100 Word Memoirs- South of France

Fourteen 100-Word Memoirs

The online photo is the entry (left) to my bed & breakfast, at St Charles-Canebiere. and the actual door (right).  Left ajar, I venture into the sooty, unlit foyer thinking this cannot be the place. On airplanes 24 hours plus the train from Paris to Marseille, walking 6 blocks to the bnb by myself, waiting, jetlag peaks. My host, Michel, answers his cell.  He’s in a meeting and his wife at a singing engagement.  A scam?  A woman at Eurocar stows my suitcase and gives me a Coca-Cola.  After five, I panic trying the claustrophobic lift, and find a hotel.

II.

 The Lift – l’ascenseur

Pressing a button, I open the small door on the landing and step into a 2-foot square to press number 4. The door grudgingly closes and an unoiled machine begins a protesting ascent.  I was doubting if the flat on floor 4 was real.  The lift stops with a creak.  The door won’t open and I smack against the sealed-off glass.  I send my panic chamber back to zero.  When the door doesn’t open there either, I fight to be calm, then discover one exits the other side, now realizing why I was unable to exit on the 4th floor.

(Shortly after I checked into a hotel and showered, my airbnb host, called.  We sorted our communication and I stayed at the LeCours the following day.)

III.

Turkish Toilet – La toilette turque

Guidebooks mention squatter toilets.  I take a wrong turn walking to Vieux Port, and am lost.  Turkish men sat talking at tables outside.  I hope the patisserie ahead, Le Chocolat, will help.  The shop girl translates my accent and brightens.  No toilette.  She points across the intersection to Cy La Turq.  In dismay I murmur, “Ils sont tous les hommes.” Smiling, she tries English.  “Say, ‘I go pee-pee.’” In the tavern I run for the lav, bolt the door with my pen. Two footings on the square tiled hole, the tank on the wall.  No paper.  No water in the faucet.

IV.

The Evening Procession –  La procession du soir

Sunday evening, I go out nowhere, to follow a trolley line out and back.  Next to the strange-smelling fountain, police escort a procession that converges on the Gambetta.  Incense and a chanted hymn on loudspeaker.  Four carry poles tent-roofing the solar monstrance, a sunburst held aloft.  The supplicants, of all ages, dress like the 1950’s.  Are they observing the feast of a saint?

  The somber demeanor of the two-block string of the faithful affects people in outdoor bars.  They quiet when the monstrance passes.  The Moroccan and Tunisian men pause warily, then decide the interruption is worth a moment’s silence. 

V.

Driving in Marseille  –  Conduire à Marseille

 Joy meets me between two lions on the grand stairs of the train station.  In her small, silver car, we enter the maddened crush of noise on narrow streets, driving to Port Vieux where Joy lived in a villa as a teenager. The route, under construction, is one way going the wrong direction.  We try alleys. Unhesitating,  Joy pilots on intuitive, where shop doors meet the street. In a traffic circle we wait behind two cars until we realize they are parked.  Drive the sidewalk. Whatever, the French way.  Finally we dislodge onto the coastal drive sighting the Mediterranean villa.

VI.

Steak and French-fries  – Steak-frites

Natives know that lunch is taken between noon and two o’clock. Yet Bar des Sports has brochettes, fries and vin rosé for us when Joy and I arrive late afternoon in the village of Cuges. I relish every fry and drain my glass as we chatter. How wonderful to reconnect with my old friend in the sunlit ease of a café.  Joy outlines plans to go to Les Baux and spend a day in Cassis. After lunch, Joy takes me to friends nearby, intoning with gourmand foreshadowing, “Marie and Jean-Claude will cook an authentic dinner at our cabin in Riboux.”

VII.

The Cabin at Riboux – La cabine à Riboux

Watching the storm come up the hill from the sea, we’re on the deck, after Scrabble and walking in the wildflower twilight. Sipping Vermouth rouge with a lemon twist.  We see the thin curtains of rainfall at the coast. A few sprinkles pass over, and we keep talking until thunder and sideways lightning starts.  The blue gray clouds advance, real raindrops pitter on bushes, so we move the furniture inside.  The rain sweeps up and the coastal hills and rocks turn into slate silhouettes.  The pine branches that arc over the patio and the rock below brush the landscape Japanese.

VIII.

Roasting Duck Breast – Magret de canard à rôtir

Jean-Claude and his wife, Marie, come to Robert and Joy’s tonight. I sense the deep friendship of the two couples.  Marie brings sumptuous baked potatoes. While we sip mauresques,  Joy translates Jean-Claude’s stories. At the hearth, Marie stirs the brushwood fire, circling a fork in the coals.  She asks for salt.  She takes a measure of in her palm, then flings it across the flames.  The hearth crackles and sparks, then settles.  Joy and I say “Ooh la-la!” Marie holds a wire rack over the coals, turning the duck breast.  She calls for fresh thyme at the final moment. Gourmet.

