did it matter that this particular Father Christmas was wearing an ill-fitting suit and had to hold his beard to the side of his face? It did not. One by one, each name was called and the children would dutifully, respectfully sit next to him and smile gratefully as they accepted their gift. He bent to kiss the youngest on the tops of their heads and bumped fists with the oldest of the boys. There were no wisecracks and no rolling of eyes. When, the last gift was delivered and the last photo snapped, it was announced, "You may open your presents now." And so they did, slowly, not with the impatience that I had expected. It was as if they were sipping the anticipation and savoring the moment at the same time. I stole a glance at Remi and his face, so wide open, so beautiful, mirrored the expressions that were lighting up around the room. For one moment and then several, our hearts were lifted up into a simple pure joy as bright as a star. "What is the word for it in French again?" I asked. "Emerveillement," he responded quietly. We both were smiling in spite of ourselves. That is right, I nodded internally. Wonder. And in that moment, I knew that I too had been given a special gift.


Today's post is my contribution to the monthy series where an international group of bloggers come together to write on the same theme. For December, the question was asked: "If price were no object, what would you give to your loved ones?" It has been a challenging year in many ways for me and my loved ones, despite being filled with much good too. It wouldn't have been inappropriate to have chosen "Health" or "Security" but after seeing those sweet faces, I would give my friends and family the feeling that is so linked to the best of the holidays - one free of worries or cares - a moment of wonder.

to listen:

To read what the others members of this group would give, please click here.


Sending out a lot of Good Will today...and wishes of Peace too.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A room of one's own



When I realized that I was going to have a room all to myself in our new house my heart filled with...wonder. It did. And there are days when I still can't believe my good fortune and so I pace its perimeters to lay claim. It is as if I have been magically transported back to childhood and have built myself the coziest tree-house...


... far on high. I can hear my knees crack at times as I climb and climb the stairs, hand surfing the iron railing, but it is worth it. Once I arrive, I can close the wooden door and settle in. My thoughts, my wishes, my emotions all have their space.


I don't really like calling it my office, mon bureau, for it is a friendlier space than that and the "work" that gets done is not of the pinpoint kind. Yes, it is where I write and sort out my photographs (by the by, that is the 15 Euros Gobelin tapestry behind my desk. We will hang it one of these days)...


...But also where I read and dream in my comfy old fauteuil draped with an even older ikat brought back from Bali. I balance my tea precariously on the broken wicker trunk that I bought at the local flea market for 20 Euros (I keep tightly stacked journals inside, all of those lines from days gone by). In the evenings, the light is strong enough to read by without squinting and the lampshade reminds me of my earliest days in France (Remi bought them - they are a set - as a surprise before I moved over, one of the very first purchases for our life together. He guessed that I would like a little leopard in my new abode and he was right). And if, for whatever reason I am really not sorted, then I can always curl up on my boutis covered bed and hide within a nap.


When I am lost in searching for a word or leaning on a phrase, I let my gaze settle on the details surrounding me, such as the odd solidity of the sloping, propped up wooden beams (How could they possibly hold up the roof just above?)...


...and the exceptional patina of the terra-cotta floor tiles...


...that had, at some point, been painted over in a deep burgundy red, which was - thank goodness! - carefully removed by a later resident who likes the underneath just like me. When I roll out my yoga mat, I can hear the broken tiles crackle underfoot. I think that they date from the 18th century. Everyone who visits remarks upon them in particular and about the deuxième étage in general. Actually, when we made that fateful first visit to the house, the room that would become my own was instantly my favorite. Lucky, lucky.


There are two windows and so there is always light passing through one way or another. A small one looks north out over the rooftops and has shutters so ancient that they droop soggily from their hinges and clank crankily when the wind starts to blow.


The window at the front opens above the olive and magnolia trees in our courtyard. There is a pair of turtledoves - oui, les tourterelles! - that bill and coo while perched on an antennae rising from the house across the lane. Les mésanges flit past. Oh, how they sing and swoop. Such beautiful music.

 

Finally, I have found a space where I feel comfortable displaying the beautiful portrait that Remi created for me on my 40th birthday from a photograph that he had taken when we had first met. In the safety of my room, I can consider the gaze of that young Me with kindness and not flinch.

I still haven't organized my books but am always so proud when, in the midst of scrambling for such and such volume, I come across a tome that has been written by a friend piled in amidst Shakespeare and the Brontë's. 


For you see, it is a sentimental space, my room. Only I know the hows and the whys of each little piece that I have put out simply to please me and no one else...from the battered Reynolds style engraving that I named "Marie" when I bought her at 15...


...to the pastels of a series of beautiful, strong and interesting women who inspire me to be true. I can only imagine their gossip after I turn out the lights each night.


Here, I can stack my train cases, even if there is not a voyage to be taken anytime soon...


...where I can remember collecting shells on the shores of a hurricane-grazed island lost in Pacific and gaze at the Buddha to root me right where I am. Backwards, forwards and quietly hovering in the present. Something of a destination in itself. In my room, a room of my own, I feel at peace and utterly at home.



to listen: some lovely music that is fittingly eclectic for this post...
Orange Blossom - Mexico from copilux on Vimeo.


