Friday, January 30, 2015

To share and share alike




Remi and I have been known to read each others thoughts.

It just happens and when it does, we will invariably make the same comment, "You aren't allowed to do that! Get out of my head!" And then we laugh. It is an old joke between us but it never does, actually, get old.


So I knew before he spoke that he wasn't willing to just go the grocery store as planned for our last run before New Year's Eve but had something else in mind. "Why don't we go get some good olive oil to use for cooking the lamb?" he queried. I was already nodding before he finished his question and so we took a different direction at the upcoming roundabout and headed towards the Alpilles.


Nearly 80% of this years olive crop was struck down not only here but throughout Italy and Spain as well. Remi was planning ahead. He knew that the good stuff - which we buy regularly at the Moulin de Jean-Cornille in Maussane - wouldn't last through the winter and he was more than right. There was hardly any left.


We bought three one liter bottles but still were disappointed. The energy in the boutique had been bizarre with other customers clamoring for the oil. I didn't want our brief foray in the Alpilles to end on such a sour note. Not that afternoon, not ever.


"Why don't we go and pick some fresh thyme for the lamb as well?" I suggested.


Despite what one might think, les Alpilles do not unceremoniously sprout les Herbs de Provence - rosemary, thyme and sage - partout. Not entirely. Luckily, we have our spot. A tried and true destination...


...amidst olive groves and running vines, parasol pines and stone chopped hills. But would it be there?


We arrived just in time...

...for the most beautiful sunset of the year. As if it knew that it had to take one grand swoop of a bow before time had run out.


And the thyme? No, it had not run out. 

It was Remi who insisted that I take this photo of his victoriously brandishing our récolte or harvest, one that would, indeed perfume l'agneau marvelously along with such exceptional huile d'olive.

He did so because he knew that I was already thinking of you at this beginning of the end. Because just as Remi and I can read each others thoughts, so, oftentimes, you, that royal You, can also pop up inside my head. With a moment so beautiful that it shimmies up next to the sublime, of course, my only recourse was to share and share alike.





Have a wonderful weekend...



Friday, January 23, 2015

Tulips



It is good to try.

The light was scraping across the terra-cotta tiles on the floor in a way that made me want to capture it, to hold it in my hand. I had just lowered myself down to the ground during my yoga practice and that thought tripped through quickly along with Remi's previous offer that I use the macro lens that works with his camera that I am borrowing. He knows that I like to look closely.

At the time, I was too intimidated. "Let me just start with the basics!" I was squealing a bit, nervous. It is his equipment after all. But today somehow it felt ok. Either that or the need to be creative won out over whatever fear had been holding the reins.

It is good to try.

By doing so, I remembered that life can be wonderfully small or small as a prison depending on how I choose to take it. Remi and I have both been missing our voyaging days, as can especially happen at this time of year. But I did today in the looking. While I have much to learn, so much that I could return to intimidation, I felt joy in discovering and that is what traveling is all about. For once, I wasn't lost at all but found, held tight in my contentment.












Wishing that your days ahead are full of the big, the small and everything in between...






To listen:


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sunday shopping at a Provençal flea market




Remi wrapped his arm around my shoulder, we picked up the pace and shuddered in unison. That Mistral wind! Always arriving precisely when it is most unwelcome. So it was on a Sunday morning in December. But the sun was gorgeous as it always is on such windswept days and for once, I had prepared, wrapping myself in layers of cashmere with gloves and a bonnet in my pocket plus fly-sized glasses to keep my eyes from tearing. I had to keep my focus. For yet again, we were on the hunt.

Of course, we didn't actually need a thing from the brocante or flea-market at St. Etienne du Grès. But it has always been about the Art of Looking for us. The prick of possibility. From those very first weeks together in Vanves on the outskirts of Paris, we would walk the puces every weekend, sometimes on both Saturday and Sunday. It was our antiques education, not to mention free entertainment. We didn't yet have a spare dime between us, so despite our empty apartment (I had only brought an Icart print and many pairs of heels with me from NYC), we simply asked questions of the dealers and compared likes and dislikes over a scrambled brunch upon returning home.

