Thursday, July 30, 2009

wedding pix

The bride gets ready

After the civil ceremony in the chateau

After the religious ceremony

Part of the garden in readiness

Eating and drinking at dusk

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

summer continued

The wedding tsunami is over. The twelve or fifteen guests who were staying here have left, along with the Australians and other guests who were staying in a campsite or in hotels nearby. For the last few days, as the meals grew smaller, the piles of laundry grew bigger. But now even the laundry is down to normal size, the "lost and found" pile has been established, and today the bride and groom mailed a box of wedding presents back to Australia. Tomorrow they're leaving for their honeymoon in Berlin, so only Myriam, her husband and baby are left with Lynn and Denis in the house where a few days ago, every room was jammed with company.

Now the photos have started to come in, the official ones and the not so official, like mine which I'll post soon, so you can all share the joyous event.

Yesterday was such a shock, in fact - suddenly only 8 or 10 people at the table, not 40 - that I went into my usual tailspin of "What am I doing here?" and almost called Air Canada to change my booking home. I had received the news that the basement sump pump is broken again, my basement tenant is moving out mid-August, my mother is having dizzy spells ... What am I doing lolling about in Provence when I should be fixing my sump pump, visiting my mother and finding a new tenant? However, luckily, good sense prevailed. Who wants to spend August in Toronto in mid-garbage strike instead of the south of France and Paris? I have another month. Mum will be fine till then, my handyman will look at the pump, and a tenant will miraculously appear. (Know anyone who wants a lovely basement suite in mid-Toronto in September? Please let me know. The pump will be fixed, promise.)

When I say "good sense prevailed," it was not MY good sense, but my friends' Patsy and Chris and my mother's - I emailed them all in my fit of depression and pique and they all wrote back instantly to shore me up. How lucky I am! How glad to have, not only loyal and helpful and available friends, but this wonderful little white MacBook whose name is MacZine. Truly, it's not just me touring Europe this summer - it's me and my very dear companion MacZine. I would have been miserable without her.

I moved to another gite in the middle of all that fuss, on Saturday morning before the wedding. It's considerably cheaper than the last one, but boy, I miss my previous place. It was called "La vie en douce" on the Rte. de Murs, and I highly recommend it to anyone passing through these here parts. The rooms are simple but elegant and breakfast is in a bright communal space which is open all day, so guests can use a living room area, the fridge, the stove.

My new room has one very high small window and was so filled with chachkas and doodads that I spent 20 minutes stuffing them all into the cupboard so I could breathe, though I could not wrest the giant ceramic sunflower from the wall. However, the small window means that the room is cool, and the building has an entranceway balcony with a spectacular view of the whole region - beautiful.

This morning, I sat out on the balcony at 7.30 a.m., looking at the dark shadow of the Luberon mountains and the forests in the distance, the mist floating around the olive groves and vineyards in the valley, almost no sound except a persistent rooster crowing, a farm dog barking and the church bells sounding at 8. It was already hot.

By mid-morning, when I sat there again, the landscape was alive with activity. The massive buddleia bushes in front were aswarm with butterflies of all colours - white, white with black stripes like zebras, black with white stripes, black with white dots, orange with black spots like leopards ... a jungle in the bushes. Bees buzzing in the lavender, black beetles above, the cicadas chanting, the birds, the traffic, and the church bells sounding eleven. It was about 35 degrees by then. Time to go to Lynn's for a swim. The only place to be, on these very hot breathless days, is the pool.

At our last dinner on the eve of the wedding, Denis gave a cry. "Look at the eagles!" We looked up and saw the sky filled with a flock of 20 baby eagles. Did several mothers push out their offspring all at once? Were they one very large extended family, like ours on the ground? They swirled and dove and circled and then vanished. I thought it a very good omen for Jess and Greg, heading off into married life - a blessing of eagles.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

a triumph in the wind

My brain is mush today, but here's the report: we got through, and it was great. Unbelievably today, Sunday, is warm without a trace of wind. Yesterday, we battled ferocious winds all day long. We spent the morning covering ten long tables with a complex system of coverings designed by the bride - white, with a brown strip then a green strip then stickers - beautiful, but in a high wind, nailing the suckers down required one person practically to lie spread-eagled on top while two others whacked away with the staple gun. We got the tables covered in a high wind and then put on the delicate Japanese-style centrepieces, made of twigs and origami, also fixing them as tightly as possible with the staple gun. The tiny origami cranes tied to the trees tossed in the wind. Last minute weeding and clean up.

But by the time we had to leave for the mairie, the party was set up except for what the caterers would do. Somehow we all managed to get all dressed up - babies, the elderly and all of us in between - and get down to the mairie of Gordes which used to be a chateau. Jacqueline, the neighbour, was waiting in her capacity as civil functionary, with a tri-colour sash across her breast, standing in front of the fourteenth century chimney covering one whole wall of the mairie room.

But there was a problem - Greg arrived looking handsome and debonair, Jessica arrived looking incredibly exotic and beautiful (and tanned, not blue), but several vital members of the family were missing. We waited and waited in the heat, heads craning toward the door, babies getting restless, and finally a decision was taken to start without them. Christopher had gone back to the house to be sure everyone had been driven down, and Manuel had misplaced his cool sunglasses, but they slid late into their places after the start of the ceremony.

The French civil ceremony is impressive - Jacqueline cited Ordinances Number 386, 483 and 542 (or something like that) about the joining of couples. But mostly, there's a long section about children - how you are coming together for the good of children, whom you will guarantee to nurture and give a good education - and to consult in any important decisions. That consultation is written right into the code. I liked that.

Then for the religious part we went down to the church, part of which dates from the 12th century. Again, a few minor glitches. Lynn was handed the priest's speech just before the ceremony and had to translate simultaneously. At one point she had to say something about the "charming wife waiting for her husband to get home from work" and nearly choked, and so did those of us who know how rarely such a scenario has ever played itself out in her home. And then later, two of the witnesses were supposed to read short passages interspersed with bits from "Down to the river to pray," but the sound system at the church, an ancient ghetto blaster, was so poor that it kept cutting in and out, going backwards, fuzzy and choppy, or coming in at the wrong point. We were all heaving with laughter, which made it all the more special, somehow.

The most beautiful moment was when a beaming Denis walked his daughter down the aisle. This man had not ceased to rush about for the last month, the type-A control freak organising every single aspect of this vast affair - but finally, at this moment, he only had one job - to be a father, his face radiant, giving his daughter away to a fine young man. And throughout, the mistral howled around the church.

