Friday, October 31, 2014

A ghost story

I believe in ghosts because I have seen them. Well, one actually, the same night after night. He would wake me up, hovering over my bead. Pale skin, dark black hair and beard, a mark on his cheek, shiny teeth, menacing. My screaming would wake my Mom, who would come in running and he would be gone. And suddenly that little room under the eaves would be returned to me but it is little surprise that I developed first a fear of sleeping alone and then chronic insomnia. It was as if he was trying to get at me but couldn't quite break through and whatever it was that he was trying to communicate was not pleasant. It still makes my blood run cold to think of that face from a past without time.

My Mom, feet firmly rooted in the ground, did not believe me. Even though it happened repeatedly. My Sister thought that she saw him once but eventually, finally, he left me alone and the idea was abandoned. As I was as fanciful then as I am now, it was agreed that I had just been dreaming although I knew that wasn't the truth. Not that many times in a row, always the same and absolutely, undeniably "real."

And then one night, years later, my Mom was home alone and getting ready for bed. We, the kids, had already moved on, my Dad was out of town on a business trip. Just as she was slipping under the covers, she heard two people having a conversation. Just a normal, back and forth conversation but it was far out in the country...but our house was on the road so maybe someone's car had broken down? And yet it continued long enough to make her curious. She woke up our two Great Danes and took them with her downstairs. And it was there that she realized that the voices were coming from the living room, inside the house.

She had no choice but to advance, to know what was going on...for her own safety. The calm conversation continued, back and forth, back and forth as she inched her way forward through the kitchen in the dark. She reached just beyond the living room wall to flip on the lights and...silence. The room was empty. End of the conversation. For years afterwards she could remember what had been the subject of that discussion but now both she and I have forgotten. It is interesting what the mind can hold and cannot.

True story.

It turns out that the house had a hidden trap in the stairway leading up to my Sister's and my bedrooms and that the house had been used as part of the Underground Railroad. Even my Dad only went down to explore that cellar once in all of the years that they owned that horse farm and never again.

I have more stories. Anyone who lives in these ancient houses in France (our first house in Arles had Roman stone blocks in its foundations) knows that we share them, that we aren't alone. But that is enough for today, I think.

Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

No filter - Arles

Last week, Remi had a lunch meeting in Arles so I invited myself along. Not for the lunch itself - of which I partook before leaving the house - but for the ride back into the amazing town that we lived in from 2005 until last July

It was, surprisingly, whip winded cold due to the arrival of the Mistral. Still, I was delighted, as nothing wipes the sky clean like those head-rocking gales.

Everything is illuminated. The light comes in like a side-winder and then pulls back with a long scrape so every last detail is in relief

I know Arles so well that on instagram recently, one of my friends there posted a photo of a closed shutter against a pink wall and I knew exactly where it was located.

Because I have had enough time to go off the beaten path...

...until even that has become familiar.

But here is the thing. Blame it on the Mistral but I felt that my eyes had been wiped clean too.

Those filters in my head of, "Oh, that is too touristy..." "I can't photograph the Roman Arena all the time..." "that is too obvious a shot..." "I have already taken that before..."

...were just...gone.

And so I walked around, giddy with my camera cupped in my hands...

...feeling like a greedy monster grabbing at all that I could.

"Gobble, Gobble," she said and it ain't even Thanksgiving...yet.

But I am giving thanks. 

For the light, for the monuments, for all of those years...

...of being able to take in such beauty, both ephemeral and yet utterly enduring, everyday.

It was - and is - such an incredible gift. A light to a light.

Did I find myself missing Arles? I did. And I do. I know. But I have already established that I am a sentimental fool with my heart in many places. So that, is that. 

And the (hopefully) good news? That hunger that comes after a long sleep made me snap and snap and snap. You would have thought that it was my final visit to that old town and not just a random opportunity. So I have many, many posts-worth of photos for you. The bad news? My dear little Canon G12 started acting up that day (in revolt?) and is now not working at all despite my desperate shufflings through the manual. Eeee. To be continued...

