Note: the first paragraph of this story was just re-worked! Thanks, red-penners, for the suggestions you sent in. To see what the opening looked like before the chances, see the comments box.
The Mistral wind is sweeping through the cimetière here in Les Arcs-sur-Argens. Strolling alone on an afternoon walk, I am amazed to see parts of the medieval burial site literally lift off! When you live in a 12th-century village, I guess you can expect a crumbling graveyard. What crumbles turns to dust. I wonder, eerily, whether it is this dust that is making me cough as I make my way through the maze of carved stone and iron.
I look around the medieval cemetery at the tombstones, the freestanding mausoleums, the barren plots topped with gravel—plots so old that the names have disappeared from the headstones, or the stones have disappeared altogether after cracking, crumbling and finally being carried off by the wind. On top of dozens of plots, only a lopsided iron cross remains. In one corner of the graveyard there is a pile of broken stone, bits and pieces of statues that have fallen from certain plots, crashed to the ground, only to be swept together in one big heap. I wonder what the groundskeeper is planning on doing with these "ornaments"? I think about how such relics are an antiquarian's gold mine (in fact, wouldn't that broken cherub's wing look great in my bedroom?). I kick myself for letting such an odd thought cross through my mind. I decide to think about language instead.
The French have a colorful expression for "dead and buried": manger les pissenlits par les racines ("to eat dandelions by the root"). Will I one day be buried here in this French necropolis? The question haunts me each time I set foot in a cimetière. Though France feels more like home than Phoenix, I couldn't be more misplaced than in this French graveyard!
It occurs to me that I'll truly be anchored to France the day I lie down pour de bon. Might as well get to know my future neighbors.... I look at the names on the tombstones: Famille Lorgues, Famille Blanc, Famille Bressin... I am an Ingham by birth—Famille Ingham. I think about the cemetery in Seattle where the Inghams are buried. Somehow it doesn't seem like a place to spend eternity on earth either.
Well, what about Phoenix? I try to remember whether I have ever seen a cemetery in The Valley of the Sun. Cemeteries in the desert are so... hidden, not like in France, where the subterranean dortoirs exist at the top of every picturesque village.
No, I don't want to be stuck out in the desert, with nothing but a scrawny desert rat scrambling by, or a few lazy tumbleweeds bumping into my headstone before tumbling on towards Tucson.
Maybe I'll be buried in Fuveau, near Aix-en-Provence? That is where the Espinasse family rests. I realize that I have never met any of the family buried there. No, this is no final home for the future moi either.
Perhaps it is the "forever" aspect that bothers me? As it is, I can leave France whenever I choose to, return to the desert whenever I wish. But once I hit subterranean France, my vagabond days will be over, kaput.
Standing there alone, I look around at the cramped grave site, and realize—not without soulagement—that there is no room within this walled community for me. And, just as it always is when I begin to fret about the outcome of things, Madame Here and Monsieur Now appear, in time to offer a needed reminder. I take the hint and reach down to pluck up a stray dandelion.
"Souffle!" they command. "Blow!" And so I do, before watching the seeds fly off—so many tiny encapsulated "what ifs" now scatter toward the sun and gently disappear.
pour de bon
Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!