Then, back to the house to set up for the party. The caterers were late and short-staffed, the wind wreaking havoc with napkins and wine glasses - but by 7, the hundred guests had glasses in hand, the hors d'oeuvres were being devoured, and it was time for the animation and speeches. Denis is perhaps the only person who would start a wedding celebration by talking about a little girl with leukemia, survivor of Hiroshima, who began to make paper cranes - it was an unusual beginning but he was explaining the paper cranes dancing in the trees and asking us to remember our common humanity.

And then the tone lightened, Jessica's brother and sisters did two funny skits about their sister. Greg's mother Judy from Canberra spoke in both English and French, which was amazing as she does not speak a word of French - her speech had been translated by the owner of her hotel, and she'd learned it phonetically, speaking with a deliciously Australian accent, much appreciated by the French in the crowd. The Aussie guys teased their buddy Greg and forced him to chug a beer, then the whole row of them saluted him by chugging simultaneously - an Aussie wedding tradition. And then I spoke about being Jess's godmother, about how she is one of the rare people who is beautiful outside but even more beautiful to the depths of her soul.

And then we ate and ate and drank and drank; the wind didn't stop and people got really cold, so the hosts moved through the crowd passing out sweaters. We all moved to a lower section of the terraced garden for champagne and dessert, and then the best part - the dancing. We began at 11 and the kids danced till 3.30. My advice to any of you giving an event which you want to take off - invite a few Australians. What an marvellously friendly, open and fun bunch they are. They set up a limbo competition with a rake, at one point, and then we did a line dance which is a traditional Aussie wedding dance. Everyone danced for hours from the youngest to the old crocks, present company included.

Today - we just put together a lunch for 40. It's 3.30 p.m. on a hot, windless afternoon, many of us are a tiny bit the worse for wear, and the group is still sitting at the table chatting as I sit inside chatting to you. One of the kids secretly drank many glasses of wine, threw up and passed out; his parents drove home with a bucket, which they returned today. Some are packing up tents and departing, but there will still be a big group for dinner tonight; the kitchen team has the meal planned already. There's a clean-up to do, and many, many staples to remove from the rented tables.

But first, another glass of rosé and a swim to help the tiny headache.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

9 am. wedding day report

My friend Chris just sent me a fabulous YouTube post called JK Wedding Entrance Dance. Watch it and have the time of your life; it reminds us of the joy connected with weddings, which those of us here in Gordes have forgotten in the flurry and frenzy of these last few days.

And this morning, wedding morning ... I am sitting in my usual spot by the lavender and the bees, in a sweater and pants. The mistral is at full force. We'd heard this might happen, and here it is - gale force winds. Apparently they're gusting at up to 65 kph, but this afternoon, we were told, will drop to 22 kph. I'm not sure what that means, only that it'll be hard to put up the delicate origami crane mobiles that Jess and her sister have spent the week making; it'll be hard to leave on the tables the lovely green, brown and white napkins a work party of women spent the afternoon folding yesterday.

But here's the thing: this is just to scare us and to remind us, as in the video, that napkins and origami cranes don't matter. What matters is the joyful event we're there to witness, which will happen regardless. And miraculously, the wind will die down, as it always does, and we will celebrate and dine in the garden with napkins and cranes. You heard it here first.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go back to my room, because I'm freezing.

Friday, July 24, 2009

wedding madness

Sitting by the pool again - this time the butterflies in the lavender beside me are delicate orange with black and grey lines and spots - beautiful. Because Wayson Choy's symbol for many years was a butterfly, every time one hovers near, I'm sure it is Wayson, checking to see if I'm at work.

I did get some work done yesterday in my tranquil gite, before leaving for Chaosland. where more people are arriving all the time, and also, yesterday, a hundred chairs, glasses, plates and a convoy of tables for Saturday. The bride and her sister went to have a spray tan and both returned coloured blue; apparently this is normal and it fades to a glowing brown, but last night at dinner, when Lynn was compiling the nationalities in her family - Scottish-Canadian, French, Burundian, Australian, Mauritian, Guadeloupian and El Salvadorian - her daughter Sarah added, "And we also have two Smurfs."

The dinner was for the groom's Australian mother and two of her friends, and it went smashingly - though preparing the dinner was a frantic process, once the three gigots d'agneau and the ton of barbequed potatoes were on the table, all the kitchen staff (Norah, Karen, Beth) relaxed, knowing the salads were ready, the cheeses and bread, the ice cream. Lynn is a relaxed person and Judy is a relaxed person; the two of them were soon chatting like old friends. Greg, the groom, looked as if he would rather be anywhere else in the world - confiding to me earlier that he was terrified of all this wedding hooha and if he'd known what awaited, he might not have proposed.

I pointed out that of his two fellow sons-in-law, one had waited until the last possible moment to arrive from Mauritius (late today) and the other, Jean-Marie from Burundi, has vanished to do some business somewhere in France, also to return at the last minute. So poor Greg is on his own, dealing with decisions about music, ribbons, flowers, table settings, hair styles, and whether his wife's face will be brown or blue by wedding-time tomorrow.

I told the multitudes at the table that my ex-husband and I had avoided all this exhausting organising by doing things in a different order: we had a honeymoon first, then we had a baby, then we got married, and then, three months later, we had a huge day-long party for all our friends. So there was no pressure about the ceremony. As my dad said that day, "Usually at weddings we make a wish for the fertility of the young couple, but in this case, that's already taken care of." The only drawback was having to find a wedding dress that allowed breast-feeding.

I also told Greg that we are all here not just to celebrate him and Jessica, this specific young couple, but because weddings are important for everyone. We all want to be part of a joyful confirmation of love and a commitment to the future. Even for those of us for whom marriage did not work out, the sight of two twenty-year olds in love taking vows is a moving and marvellous thing.

This bitter old crone wanted to say, this wedding part is easy, Greg. The hard part is the next seventy years. But she didn't.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I'm sitting by the pool at my gite, because the wifi only works by the pool. Beside me, bees happily diving into the lavender; olive trees, cedars, pines, brown grass, the ubiquitous oleanders. The sound, as always, of cicadas and wind. I gather that all the rest of France and Canada still are having bad weather. Here, wind and sun. Yesterday there was a pottery market in Gordes, and delicate pieces were flying off the tables in the mistral.

The wedding is drawing closer; today the groom's mother arrives from Australia, yesterday the bride's brother and his girlfriend from London. We were 18 for dinner last night. Denis's mother is here too; Denis drove her down from Versailles, she sleeps in an extended care nursing home nearby but spends the day in the midst of the family. When I knew her, she was a sharp, highly critical university professor who never stopped working, a great deal like her son. Now she wanders about like a small child, needing help with everything, mostly sitting gazing into space. But she walks to be where the people are and is always sitting with them. The other day she sat in the midst of a dozen young Australian men, friends of the groom, who were having a picnic at the end of the garden. Something in her underpants interested her so she sat groping about down there while the men continued to chat, unperturbed. The family is wonderful with her, patiently helping her in the toilet or to eat - just as they do with the babies. This is all part of the big family experience, and again, something those of us with small families don't often experience.

