Friday, May 29, 2015

Better than bijoux, part deux takes a village.

Remi has been gone for the past week and so I have been holding down the fort by myself along with the puppers. Except that I haven't been alone and certainly not lonely.

For while, when I lived in Paris or Arles and this same situation would occur, I would initially be showered with various invitations that would only be followed up with unapologetic "So how did your week(s) go?" afterwards. Not so in this tiny Provençal village.

Here, I was immediately invited over to a lovely tea in a jasmine lined courtyard, given rides to public transportation so that I could get to two of my guided walks, taken to a resplendent flower show and spoiled with a very fine lunch of pastilla and fresh mint tea. All of it in great company. 

The relatively few people that I know took the task of making sure that I was well quite seriously and yet did it with such gracious ease that I never felt like I was being a burden. It made me feel a part of this little community as did my daily salutations from my fellow gardeners. When you have moved around as much as I have in life, that is not a little feat. 

And yet I was left wondering...Isn't this how it should always be? Or has such consideration fallen widely into the derogatory sense of "old-fashioned"? I have a hunch that it comes down to a question of time - which tends to swing slowly in these parts - and priorities.

Regardless, I am left holding one certainty in the palm of my hand. It is carved with the word "kindness" and yes, that is something that is most certainly better than bijoux.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone. May wonderful things bloom for you...

PS. I hope that those of you who left comments on my previous post will pardon my not responding individually as I usually do. The Mistral winds finally stopped after 16 days straight - sixteen days of howling winds! In May! Unheard of! - and so I have been lured away from the computer screen to play outside once again. My head still feels as though it is comprised of a big bag of rolling marbles!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

How does your garden grow?

Apparently, quite slowly. But surely too - of that I am certain. For already, these photos that were taken last week are sadly outdated. I am now waiting for the fireworks, holding my breath for the first boom.

For you see we first were able to rent our little plot of land - I would say that it is roughly four to five yards wide and maybe ten deep - last November. Yes, that is a long time to wait. But it will be worth it.

There is an association in our tiny village that is something of a gardener's club. For only 20€ a year (or $22 USD, my that is a good exchange rate), we are able to grow...what we like. 

The previous renters squatted on their rights for too long. The land hadn't been tilled in years and so they were given the boot. But oh, what work that meant for us...

First, we had to see if there was anything to save, such as these wild strawberries...

...which we were told would produce nothing this year as we had moved them (let's hear a hooray for our few tiny survivors)...

...along with what is a heart-shaped beating red carnation now that it has been weeded... well as various mystery plants that we have no clue what they are but have left as they are pretty.

Because here is the thing: we have no idea what we are doing. None.

And yet...and yet, already there are beginnings of something promising...

Now, we can't take credit as Remi and I have been utterly taken under the wings of all of the most experienced gardeners. I suppose they give us something like sweet pity as former city-folk, one of whom is an americaine to boot!

And in meeting them, I have found such generosity that it makes my heart bloom every single time with  gratitude. I will tell you more about these characters (for they really are) in time.

So what have we planted? I know that some of you are already tapping your feet with impatience by this point. Oh - and I should add that after prepping the earth and covering it with a healthy dose of horse manure (which has to be at least six months old, we were told and that makes sense - fortunately, there are plenty of horses in these parts), we let it sleep the winter out. Now, it is ready to welcome...

...22 tomato plants (most of which are heirloom varietals and were a welcome gift, including the delicious "black" tomato from Crimea), a massive amount of potatoes (put in the back plot as suggested to "clean out the earth and keep the moles away"), purple and white eggplants, three kinds of salad, cucumbers (that we mistakenly planted near the tomatoes, our one big mistake, so we shall see), red peppers, zucchini (currently in flower!) as well as the afore-mentioned transplanted fraises

There were also already in place both thyme and rosemary bushes as well as two gigantic lavender plants that are oh-so-thankful that I pruned them back. Each night, I hold one of the blooms in my hand to see how the parfum is progressing. A bit of sweet nonsense that is everything. 

It is our little world, one where our outside thoughts can't reach us as if the cane fences (that we cut down and Remi built) block out the non-essential. Right now I am going everyday to water and weed, especially as those Mistral winds are still blowing (it is all the talk in the local superette as to when they will cease, Thursday is the current prediction, fingers crossed) which dries out the land enormously. Growing in Provence has particular challenges into itself as I am learning. So at the end of the day after everyone else has already passed by, we head over and I begin by taking stock. "How does our garden grow?" I wonder. And filled with hope, I see. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Better than bijoux

The Mistral winds have been blowing strongly for the past three days, something that is unusual bordering on odd for this time of year. We shall see if the Provençal myth that they last three, six or nine days is right after all. And while I have shaken my head disdainfully at that theory in the past, I am secretly wishing it to be true today. I usually take the dust rustled up by them gracefully, knowing that with the wind comes clean swept skies and diamond bright stars. And yet this batch has gotten to me a bit, as they can do - mercifully not making me grumpy - but just a little fuzzy all around. 

And so I was especially delighted when my friend Anthony arrived with a surprise gift of not one but two bouquets of one of my very favorite flowers, peonies or les pivoines. Oh, the parfum - so heady with a bit of pepper and smoke. I buried my face into the blooms, inhaled deeply and then passed them over to Anthony to do the same. This back and forth went on for a few minutes while our conversation darted around and in-between. It was nearly a childlike exchange that brought not little joy as did the flowers, a gift I find better than bijoux. There are many reasons that I adore Anthony - he is a fellow redhead (and so is a member of "the family" - other redheads will know what I mean by that), has incredible taste, is funny, charming and kind. But on top of all that, he always has le bon plan pour tout - really, he has the scoop on where to get the best of everything and has shared this secret address for les fleursnow that I no longer have my flower man* to go to at the Arles market.

By the next day the peonies, one batch white and the other soft pink, had sighed open from their tight-fisted forms. The hearts of the flowers seem protected by a burlesque fan of outer petals. Such a romantic flower with just the right bit of swish. I swirled slowly up the staircase to the top floor to retrieve my camera and then, squinting and breathing low, tried to find the focus that the Mistral had chased away.

*Life is so funny. I knew that I have photographed peonies before for the blog but couldn't remember when, so did a quick search in the "archives". And yes, I had, in one of my favorite posts too - albeit a simple one - about my struggles with memory. Eh oui, the irony...and no, I cannot always blame it on the wind!

It is Memorial Day weekend in the States and I am sending out my deepest gratitude to all of those that have served for their country. As it is also the unofficial beginning of Summer (and can someone please, please tell me how we arrived at this point in the year already?), I want to share with you a very cool playlist that would make a perfect soundtrack! I actually had been thinking of doing a similar post myself but when I saw this article by one of my favorite Parisienne freelance writers, Lisa Czarina Michaud, I knew that her choices, so spot on and including artists that I had never heard of had to take precedence! Turn up the music and enjoy. To give you a taste, here is one of my favorites from the batch. This artist has gone on to achieve a lot of popularity in France right now which makes it all the more interesting that Lisa chose a track from a few years back. I can't stop singing the come on, "Soyons les plus beaux"...let's be the most beautiful...

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend wherever you may be and as always, thank you for being here,

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Hudson in Provence" by Jackie Clark Mancuso

Try and resist the charm of this book. Go ahead, try. See? I told you it was impossible (French-accent required)...and that is only the cover!

Today, I am absolutely delighted to share with you the continuation of "Paris-Chien" as its delightful hero, Hudson, comes to my 'hood...La Belle Provence! 

In each of Jackie's paintings the details ring true and the vibrancy of the colors used perfectly reflect Le Midi. And yet is not all la vie en rose for Hudson as he discovers this new and very different region of France. Oh la! C'est ne pas Paris ici! No, no, the rules of the game are quite different from the city for all - whether on quatre pattes or two of the humankind.

And so the question is posed: "Will Hudson find his way? Will he fit in or will he strike his own path?" It is a question that many of us *cough cough* can respond to no matter what our age. 

That the storyline unspools amidst "Le Best Of" de Provence is a sheer delight. I caught myself guessing as to exactly which ice cream parlor might have been Jackie's inspiration (St. Marie de la Mer?) or on which place the men played pétanque in (Cucuron?) but finally it doesn't really matter, for the essence of all that is presented is absolutely perfect.

Jackie Clark Mancuso is a native of Los Angeles and so knows a thing or five about the beauty of light. That she spends quite a bit of time in Provence is also her love for the region shines through this story as strongly as her affection for her main character, dear Hudson. He is a champ who might just be capable of making me love a "little dog" (one albeit with a big heart)...for once!

Yes, this is, I suppose, a children's book. But I found le dictionnaire of the forty or so words used in the illustrations quite helpful for any beginning Francophone. So either alone or with a Grandchild, why not do like Hudson and curl up and get lost within a good book? "Hudson in Provence" is exactly that.

And for the extremely hard-heart of you that are still not convinced:

Published by La Librarie Parisienne only four days ago (!) - you should find "Hudson in Provence" in all quality bookstores in the US (a-hem) or through Amazon by clicking here.

To discover more about Jackie - her books, paintings and blog, click: here.

To see a photo of the real-life Hudson and get some cooking tips from Jackie, see the fabulous Ann Mah's post: here.

