I realize most of you can't drop everything and jet over to Paris, but if you happen to be there already I would love to meet you! Feb 6th at 6:30 For more info RSVP at email@example.com
Now about that mystery man mentioned in today's title. I need your help to tell his story! So please read today's column and let me know how I may improve it!
First, today's word. Forgive the simplicity and obviousness of it, but often what is easy on the eye is exquisitely complex inside.
une plante (plahnt)
Qu’est-ce donc qu’une mauvaise herbe, sinon une plante dont on n’a pas encore découvert les vertus ? What is, therefore, a weed, if not a plant for which we still haven't discovered its virtues. Ralph Waldo Emerson
A Day in a FRENCH Life... by Kristin Espinasse
Thank you for responding to my note about the recent setback in my book project. I heeded your words, took a breather and let my book angels Erin and Tamara work their magic. With the wave of a wand, Erin ordered me to shoo!, or allez zou!, while she and Tami got to work: "Go turn on some Bob Marley…” Erin ordered, via email, adding with a smiley face, "Don’t worry…bout a thing…cause every little ting…is gonna be alright…” : )
Now that the book angels had my back once again, I was free to consider a needed addition to the manuscript: attribution!
Heavens! The book might have gone to print and you wouldn't even know who the model was on the cover! This wasn't the only pépin, or glitch to my book release. I still needed ask my accidental model for permission to use his photo. My sneaky picture-cropping gesture, designed to protect his privacy, had its glaring weaknesses: that plant for one, a dead giveaway! Though some of you--during the book cover vote--mistook it for a stack of letters (interesting how the painted mailbox, located center picture, played tricks on your minds!) the plant was an obvious clue-in as to who is the well-known village figure on the cover.
To understand why, I'll need to take you back to the summer I moved to Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes. My husband was embarking on his wine adventure, having found 9 hectares of vines to tend. As Jean-Marc set about discovering the terroir, I discovered our new village.
The Plant Man
It was at the Saturday farmers market that I first laid eyes on Monsieur Farjon. I was mesmerized. There he was, two, three fruit stands away from me--standing at the head of the outdoor produce aisle chatting with a farmer.
Looking at this photo today I smile, shaking my head seeing that even then he was handing out plants to the locals, expounding on (just look at his passionate gestures!) the organic treasures that could be found along the gutter or in the weedy field relegated to the electric company or beside the busy roadway leading into Sainte Cécile. Sadly, most of the villagers regarded him as an eccentric.
This made the man all the more endearing in my eyes. Almost as attractive as that bike! If there are two things in this world I love it is antique bicycles and strong French characters. But a new realm was soon to open up to me and with it, a third thing in this world to love: plants!
I did not approach Mr Farjon there at the market that day. I quickly snapped his photo and hurried off, lest he chase me down with that splendid vehicle and confiscate my camera!
Meantime--without ever having known whose photo it was I had taken--a spell had come over me. I began to notice leafy things. Specifically I developed an obsession for a certain pink (and sometimes white) wildflower growing in the most unexpected places: jutting vertically out of rock walls and coming up through cracks in the pavement. Could it be a weed? What a gorgeous mauvaise herbe at that! It would be perfect in my garden, which was currently a pile of rocks. If that plant could push through concrete, it could populate my barren yard!
One day while driving home from Bollène, I saw the weed-flower growing beside a telephone pole. At the same moment, I saw a farmer walking along the road. Chances are that guy would have information about the plant! I thought, running my car off the road and hurrying up to the stranger.
"That guy" turned out to be Robert Farjon. Not only had I stumbled onto the man I'd seen at the market, but I was about to learn, over the course of the next year, the extent of one man's knowledge of the Provençal plant kingdom--beginning with le lilas d'Espagne.
"Lily of Spain. That's just it's common name," Monsieur Farjon explained. "It's officially known as valerian."
Our brief encounter led to a surprise visit, when Mr Farjon rode his bike to our vineyard, a good dozen or two farm fields from the village. His bike's saddlebags were bursting with my next lesson: euphorbia, prêle, and "love in a cage" among others. Monsieur Farjon passed me a leafy bundle, as though handing over a delicate newborn, and so transmitted his instinct to protect and to revere les plantes.