The two-hour meal at the table is a place for story-tellers like me and Lynn - by yesterday night, people were calling out requests for favourites. "Tell the one," I was asked, "about the cheese tray again." Not one of my finer moments, but for those of you who want to hear the story, it's in the podcast section of this website. It's a good party piece. Lynn and I talked last night, too, about our famous friend Dan Ackroyd. This makes us briefly interesting to the eyes of the teenagers present. There was a glass on the table unlike the others, covered with ornate fake gold. "That's your father's scotch glass!" cried Norah, and suddenly we were all back in Chateauguay, Quebec, sitting in the living room with Lynn's parents Therese and Andrew, with the sound of clinking ice cubes.

Today, all I know about our plans is that the groom's mother is coming to dinner and we're cooking gigot d'agneau and there will be more than 20 of us. The same bee and now a convention of white butterflies continue to dine beside me, in the feast of lavender. Provence is a feast for us all.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

to market

The mistral has gone, good news for the wedding on Saturday. Apparently last year, when Myriam was getting married here, the mistral started just before dinner and everyone froze; then it stopped by dessert and all was well. So there's no way of knowing whether one hundred people will be comfortable or bitterly cold. But today - hot hot hot.

I'm getting used to this - shopping for a hoard, cooking for 20. I have gently suggested to Lynn that in Canada, when one is feeding vast crowds, at least one meal a day can be do-it-yourself - put some good bread, meats, salads and cheeses on the table and let people help themselves. But this is France; both lunch and dinner have to be 3 course hot meals. Which means at least two hours hard labour before each one. While we do all that, a large party of the Australian friends of the groom, who have arrived for the wedding and are staying at a campground nearby, are having a picnic in the garden, swimming in the pool and playing boules. The babies are wreaking havoc, as babies do, one of them teething and howling. Just keeping up with the daily need for vegetables, bread, cheese, olive oil and rosé is a mind-boggling task. We just had a simple little lunch for 14.

At the same time, I am envious of this extended family scene, everyone around pitching in to help with the meal, the cleaning up or the childcare, everyone part of the general conversation. It's so valuable for children, and I see them sopping it up.

Luckily for me, however, I can now temporarily decamp. Yesterday I moved to my own place five minutes down the road, so I can retreat in the afternoon and at night. It's peaceful, I know where everything is, I can sit in silence and then make my way to the crowded house. A great blessing, for which I am grateful. I spent two hours today helping with lunch; it has just ended, and the women are in the kitchen now, at 2.30, planning supper. It's endless.

We went to the Gordes market this morning, but the rule is: never go to a Provencal market after 10 a.m. It was unbearably hot and so very crowded. I think the merchants have had it with tourists. Lynn's sister Karen stopped at a stall selling lovely replica bedspreads for about 60 or 70 euros. "Are these made by hand?" she asked, in French, which admittedly was a silly question given the price. "No, madame," said the merchant. "By foot. Exclusively by foot."

I left the packed marketplace and went back to the house for a swim, watching people battling for parking space along the way. Yesterday was different, though - we went to the market in Cavaillon, which is a real market, not very touristic, huge and wonderful. Hard not to drool, clothing, tablecloths, spices, all manner of goods at very reasonable prices. Be still, my beating heart. I still have to get the @#$%^& suitcase home.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

company for dinner

The mistral has blasted in again. Two days ago we looked out at a drizzling, chilly and grey day in Gordes; yesterday was sunny but brisk, and today again, outside my window as I write, there's the sound of busy cicadas in the hot sun and the moaning of wind. I understand why this wind has a name - it's a force, sometimes an almost malevolent presence, like a wolf prowling around the house, or a powerful spirit trying to shove its way in. But a respite from broiling temperatures is also a relief.

I know that my friends in Canada, which apparently is having one of the worst summers in decades, will not appreciate reading that it's a relief to get out of the heat of the sun, occasionally. But the temporary absence of sun helped, too, with my weeding, the incessant weeding that is my main job here. Has anyone written a book called "The Zen of Weeding"? It becomes a contemplative activity. I am a monk with a bucket of dead weeds.

Yesterday my August schedule became clear enough that I could go on-line and book my TGV ticket to Paris, where I'm spending the last week of my journey. Those who've followed the blog know the infuriating difficulty I had trying to change a previous TGV booking made on-line, so you might marvel that I did so again, but this time I was sure I had it all figured out. First, I took what they called "cancellation insurance," and then got such a good price for the 12.30p.m. train that I quickly booked it. When I showed Lynn my ticket, however, she told me that the cancellation insurance is only valid in cases of death or dismemberment and that my ticket clearly states that on this train I do not have a seat. Which means I might be standing, or moving from seat to seat with my 24 kilo bag, all the way from Montpellier to Paris.

All figured out? In yer dreams.

It's an unexpected treat to share the house with toddlers. Yes, the living-room floor is littered with toys, the kitchen with tiny spoons, bottles and plates and the garbage is full of diapers. But it's so interesting to watch and play with them. They're about the same age, but Maude is more verbal and much less physical; her cousin Issaak never stops moving, exploring, and pushing away the hands that try to help. This morning we took them both for a walk, or, rather, a stagger, Maude clutching her favourite toy, a dish brush, and Issaak heading for his favourite toy, his grandfather's car. No, no sex typing here.

Unfortunately, by the end of yesterday, Issaak had hit his head on the coffee table, had a huge open gash and had to be rushed to Emergency in Cavaillon, where they glued it shut. Maude had a high fever, probably from teething, so all the adults were feeling her forehead and consulting. Both babes, today, beaming, with a house full of people dancing attendance.

Lynn's sister Karen from Montreal, her two children Marta-Elena and Manuel and her best friend Nora arrived yesterday, and so did 3 Australian best friends of the groom, so we were 12 or 13 at dinner. And what an assembly. Sarah's Burundian husband Jean-Marie is tall and wears loose, colourful African clothes - an extremely exotic figure. Karen's two children were adopted in Central-America; as I've pointed out, the two babies here are multi-racial, and the 3 Australians turned out to be one Aussie, one German-Macedonian and one Macedonian-Australian. Lynn made a vast ratatouille, Nora and I barbequed a ton of salmon, another table was added to the terrace, and the dinner went on till darkness fell at 10.30. As predicted, the Australians and recently-arrived Canadians did not know how to cut the cheese, and when it arrived at our end of the table, the cheeses were hacked and mangled, all the tips cut off. But no matter, the taste was the same.

