Thursday, November 19, 2020

Walking out of Lockdown



It was the simplest of decisions. Instead of turning right, as I always did at the Porte Saint Dominique, I turned left. Within these three years of living in Avignon, I have never walked that particular path lining the 14th century fortified walls. But the light beckoned and if I have held tight to one important rule, it is to follow the light whenever you can. Roll in it, may it heat you, let it stun your eyes.

This second lockdown feels both ambiguously different and yet numbingly the same. But admittedly, having an idea of what to expect has been truly helpful. I know where my pitfalls lie but also how to divert them. While staying very safe, I stretch the laws when needed, just as I pay attention to any back brain whispers before they hurl into tantrum howls. For I can't let myself go back to that first set state, one that scared me (says one experienced with depression). And yes, I had happily begun to claw my way upwards exactly when this quarantine was announced. 

After a few weeks of feeling pitched at sea, I inhaled deeply and dug out my old tool box, which has served me well in days gone by. Within are items that remain a part of my daily routine, such as making gratitude lists. But I have also made a "schedule" of such quintessential tips as "make bed immediately, change out of pyjamas." It is written in black ink with large loopy letters and is displayed prominently. Delightfully, I am rediscovering others that I haven't touched in years, such as three pages worth of journalling in the morning before that Pavlovian reach for my phone. It feels so comforting to write while knowing that no one will ever see my scrawly wanderings, my thundershow doubts. I do well to not think before I put the pen to paper. "Just go, Heather," I tell myself instead. "Go." 

It feels the same on my daily walk. As with the previous quarantine, we are allotted one hour per day and are allowed to stray no farther than one kilometre beyond our habitation (I have personally decided to define that as a radius, which offers innumerable possibilities). Yes, we need to have a signed "attestation" at the ready, although I must say that I do not see police patrols now. None at all. Regardless, I move. In the beginning, I could handle no more than a lumbering stroll. My lungs are still achey from being sick in March, whether it was indeed COVID, or not. But with time, I find that my pace is increasing in spite of my intentions. My feet dance in a straight line. I feel hungry to be outside of my own four walls and while I have no desire to think, it feels so delightful just to see. Just that, to see.

And so back we go to the left-hand turn. The light is at its peak - a dripping honey that edges towards amber. It clings to the cream stone rempart walls, pulling out each crevice, including the mysterious symbols left behind by each stone-cutter as a means to get paid. So much history, resting solidly, darkened only by the shadows of the last-leaved trees and pedestrians stretched out like spaghetti on their meander towards home.

Again, I don't know this territory, not at close range and so every few paces leads to a clip "aha" as well as the occasional pause to pull out my phone. The non-existent "click." I am used to people looking at me questioningly, wondering what on earth I am trying to capture. Later in my walk, an elderly woman bangs the shutter at her windows purposefully as I fixed upon the scrabbled layers of paint on her building. It was as if to say, "Off you go, you have no business here." 

Ah, but you see? I do. I most certainly do. Every single second that I am rooted in the present - not shadow-pulled towards the past or worrying about an impossible future - keeps me sane. Or at least largely so. This is what freedom feels like. Just to walk and breathe. La liberté that no quarantine can steal. My heart beating, drenched in the warm light of autumn, heals me and holds me like nothing else can. 



















On we go. 
My goodness, it is complicated. 
One day at a time.
With Love and infinite Gratitude, 
Stay safe. Be well. Be kind,

Heather


Ps. Well this is a bit odd...a little of one-hand clapping. But. Unfortunately, it makes me rather sad. It would appear that Mailchimp suspended my account without any way to recover it. So it would appear that from several thousands, you, my friends are now in several hundreds at most to get notifications of posts. If I am not mistaken, it seems as though only those of you who have a Google or Blogger account are contacted. If anyone wants to chime in about this, please go ahead.
And better yet, if anyone has truly solid advice as to how to get me onto another platform without losing ten years of posts (I am petrified), I would be happy to listen.

Bisous. xo



Thursday, November 12, 2020

Return to the harvest



"What is this, some not even winter night? When we are all looking at each other with neither surprise or delight? We are holding our own souls tight."

