Thursday, January 24, 2013
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
What fun sitting around the neighbor’s dinning room table over a wonderful apple tart and a cup of coffee, hearing reminisces from the three households gathered together to welcome in the New Year. And share a little winter gossip.
There were stories about the Big House in the neighborhood. This would be the chateau that stands so grandly behind us. Ancient (from the ’60’s and ’70’s) proprietors used to own all of the little farm properties at its feet and many more in the surrounding valley. In a modern twist on the feudal system, the families that worked these small farms paid rent by giving to the Big House half of all things produced-- chickens, cabbages, eggs, wine.... Now, years later, it can safely be revealed that some sleight of hand was involved in “paying rent”. The childhood home of our neighbor had nine hungry mouths and the Big House was down to one inhabitant-- one old maid. So maybe sometimes there were a few eggs that didn’t quite get found under the brooding hen or a duck or two that mysteriously flew the coop.
Speaking of changes in the neighborhood led to a question about how old the ‘new’ bridge is? After a lot of checking dates against things like when the daughter got her driver’s license, it was determined that the new bridge is 20 years old. Funny because at 20 years old it is fissured and rusty and seems quite unstable, whereas the bridge from the 12th century seems as solid as ever. This group of old timers can’t talk about the old bridge without lamenting that it is now a one-way bridge. (It’s about as wide as a typical American driveway.)They can remember the thrill of passing car by tractor, car by car, tractor by cart, an entire book of stories in itself. Thinking of changes in traffic circulation led to talk of other places in the village where one can no longer circulate in two directions. When the regional government got the notion to gussy up our village they thought enlarging pedestrian areas everywhere would be just the thing to make Bourdeilles more beautiful and attract more tourist dollars. Common sense about access was left out of the planning. Now, unless you’re a tourist without a car, there is no easy way to access either of the two biggest tourist draws-- the church or the chateau. At the upper end of change-induced scandals comes the effect on funerals. The only way for the hearse to arrive at the church is by backing down to the front door. In terms of disrespect, this is just too much. Think pushing over the sacred cow in India. And this scandal (the hearse, not the cow) was leading us towards town politics...time to discuss the weather.
The weather has been anything but consistent here this past week so we compared notes on snow, ice, rain and the mixed bag of road conditions experienced. On one recent morning it had snowed about an inch. Officially the roads had been declared cleared. That meant clear in the two little tracks where a car had gone before you. No plowing in the middle or the sides. Slow going if you get behind a nervous, unexperienced driver, and they are all nervous and inexperienced here. Although it was not snow related, we were told about a time when our neighbor came around the bend and practically rear ended a house-sized harvesting combine. This slow moving monster took up both lanes and both shoulders. Woes be to any on coming traffic because there was nothing to do but hit the ditch to escape the enormous arms of the beast. Not at all legal, but as it was Saturday there was no chance of running into any police. Road Warrior sci-fi comes to Bourdeilles.
But then the best, most charming story of the afternoon was told as an after thought, a filler in the waning conversation. The Wednesday before we’d had about an inch or two of snow. No one goes anywhere when there is that much snow, not on foot, not in their cars. But for some reason the town maintenance crew, (aka The Boys) got the notion to clear the road that runs up out of our neighborhood. Who knows why they were clearing it, but even more curious was how they were clearing it. One of the boys was driving the town tractor and another was sitting in the front bucket, yes in the bucket, and from the bucket he was tossing out salt by the handful. First right then left, as they went up the hill and again as they came down the hill. What a hysterical vision of the clever ingenuity of necessity.
We left the warmth of that lovely gathering with some new understandings of our little village. Some true memories, some memories embellished with emotions and some memories almost stranger than fiction, but all tied into the collective memory of a little village like Bourdeilles.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
It has been a long time since I’ve worn the shoes of a novice traveler. After years of traveling back and forth between France and the US a certain travel savvy smugness has settled in. Long gone are the anxieties of not being able to communicate in complete sentences, the fear of not knowing how to navigate transportation systems, or the incapacitating idea that the locals would judge me for not fitting in. Or so I thought.
This past month I found myself organizing a trip to Germany, and all my superior sense of traveling smarts went out the window. Suddenly I remembered that it is not easy placing your mind and body into a place that it has not experienced before. One’s first reaction is to think, “Oh maybe we just shouldn’t go.... let’s just stay home in our comfortable little bubble”. My imagination plunged into the uncertainty of what might lay ahead in this new adventure.
I repent of all the times I had smirked at my friends’ fears about how to get around here in France. We were heading off into the unknown. Our co-pilots were fear and uncertainty. I found myself asking all the same questions that others had asked: what to wear, what was the weather going to be like, would I like the food, how would I ask for what I needed, could I even achieve the simple politeness of being able to say hello or good bye. I’d be happier about going if only I could just know exactly what was going to be in store.
On boarding the train for Germany we encountered our first concrete clues that things would be a bit different for the next few days. We started off on the French TGV, train. TGV stands forTrain a Grande Vitesse-- a flowery, flowing, evocative name. We transferred to the German train: ICE, InterCityExpress-- crisp, cold, efficient. Announcements were made in three languages, but none were comprehensible as they there were spoken with such a heavy accent. All I could think was, “Oh no, how were we going to know when to get off the train? What if there is an emergency?!”
Finally I could just make out that the next stop was Frankfurt. But outside the window there was only empty forest with an occasional wood shed. What had I done, I had shipped us off to the wrong place?! Why did we leave home, how could I have gotten us into this....
And just like that a sparkling skyline appeared. We were going to be in civilization after all. At least in outward appearance there were going to be things that we recognized. It was time to let go of the anxiety and enjoy the feeling of exhilaration of a new adventure. There was nothing to do but stop needing to control everything, watch for clues, just go along with the flow. There were some challenging thrills in the voyage, (our biggest one was staying in a hotel behind security gates in the red light district).
There were a few times when a smile was the only way to communicate, a dish or two where I had no idea what I was eating, but thoroughly enjoyed the new tastes, a few traffic intersections where I longed to understand the system for pedestrian crossing and a few times when I wished I was dressed all in urban all-black instead of looking like a country bumpkin.
This experience of being a fish out of water was a good reminder of the apprehensions of first time travelers and the exhilaration of plowing through those fears. It was fun to picture myself in their shoes and think what would I like to know that would make an adventure to France comfortable and exciting. Or maybe it would be fun to not know too much and just be prepared to be open to mother nature, good food and warm smiles.
Smiles are even warmer in a city that has standing room only in outdoor bars in the middle of a frosty German winter!
Friday, January 11, 2013
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Monday, January 7, 2013
One is transported back in time, a time of the colors of rock, earth and sky.
One sees that the ocean has come to us, roosters marking space instead of the mournful sound of foghorns.
One feels wrapped in, like a cashmere shawl on a summer evening.
One wonders if Heathcliff might appear at any moment, wet and bedraggled, coming across the field.
One experiences the damp fog brushing ones cheeks like the felt fur of a cat’s ears.
One hears the silence of the air and the murmur of the river.
One wonders where the clop of horses’ hooves are when walking the streets after dark.
One scampers in the gate just in case there is a werewolf lurking under the hoot of the owl.
One lingers in the toasty bed watching through big windows as the day slowly brightens with pearly brightness.
One loses all sense of time, suspended in a constant grey light, in the already short days.
One misses crisp blue sunny days.
One thanks Persephone and Hades for bringing us this season of repose.