I sit in in the glorious gloom of a summer thunderstorm. Minutes ago, the skies and the church around the corner competed loudly for which could produce the loudest peals. The church won, working through the four plus ten chimes of the hour, then moving on to 23 (!!!) uninterrupted minutes of random ringing, interspersed with some very pretty hymns (I recognized one but couldn’t recall the title; another was Bach’s “Ode to Joy”), then some more raucous ringing. Thunder clapped and rumbled, but the bells dominated.

The parasols are back–for sun, not rain. The ones in the main pedestrian street reflect the special jerseys of the Tour de France (coming here July 9-10): yellow is for the overall time leader; green is the leader of stage points; polka dot is for the best climber in mountains; white is like yellow, but for under age 25; I think the red umbrellas are there for aesthetic balance.

The soft rain is audible, but not in a percussive way. More than a hiss; maybe a hum? The tiny raindrops–just past the cutoff for drizzle–have the collective effect of hitting a key on a piano so fast that it is one continuous tone, a sound that doesn’t fade the way a single keystroke would. What note is it? Everything has a pitch; even rain. I heard a podcast about this: a musician walked around his home with a tuning fork or some other tool and figured out that his refrigerator was D flat below middle C and his air conditioner was G sharp, etc. Your home is either literally harmonious or in discord.

Out the window, the roof tiles are slicked wet, as if coated with silver, or glass. Just a couple of days ago, they seemed to form a kiln, baking us. We escaped the unseasonably early heat to our cool caves. With no air conditioning, we close the shutters on the sunny side of the building, shutting out the klieg light of midday but for just enough of a crack to allow us to putter without turning on electric lights.

This summer cave existence transports me to childhood, to my grandmother’s house. A very modest house, with a screened-in front porch where we could play on rainy days, with a box of old clothes for dressing up (including a moth-eaten fox stole that we were torn between loving for its softness and being terrified of for its glass eyes and little claws), a few old-fashioned school desks–the kind that had heavy iron bases, fold-up seats and inkwells, the wood tops polished to baby softness by years of little hands–some other toys like dolls and cars. There was a window from the living room to the porch, but it was useless, covered with gauzy curtains and heavy drapes that were fashionable in the 1950s. There was a small window on one side, very high, good for nothing–I think it was to go above a hutch. An arch opened to the dining room, where the large window was completely consumed by an enormous air-conditioner. A dining chair with arms sat next to a small telephone table, with the black rotary phone that Grandma used to keep up with her “lady friends.” This double room would be deliciously chilled in summer and kept as dark as a cave.

We have so many cherry varieties to choose from: bigarreau, coeur de pigeon (yes, pigeon heart), burlat (what I think these are), griotte, Napoléon, but no bings.

A wood door led to the blast furnace of her kitchen. A plastic awning protected that window, allowing just a sliver of a view of the neighbor’s white siding. The neighboring house was only the width of the driveway away. In summer, the sun evaded the awning by reflecting up from the driveway pavement, where it melted the tar in the cracks and gave the kitchen an ethereal glow. Her kitchen table was the kind you see in retro diners, all curved chrome, with an apple-green Formica top and chairs with a chrome loop at the top to grab them, upholstered in a vinyl version of the same green print–slashes of black in that 1950s style. A huge black fan oscillated on the floor, making the pink ribbons she attached to the front stand out straight, like the flag on the moon. Its lazy bumblebee hum, back and forth, was our soundtrack of summer. My siblings and I squabbled over the kitchen chairs as she served us bing cherries in imitation-wood bowls. One of my siblings now feeds his grandchildren bing cherries from the same bowls. Those melamine bowls will last forever. The soupy Midwestern humidity instantly covered the refrigerated cherries with beads of dew. Nothing has ever tasted as good.

Last night I went to a concert at a vineyard. I had been to concerts there in the past. In fact, I have a photo of our kid at age two or so, sitting at the grand piano in that concert room, fat baby fingers delicately touching the keys, proud to be up so high on the piano bench. That was on a wine-buying excursion. Also worthy.

The room

It was the perfect post-confinement concert: the room’s windows were open, letting in a sweet breeze; the audience was, to put it nicely, among the first to be eligible for vaccination. The room wasn’t full. Pierre Genisson played clarinet and Marie-Josephe Jude played piano: Gershwin, Poulenc and Piazzolla, starting with “Porgy and Bess” and ending with “Rhapsody in Blue.” We were told the pieces were chosen deliberately to let our minds travel, after this year without any travel. I closed my eyes. I was in New York, my first time, in the early ’80s, and it was appropriately winter, with people in their black coats walking briskly through gray streets. Even the Piazzolla took me to New York, where I had literally danced all night to Argentine tango every weekend. I opened my eyes and looked at the black lacquered piano and was still in the city, now at the Vanderbilt Y, where I had stayed, which had impressed me with its hissing radiators and doors and windows painted, many layers over, in glossy black. I had seen “Manhattan” just a couple of years before that trip–the plot was utterly unbelievable but the black-and-white homage to NYC, set to “Rhapsody in Blue,” won my heart. To me New York, like Paris, would always be more true in monochromatic winter than in sticky, gaudy summertime.

