Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Haunted, 3

"There's a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are.

None may teach it anything,
'Tis the seal, despair,-
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air.

When it comes, the landscape listens,
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, 't is like the distance
On the look of death." 

--Emily Dickinson

I thought of this poem today. I can't remember if I have posted on it before but it is one of my favorites and seemed appropriate for the last of the Haunted series. Tomorrow evening I will board my flight back to France after such a wonderful, happy time. It passed in the blink of an eye as I knew it would. Now it is the beginning of the in-between time when I am not quite here nor there. I'll hold my heart tight as the light shines from between my fingers, waiting to see where I will be on the other side of the dawn.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Haunted, 2

Hello everyone, I am delighted to announce that I have my first guest post ever up today on the exceptional blog, From The Right Bank. Ally is one of those people with whom I just clicked. We share quite a bit in common--we are both nomads who have spent time living overseas and live for travel. She also has an insatiable curiosity (regarding more fields than her already encompassing blog can show) and appreciates putting her creativity to use wherever she can. It is a true thrill to have been asked to participate in her "Living La Belle Vie" series and I hope that you will enjoy it. 

Thanks to all of your interest for the first in my Haunted posts. The photos continue below with an entirely different subject matter as I am really fascinated by the culture shift during my visit back to the States! 

I stare at the photos of these old stones blinkingly. The quiet reverberating inwards, secrets held as tight as an embrace or a throttling, your choice. It couldn't be more different than my current environment. 

I love the "joyful noise" of the United States. My fingers hover above the keys while I take in the sounds coming at me from all sides. 

I am nowhere special. Just at a coffee shop during the lunch rush on any old Monday. So few people are alone. A Mom and son sit across from me, heads nodded together in complicity. A newish couple behind me flirting: "You're hi-lar-ious" he just punches out into the sky, drawing out the syllables until she smiles unwillingly. Just beyond two co-workers, one shy enough that she laughs into her palm with a "Woowoowoo" like a cartoon ghost, her companion reacts with a hair shake and a whinny.

I know that everyone can't be happy but it certainly seems that way. I love the volley of volume. The unselfconscious clink of silverware. Or even determined tapping of a silver spoon on the side of a mug in time as someone chases after lost thoughts. The staff enquiring earnestly "How are you doing today?" or "Do you have everything you need there?" without the least bit of cynicism. I had to do a double take.

Hands flutter in delicate gestures, drawing glasses to lips. "Do you want to try this? It's very good," I hear over and over again. As well as a chorus of polite "I'm sorry"'s at the pile up at the trash can. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Sheepishly. 

It is President's Day (can you imagine a president's day in France where we don't even cheer for the current leader on Bastille Day as he parades down the Champs Élysées?) so there are families crowded around small tables pushed unevenly together. Little squeaks of asking followed by patient explaining. Hiccups of giggling.

It is now nearly 2 pm so the voices have lowered into a post-repas lullaby. Sentences no longer leap for my attention. I can feel a pull at my back and look behind to see a braided ten-year old using Ben's velvet  painting eyes on me while sucking on a straw, immobilized. I wonder what it is that she sees in me or is she just lost in thought? Funnily enough, I find enough space around the sound. Wide-open spaces, like America.

My attention snaps back to the screen and these old stones are still there, in that haunted abandoned village far away. It must be night now with the time difference. No light but the stars, no sound but the wind.

How different, how unchanging. I will walk back soon to my Mom's apartment, wrapping my pashmina around my neck with each step, rearranging it while waiting at the light. I will most likely be the only person not driving as I was on the way here.  I'll keep an eye out for the cardinal that lives in the tree outside her front door. Weeks from now, I'll remember the bell-ringing "all-righty"'s and "You have a nice day now" as I walk around the Roman Arena in silence, utter silence knowing one is not better than the next, just different and unchanging.

Monday, February 20, 2012


High above the sleeping lavender fields lies the remains of a village I will not name. 

Odd of me, I know and not terribly professional but so be it. Up we climbed, as always with Ben, our Golden, running back to me with impatience. Come on, time to discover. Hurry up to find.

The village had been abandoned long ago. And I mean really abandoned as in "take the last ball of yarn" not the semi-recluse yet nonetheless charming villages that I have visited before. 

And yet, oddly, it felt alive. Very present. The simple beauty of the church, the force of the vines pushing through the house's foundations as if they were holding the walls in place for their owners to come back.

The texture of the stone was exceptional, fascinating. All of those many nicks by hand. Fitting into each other long after the mortar had evaporated. Worn away by a trilling wind.

I began taking photos like mad.

And yet a wave of cold washed over me. Stopped me in my tracks. I raised my head and looked out over the horizon. The farthest hills had turned black with the snow clouds rumbling. Could it be just the temperature falling?

Remi was working, Ben was with him. I felt so drawn to this place, almost euphoric at times but then again, that chill would come out of nowhere.

Mysterious arches led to deep tunnels in the ground, I did not dare see where they went. I scampered up higher where the sun shone brighter. Remi was there and he met my gaze questioningly but said nothing.

In a clearing a large tree raised its branches like proud crows wings and the edges were tipped in the red of new growth. A glowing red. A circle of carefully laid stones was in front of its trunk. Something wasn't right.

I crossed behind the church towards one of the outer buildings. I heard a deep rustle from within the buildings shell. Louder than a small animal rustle and yet there are no large animals in these parts. "Remi?" I called out, moving quickly away.

I found him with Ben and I don't remember who asked it but we both quickly agreed. Haunted. The sun was diving fast as we found the cemetery. I didn't dare go in. Remi did. There were only three graves and it made the hair stand up on the back of his neck. And I think it goes without saying that he is not a man that spooks easily.

