Monday, March 30, 2009

Violets and Wood Smoke (de Violette et Fumée de Bois)

The way to Berniquaut is uphill. The ground is covered with plum petals, a snow flurry of palest pink across the footpath, where earth is mounded up on the sides, tunneled over by hedges that weave wooden digits together.

The petal snow blows. I pull up my hood and I am walking a medieval path at eventide, beads in hand, the old prayers murmuring on my lips Hail…full of grace…blessed art…I must climb to the ancestral town and bring news of approaching weather before the bells strike seven. I am calmed by the enclosure of the climb into the embrace of the wood, emerging onto the butte, the view over the plains to Toulouse.

The flowering of Spring has begun, the birds sing. My downcast eyes pick out verbena citronnée, primevére, heliborus, euphorbe, gentiane de bois pushing up through dirt brown duff. Field bunnies run ahead uphill, into leafless brambles, down hidden holes. Flower petals tumble down my long robes.

The roman cart track is strewn with broken granite as I reach the top of the ridge, the abandoned citadel of Berniquaut. The sky is the deep pastel blue for which we long in our wode-dyed cloth for les vêtements de la riche – the deeper the blue, the higher the price they will pay.

I mount the butte and survey the rolling plain to Revel, St Felix and Toulouse on the left, Dourgne and Castres on the right. The air in the valley is la rose de la brique de Toulouse et de l'ail de Lautrec, fortelling the warmer light of summer to come. No rain tomorrow. The sky is clear to the horizon; the wind blows dry, if cold. I knot a shawl around my shoulders and descend in the falling dark to bring my report to the abbot.

The sides of the hedge-covered path pull me close, breathing their night scent into my hair. Down where the sun plays in the day, un corps de ballet de violettes dances down the hillside, purpling the sky with perfume. The pruning fires of the villagers send smoke signals to the stars. The light fades and I hurry home à la sonnerie de l'Angelus par les cloches sur le cou des chèvres et dans la tour de l'église (to the chiming of the Angelus by the bells at the throats of the goats and in the tower of the church).


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Green Fire (Feu Vert)

"This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes...
I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze of growing..."

DH Lawrence, "The Enkindled Spring"

I've been going out for ma petite randonnée on the Rue des Jardins which looks back on Soreze from the west. Out there the greens in the late afternoon are ablaze in the last shards of sunlight.

Warm snows of wildflowers drift over the brambled ground,

the vines are fledging stone walls with tender
green feathers aimed at the center of the eye,

buds of new life rouge the tips of lichen-crusted hedges.

Oh my!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Drinking in the Sun (Boire le Soleil)

Au contrair mon frere

J’aime le shop de Mariage Frere. Oui!
That delectable tea in its beat up tins,
the slim, possibly gay, boys, their sly
Bonjour madame counterpointing fey
linen suits, their readiness to d’accord
my requests for a vertical tasting
of Ceylons, Earl Greys, Assams, to decide
on Darjeeling instead of French Breakfast,
to absent-mindedly say, What was that
tea I sent to my son for his birthday?

Je ne sais quoi exactement je l’aime
about the crumbling colonial décor
as I take tea there of an afternoon –
it can’t be the tiny tables with no elbow room.
Perhaps the cultured feel of tea by the pot
on white table linen, of choosing from framboise,
citron ou chocolat
pastry on the teacart, each
using a different tea in the recipe – tea cakes
Voici! they’re being witty with me.

As much as I love the chatter and splash
of le Marais street life in the spring rain,
I’ll slip into the Frere’s for une cent gram
in separate bags to send off to New York,
Healdsburg, San Francisco, Tatlintown or
take back with me to Amsterdam by train,
I’ll sit and put my feet up with one of the
Freres’ hundred different varieties, I’ll duck
down Ave Bourg ti Bourg again and again.

One of the unexpected gifts I have derived from my time in France is the introduction to the quality teas of Mariage Freres

My good CA friend, Renee, first sent me to their shop in le Marais district when she knew I was making a visit to Paris four years ago. Since tasting their tea, I’ve tried to have several varieties of the loose leaf with me wherever I’m living. I came near to running out last week and had to order some through the mail. Orders of 50 Euro or more are delivered free within France. Gentil!

The sun’s been out in force for the last week. I brew up a pot of tea in the morning and take mon petit déjeuner sur la terrasse. I sit in the sun and have a good soak until I'm warm to the bone.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose*

*Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, January 1849, Les Guêpes (“The Wasps”).
Literally “The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.”

