South of France Summer

9:30 a.m. (9h30 as the French would write it), and the cigales already are singing. After a brief rush of cars between 8:30 and 9, only a tractor rumbles through the village. Even the birds, who had been very vocal at 5 a.m., have quieted down, taking shelter in the shade. The only sound is the thrumming of the cigales, like a heartbeat.P1100260There’s a special kind of quiet that descends on villages in the south of France as the temperatures rise. It isn’t all that hot–low 30s Celsius, which is the upper 80s, flirting with 90. It’s summer hot, but not disagreeable. No humidity. Day after day of cerulean skies have dried the ground hard, the grass has gone dormant brown, the hydrangeas (hortensias in French) are wilting. The lavender, however, is happy, exploding like fireworks. Its enormous clouds of flowers are home to some irridescent beetles and many bees. Lavender honey is prized. However numerous, the bees are no match for the racket raised by the cicadas.

IMG_6186
I failed to get a good shot of the bees–they moved faster than I could focus–but I did get a beetle.

P1040826I run around the village before it gets hot, darting from shade to shade, feeling the coolness coming off the stone walls, feeling the heat, like a blanket dropped on me, when I step into the sun. Not a breath of wind. From afar, I spy a mother returning to her car, having deposited her child at the before-school daycare. The school year doesn’t end until Friday. There is no air conditioning in classrooms. Or anywhere. You get used to the heat better that way. The kids undoubtedly will be taken to the now-trickle of a stream to occupy the afternoon. Sometimes the wind carries their munchkin voices all the way to my house. They give their vocal cords a good workout. When our kid was little, I would accompany the class on these outings. Although I love children and spent only a couple of hours at a time with the class, I would need to rest afterward and would always be reminded that elementary teachers are not paid nearly enough for the work they do.

P1100253A dip in the water does a person good, especially after dinner, to cool down before going to bed. In the evenings, the birds come out again. We have a blackbird, whom I call Merle (merle is French for blackbird), who trills away, either in the tree above the table where we dine al fresco or from the peak of the roof, his beak pointed to the sky. He is an accomplished singer and I enjoy his concerts immensely, even at the crack of dawn. I have illusions/delusions about making friends with him, coaxing him closer. He seems unafraid and lets us get to within about a meter before he flies off. He has been a resident for a couple of years; at least I think it’s him. He hops along under the laurel bushes by the clothesline, making a racket on the dry leaves, but seeming to think I don’t notice. It reminds me of when our kid was little and would open the corner cupboards in the kitchen and hide behind them, feathery toddler hair sticking out above. If you can’t see me, I can’t see you, right?P1100252We’ve been promised thunderstorms this afternoon, but the sky is cloudless. Promises of rain at this time of year are rarely kept. A few days ago, the sky darkened in the distance and we heard thunder rumble, and we took in cushions and such just in case. Not a drop fell. It’s the season of kleig-light sunshine, so raw it looks artificial. With it comes sharply cut shadows that are like a world apart, so dark after your pupils have squeezed to pinpricks from the overdose of sunshine that you suddenly are blinded by the comparative blackness. No nuance, especially in the hard-scaped heart of the village, where the streets are too narrow for cars. The ancient houses’ thick stone walls and closed shutters create cool caves of comfort, perfect for la sieste after lunch. Back in the day, winegrowers built refuges, called capitelles, out of stacks of stones. They still dot the vineyards, though I hesitate to enter, because spiders and snakes.IMG_6171IMG_6176Our summer diet of tomatoes has begun, with real, French-grown variétés anciennes finally appearing at the market. Tonight, pasta à la caprese (with mozzarella, tomatoes, fresh basil, maybe a little green onion, slathered with olive oil, served tepid). The stove and oven are on vacation. And you?121.Fruits market

 

 

Advertisements

What’s at the Market

P1100337Of all the things I love about living in France, buying groceries at the outdoor market is the one that feels most French. I’ve written about it many times, but again on Saturday I was struck by just how gorgeous it all is. The colors, the smells, the artful arrangements that create still lifes wherever you look.