So, where are we? Where am I? Yesterday it helped me enormously to go out and walk to look for the leaves green who don't lie, at least not on purpose.

Just a week before, I was back in the harvest. And that action of bringing something to fruition felt like nothing as simple as hope. One that came unbidden, not forced.

It was at their house. Yes, my friends at La Mas de la Fourbine who saved me more than once before, quite literally, and yet here I was again, back in that bed so soft as to give promise...at least of dreams, for once a restful night.

Back to this bedroom and this joyful family. 

Today, I had a thought of young Juliette demanding during a break, "I like it when you make your legs like that," meaning mine crossed like Buddha and her sitting in the middle that was left. I would love to watch her do that simple manoeuvre of pulling herself up towards me with one hand and a book in the other while trying not to wonder too much what is the beauty to be a Mom. I would correct her quietly, as she sounded out the words but not every time that she made a mistake. Sometimes, it was fine to listen to that otherwise confident voice testing out the sounds, learning in live time. 

During the days, I would pick at the olives so quietly. I was most happy when I was inside the tree.

I would rotate the swampish green fruit between my fingers and marvel at the perfume. Picking without thinking, time rotated from between "until lunch" to "until sunset." And then, we were done. We folded up the nets that had been placed under the trees in the near dark with wispy exhales that reached up towards the cold, stubborn stars. 

I would have stayed another day if there had been more to be done. Another week, another year.

And now those treasures, fought for with a declaration of, "No olive left behind!" (that was me, on the first morning, a bit giddy) will be pressed and strained until they have transformed into something else entirely. A briny, initially spicy, oil. A promise of something that will continue to change and develop over time.

I know that feeling. I know it well.

As there was so little to take this year, R and N relied on their friends to do the picking, a traditional provençal style affair. And I would chat and smile with these strangers, instigating conversations. Curious. Stealing a laugh when I could. How different an experience from when I last participated in 2016, a period when I could barely understand the pain as it ripped through my body, let alone the challenges to come. The trees held me up then. I hid behind my camera. Don't see me. Don't see me, please. My hosts were generous in their carefulness.

Will I always be one, or two days behind of believing again, truly? Sometimes. But not always. In those recent few moments I felt rooted with that balmy earth. I wasn't as desperate for the light of the moon as usual. The sun felt rather good. 

I suppose the point of this story (remembering it once again) is that I am still here. I have grown. And although I am still not able to forsee the possibilities, I can start to feel them coming. Or hear the door creaking on its hinges as if begging for a push. 

That moment with my friends preceeded, directly, the US presidential election. In the joy of the past few days, with the dancing in the streets, it feels like a harvest of another sort has also taken place. How I cried to see humanity...win. Despite what lies ahead. I kind of know where I am, as a person and as a person of the world. My community. My family. And hopefully, there will also be more kindness and love towards my struggling self. 

That one still to be completely refined. May I rest inside those branches in peace. 

May we all, each in our own way.








With Love, always,

Peace and peace and yet again,
Heather, somewhere in Provence



Saturday, October 24, 2020

A toast to ten years

 

It was my favorite kind of moment.

A storm rolled out of nowhere and the rain came pelting down, mere seconds after I tucked myself inside my front door. A little laugh caught in my throat at the joy of it, that escape from being drowned. And yet, the sun was dogged and quickly burst through despite the continuing pour; skies exuberant, clouds la vie en rose. Such is the life in Provence. 

"A toast, " I rallied. "A toast to my good fortune." And so I skipped up the steep steps to my kitchen and opened up a split of champagne that a guest had given me at the hotel. It was, admittedly, something that I had been saving in hopes to share with someone special, for it was a good bottle. But oh, I am learning - and forgetting and learning again - that I am most certainly worth the bubblies, the gifts, the good meals, the love, all just for myself. 

Boots kicked off, I stood in the open doorway and watched the rain battle the sky. But of course the light won. How could it not, while I held champagne in hand? With the coupe just under my ear, I could hear the static of popping, like a shell to the ocean. A car swivelled into a parking spot across the street and the young man stretching out of his car looked at me quickly, then away. "Yes, this is me," I wanted to reassure him, "a bit of an oddball, a bit of a beauty. Me." 

You see, I am talking about that kind of moment. 