Still I felt within me a pull to stay even while I felt a stronger need to get off that mountain before the sun set. We did. Its beauty was undeniable and the light otherworldly. I will spread my frantic photos out over a few posts. 

Oh and the reason why I won't tell you the name? Not because it is haunted, I realize that is up for debate. But as we came down from the village, I saw a sign that I had somehow missed in my initial excitement: "Proprieté Privé, Acces Interdit, Danger".  Private property, no access allowed, danger.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sunshine in a suitcase

Out of the frying pan and into the fire! That is me as I am taking a plane to the States just as it is starting to finally warm up here in Arles. But what care I? Bring on the snow! Blizzards even! Nothing can dampen my utter joy at the prospect of seeing my Mom and Sister after far too long. For those of us living overseas,   such a distance is a choice that can be the most difficult to deal with, even if we have loving families in France. But how wonderful to close that gap even just for a few days, not to mention soak up a much needed dose of Americana.

I love that at this time of year in France, it is considered absolutely permissible, even advisable to eat well during the winter cold. "Bah, there is no point in starting a diet right now!" advised the ever kind red-head at the dry-cleaners. "We need..." and she made a symbol signifying a big belly. Ah, oui. So to keep your spirits up, here is a bit of sun--and you can even dip carrots in it! Healthy, right? We have all had hummus up to the gills so this is a slightly, um, heartier variation. I'll be taking this recipe with me as a bit of sunshine in my suitcase.

Mediterranean White Bean Spread

Large can of your favorite white beans
3 1/2 spoons of Tahini
2 spoons of sesame oil
7 spoons of olive oil
juice from a large lemon
4 pieces of softened sun-dried tomatoes
copious amounts of herbs de Provence
salt and pepper to taste

It doesn't take a genius. Rince the cooked beans, add the tahini in a food processor. Mix. Do the same with the rest of the ingredients, mixing each time you add sometime you add something new. Spices to taste et voila! This is for a huge jumbo portion, either suitable for taking to an apéro or it will last in the fridge for up to four days.

I am hoping to be posting while I am gone and have some ready to go. Hope that you will travel with me!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Details of Sisteron via Cupidon

It might be best if I leave St. Valentine's Day alone. Not that I am bitter, my no. True, there were many that I spent single in NYC, some while waiting tables on couples that were frankly a little too eager to have the perfect evening. Even as a child in chilly Mid-western classrooms, I wasn't the one that would receive valentines, although I would collect those candy hearts and make up stories in my head. 

Actually one of the best memories I have for this particular holiday is that of me marching (literally) across midtown Manhattan during a blizzard to Tiffany's. Yes, you read right. What I thought I would find there I didn't know. My funds were quite feeble. And yet Tiffany's never disappoints. 

As someone who has spent her fair time at the altar of Audrey Hepburn, I should probably blush at the obvious reference but I certainly didn't then. Like Holly GoLightly, I would often stroll around the quiet of the store when well enough dressed to do so, just to peer into the cases and feel the curious glances of the salesclerks from behind their upholstered perches.

I actually did find something that day. An Elsa Peretti pendant on the thinnest silver chain. A square rectangle with an indent the size of a thumb print. One that I would later pass over and over again like a rosary to keep my courage high. I couldn't really afford it but then again, I couldn't really afford not to. Not on that day.

Not all of us fit in to just the right places at just the right time. I felt that also while walking around Sisteron not long ago. What is appreciated, what is put by the wayside? As I mentioned recently, Remi and I spent a few days in the northern Luberon with Sisteron as our base. The town is for many just the first break of sunshine after a long journey from the North. It surprised me to see that so little of its Centre Historique had been renovated and yet how incredible to see the swaths of time untouched.

The gorgeously sculpted door in the first photo is absolutely the most beautiful that I have ever seen in Provence. And just about anywhere, I would garner. And yet it is the entry to an unremarkable building, forgotten perhaps save for the carving at its entry that is too beautiful to not be remarked upon. The bombshell of Sisteron, so to speak.

There is beauty all around us. Sometimes someone sees it and appreciates it for what it is, whether it is perfect or no. Today, I am sending out my best to the single women and men who happen to read this blog. I can never begin to understand the timing of the world and yet today is just a holiday. Celebrate it as you see fit.

As for me, well Remi and I did find each other, both of us carrying all of the patina of the last door. It is never easy nor a fairy tale. I am grateful for him and Ben and the rest of my family everyday. And not just on St. Valentine's. 

Love is love.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


I am not a photographer. I know this because I saw something of a terrible beauty tonight and yet I could not lift my camera from around my neck.

As some of you might be painfully aware, Europe has been hit with a cold snap. One that neither humans nor nature knows on a regular basis in this corner of Provence. Tonight, Remi wanted to take a drive in the Camargue, the immense swampy region and regional park to the south of Arles. It is austere under the best of conditions, I would have thought that we would be alone, as the temperatures had taken a dive to -12°C and yet no. The tiny back roads surrounding the Etang de Vaccares were as full as a Sunday in July, save that nearly every car had pulled over to take a photo of the frozen water (either an enormous pond or small lake depending on your opinion) as it was the first time that it had been frozen over since 1985. 

I wish that the ice, stopped as waves lining the shore, was the only issue. However, we spoke to a park ranger who had collected in the trunk of his car ten flamant roses or flamingos that had frozen. While we spoke, one flew over my head and perched nearby in a tiny pool where the ice had not yet taken its hold. My empathy got caught in my throat.

In parting we saw a flutter of pink at the side of the swamps. A flamingo wing. It was perfect in its shape and color, glowing against the faded background of the winter reeds. A supremely delicate contrast. And yet I couldn't capture it, too saddened by all we can't control and how little most of us do to protect our planet when we can...