Epine: Mr Farjon, the plant man, returns
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Mr. Farjon came by to drop off this newspaper clipping (see our son, Max, posing with our town's mayor after a military march). Mr Farjon brought a few other things when he came to visit. Read today's story for more.
une épine (ay-peen)
Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence: Download MP3 file or Wav file
Les épines, ça ne sert à rien, c'est de la pure méchanceté de la part des fleurs. Thorns are good for nothing. Just a flower's way of being spiteful! —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
I had an unexpected visit from Mr Farjon the other day. It was such a coincidence, as I had been thinking of him recently—nostalgically remembering all the visits he paid me a several years back.
Just like old times, Mr Farjon parked his ancient Peugeot (a bicycle) outside our portail, leaning it against a giant wine barrel, one of two that flank the entrance to our courtyard. Running up to the gate to greet him, I noticed how stiff his legs were as he walked, slightly hunched over. Instead of leading him to the picnic table, beneath the old mulberry tree, I offered him a seat on the steps beside it.
I was eager to point out our new friends in the garden.... Four years ago, there wouldn't have been any mirabilis jalapa, or marvel of Peru, growing here—and forget about the lily of Spain, or valerian, which now shot up throughout the courtyard, in splashes of raspberry red! Today our garden is home to many a drought-tolerant flower, thanks to those who have sown the love of plants in my heart.
Despite the drought (read: we did not water our grass this year, and parts of the garden suffered the pinch), there were a few plants I wanted to show Mr Farjon, now that the plant whisperer had re-appeared after a 4-year absence.
But it was difficult to concentrate on my guest, what with Smokey hovering between us. Like a gawky and attention-vying sibling who wants to join in, Smokey wagged his entire body, inching between my friend and me. His full body wag said I'm so happy to see you!, never mind the two had never met before. Indeed, it had been that long—a dog's life—since Mr Farjon last came to visit.
Despite the giant fly of a dog buzzing between us, I managed to speak to Mr Farjon.
"What have you got there?" I asked Monsieur. Waiting for the answer, I casually pushed Smokey aside, but the dog just wiggled back in again, so I gave in.
Smokey and I watched as Mr Farjon selected a long and thorny stem from the pile of just-picked weeds beside him.
"It's a chardon. We call it chausse-trappe," he explained. With that, my friend told the story of how the plant got its name: the roman army dug ditches and filled them with this needle-sharp weed. And the poor used it as well, piling on rooftops....
"To keep away thieves?" I guessed.
Mr Farjon shook his head, repeating, simply, that the dried plant was piled on housetops. (I guessed again: for insulation?)
As I tried to picture the thorny rooftops, Monsieur Farjon presented the next specimen, aigre-moine .
"Sour-monk" I mumbled, trying to translate the term.
As with each plant he brings, Monsieur took pains to point out where he had uprooted it. "Next to the telephone line. Beside the ditch—just up the street, after the fork in the road."
If I made the mistake of showing a blank look, Monsieur repeated himself, in addition to his usual stuttering, until I nodded convincingly "Yes, beside the telephone line, up the street--just after the fork in the road!" It seemed important to Monsieur that the plant's location was understood, and he insisted that certain plants were very rare these days. When new vineyards are planted, many of these rare plants are torn out. "You can find this plant by the telephone pole," Monsieur repeated, sending an unmistakable order that I should stop and observe the weed the next time I drove by.
"It contains tanin," Monsieur spoke a bit about the aigre-moine. "It was used to color wine." Just as I began to wonder whether or not to run and get Jean-Marc from the wine-cellar (wouldn't he love to know about this one?!), Mr Farjon set down yet another specimen.
"Epine du Christ."
"I remember that one," I said, softly. Mr Farjon had once showed me the thorny weed, otherwise known as "Christ's crown". It was this weed—found here in our neighborhood, that was used to torture Jesus.
We paused in time to move to the picnic table, where I asked Mr Farjon if he would note the names of the plants in today's lesson.
As he wrote, I noticed his hands--the hands of a plant man! Long nails, perfect for pinching or cutting weed samples, and dirt beneath the tips--evidence of the morning's plant harvest!
To some people, long soil-stained nails equal unkempt. Others might notice the beauty of these nails, with their hard, smooth surface and elegant curve--perfect for scooping out a plant's delicate racine. As I stared at Mr Farjon's nails, I was unexpectedly envious. I wished my own nails were as healthy looking (though, admittedly, I couldn't own up to the caked dirt part--but that is only because I have not earned the right to wear dirt on my person--or under my nails. But a plant genius may sport soil wherever he pleases and the world would do well to respect him for it!)
As for Mr Farjon, he was oblivious to all the thoughts bubbling up in my head, thoughts about how and how not to appear to society. Thankfully, Monsieur's attention was focused on the task before him.
Watching him write, I had a hunch that the moment was something to capture. It may not have been history in the making, and this may not have been an historical figure, but the moment and the person were just as fascinating. I ran to get my camara.
It occured to me to try and capture a shot of the two of us, by using the automatic timer. I wished I had put on make-up or styled my hair, but that was a poor reason to miss capturing the moment.
The first photo didn't turn out, for my hand flew up as I fell down in the seat, just before the camara clicked.
Voilà, the second photo worked. Notice Mr Farjon's concentration. He would eventually look up, to question what all my running back and forth was about.
"Now look into the lens," I said, coaching my subject.
"I'm not photogenic," Mr Farjon demured.
"You are beautiful!" I assured him.
"My birthday is tomorrow," he confided.
(He was turning 83.)
The trusty Peugeot... I took a photo of the two when I first moved to Sainte Cécile. I didn't know Monsieur at the time, but thought I'd spotted an unforgettable character. (Now where is that photo... somewhere in the archives here.)
I sent Mr Farjon off with some samples from my own garden. He very much wanted the two kinds of chamomile growing there, gifts from the Dirt Divas. I tucked several dates inside the bag, for a sweet surprise--nourishment a plant genius needs while burning the midnight oil, poring over plantasauruses or thesauruses or dictionaries, rather.
Then I watched as he rode off into the blue and green horizon.
As Mr Farjon took a right at the end of the lavender row, I wondered if I would ever see this man again. And this, not because of his advancing age.
Click on the highlighted words in today's story to read the corresponding stories, such as "Love in a Cage" in which Monsieur asks: is your husband the jealous type? Click here.
Meet Mr Farjon's older brother, a wine farmer, in the story "to help out"
Meet several of Mr Farjon's "friends"--that is, the wild plants that grow in this part of Provence.
Read about another visit from Mr Farjon, in the story "fleurette".
More garden posts here.
Mr Farjon's handwritten notes botaniques, above
Here's the rest of that newspaper clipping that Mr. Farjon thoughtfully clipped for us.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety