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Gruelling, my friends, is the word – gruelling, all this eating, drinking, walking, admiring countryside, towns and villages, enduring the baking heat of the sun. All this French bread, cheese and wine – how much longer can I stand it, before I melt with pleasure?

On Friday, Lynn and I went to Galeries Lafayette, where I wanted to buy almost everything I saw and did end up with a simple linen dress (hot pink) to wear to my goddaughter Jessica’s wedding in July. We were really out to shop for a dress for Lynn, the mother of the bride. Lynn is blessed with an extremely generous poitrine, which has always made it difficult for her to find clothes that fit. After trying on a number of dresses without success, she took me on a little tour of the store’s underwear section, filled with the most delicious ruffly confections. In France, sales are legislated by the government. The summer sales for all stores in the south begin on June 24th and continue for weeks. Lynn buys most of her clothes during the sales. I may drop into Galeries Lafayette on or after June 24th, just for the hell of it.
We went, in the 30 degree heat, for an aperitif to Lynn’s favourite cafe on the main pedestrian drag of Montpellier. It goes without saying that it’s outside, under big umbrellas; Lynn often goes alone to sit with a drink and read or work, and can stay a long time even in winter because of outdoor space heaters. Joined by Lynn’s friend and colleague Julie, we drank rose and mojitos as the crowds swirled past; I watched with fascination as a young woman approached and went around a table of 7 of her friends, kissing each one 3 times on the cheeks, right left right, and then walking away to sit at another crowded table where the kissing started all over again. What a lengthy process; we would have said, “Hi guys,” and gone on our way.
Lynn, Julie and I went to dine at a small Italian restaurant. As I’ve said ad nauseam, the crowded, ancient, narrow, winding streets of Montpellier are extraordinarily picturesque; Lynn and Julie walked along talking seriously about work while I gasped with delight at each vista. And what a meal – outside on a tiny street, as an occasional car squeezed by, I ate grilled scallops on pasta in a truffle sauce. If only my children, both foodies who love to cook and eat, were here to taste and watch what and how the French cook and serve. This was not an expensive restaurant, but the food was four star. Sublime. Then back through streets as crowded at 11.30 p.m. as at noon, to home, where the bar was in full swing. But the live band is no more and I know now that the thumping will end at 1. So with earplugs in my ears and truffle sauce in my belly, I was lulled to sleep by the bass guitar.
Saturday a busy day – vital to find Madame Blin a dress for the wedding. We canvassed the main shopping street and eventually hit the jackpot – an elegant white dress with a little bolero jacket fitted her perfectly. I laugh to think of how often my friend and I have shopped together since our close friendship began in 1967, despite the fact that she has lived in France since 1970. We have both always loved fashion, she the Ph.D. in linguistics and mother of 5, I the impecunious writer and teacher, forty-two years of heartfelt talks about deep spiritual matters and also discussions and modelling of clothes, shoes, hair and jewelry. On this excursion I found shoes, yes, comfortable, pretty shoes to fit my giant feet. Thrilling.
Early evening, we caught the train to Avignon; Lynn read the latest “Elle” and I watched the stone farms, vineyards and olive groves of Provence flash by the window. An hour later, in Avignon, we found a restaurant and had an aperitif while waiting for Lynn’s husband Denis to arrive. Because their main residence is in Gordes, a stunning but isolated village in the mountains, comings and goings are always complicated. Denis arrived, we had dinner, walked to the car parked beside the medieval ramparts of this great city, and drove with him through the Provencal countryside to Gordes.
I’ve wondered in my shallow moments if I would love Lynn as much if she had settled in Calgary or Windsor, instead of one of the prettiest villages in the world. I first visited their Gordes house in 1983, when I was pregnant with my second child, and my then-husband and 3-year old Anna and I stayed for a few weeks. Later I brought Anna again, and then both my children, and returned alone for the great celebration in the garden for Lynn’s 50th birthday. This year it’s her 60th and Jessica’s wedding, which is the main reason I decided to take my mini-sabbatical now.
Gordes is a village stuck to the side of a mountain; impossible to take a bad picture of its vista of yellow-gold stone houses clinging to the rock face. Lynn and Denis live slightly out of the village in a big airy house designed by Denis and his father; the five children were raised here. Denis has made a lovely garden and they’ve added a small swimming pool tucked in at the back. Sunday in paradise – Lynn and I at the crowded farmer’s market in nearby Coustellets filling our bags with apricots, peaches, lettuce, cherries, tomatoes, and melons, then sitting on the terrace for lunch – melon, grilled merguez – spicy sausages – with tomates provencales, salad, bread and cheese, and peach-apricot pie. All this with a glass or two of local vin rouge and the smell of lavender and wild thyme, under a bower of oleander.
After lunch, a long walk through le paysage, a swim, and then Lynn and I had to leave again for the train station in Avignon. The plan was originally that we’d stay in Gordes till Monday morning, but at the station in Montpellier on our departure, there was a big notice informing travellers of a strike on the Montpellier-Avignon line on Monday. Apparently a train worker had been injured and workers were striking in sympathy; something like that. This has happened several times to Lynn before, necessitating taking a packed bus to Nimes and then transferring to another bus, doubling or tripling the time it takes to get back. Luckily she remembered that the fast train line the TGV runs from Avignon to Montpellier on Sundays, so we managed to get back painlessly. Lynn cooked, at 10 we sat to eat dinner and at 1 we were still dancing, the two of us in our own private time-warp disco, whirling about to Elton John, Whitney Huston, Paul Simon.
One of the greatest joys imaginable is the company of an old and dear friend. And I’d say and mean that about this beloved friend even if she did not live in the south of France. But her place of residence is definitely an extra blessing.



11 Responses to “blessings”

  1. Carolyn says:

    What a way to live! I have to go back to Provence if nowhere else.
    I am inspired. There are two, almost ripe, green zebra tomatoes in the garden. I will be able to make a tomato tarte soon.

  2. beth says:

    Carolyn, I wish you joy with your exotic tomato tarte. Sounds delicious. I feel I should write soon about the down side of Provence – there is one, with crowds, expensive tourist traps, trains on strike etc. – and I don't want to give the impression that it's perfect here. Though most days – it's pretty close.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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