Black and white. Of course.

I let my gaze pan over to the ridiculously handsome clarinetist; he was in silhouette before a picture window that framed the garrigue, lush from recent rain. A cedar tree billowed in the breeze, almost like one of those air puppets at used-car lots. I am not in New York or Paris but in the south of France, where summer is not usually sticky nor gaudy; it’s as if, in the heat, the inhabitants adopt the beiges of the stone architecture and the parched (not yet, but it’s starting) landscape, where the already-andante life adopts an additional ritardando to avoid sweat. Where else could I have this combination of beautiful music in a beautiful room of ancient stone walls and a big tapestry and also a beautiful view? It was no stuffy concert but more like being admitted into an exclusive private salon.

That window!

I have written about the vineyard, Saint Jacques d’Albas, in the past. It is an exquisite place, with excellent wine. Just the drive there was lovely–it struck again me last night even though I have driven on that road too many times to count. Still–always–breathtaking.

Snow-covered Pyrénées, view of la Cité of Carcassonne (can you spot it in the center?)
The yellow flowers are genêt, or broom, and the air is sweet with their perfume.

Life has occupied me lately with a bunch of changes, including hurdles, which I have surprised myself by surmounting. I got fully reimbursed for something–after several congenial but fruitless helpline calls and an online form that was impossible to complete (en grève, or “on strike,” was not one of the options for failure of service and it would send me back to the home page again and again). I finally printed out a complaint form, wrote a sharp cover letter (in French), sent copies of everything and mailed it certified–you must always send letters recommandé avec accusé de reception to be taken seriously. I was reimbursed before I even got the postcard proving they had received my letter. Separately, I took my dossier to the préfecture to change my address; they couldn’t find me on the list even though I showed the email they’d sent with my appointment time. The receptionist was torn–believe their list or their email to me? I insisted–politely; they got me in. My new Internet and phone line didn’t work; a technician came within a week and in the meantime the phone company, Orange, lent me a box to get 4G data. I had braced myself for an argument, but to a person everyone I spoke to was charming, helpful and efficient. At the phone company!

I got the kid vaccinated–what a well-oiled machine that was! No sarcasm–it really was impressive. We had taken an appointment online (and it automatically signs you up for the second dose), we were sent to a desk to check in, then to a waiting area where we barely had sat when the kid was called. Shot given, sent to wait 15 minutes and out the door. I think the whole thing took 20 minutes, including the wait afterward. There had been a line of people without appointments in the parking lot and by the time we left, the line was gone. Plus, the jovial nurse had a stand-up routine for the questionnaire that had us in stitches. French health care: universal, efficient and humorous.

New on some of the other streets in the center of town: flowers in flight. They make a lovely dappled shade below, and dance with a rustle in the wind. You can see a video of the flowers and of the church bells on my Instagram.

Between all this and watching the kid navigate studies, I realize that the French have procedures and rules for everything–as every society and culture does–and that what seems opaque and arbitrary to outsiders is transparent, orderly and even obvious to the French, because they have been trained in it their entire lives. As with learning the French language, at a certain moment, it clicks. When that happens, it feels as if all is right with the world.

36 thoughts on “Hello Again

  1. Rain, wonderful rain!! I never thought I would be happy to see it rain, but I was overjoyed when the heavens opened this morning!! I’ve yet to check the rain gauge in the garden, but I think we got a nice enough amount that nature will be happy, if only for a short while.

    I loved the concerts at St Jacques d’Albas, it is pretty much like a private concert!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This post made my day :-). Had me smiling at the umbrellas lining the street all the way through to the flowers dappling the street. Sent me back to my childhood in the hot MidWest, trips to France with our kids in tow, our family gathering everyday at the t.v. for the Tour de France stages, and then to the magic of one week in NYC. A walk through time with love. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Lovely post, I really enjoyed reading it. I spent part of my growing up years in Charleston, SC where some years are much hotter than others and some years have more rain than others. Unless your house is of “modern” architecture, it has deep eaves. All windows have either window shades or blinds and some type of curtains/drapes. By 10 AM all south-facing windows are closed until after 2 PM. By mid-April it is common for the humidity, and this is before a rain, to be anywhere from 75-80%. Once June arrives, the humidity goes up and often by the time you walk to your car to go work, you need another shower. My husband grew up in the same area but 70 miles south, so we both are accustomed to closing south-facing windows and then west-facing ones as the day progresses, even though, these days we live in a much more “comfortable” climate, where the worse humidity (we’re near the mountains) is around 70/75%. Old habits die hard, but often, make life much easier. Our daughter and her family live closer to Baltimore and have adopted the same practices, but they have higher humidity, for which, I do not envy them…lol.

