Friday, January 29, 2016

Salutations to the sun



Hello there. I hope that you have a good week, yes? 

I am going into my annual quiet time, where the words start to slip under the covers...


...those of you who have been reading for a while now (merci infiniment!) know that I tend to shift towards the visual as the verbal crosses itself out.



And today was no exception, save for a happy surprise...


...when I opened the shutters with a clank this morning, the sun was bobbing merrily in front of my eyes...


...inviting me out to nose around...


...look deep...


...and let go a little bit.
   


This has been one of the more gloomy winters I have experienced during my ten in Provence...


...and I certainly was not about to let this budding opportunity to give my salutations to this sun slip beyond my breathy grasp.


Of course there were a few "technical difficulties" as I shifted buttons on my camera to switch from dusky greys to sapphire brights...



...but nothing to keep me from remembering this beauty, one that is immortelle...


...enough to make me dance, to make me dizzy, under a sweeping sky.


Have a great weekend everyone.

****

Pour mes lecteurs francophones en Provence:
My lovely friend and talented artist Christine Millerin is about to launch a very special workshop on the subject of "Création textile en méditation" in partnership with Isabelle Nyssen at Ms. Nyssen's Zen Atelier in Arles. Through the use of shiatsu and meditation, one will be able to untie some of the issues from the past all while using textiles to weave together a "relique" fabricated through thoughts and sensations to move forward in harmony. It sounds phenomenal. There are several dates for each three-day workshop:
February 5, 6 and 7th
March 18, 19 and 20
April 15, 16 and 17
Each workshop costs 180 Euros.
For further information, including times and location, please contact Christine at 06 70 76 80 16
or at chrismill@free.fr

*In no way is this sponsored, as always, I am just passing along something that I think might be of interest.  

****

PS. I am having some difficulties with Blogger as of late and mysteriously lost a sizeable amount of members on Google Friend Connect overnight (a number that is more than a possible stampede towards the exit!). Of those of you that are still on Blogger, are any of you also having problems? And for those of you that have made the jump to Wordpress or your own domain do you like it? Was it hard to make the switch? Thanks for your thoughts...

Friday, January 22, 2016

Climbing the staircase - chez Anthony




 Living in France can warp your sense of time and what that does to a person.

Now,  I don't consider myself particularly ageist - I think I have said that before, perhaps recently even. But lately life has been kind to me by inviting friendships into my life with several women who are older than I am, at times considerably so. And I have to say that it has been eye-opening to say the least.

 I see where their knowledge has been accumulated and how perspectives have eventually been sharpened with patience and not bitterness. There is none of that competing elbowing that has driven me towards the more stable companionships of men in the past (well, dogs too but they don't quite merit nosing in here). Phenomenally, these women willingly share their wisdom without weight or preaching or directing. I haven't figured out how that magic trick is pulled off yet but that is just one more secret to look forward to unravelling, one day.

They are utterly themselves and can care openly, benevolently, without second guessing.

Each one is truly beautiful and none of them remotely look their age, although that seems to be more of a bonus of being true than a goal. Inside they are lit with personal cocktails stirred with undimmed curiosity. Imagine a glowing silk thread spinning outwards from the heart in several, specifically cast directions with a calm economy of action. Like that. And that form of willingness has been extended towards me in a way that doesn't judge what I know already or don't know. My experiences are not discarded but taken in, hopefully adding and not subtracting, another step to climb, moving onwards.

I feel incredibly fortunate and am listening. Ok and admittedly am often talking entirely too much. One of my friends reminded me that I am still young at 46; I tend to forget that.

Speaking of a curious nature and an appetite for progression, let's go back to Anthony and his partners wonderful renovation project. After a considerable amount of thought - let's say that of a child from days gone by having to select just one piece from an array of penny candy - I have decided that my very favorite feature of this mid-18th century property is its staircase. Unlike me (or the current me), it is ambitious. 

Well, the family who built it certainly was. For it was not enough that they had one of the grandest hôtel particuliers in this small but then still important village, they absolutely had to have the tallest one too. And so, an additional ceiling was built, raising the roof to a double height in the stairwell, one lined with open windows to catch the Provençal winds and topped with a delicately shaped plafond à la française. You can see very well what shape it is in now...we will have to wait together to see what it will become and the scaffolding is already in place. 

