This is my Father's world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker's praise.
This is my Father's world: He shines in all that's fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

- Maltbie D. Babcock

Monday, April 28, 2008

Mr. Bean goes to Provençe

Most of the trappings of my everyday life have fallen away, and I feel somehow lighter (despite my excessive luggage). For the first time since I can remember, it is as if I am nobody's wife, mother, daughter, or sister - I am simply "une personne." I think of my family, friends, and cats at home all the time, but they almost seem like part of another life altogether. Perhaps they feel the same way about me.

Wendy was ill on our last day in Paris, so I spent a perfect spring afternoon and evening wandering by myself through the Impressionist wing of the Musée d'Orsay, then the Jardin des Tuileries. Overwhelmed by the beauty of the artwork, gardens, fountains, statues, and topiaried trees, I felt so thankful to God for gifting mankind with the creative energy that comes from being made in His image. Everywhere you turn here, someone is making music or creating art right on the street. The French certainly seem to fully enjoy their cities, their food, and each other. In the parks, young couples sit in the grass and smile while their children giggle and chase each other around. Couples walk wrapped around each other, stopping frequently to smile into each other's eyes or share a lengthy kiss. In a restaurant, a young man enters and without embarrassment kisses his mother and grandmother on both cheeks before sitting down to join them. It's lovely to watch, coming from a culture where people tend to be far less demonstrative and affectionate. As I make my way back through the Metro stations to our hotel, I feel suddenly alone; but then, just as quickly, I remember that I am never alone because I am God's child. I take time to thank Him for taking the subway with me.

Now we are enjoying a different manifestation of French culture. Very early Sunday morning, we climbed aboard the TGV bound for Avignon. Once there, we stowed our baggage at the car rental agency and shuttled into town to tour the Palais des Papes and the Pont d'Avignon of song. After a sun-drenched lunch of salade niçoise in the town square, we headed back to pick up our car. Our first drive turned out to be a harrowing experience. What was presented as an easy, five-minute drive across a bridge to the village on the other side of the Rhone turned out to be an hour spent lurching around in circles trying to find access to said bridge. Traffic signs are difficult to follow and our little diesel car, although theoretically automatic, does not operate like its Canadian counterparts. Finally arriving in the historic centre of Villeneuve lès Avignon; we have our first experience with driving down incredibly narrow cobblestone streets. Only much later that night, as we relaxed in our room to update our journals, were we able to relax and laugh uproariously about our terrifying foray into driving in a foreign country. Personally I had felt like an extra in a Mr. Bean movie the whole time.

Our hotel and the surrounding neighbourhood are textbook Provençal, and I am enchanted. We were fortunate enough to arrive on an evening when a neighbourhood festival weekend was just winding down. Local vintners had tables set up along the closed street to showcase their products, and free samples were being proffered to all passersby. Children and young people in traditional Provençal costumes were dancing and singing in the town square. Every generation of families was represented and the whole town appeared to be in attendance. Later, a bonfire was lit in the centre of the square, and costumed dancers pulled in people from the crowd to dance around it. When the dancing stopped; a choir of young girls broke into what was obviously a traditional folk song and the crowd spontaneously joined in. A long table had been set up to one side; laden with small glasses of sweet red wine which everyone, including us, helped themselves to. What a charming welcome to life in a Provençal town.

Today has been spent leisurely poking our way around back streets and alleyways, getting lost and finding our way again. We have marvelled at ancient walls, beautiful hidden courtyards, ornate doorways surrounded by potted flowers, and vistas of tiled rooftops over crumbling walls. We have walked around the walls of a castle (just sitting there at the end of a residential street, if you please) and toured a monastery built in the 14th century. Now sitting in the private courtyard of our hotel, a lattice of grapevines overhead and a cat sleeping in a flower pot, I am sipping un café and nibbling pain chocolat. We have seen and experienced so much in these past five days, that at night when we talk over our day, we find ourselves saying, "Could that really have been just this morning?" It seems at once like we have just arrived, and have been here forever. Tomorrow the journey continues.

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