Friday, October 24, 2014

Looking for autumn

Somehow, the dogs have figured out the concept of le weekend. I don't know how or why but for the past few Saturday mornings, they have decided that a special treat was in order and it wasn't me. So, when it was time for their walk, they would go to Remi and bark at him pointedly until he had no choice but to take them. 

Now, usually I am grateful for the break. As I have said Kipling is a true handful, especially as our little village is home to so many cats. But last week, the sun was shining, it was warm and perfect, so at the last minute I answered Remi's offer to join him with a yes. "But I am not responsible for them, you are."..."Absolutely," he agreed. I ran upstairs to grab my camera and we set off. Our version of a rambling family.

As Remi is (an exceptionally talented) professional photographer, I couldn't ask for a more patient and helpful hiking companion. He waits when I fall too far behind  - Ben does too - and gives me tips on how to shoot in manual when he thinks that I might actually listen to him for once. Soon, I was down the rabbit hole of the lens and lost in the looking. The walk was the same that we had taken several times before moving here and the landscape was a part of the package deal charm. It still sells me every time.

Once we were far enough away from the village, Remi let Kipling off the leash and let him run, something that I never do and hence his preference for walks with le maître and not la maîtress. Why my hesitation? Because there is always a moment when the hunter in Kip takes over and he bounds away like a gazelle, heedless to our calls. But he will - eventually - come back to Remi. So why did I continue to holler after our wild furry friend? Remi was in control, that was the deal. And yet..."C'est plus fort que moi!" When I worry, I can't help myself. Eh, oui. After agreeing that this is something that I need to work on, I headed back to my task at hand, looking for autumn.

Now, I got the memo on instagram. It was the week where everyone was supposed to take a photo of their feet (sporting very cool shoes equals bonus likes) pointing towards a spread of orange, red and yellow leaves (more bonus likes for all three in one shot). But this year, the weather is just not co-operating. So far, we are in the midst of autumn dressed down in green with the temperatures that will only prolong un été indien. I kept on searching with each footfall and with the rare exception - which was immediately met with a photographic pounce - in vain. Tant pis...

...and tant mieux. It was a wonderful walk. It just goes to show, sometimes a little flexibility does a person good.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


"So what do we think it is that dreams actually do?" This is the reason that after thirteen years of being together, Remi and I never run out of conversation. We can and do talk about anything. This morning, as I was hovering over a cup of Lady Grey that just wasn't cutting it, dreams were on the menu. For if I was run ragged it was because my night had been especially long with a non-stop film of them looping through my head. And they are indeed like movies, my dreams. They are utterly realistic and hold such nuances in color, sound and details that I don't ever pop out of them save on the very rare occasion when I stop to think, "Wow, good job brain." When I do wake in the middle of the night - and I often do - at times I have to pull myself out of the grip of those images by telling myself where I actually am, my current age, that Remi is sleeping next to me, that everything is ok. In the mornings, I count on the sun to burn off their last dregs as it does the dew. If I have had cauchemars or nightmares, that process can dawdle into the afternoon.

And yet my dreams are rarely fantastical, nor - save for a period a few years back when my teeth kept falling out in them - are they particularly symbol laden. Remi is hardly ever present, something I account to our spending an inordinate amount of time together during our waking hours. But they do tend to go in cycles where I am in participating in the same event or environment (and sometimes a lot of ground can be covered within one neighborhood) for several weeks straight. Lately, it has been within the offices of the luxury hotels that I worked at between acting jobs in Manhattan, previously it was on the grounds of my alma mater, the Yale School of Drama. All of the characters involved, including myself, are busy and the interactions complex. I wonder what these people, all of whom I haven't been in contact with in twenty years or more, would think if they knew that they were popping into my head on a nearly nightly basis, these strangers that aren't so strange. At times my Dad, who passed away five years ago, is present but rarely in a way that seems to have a specific meaning or connection. The only thing that can be exaggerated is my emotional life. Recently, anger has been coming into play, an element that I am aware deserves both recognition and attention (thank you, Mr. Jung). 