The Mistral whipped Remi and I off into our own individual orbits. Which was just fine as we were both too busy storing up little bits of lost history and found inspiration to be good company. Pushed forward by the wind, I rolled through aisle after aisle, past the sellers lunching on saucisson and warming wine, while mentally sifting the junk from the jewels at each stand. And somehow, just that walking while looking outwards with a soft gaze, always tends to do the same for me mentally. Stuck staring, I wondered with my head tilted just so and responded to each dealer's enquiring eyes with a nod that was curt but kind. "No, sorry but no." As always, I was searching without really knowing what I  was looking for and perhaps that is another reason why such flea market strolls are so comforting. Anonymous, right in the thick of the crowds, we all are.

I finished first as I often do, impatient red-head that I am. But then again, it just might be that I like that moment of turning back to search for Remi's face, that familiar face, to catch him unaware with weighty eyes. Slowly, I reeled myself in towards him until that arm was replaced wordlessly, shoulder-round. We didn't end up buying anything as we knew we probably wouldn't and turned to leave as the dealers started to close up shop - repacking their wares carefully and with a hint of accustomed disappointment - all of us waiting for a "Yes, thank you, I'll take it," possibly at the next brocante.



A boutis or typically Provençal antique quilt. They are getting harder to find...






Rusty ponies, anyone?





Vintage santons and saints for a Provençal crèche...

What do we think? An olive or grape press?

And for my friend La Contessa of Hen House...


Did you see anything that tempted you?


Sending my very Best from a tiny village in the South of France,
Heather


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Telling tales


Le lien or link through my adult life has been in telling tales.

As many of you know, my first career was that of a professional actor. This was in the pre-Fall in Love with a Handsome Frenchman and Change Everything years. It was all I ever dreamed of, to be a part of sharing such incredible stories - some of which had retained their magic for centuries - and to be able to do so live in front of an audience in order to feel the ripple of exchange. It is a metier that is rooted in hard work and many techniques are needed - from such fundamentals as how to train the voice and body to resonate in a several-hundred seat house without losing their subtlety to very specific gimmicks such as how to breathe from the bottom of the stomach when you are playing a character that has just died onstage (franchement, way harder than it looks). Extensive research and exploration, not to mention a little song and dance (literally and figuratively) - these all go into an actor's bag of tricks. 

So when Remi and I formed a team of travel writer (me) and photographer (him) - after I doggedly accepted that the only roles that my non-French speaking self could pull off in France would be mime-related (no thank you) - it was actually an easy transition. All I had to do was to keep telling stories and what was even better was that I was able to travel widely with my Honey while doing so. During one such trip, while covering the Khampas people in what was formerly Tibet, we came across a grungkan whose job was to sing "The Song of King Gesar". He offered to give us the ultra-condensed three hour version of what is considered to be the world's longest epic poem. While we declined his services, I definitely saw a kindred spirit in this fellow story-teller (albeit he was a divinely chosen one) and with a click I realized that I had seen many such figures in societies throughout our travels, huddled around a fire, speaking to the stars, spooling out images like silk. How we need them to know who we are.


Recently, I was asked to consider what would I barter if the world's system changed, if electricity was out and we just had our skills to rely on. The answer came quickly: I would remain a story-teller, most certainly as we would all need a bit of wonder and perspective in our cut back to basics world, wouldn't we? It would be a rag-tag existence but I can't imagine anything better than to make people laugh or cry or think. It would be a good life. It is a good life.

I am late to the party in writing about this as I needed to let my previous post stand. But it is an interesting question and I am, admittedly, selfish. Well, I told you upfront that what interests me is the exchange. That is why I am still shelling out stories on this blog. It is a bit of barter in itself. A little bit of me for a little bit of you, even if just in stopping by. So then (and I know that many of you have already responded elsewhere), what skills would you offer up to the world? Mainly, I just hope to hear you say, "I am good at this..." Because you are. So, please tell. Cook, sew, grow, hoe? Rewire, paint, dogwalk, teach a dance class? Diversity is what keeps this amazing world turning and what each of us has to offer is more than important. It is life.

Of course there is more than one way to spin a yarn and this one is sublime:


This post is my belated contribution to our monthly get together on a central theme. To see what the other fine bloggers would barter, please click here.


Ps. And yes, I know that I am a big liar in that I promised to get back to Provence but this was a now or never situation! À lundi prochain...