Having spent a good part of the last 12 years working and living in Europe has given me something of an insider's view of the US from the outside and an outsider's view of Europe from the inside. Today's post will be a slice of the former.

I’ve been reading the collection of Janet Flanner’s dispatches to the New Yorker from 1925-1939. I am about dead center in the book, in the year 1934 during the "Great Depression", where she covers, with enviable brevity, the financial scandal generated by the actions of embezzler Alexandre Stavisky, which had unwelcome consequences for the French from high government officials to working-class citizens. (Read more at Wikipedia here)

Stavisky managed municipal pawnshops (credit organizations of the day) in Bayonne, France, but also moved in Parisian financial circles. He sold lots of worthless bonds financed on the surety of what he called the emeralds of the late Empress of Germany — which later turned out to be glass. Sound familiar? Not yet? Replace “emeralds” with “mortgage backed securities”, “worthless bonds” with “credit default swaps”…

Stavisky warded off judicial intervention and bought his way into the administration of several Parisian newspapers, controlling first advertising and then the news.

Today, much financial news and direction is received via the financial news networks on TV. This week, I was linked to a surprisingly on point “Daily Show” from March 4 on the subject of how our modern channels of information are part and parcel of the contemporary financial scandals.

Don’t let Jon Stewart’s ranting in response to Rick Santelli's ranting turn you off…

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
CNBC Gives Financial Advice
Daily Show Full EpisodesImportant Things w/ Demetri MartinPolitical Humor

Whew, indeed!

“To go in the dark with a light
is to know the light.
... know that the dark, too,
blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.”
"To Know the Dark" by Wendell Berry


Friday, March 13, 2009

A Carnival of Ecology (Carnaval de l'écologie)

Last Sunday night, M and I went to the ciné Get in Revel to see the French film Nos Enfants Nous Accuseront which takes a strong pro-organic food and farming stance. Here's another synopsis saved from a roughing up in Google and Babel, too: "In a small French village at the foot of the Cévennes montains, the mayor decides to tackle the issue of chemical contamination by declaring that the meals served by the school canteen will use only Bio (organic) products. Here, as elsewhere in France and the world, the population must deal with industrial and agricultural pollution. This village decides to take the first steps toward change and re-education of the children and their families so that 'tomorrow our children wil not accuse us'." M said, "That village could be Soreze."

The film focused on the children in the school, their garden/science project, the cafeteria cooks serving lunch and talking with the kids about the new meals, discussions at family dinner tables, local farmers deliberating the pros and cons of using pesticides, town meetings, Bio vendors at the market, to give us a close up of the human face in this widespread issue and to show how change can be started by individuals. A great, cross cultural exercise would be to show this movie in American public schools to kickoff discussion about changing the food in their cafeterias.

The warm sun on Thursday and Friday got me walking over to M's to go for une randonnée along our country lanes.

At the end of Rue Balette I ran into les enfants de l'école de Soreze, leurs professeurs et les parents (the children from the elementary school in Soreze, their teachers and parents) having a carnaval parade with an ecological twist -- the majority of their costumes were made using re-cycled materials.

They drummed and paraded around the village (about 5 blocks) and finished up in the Place Dom De Vic were the residents of la maison de retraite (the old folks home) had been wheeled out into the sun to partake in the fun.

I'm thinking that M & I should see what's cookin' with changing to Bio meals dans Soreze à l'école primaire.


Spring! (Printemps!)


the tender shimmer
of green where hills
rise to meet the eyes

fresh-plowed fields
brown under the sun
pink and white petals
pop in the hedgerows
trees lean over the road
still at languid rest

streams run chuckling
through budding woods
slip under stone arches
of small town bridges
brief showers clarify
cerulean blue sky

five crows call
medieval cadence
for oncoming Spring


Monday, March 9, 2009

Life in two languages (La vie dans les deux langues)

About a year and a half ago, C & L bought the magical (eight bedroom, three and a half bath) house two doors down here on Rue Ferlus in which I stayed as a guest in 2002 when I first came to Soreze and started to feel at home in the village. It is called “L’Art Vivant”, so named by Carole Watanabe, a painter from Sebastopol, CA. Just about all of the original paintings and murals on the walls created by Carol are still in place. C & L live in Normandy. They and their five children use the house for vactions, the rest of the time it is rented as a “gîte” (furnished vacation house typically in a rural region of France).
Visit Maison de l'Art Vivant

I invited C&L to dinner along with the daughter who was here with them, Charlotte, and her friend, Marine, both 15 years old. C & L are great about requiring me to speak only French and kindly correcting me as we go along. I made a chicken pot pie with biscuit crust (using a poulet roti from the Revel market), salad with the famous green dressing and apple crisp with cream (roughly translated: tourte au poulet dans une casserole, salade avec le sauce secret, dessert crumble de pommes à la crème). L liked the pot pie, especially les petits pois, C was a fan of the salad, the girls ate polite portions of pot pie and dessert and we all had a comfortable evening.