Those weekly (Tuesday) lessons--or "Mardis avec Mr Farjon"--lasted three seasons: spring, summer, fall. It was cold and windy the next to last time Mr Farjon rode his bike from Sainte Cécile all the way out to our farm. But we still saw each other, often crossing paths in the village. He always had a leafy example tucked in his pocket or hat band or in those saddlebags. He was ever prepared to share about plants.
No matter how rushed I always lended my ear, listening closely as he stuttered the name of the species in question shar-shar-shar-don mah-ree (chardon marie or "milk thistle"). His slight bégaiement only made him more endearing, and it was an exercise in French to coax those botanical words out of his mouth.
As I turn this book over and look at the photo on the back, I'm reminded of one of our last encounters. I can't quite identify the flower he is holding (les immortelles?), for that day I was more focused on the beholder. Just how many more chance meetings would there be?
Soonafter we decided to move, and my last visit with Mr Farjon mirrored the first. There he was on the side of the road, near a patch of wild dents de lion. I ran my car off the road and hurried across the street, feeling as scattered as a dandelion seed.
"Mr Farjon. I'm moving. It's been such a pleasure to know you..." At loss for a meaningful way to say goodbye, I reached down and gently plucked what some would regard as a pesky weed.
Handing Monsieur the vibrant yellow flower that's strong enough to break free through concrete, I listened as he broke my heart.
"Adieu," Mr Farjon said with simplicity and with warmth.
See you in heaven? So that was it? Did he not wish to see me again--or was he only being a realist (riding his bike from the village to our farm was one thing, but riding all the way to Mediterrannean sea.... No, not a possibility).
After we moved to "appelation Bandol" Jean-Marc began another vineyard and I focused on my writing, collecting together stories from our time in Les Arcs (before we moved to Ste Cécile). When it came time to design a book cover, I stumbled once again across Mr Farjon--this time in my photo archives.
No, I couldn't use his picture... or if I did I'd have to ask. That meant I would have to contact him--Mr See You in Heaven! But what if he was already in heaven?...
No, I didn't want to find out. Then, one morning last week I got up the courage to call his niece at her vineyard. This time I was the one stuttering.
"Je... je... je voudrais utiliser l'image de votre oncle...."
Mireille said she would pass along the message and get back with me. A few days after that I received this letter by email:
Je viens de voir Robert ce matin et je lui ai montré ton projet. Il est tout à fait d'accord pour que tu imprimes sa photo. Il garde un très bon souvenir de ton passage à Ste Cécile. Il m'a dit qu'il avait réalisé une centaine de fiches botaniques et qu'il les avait déposé à l'Espace Culturel de Ste Cécile.
A très bientôt Mireille
Just saw Robert this morning and I showed him your project. He is entirely OK with your printing his photo. He holds a wonderful memory of your stay in Sainte Cécile. He told me he has written a hundred or so botanical papers and dropped them off at the cultural center in Sainte Cécile.
See you soon,
I, too, hold a wonderful memory of Monsieur Farjon and I look forward to sharing more with you in the follow up to this book: the story of our passage in Sainte Cécile-les-Vignes.... As Mireille says, à bientôt!
Leave a comment here.
Please let me know if all--or a part of today's column--would fit at the end of my book, in a chapter titled "A Note About this Book's Cover." Also, let me know here in the comments how you like the back cover of the book, which will look very much like the yellow and blue sample above. Many thanks!
Monsieur Farjon visited me at a book signing I did in Sainte Cécile. He brought along two bagfuls of just picked plants. As book sales were as slow as a snail's pace, we spent the time studying acanthus, milkweed and lunaria while the bookworms filed by my stand.
Two places to stay in the South of France:
“La Trouvaille”--a true find in Provence! Affordable vacation rental in this beautiful old stone house in the charming village of Sablet.
New rental in Provence! La Baume des Pelerins, in Sablet--spacious, comfortable the perfect place to return to after a busy day’s sightseeing, bicycling or hiking.
Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi