It’s summer in Aix — our peak tourist season. We were just walking through town – going to Dominique’s dentist appointment. I wanted to feel what they were feeling – the tourists. I started looking around. Wow. It really is beautiful! I took a few pictures. The houses, the churches, the scent of the pink flowers — I saw it all again, for the first time.
We decided to stop at the fish market. We bought some sea bass (loop de mer) for the barbecue. And some vegetables for the plancha. Some rosé wine for the imagination.
We ate slowly in the summer air, and I fell in love, again, for the first time.
The world is pretty extraordinary. But we have to decide to see it, every day. I suppose that’s why I paint. In these moments, I have to forget all the “well, I’ve seen this before…” — all the “it’s just another day…” — forget the noise of “but this… and this.. and my…”. I have to just stop, and see something for the first time. Look at the flower. It’s brand new. It’s waiting just for you. I stop a bit of time, a vacation from my brain, a tourist in pink.
The summer months off from school, we called vacation. And they were. We didn’t go anywhere. No hotels or restaurants. No fancy monuments. No positioning for a selfie – I didn’t even own a camera. But it was vacation. A celebration every day.
I still feel it. Waking up each morning with the summer light. But I have to make an effort. Certainly. Because that feeling can easily get lost in a pile of laundry.
Yesterday was a beautiful summer day. Blue sky. Green grass. Birds singing. Sprinklers watering. But there was work to be done. Washing. Ironing. Beds to be made. Fighting with the duvet covers, I could feel the “vacation” slipping away. And we’re not given that many. It had to be saved. It was worth saving.
So I grilled the shrimp. Sauteed the peas. Boiled the fresh pasta. Cut the homemade bread. Let the cheese breathe beside the wine. And we ate slowly in our summer kitchen restaurant. Our vacation was saved. I was saved.
I was certain after every grade that my summer would never end. Even returning again and again to school, I believed in the eternity of summer. I guess I still do. The magic of my heart’s vacation — that is something to hold on to, something to be saved.
Yesterday we went on a mini-adventure. Just an hour from our home. A small village. We wanted to see the local pottery shop. It has been in operation since 1665. Something that has survived that long deserves our attention.
Along the way, in the countryside, I saw something new. (New to me, clearly very old.) They looked like brick silos. They were to house the pigeons, my husband explained. We discussed the pigeons for many miles. Both in amazement that this was the way they used to get messages from place to place. Pigeons. Messages strapped to them. We complain when the internet is slow.
Returning home, I sat by the window, looking up pigeons on my computer. I could see our “locals” sitting by the side of the tree. Most of “our” pigeons barely fly anymore. How lazy, I thought, then quickly caught myself as I checked my mail (my email that can arrive almost instantly from another country.)
It’s easy to forget about the makers. Those who crafted things by hand. Came up with solutions to problems.
We ate our evening meal on the plates we purchased from the potter – the most beautiful plates I have ever seen. Each touched by human hands. Potters. Still making dishes. Not one exactly the same. Beautifully imperfect.
We have the luxury of so many things – and I use them every day. I love technology. I am so grateful for the ease of everyday living. But I give thanks for those who got us here. And for those who continue to remind us of the journey. The makers. The hands that continue to create. Touch. The parents and grandparents that still carry the stories, messages strapped on hearts and wings. Journeys that deserve our attention — not one exactly the same. Beautifully imperfect.
My grandfather had cows. The herd had to be moved often. He explained that if he didn’t move them out of the grassy field, they would eat until their stomachs exploded. I don’t know if that’s true, or something he told us to keep us quietly watching the herd for hours, just for the chance to see one of them rocket into space.
I remember judging them. How stupid could they be, I thought. I still sometimes do, until mornings like this one. Mornings when I cross the line of just enough lavender honey to make the toast delicious — cross the line into wow, my racing heart and sleeping brain. That was a lot of honey!
It’s these humbling repeated lessons that keep my judgements at bay. (Not as much as I’d like, but I’m working on it.) We never know what the others are going through. And why they are going through it. Why something that is so easy for you is hard for them, and vice versa. I guess the only thing we can do is remember to be kind, to them, and to ourselves, because the roles will continue to reverse from day to day.
