Sunday, March 18, 2012

Une Lune de Miel en France

We have all got our fantasies, in which, perhaps, we spend too much time dabbling, but they become more clamorous as we age and, I think, more tumultuous as well.
by Charlie Leck

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle [Hamish Hamilton, London, UK, 1989]

If I had my druthers, I would like to take my wife and our dog and move to Provence – to a small village somewhat near Avignon – and live out the rest of my life there in the south of France. When I tell friends of this secret little desire, they always ask me what in heaven’s name I would do all day! I’ll get to that.

I don’t imagine this as a temporary move – as a long vacation or sabbatical to France. I rather see it as a permanent relocation to one of the most beautiful and civilized places in the world.

I recently read Peter Mayle’s lovely little book, A Year in Provence. I object to those who think that it is Mayle who planted this seed in my mind. It’s not true. I wrote here more than two years ago of my gnawing desire to find a nice place in Avignon where we could live out our lives. However, Mayle relit all this desire in me.

This past September we were in the region around Aix-en-Provence, and in Puyrigard, a little village just north of Aix. It’s a wonderful region, only 20 minutes from Marseille and the Mediterranean Sea – and only an hour or so away from Nice and a two hour train voyage to Paris and less than that to Barcelona, in Spain. It’s much less than an hour drive to Avignon, a community as beautiful and inviting as any place on earth. And, unlike many people who tell me about French people, I find the citizens and inhabitants of France among the kindest, friendliest and most generous people on earth.

A place somewhere in the gentle Lubéron Mountains (la montagne du Lubéron) would be nice – something with a bit of a view, where the sun would greet us boldly in the morning (le matin) and says bonne nuit in the evening. I would even graciously agree to my wife keeping a few sheep on the grounds and a horse at one of the riding stables that surround Avignon.

Our little place would have a study where I could read and write to my heart’s content; and it would have a spare bedroom where guests might come and stay with us for a day or two (provided they abide by the rules not to disturb me during my reading or writing time). A couple of times each week, we would travel into Avignon to have lunch (déjeuner) or dinner (dîner); or perhaps we’d go to Aix, or Montpellier, or Perpignan or Toulon or La Ciotat. And, every few months, we could take the fast train to Paris and stay a day or two so we could visit le Musée d’Orsay and also walk in le Jarden du Luxembourg. Occasionally, while in Paris, we’d spend an evening at l’opéra or have dinner at L’Astrance sur le rue Beethoven.

Of course, from our little home in les Lubéron we could easily visit Avignon and tour le Palais des Papes or les jardin du Rocher des Doms. There are beautiful street markets in Avignon as well and there we could buy our fresh vegetables and fruits for the week. And, in Avignon, I could take some simple classes en gastronomie as well.

Primarily, however, I would sit outside on the terrace (la terrasse), at our home, and read the books by the world’s greatest writers and inevitably peek up from time to time to look out over the gentle, mellow montagne du Lubéron.

When I write, I won’t give even a thought to Rick Santorum, or Rush Limbaugh, or capital punishment, or Mississippi. I’ll write short stories about lovers, about small children who want to be soccer players, about a genius who believes he is a moron, about legions of people who think there is no single way to God.

At the going down of the sun, I’ll have a glass of lovely wine with my wife and her eyes will glimmer as they did on our honeymoon in France so many years ago – in that wonderful room that had been crafted out in the barn that stood behind the inn in Dijon (l’auberge à Dijon).

In a very small village west of Divonne-les-Bains, where we stayed for a couple of evenings, we dined on the sidewalk at a little restaurant called Chez Yvette. The sun was sinking as we concluded our meal. A farmer in the village had finished milking his cows and he gently herded them up the street, past where we sat sipping on our wine, and he guided them out into a pasture behind the café. As it started to get dark, we went inside the establishment to pay our bill (le addition). The owners, their family and some friends from the community were all dining together at one big table, celebrating something or other (our French was not good enough back then to comprehend). They invited us to join them and they poured us glasses of wine and a farmer passed a big bucket of langoustine (un seau de langoustine) to us. They were small, shell fish that looked like baby lobsters – perhaps crawdads in the states. We joined in the celebration.
Eventually I tried to explain that we were on our honeymoon. Miel, I knew, was the French word for honey and lune, of course was the word for moon. I tried putting them together as lune de miel (moon of honey). Everyone looked quizzically at me. It took a terribly long time before one of the party understood and explained to the others who all laughed and shouted. In a flash the proprietor got a ladder and climbed up to a top shelf and brought down a very special, dust covered bottle of cognac and poured glasses all around so that the entire company could toast us.
It was an extraordinary evening that I’ll never forget and, for me, the highlight of our lune de miel. Oh, my!

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