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.

Ghosts

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

Tags: , ,

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Today I went to our old house, meaning just to drop off some things for the coming commemorative ceremony. I had been afraid to go there, thinking that the rush of emotion would be overwhelming. For that reason I took care to go by myself, opened the gate cautiously, lingering a while in the garden – touching the bougainvillea I had nursed back to health after a killing frost, the lemon tree that seems to have made just one lemon this year, just for me, listening to the magpie in the cherry tree –  before daring to open the door to the house.

I wandered slowly from room to room, seeing Shel everywhere. I had expected that, in a general sort of way, but I hadn’t been prepared for the flood of memories – crystal clear images of Shel in the living room playing the guitar, hanging his coat on that particular hook, putting his slippers on that side of the bed, gathering the recycling on that ledge, reading the paper with his morning pain au chocolat on that particular chair. What I hadn’t expected was to see Beppo and Zazou there too, Beppo’s favorite brown velvet chair, the hedge Zazou loved to climb. My whole life was still in that house.

But although tears sometimes welled and spilled, there was another thing that I hadn’t expected. In those memories, Shel was reasonably healthy, busy doing things, loving our life in France. He hadn’t wanted to die in France, and he didn’t, thus the house isn’t imbued with memories of his death as our house on the island is. Beppo and Zazou were in fine fettle, and we never imagined losing them. We were all together here, and we were so happy, so much of the time. That happiness still fills the house, which still feels like it belongs to me.

I know every corner, every plate and cup, every painting, napkin, tablecloth, tile, crack…..everything about it says home to me. The kitchen where I made so many beautiful meals, the table where so many friends shared them with us.Today I walked back into my past, and it’s a past where Shel was still on the earth, where we still had hope. I could hardly bring myself to leave. Once it was all mine for what felt like forever.

Light A Candle In The Night

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

Tags: , ,

IMG_8980 I never knew how much I’d miss living on the water. Somehow, I was never really alone, with tides, clouds, sailboats and submarines, and even oysters to watch as day turned to night. There’s always something happening on the water, and it all kept me a sort of distant but tangible company. Now, living in a stone house with beautiful views over 11th century towers, I feel more isolated. History whispers all around me, and in the daytime winter-vacationing tourists traipse through the cobbled streets, but at night, it’s quieter than anything I’ve known. For days the mistral howled, and it reminded me of the ferry wake and the tidal surge that filled my ears day and night on the island. But the wind has finally died away, thank goodness, leaving a deafening silence in its place. On the island I eat dinner while looking out at passing boats, birds, and occasionally otters and seals. Here, I need to light a candle every night, in order to have something that moves, something to look at when I raise my eyes from my plate and my Kindle, something alive. There’s no fireplace here, or I’d certainly light that, just for the flicker of companionship. I’m alright, really, and I’m not complaining. I read, I write, I walk, shop, spend time with friends. But still I’m alone enough to find comfort in the small brightness of a candle. I’ll take it where I can get it.

Fifty Steps

Posted December 29, 2014 by Abra Bennett
Categories: At Home In France

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There are fifty tile and stone steps in my new abode, and sometimes as I trudge up and down I ask myself what in the world I’m doing here. I’m not the right age to be living alone in a house with fifty steps. I’m not the right age to be living alone. Is there ever a right age?

The year is drawing to a close, the hardest year of my life. I came here for closure, and to be surrounded by the past. And, if truth be told, to see whether that past could be made to spill into my present.

So far it’s an uneasy balance. To accept a dinner invitation means that I have to drive home alone at night, find a place to park as close to my house as possible, walk home alone in the dark. I did that last night, and it was shockingly hard to do. To print a simple page today reminded me that it was always Shel who changed the printer cartridges, who knew what should be plugged in where, what settings to fiddle to make our technology change homes and countries. I managed that too, but I missed him every step of the way.

The temperature, which was about 60° on Christmas Day, now hovers right around freezing, and the mistral is howling around the house. Somewhere a shutter is banging frantically, but I don’t know how to fix it. All I can do is wait for the wind to stop blowing, which can sometimes take days.

This afternoon I had a hard time making a train reservation to leave here in February, not because of the complicated French train website, which I’ve long since mastered, but because some voice kept telling me “just go home sooner, you know you want to, this is just too hard.”

But not long ago this place was all the home I wanted, and I could barely drag myself away. I came back to find out whether that home still exists for me here somewhere, or whether it vanished from my life when Shel did. And so I’ll stick it out, because I must, like making that walk home in the dark alone, because it’s something I have to face, like it or not. It’s medicine. I want to like it, but so far I don’t know how. I want it to heal me, but I feel so shaky.

One step after another, climbing slowly, hoping not to slip and fall. All I want is the one thing I can’t have.


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