I won’t pretend to know what you are going through today. But I will tell you, whatever it is, I care. From the bottom of my honey-filled heart, I do care. And I’ll walk with you to the next field.
They said I was “painfully shy” – my grade school teachers. But I wasn’t hiding. I was listening. There was a voice inside that I needed to hear. It was whispering, but I knew it was important. And I couldn’t hear it in the chaos — the running and screaming of youth. So yes, I was quiet. But none of it was painful, not for me.
We all learn and grow in our own ways. The only “right way” is the one you choose for yourself.
I grew into my voice. My life. My way. I hope I still am, growing. Listening. Watching. And as Frank Sinatra sang at our breakfast table this morning, “not in a shy way…” “Oh no, no not me,” I AM doing it my way. We smiled and listened, and ate the bread I made with my own hands.
The only thing I really fear is wasting time. And maybe the only way we can waste our time is by trying to live someone else’s life. Trying to live in the chaos of other standards.
I can feel it when I’m “off.” I’m pretty sure we all can. And it’s usually when the voices of others try to take over the voice that lives within me. But I have found the ways to make it stronger, louder, more clear — with words and paint, and homemade bread. With breakfast conversation and music and love. With the smell of cut wood and grass stained shoes. With an unchartered path, and a hand to hold. This is the song that I’m living. The song that has always lived within. My way.
I guess it’s the whole “if a tree falls in the forest…” thing, but I was thinking, does anything really happen if it’s not shared?
I began writing and painting at 5 years old. I would go into my room, and come out and present it to my mother — each chubby hand gripping the sides of the paper — as if I were offering the precious cargo of my heart, and I suppose I was. Because that’s the way she treated it, the way she treated me. And then it became real. Whatever I made was validated, and in a way, I became real too. No gift has stayed with me as long as this.
We drove to the Alps yesterday to see friends. They do not live in a palace, but for me, it seemed as such — because he built most of his home with his hands. And he was proud of it. And it was real. There was a pile of wood next to his garage, and for me, that seemed like a pile of gold. (Wood is scarce and expensive here, and I need it to stretch canvases and make frames.) He said I could take whatever I wanted. And I did. We filled the car with wood and possibility and I’m still smiling.
On the road I took a video of the mountains and countryside. I sent it to my mom. She said she felt like she was with us in the car, and of course she was.
I called my friend Sheila when we got home. I showed her the bag of treasures we purchased at the L’Occitane factory, (half way stop on the trip). I showed her the haul, and she gushed as only a true friend can, and when I lit the first candle and applied the hand cream, it was all real, so very real.
I write each day, still with the chubby little hands of youth, and offer my heart. Life is so much better when it is shared.
I’d like to say that I have a healthy respect for our garden tools – the weedwacker, the chipper – when in fact it would be more accurate to say that I am actually afraid of them. It doesn’t stop me from using them though.
When Dominique uses the weedwacker, he finishes with little red welts all over his body. Me, I dress like I’m part of the New York City Bomb Squad. A cap. Safety glasses (and a visor, or two masks). Jeans. Gloves. And knee high steel toed boots. Yes, it’s hot. But it makes me feel safe.
We all have our own comfort zones. With everything. We have our own way of coping. Surviving. Living. I don’t think people would make fun of me for wearing what I wear in the garden — and to be honest, I really wouldn’t care if they did. I have to remember this for all of life’s challenges. I will cope as I see fit. And if it works for me – then it works for me. I have to give myself that freedom. And offer the same to you.
Life is messy and at times frightening. As I stripped down in the afternoon sun — taking off all of my protective gear — I eagerly made my way to the pool. The glorious reward. Nothing feels better. Another challenge survived.
It was Georgia O’keeffe who said, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life—and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” Today, as I step into life’s garden, I will don my protective gear, smile as I channel the brave and elegant Georgia, and I will dare to make it beautiful!
It’s not like I thought honey came from a plastic bear, but not far.
Yesterday, on our small village tour, we bought some lavender honey. Before living in France, I had never really thought of the magic of bees. Bees. The work. The patience. The craft. Nothing short of magical. How they take, without harming, from their surroundings and create something so fabulous. What a lesson to be learned. I want to be better at this.
