I Get Around

Posted February 19, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: At Home In France

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I’m sitting in my hotel room looking out over the runway at Charles de Gaulle airport, because I’m leaving Europe tomorrow, after just a bit more than three months here. Most of it I’ve spent getting my head straight, but just recently I’ve spent a lot of it traveling. I have a lot to show you about the lovely Netherlands, but that will have to wait for a couple of days. Right now, my brain is humming and clickety-clacking from a day spent training through three countries.

I left this morning from Ommen, via a small commuter train, in the sweet company of Katherine. I had been sure that she didn’t need to come with me, but thank goodness she did, because really, I have about 7-8 words of Dutch, none of which were very useful in train stations. So from Ommen we went to Zwolle, where we changed trains and went to Schiphol airport. Not because I was flying anywhere from there, mind you, but just to change trains and take the Thalys train to Brussels. Katherine and I had a surprisingly good lunch at Schiphol, and then, with a flurry of kisses and waves, we said au revoir.

In case you ever happen to find yourself on the Thalys, let me tell you that in First Class they serve you beautiful complimentary meals, at your seat, with wine. They look delicious, but there’s never a low-carb option, so all I do is look, and accept a bottle of wine, which, in itself, makes the trip just that much more enjoyable.

I arrived in Brussels to find that there was a lot of confusion about my train to CDG – they changed the departure track, the announcements were misleading, everyone was asking each other what was going on, and so on. Once on board, the restaurant workers were on strike, so no food or drink was available. I was fine, but I did hear some grumbling around me.

Seven hours after leaving Ommen I arrived at CDG. You know, I could have flown it in about an hour, but it just didn’t occur to me. Shel and I always took the train whenever possible, and I guess I’m continuing that tradition. We always stayed at the Sheraton inside the airport, and so here I am, overlooking the runway as we did so many times together. And we always had dinner at Brasserie Flo, in Terminal 2F. However, by some quirk of mis-memory, I headed to Terminal 2 E, which is about as far as you can get from 2F without taking a train. After a cheery couple of kilometers of trans-terminal strolling (mercifully sans luggage) I sat down to dinner, where I absolutely unconsciously, but unerringly, ordered exactly what Shel ate the last time we dined there together, just a year and a half ago. He had said that it was very good, and so it was.

I came to Europe in mid-November, to close out my life spent here with Shel, and to face up to being alone. I’ve done that, in spades, right up to my final dinner in France, at least for the foreseeable future. I feel so much better than I did when I arrived, almost normal in fact. It’s been tough, lonely, interesting, loving, scary, reassuring, and satisfying by turns. But one thing is clear now – nine and a half months after Shel died I still miss him like crazy, but the acute grief is finished. I’m my own person again, feeling like myself, feeling better every day, and looking forward to whatever comes next. I’m hoping to spend an uneventful day up in the sky tomorrow, and to being re-united with my little family, my house, my garden, and my cat. And to not taking the train again for at least a season or two.

On My Way

Posted February 14, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: At Home In France

Tags: , ,

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Tonight, one last dinner in this dining room. The orchid was blooming when I arrived two months ago, and it still is, outlasting me. I can’t say that I was blooming when I arrived, nor am I blooming now, but I’m definitely doing better. Being here, among so many friends, learning to live here amidst the echoes and shadows of my life with Shel, only without him, learning to be alone here, has been good for me. Good in the way that medicine is good for you, only sweeter.

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Here you see just eight of the fifty steps inside this house, and tomorrow morning I’ll walk down them for the last time. Believe me when I tell you that I won’t be missing them at all. I’m off to the Netherlands in the morning, and I’m excited about that. And in a few more days, I’ll leave Europe again, and head back to the New World. I really don’t know where I belong, anymore, but I’m going to be finding that out. I’m letting life take me where it will, and I’m happy to be along for the ride.

Sweet Resto, Sweet Town

Posted February 9, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: At Home In France

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If you visit this region, you’re going to visit the Pont du Gard. No ifs, ands, or buts, because it’s totally amazing and you have to see it to believe it. And virtually across the road is the lovely, albeit rather deserted, town of Castillon du Gard. In this town there are several restaurants whose prices will make you faint, but there’s also

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Les Jarres, which Maryse and I happened into almost by accident, and where we promptly fell in love. With the restaurant, that is. If you go, get the plat du jour, which will be something prepared à la plancha. In our case, it was tender strips of pork, served on a wooden board with salad, an earthy purée of mushrooms, a ramekin of creamed leeks, and potatoes for her, sautéed fennel for me. It was copious, and every bite was delicious. All this for 16 Euros, which won’t even get you an appetizer at the famous restaurant practically next door. The house wine, however, was pretty bad, and I advise you to get a real bottle of something better; they’ll cork it later so that you can take anything that remains with you.

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After lunch you can stroll through a town where the graffitti might be written in Provençale, or maybe it’s in Occitan, we didn’t know. And if you do, please speak up!

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It’s a charming little place that invites lingering,

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either near the town’s mascot,

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or on this beautiful little bench. Just remember: plat du jour, a real bottle of wine. You’ll love it there, I promise.

To Market, To Market

Posted February 2, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: At Home In France

Tags: ,

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Just a little photo essay for you today, and fairly random, at that. I walked out my front door and into the Saturday market, in all its crowded, bustling glory, and wherever I could get a clear shot of some of its offerings, I did. Here’s just a part of what you can get at my local market, everything from discount boots to wine sold by a nun. Have a look.