Even better, because they’re edible!P1100340

Flat peaches have arrived, and asparagus is hanging on. The weather has been record-setting wet, which has helped them.P1100333

A mountain of cherries. I thought the flags were a nice touch. And other cherries below–“pigeon heart” and Napoleon, I think.P1100338

Green beans grown locally…they have three kinds: green, “butter” and cocos, which are a kind of flat bean.P1100324

It’s all so pretty…P1100325P1100339P1100328P1100330

There are even zucchini with their flowers.P1100331

The roasted chicken vendor draws a long line.P1100335

The sausage seller promised one kind was “spicy, spicy, no fat, diet!” In English, even!P1100326

Sheep’s cheese from the mountains…P1100327

Everybody was in such a good mood. The World Cup has started, which invigorates the football fans, the weather is gorgeous at last, and summer is here.

 

 

A French Love Story

P1100246You never know when someone will reveal their heart. Their true feelings.

We were invited to dinner last weekend. All three couples in attendance have known each other for many years now. Yet, stories remain to be told. This one touched me so much, I had to share it.

I don’t have pictures of the dinner, which was delicious. The hosts, great lovers of animals who take in every stray, became vegetarian about a year ago. Yes, there are French vegetarians. It was SO good, from the vast array of appetizers, consumed outside on the gravel courtyard, surrounded by lush vegetation and flowers–like an outdoor room with living floral wallpaper–to the main course of a spicy (!!! unusual for the French!) stew with tofu/soy that mimicked chicken surprisingly well, served with an interesting couscous, followed of course by a large cheese plate, then floating island for dessert.

Instead I offer some shots from a recent walk/run. Just random nature that caught my eye.

P1100212
Wild flowers.

Back to the story. How we got into it, I don’t recall. But it led to the tale of how one couple met. I had heard their story over the years, but the abridged version. The full version was better.

A moved to the region from Paris when she was 16. As new arrivals do, her family visited the sights in the region. On one such outing, they passed an old tower in the process of being consumed by an overgrown garden.

“Someday I’d like to live there,” A recalled her teenage self dreaming.

P1100238
Rogue wheat that left the field and crossed the road.

Years later, she was separated from her then-husband. Likewise, R had just been divorced and was living in an apartment in town.

A used to stop at a bureau de tabac operated by a friend. Le bureau de tabac is a kind of cigarette shop, but much more. It was an institution, a pillar of daily life where one bought stamps when the post office was (as usual) closed; bus or metro tickets; lottery tickets; vignettes, a kind of stamp proving you’ve paid a tax for various official functions; cards for using pay phones (I had quite a collection of these from around Europe, pre-mobile phone); as well as candy bars, sodas and magazines (all of which reeked of smoke). As you can imagine, le bureau de tabac is disappearing. Fewer French smoke (33%, down from 45% in the 1960s and even higher before that); the post office has automated machines for buying stamps; nobody buys magazines anymore (total paid tirage–press run–has dropped to 6 million last year from the high-water mark of 15 million in 1946, even though the population of France has risen to 67 million from 40 million in the same time). And good luck finding a pay phone.P1100218Anyway, you went to a bureau de tabac of a friend, or where it was convenient and the owner would become your friend by virtue of frequent encounters. Especially a few decades ago, shopping was social; it’s what we lose with convenient clicks.

P1100217
Built in the 1700s.

B went prospecting for houses and fell for the crazy little tower with château pretensions.

One day, A was driving in the countryside with her friend from the bureau de tabac.  They passed the tower-house. “I always dreamed of living there,” A confessed. Her friend said, “Oh, I know the guy who bought it!” She wanted to play cupid with A and B, but no effort was needed. P1100236In a small town like Carcassonne, A and B were soon at le bureau de tabac at the same time, and the owner introduced them. They would run into each other there regularly, and conversations would ensue, not only because that’s how life was but also because A and B are fun to chat with. Even now, A looks an awful lot like a younger Catherine Deneuve and has what can only be described as an effervescent personality. We used to take a yoga class together, and even when she would arrive in a foul mood, she would be bubbly, and she never stayed upset long. P1100233B, meanwhile, is quiet, cultured and well-traveled. When he says something, it isn’t some uninformed opinion grabbed out of thin air. He’s eminently calm and reasonable.