    I should also note that Maryland health care system is somewhat similar to yours. We registered online and were given dates for both the first and second shots. We had to schedule them at a local hospital client, because I am very allergic to some of the ingredients in vaccines such as flu, etc. and cannot take them. Our PCP recommended the hospital site simply because there would be health care personnel who could help me if the need arose without having to wait for EMS. Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary, but they did require me to wait a good 30 minutes after each shot. No problems, have book, will travel anywhere.

    Thanks as always for a look at life in Southern France. Sorry for such a long post, just wanted you to know that some of what you see in France happens here as well.

    Take care and be safe and enjoy the summer. I’m looking forward to all the fruits and vegetables.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad your shot was incident-free.
      Carcassonne can get pretty hot–in the 90s–but that saying about it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity is true. It’s very dry here, and once you get a little acclimated, the heat is bearable. Humidity is really hard to take!

      Like

  4. Someone I know was vaccinated by the pompiers. The pompier welcoming everyone had a stand up routine that sounded hilarious to me as related by my fellow Australian. However apparently 2 men in the group to be vaccinated took it to heart and walked out without being vaccinated! The joke involved having your arm fall off as one of the side effects and they seem to have not realised it was a joke!! My friend and I were fairly boggled that the routine would have been taken seriously by even the dimmest most conspiracy theory prone person.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Incredible. Maybe they lost trust with the silliness. This nurse seemed to know how to keep the patient distracted and boom it was over. Plus, if you see that many people–about every five minutes, all day–you need to get a good frame of mind!

      Like

  5. Boy did this resonate: I realize that the French have procedures and rules for everything–as every society and culture does–and that what seems opaque and arbitrary to outsiders is transparent, orderly and even obvious to the French, because they have been trained in it their entire lives. As with learning the French language, at a certain moment, it clicks. When that happens, it feels as if all is right with the world.

    Thank you for this lovely and evocative post

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah yes, the kitchen with the marble countertops is home to someone else now. I miss how beautiful the garden was, but I don’t miss the work. OTOH, you’re going to get to see a new renovation!

      Like

  6. Thank you for transporting me with your beautifully written post. Your mention of the Piazzolla brought back memories of my last overseas visit in January 2020. Attended a concert at Usher Hall in Edinburgh where Joshua Bell and the Academy of St Martin in the Field played Piazzolla Four Seasons of Buenos Aires as their final piece. It was absolutely sublime. Listening to amazing live music always gives me goosebumps–the sheer pleasure. So wonderful.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I guess I can’t help but be a bit nosy. I was intrigued with your comment about moving. So many questions in my mind as to why. BUT, I will wait to see whatever information you choose to share with us. On the other hand, I too am most happy to have heard from you. I always love the pictures you share with us

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s like learning to do anything–a sport, piano, new cooking technique–at first it seems impossible, and then one day it works. Such a relief to have “learned” French bureaucracy.

      Like

  8. So glad to see you back on blog, I was beginning to worry, thought you might have given up on us.
    Love the pictures of the flowers in flight. Hope they stay up all summer and then some.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. What a wonderful post! You draw us into your dreamy and evocative storm, a sweet reminiscence from childhood and then the wonderful concert and back to a slice of French life- it all flows like a reverie. Exquisite writing, ToF. And your photos are lovely, too 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. It’s obvious you have made a big life change. I wish you all the best in this new direction you are taking. It seems you have conquered great obstacles (the phone company ???!!!) that’s a big WOW! I am so glad you and The Kid have gotten your shots. I am deeply concerned about the Delta Variant. It is now the most dominant form here in Kansas. Living in Lawrence, a university city, filled with young people who are invincible, and add on the Trump Really Is My God Republicans, my husband and I (both in our 70s) are still in Covid protocol. I hope you are enjoying wonderful weather. I think a poster should be made of the umbrellas. So whimsical and beautiful…and practical, really. How often do you get those three things together/

    Liked by 2 people

    1. After a slowdown in vaccinations, the demand here has picked up again, apparently because of Delta. The case in Australia of someone catching it just passing by an infected person in a mall is disquieting. Good luck to you!

      Like

    1. Later, when I lived in Africa, I took a page from my grandma and had a box of toys next to the door of my house. All the little kids–from multiple neighboring families–would come and play with the toys. They always put everything back in the box when they were called home, without me ever asking them to.

      Like

  11. Wonderful post. Loved it from the colorful umbrellas to the very end. I agree to what one of your readers is saying. You shoul write a book. If you are a fan of Piazzola I recommend a movie on his life : “Piazzola, los años del tiburón”, by director Daniel Rosenfeld.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.