That was a lovely day.
It began with the market in Feyance.
There was everything from hats to cheese to strawberry tarts and chess sets. In the afternoon, we went pedal boating again. I swam in the water so Noah and Lila could "catch Mommy." In between chases, we relaxed in the sun, eating pistachios.
Then there was today.
A fine, strong day with plenty of sun. The sort that is just perfect for visiting the small villages around, sitting in the shade and drinking wine.
Only Lila didn't want to leave the house. Don't ask me why. She just didn't.
See, when we decided to take this trip people said and we agreed that three is a perfect age for this sort of thing. She's not yet in school. She doesn't need a solid group of peers in the same way she would when older. It's a great education for her. And all that is true, but then again, she is also three and with three comes tantrums.
We managed to wrangle her out of the house anyway. Then during lunch, the unspeakable happened. A bit of Orangina - which Lila and now we pronounce to rhyme with vagina - spilled on her dress. Before you could say Charming French Village, she was flinging her shoes in one direction then ripped off her dress and insisted on hanging it to dry on the ledge of the balcony of the restaurant where we were eating lunch. A balcony with a gorgeous panoramic view and a sheer 100 foot drop below.
Is it wrong that it was not my child's safety that was of paramount importance? I was more concerned with losing the dress, her current favorite dress, the pink one with cherries, the one that she's happy to wear and that allows us to leave the house quickly every day.
Without the pink cherry dress, we were screwed. She would be distraught, and we would never leave the house again. We would never make it to the candy factory in Nice or the Gorge of Verdun. We would be stuck in this little apartment in Provence. Which I suppose wouldn't be so bad as long as we had enough wine.
Yes, these are the thoughts that went through my head as my sweet little daughter stood there shoeless in her underwear screaming.
So I did what anyone would have done. I finished my glass of rose then took Lila down the street for a chat.
Turns out, she wanted to wear a long dress and go to Rachel's wedding.
Noah's sister just got engaged.
Yes, mazel tov, mazel tov. The wedding, though, is not until November. Rachel sent us a picture of the flower girl dress she wants Lila to wear.
Three young women. Two in bikinis sunning themselves. The third, red hair and pale skin wearing a hat, button down shirt and long shorts. She had on sunglasses and sat reading while all the young men around flirted with her friends.
Disrobe, young woman. Let the sun relax your body a bit. No one is watching.
Another young woman with her boyfriend. I noticed them when they arrived because he was checking out all the women on the beach. She lay topless on her stomach chatting on her cell. Her boyfriend lay on his back, asleep with one hand underneath her grabbing her breast.
Now that's the way to do it. No one is watching. She didn't even pause her conversation.
Men don't seem to spend much time here checking out all the women in their bikinis. It's a rare site to see. Or they're just really good at hiding their stares.
A group of 10 or so women in their fifties and sixties sunbathing topless, drinking wine and generally having a grand old time.
Most of the topless women I've seen on the beaches are over the age of forty. And none of them care if anyone is watching.
The only bodies I've seen that look like models belong to girls under the age of 12. They are often topless too, but since their breasts aren't developed yet, I didn't think to consider them in my earlier observation. They are completely carefree in that way only young children can be.
Now I'm going to lay back in the sun and sleep for a while. You should see how tan my white little Lithuanian-rooted body has been getting. Even my stomach, which hasn't seen the light of day since I don't know when is turning all golden with the midday sun.
I haven't gone topless, though. Not yet. Because you never know who's watching.
The past few days have been really lovely. Just the sort of days I imagined when we first thought of making this trip. The place were staying, Domaine de la Begude, is just perfect. We have our own little apartment with a terrace. We eat all our meals outside, at night to candlelight. The terrace overlooks a little lagoon with ducks and a couple of geese that truly seem to be an old married couple. I've never seen then apart. Even when the groundkeeper's dog - I swear the dogla name is Benjy - chases them.
We spent the first day or so here cooking meals, taking walks, playing in the swimming pool and drinking these amazing bottles of wine we bought at the local supermarket for 3 euro each.
Tonight over dinner, we watched all the kid's staying here playing in the expanse of grass, wildflowers and lavender in front of us. The couple in the apartment next door have a little baby, maybe six months old. They seem so gentille. I plan to introduce myself to them tomorrow.
This afternoon, we visited Lac de Saint Cassien and rented a pedalboat, paddled around the lake and swam. We'll go back again later this week, earlier in the day so we can stay longer and rent a boat with a slide attached. A Slide Attached. I can't wait. I think I'm more excited about it than Lila.
But now I must end. Noah just made a coffee and were going to drink it with a good chocolate and enjoy the night air by candlelight.
In the words of the great Persian sage: zendigi zibaost. Life sure as hell can be beautiful.
