May 18, 2017
Lavender + Provence, right? Honestly, I am so taken by these fields of May poppies, I think they might be in direct competition with the lavender. May is the better time to come to this place! Perfect weather, very few tourists, water to swim in, it is a dream.
I faithfully go to a yoga class about 30 minutes from my house in Saint Chamas where an American friend teaches at the studio she has created at her house. Her clientele are all local French women. I admire them - they are beautiful and fit and generally between 40 and 50 years old. (I will add that French women seem to truly inhabit their bodies - they stay in them through childbearing and years of living and eating. These women anyway). I deliberately place myself next to one woman in particular - her energy spreads to my mat. After an inspiring class recently we were talking and she mentioned a field of poppies that is just remarkable - different from the others. It goes beyond itself over and over, she said. I wanted to go. She said to go beyond Saint Chamas on the road to Istres (which is a beautiful drive). She said I couldn’t miss it.
So on another drive, after a hike in the wild land around l’Étang de Berre, Xavier and I drove toward Istres from Saint Chamas. The field smacked us in the face as we drove around a curve. We entered the field and waded up to our knees in thick poppies. We kept wading and I was so glad Xavier encouraged us to keep going because the first field was merely a tiny fraction of the whole. The field extended back 10 times on itself. The red was more overwhelming than any green. I ached to just keep going. When we did go back to the car and start driving it became clear that we had only seen one direction of the field. It actually extended out in every direction in the same way. Marvelous. I dare say this is the best poppy field in all of Provence.
And just one pink poppy in the flock.
May 17, 2017
One of those seemingly unreal villages: Gordes. Sitting on its Provence perch, enjoying the view of the countryside. These outings are so sweet in my mind: one of the things Xavier likes most is to drive. One of the things I like most is a sunny day (set in beautiful country). So, we take off. Top down. Breathing in the place around us. There are songs that now remind us of these trips, we've taken so many. We play those along the way. We are hitting most of the little Provence villages in the Luberon on the map, the best parts of the sea, and blessedly sitting at so many tables along the way. Good food and we have rediscovered each other in this. I know this moment won't last forever, but I am soaking it in thoroughly.
May 15, 2017
Colette had a special event at school called "Carnevale" recently. All French kids know about it, and it is linked to Mardi Gras, although it really doesn't fall anywhere near that date for many schools. One parent told me I should think of it like France's halloween. Hmm. OK. In any case, the children all dress up in costume and confetti paper is launched everywhere in their courtyard. Sometimes they parade around the village (this year, sadly, worries about terrorism prevented that). They always get candy and treats. The school's theme this year is insects, so most kids' disguises followed. Colette was a queen butterly...her boyfriend (because she definitely has an 'amoreux'), Esteban, was a bumble bee. They walked around most of the day holding hands, the teacher informed us. "C'est très serieux" she confided, with big bulbous eyes for emphasis. She herself was also a bee.
All in all, we are pretty delighted with Colette's school. And, happily, they are delighted with her. For a while, Colette's teacher had a small group with whom she would work on language issues, vocabulary and grammar. Colette was part of that group. Then one day when I dropped Colette off, Madame Maîtresse pulled me aside and told me Colette didn't need the group any longer. She is as advanced as all the other kids now, she said nodding her head slowly up and down. I told her we were appreciative of everything she'd done. She responded with, "Colette is brilliant." Colette was blushing and so was I. To think I was absolutely terrified of this transition for little Colette.
Romy too is a sweet thing in French. Colette's piano teacher was over today. Romy informed her that very soon she would be big enough to take piano lessons and that she, Florence, would be her teacher. Romy added that she would like singing in her lessons too, please. Florence agreed wholeheartedly - she has a speaking voice that rings with vibrato.
At her school, Romy is a big kid - one of the older ones. I found her one afternoon, pushing a baby around the yard in a tiny stroller, singing little French lullabies (made up by her) to him.