Of course we needed bread for the honey. In the spirit of the bees, I made it. Taking the hours to mix, and wait, and rise, and wait, and roll, and wait, and bake. But the payoff, a house that smells better than any boulangerie…and the taste of bread fresh from the oven!
This patience is a tricky thing to learn. We always want the answers right away. I am guilty of it for sure. Needing to know all the outcomes. How’s it going to be? I can get so far ahead of myself that I spiral out of the possibility of now. But now I have the lessons of honey. The sweet taste that tells me, relax. You don’t need to know how the magic works, just believe in it, taste it. It’s lavender. Lavender. And for a moment, this moment, I am saved.
It was my first job after college. To say I was green would be an understatement. I had heard once in college the best way to keep the conversation going was to say, “Yes, and…” So that’s what I did, with everything. Even to things that clearly the correct answer would have been no. Like do you know how to work on the computer. Certainly I did not. I didn’t even own one, but yes, I said, and I learned. Quickly. Do you know how to layout a catalog, work with Adobe programs — certainly I did not, but yes, and I learned. They asked me to design the flyer for the company cruise. I remember the tag line, “Oooh weee, Oooh wee baby…” (for those of you who don’t know, that song continues – “won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise?”) The most joyful yes I knew. They asked me if I wanted to go along, be the “Julie” from Love Boat. Yes, I said. You can take someone, they said, a friend, or significant other. I didn’t have a boyfriend, well, not one that I was willing to invest a week in. So I asked my mother. She said yes.
Now to put it in perspective, it was not that long before that we had lived in an apartment where you couldn’t drink the water. It was not that long before that my mother lived on Heath Ice cream bars, because she was just too broken hearted to eat. So to find ourselves at the captain’s table was more than a delightful surprise. We dressed up, made our faces up, our hair up, and our chins up, and sat as if we had always been there – up! Smiles, through course after course, we seemed to get higher and higher. And looking at my mother, I knew this is where she had always belonged. Where I had always seen her, even on dry ground, the dryest ground of a gravel road.
They, he, and she, will all try to tell you no. In their own fear, they will want to keep you down. “No, you can’t! No, you don’t belong here. No.” Just make sure your heart isn’t one of them. Make sure your heart believes in you – gives you the courage to look up – to say YES!
I see my mother at the captain’s table, and think, what a gift she gave herself – and what a gift she gave to me! Over all the negative voices that surrounded her, surrounded me, she said, YES! And I still believe.The sun is coming up – Oooooooh weeeeeeeee, Baby!
I certainly didn’t know any artists. No painters. No writers. But I knew I loved both. Still, there was no outlet really. So I tried everything available. Played in the band. Sports. Wore the red and black — our school colors. We were the cardinals. And I blended in.
It was in college that I began to see the different colors. Of people. Of opportunities. Still uncertain though of how that applied to me. Paths can be followed, or made. And I suppose that’s not a one time decision, but a daily one. A step by step. Because it takes courage — so much courage — to put one foot out, then the other. To shed the colors placed, colors assumed, and replace them with the colors of your heart.
We went to the Raoul Dufy exhibition yesterday in Aix en provence. (I’m only now imagining the amount of steps it took to get from Alexandria, Minnesota to Aix en provence.) I stood in front of the painting, The Houses in Trouville, Normandy. Immediately I was drawn to the woman in the yellow dress. In a sea of red, black and blue, there she was, all in yellow. And I smiled. I don’t know if she was afraid when she stood in front of her French mirror. If she thought, today I’m going to be brave, I’m going to be different, I’m going to be me… It must have taken courage. And he saw that, Dufy did. And showed it to the world in the most beautiful way. Confirming what I have always thought, hoped for really, that you don’t have to blend to belong.
We all want to be a part of something. To belong. But that doesn’t mean we have to hide who we are. I, we, belong in the painting, in the big picture. And how beautiful!
There will always be a part of me that is a cardinal. And I’m proud of it. But I’m not only that. And I’m not only a yellow dress. I will choose my color, my path, daily, and light it up as best I can — hoping maybe, just maybe, it shines a light for you to see — not to find my path, but your own.