Can you see why this makes me dream? Come with me, let's start from the beginning. At the base of the stairs, I start in near darkness, my hand on the cool iron railing. I tilt my head up and place on foot above the other, drawn by the light, the space and wondering if following my will is endless and painless as well. Up I go, climbing the staircase, until I reach the last floor, then I shakily climb the wooden ladder, nearly vertical, to that extra space, the secret alcove where families inscribed their names after world wars and unforeseen triumphs (or trials, who knows). Turning at last, the world falls from just beyond my feet and I feel the sway of vertigo. There is nothing there and everything and so very much still to learn. I have gone as high as I can go for now...chaque choses en son temps...all in good time. 
















Let's keep going on...


Have a great weekend everyone and thank you for being here...





Monday, January 18, 2016

The optimists garden




I walked out to the garden the other day, just because I missed it so. As I rounded the corner, I was surprised to find it empty. No Francis 1 (who is seriously the spitting image of the late French actor Fernandel) grinning at me crookedly or Francis 2 herding his Irish setter away from the fallen apples, no Olivier hammering away to enforce his raised beds or Clément adjusting his round glasses on his nose while giving me a quick nod.

Rather it was just the plants and the earth; all were sleeping. I felt as if I should tiptoe across the spongy grass for fear of disturbing all that lay still and quiet. The lowering clouds overhead further dulled the sound until it felt as if I were wading into a sea lined in feutre. When I arrived at our plot, I immediately noticed that our gate, which had already been barely hanging together, had given up trying and had sighed its slats down to the ground. No weeds perked up peskily through the layers of compost covered earth. I checked our new plot as well and it too was a blanket swept clean yet devoid of color. I could not even hear the birds sing - they always do, it is a joyful cacophony - and I wondered if I had somehow slipped into a ghostly dimension of someone else's garden.

But here is where I write: "And then the sun came out."

And then the sun came out, sneaking behind the gray, pushing it aside and spilling down all around me. I shook my head, giggling for no one, because there it was again that message that has been chasing me around ceaselessly*: "perspective, perspective, perspective."

For that self-same garden (yes, I realize that for most people there is not really a self there but just ask the Balinese and see what they say) was instantly transformed into the realm of the beautiful. The tiniest details started fighting for my attention, "Over here," "Look at me!" You know how they do. And I noticed that quite a lot of preparation for what was to come had taken place since my last visit. Save for the plot across from ours (whose young owners had their first baby at the end of the summer and so have other things on their minds), each garden had been cleared and primed. Some - notably those of the gents mentioned above - were still producing carefully chosen winter produce that the sun's rays would light up with a spotlight ta-dah.

Unlike our sloppy pile of boards, several new gates had been built - one to resemble the door of a village house with a mail slot and a note asking "No ads please", so eco-friendly, and another - well, this one stopped me in my tracks - that labelled what was inside as Le Jardin de L'Optimiste or...The Optimists Garden.

I looked back to our plot with its sprigs of garlic tops and fanned leeks waiting for their harvest and I realized that each garden could be called the same. For what we are all growing, along with what should be a fair amount of vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers, is nothing short of the blue-winged miracle of hope. At that moment, the birds raced overhead and began to sing.
















Thank you all so very much for your many, many kind comments and emails after my previous post about our recent car accident. I was incredibly moved by them and am truly grateful (and proud) to have such an amazing community here. Merci...

...et gros bisous from Provence,
Heather


*Just a curious little aside: my first instinct was to write that it was a message that "had been chasing me around flaglessly" until spell-check raised a suspicious eyebrow and informed me that it wasn't a word. Perhaps it is all those years of reading Shakespeare (and those of you who have been here for a while know that I don't hesitate to make a word up from time to time) but I am convinced that it is indeed one. Thoughts?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Moi aussi, j'ai besoin de toi




We were laughing, my friend Madame L and I, as the train pulled into the station. The sun had come out as a great gift after we had passed a wonderful afternoon together in Nimes. She had invited me to lunch as a post-Christmas present and we were full and content. Once boarded, I played with a tiny toy dog held in the lap of an impeccably dressed tourist who chatted in Chinese with his partner. The light dashed in and out of the car and so it took a bit of time for me to notice the note finger-drawn on the window across the aisle, "Moi aussi j'ai besoin de toi." A little heart punctuated the sentiment as the scenery whisked by.