Do you have a corner for yourself chez vous? I think that it is more important than we imagine.


Bon Weekend tout le monde!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Slurping Turtle - Ann Arbor



Now, here is the thing. I really, really enjoy writing about food, especially of the 'eating out' variety. But, as I have lamented previously, in France I simply can't afford the good stuff most of the time (although I have to say that I had an excellent lunch at Maison Druout in St. Rémy not long ago but was, alas, cameraless, hence proofless). Whenever I return to the States to visit my family, it is like whooppeeeeeee because a) they are foodies like me and need little to no encouragement to try something new and b) as Ann Arbor is a very cosmopolitan town, there is an international mix of delectables on nearly every block.



Of those, the opening of Slurping Turtle was the big kerbloom this year, as one would expect when a Michelin-starred chef - in this case Takashi Yagihashi - decides to go low brow and open up a noodle joint. Save, of course, as we all know, Michelin-starred chefs don't really do low brow, do they?


Despite copious scheming, I wasn't able to make it to Slurping Turtle until my Mom's Birthday. Now, if you have been reading here for any length of time, you will know that, in our family, the Birthday Rules are always firmly in place, meaning: Birthdayee calls the shots and don't even think about being snarky to said person in any way, shape or form. As my Mom was planning on going out to a big, sparkling dinner that evening (something that never happened as a giant thunderstorm rolled in with tornado warnings - eh oui, c'est le Midwest  - and so I ended up baking my zillion spiced salmon and coconut milk mashed sweet potatoes on the fly), we were only there to "eat light."


Now, truly, tapas is my favorite style of eating. I am the walking definition of gourmande, aka piggy, so there you have it, the more things to try the better. While this meant that we did not get to slurp what is probably the most authentic Tonkotsu in North America (in-house freshly made ramen noodles with a machine imported from Japan, yada-yada), we did get to have several tasty treats that have remained in my memory and are filed away under the vague category of: "kitchen inspiration" (certainly as though I eat like a foodie, I cook like a Food E).


The Birthday Girl's favorite was (and it is no longer on the menu so it is rather unkind of me to tease you with it) a soy-marinated salmon tortilla with an anchovy aioli that was so good that when the waiter asked if he could take away the plate when there was only three capers left on it, we said no.


While the shrimp shumai received welcome nods of contentedness around the table, for me, the slam dunk was the sesame-marinated chicken fried in duck fat. I believe that it was my Sister who wisely opined, "What doesn't taste better cooked in duck fat?" A good question Robin, one that leaves me perplexed with perhaps a timid suggestion of: Skittles? Amazingly, as this was not the favorite of the other two redheads, they let me finish them off. Perfume rising up, skin crunching into sweetness, juice down the chin...don't mind if I do.

The only potentially weak spot was presented in the pork belly bao as it didn't quite have the magical bite to sink in ratio of their simpler counterparts that I would retrieve from an open window in Chinatown on hungover mornings when the symphony of NYC was set to screaming. Ah, yes, happy memories of headachy breakfasts can't compete with this zingier version, soy-ginger glaze or no.


If the comfort of comfort was missing in the bao, we certainly found it in the chocolate cream puff that was generously offered by our server in salutations of my Mom's big day (and yes, once I realized that we would be getting such goods, I continued to fling out such hopeful announcements wherever we ate and was rarely disappointed. Do you think such a gesture would happen in France? Free dessert? Are you mad?). We used our remaining chopsticks to pry open the brioche with a slightly crumbled crust and rolled our eyes over the pillow puffed mousse inside.


Cheers, chef Takashi and thank you for giving some lovely gifts to even the non-bithdayees at the table. As the turtle is the symbol of longevity in Japan, by all means let him slurp on...


Slurping Turtle
608 East Liberty Street
Ann Arbor, Michigan, 48104
Tel.: (001) 734-887-6868


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Proximity



When I first moved to Paris, I didn't actually move to Paris. You see, Remi chose our apartment before I arrived - one that was close to the prestigious Gamma Photo Agency that he had been working with for years. We lived right on the other side of the Périphérique, the ring road that surrounds Paris proper, in a quiet suburban neighborhood (one that was shockingly so for this former Manhattanite). It was a ten to fifteen minute walk back to our flat from the metro, depending on which line we had taken, our moods and the weather. I remember strolling arm in arm on the way home from one of those rare evenings that we had spent in the City - for we were quite poor then - and looking with surprise at all of the apartments lining the boulevard with such strong overhead lights shining out of the windows (something that I still find odd) even in the finest buildings where chandeliers were quick with a wink. The figures inside showed up as distinctly as guests on a television show or figures in a Hopper painting, moving about their evening lives. "Don't they close the curtains?" I asked Remi with a nod upwards. "Eh, no," he responded. "Pourquoi?" Why wouldn't they? "Um, for privacy?" I asked again, my voice pitching upwards on the last word. Remi turned to give me one of those bemused smiles that we would often share in those early days, when the train tracks of our cultures would cross over and then part directions. 