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Last week I heard from a woman who teaches at Yeshiva University. We shared an office. She wrote to tell me that Lana Schwebel, a woman I met in a Chaucer class at Barnard died in a car crash near Lake Baikal in Siberia. She was 35 years old.
I didn't know Lana well. We knew each other in college and ran into each other here and there over the years. I last spoke with her one very long conversation about six, maybe even seven years ago.
So why did her death hit me so hard? Why do I find myself randomly thinking of her and crying? Perhaps because she's the first of my friends, my colleagues, of people my age to die. Perhaps because she was such an unbelievably bright and alive person. It's impossible to believe that she simply is no longer in his world. I found I had come to take for granted that even if I didn't see or talk to her, that she was still out there somewhere. Learning, teaching, reading, finding out new things and just generally exoloring this enormous world. Perhaps it hit me so hard because her death forces me to reevaluate my own life. What am I doing? Where am I going? What have I really accomplished in my 35 years?
Right now the answers to all those questions are a resounding "I don't know."
I just don't know.
But Lana always seemed to know. She knew so much, went so many places and accomplished incredible things. I remember looking at her during one particular conversaton and wondering how so much information could fit into just that one head. It was not her intention, I'm sure, but around her I felt terribly insecure. I hate to even admit it, but it's true.
And now her life has ended and mine continues.
What am I going to do with the rest of life I have been given?
For a week. It's about 20 minutes from St. Tropez but in the mountains. Sort of a bungalow colony. Like the one Noah's grandparents built and owned in the Catskills back in the day. Come to think of it, this area is very Catskills-like, only everything is in French and the food in the supermarkets is gourmet.
I really miss Noah's grandmother. For those of you who don't know, she died about 6 months ago. I thought of her as my own grandmother. She was a traveler. Always going somewhere new, trying something different. I wonder what she would say about this trip of ours. I bet she would have gotten a better price on our little apartment here. Good Lord, that woman could bargain the teeth off an angry dog and had no shame in her method of doing so.
Did I mention how much I miss her?
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We are in the car making our way along the coast to St Raphael. Stopping at Cassis, La Ciotat, and Bandol along the way in search of a place to settle.
I just saw a girl at a McDrive smoking a cigarette. She couldn't have been more than twelve years old. Her mom was driving the car. God forgive me, but the Brooklyn mom in me shook her head and tsk-tsked her parenting choices. Then I remembered how I yelled at lila last night after the first hour of screaming and how I've given up trying to keep Lila from slipping out of the car seat shoulder straps. .Or how this morning I smoked my first cigarette in five years. Yes, count 'em, five years.
So now I know I hear some of you tsk tsking me. Well, you leave your home and everything you know. See if you can resist the pull of a cigarette with coffee or wine or the cooling night air by la Vieux Port in Marseille. Even with all this, I'll admit I'm feeling rather stressed because I have no idea where we're headed. One day at a time is nice in theory but we still need somewhere to sleep tonight.
It didn't help when that van of French youth screamed obscenities out their window at us. I could tell what they were saying by their hand gestures. We were all amazed at how many new heads kept popping out the front passenger window, each adding his own comment.
But wait. I think I see Cassis. A steepish wall of rock rising above the bluest of blue waters. Cloudless skies. It's the sort of thing I've only seen before in movies.
We're in Marseille now. We left Meynes about four days ago. Our time there was rather wonderful. Rony and Michael, two of the most generous people I know, have an amazing little place there. We traveled the area, spent leisurely lunches and dinners drinking wine and chatting with the others staying at their place.
After they left, we went to Sainte Marie de la Mer. A beach town based on a black female saint. A town founded by gypsies. What a fun place to walk, hang out on the beach and go on pony rides through La Camarge, a saltwater marsh surrounding the town for miles.
Then Orange. There's a little train (so called Le Petit Train) which takes you through the entire city. You can jump off and on at will. It goes through a park with a big playground, hiking area and an unbelievable view of the Theatre Antique. We could hear them practicing a Puccini opera while up there.
Lila loved the train. Loved it. She held onto the little orange ticket the conductor gave her. She held onto it for the entire hour of the train ride and beyond. When she heard the woman singing opera she immediately thought it was a princess and spent the next hour asking me to take her to the singing princess.
Then there was last night in Marseille. Lila generally has a tough time the first night in a new place, and we've been moving around a lot lately. She was up screaming until 1am. Screaming. Very. Loudly. So now, while we intended to go to the Cathedral in Marseille and a number of other things today, we're all too tired. I think the plan is to drive straight to Saint Raphael, find a good, cheap little place to rent for a month (if we like the area) and settle down for a bit.
So much to do... so much to see.. my mind is going in a million directions.