This morning for breakfast, there were Montreal bagels fresh from Montreal. A taste of home. I'm no longer homesick. I know that in only four weeks I'll be standing up from Montpellier to Paris, have one last week of French pleasure, and then parachute back into my regular life. What oh what will that be like?

P.S. 3 p.m. - as we did the dishes after lunch - lunch for 14 - I was singing Joni Mitchell's "I could drink a case of you," and when I got to her line, "Oh Canada .... a....", I nearly burst into tears. So you could say that homesickness is lurking.

I really, really miss my children.

But lunch was really, really good.

Friday, July 17, 2009

adjustment disorder with anxiety ...

I mentioned in an email today to my friend Margaret that I was feeling homesick, and she sent back the following helpful clinical link. I feel better now, to know that every kid going to camp and I have this in common. What it means is simply that there are times when we want to be in our own homes, our own beds, with our own families, and not in someone else's. After 3 1/2 months of travel, I guess that's normal for a pathological homebody like me.

Tomorrow, perky once more, without doubt.

According to the taxonomy of the American Psychiatric Association, severe homesickness may be best classified as adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood (diagnostic code 309.28).7,8 The defining feature of homesickness is recurrent cognitions that are focused on home (eg, house, loved ones, homeland, home cooking, returninghome), and the precipitating stressor is always an anticipated or actual separation from home. Therefore, it is possible to distinguish homesickness from all other kinds of anxiety disorders, mood disorders, or adjustment disorders as well as from separation distress that young people may feel when caregivers leave home (eg, for work, military service, divorce, incarceration).9,10 Homesickness may also be comorbid with other behavioral, emotional, cognitive, and physical problems that warrant clinical attention."

It's also after 8 p.m. and I'm hungry. Lynn has made a wonderful looking lasagna which we won't eat until her daughter Sarah arrives with her husband and baby, which could be soon or in an hour or two. This is good hunger, I know. But it's still hunger.

In the meantime, there's baby Issaak to keep us amused. There are six adults in this house who now spend almost all of their time gazing and making burbling noises at a wonderful one-year old boy, who is going merrily about his business - staggering purposefully around the garden, eating moss, ripping out flowers, and entertaining the giants who watch him ceaselessly. Whatever did we talk about before he arrived? Oh yes. Cutting cheese. Better to watch babies.

10 p.m. Sarah has arrived with her husband Jean-Marie, who is Burundian, and their baby Maude, who's a pale coffee colour with a spectacular burst of brown curls at the back of her head. Myriam's husband is a Muslim from Mauritius, and as I've noted, Jessica is marrying an Australian. We must hurry up these sorts of marriages, which will bring peace to the world - a recognition that cultural and racial differences are in the end meaningless, proven by multi-coloured children who are at home everywhere.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

moseying along on Jeudi

The calm before the storm ... at this moment, after 10 p.m. local time, second daughter Myriam is being driven here from Marseilles with her energetic one-year old son Issaak. Tomorrow, the other grandchild, one-year old Maude, will arrive with her mother Sarah, and then Lynn's sister from Montreal with her two teenagers and her best friend ... and we'll be preparing lunch and dinner for twelve and then fifteen and then twenty-five. It's okay, they've done this before around here, but there will be a learning curve for moi.

Not much happening in the meantime. It's very hot, the cicadas are very loud and the pool, very welcome. I walked to the village today to buy cucumbers and peppers for my gazpacho, and once again, had nearly melted by the time I walked uphill back. Each patch of shade is a lifesaver. Jessica is doing important things like learning to fold multi-coloured napkins for the wedding tables and choosing music for the ceremony at the church. Her intended, Greg, just wrote me that he'll be arriving soon with his large group of "Australian barbarians." They'll be very welcome; no more discussion about the proper way to cut cheese with that casual, friendly, open bunch around.

While down in Gordes, I bought the Internation Herald Tribune because it's so wonderful to hold an actual newspaper in English, and the new Paris Match which has a cover article on John F. Kennedy Jr. What a heartbreak to see that handsome face again. In July 1999, I had just visited Lynn here for her 50th birthday and was returning home via Venice when Italian newspapers began flashing huge pictures of John-John. I couldn't read Italian but knew it wasn't good news.

The good news is that the New York Times has reported that War Horse, the superb show I saw in London, is going to be transferred to New York. You have a year or so to plan your trip. Don't miss it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Allons enfants de la fromage ...

Le quatorze juillet, a national holiday, not that anyone around here has noticed. The market in Gordes was as crowded as ever, but most of the shops in the cities are closed. There will be fireworks. I wish a happy July 14th to all my French friends who care about these patriotic events, but I don't think there's a single one.

On Sunday evening, Denis and I went to a cello concert in the church in the nearby village of Joucas. An American cellist called Annabelle Gordon was donating her time to fundraise for the restoration of the church, and Denis said let's go, it's a good cause and a pretty village. Pretty! Joucas is so adorable and perfect, it's like a film set - so tiny it makes Gordes look like a metropolis, tiny narrow winding cobbled streets, perfect Provencal doorways with bougainvillea, oleander, lavender, ivy clinging to windows and walls, little tables on sun-lit terraces ready for the aperitif, ancient doors studded with huge nails - 'pretty' does not even begin to touch it.

We lined up with the good citizens of Joucas; there were about 40 of us, which perhaps encompassed the entire population. The concert, Bach and Telemann mixed with traditional Scottish and Irish dances, was pleasant, and the little church is being nicely restored, as we learned in a speech by Madame the President of the Restoration Committee. She pointed out the magnificent gold altar, recently renovated at a cost of ten thousand euros by an expert in Avignon. I wondered who this would be, the person who specialises in the restoration of golden altars.

All in all, as I remembered trucking miles through the snow to see Yo Yo Ma in North York, it was a great treat to be sitting in a small church in one of the most picturesque villages in France, listening to a fine cello. And then the drive home at dusk, golden light falling on fields, hills, woods, the houses of white stone - I said to Denis, "There is not one single ugly thing anywhere. Not one." There must have been one, somewhere, but I could only see beauty.

Speaking of beauty, later that night, my goddaughter Jessica, the bride-to-be aged 29, arrived from Sydney. When I lived here in 1979, Lynn and Denis already had 3 little children, and during my visit, Lynn told me she was pregnant again. "Are you out of your mind?" I shrieked. "You can hardly cope with the kids you have. Have you even heard of birth control?" (I am much less vociferously opinionated today. Happily for my friendships.) Jess was a result of that pregnancy, and I was asked to be her godmother. (And exactly a year later, my own first child, Anna, was born, so I'd completely changed my tune since then.)

