Whatever you do today, venture out just a bit... un tout petit peu... from your comfort zone. If you're not up to venturing out, then cuddle up with this book (I'm in love with it!... but I fear being let down by the ending... zut! that's the last time I'll read book reviews.) Order "The Summer of Katya" here.
rendre service (rahndr sair veese)
: to help out
Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc (check back to the blog...):
Je travaille encore pour leur rendre service. I continue to work in order to help them out.
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
One cannot organize an adventure any more than one can rehearse spontaneity.
I am hopping up and down beside a pile of clothes, hurrying to get into a pair of faded jeans. I have removed my gypsy skirt and my camisole (hand-me-overs from the Dirt Divas), never mind how exotic or "novel" they make me feel; I will not be writing this morning....
....I'm heading out to a nearby field to photograph a venerable vigneron! Now to build up some courage. The flouncy skirt and sleeveless top suddenly make me feel more bare than bold. Besides, alone out there on a country road I wouldn't want to be taken for a promiscuous poule (though it wouldn't be the first time.... In all fairness, it isn't difficult to be taken for a loosey-goosey here, in the land of love, home of Pépé Le Pew. Frenchmen! Better stop here... or the lead in to this story will mislead the reader from the wholesome histoire that follows).
Poule or no poule, floozy or no floozy, I won't be found loitering beyond our front gate without a little maquillage. Quickly, I cover my blotchy cheeks with fond de teint and put on some rimmel.
Even with the wardrobe pause (strategically designed to buy time... for I am still doubtful about my mission) it takes no more than ten minutes from the moment my husband calls to alert me to the photo opportunity--for me to seize the occasion. En verité, my first reaction was to reject Jean-Marc's suggestion ("You know I'm very uncomfortable taking photos of people!" I objected. "Alors, tant pis. It would have been a great picture!" My husband was disappointed).
(And isn't that just his way: to pressure his wife into doing what is best for her! It works everytime and, illico presto!, I find myself grabbing my keys, my pocket camera, and hurrying out to the car before I can talk myself out of the adventure.)
I am now motoring up the country road flanked by vines and roof-bare stone cabanons. When the leafy field begins to rise up into the horizon, I begin searching for the elderly farmer. I make a concentrated effort to quit drawing up in my mind the scene that I will soon wander into. Besides, I always get it wrong and things are never as I imagine them to be (in this case, a crew of farmers pointing fingers, laughing).
When I see an old remorque parked alongside a ditch, I feel a slight soulagement. He must have driven off, leaving the equipment behind for his afternoon round. I'll catch up with him another time, I lie to myself.
Just as I am about to turn around, I glimpse a tractor heading down the leafy path to my left. Squinting my eyes I can't make out if it is the man that Jean-Marc saw earlier. Does he look ancient? No, he is younger than my husband made him out to be!
I get out of my car and cross the road beside the flower-lined ditch. Inside, the wild teasel, or cardère, is turning whisper purple this time of year. Standing there admiring the elegant flowers, I become aware of my own appearance: in jeans and a sweatshirt, my hair is tied back. I am wearing my new glasses, the ones I picked out last week, not minding the salesgirl who warned I had selected frames from the menswear display. I saw myself as the unsuspecting farmer might: and I could no longer be confused with a poule, or hussy, though I might now be mistaken for male farmhand.
Too late now the farmer has seen me and I sense that I am not unwelcome. I decide to walk up the vine row. I begin with a timid coucou/wave of the hand. I'll ask his permission for a picture and then have time to run to the end of the row and take an action photo....
Halfway up the rangée I greet the vigneron who stops his tractor, leaving the motor running. I approach, so close now that I can put my hand on the machine for balance (I am standing in the newly turned ground, the uneven earth beneath my feet).
I smile. "Je vous embête? I'm bugging you?," I question, having heard it said before by the French.
He smiles warmly, shakes his head, "Non".