In fact, he so impressed A during their impromptu chats that she thought, “That’s the kind of man I’d like in my life.” 

Isn’t that the best?

They did progress from le bureau de tabac to dating and have been married for 30 years. They also turned the tower/ruin into a bijoux of a home.

Happily ever after.P1100213

 

 

Overflowing Flowers

IMG_6111The tightly trimmed boxwood motifs in such gardens as those of Versailles are what usually come to mind when one thinks of French gardens. But I think of roses, especially roses that climb and then spill over, like fountains of color.P1100280P1070598P1100144

IMG_5090
A rose arch…Sigh!

P1100279Not everybody has space for a garden like Versailles, but even humble houses in tiny villages–with no yards at all because they were built by/for people who worked long days in the vineyards and fields and who really didn’t need to pile it on when they got home–have found a few inches of dirt in a crack between house and street (because sidewalks are rare and who needs them anyway when the streets themselves are only wide enough for one vehicle at a time), and from such miserly roots climb the most magnificent, flamboyant roses.P1100245P1100200P1070845IMG_5093

08.MAY 12 - 29Roses are a thing around here. Winegrowers plant them at the ends of the rows of grape vines–pests tend to hit the roses first, like the canary in the coal mine, and the vigneron gets early warning that action is needed. The rest of the time, they look pretty. Win-win.P1100247P1100243

Roses aren’t alone. Wisteria’s moment has passed, but other delights are on full display.P1100286P1100139

P1080984
A bougainvillea! On a protected south-facing wall. Though it’s true it’s been years since we had a cold winter.

P1100257

The fragrance is intoxicating. The lavender is bursting open, though even closed it perfumed my clothes when I brushed against it. The first oleander have arrived. That means summer. So does the buzz of a lawnmower somewhere in the village. Birds, so many different birds, making a marvelous chorus, even all night long. The lizards have been busy, too, darting from under a flower pot to behind a shutter to under a rock. They are as comical as cats–I should film them; do you think lizard videos will go viral? P1080890P1080889An impressive passion fruit vine. I don’t know whether the variety that grows here is edible. I loved passion fruit in Kenya. Two kinds: smooth orange ones with unappetizingly gray yet sweet, delicious insides and rough dark purple/green ones with orange innards, a little more tangy. I even learned how to crack them open. You cradle them in your hands and gently press your palms together until the shell just cracks with a satisfying pop. Too hard, and you end up with mucus-y seeds all over. When the shell is cracked, you pull the halves apart gently, then suck out the slimy insides. It took a while to get past the esthetics, but now I can’t pass up passion fruit.

 

 

 

Seeing Red

IMG_5082Late May is the ideal time to see red seas of poppies stretching across the French countryside. One of my earliest romanticized notions of France was Claude Monet’s painting, “Poppy Field in Argenteuil,” with a woman, hat on her head and parasol over her shoulder, wading through a poppy field with a child. He painted poppies in other places as well, including Giverny, where he had his lovely house and gardens. P1100166IMG_5078P1100176

poppies
The field just above, viewed from afar.

It’s easy to play Monet around here. In fact, what’s hard is not driving off the road as I spy yet another spectacular red field. On the drive to the sports complex, there’s a big field on a plateau, and another below it are all red. As I continued my errands, I contemplated where I could pull off and how I could clamber over the drainage ditch and up the steep ledge to get to the view–which would have la Cité behind it! I made some stops in town, including for another field of poppies and la Cité, and then came back from a different direction. A hill that’s usually to my back was in front of me, and it was completely red. The flowers flowed down, like a floral Kilauea, across the road to the plateau I’d already seen. Amazing. But a very busy road, and no place to pull over and shoot photos. I certainly dismayed the drivers behind me as I slowed down to stare and gasp. (I will try to find a safe vantage point for shooting it!)

