Monday, December 29, 2014

A Sunday concert in the countryside of Provence




"Nous sommes en Provence et on est fier d'y être!" the Mayor of Saint-Pierre-de Mézoargues declared with pride in front of the audience that had packed into the tiny village church. His arms were thrown open wide and his comment was met with hearty applause. "Yes," I thought in agreement, "we most certainly are in Provence...and I am proud to be here."



It is something that I am still understanding, even after these many months of having moved out of the wonderful town of Arles. Finally, I live in Provence. That recognition comes in waves of feeling or bright little sparks, such as in finding myself at a free local concert filled with bonhomie.


I couldn't have guessed that so many people would turn out on a Sunday afternoon to hear four local youths play...the accordion...


...and yet every seat was taken. Our friends, the elegant Ms. L and Mr. W were surrounded when I arrived. Late-comers genuflected briefly before shuffling towards what space they could find. I took a seat - carved out of wood with a cane bottom and most certainly made in the area - at the very back of the chapel and listened to three elderly women as their voices overlapped with the gossip that each doled out with marked emphasis, as well as to the singsong hubbub of the crowd.


A giant crèche had been installed in one of the naves, clearly done with love and skill...


...and yet the well-worn hymnals would lie untouched in their alcoves. For the program, selected by the two young men and ladies forming the group, each seeming to be not more than eighteen, was not at all of a Christmasy nature.


Instead, they proposed a voyage around the world through famous songs and pieces, from Bach to Piazzolla, all played on the punch and roll of the accordion. I could practically hear the audience smiling with delight as the concert advanced and watched as a pair of pint-sized sparkly boots, dangling down from the mezzanine overhead, thumped in time.


The players were composed and deft. They knew, instinctively or not, what so many had truly gathered to hear and when one of the young women rose to sing Edith Piaf's "Hymn à l'Amour," we collectively held our breath as she reached out longingly towards monumental aspirations of love that she couldn't possibly fully understand at the tender age of fifteen.


At the end of the final tango, the audience rose to their feet, applauding in time and then erupting in chants of "Edith Piaf! Edith Piaf!" until the quartet appeased their wishes with yet another song originated by La Môme. Arms were draped around shoulders of loved ones and soon the audience began to sway, then sing along, softly, reverently for a France that was and still is. Their voices echoed against the stones after the last note. My heart was brimming. "Je suis en Provence et je suis fiere d'y être."


For this final post of the year, I leave you with a song, the very one which the lovely young woman to be sang with such simplicity during that Sunday concert in the countryside of Provence:


With all my Very Best to you as we bow out of 2014 with a regard of attentive hope towards the New Year,
Heather


PS. Remi kindly pointed out that I hadn't included a photo with the musicians. That has been taken care of and hence the update...

Thursday, December 25, 2014

From our house to yours...



...Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas! And a belated Happy Hanukkah too...

Our big evening was last night, as is traditional in France. Amazingly, for the first time in the thirteen years that we have lived together, we found a turkey, une dinde, for our Christmas dinner. Remi cooked it, in his own unique way. The stuffing had meat, chestnuts and grand marnier in it along with so many delicate spices...the same that he used to make a crunchy brown crust for the turkey skin. I didn't have to do anything besides bougie patrol...and there were nearly thirty candles lit on the main floor alone. Instead of carols, we listened to Miles Davis and sipped white wine that we had bought earlier in the day from our favorite winery near Uzès. The Baccarat crystal goblets were clinked repeatedly and it was just the most lovely and love-filled evening.

That same spirit drifted into this morning, where bisous and wishes of Joyeux Noêl were exchanged just after having opened our eyes from slumber. We managed to surprise each other with our presents, a delight, as were those that came from family and friends. And then, pour se mettre en appétit, or to work up an appetite, we took a long walk with the dogs in the sun. Ben padded along at our side and Kipling ran amuk, as per usual. And it worked. We have popped a bottle of crémant and Remi is now  cooking again, a seafood cassoulet - one of his specialties - stuffed with crab, shrimp, petoncles (think tiny scallops) and cod all cooked in a creamy white wine sauce within their own individual pots. If we can, we will taste a bit more of the triple cream Brillat-Savarin with summer truffles then the buche de Noêl for dessert! While other families will go exploring this afternoon, we are planning to stay home, quiet and cozy and content. After what has been, at times, a challenging albeit fascinating year, it feels so incredibly wonderful just to be at peace. 

I hope that wherever you are that you are finally able to relax and take in the joy of the season. You all have been a wonderful gift to me this year and I am so grateful for your kindness, support and shared laughter...

Sending much Love and Good Will from Provence,
Heather

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.

****

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.

****

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.


****

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!