Goodness, the second of June! It has been six months since having moved to Salies. I hate to say “time has flown” it is such a cliché, but time has flown. Six months has become a brief forever which is the time that love exists in and I definitely am in love with my life here. It is incredible. Every morning I walk the same way, and every morning is completely new, seen for the first time, things never noticed before: the group of roofs nesting like angular doves, the Temple walls and columns vaguely Roman, strangely out of place with its protestant services and smooth walls and simple undecorated interior. Ah, the flower lady is selling pink and purple hydrangeas where not so long ago she offered daffodils.
The town has dressed for summer with colored triangular banners strung across the streets and all the public flower containers and gardens filled with the July to September blooms. It looks the way I have always seen it when I arrive in August, but this time I have birthed it, going along on each step of the way from winter to spring to almost summer. Each week has brought new leafing, new budding, new bird song, new rain and storm and sun shifting constantly, changing the scene so that every day it is a new world. My eyes have gone to heaven; they live in constant delight as the dance of light and shadow seem to open a new scene from one moment to the next.
On the other hand as far as practical projects go my French see-saws. Sometimes there is a new fluency that delights me, others my tongue goes from charley-horse to charley-horse as it trips and starts with each guttural “r” and the usual volley of silent vowels. A couple of days ago in a restaurant, a lady at a nearby table had just finished her dessert and, thinking that it would be polite and friendly, I asked her if it had been good. She kindly looked at her watch and told me it was two thirty, with which the total weight of my mispronunciation descended upon my tongue: how it got from sweets to the hour of the afternoon I have no idea. Later in the week, during lunch with my downstairs neighbor, she observed a couple of tables of Brits talking to each other across the floor and commented that the French would never do that, talk from one table to another. I took note: not only was my pronunciation ghastly, but I was stepping on French etiquette so that my gesture might have been doubly misunderstood.
Occasionally I notice my desire to be accepted and my fear of not knowing how to do it the French way which of course is the right way. The days my spoken French seems to be going backwards, terror strikes my heart and I must work with fears of being a bore, a tiring foreigner in a strange land trying to fit in. But of course, this is hogwash! Without a doubt, the moment we are born we are all foreigners in a strange land arriving at an unknown time and place whose language and customs we totally ignore. We are dropped –so to speak- into a family of strangers that proceed to “educate” us in the ways of the land. Later, when we are five or six, we will talk about “my family” as if we had always been there, but it’s not true. We have been plopped down in the midst of a life that has already gone on during a very long time without us, and there is no doubt we are expected to bring ourselves up to date as quickly as possible. So there is no difference. It simply is that six months ago I was born into the French way of life, language and customs and am in the process of gaining an education that will permit me to become a member of this new family.
Seen this way, I am doing ok because as far as I know at 6 months of age my vocabulary probably consisted of mama and dada, if that and here I can already make myself understood. There is something else I notice. Like in the movie The King’s Speech, where Bertie did not stutter when he got mad, if I am impassioned about what I want to say, if the subject grabs me and not the grammar or the vocabulary, it usually comes out pretty fluently. So there is hope.
And people are terribly kind. They put up with my stuttering and vile pronunciation of their beloved language. They even are so kind as to correct me occasionally. And then there are the darlings like Kiwi-san who speaks English with an English accent (as I call it, although he would say New Zealand accent) and constantly provides me with new vocabulary or tries to correct my unforgiving pronunciation of the “u” by saying that I should place my lips as if to pronounce a “u” and then actually say “i”; or my adorable land-lords who can switch back and forth from French to Spanish to English so that we are always speaking in linguistic triangles. And there is René at the Café Tivoli who continues to tease me saying, for instance, “Pour moi? Merci” when he sees me walk in with my hydrangeas or asking me at ten in the morning if I am going to have ice cream. And the wonderful women of the International Club whom I run into then and again on my frequent walks, or darling Sandrine who comes twice a week to help with the cleaning and is always bringing me presents of fresh produce from her kitchen garden or her father’s farm and correcting me when I say “la” lit instead of “le” lit.
Yes, six months and I know an incredible amount of people and every day meet more; six months and not one moment the same as the next, everything shifting, changing, breathing, growing as if life itself were nothing more than vibrant breath wafting in day after day and bringing newness with each passing. In a city, the changes are patchwork like in a park or on the trees along the sidewalks; one must be watching out to catch them amongst the predominance of unchanging cement and brick and metal from sidewalks and lamp posts and buildings an all unmoving things: things that have no life and never evolve or evolve at a pace that one lifetime would make observable. The changes tend to be tactile, like the sudden shift in temperature or an unexpected dampness in the air. Here, the transformations touch all the senses as winter shifts across the countryside in bursts of young green leaves and wildflowers, and cornfields and vineyards that have suddenly come to life, and thunder storms and bird song and the perfume of blossoms and the warmth of the breeze or the wetness of dissolving clouds. Even the tastes are different as the market produces the spring lettuces and the asparagus and the melons and all kinds of goodies which were not there during the winter months. Oh, the sweetness of raspberries picked from the bush or strawberries so fresh they tingle on the tongue. So, yes, every day is a re-discovering, every hour (light shifts, clouds blow over and by, birds sing or hush, the breeze brings scents of petunias or roses or pansies or magnolias) a premiere where Nature projects her movie of ever changing sensations.
So, it has been six months and each day seems to get better. Once upon a time, many years ago when I was young, I actually believed that it would be difficult to move from a big city and “back” to a small town without dying of despair, and here I discover it is the opposite. How could one possibly want to go back to a city where most things are manmade, when engulfed in life pulsating at its fullest?