A meaningful gift our recent guests left us: drawing by Bill Logie.
AVOIR DE LA VEINE
: to be lucky
avoir de la veine. Maggie et Michael, et nous même, avons eu de la veine de se rencontrer.
to be lucky. Maggie and Michael, and we ourselves, were lucky to meet each other.
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
In our car, on our way home from a jazz concert at Domaine de l'Olivette, Jean-Marc and I were talking to two very special house guests. "If we could do it over again," I said, "I would have encouraged our kids to take up piano! I learned too late that when children practice a musical instrument they are forming their brains to be even more receptive to learning."
Maggie, who shared the back seat with me, smiled, admitting she would have enjoyed playing the harp. As soon as she said it I could picture her there, on our ancient olive farm, where she spent summers from the age of ten. The year was 1949....
I could see Maggie again, this time in her twenties--when this 19-century mas was first renovated-- strumming the harp on the balcony over looking the a field of olives. Beyond, the sea might have been glittering (a sea's way of clapping, you know).
I was daydreaming of the past and the future, of harps and artichoke hearts, when Maggie's next words woke me from the rêverie. "But you have already given Max and Jackie this gift," Maggie assured me. Your children speak a second language!"
It's true, speaking two languages has the same brain-strengthening benefit! Maggie's comment cheered me even more when I remembered that my own brain has been in training ever since learning French in high school. But lately my mind is forgetful.
Writing is another way to train the brain. So I think I'll get some exercise now, by jotting down some of the things we have done with Maggie and Michael since the return to their former stomping grounds on Monday.
* * *
The picture is still crystal clear in my mind. I stood in the gravel driveway as Jean-Marc drove up with our guests. I squinted my eyes, trying to see beyond the reflection on the windshield--to the familiar faces inside the car. I searched for expressions that would be a clue as to what our invités were thinking of the changes to the land since they sold us their beloved home three years ago (notably the absence of so many trees, as Jean-Marc prepares the land for vine plantings!).
Standing beside the weeping mulberry, a freeing thought came over me: Let go... let go! Take the focus off your anxious thoughts - in time to see the twinkle in your guests eyes!
And that is how the three-day visit with the former propriétaires of our home unfolded, moment by moment, leading up to the much anticipated moment of truth: when we would learn just how Maggie and Michael felt about the changes they now saw.
As I reach this point in my story, I am overwhelmed with the meaningful moments from this week; perhaps it is best to choose just a few (followed by the touching conclusion I hinted to you about):
From our family favorite (Jean-Marc's barbequed daurade) to our neighbor, Annie's, Soupe au Pistou (shared with Annie and her daughter, Margot) we enjoyed several meals on the front porch, enjoying stories of this historic farmhouse and the surrounding land.
Shopping in old St Cyr
Maggie and Michael did most of their errands and shopping in the old town of St Cyr, and it was a pleasure for them to return three years later, to buy a battery for Maggie's watch, to drink une noisette (espresso with a splash of milk) at Cafe de France, and to stop in to the old quincaillerie, with me, to inquire about a knife-sharpening prestation (yay! the shop offers this service, and will aiguiser my dull set very soon, for 2 euros 50 per knife).
The Search For Breizh
Our 9-year-old golden, Breizh (mother of Smokey), had a seizure on Tuesday, causing her to be disoriented and to wander off. Maggie, Michael, Jean-Marc and I each set off in a different direction, combing the property in search of our dog. It was Michael who found her along the path less traveled, below the old stone cabanon. Breizh was panting heavily beneath a stickery bush, one with enough shade to protect her until help arrived (mille mercis, Michel!).
Michael went on to walk the property line with Jean-Marc, helping Chief Grape to know just how far he can plant the next field of grapes.
The cabanon, a former pig pen.
Tuesday evening we piled into Jean-Marc's small boat and rode leisurely up the coast, anchoring just outside the port. Huddled together in the bow, our guests enjoyed rosé and cacahuates and a view of La Ciotat, Les Lecques, and the ile verte.
Swimming with Maggie
On Wednesday our dear matelots , or sailers, treated us to lunch at Port d'Alon. Over salmon and shrimp salad Maggie told us of her father's love of swimming, and how he used to do laps across the calanque, or creek here not far from his home (where we now live today).
After lunch, Maggie and I swam out to sea. As we looked back I saw the waves we made returning to shore like salty tender memories.
The day of our guests departure, I found Maggie and Jean-Marc in the kitchen--tears in the corners of their eyes. Maggie turned to me and said:
"Among the blessings I count in this life--my husband, my children, my grandchildren--I count selling our home to you a true blessing!"
(This Blog Post)
As we ate breakfast that morning together, Jean-Marc looked up, his eyes bright as he said to our guests, "Kristi would like to write an edition about your visit!"
"Oh, no!" I explained, downplaying the idea I had since given up on. "Not really an edition! I just thought I would mention we saw you and..."
The truth was, I so wanted to put to words the time we had shared with Maggie and Michael. "But," I explained, "while it is easy for me to write about Jean-Marc and the kids... the moment I write about friends the words risk coming out clumsily. And I wouldn't want to intrude on your privacy. And..."
Awkwardly addressing the subject of What Can And Will Sometimes Go Wrong When Writing About Others, I heard Michael address me.
"Kristi, We think you are very sweet and we are not worried about your writing." Michael's words, like the opening scene by the mulberry tree, were so freeing. I called my Mom soonafter.
"Honey," she said, "every since you moved to that house, you have truly written from your heart."
... to Maggie and Michael and to those who read these stories: Thank you for your support and words of encouragement. Each story written is a step farther along the writing path. And what a joy to write along a path flanked by olives and vines, and with the hint of the harp's melody coming from the terraces above....
The old fireplace here at Mas des Brun, formerly Mas Fraser, as noted in the drawing by Bill Logie
Maggie and Michael recommended many books and movies that take place in France, or very near. Here is a favorite of mine and theirs, and another I have just ordered, recommended by Michael.
- Jean Giono's, The Man Who Planted Trees, is a very short read and a must-reed treasure of a book.
- And a book I just bought, after Michael's recommendation: How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer
SABLET HOME for high quality vacation rentals in the heart of Provence. Particularly suited to groups of up to four discerning travelers.
Photo by Sheryl Simmen, who writes: "Some day, I hope you can be at my lavender party, Kristin Ingham Espinasse, as it was you who introduced me to French Lavender Wands."
Thanks, Sheryl! I'm putting your lavender party on my bucket list! And for anyone interested in making lavender wands or lavender bottles, see the post Tresser: To Weave. Click here.
Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have enjoyed more than a little vocabulary here today and are looking forward to the next post, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue writing and publishing these educational missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi
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"I’ve really enjoyed reading your stories over the years & hope you will continue to delight us with your beautiful photos and thoughtful & charming antidotes of life in the beautiful south of France."--Jacqueline