Remi, it turns out, is not only a lucid dreamer but is able to shape the form of his dreams. Leonard, my Mom's Husband, has such extraordinary adventures as to make us gasp with surprised laughter when he retells them. I know that we all are different and I don't wish to be obsessed by dreams despite their hold on me. There is character in the evocative Wim Wender's film "Until the End of the World" who, thanks to science, is able to see video taped versions of the nights previous events and is nearly driven mad by it. But I am fascinated by them and have a grateful respect for their purpose, even if I can't begin to answer my own question as to what that might be.

I stumbled upon this interesting article from Scientific American : here.
Plus Wiki definitions here and here.

From the "Until the End of the World" soundtrack, Jane Siberry and K.D. Lang's utterly magnificent "Calling all Angels": 

And what about your dreams? I rarely turn the tables but so many of you have been extremely generous in your comments lately that I am curious...

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sometimes simple, Part two

I can hear my neighbor, Michel, clipping flowers across our steps-wide street. He is slow and methodical in his movements and yet is never pretentious about his plants despite their beauty. He is retired now after having worked for years as a coiffeur in England and when he first moved to this village many years ago they called him "L'Anglais" despite his being very much French. His first attempts at potting flowers were met with secret scorn as was his arrival. He would wake to find petals ripped from their stems or poisoned roses.

Le méfiance is still present, running like an underground current, although happily there are now so many "foreigners" who live here that they are no longer mistreated. But I can feel that Remi and I are being watched to see how we will behave, if  we will offer a "Bonjour" or not, whether we will be respectful of keeping noise to a minimum (we are) and if our dogs will be a nuisance (Kipling, occasionally).  I don't mind it actually. It seems something of a normal reaction in such a particularly delineated space where families have been rooted for generations and the neighbors are never anonymous.

It is definitely a change after Arles where it took years to be identified or recognized even in my neighborhood. So many people would come and go throughout the day but not so, here. I can identify the time not only by the tolling church bells but also by the man who drives by with the dog that barks in the backseat or the boy who runs home from school everyday at lunchtime. "How are you settling in? Do you like the house?" the mailman asked this morning in between casual drags on an Indian cheroot. I told him that I did and how I was appreciating the quiet after having lived in Arles. "Ah, if that is what you are looking for, then this is the place for you," he responded before pushing his cart down the lane.

Downshift, downshift, downshift. Manhattan, Paris, Arles and now this old village. At times the lack of sound pools around me like a grandpa sweater, at others it feels as tight as a leather glove against my skin. It is just a change to get used to, even if a positive one and yes, sometimes simple is best. But now that I am settling in to this new house, I have inklings that even that word is just a label, another question of perspective. What I see and feel remains complex no matter the backdrop. And that is just fine by me. It's all good, really good. For now, as the dust of new continues to settle, I can always count on the reliable gifts of the golden tick of the light and beauty's swan sway as compasses instead.

Have a great weekend everyone...

PS. The wonderful La Contessa just wrote about meeting a special blog friend while she was in Paris recently.  Ellie is an American expat married to a Frenchman who writes at Have Some Decorum. Most of us know how fantastic such meetings can be and this was no exception. La Contessa encouraged us all to take a look at her writings. Well, I have to pass on the word because I am crazy for her blog. As in I just might need to go back and read every post she has written, verging on stalker crazy for her blog. She tells amazing stories, is hysterically funny, smart as a whip, has phenomenal taste...and has ALS disease. It certainly doesn't define her or her relationships but it also means that she has decided to tell it exactly how she sees it without mincing words. I find her and her writing incredibly inspiring not to mention just really fun and you might too. You can find her blog by clicking:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

You will return

Remi had something that he wanted me to see. I was beyond jet-lagged as it was only the first full evening after my return from the States, so we walked slowly as we headed towards the edge of the village and into the orchards beyond.