The next day was cool but sunny. On prompting from C to get both the girls and I out of the house, Charlotte, Marine and I rode our bikes from Soreze to Revel through the countryside, about 14 km or 8.7 miles round trip. It was the first time out on bikes in Soreze for them and for me, but L provided us with a map and we managed to find la petite route through a little, old village, La Garigol.

With a bit of help from une vieille dame out on her walk, “à gauche, à droite, sur le pont, à gauche et puis tout droit dans Revel” (to the left, to the right, over the bridge, to the left and then straight on into Revel), and merrily singing “Sur le pont de Revel, on y danse, on y danse, tous en rond”, we wheeled into Revel center where we stopped at the café. I had une grande cafe creme et les jeunes filles une boisson de sirop de fraise avec eau gazeuse (me coffee with milk and the girls, strawberry syrup with sparkling water). I practiced my French and they, a bit timidly at first, their English before winding our way back home.
We had a nice exchange of language through the rest of the week, with a couple of funny moments around “shewruum” sounding like “shroom” and me thinking L was talking about mushrooms when he was telling me about a show room for a local vegetarian manufacturer. And Charlotte asking me if I’d like a “Ginee lemon” and me thinking that she was offering me a mixed cocktail before dinner instead of a "Gini", Perrier’s version of bitter lemon soft drink. By the end of the week, I was dreaming in French, certainement un bon signe (surely a good sign).

A+ (à plus = see you soon)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The tramontane made me do it! (La tramontane m'a fait faire!)

View Larger Map

“The tramontane in France is a strong, cold wind from the northwest in lower Languedoc, Roussillon and Catalonia which accelerates as it passes between the Pyrenees and the Massif central mountains. The name was borrowed from the Latin ‘transmontanus’ and Italian ‘tramontana’, meaning not just ‘across the mountains’ but also ‘The North Star’ (literally the star "above the mountains"). The word moved from Latin into French with the meanings 'North Star' and also 'the guide". The howling noise of the tramontane is said to have a disturbing effect upon the psyche. In 1636 the French expression "perdre la tramontane" meant ‘to be disoriented’." Wikipedia, “Tramontane”

I got myself out of the house at twilight one evening last week and walked up the Chemin du Tour du Parc, the little lane that runs along the bottom edge of the village beside the walled grounds of the Abbaye Ecole (the Abbey School built in the 8th century). I was happy to see the work that had been done to cut back the underbrush along the stream that runs beside it, making this une promenade plus agreeable, a much nicer walk.

As I got to the top of the lane, I saw that the field where two donkeys were pastured last year is now unfenced so that you can walk over to a broader part of the stream and a small waterfall. Not only is this a sweet spot, which I’m hoping the village is making available to residents and visitors, it is also fertile ground, thanks to the donkeys, which already has wild violets blooming along its edge. I thought how nice it would be to have un champ de fleurs sauvages au printemps ici, a whole field of wildflowers here in the Spring.

Early Saturday morning, the tramontane wind came mewling at the shutters, clawing at my dreams. It wound around the legs and shopping trolleys of the villagers at the market, snagging their scarves and coats, pulling them open to the cold. Instead of lingering over my coffee at the café on the square after I'd gotten my fruits and vegetables, I went to do some inside errands at the Point Verte. While surveying the offerings and expanding my vocabulary on the seed aisle, I found 800 gram bags marked Jachere Campagne en Fleurs, fallow field in flower. Right up my alley!

I could see the rain hightailing it through the towns on the surrounding hills toward Soreze, so I drove directly up the lane when I got back. I walked onto the soft loam with my sack of wildflower seeds and twirled in the wind letting le blanc, jaune, orange, rouge, rose, violet, bleu of future Springs fly from my hands to wherever they wanted to grow.

à la prochaine,
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