IMG_5110
La Cité from the other side, with other poppies. This field is on the plateau, and the red hill is to the left, but hidden from this vantage point.  I tried to climb around but couldn’t get to it.

P1100172P1100159P1070882A small traveling circus set up next to another poppy field. I’ve written about the circus before, but it was a different one. Shortly after this one arrived, I saw a large man at the top of a very, very high light pole. The poles have plugs for the Christmas decorations. While the municipal workers use a mechanical lift to get up there, circus folks just shimmy up like monkeys. Without a net.P1100168

P1100183
Same field as above and below.

no filterDuring the circus’s stay, I marveled at the ability of some people to make noise for no reason. Mid-morning, a trumpet blared, not in the way of somebody practicing, even badly. It was in the manner of a child who comes upon a trumpet and decides to try it out, with the full force of his lungs. For a couple of hours. No discernible tune or rhythm. Even a child would get bored with just making noise, but this trumpeter didn’t. Day after day after day.P1100154P1070880

P1070882
The power lines connect to a solar farm….

Along with the trumpet (which didn’t seem to be played during the shows–those had canned music), there was incessant hammering, clanking and banging throughout the day and night–normal when they put up and took down the tent, but the other times? Very mysterious. Also, neighing, braying, barking and whatever noise it is that camels make, because there were lots of them, munching on poppies, their humps slumped to the side, like melting ice cream cones just before they plop to the ground.no filterP1100193From time to time, I heard a lion roar, and I thought, “it isn’t even show time. All the kids are in school (except for the two zillion children of the circus performers, who ran around screaming from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., except for when they were riding scooters. I don’t mind kids screaming, actually. They have a reckless exuberance that I admire, although not so much at 6 a.m. nor at 11 p.m.). Why are they playing that stupid fake lion tape now?” I even heard it during the night. It wasn’t until they were leaving that I realized it wasn’t a tape, but a poor, pathetic lion, probably as bored as the trumpeter.P1100177P1100168The morning the circus packed up to leave, at 6:02 a.m., I heard a guy shouting, “Allez, allez, allez!” (Go, go, go!) Then: “Oh! Tenez! PURÉE!!!” (Oh! Hold on! Mush!) I don’t know what went wrong, but I was impressed by his clearly rigorous inculcation in G-rated language, the circus being for children, after all. Even under under duress, rather than say putain–whore–a common swear word, especially in the south of France, where it is used almost like a comma, this distressed/dismayed guy spat out the polite version, purée. Some others are mince (skinny) or mercredi (Wednesday) instead of merde, and punaise (a thumbtack, which in turn is named after a stinkbug) which also replaces putain. So if somebody says Wednesday or thumbtack to you in a sentence where those words make no sense, now you know: they’re mad, not crazy.

P1070879
All the photos are as is, no editing or filters or anything.

I thought about the circus again this morning, when I woke up to the sound of birds singing. SO. MANY. BIRDS. And no trumpets or lions.

Strong Women

P1020585Even if we have brothers and sisters, our parents are ours alone.

Time changes us all by itself, even if everything around us stays the same. And circumstances change us even more.

My parents were youngish (old for their era, but on the young end of trends among millennials). It was a new world for them: married only a year, a new house, new baby, new lifestyle. When I was a toddler, my dad would patiently sit under the dining table for “tea” with me. My mother read to me all the time.

By the time the kid count was up to four, our parents were no longer the easygoing couple they had been as newlyweds. You could say they were different people. Harried. Organization was not my mother’s forte. Plus, housekeeping was a full-time job–you couldn’t throw clothes in the washer; you had to stand there and run them through the ringer, then change the water for rinsing, then wring them out again. Then hang them on the line. Even in winter. I remember my dad’s overalls being frozen stiff. No disposable diapers. Imagine keeping up when you had to soak and ring out individual diapers while making sure four extremely exuberant, carefree/less charges stayed safe/didn’t burn down the house/didn’t launch WWIII.

IMG_6041
The fourth monster was too little to trick or treat.