I felt as if I was floating under the rising moon when all I wanted was to feel grounded. I threaded my arm through Remi's and leaned in.

"Eh voila," Remi announced with a wave of his hand. In front of us was a scraggly patch of terrain that clearly hadn't been cultivated in years. One lone cherry tomato popped up bravely from the weeds, waving like a flag that had refused to surrender. is ours to care for now. While I was away, Remi went to local gardening association's yearly meeting to see if it would be possible for us to become members (at the behest of our guardian angel, Mr. W). There had been a waiting list for the past four years but as luck would have it, there was a plot available. For only 20 Euros a year ($25 US), we could have a garden.

Photo courtesy of Rémi Bénali

Remi wasted no time in the waning light and immediately set claim by delineating our land from our neighbors. I watched in wonder at his energy in my zapped state, shaking my head at the size of the task in front of us.

As the mosquitos made their nightly entrance, I persuaded Remi to drop his hoe and head back. He paused at the outer-reaches of the gardens to pick wild grapes that were nearly covered in bramble and yet still held such sweetness. "No one knows who this land belongs can't be farmed." I tried to cast about in the twilight for imaginary shadow figures of past owners - those who had planted and raised these vines - without success.

"I will be back in time for lunch," Remi called out joyfully the next morning as he closed the gate behind him, garden-bound. "I'll see you then, good luck!" I returned. The hours passed and yet still no Remi, no word. Finally, he answered his cell phone, his voice weak with thirst. It was time for reinforcements.

When I arrived, the entire plot had been cleared. Remi had done the grunt work and then the soil was turned by Francis, who waved off Remi's offer to thank him with a bottle of wine after he had worked miracles with a rototiller. "We help each other out," Mr. W explained. "As it gets hot in le midi, we will water each others gardens when they need it, things like know, it is just how it is done here." 

I was introduced to everyone and then poured rounds of cold rosé, a perfect way to toast the end of the first day of work. Remi made a ham and cornichon sandwich and munched on it silently with dirt covered hands. 

I spread my skirt out on the grass and looked around for treasures in the surrounding plot, still untouched. The rosé warmed my cheeks as the sun patted the top of my head. I felt present, happy and calm.

The earth is rich, soft and surprisingly springy underfoot. There is a steady water supply, readily available. And now it is up to us to make something grow. To return the land to what it once was.

Will we have gardens as impressive as those created by les professionnels, as they are half-jokingly called?

Oh goodness, I doubt it and certainly not at first. We have made a point of letting everyone know that this is an entirely new experience for us both and that if we truly don't have les mains vertes or even a green thumb then we will turn the plot over to more deserving patrons.

But it will be wonderful to learn, to try. The tomatoes and beets that our new neighbors have given us are the only encouragement that we need as they taste like the food of my youth, long since forgotten. Soon, we will layer the compost to make the land rich and then let it sleep for the winter. The laying of seeds before the seeds and then the real adventure will begin.

Today's post is my contribution to the monthly international blog get-together "By Invitation Only" which is hosted by the lovely Marsha at Splenderosa. The theme for October is: "What can you not live without for autumn?" For me, fall is all about discovery. Perhaps it is due to all of those years of living in Manhattan (New art openings! New Broadway shows!) or the joy in France of eating new dishes (Choucroute! Cassoulet!)...but while some might think of autumn as a time of getting ready to shut down, I think of it as a time to store up; to prepare for the winter ahead through the amazing gift of diving into the unknown. And that is what our new garden will most certainly give us. Wish us luck!

The title for this post was taken from a really wonderful song by Quantic featuring the ever-soulful Alice Russel:

To find out what the other contributor's have to say on this topic by all means don't hesitate and please do click: Here.

With my Best from Provence,

PS. Remi sends heartfelt thanks to all of you that sent along birthday wishes! That was very kind. :) And I have been told that some of you are having trouble leaving comments. I am looking into it but as always feel free to send me an email instead at robinsonheather (at)