Somehow that memory flooded back to me this evening as I dashed around and then through the puddles, umbrella gripped and my grocery bags pulling down my shoulders. Certainly with the rain, this tiny little village had already retired for the evening and as always, the lights were on and everyone was home. I am still prudish in the American way at such proximity, as if they could feel my stare and perhaps they could if I lingered long enough as so many of the houses hold their kitchens and living rooms on the ground floor, mere steps from the street. But I did pause to catch two separate glimpses both in overly remodeled homes with shiny floor tiles and yes, neon bolts of bright white overhead. In the first, at a house where I often see chalk drawings in the alley out front, I saw a small boy, already in his pyjamas but with a yellow bib still around his neck, seated at straw-thatched chair of children's height, low to the ground. In his hand, he held three cards and regarded them studiously with a tilt to his head as if the answers to all the world were within his grasp. I turned the corner and a few houses down, in one that had been newly rented this summer and where the Mother returned my only attempt at a "Bonjour" with a suspicious raised eyebrow, my glance was caught by a blur of movement. For there in the glow of a blue computer screen, also on a lower level to the floor, danced another boy, slightly older. His longish hair flew as his arms splayed wide, then overhead. He did a soft, unformed ballet leap. How pleased I was to know that happiness did in fact reside where I thought that it did not. 

These moments, seen so closely as if I had been simply remembering, were gathered gratefully as the rain fell down around me in the cover of night's dark.


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As I was editing the above, I suddenly had a palm slap on the forehead of "Aha!" for I recognized and had to give credit where was due as Jaques Tati had already expressed this idea of modern French life on display long ago! Here is a tiny bit of "Playtime" a true favorite in this house, one that extends beyond language but is, as are all of his films (if only he had made more!) a fitting diorama of contemporary culture. 



Yes, you guessed it, in my weird little way, this is my Thanksgiving post. Sending much joy to all of you that will be celebrating it on Thursday...and actually to those of you who will not as well.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Down the rabbit hole


Once I discovered reading, as in really discovered the joys of it, I was a goner. Instantly, my near permanent "new kid" status didn't sting as much because I had entire worlds to explore and so many characters to befriend. That started at when I was around seven or so. We had moved into a big Victorian home (gigantic from a kids point of view) and my bedroom was in the former maid's quarters at the end of the hall near the back stairs to the kitchen. For some reason still unfathomable to me, as I am not nor ever was a princessey kind of girl, I chose pink as the main color theme when it came time to redecorate (this being one of the few rooms in the house that did not have the original wallpaper). Pink it became. And so perhaps it isn't so surprising now, looking back, to see how I took refuge in the cedar-lined closet instead. I would make a little nest out of dirty clothes and with the bare bulb overhead would read until the world around me faded away entirely. My Mom has told me that at times she had to call my name repeatedly before I would "snap to." And I still remember that feeling of being sucked back from wherever I was - walking down the street with David Copperfield - and being washed back up on the shore of that safe, small room within a room, blinking. In reading, sometimes I went so far into the weave of a story that the lines of reality blurred a bit. I was fuzzy on the edges. I would think, "I should call so and so" only to realize that I was thinking about one of the characters. 



That is how I have been feeling for the past few days. A different kind of limbo. I am deep in the pages of a book that many of you have read already (I am not saying which as I don't want anyone to give me even the tiniest suggestion as to what happens) and it is all I can do. Is read. Somehow this story has chained itself to my heart so strongly that I feel like I am carrying the book around with me even when I am not. I get lost and look at the clock and hours have passed. 


That can happen occasionally too with instagram. No, the hours don't pass - I am not that addicted! But I find a certain hum in the scrolling and scrolling with my thumb through peoples days, their lives and adventures. It feels oddly luxurious. I am sharing a few recent photos from my account as they are better suited for the mood that I am in. Less formal, not everything is in focus, which in itself is perfect for Provence, especially at this time of year. Little pieces of in-between or that's me, just down the rabbit hole.



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Another thing that I appreciate about instagram is the swiftness with which information passes, quicker than a tin-can telephone! And so today, when Sara Louise (@cestmoisaralouise) posted a photo of her  canine friend Fifty, I was able to get in on the action. It turns out that if those of us who have adopted dogs post a photo on ig with the adoptee adorned in a red ribbon with the tags @anniemovie and #ImARescueToo, $1 will be donated to the ASPCA. Isn't that amazing? Ps. Something that I learned about him in taking this photo? That he was quite pleased wearing it - which rather surprised me and made me wonder if he didn't wear a bandana around his neck in his "previous" life. Something else that I learned about him later on in the day? Firecrackers truly piss him off. Eh, oui.


For those of you that already follow me on instagram - all 411 of you! Hooray! - I hope that you don't mind the photo repeats in this post too terribly. And for those of you that don't, feel free to join me at @lostinarles...
To everyone? Have a wonderful weekend...