IX.

Quarries of Light – Carrières de Lumière

(note size of person in photo below)

 After we explore Les Baux-de-Provence white rock escarpment, the Weston’s and I buy tickets to the light show, “Painters of Color.” Slides and music project onto massive stone walls of the former quarry.  I stand in the cool dark dwarfed by rock faces glowing with Van Gogh and Gauguin’s love of paint.  I recall my own lost love.  I weep. I stroll the immense hall while it shifts continually, paintings now attuned to a French aria then chamber music. I relive the painter’s encounters, their journals, their travels.  Later, at the cabin, I watercolor my ode to quarries of light.

X.

Bernard, the Orchardist –  Bernard, le pomiculteur

 Walking the countryside, we admire the new growth of a handsomely-kept apricot orchard.  On the roadside, good-looking man climbs out of his van and greets us.  Joy introduces.  It happens Bernard, a Riboux native, knew Joy’s late parents. He talks amiably, leading us into his orchard, explaining an electric fence will keep 100 wild pigs out.  His hand expertly thins fruit. He selects several ripe apricots and gives them to us.  Joy whispers aside, “This orchard is famous in France.”

            Bernard explains his hobby:  Running cross-country with friends and 20 dogs chasing a rabbit.  No guns or capture, just sport.

XI.

The Farmhouse  – Le mas en Provence

 The shutters over doors and windows glow blue-green with the tangle of vines clinging to the two-story, stone farmhouse in the woods.  The mas, unoccupied, embodies the south of France. A mas, less than a villa, but more than a cabin.  As Joy and I admire it, she recalls her parents taking her to parties when their families still lived here.  I imagine children running around with dogs and a great dining room table, laden with cheese, baguettes, stew, fruit. Friends laughing and talking over wine.  Now it stands a painting, poetic in its history, blue-green and stone in sunlight.

XII.

Paris rush hour –  Paris aux heures de pointe

 Leaving Aix-en-Provence, I take the TGV train to Paris first-class, reading on my Kindle sipping café crème.  On arrival, I puzzle over signage, beg directions to RER, seeking the metro to central Paris.  The jammed train pulls up. l squeeze in with my suitcase to stand at a pole. Friday rush hour.  The next stop mushes more people together.  A nice-smelling businessman presses his belly against me, and my legs rub another. Arms intertwine on the pole. I feel solace in the contact.  At Cité Universitaire, I call, “Sortie!” struggling to exit.  A man lugs my suitcase to the platform. 

XIII.

Wine tasting – Dégustation de vins

 At OChateaux, the first wine translates, “far from the eye” — grapes grown in the shade.  Its fragrance is lemony like magnolias, its taste tangy.  The Chablis is clean, a clear accent over goat cheese, very smooth, no bite. The Clos Hermitage smells like fresh spring rain in the morning, complex.  Karen loves this one. It pairs nicely with sheep cheese. Le Prieuré 2009 smells smoky  offering a rich woodsy flavor of raspberry.  It has a filmic quality like Florence; pairs with brie with truffles. Four wines and cheeses. Karen and I walked miles today so OChateaux is lilac elegance.

XIV.

My Exit in Two Parts – Ma sortie en deux parties

The coffee-less mind pilots me, stiff from couch slumber, to haul suitcase and sling down two flights of stairs at 4 a.m. I pause as a double blink of lightning shows it rains and low snores of thunder confirm.  My downward trip morphs into a step onto imagined floor and I pitch forward, clattering to the actual landing.  The mind wakes keen to possible damage directing me to gather bags quickly.  I push through the foyer door hoping to suck all the noise into the Paris predawn.  Lumps raise on both knees and I walk out to meet my taxi.

            My silk shawl is my only umbrella as the thundershower becomes a downpour.  The taxi driver ushers me, soaked, into the back seat and drives out of Buttes aux Cailles heading for CDG airport.  I imagine I’m a pathetic character in an old movie. The rain increases to deluge, flooding lanes of the freeway and obscuring vision.  The car hydroplanes sometimes and the driver says, “ooh la-la-la-la” — which multiple la’s do not indicate we’re admiring pastry.  I suppress urges to suck air through my teeth.  I’m cold and need coffee, hoping this isn’t an omen for my flight home.

(The flight to Frankfort was sunny.  The Germans checked my passport 11 times, took my lavender honey, and flew me to San Francisco on time.)

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