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And just think, I’m leaving this behind to do my shopping in a grocery store.

My Work Here Is Done

Posted January 26, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: At Home In France

Tags: , ,

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Six months after Shel died I decided to give myself the gift of three months in France, to see whether I might be able to drop back into the life he and I shared here. Now, three weeks before that three months is up, I realize that I’ve found the answer.

I’ve worked hard to perfect my French, although I’m still a long way from where I’d like to be. I’ve gathered our friends together to commemorate Shel’s life, buried his ashes in one of his favorite spots. I’ve spent time with our dear friends, and have more of that planned. I’ve walked the streets we used to walk together, here in our little town, and I’ve discovered some that we never found. I’ve shopped where we used to shop, parked where we used to park, had coffee where we used to sit in the sun together. I’ve seen things that have changed in the year since we were last here together, I’ve been showered with heartfelt condolences and countless kisses, and I’ve felt the ghosts of our enormous past happiness all around me.

Past happiness, that’s what I feel here. Past. I could retreat into that past, but that doesn’t sound like much of a future. And what I don’t feel is that my future lies here, although I can’t yet articulate why. I’ll always be fiercely attached to this place, this language and culture, and especially these friends, some of whom I love beyond reason. I wish I could drag them into the future with me, even though I don’t know where my future is, or what it may hold. Je cherche mon chemin dans la vie I’ve said countless times, when people asked whether I were going to stay. I’m looking for my path in life. And that’s still true.  I just think that I won’t find it here.

That’s what I came to find out, and I feel fortunate to have found an answer. I do believe in never saying never, so maybe some circuitous route will bring me back. But for now I’m waiting to go home, to start looking all over again for that path to future happiness. Pourvu que ça existe. Here’s hoping it’s out there somewhere.

Life Minus One

Posted January 19, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: At Home In France

Tags: , ,

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Do you know about Music Minus One? It’s a recording label that fills in all but one part, which lets you sing Carmen with a full accompaniment, if you’re so inclined, or lets you stand in for Jascha Heifetz on the Mendelssohn violin concerto. It lets you play or sing your part, with everything filled in all around you, just as it should be.

Today is Shel’s birthday. No one has invented Life Minus One. I can play my part, but it’s more or less empty and silent all around me.

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Not really silent, because it’s been raining all day. I’m up here right under the roof, and the rain is steadily pattering, spilling, slushing, filling my ears with the sound of life-giving moisture, or the sound of desolation, depending on how you listen. And not really empty, because I know you’re there. There, but not here. And also, you’re not Shel. How can it be that there are approximately 7,324,782,225 people in the world, and I feel so keenly the absence of just one? One who was born 68 years ago today, just a mote in a blink of the eye of time, but my mote, my eye.

We laid the last of Shel’s ashes to rest here in France, beautiful songs were sung, beautiful words were spoken. The dry ground, beneath the olive tree and the roses, accepted his mortal remains. Today that ground is no longer dry, and although he never believed that he would die, yes, now he’s feeding the olives, the roses.

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They say that tears make things grow. If so, then my cheeks, so salty and slick, should be bursting with life. Maybe yes, there will come a day when I grow, change, perhaps even love again. But for today, I’m all his, even though he’s no longer mine.

Bénie Soit La Truffe

Posted January 18, 2015 by Abra Bennett
Categories: At Home In France

Tags: ,

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Today was the day of the 30th annual Truffle Festival in Uzès. It wasn’t perhaps as grand as in years past, when a huge scramble of 3000 eggs and 3 kilos of truffles was cooked over a fire and served to the eager participants. In fact that was really the best part of it all, and I’m not sure why they decided to stop doing it. I’d hate to think that it had anything to do with health department restrictions; after all, what could go wrong with 3000 raw eggs and a pan moved about by forklift?

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So, not being able to dive into a gigantic mess of truffled eggs, we went to church instead, where the Compagnie Bachique, normally devoted to promoting and enjoying the local wine, brought a heap of truffles to be blessed before they were sold.

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It’s a funny thing they do here, blessing the most worldly of things. I’ve seen piments d’Espelette blessed, wine grapes blessed, and before the Pastorale just before Christmas even the animals were taken to the Cathedral to be blessed.This wasn’t nearly as picturesque, in the event, and the mass was long and not much of it was about truffles. But I was struck by the emphasis on how much truffles contribute to the economic life of the region, and when the collection baskets were passed, there were a few truffles in them, along with the Euros.

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At the end of the mass the truffles went off to be auctioned for the benefit of cancer patients. I saw a truffle of 110 grams go for 410 Euros, which was quite a good deal for cancer patients, considering that the same truffle, sold on the truffle market that was taking place all around the auction, would have sold for about 100 Euros.

Eric and Jessica are off hoping to catch sight of a demonstration of pigs and dogs rooting for truffles, which is always fun, and then tonight we’ll go for truffle pizza, another traditional highlight of the day. Tomorrow they’ll head back to the US, and I’ll have a month here on my own before spending a few days in the Netherlands on my way back to the island. Time is flying, the sun is shining, it was a good year for truffles, and there’s been virtually no winter so far.


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