Feeling lucky? You can enter a giveaway for both "Paris-Chien" and "Hudson in Provence" at the equally fabulous Kristin Espinasse's blog: here (and it is one of my favorite of her posts to boot).

PS. No, of course this isn't a sponsored post, I just find this book wonderful. :)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Living with (a bit of) magic, part deux

Do you remember how I finished up my last post by saying that I think we all have a bit of magic inside of us?

Well, I wasn't just spouting greeting card sentimentalism - although, hey, of course I am mighty capable of that :) - no, I believe that with all of my wobbly heart and so many of you proved me to be right in your beautiful responses and emails. As you can see, I am still taking those in. 

So, today is not going to be about me...or Provence (save for the eye candy)...or funny stories about the dogs. Instead, I want to keep focusing on the magic...because there is gold in them thar hills.

I believe that I have mentioned Glennon Doyle Melton and her website, Momastery before. It probably was in reference to one of her hysterically funny posts that are so effective in shifting one's "perspecticals" by appreciating all of the good around us, especially in regard to one topic that is also a favorite of mine here, finding the Big in the Little. Good stuff.

But...but...and here is where I lose my words, those that I am trying to coax out of my fingertips at this very moment...She is doing something far more important than that.

With only a handful (literally) of partners, she formed a non-profit called Together Rising. And while the logo's graphic puts a focus on the "her" inherent in the name, I have seen this community change the lives of men, women and children in need. As the website explains, "All of our giving centers around one simple idea - that in circling around each other to meet needs, we rise together." Brilliant, non? Although Together Rising helps individuals and institutions great and small throughout the year, it shines at its brightest during the amazing Holiday Hands project and the fabulously named Love Flash Mobs

And guess what? The most recent and most ambitious Love Flash Mob yet was...yessssterrrrday. But wait, wait, don't go! Yes, I know I am late to the party (I often am) but not too late, that is the kicker. This particular party is still going on. Because, in the past 24 hours over a quarter of a MILLION dollars was raised to help each and every one of the 176 folks that were nominated by loved ones. The stories are so beautiful...If you click here you can read about how sweet four year old Ellie will now have the prosthetic legs she needs so that she can run as she wants to, how several families with special needs children can finally have the proper transport that they need instead of continually struggling and how ten year old Hailey will have enough funds to build (and she builds them herself) ten more homeless shelters. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, you will most certainly cry in reading this but they will be happy tears.

I was kicking myself about not sharing all of this with you when I read these words in Glennon's post to launch this Love Flash Mob: "Friends, pity is feeling without acting. COMPASSION IS FEELING AND ACTING. Let's ACT." So the good news is that it is still not too late to donate if you wish and the part that I find so awesome is that the maximum donation is $25. Everything is welcome. I donated five bucks! Five! And as that is what I can do right now, it is still five dollars that will go to helping out (as all of the Together Rising team are volunteers, there is no overhead and so 100% of donations go directly to those in need). These are not corporations hedging to look good, it is just about everyday people like us helping other everyday people like us...15,250 such people so far with an average donation of just $17.

So, I am just putting it out there:

Now, one thing that I AM on time for? Today is Food Revolution Day. I kind of like how those two words go together anyway but this is an important movement created by the chef Jamie Oliver as a means of bringing awareness about the importance of food education being placed on school curriculum's world-wide. I was stunned to read that 42 million children who are UNDER THE AGE OF FIVE are overweight or obese. And no, this is not exactly "a First World problem." What this means is that today's children are expected to have a shorter lifespan than we do...for the first time ever. The diseases linked with obesity, the cultural problems, the economic and environmental costs...this issue extends in all directions. Plus, don't we at least want our youth to know what their options are in terms of food? I do. That is why I signed Jamie Oliver's petition that will hopefully have enough success so that it can be presented at the next G20 summit. 

If you are interested, you can join over a million others here:

And finally? Well, let's get back to the eye candy. For you see, my beautiful friend Ellie is coming down to Provence this weekend, finally. She has been dreaming of it for weeks. As I have mentioned before, despite being in her fifth year of ALS, this woman is a canon of Goodwill and makes me laugh until I snort (I am a little bit embarrassed to admit that one, it is true). Originally, it seemed like we were going to meet again, hopefully here at the house with the hopes that Kipling the rascal wouldn't bite her Husband or caregivers and honestly? I did a little dance (yes, again literally) when I thought that was the case. Bon, it didn't work out which lead me to sing her over the phone a Provençal version of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina." Don't worry Ellie, I will remember that you only told me that I was on speaker-phone in a car packed with the men mentioned above for a looong time. I'll get you back. Until then, these photos represent a part of Provence that I really want to show to you and will, one of these days.