Monday, January 12, 2015

Tiny dancer


I will get back to my usual Provencesque style postings soon but I have a moment that I wanted to share with you. You see, I haven't quite been able to get the record to stop skipping over the scratch of last weeks events in Paris (although the site of over three million people thronging the streets in solidarity and nearly fifty world leaders linking arms was promising) but there was one small event that almost put the needle back in place. 

On Saturday, I gave one of my walks through Arles. As always, I am drawn to those old stones like a bee to honey. This particular walk was the longest that I have ever done as I started with a whirlwind tour of the gigantissisme Saturday market before rolling through the three hour long "How much History can you Take?" stroll in the afternoon. Frankly, I felt relieved to be outside in the sun, to watch the birds swirl around the obelisk and to be away from the pull of the 24 hour news station which had eaten so many of my tears in the past three days. But the family involved, all interesting people, included a ten year old girl, by far the youngest person that I have had along for a walk, let alone such a long one. Would she be lost in the bustle of the marketplace and my droning relentlessly about how "the layers of time brush up against each other?" 

I needn't have worried. Do you remember that age when you were utterly content to be in your own imaginary world? Where the thoughts in your head could weave into scenarios so fascinating that those cotton-candy dreams were capable of floating you through your day? N, as I will call her, had not fallen into the precociousness of adolescence but was still pure and unquestioningly intact in her sense of self. Certainly, she charmed me right off the bat by asking in perfect French if there was a toilette nearby but also in the stories that she would rattle off half-audibly so insistently that I would catch myself tilting my head downwards, straining to hear. "I talk to myself a lot," she responded without the slightest hint of embarrassment when I asked what she was up to. Yes. 

It was near the end of our walk when we arrived, drooping slightly, at the winterized Place du Forum. My voice was nearly shot after so much talking and so we huddled together as I explained the hopelessly feeble remnants of the Roman Forum, what had inspired Van Gogh's "Terrasse du café, le soir" and why the Nobel prize-winning poet Frédéric Mistral was disappointed with the statue that Arles had commissioned for him there. While the words flowed out of my mouth, I became aware of a fluttering just beyond my vision. Earlier, N's Mother had mentioned to her, "It has been a long time now since your last ballet class, hasn't it?" N had decided to rectify that by having her own impromptu class right then and there on the empty square. She sashayed, pirouetted and leapt then leapt again and again until she was doubled over and giggling at being out of breath. And then she would start over, so lightly as if she seemed to be skimming the ground. Her family were intent on listening to me. It was clear that they were used to such moments just as N herself seemed to have absolutely zero awareness that she was being watched. But she was. Not only by me but by so many gathered at the tables of the one café that was open. And I felt, then saw, hearts that had been through so much pain being lifted, one by one by a tiny dancer.

It was a moment of Grace and of Freedom. 

When I finally was preparing to say my goodbyes to the family, I cupped N's face with my palms and told her, "You are a beautiful and unique girl," before kissing her on the top of her head. I couldn't help it. She just smiled at me in return. She seemed happy that she had made me happy. As I turned to walk up the quay, I wondered if angels exist after all and simply felt quite grateful for haven been given the much needed gift of Peace.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Remi joins The Photo Society




I have been watching Remi work since the second day that we met. He took me along as he photographed the construction of Disneyland Paris and even entrusted me with his camera to take one photo. So from the very beginning, his creativity was a key component to our couple, just as he has always respected mine. "We were younger then, we are older now." Yes, but some things haven't changed. I still love to watch his process, how he moves when he hunts the light, the moment; it is such beautiful dancing and a very solid reason of why I love him. No matter how challenging the times have been - and yes, we have already been through some serious ups and downs in the thirteen years that we have been together - he has never let go and only works harder when things are difficult...il a jamais baissé les bras

Some of you already know that he achieved one of his biggest dreams in 2014, when, after over twenty years of trying, a story that he proposed and shot was published in the National Geographic magazine worldwide and seen by 40 million of their readers. It was so amazing as to not even seem real...but it was. What we couldn't have imagined was that because of that story, he would be asked to join The Photo Society, which reunites the photographers that have been published in "the yellow border." It is a very select group (for my design friends, think of it as the equivalent of being selected for the AD 100) and a great honor. 