Jess is quite different from the others - she's gentle and soft-voiced, her strength much more concealed than that of her siblings (Elisa, the 5th child, was born a few years later.) She has spent the last 8 years as a French teacher in England and Japan and now in Australia, home to her intended, Greg. She loved Japan and enjoys Sydney; they live in a cramped apartment with a view of the ocean, where Greg surfs and she body-surfs. Denis is bringing in tons of beer for the dozen or so Australians, Greg's family and friends, who are arriving for the wedding and will not be drinking delicate glasses of rosé. The mix of the French and the Australians - mmm, that'll be really interesting.

So this is fun - looking at Jess's wedding dress, a simple white silk shift she had made in Japan - shopping with her yesterday in Cavaillon and today at the market for a bracelet and decorations. She has made countless white cranes and wants them tied in the trees in the backyard, and to have delicate Japanese flower arrangements on the tables, the problem being the possibility of mistral, which sprang up during her sister Myriam's wedding last summer and knocked everything over. Let us hope not on July 25th.

Elisa, Jess and I did a giant grocery shop yesterday at Auchan, the Loblaw's, no, the Walmart of Cavaillon, a vast warehouse, half of it stuff and the other half food. Just the mustard section, my friends, nearly had me in tears; if I didn't have to carry it myself, I'd bring back mustards for everyone. And the cheese section - this is just an ordinary supermarket, but the cheese selection ran for metres in a refrigerated section along both sides of the aisle. Wish I could bring a ton of that back too. Especially cheese.

I'm thinking more and more about bringing stuff back, because according to my calendar, there are exactly six more weeks left in my adventure, until my rambling draws to a close Aug. 25. At least, this particular ramble. A friend just wrote to invite me to spend a week in the heart of Spain, but the dates just don't work. I had to say no, no Spanish idyll, I have to go home - with both regret and joy. I'm going home. But first, six more weeks of cheese.

Allons, fromages de la patrie.

P.S. Apparently, the movie with Russell Crowe as a guy who inherits a vineyard was partly shot in Gordes; the heroine plays a waitress at a restaurant right in the village square. They probably couldn't shoot in Joucas because the streets aren't wide enough to fit a camera crew. And anyway, it's just too pretty to be believable. I know I specialise in hyperbole, but honestly, it is.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

the calm after the 60th birthday

Peaceful again. Madame has been and gone, and young Elisa has zipped off on her scooter with a tent strapped to her back; once more, for a bit, just Monsieur and me. It's 9.30; we have had a simple supper, the laundry is drying on the line, the cicadas are chanting, the sky is pink and blue, and a tiny spider is busy spinning in the hibiscus.

Friday morning, Elisa and I drove to the market in Bonnieux, another mountain village about fifteen minutes of small, winding road from here, to pick up Lynn's cake, and also to buy chèvre (two kinds, soft and hard), bread, eggplant, zucchini, lettuce, peppers, endive, tomatoes by the ton, peaches, nectarines, and flowers. Some stalls cling to the side of the steep road leading up to the village square, where the rest are clustered. Tempting, as you walk by - African baskets, pashminas, loose Indian clothing, silver, stacks of madeleines, yes, Proust's madeleines on sale in Bonnieux.

At home we all worked to produce a superb meal to celebrate Lynn's 60th birthday, the first of several celebrations since only one of her children was home yesterday. If you're bored with the endless lists of food, please skip this next bit. A FULL REPORT: As an hors d'oeuvre we had champagne with endive and guacamole, a dish not common to France, made by the Canadian. For the meal, set on the terrace with the best tablecloth, china and silver, we had melon - of course - then a big bass Denis grilled on the barbeque with fennel, served with gratin dauphinois, thinly sliced potatoes mixed with vast amounts of cream and butter, stirred half-way through baking so that it's brown and crusty all the way through. All with a great white wine.

I should stop, I'm drooling.

Then the many cheeses pictured below. I had to have a slice of each, so we had a long discussion on HOW TO SLICE CHEESE. It is an art and a science here, and I am as usual a clumsy know-nothing. Some cheeses are to be sliced along the side and some squarely; always evenly. It is all, said the Frenchman, about making sure that the next person has a tidy, good-looking selection with the best bits shared. The first time Lynn went to dine with the people who would become her in-laws - when Denis took her to meet his formidable Maman et Papa - she did the equivalent of jumping on the dining-room table, lifting her skirts and doing the can-can. When passed the cheese platter, she CUT THE TIP FROM THE BRIE. This is the height of bad form, and Denis's parents are not forgiving people. When passed the fruit, she picked an apple and BIT INTO IT, instead of cutting it neatly into slices with a knife and fork. At that moment she was dismissed from her inlaws' hearts, and 5 children and several academic degrees later, she still was not admitted. So I was careful to learn how to get the cheese onto my plate without offense.

(P.S. I exaggerate. It was not just Lynn's lack of cheese and fruit finesse, there were many other things they disapproved of, like her booming laugh and playful sense of humour. Incomprehensible to people for whom life means rules, lots of rules and only their rules.)

Then we devoured the superb birthday cake, very simple, two flat layers of light but dense chocolate cake with a thick chocolate mousse in the middle.

I'm splashing on the computer.

We sat around recovering. I decided to go for a swim and while cleaning the pool with the long-handled basket beforehand, I reached too far, fell hard and was left with a raw scrape on my thigh. I told my friends it was because I was trying too hard in my cleaning efforts, but it might have had something to do with being pulled off balance by champagne, wine and a large distended stomach.

I toast the friendship Lynn and I have enjoyed for 42 years. How extraordinary that we are so close after four decades spent continents apart, especially as I am so very much younger. Why, for the next 3 weeks I am two whole years younger. After August 1, only one year, but what a big and important year. She is now a senior citizen in France, and I am a spring chicken.

A day later, still, a very, very full spring chicken.

Provence and birthday pix, Saturday

Friends since September 1967, first contact made outside Mr. Galliani's Modern French Literature class, Carleton University

Elisa with the cheese course, before the cutting lesson

Provence seen from Gordes

A little piece of paradise - the dining room at Jean and Marie-Jo's

Thursday, July 9, 2009

alone and full

Today has been perhaps my last time alone in the Gordes house. After work today Denis will go to Avignon to wait for Lynn to arrive, late, by train from Lille. It's her 60th birthday tomorrow and we're glad she's coming home, briefly, to celebrate. Elisa has gone on her Mobylette to Marseilles, overnight, to visit friends, so it's just me for now in the old homestead. I have been taking full advantage to do absolutely nothing except tap on the computer - work and email.