Sending much Love and Gratitude to you all. 
As with the post about Anthony's house, feel free to spread the word about this one at will!
Bon Weekend...

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Living with (a bit of) magic

Remi had lost his glasses. It was during the midst of a hurried photo shoot this weekend that took place in many locations and he was confounded as to where they could be. Not only would it be expensive to replace them but the frames had belonged to his late Father and so held enormous sentimental value. In stillness, he played back the day, moment by moment until he was fairly certain when he had used them last. It was with great joy that when he called the Mas des Barres (more about them another time), he was told that some kind soul had found them outside. Their boutique would close at noon, it was already after 10am. There was no time to lose. We gathered the dogs, put them in the back of the car and headed out into the Alpilles. After having recovered the precious lenses, we turned towards a place that we have always called "La Vallée Secrète" or Our Secret Valley. 

It is off the road on a bended elbow of land that you have to know about in order to explore. Here, it is always beautiful but never less so than yesterday. The poppies were still waving, the olive trees green with promise. Already, the noon day sun was white overhead so we stuck to the shadows, willingly. The dogs were just themselves, Kipling well out in front, tail up and Ben lagging behind just long enough to make sure that I was all right each time that I paused to take a photograph, trying to capture something not at all mine but was mercifully willingly shared. And so I was late to the scene but drawn with Remi's laughter as he called to me loudly to "Viens, vite!" just in time to see Mr. Ben having waded into the tiniest creek that was pooling out of a near hillside. Apparently, he had, in his way, asked for permission of Remi before sinking into the cool, clear water. He didn't move then, just smiled broadly. With a bit of persuasion, Remi even coaxed Kipling, the rascal, to join Ben but not for long. Afterwards, invigorated, both rolled in the grass and zoomed some zoomies. We piled back into the car, windows down and I couldn't help but smiling all the way home. 

For it is the surprise, you see. I never, ever thought that I would be here. Why should I be when there was never an arrow pointing from the Midwest of the United States to Provence? Not to say that all is perfect just because of the location. We are not wealthy people, we struggle. But there are moments of such generous beauty that are here for the taking and are free. Free of charge if we can see them. Well, it is just a thought.

The base of my first memories is of my Mom opening up the kitchen door and out I would skip to play in the woods on the other side of the country road from the farmhouse where she herself had grown up. I would spend hours alone under the trees thinking up stories and creating worlds within worlds. Later on, I would be spared loneliness from moving so often by discovering the world of literature and all of its many characters that were ready to be my friend! So I suppose that it isn't surprising that I wanted to bring them to life through acting. From age 17 to 32 I put my heart and soul into that career, having attended New York University and then the Yale School of Drama. I auditioned continuously and worked when I could as actors do, I felt alive. Acting was what I was truly good at, my home. But then I met Remi. End of sentence, full stop. I knew that I had to move to Paris to be with him almost immediately, I knew it and so I did. We formed a team of journalist (me, learning on the hoof) and experienced photographer. Doing so, we travelled the world together and saw such things as I had never read, not even in my beloved books.

And now we are in Provence. We moved here on a whim, before the power of the Press collapsed and I later started this blog as a way of keeping my hand in. Staying creative was a way to keep from being lost amidst so many changes. Or trying at least. I recently wrote that telling stories was the through line of my life but I am only just realizing it now. You see, I didn't long to be an actress, I was one. I didn't aspire to being a travel writer, I had no choice in the matter. This is how my life has rolled out so far. When I look ahead of me, I honestly see a blank. I have no idea what could happen. Which can be utterly terrifying for I do not have the financial security of my friends and colleagues. But if I am smart and if it is a good day, like yesterday, my vision is as clear as Remi's is now that his glasses have been restored. For all along, I have been living with something inside of me...something like a little bit of magic. We all have it. And so far - and I knock on wood - it has never let me down.

Today's post is my contribution to our international blogging party. This month's theme was chosen by the lovely Vicki Archer who asked: "What did you imagine you would do when you grew up? Are you somewhere totally expected or following the path you had imagined?" 

It is a good question, isn't it? I answered it in my own way but I would love to know what yours is. To see the replies of the other women in this amazing group, please click: here.

Would you like a bit of music for this post? I chose "If the stars were mine" by Melody Gardot as I couldn't get it out of my head while writing this! You can listen to it by clicking: here.

PS. Thank you all for the amazing response to my previous post regarding "An incredibly charming village house for sale in Provence" - if you missed it, you can read it here. 

PPS. For those of you that are new here - hooray! - by clicking on the links within the post you will learn...well, just about all you need to know about Lost in Arles. Cheers!