When all of the relentless noise and doubt is tamed by hope and breath. 

I had it, tonight.

A week ago, a dear friend called me out for the negative talk that I was casually spewing about myself. I can do that, as a kind of blanket cover (not a shield) when I am feeling self-conscious. That digging to hear, "Oh no, of course not, Heather, don't say that, you are..." But she didn't take the bait. Instead, she pulled me aside and in a tone beyond stern, she vocally shook me: "You have to stop doing this to yourself. It isn't making anything better." Just as the following day she would admonish, "What kind of message do you think that you are giving to women when you say such things?" (i.e. "I am old...I am fat...I am not pretty anymore) "What kind of message are you giving to me?" 

I thought about that on the train home, holding my breath, socially-distanced. Also that these words came from the same person who had surprised me by buying my Birthday lunch, hence, a real friend. Tough love can be true love. Hot tears descend my cheeks as I type. They aren't sad.

What kind of message do I wish to give? To myself? We define ourself by our thoughts expressed. We can release wings or build cell block cages. Which is it to be? 

I now see growth not as that perpendicular ascent that we (certainly we Americans of my age) were taught at school. University then hopefully marriage plus children and career. A home. Cars then better cars. Savings. I have known none of that by name but the first and the second as its own version of something real, until it wasn't. Does that lost love haunt me still? It does. Am I scared by the lack of the rest? Often. I have no net and sometimes I would just like to rest, confident.

Ten years ago to the day, I started this blog because I was truly lost. Then, it was in Arles. After what still remains to be one of the most difficult years of my life. My Dad's death, losing the first house that actually felt like a home, the gallery with it. But you see, despite my fear, I am a fighter. So I started this space as a way of climbing out of the well. Just me writing to me, trying to make sense of all of the emotions that rattled my cage on a daily basis.

But then, you arrived. You know who you are. I cannot name you all. I don't know how most of you found me. Probably through links from lovely women such as Vicki Archer and Sharon Santoni or Ann Mah. It was so fantastic how we supported each other then, as now. 

I know - as they say too - that I have the best reader family. But I truly do. I win! We win. We do. I actually was recently stunned when I was shown statistics proving how loyal you are. And yet not in the least surprised. Because between us, it has always been about what is real. We can't do it any other way together. 

Do you remember when I was so scared to tell you about my separation? When I was convinced that I would lose all of you and yet you ALL stayed? You, my second family, have been through everything with me...or more acutely, we together have been through so much. Such incredible happiness when I shared with you the immense history of Provence, the day to day delights of such a life, the pain, losing Rémi, losing Ben, starting over, beginning dating again and my efforts at building this new life, on my own. For me. 

And with you as well. I know that I am looping in a circle around my learning and my growth. And yet, I feel so held by your love. That loop is, nonetheless, moving in an upward spiral. Can you imagine that? We have never met and yet I love you and you (I believe) love me. My ex did not think that it was possible for me to have real connections and friendships with you. Over and over again, you have proven him wrong. I have slept on your couches when I have had nowhere else to go; I have eaten at your tables.

So while in some ways I feel right back where I was ten years ago in my questioning, I know that is a good thing. It is just another twirl forward. I don't doubt you for one second. And I promise to keep trying to doubt myself less too.

With the last drop of champagne, I toast us for these ten years spent together. Cheers. I raise my glass to the now sapphire sky.

And on we go. 




With all of my Love and Gratitude,

Heather



What dreams are now...what dreams are next?


Monday, September 21, 2020

Two little circles


I have two little circles on the top of my thighs. 

It took me awhile to understand why they were there, like sombre dots in a Seurat painting.

Until I put my fingers to fill their place.

And I realised that I have been holding my body so tightly that this is what it creates.

Bruises. Two dark plum bruises. 

Of fear. Of desperation. Of clinging to my own body so much as a resource of faith.

And I am barely holding on. 

I am so tired.

And yet we do not have that luxury to lay down our heads. Not in the least.

I wonder of my elders, is this the exhaustion of vigilance when we are at war?

And what will it be if we fail?

That question is bitter, overripe on my tongue.

My fear is a pickpocket.

In our ignorance of what we actually can do or not, lies the vaccine that we need.

