Years ago I had dinner at a friend's in Bandol and wrote about the musical evening--but never posted the story (it needed work). I found the written draft this morning and reencountered one of the characters from that night: Harry Rabinowitz. Today's column is in memory of the endearing British composer and conductor who was born in South Africa and died in France.
Today's French word: savoir (verb)
: to know, be aware of
Listen to Jean-Marc read the quote below in French/English:
Le Coeur, seul sait le Pourquoi. Only the Heart knows the Why. --Kâlî Ferry.
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
Sometimes I would have a glass of wine before going to a dinner party, but that was years ago. Last night I discovered an activity just as relaxing: picking an aromatic bouquet for my hosts. Gathering fragrant fenouil, blossoming purple basilic, flowering mint, leafy green l'estragon, and lavande--its blossoms only slightly fading, I stopped to inhale the floral medley. A nagging doubt coursed through my mind: Is this a weird gift? Is it appropriate? Is it enough? Honestly, I think Cynthia and Ian would appreciate the country bouquet. But what about the other guests? Maybe they would show up with designer bouquets?
And there went my familiar train of thought--one that always ended with the strong desire to cancel everything and camp out at home in my pajamas (this time with a wilting poignée des fleurs!).
The familiar bout of doubt quickly passed and soon I was chatting with "Didier," as Cynthia and Ian prepared smoked salmon canapés and served wine at their kitchen comptoir overlooking the sparkling Gulf of Bandol. As the sun disappeared beyond the Mediterranean, guests gathered to listen to the expressive oenophile tell the story of how he came to love wine. Didier said:
"I was eight years old. It was a typical Sunday lunch in France except that, this time, my father said to my mother, "Would you like me to go out and buy a bottle of wine?
My mother said, "Why not?" and when my father returned with a modest bottle of red I watched as their eyes lit up like fireworks. I said to myself then and there, I want to serve people wine and make them this happy!" 45 years later, Didier has a shop in Cotignac and continues his love of sharing wine with those who enjoy it.
Cynthia and Ian's other guests were as warm and... familiar! Yes! We had met Mitzi and Harry before--at Diana and Neil's home in Portland and again in Provence, where I would never forget Harry's question: "Why do you write?"
Pourquoi j'écris? What an honor he would ask! I remember facing the South African conductor, and wanting to give the true answer. I can't remember ever answering, but the question has stayed with me ever since.
"Well, why do you compose?" Our host, Ian, started up, putting Harry on the spot this time. And I smiled, thinking, now that was the perfect answer! I turned to Harry, waiting to hear what might be instructions from a musical genius.
Instead, Harry threw his head back and laughed, and the joy in his eyes spoke volumes. There at the dinner table, we finished the mouth-watering Osso-Bucco, cheese, and dessert and were treated to an impromptu concert by the famous conductor.
As Harry played The Man I Love, Mitzi sang the words to it and to the following classics: Someone To Watch Over Me, The Sunny Side of the Street, I'm Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter and Ain't Misbehavin'.
The piano seat was still warm when Didier stole it, to play La Bohème. And surprise surprise, Jean-Marc began to sing....
Je vous parle d'un temps
Que les moins de vingt ans
Ne peuvent pas connaître Montmartre...
The evening was filled with such delights and unexpected moments, but the biggest surprise came the next morning, as I lie in bed savoring the evening. I couldn't resist googling Harry, and that is when I learned that the young-looking man sitting next to me at the dinner party will turn 100 years old in March....
Post note: My story left off right there, and Harry was never to read it. He passed away six months later. According to Wikipedia: Harry Rabinowitz reached 100 years of age on 26 March 2016. He died on 22 June 2016 at his home in Lacoste, Vaucluse, France. Rabinowitz continued to play the piano every day until his death.
I often think of Harry's meaningful question. Why do you write? I have never been able to answer this exactly. But, today, on reading the lyrics of the songs sung that night, I have felt moved by the lines, moved by the work of men and women who sat down and quieted themselves in time to find the words. A very good reason in and of itself to write!
I realize, too, that I write to remember. I'm glad I wrote down the story of Dinner at Cynthia and Ian's, or else I would have forgotten the details of that night. But Harry, if you are listening, somehow, somewhere, I would never have forgotten you! Thank you for your question.
We may never know the exact or true answer as to why we do what we aspire to do...but the many possibilities--the Whys--are enough to keep our dreams alive.
savoir = to know
le fenouil = fennel
le basilic = basil
l'estragon (m) = tarragon
la lavande = lavender
une poignée = handful, fistful
une fleur = flower
le comptoir = counter, bar
Pourquoi j'écris? = why do I write?
A quiet scene along a cove in Bandol, west of Marseilles, Cassis, La Ciotat....
Merci beaucoup to my friend, Cynthia and Ian, for the memories of that special night with Harry and friends. Thanks also for your help, recently, in voting as an expat and this reminder to American citizens who live outside the US to vote.
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