Saturday, August 01, 2009

Postcards from France

Lizzy is in France for a couple of weeks, staying with relatives of old friends. They have taken her to Bandol, between Marseille and Toulon, in the south of France for her entire stay.

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She wrote each of her family members postcards from France, which arrived in today's mail. She gets home Monday, so we will see her soon, but it is so nice to "hear" her voice today in her postcards.

Well, Dad is right—heaven is French cooking. In the past week I’ve had croissants and baguettes that would make the Costco bakery die of shame. The soups and salads are feasts in themselves and the wine (of course) is exquisite. But the French people sparkle as much as the sea itself.

When a Frenchman speaks, every word sounds like a song that the world would pause to hear. No wonder theirs is a romantic language!

Here everything seems to sing—from the strange, tangy ocean breeze to the far-off hum of a cruise ship skimming the horizon. The cicadas fiddle ceaselessly in the pine trees, the gulls caw one to another, the terns cry to the sunlight on the waves—even the sailboats swish and creak like soft flutes. Behind it all I hear the quiet breathing of the surf against the shore. I wish you were here to listen to it all with me.
The ocean has dozens of shifting moods and it changes them often, “like a girl changes clothes.” Tonight, as dusk settles cloudless and clear, the sea is but a peaceful kitten breathing softly in its sleep. When the wind awakens it and churns its waves to snow-white froth, I fancy I can hear its cougar-like scream. At other times, the sea cat only wants to play. Then it bats its velvet paws against the wooden hills of fishing boats. But tonight, all I hear is the ocean’s heartbeat: a steady, pounding thrum.

All the French have voices that could charm the wind, or make it stop to dance. The wind is often set to dancing here—whether with the flapping terns or the laughing gulls, the sunlit waves or the tropic flowers. When the people dance (as our friends do nightly), they choose American pop tunes—Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, and garish rap are among the favorites—and American dances that oddly resemble those of the Roaring Twenties. ( I think I shattered their iconic image of Americans when I voiced my preference for Taylor Swift!)

No I haven’t seen any dolphins yet; they don’t live near Marseilles (I’ve been told they don’t live in this ocean at all). I have, however, seen some greenish-gray eels swimming in tight figure eights near the dock, with sudden flashes of white light bursting from their sides. Electric eels!

I have yet to swim far out from shore, but I heard other swimmers warn of poisonous jellyfish near the beach and even great white sharks farther out.

The views here are spectacular—from the vast expanse of crinkling ocean, to the rocky gray islands, to the wind-twisted evergreens with roots exposed to the elements.

More flowers grow here, it seems, than anywhere else in Europe. I’ve photographed loads of them in perfect late afternoon light (and even an amateur like me can take a decent picture of these gorgeous blossoms). Perhaps you’ll want to paint a few, once I’ve shown them to you. Till then, I miss you and I wish you were here!

We love you, too, Lizzy. And we miss you! See you soon.

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