We are so used to everything being easy. This is not easy. 

Can we look for the answers? 

Can we be our own silent revolution before a violent one strikes?

I rub the taught muscles between my eyes and wonder.

My God, can that tiny sliver of a moon deliver us to where we need to go?



Monday, August 24, 2020

All in the beginning


Hello, here is another word story that I improvised for me, for us. I hope that you will listen:





****
Just a few things in the postscript...

I realise that this is a sentimental post. 
But not only.
Hopefully, you will remember that I do not often let myself revisit such territory.
When I do it is for a reason.
I had a surprising invitation to a pool party yesterday at an outstanding property with welcoming new to me friends. I am not usually able to attend such events and so was all the more delighted that I did. My host, J, mentioned in a mail today, "I like what you said about the singletons. I think marrieds have no way of knowing (or sometimes choose to ignore) how hard life can be in general when you are single, particularly when trying to make a life in a foreign country." Agreed. 
And today in communicating with my Sister (you would all love her so much) about this post I asked, "Can we appreciate who we were and be strong enough to look forward with an open heart?" And she responded, immediately, "I think we can! Maybe the best is yet to come?!"

Yes, Robin. We are always all in the beginning. 






We are all so delicate and so strong at the same time. How can that be?
Yes, of course I wish I didn't always ask so many questions but my questions buoy me. 
Let us keep repeating on what gives us hope. 

With Love and Gratitude from Provence, 
A very tired but still curious 
Heather

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Beauty is and women do...51



How, for this moment, I am happy.

I recorded something last night, yes, one minute into my birthday. It was supposed to be the post in its entirety. I am really loving doing these spoken word moments. I can choose more how to present myself, my voice, momentum. You can find it here and I hope that you will listen:

Heather, a birthday at 51

As I have said before, this experience reminds me of when I was acting, save for that these words are not make-believe, they are mine. I have nothing to hide behind, nor do I want to. And if I am writing more it is because that I hope to express that so much more was behind those random c's and d's and f's. We are not our own failures. ;) Nor our successes. ;) All around there are forces, so strong if only we pay attention.

This year, I have been searching for an interesting man, one to hold my attention and my body, one with whom I could begin to lay a foundation of trust. Someone who would not care so much about my (important) weight gain. As my dear friend L, lightly chided, "Doesn't this take up so much of your time?" I thought about it. 

Breathing hot air into a vacuum. Yes, it does, and as I have written about largely here this year, my personal isolation during the pandemic has marked me more deeply than I could have ever imagined. In blatant honesty, there have been thoughts of "Oh, I might never move beyond this." But...ah...wait...

A few days ago, one of my most benevolent guardian angels sent me a text. She thought it just might be my birthday and so coaxed me from my bed (where I was laying exhausted as work has been hard like a rock but that is another story) as there was a surprise in front of my door. A big bouquet, spiky and original, something that only someone who has paid attention could have offered. 

As it is her building, I climbed the stairs in my nightgown, bouquet in one hand, the other glissing the wooden railing, racoon-eyed with yesterday's makeup. She welcomed me and we spoke. At one point, she gently coaxed me to repeat, "I am OK, " but I only could do so with tears rolling down. Stupid, great salt tears. 

Skip to the day after and the same guardian angel. She was going to host lunch at one of my favorite houses in the world...quite a few of you would recognize it. And she invited me along to swim and eat and laugh. How could I say no?

Her two other invitées are 88 and 89 respectively. And while turnrd out to be a pre-birthday party for me, they were so kind about the fact that they had lived entire lifetimes beyond my tender age. M and A are completely authentic and my guardian angel remains a pinup. After lunch, I splashed and hid in the corner of the pool under the bougainvillea while they spoke of literature and politics, but lightly, lightly. Afterwards, we all fell into a delicious silence. "A" fell into a light doze and none of us teased her for it upon waking. 

Once home, I thanked my angel profusely, but there were still surprises in store for me. 

(I am tempted to stop here, to split this into two posts but no, that is not the point that I want to achieve, so forgive me that this is long.) 

Because, you see, I actually did have a lovely birthday on the day itself, too. 