All the same, I am sure my mom did read a lot to my younger siblings (I didn’t pay attention–I always had my own nose in a book and wouldn’t have bothered hearing baby stories). Books were her thing. Although she had to divide her attention among more kids, she was clear about loving us. When I would have nightmares, I would call for her, terrified to stick so much as a toe out of my bed, and she would drag herself out of her own sweet dreams to comfort me, rubbing my stomach until I fell back to sleep. How did she keep up with four of us?

When the nest was empty, my mom dove into genealogy with with gusto. My dad used to say, “your mother is digging up the dead.” She wanted not just names and dates, but all the details of ancestors’ lives. Then she put them into stories. She joined a writing group and warily let me read her submissions a few times. I was shocked. They were good. Even downright funny. Where was she hiding this person?!?!

Of course, we trained her to be serious. Everybody wants to have the cool, funny parents, but everybody finds that their own parents are neither cool nor funny no matter what they do or what anybody else thinks. Even Tina Fey’s kid came down on her. And Jerry Seinfeld’s. We tell our parents, “that’s not funny” or “don’t embarrass me” or “act normal.” And, because they love us more than life itself, they put away their personality and try to blend into the furniture for the sake of our fragile egos. Even my own kid sometimes scolds me, especially when it’s my turn at the wheel of the activities carpool: “Don’t say anything! Just drive.”IMG_2565My mom was shy by nature, never given to joking or clowning around. But there was a time when she would belt out “I Beg Your Pardon. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” whenever it came on the radio, which was hourly. We would groan and beg her to stop, that it wasn’t funny. Actually, now I wonder whether my siblings remember that–the youngest might have been too little. That’s what I mean by our parents being unique to each of their kids. Even in our shared experience, we had different ages and digested events in different ways.

I spent most of my life trying to be the complete opposite of my mom. I thought of her as weak, but eventually I discovered all the ways she was strong. And I found something in her I wanted to emulate: her parenting. Her unquestionable love, the way her kids were her unshakeable priority.

P1070877
She loved poppies, and they’re blooming now. I took her to see this field when she visited.

I miss her every day. If you are lucky enough to still have your mother around, give her a call, a hug. And laugh at her jokes.

 

 

Relentlessly Beautiful France

P1070308Beauty can take so many forms. The voluptuous lusciousness of a Georgia O’Keeffe painting; her magnificently lined face photographed in her later years. The plump, kissable cheeks of a baby; the undulating starkness of the Sahara’s sands. The south of France has both extremes of beauty–the soft and the rugged. Right now, we’re in the soft season.P1070426P1070424P1070419Douceur in French means both softness and sweetness, which captures the spirit of spring in France. The air is perfect–as our kid remarked, it’s just right no matter what you’re wearing, whether a T-shirt or a sweater. It’s richly scented with newly cut grass and so, so many flowers blooming. We want to fill our lungs greedily with this nectar. Even though our winters are far from insufferable, we gorge on spring as if at a banquet after a famine.

P1090880
My crummy camera almost captured the gaudy pink sunrise on the snow-capped Pyrénées.
P1090889
I think that peak is Canigou, near the border with Spain…also near the Mediterranean.

P1090887

P1070359
And, turning around, the Black Mountains.

The trees have mostly filled out with leaves, changing their shape from Giacometti sculptures to something more in the style of Botero. The platanes that were heavily pruned stay bare a while longer, with little tufts of green looking somewhat ridiculous on such big trunks. The vineyards are the same–pruned down to a single vine per stump, little leaves popping out in single file, catching the sun like emeralds.P1090884

The architecture and engineering of an anthill, bigger than my fist. How did they make such a perfectly round tower, with perfectly round entries?P1090893P1090894We take our time to savor the market, noting the appearance of each new player on the season’s stage. Bernard, the strawberry man, is back, attracting a line of customers, many of whom he greets by name, not having forgotten during the winter break. Promises of summer show up from Spain and Morocco in the form of melons and tomatoes. It’s so hard to wait, but we will hold out; flavor doesn’t travel well.P1070373The cafés are full…outside. The locals greet each other with kisses; the wide-eyed tourists take it all in, probably wondering (judging by the number of people toting both cameras and real estate brochures) whether maybe they, too, should move here for the sweet life.P1090907P1090900P1070405

Overfunctional

1st strawberriesWhat do the French do on a long weekend? They go to the countryside! Easter Monday is a national holiday, because although the Revolution established France as a diligently secular country, folks weren’t so foolish as to relinquish days off.

bunnies
Easter bunnies? On sale at the market.
P1090834
Not a bad view.