I am fairly certain that I cried with joy when he showed me his invitation and when we understood what incredible company he would be keeping...Steve McCurry, William Albert Allard, "Nick" Nichols...so many of the photographers that had inspired him to go further, be better, do more. We worked together to choose twelve - only twelve! - photos from his career to present on his page on their website and to try and write a concise yet meaningful introduction about his career. We both had goosebumps the day that his page went live and I have been waiting until now, at the beginning of this new year, to share this news with you. It means so much to us. 


Remi keeps me on my toes. His mind, his heart, travels a lot of ground quickly and works in ways that are at times mysterious to me even if we can frequently "read" each others thoughts. A few months ago, Remi launched a project that seemed incredibly daunting and while I admired the effort, I couldn't quite figure out why he was investing so much time to do it. He had decided to scan the "tear sheets" or actual pages from the magazines that he has been published in. Now, he has been a professional photographer for 25 years, so you can imagine the task. When he stopped when he had scanned over 1000 pages. 


While some of you have been kind enough to visit Remi's main website as well as his online gallery, I doubt that any of you know that he now has a third site, Studio Atlantis, featuring his more recent photography that is centered on archaeology and heritage plus the studio work that optimizes the amazingness of what he shoots within those fields. It is to that website that he has added his list of publications. And do you know, there is a part of me that wonders if he wasn't somehow preparing the field for his invitation to join The Photo Society by doing so? He can be a little psychic that way at times, either that or so determined as to will good fortune into being. I have seen that many a time and often just when we needed it most. An incredibly hard worker with keen perspective, an immediate connection, initiative, a fabulous eye and a story teller - that is Remi. 


Keep going, my Love. I am so incredibly proud of you.


I would be delighted if you felt inclined to take a look at the following:

To see Remi's page at The Photo Society, click: here.

To learn more about The Photo Society, click: here.

You also might enjoy seeing Remi's publications. And yes, if you look closely, you will see that some of the stories that we did together as a writer/photographer team are included. If so, please click http://www.studioatlantis.fr/publications.html.

For those of you that are new here (Thank You et Merci!), you can see Remi's story for NG here and my behind-the-scenes post about it here.

And finally, for those of that enjoyed my previous post? If you would like to see a small version of the photo that Remi took to ring in the New Year, just click here, that is it on the right hand side.



For you, Sweetheart, I back you up:

Thank you everyone for being along for the ride...

With my Very Best from Provence,
Heather



Friday, January 2, 2015

Begin in beauty - 2015


Let it begin, then, in light with creativity shining through, percolating hope for this new year.


We took to the beach where the waves know no time but their own to give us room to find our way.


For who isn't content to feel the sand's support, even in the winter cold? Ben has been exploring the beaches of the Mediterranean since he was a wee pup.


And as for our rascal, Kipling? He is still uncertain of the waves and too tempted by the presence of other dogs to chase. So best then for him to remain attached to an old tripod, where he could calmly do what he loves best...to guard...


...both his loved ones and our equipment. Yes, for you see we came on a mission.


There is a photo that Remi has been wanting to shoot for ever so long. Just as I hear my stories, he often sees his photography before he picks up his camera. Yesterday, was the chosen day. Especially. And so we brought with us the broken top of a Roman amphora that had been borrowed for the occasion, along with the bells and whistles needed to make his imagined image into reality. 


But that didn't mean that there was no time for frivolity...


...or gentle contemplation of what has passed and questions of where it might be wise to point towards next...

...as aren't we are all searching for just the right angle, the good direction?


The waves advanced, the sun dipped down and still Remi did not have his photo. He put his tripod aside and took his camera in-hand, first sitting on his knees and then eventually lowering himself belly down into the surf until he was level with his subject. Soon, I was asked to join his side, where I stood above him holding a portable flash to add a slight push of suggestion as the light faded into night.


Finally, drenched and cold, he was satisfied, elated even. And so was I, having been stripped clean by the wind and sea, washing me down to ready. Because, without our even knowing it, we had already begun and the song was sung in beauty.


Happy New Year everyone!

It was interesting that the word that came to me this morning on my walk with the dogs was: "Freedom." And so I wish you Freedom and Health (as they always say in France, "If you begin with Health the rest will follow") but also Contentment and Adventure too.

With all of my Very best from Provence,
Heather


PS. This post was partially inspired by a few previous New Year's themed posts, such as my very first at Lost in Arles here, a tale from my New York City days here and another January 1st beach visit here.  Voila! And as always, thank you so much for being here. I hope that we will discover 2015 together...