One hard week in the south of France

DSC_0782Last year at this time we were ending our stay in the UK, having left Germany for 90 days and now returning: we finished up in Bath and spent a night in Canterbury, then caught the ferry from Dover, drove a couple hours into France: and with it being a dry January for me (no alcohol) but the calendar turning over to February, and it being France, I ordered a bottle of something dry and sparkling with dinner, and Dawn and I took the remains back to our small hotel room and into the smaller elevator, giggling in the hallway playing with the light fixtures, looking out from our room for our car to make sure it was still there: and though I can’t remember the name of the town and couldn’t pronounce it then, it definitely looked French with all the tobacco shops on the corners, the bakeries, the places you could buy fresh flowers, the sense that all the buildings needed pressure-washed and probably never had been.

And I did the same again this year, a dry January: but I shifted my attention to expensive bath salts with exotic scents, one that’s lavender and triggers memories of the south of France, a week I went to help a single, middle-aged American paint the side of her house in exchange for showing me around.

I think overall it was clumsy on both our parts: the fact she couldn’t hold her alcohol (not more than a glass!) and I couldn’t see what was really happening, the subtext for me being there. The one night she managed to get me to recite a poem but it was a very bad period for me, a period that started around then and lasted a good 20 years, and when it was time for me to leave I had to call my parents to pick me up, and we met on a bridge outside of town so as to save me the embarrassment of needing a ride like that, age 27.

MJ was friends with Allanah, of Allanah and Gregory, Canadian entrepreneurs my parents met in their village: MJ had moved there to do research on the history of a priest who’d allegedly been paid off by the Catholic church to cover up something big, something of Davinci Code proportions the church had no interest in anyone knowing anything about—and all this was shrouded in rumors about the Masons, secret societies, Solomon’s mines, the Languedoc Cathars, the English journalists who’d died mysterious deaths (three of them, independent cases!) after publishing a book about it (Claude Debussy was even involved)…it went on and on, perfect for someone like me or MJ, who wanted to believe such unbelievable things.

Allanah practiced fortune telling but was bad at it, dabbled in numerology, made dramatic faces when she held my hand and channeled, had a lazy eye she kind of exploited when she rolled her head back..and it was hard for me to keep a straight face when she did, that much she read just fine: she said once with some spite there was an air of violence about me that worried her, suggesting I could be capable of something really bad, maybe from MJ’s account of me threatening to hit her with a hammer which I wasn’t serious about, even if it was true.

It was early summer but we were high enough in the mountains it was cool and I remember most days needing a jacket.

MJ lived by a river you could see out back from her bathroom, the most beautiful bathroom I’d ever seen. There was a large window right by the toilet she kept open all the time, and it seemed to blow the curtains invitingly to come, relax by the river, a vase of fresh-cut wild lavender on the sill—an old bath tub (no shower)—a deep, porcelain sink with big, knobby handles, miniature hands.

I wasn’t good at painting or interested to learn and I think MJ wound up doing more than she planned to. On the day we drove up to the church where the priest went missing in the 1800s maybe it was my imagination or the altitude, but the fillings in my teeth vibrated and I had a strange sense from the place, like something bad was buried there.

When it was over and I met my mom and John on the bridge outside of town, they would have been in their old, green Mercedes with mom driving and John in the passenger’s seat: his neck was bad, so if he talked to me he couldn’t turn around but his voice resonated, he’d be tapping his right knee and bouncing his foot to a tune, and we’d have driven a couple hours back home stopping to taste some roadside Blanquette, with nowhere better to go, and nothing better to do.


Categories: humor, Memoir, travel

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

19 replies

  1. Hi Bill, Another interesting read. I get a flavour of the places you write about, for you offer snippets of the things you saw. I wonder if I might suggest that you include more of a description of how some of the people you mention, look? It would be nice to visualise them more, unless you want readers to conjure up our own image of the people you mention, which has its value, too? I’d be interested in our five senses, as a reader, and enjoyed the idea that the scent of Lavender reconnects you to your experience of France. That component of your descriptive narrative is an enrichening experience, for your readers. With best intentions, Dean.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love it Dean! Thanks for reading and offering a suggestion like that, it’s rare and probably takes courage (though it shouldn’t) for people to do that. You know, I’ve been deliberately avoiding that so it’s good you ask for it, it tells me at least one person is missing out on the visual character descriptions. It’s something I’ve been experimenting with, to go as minimal as possible with certain narratives and see what happens. But thanks for the input! I liked your story this week about driving the train in Australia, and how you tied it in to your practice, the jumpers as it were. Always welcome to provide constructive criticism here, I’m looking for that too. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Bill, Indeed, I worry that offering feedback may cause offence, but I’m pleased you received it as the interest of someone who is enjoying your writing. Thanks for your feedback on my ‘train’ post. I took it down as I felt it needed to be more refined, but I will re-post it again soon. Feedback is always welcome, here, too. Kind regards, Dean.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, you could always refine. Look for a post I did with a poet I interviewed I should be publishing tomorrow. She has great advice on that, words to live by. Life is too short; keep going and putting your work out there. It will improve over time and you’re already at a great place. No offence whatever here. Cheers Dean,

        Liked by 1 person

      • Good advice. Thanks. I’ll take a look.


  2. A dry January sounds like it’s probably a wise thing, but I just read about a cocktail Hemingway created called “Death In The Gulf Stream.” Basically lime, Angostura bitters, and a lot of gin. Line up the ingredients for Feb. 1.


  3. Intriguing character–I want to know more about MJ, although I think I’ve met this woman before in numerous cities and various decades. This piece has the makings of a movie behind it. Seriously. More please.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Here’s to another dry January. I would say cheers, but…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. allanah, and your description of her – my fav part of this

    Liked by 1 person

  6. An air of violence…what a great line. Neat story, especially the mystery with the dead journalists and vibrating fillings. Happy dryuary, btw. If I’d been able to get drunk off a glass of wine, maybe I wouldn’t have gone permanent dryuary, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi! I enjoyed reading your post because i absolutely love the French south! Ild love to see more about France!
    Check out my story blog! It takes place in biarritz, France, (which is more west) but still a magical place!
    Im new to writing and blogging so ild love to get your feedback about what you think of my blog and writing (honestly) 😀


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