On a back road that rivaled any pot-holed, rutted safari track, cars with not-local plates passed nonstop under a brilliant spring sun. More cars were parked under trees, their passengers scattered in the brush–a taste of wilderness without having to walk too far.

asparagus far
It’s obvious, right?

They were after asparagus, mostly. The thing to eat on Easter Monday is an omelette, preferably with asparagus, preferably wild asparagus. You need better eyesight than mine to spot it–fine green stems against more green. “It’s not the same green!” my friends explain. But I have gone asparagus-ing and even when it was right in front of my face I didn’t see it. However, I got plenty scratched up. Now I get my wild asparagus at the market or from generous friends.

asparagus med
Look closer! That’s an asparagus plant. No delectables on this one…somebody had already passed.

People of all ages were tramping through the brush–the touffes, or tufts, are called la matte in local Occitan lexicon. Somehow, la matte sums up the state of the inpenetrable tangle. That didn’t stop people from trying. I saw a dad coaching a little girl, who was wiggling like a commando through a little opening to get to asparagus gold.

It takes a long time to get even a handful.

There are other wild things along the way, and I’m not talking about parents. The flowers! Wild orchids:

Wild irises:

A very decorative plant whose name I was told but forgot, and whose fruit grows not off the stem but off the leaf:

red berry
Can you see that the berry is attached to the leaf? The little star-shaped flower on the other leaf will turn into a berry.

This little flower is called un petit souci–a little worry. I wonder whether a bunch of petits soucis becomes a big worry.

People here say all the time, “Petit enfant, petits soucis. Grand enfant, grands soucis”–small children, small worries. Big children, big worries.

Sigh. Happily ours is sans souci at the moment. Knock on wood.

Speaking of big, the pinecone on the left was bigger than my fist. It also was very sticky with sap, so it didn’t come home with me.

While we swoon over the views again, let’s discuss the title of this post. It’s from a podcast by Esther Perel, who is a revelation. Her podcast records her therapy sessions with couples. Wow. Even if you aren’t dealing with the issues discussed, you can’t help but learn. Learn to listen. Learn to get past what people say and understand what they mean.P1090810P1090825In an episode titled “Leaving Shame Behind,” Perel counseled a couple dealing with the aftermath of crises–a brain tumor, a car crash and the husband having a near-fatal heart attack that left him mostly disabled for a long time. The wife had to do everything–what Perel called “overfunctioning.” Isn’t that just the perfect word? Are you overfunctioning?

P1090827P1090829She said many wise things, but one that really hit me was: “Apology is not weak. The one who apologizes first is the stronger one.”

 

Age Is Just a Number

P1080404Trying to explain what is “new” and “old” in France to somebody from the Americas is challenging. In a place where the first buildings still standing went up in 485 CE, something from 1663 is relatively new.P1060555

I never liked history because of having to memorize dates. It’s very strange, because I’m good with numbers and am likelier to remember somebody’s phone number or zip code than their name. I guess we also had to memorize a lot of names. Not enough emphasis on the stories!

I finally have a few key points under my belt, such as July 14, 1789: Bastille Day. These things never happen on a whim. The kindling is laid for years, and then when the fire is sparked, it takes off ferociously.

P1090577
The U.S. was one year old.