No, I stopped for lunch - five different kinds of cheese - a quick swim, to do some laundry and later dinner, a salad with MANY DIFFERENT THINGS IN IT, contrary to Denis's rule of one taste at a time. And I ate at 6.30, and without any particular order, in a kind of joyful Canadian jumble, because there were no French people here to marvel at my barbarian folly. I love their rules for meals, great to watch and to learn, and occasionally, it's great that they go away and I can eat howsoever I bloody well want, with no rules at all. Vive le Canada libre.

I read my manuscript today - over 100 single spaced pages, a salad of many different things. It needs a phenomenal amount of work, the barest beginning - but it's a beginning. There's a story there. There's a there there. Wayson sent me a YouTube video today of hummingbirds being born, growing feathers and flying away. My manuscript is wet and downy, right now. But there is the possibility of flight.

I hung the laundry on the line an hour ago, and it's dry. Between the mistral, which continues strong, and the sun, moisture doesn't have a chance.

So here I am in what is officially one of the most beautiful villages in France, in one of the most beautiful areas of France with a free car at my disposal, and I spent the entire day sitting on the terrace tapping, eating cheese and doing laundry, in the greatest bliss. This kind of silence and solitude is worth a fortune in cars, quaint villages and panoramic views. I had no desire to move one step from the premises. I'll have to tomorrow, because I've ordered a cake for my friend's birthday; the bakery is in a village near here but tomorrow the baker is at the market in Bonnieux, so I must pick up the cake from there. That'll be a real trial, to drive through Provence to a picturesque village market, to buy what sounded like - I hope I got it right - a chocolate cake with macaroons. Something like that. I'll find out tomorrow in Bonnieux.

I've also prepared a little writer's gift for Lynn - from a stack of her letters to me through the years, I've transcribed what I think are the best bits into a 12-page document. I hope her kids will enjoy reading it - as she writes, you see them growing up, the different concerns and triumphs, her own journey. It begins in 1970 when we were still at university and ends with emails to and from Gordes a few days ago. Testament to a friendship which has endured not only many years, but thousands of miles of separation, and is stronger today than ever.

Speaking of old and dear friends, Chris has just arrived home in Vancouver from France and is disconsolate. He hates speaking English, he hates the agribusiness food, he wants fresh produce from the local market and he wants to come back to France. Enjoy every minute, he says, because you'll have a hard time on re-entry. I've been moaning about homesickness, but I'll be home soon enough. Apparently this is a cold, damp summer in Ontario. All the more reason to celebrate the hard, dry heat and wind of Provence. I will try not to complain, even about the bugs. (Found a kind of solution - periodically I spray the window sill and shutters with insecticide. Perhaps they'll think twice now about invading my space, those many-legged critters. Or perhaps not.)

And about new and dear friends - Penny responded on-line to yesterday's blog about Michael Jackson, and also sent me a long email. I have written back to apologise to her, because I realise I've been judgemental about him without the slightest proof, and in fact, knowing almost nothing about the facts or the personalities. One day, I will learn to shut up when I don't know what I'm talking about. In the meantime, luckily, there are people to correct me.

One more word - about radishes. Radishes, you say? What can there possibly be to say about radishes? Well, our radishes are good, round, fat. But French radishes are enlongated, and they are, need I say it, delicious. Peppery, tingly, delicious. Even the humble radish, in this complex country, is superb. We need to work on our radishes.

Four more hours of peaceful solitude. Time to eat some chocolate. Maybe I'll watch a bit of Jon Stewart on the Net. Do some weeding. Go for another swim. Finish reading Le Monde and tackle one of the 500 great books in my friends' library. Do a bit more work. I'm overwhelmed.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Michael Jackson and writing while intoxicated with pleasure

It's actually cool in Gordes today - though the sun is shining, the mistral is in full force. A relief, actually. I read an article on sunblock yesterday, realised that the ones I've been using are substandard, and looked at myself in the mirror - yes, that brown tinge is a tan, no doubt about it. I've never been one for suntanning, I just like being out in the sun. But especially at my advanced age, that's not a good idea without adequate protection. Sunblock is much-needed armour under the harsh Provencal sun. I'll have to do better.

My morning treat, always, is opening my email - since I'm six hours ahead, yesterday evening's emails from home are waiting when I awake. Today, two thoughtful messages, the first from Penny in England about Michael Jackson. She watched the memorial yesterday, found it moving and mesmerising. Michael inspired her son's music career, was like his friend and so was her friend too. She loved his daughter Paris's eulogy to her dad, and wrote:

Athough I observed his early popularity I wasn't interested in him as a child star - not until my children made me listen again. It was the dancer who entranced me - Bad, Beat It, A Smooth Criminal. I was there with the stars watching the Motown 25 Billie Jean. I danced my way through my twenties and thirties with his changing image and that trembling voice in my head.

Penny admires how he kept dancing through his pain, and now, she writes beautifully, he can rest in peace and "I will dance for him and for me."

I thank her for such a personal insight into how much MJ meant to the world. He just didn't mean much to me; I was immersed in babies in the 80's and had no idea what was going on in entertainment, or much else. But as I watched bits of the effusive memorial last night, I had Bob Herbert's recent New York Times editorial in my head. Herbert wrote that we want to forget Jackson's sexual abuse of very young boys, one accusation of which cost him many millions of dollars to silence. That Jackson's troubled later life, focussed on the fantasy of becoming someone else, is symbolic of a time in American life when self-indulgence and unreality ruled.

MJ was a superb, magical performer and composer who did much good, there's no question about that. But I also agree with Herbert that his later life as a white-skinned Peter Pan living in an amusement park was pathetic and grotesque. In eulogising the man as if he weren't deeply troubled, "a danger to himself and others," as Herbert puts it, I think we're sweeping reality under the carpet. We can acknowledge his legendary generosity, the glory of his vast talent and accomplishments, without struggling to ignore the dark side, as if those later years did not exist or matter.

Then, a message from a former student, Monty, who writes that on-line registration for "True to Life 2", my advanced memoir course at Ryerson, is now open - come one come all!!!

After registering he checked my blog, began April 1 and followed the journey from the beginning to now. He and his wife did a cycling tour of Provence not long ago and also visited Gordes and the Abbaye de Senanque - by bicycle! I can't imagine trying to groan up the steep mountain to Gordes. I hope he'll write about that.