I have mentioned previously the delicious accumulation of friends in the virtual world that have led to what I consider "real" friendships. It has taken me years to grasp and I am still unravelling it, this delicate cord, silken so strong, between women who have the courage to say, "I love you, I believe in you," even when we have not met in person. 

You do not yet know of Tanur (I give her full name as I intend to speak of her rather fabulous guest house soon here, Les Sardines aux Yeux Bleus) but she is someone with whom I had an immediate connection. I  had told a few people that I was prepared to pass the day alone as I had in previous years. But wonderfully, she was free to join me for lunch at my favorite restaurant Le Violette (which I have written about often, including here). We speak so honestly together, straight to the bone, as if we had known each other for years. The lunch was astonishingly good. It truly was! And to top it off, Corinne, aka Coco (a dear friend) and her lovely assistant Sonia (whom I adore) brought out their perfect dense chocolate cake lit with a candle singing...in English...happee birzday to youuu. At the end of the song, they kissed me through their COVID masks on either side of my head. I made a very specific wish, laughed and was in Heaven. 

When I went to see what we owed, Coco seemed angry. She did that Frenchy thing where she waved her hand in the air in a flutter. "I was going to treat you to lunch but someone beat me to it!" "What do you mean, Coco?" "Bah, this woman called during the rush of the service saying she wanted to buy you lunch!" "Coco, no one knows that I am here. Even my family doesn't. I had said a couple of days ago that I was thinking about it to one person but..." Light bulb moment. She showed me the email. Someone who kept it in mind for days and called the restaurant to offer me lunch on my birthday just in case I was there. Someone who has a million things on her mind and to do list every day. Seriously. Just in typing this, those tears return. Save that this time they are not stupid, they are Love.

Tanur and I did the ritual of digging through the brilliant Collection Lambert. Oh my goodness, the Cy Twombly's. They elicit a gasp out of me every time.  It felt comforting to explore with a fellow creative. I sat on the floor of my favorite installation and for the first time...the neon lava spoke of life's vitality, far more than doom. We parted only when I needed to go because friends at work - all of whom could be my children because they are so young - collaborated to offer me a massage at a local spa. The tiny but very strong girl surprised me and I floated through the streets afterwards, a bit drunk on Zen.

Upon arriving home, I was able to connect with the Leo Trifecta, albeit separately. Yana was at dinner on her first night of a well-deserved vacation. She lives in Greece. I want to live in Greece too, although I have never been there. And yet she wanted to Zoom briefly, and her smile like fire so calm, so present told me, "Yes, you are lucky." She is SO strong. But so is Beth in Chicago; the other corner of our three and when we spoke she was absolutely radiant. I can't hide under that kind of light. 

And so I told her about what I was truly thinking. "All of these amazing women have gone out of their way to treat me with kindness and respect. They know my path, my story and yet they talk to me as equals. Why? Why is X surprising me with lunch? Why are you here?"

I still feel like such a fallen woman. An overweight "ratée" working as a receptionist in a problematic hotel - this despite what I have accomplished before. But where I am currently at is far, far from where I once was. In material means. And Beth didn't hesitate in her response. "We see YOU. We see you for who you are."

Oh. 

Her face was beaming as she said so, half a continent away, so how could I take it as nothing other than the truth?

I am accepted. And I feel held. Not by a man. Although I would not mind that too.

But today I light up this tender heart for these beautiful women. Exceptional women, truly. Guardian angels, successful in a way that I can't imagine in the literal sense, let me love you so. I haven't had many women friends since I have lived in France and now I have them all over the world and they are incredible. I am honored to be a part of your family. It is just that simple. Thank you for being the best gift a girl could wish for..








With the gratitude of the lava that turns the Earth, your friend lost and found,

H.



Monday, July 27, 2020

For sale: a charming home in my Hidden Provence




I love this house. Dearly. I have spent so many moments of joy (and tears too) here with my dear friend Louise and her companion, Wolf. And now, it is for sale! 


It is a real Provençal village house. Large in scope and yet intimate with its lovely and very private walled garden. It has been exceptionally well renovated and the care that was put into that process is evident throughout. 


As with all of the best homes in the region, there is a fluid sense between indoor and outdoor. 


