Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Behind Vincent's garden

I needed fortification. Not only of a safe place but also a bit of strength to open up my lungs within that solid structure. And so I listened to my instinct, that voice ever whispering with the best of intentions, and despite my physical fatigue, hopped on the bus to St. Rémy. 

I have an odd relationship now with this village that is not really a village. I can both sense the potential of a shadow future for me there extending outwards, while well aware of the phantoms of the past, even if they are along the lines of Casper the Friendly Ghost. So it felt, as I slid into the booth at the Café Tabac, having been welcomed by the owner with his steely memory and smile; for once, I had been a fairly regular customer. 

It was the first time eating there on my own, and as it was cold with the Mistral insistent, I splurged on the gigot d'agneau served with a separate terrine of potatoes dauphinoise. A small pitcher of red. All for warmth. I was served two slivers cut off from the copious cheese board while waiting for my dishes to arrive, a little nod of recognition that did not go unnoticed by the couple in direct proximity to my left. 

We started talking. It is one of the things that I am most proud of these days, in this new life, that now, apparently, I can converse easily with anyone (or perhaps it is not so new but a remembering for my Mom says that when I was little I found new buddies wherever I went.) They unveiled their story. Friends (but with a palpable tension hinting otherwise), they were close as their respective others had left them for the respective other...of the other, after many years of marriage. And so they had banded together, at first in their grief and now in something still to be defined. She, with died orange hair and a leopard print coat and he, dignified in cashmere covering a sharp wit, made an odd couple. But a connection is a connection, not to be denied.

Mine is with nature. 

Filled up on conversation, I headed out into the cold, only slightly wondering why I had chosen this day of all to walk. But the heart needs what it needs. Out to Vincent's garden I went, to the asylum that fills me with peace each time that I visit. I left the sidewalk to cut through the olive groves that he had painted and over to the paths poking fingers extended into the forest of the Alpilles. I felt linked to him in my need to drink in the vibrancy present, for me of a burgeoning spring, for him of an interior autumn. For both of us, certain storms played out to greater and lesser degrees amidst the contrast of a landscape beauty filled. 

I walked until I could only hear breathing - mine and that of the trees. 

Standing still in a golden light, a gift always, I saw myself again, seated at the Café Tabac. And next to that Heather, I saw the Heather of only a few years before settled in next to my ex. She was listening. Not talking. She was pretty and interesting but silent as the conversation flowed around her. So different from the Heather of today, who had provoked as well as consoled, and yet with the same foundations. But everything has changed. I had written during that lunch in my journal, "I am redrawing the map of my heart." 

Behind Vincent's garden, standing on land that I had walked many times, I saw a territory familiar, a fortification of the oldest stone, and yet one full of promise. As with my tortured painter friend, despite the challenges present, I am still able to see the possibilities of hope in its many-colored hue.


I walked back to town filled with knowing, one that I carry with me now, wherever I go.

With Love and Gratitude, always,

PS. I know that so many of you wish me well, I feel it. So a bit of good news to share...I am taking the plane to Michigan next week to be with my family. I am thrilled...


  1. Heather, this is beautiful, and as usual much food for thought. I am always amazed at how well you are able to capture in words feelings and emotions that often defy them. That clear blue sky belies the chill in the air. You are right, I am so happy to know about your upcoming trip to visit your family. I know you will savor every moment. (And dress warmly -- I don't think spring has yet arrived in Michigan ;-)

  2. We own a house in the South of France near Montelimar and friends of us live in St. Rémy. I am now in our house in The Netherlands and as I read your post it is almost as if I walk there. It gives me such a warm feeling. I can just feel the cold mistral.
    I hope you will have a lovely time in Michigan.

  3. Such golden sunshine must have enriched the soul. Do you think the new Heather was inside the old one, just waiting to be invited out?
    Saint-Rémy is charming. Have you been to Mas de la Pyramide, just a few steps down the road from the asylum's garden? Very fun. Hoping Lolo hangs in there many more years. There was an article about it in Dwell magazine: https://www.dwell.com/article/mine-dining-10ba111c
    Wishing you unseasonably mild weather in Michigan and looking forward to your next missive.

  4. Beautiful, and we are so happy to hear from you! Lovely light, shadows and realizations - interesting to glance back as we are moving forward! And you were always pretty chatty with strangers ("Rob - I found a friend for you!"), and it is NOT spring here yet, so pack accordingly! The countdown begins!!!

  5. I have heard a lot about St Remy and if I were to travel to Provence it would be on my list of places to visit...it sounds enchanting and quaint and steeped in history.
    There is a strength and confidence that is evident in this post....
    while you are "redrawing the map of your heart" you are reconnecting with and acknowledging your true feelings.
    Hope that you have a wonderful visit with your family.

  6. One of my favorite of your essays! Wonderful you, inside and out!

  7. Always wishing you well! Have a lovely trip.

  8. This brought to mind one of my favorites quotes attributed to Chanel: “If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing.”
    Your wings are growing--figuratively, metaphorically, perhaps even literally.
    Enjoy your flights to and in Michigan.

  9. I feel warmth and sunshine on my face just thinking of the St Paul Mausoleum and Van Gogh’s olive trees, wheat fields and gardens. It sounds like you were also “warmed” by the experience, as well as by the one at the cafe, despite Le Mistral! Bon voyage aux Etats Unis! Enjoy the warm embrace of your family!

  10. A beautiful post which transported me to St Remy. Your images were so familiar as the area is fresh in my mind from our visits last year. Your day sounded perfect.
    Wishing you a happy and joyful trip to Michigan where I am sure your mother and sister will have the red carpet awaiting your arrival.
    Helen xx

  11. I try to imagine myself walking the same places where Vincent Van Gogh lived and worked while reading your text.
    I felt like being part of his story. It’s wonderful.

    It is a gift that you can visit the village where Van Gogh had been.

    I wish you safe travel to Michigan and joy with being with your family.

  12. I found my voice also. Not that I lost it (entirely) but some relationships steal all our oxygen leaving us breathless... wordless... and wondering. “Where on earth did she go?” So glad you are finding your way back. It sure is a journey ... but a worthy one ... (as it turns out). Bless your onward path Heather x

  13. St-Paul de Mausole embraces the spirit with every visit ... as you so beautifully describe. Heather, have a wonderful visit with your family. With every post of yours, I long for the day you announce the book you are writing. Amitiés!


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