P1090680

The houses above were built in the period when things had been getting better to the extent that people lived longer and populations swelled. France had the biggest population in Europe. For a while it was boom times, then prices for food rose sharply.P1090682

This 1790 house was built in the early days of the revolution, not far from the 1780 house. Had the unrest reached this far into France profonde? To get here, you have to pass the mountainous Massif Central, until the band of plain where these houses lie. Beyond here, you hit mountains, where sheep outnumber people, and then Spain. P1090591

I constantly marvel and am thankful that these houses, with their not-square corners and not-plumb walls and not-level floors, have been inhabited and tended to, rather than torn down for something modern. P1090684

In the little streets, time stands still.P1090588P1090676P1090539

Despite the simple tools of the time, curves (the intentional ones!) grace the architecture.P1090548P1090546P1090544

Concrete and glass can be beautiful, but after a while, so many pure lines feel bland. Give me a nice stone wall that has seen some things.P1090545

Arched door, arched back.

P1090692

I mentioned just last week, on the first day of spring, that the trees had a green haze that hinted at leaves, which I predicted would burst out all at once. Well, the switch flipped. The photos below are from almost the same spot. The one on the left was from a couple of weeks ago with the first buds, and the one on the right was taken yesterday.

Spring fever is contagious. My kid occasionally  often forgets to be a sullen teen, for example, yesterday, exclaiming at breakfast that the birds were singing. Indeed, a whole chorus of birds chirped and twittered in the background of a belted-out aria from Merle, our resident blackbird. Un merle is French for blackbird, and I think it’s a good name for such a singer. He often sits on the peak of our house and serenades us as we dine en terrace in the evenings, something we can finally do again.

I hope your spring day is as beautiful as mine.P1090510

One Bad Apple

IMG_5518It seems impossible to ignore the sad events that came to my beloved town.

They are uncharacteristic. As I have remarked before, this is a small, sleepy town where young children and old ladies walk around on their own with no problems. It’s not as gentrified and Disneyfied as the villages of Provence that attract droves of tourists and where real estate is now out of reach for people with modest salaries, like teachers. Carcassonne, and the region around it, remains modestly rooted in the past.IMG_5824On Friday, I was in Trèbes. Not in the supermarket, though we shop there often. But I was in the crowd on the corner, as close as the gendarmes would allow. Many of the people gathered were immigrants. The older people were livid that a young delinquent was bringing unflattering attention to their community. They had businesses. They loved France.IMG_4637Later, I was near the low-income housing project where the attacker lived. It was built in the 1950s for workers of the Salsigne gold mine, who were a mixed lot of nationalities. Keep in mind that while France suffered in World War II, other countries were much poorer in the postwar years. Working in a gold mine, despite the risks, was a path to a better life. Even for locals–several of our older friends worked at the mine, which is in the mountains about 10 miles north of Carcassonne. When it closed in 2004, it was a mixed blessing, as often is the case–it was good to end the environmental disaster, but the loss of jobs was devastating. The neighborhood was named after Frédéric Ozanam, a founder of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Its mundanity feels a world away from the historic Cité.

P1090740
Where the locals came under attack in the crusade of 1209.

The neighborhood was quiet and tidy. Not a speck of litter on the ground. No graffiti. It was clearly very modest. It’s the worst neighborhood in town, but worst is relative. A boy and a girl, about 8 or 10 years old, played basketball on a nice court, unsupervised. A knot of maybe 20 young men hugged each other. We talked for about 15 minutes. I could see their minds churning–how to process the news, how to react, which side to take. They were emotional but mostly respectful. I read that their tempers got away from them later, when journalists arrived en masse.P1090734A block from the young men, an old woman was pushing her walker down the center of the street–easier than navigating up and down curbs and around light poles. This spoke volumes. She must live there, since she was on foot, heading toward the main street, where there are some shops. She felt safe about going out alone. She even felt confident that any car that might come along would brake and wait for her to get onto the sidewalk. At the corner, she was one door away from where the military jogger was shot that same morning.

P1090735
The people gathered are journalists interviewing a neighbor directly across from the shooting.

The next day, Saturday, was sad. The brave gendarme, Arnaud Beltrame, died of his injuries. It seemed as if the skies opened to cry for him. The market went on, life went on, though more hushed than usual. I still saw little old ladies out for their groceries, walking alone. Because one wrong man cannot undo us all.P1090738