I have never felt anything but "at home" here. How many meals have I taken at the massive stone table (yes, just as at Peter Mayle's original home)? How many nights when I was house-sitting did I stare up at the stars? Many, many indeed. 


And while the home is inherently elegant, this is not the "bling bling" Provence but rather a truly authentic one where you can get to the heart of this beautiful region. Quietly, you will be on the insider track while the hordes overrun St. Rémy. For this is my Hidden Provence. Many of you will remember that phrase. It still rings true.

But let's go inside...there is much to discover.


Directly off the garden is the living room, which is just as delightful in summer with the perfume of jasmine ever-present as it is in winter with a crackling fire in the Renaissance period and delicately carved fireplace. 


The Art Deco tiles are a grounding presence of the open neutrality to the "pierres froides" of the walls. I love the difference in textures, the rough solidity of the ceiling beams. This is a really adaptable space and great for everyday living as well as special moments. I rang in New Year's Day this past January in this wonderful room! 


Under the stone entryway is the condensed kitchen space. I love the patina of the floor! Louise, who is a phenomenal and accomplished cook, has effortlessly whipped up many a feast here.



Shall we go up the central staircase? Past the hall, currently lined with books and used as a small office, there are many delights to be found. 


What do you think the niches in the stone were originally for? Louise uses this charming feature to showcase various bibelots. Were letters stored there? Documents writ in ink? I don't know...let's turn right.


Isn't this room gorgeous? To me this is the elegance of Provence personified. There is even a touch of Paris too with the high-ceiling and covered beams. The light pours in...all year around. 


It is just as spacious as the salon on the ground floor and so very welcoming with its warm wood flooring.


Louise has used this as a formal sitting room and yes, I remember well the very first time I clinked champagne glasses with her here. I could have been a bit over-whelmed but her welcome and that of the house itself put me at ease.

This room could also very easily be used as a bedroom for there is not only amply closet space but also an attached bath...


...leading onto this large suspended terrace. How lovely would it be to take your first coffee of the day here? To say goodnight to the moon at night before going to bed? Again, as you can see, privacy reigns...

But come with me, let's go up the stone stairs once more...


Past the landing a massive wooden door opens up to a "havre de paix"...


I defy you not to sleep well in this bedroom. And this coming from a long-term insomniac! To me, this is a perfect example of a cocoon. 


The wide-plank flooring, the stone, the beams, the light...


And there is a bonus space! One that Louise and Wolf use for storage but it easily has potential to be more...an atelier? To paint? To dream? A special room for naps after too much summer heat? 


Well, this is my fault entirely for not capturing the bath correctly. It is just great and far bigger than it looks. Let's just say that I had a bit of rosé at lunch. For these are the happy times that this house inspires.


Could you put in a small bassin in the garden for dunking? Perhaps. How pretty that could be next to the very unusual and striking "calade" a traditional Provençale stone design. This one happens to be beautiful and rare.


And so where is this haven exactly? Well, I am not telling except for those who are interested! But I will say that, exceptionally for such a small village there is a grocery store, a great butcher shop, day care, grade school, a post office, a pharmacy, a nurse who will come to you and a physiotherapist. 

Those of you who know Provence already will be impressed by that!


Are you seeing stars yet?

Here is Louise's description:

Charming Provençal house in a village minutes from Arles, Avignon and the Alpilles with the TGV train line (2 and a half hours to Paris) at a 15 minutes drive. 130 square metres (1400 square feet). Large reception with Renaissance fireplace. Magnificent staircase leading to bright salon and bedroom with high beamed ceilings. Possibility of second bedroom and attic that could be made into an office or atelier. Southern exposure, large balcony and private walled courtyard. Equipped kitchen. Master bathroom, WC/laundry room. A haven of peace for lovers of old stone. 285,000 euros 

If you are interested, please feel free to contact Louise directly at: dowll8@yahoo.ca. She is Canadian and so, speaks both English and French. Plus, she is just a lovely human being.

And if you feel more comfortable contacting me, that's fine too. I know and love this house so well. And just to be clear...I am sharing this with you because I believe in it. I will get nothing out of this beyond the hope that I am helping one of you find their dream home. :) 


With so much Love and Gratitude from this beautiful Provence,
Be well. Be safe. Be kind.

Heather