"Je voulais savoir... Would you mind if I take your photo?" One hesitation of mine had been the risk of mocking the farmer. After all, what sort of novel attraction had drawn out this curious tourist to his field? He must wonder just what it is about him that makes him prey to my camera. Could it be his age? I did not want him to feel old. I decided to cut to the point.
"How old are you?"
"Quatre-Vingt cinq ans," he smiled.
"Eighty five... Shouldn't you be retired?" I smiled back, resting my arm on the tractor.
"But then what would I do? I don't play boules or cartes." The farmer's eyes became half-moons, so great was his grin.
"Do you enjoy your work?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "It's all I know...."
"What is the hardest part about farming. Is it the Mistral?"
"Without the Mistral there would be no vines. Without the wind, there would be no way to dry the grapes and keep them from becoming diseased." Monsieur, who went by André, punctuated every thought with a smile.
I learned that the hardest part about farming is driving a tractor with limited vision (André has sight in only one eye).
"I am very fortunate to have the other eye," he added, with another of his punctuated sourires.
"Vous êtes très positif, vous savez?" I informed him, "You are so positive, you know?"
And when I feared I was taking up too much of his time, I listened as the motor went silent. André had shut it off, and in so doing, made it clear that I was no bother.
Without all the engine racket I was free to listen to the lovely accent of the Provençal who sat in his tractor politely answering my questions. "I'm so sorry," I said, more than once, "I'm not the best interviewer! Thank you for the practice!"
I learned that the venerable vigneron quit school at 14 to work in the fields. Work at that time consisted of the same job, plowing the earth -- only back then it was horses and not tractors that were steered down the leafy vine paths.
"With the horses, it took eight passages," André explained, his hands waving up and down the vinerows. With the tractor, he only makes one run to upend the weeds.
All photos taken with this handy pocket camera.
As André spoke I relished his rich Provençal accent. I had to lend my oreille on more than one occasion, signaling with my hand behind my ear, inviting him to repeat a word each time I did not grasp it. I noticed André spoke with a slight bégaiement, or stutter. And I had remarked his resemblance to another villager... That's when it hit me:
"You are not, by chance, the brother of..."
Yes, indeed, he was le frère of The Plant Whisperer! I looked back to the ditch full of wild teasel. It was thanks to the plant man that I could identify the prickly cardère.
André shared with me that his brother was suffering in his legs, but that did not keep the younger man (at 83, he was two years André's junior) from riding that rickety old bicycle to town each day. I told him that I enjoyed a recent article in the local paper written by the unofficial doctor of plants. "Yes, he still writes on the subject," he said, championing his younger brother, who might have helped with the family vineyard--but chose to follow his own passion of botany, instead.
Each moment that passed I was aware of the risk of holding up the busy grape farmer until finally, despite his inviting nature, I let him get back to his field work.
He was such a dear, unassuming man. I found myself inching closer and closer to the light of his pure presence. If only I had wings, I might have flown up and landed on the hub of the tractor to be nearer....
Poule indeed! It's no wonder, now, how we wandering women are sometimes mistaken by as "hens"!
André says he continues to work to rendre service or "help out" his daughter and son-in-law, who now run the farm).
Share a story of your own, or leave a message here, in the comments box.
And check out Les Grands Bois - André's family vineyard, here in our village
"Love in a Cage" - a special friendship with The Plant Whisperer
"The Last Peasant": about asking permission to photograph another French native -- and getting much more than a picture in return.
Close-up of André. Forever young at 85. Is it his positive attitude? or his humble gratitude? Comment on what keeps a person young at heart.
un vigneron = wine farmer
une poule = hen (synonym, in French, for prostitute)
une histoire = story
le fond de teint = base makeup
le rimmel = mascara
alors, tant pis = well then, too bad
illico presto = right away
la remorque = trailor (to tow a tractor)
le soulagement = relief
cardère sauvage = wild teasel (see it here!)
Je vous embete! = I'm bugging you, perhaps?
le sourire = smile
une oreille = ear
Those seductive French plants! Oh so coquette in their polka-dotted casseroles!
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety