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It’s my party and I’ll eat cheese if I want to

It’s my birthday, and I’m far from home. Friends and family have been wonderful – Lynn et al gave me a surprise party on Wednesday night before the young marrieds took off the next day, with a cake and candles and presents and everything. My mother sent a card which arrived today, Saturday – yes, the extraordinarily efficient French postal service delivers on Saturday. Emails have flooded in, including a great film clip from Bruce Kellett and Nicky Lipman in Vancouver, singing “Happy Birthday” backstage at the Arts Club. Anna, Chris, Lani, Lynn B., Chuck, all have sent messages.

I love you all.
But I am melancholy, only partly because it’s my birthday and I’m far from home. This morning, I received more bad news from my house. The entire basement is flooded, and after $500.00 worth of rotorooting, which couldn’t fix the problem, the experts have concluded that there may be a burst pipe under my house and that perhaps the whole basement needs to be excavated. The thought of what that will entail, financially and physically, brought me down today. My basement apartment is uninhabitable and will be empty and perhaps getting worse daily while I’m away. Three more weeks, and then home – to my loved ones, my flooded basement and my broken sump pump.
My handiman told me once that he thought I’d offended the water gods, so often did the basement flood or the skylights explode with water. But that was the old basement. This one was supposed to be fixed.
Ah well. Not much I can do from here.
So in the meantime, I’ve been seeing more of Provence. On Thursday Lynn and I went to Aix-en-Provence, an exceptionally lovely town. The day was a hymn to the towering mottled plane trees which line the roads and grace the inner city with giant patches of shade. Aix is the city of Cezanne, and the whole landscape around looks like his paintings – Cezanne colours, grey/green hills and woods, dusty yellow houses and stone, red roofs, blue shutters, vineyards, heat heat heat.
On Friday we all drove to the sea – Mum and Dad, aka Lynn and Denis in the front seat, and the kids, aka their daughter Myriam, her one-year old son Issaak, and moi, in the back. “Are we there yet, Dad?” I felt like asking. French beaches are not sandy, they’re either rocks or pebbles, but the sea is refreshing. And of course, there’s the shock of naked breasts everywhere. More than 15 years ago, I was with Lynn and Denis and my own young children on a French beach and took off my top, only to write about it in the Globe and Mail. Perhaps I’ll write another piece about doing it again, much older, perhaps much … more affected by gravity. It’s a wondrous sight, women of all ages, very young to very old, with breasts exposed, entirely naturally – though when they get up to swim, they put on tops. Not sure why that is, but I did it too.
Another glory of the French seaside town is the fact that even right on the touristy sea, you can get a great meal. We found a tiny restaurant where we all had fish – I had a “loup,” a kind of fish in a leek cream sauce. But the star was Issaak, who is a hearty eater even at one – he hasn’t met any kind of food he doesn’t like, and the includes the “moules frites” – mussels with French fries – that was on the kid’s menu. Here was a one-year old facing a big plate of mussels and fries – and he devoured them all, a great sight to see. And then, back to the beach for another swim.
Today – my birthday treat, a trip to Arles, where there are photography exhibitions throughout the city, not to mention the city itself with its Roman amphitheatre, narrow streets, and reflections of Van Gogh, who lived and painted here. We saw an exhibit of work by Willy Ronis, a French photographer I’d never heard of and whom I now admire enormously – one exquisite photograph after another, symphonies of light, movement and emotion. He looks at his fellow human beings with delicacy and sympathy, sadness and joy. There was a spectacular shot of a man throwing a ball in the game of boules, looking like a ballet dancer with his legs and arms splayed and glee on his face. Many shots of striking workers in the 30’s and 40’s, beautiful faces of children and adults … a treat. “La photographie, c’est le regard. On l’a ou on ne l’a pas,” he wrote. And “La belle image, c’est une geometrie modulee par le coeur.”
We visited the Alyscamp with its rows of stone tombs, which has been a cemetery for 2000 years – 80 generations.
In a short film at the end of the Ronis exhibition, he quoted Trotsky: “Of all unexpected things, the most unexpected is old age.” I don’t feel old yet, at 59. But today, I feel worn and yes, just for now, a bit sad. And yet open for for the grand adventure of each day – a new artist, a new vista, and best of all, friends and family to keep me company on the path.
Thanks to you all.

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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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