It has a funny effect on me when I find Colette and Romy playing in French together. I feel curious and a twinge of apprehension, like they might be growing further away from me, but I know that is a dippy reaction. Colette does the disciplinarian very well in French, instructing Romy to spend some time "dans le coin." She also helps me to remain calm when at bedtime, for instance, things are chaotic and Colette rings out "Prends deux minute dans une autre piece et calme-toi, maman." (Take 2 minutes to breathe and calm down in another room, mother). She's right.
Marguerite flits between the two worlds easily. It is pretty remarkable how bilingual she is, given that most of her life is still in France. When she comes to us every other weekend, she switches into a little English bubble though. Most of the time, the three girls play in English. She still begs to do bath, stories and bedtime at night with the girls when she is here. She is just so good-natured and really mature for her 11 years. She often watches YouTube videos of gymnasts and will mimic what they do. She has a back-walk-over and one-handed cartwheel down and is going for an aerial! I love her fearlessness.
We are all completely in our lives here in Provence. Colette still sometimes pines for her friends in NYC, but for the most part, our progress feels very present. We are all relishing this place. Meals outside, the moon, the sun (!), swimming in April and May, our little town, runs through the countryside, bike rides with the girls, the smell of the wind, a whole year of bare feet, an expanding bug collection, garden projects...
Speaking of garden projects, our gardener! Patrice. What a fellow. The first time I met him, he looked at me through leery eyes trying to comprehend what I was doing here (not everyone loves foreigners). He has had his feet on this patch of ground all of his life. It is clear his trust is in local things - products, places, people from Provence. Patrice 'came with' our house in some ways. He was the gardener who had vision in planting many of the trees, keeping the fruit trees pruned, shaping the lanky cyprus trees, the yard, the olive grove, etc. He is invested in the way a creator is in his work. Hence, he just shows up. He will suddenly be here at our house without warning and will want to discuss some project we may have been asking about for a month. No warning or in other instances, no response. One night Xavier was cooking and suddenly there was a man at the windowed door just next to the stove. Xavier jumped. Patrice has a particular look about him - longer hair, tanned Provence skin, not much concern for his appearance. Startling. Another day we came home and there was a lone lavender plant out in the middle of our field, sitting like a large mushroom. Xavier and I both thought the other had placed it there. It was Patrice. He came again and told us how we should plant a small lavender field. We were delighted - it was a great idea (5 rows near the olive trees). Then another random day he executed on that plan. Hard to hold him to a timeline, but he comes through. We seeded some grass just recently and I've found him a couple of times just standing there, hose in hand, watering the seeds. I tell him I will water and he looks at me in a cloudy, sort of way and says seeds can be hard to grow here in Provence. The mix of dedication/absence is definitely a special mix here in Provence.
Another garden project: the cabane. Xavier, the bricoleur, built quite the 'cabane' for the girls. Ladder, slide, shutters, a basket with a pulley, the works. They all helped. Quite the project and quite a lot of fun.
May 11, 2017
Nothing like a white sheet and a few chairs to invoke fantasy. I got underneath the sheet and looked into their eyes and realized the best way to be with them is down low. Nothing extra. I listened to Colette's elaborate explanation of what we were doing and how we got here (boat, train, time machine, plane - long voyage). I did add one effect: white noise app on my phone with speaker to produce thunder storm (felt very real despite sun rays gandering through the window). Pure terror on Romy's face. Comforting from Colette and then a lot of time huddled together.
May 9, 2017
May 6, 2017
On Fridays Xavier and I often set out to find a different angle of the Mediterranean. I had heard about Les Goudes, the southern most point of Marseille, its 8th arrondissement, and had wanted to go for a while. Situated at the verge of the Calanques, deep inlets in the sea enclosed by high sea cliff walls, this little port shares the same turquoise water and rocky terrain. Just one little road leads in and out and I have heard traffic on weekends or during the summer is one reason many people avoid it entirely. Off season this spot was enchanting. We hiked up to the little restaurant on Cap Croisette, La Baie des Singes. Just open for the season, we ate octopus and giant sea bass, brought to the table directly from the sea and laid out for approval before cooking. The views from here are stunning - across the jeweled water to Île Marie, an protected island, which is a bird refuge today. We want to bring our inflated kayak Xavier recently acquired out to explore…
After-lunch snooze back near the port