Tuesday, October 13, 2009

For Poppy Fields because of the Mistral

Santons Fouques, Aix-en-Provence

I read http://poppyinprovence.blogspot.com/ because she is living the life I sooooooo wanted once upon a time and think I still do.  She lives in Salon-de-Provence, a quiet country town between Aix-en-Provence and Avignon.  I went through there on the bus with my friend Sylvine and fell quite in love with it.  It looked a little sleepy and peaceful and was washed in splashes of orange and yellow and green - all dusty.  With the gnarled shady sycamores that every southern French town has.  As we rode further on we saw a shepherd standing in his field with a flock of sheep.  I thought I could hear the jingle of their bells.  It was evening and the sun cast an almost electric light over this man and his herd and he and the animals and the ridgetops of the mountains behind were outlined in a fluid neon.  That was it for me.  A picture for a thousand years.  Otherwise the countryside was green and lush and darkening in the declining light and tucking itself in from the world.  The houses were dusty, the roofs were orange tiles and all the shutters were a faded dusty green.....there were geraniums in nearly every window box.

Life in the "Midi" as it was called then, is glamorized in magazines and movies but the one I loved is so different from those polished up images.  It's the sound of gravel under your feet, or high heels clicking on the cobblestones and someone calling up to a window in an otherwise still, still night.  The rattle of someone's motor scooter as it barrels past you between narrow walls.  The sound of water running in mossy fountains and the sour-salty whiff that rises up from them with the wind.  The same smell that comes from the streets when they wash them after the market.  It's the aromas of the plat-chauds that float out from those deep windows with iron bars where the radio is playing in the background and the canaries are singing on the window sill.  Where people are eating humble dinners of pates aux viandes and salades aux oeufs durs with sauce vinaigrette.  And chatting in those family ways.

Now the Mistral has arrived.  It is the wind that comes from North Africa and rakes and batters the provencal countryside from time to time.  It is legendary.  Probably it would have made me crazy living in a small town in France, especially in the winter.  Where all the streets lead to the same place (the bus station or the market).  And everybody knows everything about you.  And your husband is in front of the TV every night watching le "foot" or at the cafe with his buddies.  While you stay at home and put the kids to bed and fold the laundry and get their clothes ready for school the next day.  Thinking about what to make for tomorrow's dinner.  With that wind blowing and blowing and nowhere to get away from it.

But oh!  To have just had the CHANCE.........


  1. Those sheep bells still inhabit my dreams. For me, it was the sound of the troupeaux passing outside the windows, the smell of all the herbs of that garrigue crushed underfoot with every step, the tiny black scorpions that would crawl under the doors, the cool scent of old stone, and the lavender in which my grandmother used to have the sheets stored. All adds up to heaven.

  2. Maia, now I'm verklemt! My next project: lavender scented linen closet! Boo-hoo now must go blow my nose! No seriously!

  3. I'm there with you. Terrific writing!