Saturday, August 1, 2009

nel blu dipinto di blu

We have breached the halfway point of this ever so indulgent summer stay. I am therefore compelled to catalogue the feel of this life on my skin before I board the return flight and forfeit my tactile memories to the unforgiving grey expanses of New York.

We have been here two weeks and the days continue drowsily on as they have done. A routine grows around you here if you allow it, creeping vine-like up the shady side of you until you can no longer imagine your former life. Even now as I become maddeningly clock conscious, aware of the looming end, I can't quite imagine myself back where I was. Perhaps it is true that we live in spirals; Though we press ever-forward in our progress, the sights along the way repeat—because we have been there before. We are what changes. Our choices form the scenery doomed to rerun out the car windows when we are lost.

Details of daily living here are fixed. Questions are easily answered. In the morning, the sun blares off the sea through the open windows of the back-facing bedrooms, the light pure and white, and the soundtrack changes from cigale serenade and evening breeze to landscaping motors, deisel engines and barking dogs as the day warms. There is a window each morning when the back patio and lawn are shaded, before the sun works its way up the horizon and over the cypresses. After nineish, the sun clears the foliage and the whole back of the house is flooded with warm and yellow heat until it disappears again over the roof and the shade, like a curtain, is pulled back down.

Breakfast is invariably served in the front, on a stone porch overlooking the garden, from a serving window into the kitchen. If there are new guests, the table is laid with fresh croissants and pains au chocolat, raspberries and fraises du bois, coffee cups and jars upon jars of confiture. Once the newcomers are folded into the routine, as eggs into batter, the production value goes down. Breakfast becomes a personal affair. Wander into kitchen. Fix something. Find a quiet corner of the table with your mug of tea and last night's novel.

At about noon, the sun has crested the roof and so the breakfast porch grows overwarm. Lunch, when taken at home, is served without fanfare on the little square tile table on the back terrace, swathed in shade. Else we go to Le Diamant, a white tent on the rock beach for salads and grilled fish. Or we take ham sandwiches wrapped in tinfoil to the beach.

The afternoon can be frittered away on rare excursions, but typically it lazes by in a steady rhythm of beach to pool to shower—the first and only of the day—that culminates on or around the dinner hour. When the heat breaks and the breeze begins, someone suggests cocktails and, invariably, the lime from a rogue gin and tonic will be seen floating forlorn about the pool the next afternoon. We watch as the activity drains from the gulf like bathwater. Boats and jetskis disappear, the plane-pulled supermarket ads return to their hangars, the water fades from brilliant blue to placid grey. A quiet chill descends.

Dinners out are spectacular, whether the creperie for gallettes or a seven course candlelit affair somewhere in the outlying hills. Dinners in are a joy of garden goods and fresh herbs. Either calls for bottles and bottles of white, red, rosé... Evenings are sedentary: long genial conversations, french standards on the stereo, books on laps. Sleep is marvelous, half drunk and cool for the wind off the water.

Variables include market days, trips to Carrefour, walks into town for a morning coffee, an occasional ferry boat to St. Tropez. These too have a rhythm, a smell, a feeling. Ste. Maxime is pink and white and smells of roasting chickens and baking baguettes too hot to carry home. Bees and flies buzz idly around the flowers and the unattended food. Stores close between one and three for lunch. Church bells peal all Sunday morning and most evenings. Moto scooters weave in and out of the center line of traffic between the stagnant rows of diesel cars on the Bord de Mer, constantly congested from rond point to rond point along the gulf.

Simple tasks like parking are rendered comically treacherous by steep inclines and tiny enclosures. Things happen on a schedule like a loose fitting dress. This is life by the senses. If a loaf of bread is not consumed in its ten hour window of freshness, there will be toast the next morning. If the garden yields a few too many tomatoes, bruschetta is made. If the garden yields too much of everything, ratatouille.

The sky is a heart-wrecking shade of blue. Occasionally a mistral will blow through, wreaking havoc and slamming doors, making an apocalyptic wail ring through the masts of sailboats in their moorings, but this only serves to blow the clouds to sea. Eventually the water warms back up for swimming and the palm fronds lie flat again.

I go through this life with a half formed smile. I take unexpected joy in tidying the kitchen after meals, in making a bed in the morning, in the labored rotation of beach towels. I become the domestic goddess I've dreamt of being, learning the day by feel, as if by Braille, by the body and what it begs for. Coffee made, breakfast, book, coffee cleaned, lunch, sea, sand, pool, shower, dinner, wine, couch, doors locked only to be thrown open the next morning.

In the end it will be the details I forget first. As if this whole world and not just its cheese is unpasteurized. As if it has no shelf life.

I will forget the ease with which I use these french pleasantries in daily speech (bon journée, au revoir!). I will forget the cigarette heat of the beach, the sweat prickling at my headband, then the warm water on my naked skin, the world seen suddenly from reverse. I will forget the taste of the tiny apricots, the perfect sauteed blend of zucchini, onions and olive oil, the precise flavor of herbes de Provence. It will seem less credible that rosemary grows like a weed in the garden, that stands of lavender litter the sidewalks.

It will seem impossible to be this happy.

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

but it is possible.