Remi picked us up and I was surprised to see that he was driving the BMW instead of our old Saab. "I thought it would be more comfortable for L," he explained. We dropped her off in our tiny village and then headed into Avignon where Remi picked up his repaired computer and wedged it into the back seat. It was dark already and the traffic was heavy with those heading home from work. We were keeping to the speed limit of 70 km/h on the main road, talking about something or other when, at about seven yards ahead of us, a car turned and drove into us head-on.

The movies get the details right. Time did that drunken stretch. I said, "Remi" and then either did or did not say out loud but thought, "Oh my God, we are going to have an accident." And this part I know was silent, "...and it is going to hurt." Then I was lifting my head up from the airbag to see the other car spinning until it was ten yards away facing the opposite direction when another fishtailed, barely missing us and sped on. There was smoke and so Remi said first, "Are you ok?" "Yes." "Get out of the car, now!" And I did but I fell as my bag had been between my feet. I picked it up and then sank into the meridian's triangle of grass as to a found island in the Pacific. I was unhurt. 

Now, this is where things get interesting and why I wanted to tell this story (whether or not I will hit 'publish' is another matter). I looked up to see the other driver, a very young girl, trying to limp in my direction. Her face was a blur of blind fear. And then, Remi was at her side and another man too, we'll call him the military man, for that is who he is. He had been right behind us and used his training to act, immediately. He stopped the traffic and came to the girls aid, helping her down on to the grass and keeping her conscious by asking her questions about her hurts. Out of nowhere appeared a woman who looked so familiar to me, dressed all in black. She immediately knelt down to listen to the military man's instructions and propped the girl upon her bent knees. She consolled her endlessly. And at some point she turned around and saw me. "Were you in the accident too?" I answered thickly, struggling as my French floated to the surface. She gave me one hand to hold while she used the other to comfort the girl, who it turns out had only had her license for a few months,  her first car for three. "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," she told us, "I didn't see you. I didn't see you at all."

Out of the shadows, so many people arrived, "Have you called an ambulance? Is there anything that we can do?" Assured, they would receed. Within minutes, I could hear the sirens wail. I wanted to tell the girl that they were coming but I didn't know her name and was still deep in shock. But I watched as the firemen arrived, a truck and their ambulance, as it works in France. They immediately sped into action to help secure the site, spot lights blazing, but already the military man and Remi had moved the girls car off of the road. The police arrived minutes later, then the municipal police and started their investigation. The military man's wife fetched a beautiful wool throw from their car to wrap around the girl as she was lifted onto a guerney.  She was taken to the hospital and I am happy to report is now at home, with no broken bones but just bruises as her face had smashed into the windshield, this despite that she had a seatbelt on and the airbag released. The impact was that hard.

The clean up crew arrived at the same time as the depanneurs, the tow trucks. Already, the woman in black had started to leave noiselessly but I called to her. Earlier I had asked her, "Are you an angel?" Her response was a slow head shake no. She came back and we held each others hands and locked eyes, "Merci...merci beaucoup." She understood that I meant more than I could say. I would repeat the phrase to the military man and his wife. They had all stayed so long, so selflessly. The firemen and the police were so efficient and present. I also thanked the head fireman, who is a professional, somewhat of a rarity as so many are volunteers in France and told him how impressed I was by how cleanly this had all rolled out and how much willing help I had witnessed. As one final proof, the tow truck driver offered to take Remi and I to a nearby fast-food joint so that we could wait in the warmth for our taxi to take us home. One more thank you to him for doing what hadn't needed to be done.

The next morning, I woke up feeling groggy and with a pain in my shoulders and chest from the airbag. But I looked in the mirror and thought, "I am fine." I couldn't believe it. So much chance (and Remi's quick reaction in turning the car at the last minute) had helped us and the girl. If we had been in the Saab, as we should have originally, then we wouldn't have had airbags and where would we be then? And if I was fine, what did that mean?

Then I remembered that little not so secret love note left on the train window. "Me too, I need you," is how how it translates. Or "I need you too." And I do. All of the kindness that we were shown helped us through something truly frightening. How those words had either shown dark or glowed bright depending on the background of the scenery that whisked by, how delighted L and I were by the simple beauty of them. We are all in this together, we all need each other. That matters, it makes a difference. And we do too.

Moi aussi, j'ai besoin de toi.