Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Home is two mobile homes stranded on a field somewhere in Provence. They form an L on two sides of a wooden terrace where my husband and I sit with aperitifs to watch the sun set over the marsh in front (the same view you're getting on top), the wild ducks and egrets that nest there crying out, seagulls and flamingoes flying overhead.
When it's time to come in for dinner I find myself heavy-handed with the salt shaker, taste buds now sensitized because every second we breathe in the mineral. Just beyond the marsh are the pink Mediterranean waters and white saline hills of the local salt mine. The first harvest of the season they sell as gourmet seasoning, prettily named fleur de sel, precious at three euros and fifty cents for a handful.
I write self-exiled in the tiny bedroom, curtains drawn against the sight of the rows of grapes that begin just outside, the fruit already starting to burst on the vines. Last Thursday I saved some from this fate, cut a basketful and with my neighbor Violette made jam. We did the same with the black figs and almonds three weeks ago. Boiled them in giant pots of sugar and sealed them in glass pots. We neglected the prunes and white figs. Those dropped to the ground and wasted away in the summer heat, and for days there was the sweetish smell of rot. The apples now hang low on their branches. They will soon become marmalade and chutney.
We have high hopes for our first harvest of winter vegetables. Tonton Loulou was right about planting with the moon. Four days after their seeds were buried, at just the right moment of the moon's ascending, the tiny leaves broke through the soil. We have three kinds of lettuce, brune d'hiver, laitue a couper, and mache. Plus those growing wild on the land.
It was on a rainy morning last year, while I was here on vacation, that my future mother-in-law took me on an expedition. Armed with little knives and plastic sacks, we went hunting for little heads of chicory. I was told that we had to get them young, while they were "tendre," not "deur"; and that we had to look for a particular shaping of leaves, otherwise we'll be lunching on weeds. On the table at midday, I wondered if we hadn't made a mistake. The leaves had microscopic hairs that scratched the tongue and took determined chewing to macerate.
Giving in to demanding questions about when we'll have a baby, we adopted two black kittens and named them Dolly and Sally. They have been here a week and the first has adapted well, climbs onto my lap and stays there purring. Sally is not as easygoing. At night when her sister curls up to sleep with us, choosing a spot between entwined legs, Sally follows, but prefers to stay under the bed.
She finds there the 20 pairs of high-heeled shoes that are souvenirs of another life, shipped all the way from Manila despite knowing that high heels are utterly impractical in sandy earth and gardening soil, still worn occasionally, defiantly, to walk around the ancient village's cobblestoned streets that trip me up every few meters. One time I checked, Sally had settled beside dusty red leather wedges. All midnight fur and golden eyes, she stared at me in a way I knew well, for I imagine that I often sport the same expression. There the question: "What the hell am I doing here?"