At the end of his lovely note, Monty says this:

If I can be so bold as to make a small suggestion (please forgive me if I am too bold) - do your best at the writing thing while you are there, but don't fuss about it too much. Your senses are probably so overloaded with new stimuli and wonderful experiences, friends, tastes, images and new insights (into yourself and your writing) at this point that it must be difficult to focus. Isn't that why we get away - to get a new perspective. The challenge to write the perfect words in such an overstimulated environment is a very difficult one. Gather your raw material, "feel" the experiences (and record carefully how they feel), take notes and let it all steep - like good tea. The long Canadian winter will return soon enough and give you time ( and motivation) to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys). In the meantime, as the Zen Buddhists say, "Be in the moment". Don't expect too much of yourself while away - your time will come.

How kind of him. I understand what he's saying, and it's true, there is a constant sensory overload during travel. But that doesn't have to obliterate work. I'm here at a distance from my regular daily life not only to eat mountains of cheese and drink vats of rosé but also to write. Yes, it's impossible to work on the road, in the chaos of moving from place to place, but it is possible when stable, as I am now in Gordes for the next few days at least, even though I'm constantly overwhelmed by the beauty, the smell, the taste - a huge French jay just landed on the ancient wall of grizzled stone outside right this moment, shaking his feathers in the sun, the wind gusting through the chenes verts, the pink oleanders tossing, the smell of rosemary and wet grass - I can take all that in, and write stories too. Yes I can, says the writer bravely, echoing Obama.

Though who knows what it'll read like when I'm home, with bread crumbs stuck to the pages.

Monty's mention of the long Canadian winter ran a chill down my spine. Time to do some weeding in the wind and sun. With sunscreen.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Stephen Harper tries to hug his mother

I watched a bit this evening of the Michael Jackson event, being simultaneously translated into French on several channels, which made it a bit surreal. During the boring bits - were those speeches interminable or was it just the French translation which made them seem so long? - I watched "Desperate Housewives" on another channel, in English. I never watch it at home, but it was a pleasure here, so far away, to watch American neuroses for a change, instead of French ones.

Then I opened Le Monde, the intellectual French newspaper, to find an ad sponsored by "," addressed to the leaders of the G8 about the world wide health of women. It's a clever ad showing old childhood photographs of each of the eight leaders with his, or in the case of Angela Merkel, her, mother. "Your mothers taught you to write your name; today they count on your signature," it says, to try to end maternal mortality.

A lovely picture of a very young Obama laughing in the arms of his mother, Angela and hers side by side grinning at the camera, Berlusconi as a little boy beside his poor mother, Gordon Brown a little boy, Sarkozy too, Aso the Japanese leader and Medvedev from Russia. And in the middle there's a picture of a frizzy haired woman with her back to the camera, trying to hug a stiff, uncomfortable adult male with lacquered hair who can't even manage to put his arms around her - his hands are flailing helplessly in the direction of her back. Yes, it's our noble Prime Minister with his old mum, trying to show affection. I read in the "Globe" that the Tories are rising in the polls, and I think, maybe I'll stay just in France and watch "Desperate Housewives." I don't want to come back to a country that might give a majority to a man who can't even hug his mother.

Life has changed in the house on the Gordes hill - Elisa is home. She's the youngest of my friends' five children, a mere 23; her brother, the oldest, is approaching 40. Once again, I note the difference between a child raised in France and chez nous; this one has travelled extensively, has spent a year working in Senegal, has just returned from some months in Sydney, Australia and will come to Montreal in September to do a degree at Concordia. She has time off in August and wants to travel. Where? I ask. "I'd love to go back to Senegal," she replied. Africa seems so close from here, not the other end of the universe, as it is for us.

It's great to have a young person in the house. She arrived with a big bag full of dirty laundry and plunged with delight into the fridge, just like my kids do when they visit. After more than 20 hours of flying time last night, she was still perky; invited me to join her in an aperitif - she had Pernod, I rosé - and then she made a crab and tomato tart for dinner. Today she made us lunch - stir-fried vegetables and fried fish in a cream sauce. This is a French young person, after all. But there is make up all over the bathroom, the phone is ringing constantly, an "Elle" magazine left in the garden - youth has arrived and it's great.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sunday afternoon after the feast

A broiling Sunday afternoon in sleepy Provence - no one is stirring but the crowds of tourists wandering around the Gordes village square looking for some shade. The locals have had their big Sunday lunch with wine and are taking it easy until the heat passes.

As are Denis and I. Or at least je. Yesterday I walked down to the village to buy this week's "Elle" - one of my thrills of the week - and some groceries, and at the epicerie I ran into Marie-Jo, a friend since my first stay in Gordes in 1979. Her husband Jean is - was, he is now in his eighties and retired - a potter of renown, who made the loveliest smooth simple shapes in bowls, platters, dishes and vases. Their house is one of the loveliest I've ever visited. They live below Gordes on the flat plain, in a huge place they renovated from a barn to a modern dwelling, white stucco inside with high ceilings and ancient beams and also full of beautiful shapes - vases, big and small glass bottles of various colours, statues, antiquities, art; everything, though stunning, is simple and unpretentitious. Their main dining-room is outside under the trees, the table a big rectangular slab of stone covered with slate; guests sit on benches which are stone slabs covered with cushions, and above, lanterns with candles hang from a long piece of old wood. The view on all sides of the plains and mountains of the Luberon is spectacular.

Shortly after my arrival here on a visit in the 80's we were invited for lunch there, and I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the place and the quality of the food that I began to ... you guessed it ... cry. I was so grateful to my father that he once forced me to learn French, so that now I could not only enjoy France but tell people so. Over and over, ad nauseam, I suspect.

In the village, yesterday, Marie-Jo and I had a reunion after ten years, catching up on our children and current lives, and later that day, she called to invite Denis and me for lunch today. Quelle joie. She is a beautiful women in her seventies with warm blue eyes and fine cheek-bones, and Jean is hearty and full of life. The couple have never been to North America but don't miss much that happens nearby. As we took an aperitif sitting in wicker chairs in a shady nook deeper in the garden, there was much discussion about solar power and other alternative energies - why art schools aren't asking their students to create solar panels that are not only functional but beautiful. That would of course be of interest to Jean and Marie-Jo, because every single thing in their house and its surroundings is beautiful.

Then, á table, eating on Jean's platters and plates first a variety of cold salads, then hot chicken with quinoa, then cheese, fig tart (figs from the tree nearby) with ice-cream and finally espresso, we discussed books, films, mutual friends, work, travel and the upcoming Avignon Festival which is featuring a play by Wajdi Mouawad, who's the Director of French theatre at the National Arts Centre and very big here. I was about as happy as it's possible to be, to sit with these cultivated, generous, lively people under their sweeping trees, looking at the vista of Provence on a July Sunday and listening to interesting talk. Merci encore une fois, mon père.

