I forgot to charge my camera's batteries, so Jean-Marc took this photo (and more, below) with his telephone. Can you make out which monkey is my daughter, which singe is my son, and which one is Braise-the-Dog? More about our walk up Sainte-Victoire in today's story column.

une grimpette

     : a steep little climb

C'est là que dans sa grimpette la rue du repos s'étire jusqu'au lavoir.
It is there, in this steep climb, that the retreat street stretches up to the washing place.

             --from "Brins de houx, bugade en chansons," Var Matin (newspaper)

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word "grimpette" and the example sentence: Download Grimpette (mp3). Download Grimpette (wave file)

On Sunday, Jean-Marc, Max, Jackie, Braise-the-Dog, and I were treated to a picnic at Sainte-Victoire, both a mountain and a muse to more than one artist, including Cézanne, who there would paint his heart out time and again.

We had spent Saturday night with cousins Christiane & Charles, in Aix-en-Provence. The Gallic globetrotters once took their children on a 5-year voyage around the world, navigating from behind the helm of their own sailboat! And, just last November, together with their children--and grandchildren--they traversed the sands of southern Moroccan desert, sleeping in tents at night and getting by on one liter of water per day with which to "shower". The 20 kilometer daily walks strengthened family ties, not to mention hearts and thighs!

Given their athletic nature, I admit to not hesitating one instant when, at the base of the great Sainte-Victoire, cousin Christiane lugged the heavy picnic pack up and over her back.

"You sure you don't want me to carry it?" I offered, my eyes fixed on the French heavens where le Pic des Mouches* (the mountain's highest point) loomed. "It's not heavy," Christiane answered, fastening the straps.

Soon, the scent of pine and wild herbs surrounded us. I reached down to pick up a pomme de pin.* One of the things that I had noticed chez Christiane, was her knack for gathering natural objects (exotic seeds, husks, cones, branches...) and creating harmonious arrangements with them. Hungry for the same harmony here at home, I began to fill my pockets with the cones until Christiane offered the empty poche* of her backpack. "Tiens,* you can put them here, inside."

Kristiandchristiane (more photos at the end of this post...)

We had been talking about friendship when Christiane spoke about the people in her life and, without her having to say it, I understood that the friends with whom she shares it have as much inner-harmony as those compositions in her home: like good art, good friends are pure at heart.

"You know," Christiane said, offering me an imperfect pine cone (one that I had overlooked), "I prefer these to diamonds." For an instant, I was lost in a daydream in which I stood at the entrance of my Secret "Sisters" Club. On entering, each and every "true blue" friend had to hand me one pine cone and repeat: I prefer this to diamonds.

An hour into our hike, we were knee-deep in an aromatic odyssey. Do you call this hors-piste*? I joked with my husband, as we searched for the foot path that we had wandered off of. I let my hands brush over the blooming rosemary and resisted the temptation to snap off several twigs of thyme (add the branches to a mug of piping hot water, for the most soothing wintertime tea!) after Christiane explained that certain herbs, in this area, were protected and should be left alone.

Christiane During the last, grueling grimpette,* Charles, Christiane's husband, kept our group light on our feet with his joyful whistling ballads and thoughtful blagues.* Max, Jackie, and Braise-The-Dog were stoic "sangliers"* according to Charles and, between darting up and down the hilly terrain, they answered to their calling with proud snorts (to which Charles snorted back, respectfully so).

Toward the end of our ascent, I noticed the saturated skyline and marveled at true "sky blue" set off by bright limestone white as we reached the top of the mountain ridge. This must be the color of blue immortalized in the famous Provençal textiles.

On the way down the path, I felt that brilliance--that balance--that only an afternoon basking in the herbal countryside can bring on. The trick will be in recreating it, whether with pine cones--or with pure hearts--in the home and beyond.

Corrections, comments, and stories of your own--always welcome here, in the comments box.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
le Pic des Mouches = Peak of the Flies; une pomme (f) de pin = pine cone; la poche (f) = pocket; tiens (tenir) = here; le hors-piste (m) = off-piste, off-trail; la grimpette (f) = steep climb; la blague (f) = joke; le sanglier (m) = wild boar


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