The problem after a lunch like that is what to do with the rest of the day when it's 34 degrees and your stomach and brain are full of food and wine. I'm sitting in my cool room with the shutters closed and will soon have a quick swim to see if I can wake myself up.

Maybe I'll just settle down on the sofa with "Elle," to read their in-depth articles on the new popularity of Jennifer Aniston and the make up hints of Scarlett Johansen. I think I might be capable of that.


PS Just sat through an entire French news program, on and on about local elections, some soccer person who died, the Tour de France (Lance is 10th), Michael Jackson's funeral and a tour of Neverland, the fact that Madonna paid homage to him last night in London, floods in Vietnam, a serial killer in the U.S. - and then finally, news of Wimbledon.

GO ROGER!!!!!!! My mother the tennis junkie must have been glued to her chair for that entire last agonising set. An hour and a half! I'm concerned about her heart. What a thrill.

Okay, that's it for my interest in sports. Except that I'll have to follow the Tour de France, a bit, since the papers will be carrying nothing but.

Highly recommended: a column in the New York Times today by Bob Herbert, about the reality of who Michael Jackson really was and the society that produced him.


And ... despite this paradise, I am sleeping badly. Either I open my windows at night and all kinds of insects get in, including grasshoppers the size of small mice who bounce terrifyingly, or I leave the windows closed and am stifled but feel relatively secure. Fear of insects is something I've fought all my life with limited success. The other night, four huge beetles with pincers were circling around the house sounding like small helicopters, I kid you not. And inside the house, Daddy Longlegs everywhere, grasshoppers, spiders, centipedes and an occasional, apparently, scorpion which I've not had the pleasure to encounter. The stuff of nightmares for a phobic.

But the cheese is really, really good.

Friday, July 3, 2009

gifts: Wayson's words, a poem from Patsy, music from Denis

This is a creative paradise, and I'm making the most of it. They say writers should work in a plain environment where they won't be distracted by the surroundings, but so far, the beauty of the garden here has been an inspiration, not a distraction. Where better to work than on the terrace overlooking grass, trees, flowers, overhearing the conversation of the birds? I've spent as many hours as possible over the past few days, right there.

On weekday mornings, often my housemate has left for work, leaving the doors and windows wide open and a pot of coffee made. What heaven that time is. The house can remain open and bright for a few hours in the morning, but then, by 10, the shutters come down and the windows are shut against the oncoming heat. By then I've set myself up on the terrace and started work, tapping, thinking, tapping. Who knows if what's there is worth reading? Yes, there are pages, but I began to wonder, as we all do - am I wasting my time?

Two days ago I sent an email to my dear Wayson, telling him that what was coming out was too flat, shapeless and episodic: and then this happened, and then this, and then that.

Yesterday, this was in my in-box:

YES, you can do the best writing of your inner creative life!

FOCUS, dear Beth - write about one of the most vulnerable and meaningful episodes that you can recall with enough clarity or emotion to RECREATE into a work of creative non-fiction. You're an artist, not a recorder. WRITE THE DAMN THING AS IF YOUR LIFE DEPENDS UPON IT. Be messy, chaotic, but never let go the truth of what you are feeling as you write. Do not think, think, THINK! Write! That's what I do.

Do ONLY the hot bits that burn your heart to this day - and as you use every bit of your craft to recreate the emotional realities of that experience, a flood of the most essential details will come to you (note, DETAILS, not 'facts'). Free your deepest memory to express itself without any concern for facts.

It is emotional truth we are seeking, not a diary entry, an anecdote, or a journal of events. Surrender to the shaking self and write your heart out. Never mind any sequential or chronological details, correct names or even age! Hauntings are their own reality - and much more dramatic and inspiring. Fine tune later. Get the MOST IMPORTANT, FRIGHTENING, JOYFUL, ECSTATIC, ENLIGHTENING, CHAOTIC, RAW moments out on paper. Memory, after all, is just another form of fiction, as Antanas told me.

FREE YOURSELF TO EXPRESS YOURSELF - ! Yes, a thousand times YES, you can write at that white-heat, enchanted, inspired depth.

x0x Wayson

His faith and encouragement brought tears to my eyes. But easy to say, Wayson - am I capable of what you're asking? To go to that depth, to test myself at that level? The doubts are many. Maybe my memories just aren't that important, frightening, ecstatic, enlightening. Maybe the flood is dammed up and I can't summon that white heat. But, I said to myself, I will try. And as I resumed tapping, a black and white butterfly swirled around my head and almost landed on the computer. It fluttered nearby most of the day. Wayson is keeping an eye on me.

A few hours later, more tears. I'd just eaten a glorious peach at lunch when this came in, from one of my oldest friends Patsy on Gabriola Island, and I was inspired all over again.

From Blossoms

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Li-Young Lee (1957 - )

How unforgettable - the round jubilance of peach.

Finally, at supper, Denis and I discussed, among many other things (which included my in his eyes indiscriminate use of superlatives) our love of Johann Sebastian Bach, and after supper, he put on "The Musical Offering," an exquisite piece of music I'd never heard. I sat with my eyes closed, more tears.

An emotional day. One gift after another, all the sweet impossible blossoms. And the gift of the day itself, being here for the day, being here to receive the gifts, trying to create something worthy to give back.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

9 p.m., Canada Day

I did my best. I went down to the village to get beer, pickles, (wasn't sure they'd have cornichons in Gordes but I was game to try) and some kind of bun for burgers. But it's the day the two little grocery stores are closed, I guess, and the bakery too. It was odd to find everything closed, but it was. So I had to make do.

For supper, we had potato salad without pickle juice, which my mother-in-law swears is the vital secret ingredient, and with green pepper instead of celery, but it wasn't bad at all, and we had hamburgers without buns but with lettuce, onion, tomato, ketchup, mustard. I had found a Canadian flag in a cupboard and draped it nearby. Our Canada Day fest. With red wine.

Denis, however, as perhaps I have mentioned, is French. He never eats with his hands. So he ate a plain hamburger with a knife and fork, then had the lettuce and tomato as a salad, and then the potato salad. Which he said was delicious.

I have heard from my children and dear friends. I miss everyone. But there's a beautiful garden in front of me, birds, lavender and rosemary, a sunset creeping up the sky to the right, storm clouds to the left. Below in the garden is a borie - a habitation made of piled up stones, centuries old. Denis uses this one to store his lawn-mower, and has three others further down the property. He said he tried to open one once, and a snake curled up in the keyhole would not let him in.

I hope you have all had a wonderful day. Hooray for Canada, for those Canada-lovers who are there right now, and for those who are not.