Bignonias always remind me of our home in Les Arcs, where the flowers clambored up and over the metal pergola beside our driveway, throwing shade onto the boules (or "pétanque" or "bocce ball") court just beyond. Our house in Les Arcs-sur-Argens was a 30-minute drive from Bagnols-en-Forêt, where my English friend, Michèle, had a "pied-à-terre", or second home....
At Michèle's home in Bagnols, I am waiting patiently to meet an Englishwoman who has lived through two world wars. It is easy to pass the time, seated here on a lovely terrace beneath the blossoming cherry tree. The picnic table is gradually filling up as Michèle's golden-haired daughters, Violet and Natalie, bring out roasted chicken, a lovely green-bean salad, and baguettes fresh from the local bakery.
As the girls disappear into the kitchen in search of les couverts, the guest of honor arrives.
"I'm so sorry for the delay," she apologizes. "The workmen are busy cleaning my terrace. The tiles are covered with mold! I told the men to scrub it down with vinegar. Vinegar works best!"
"Hello Bobby!" Michèle welcomes her neighbor, l'invitée d'honneur. Bobby pauses to admire the cherry tree, which towers above her like a giant floral umbrella. I try to picture this delicate woman giving orders to a couple of burly ouvriers. In my mind's eye, I see the workmen reluctantly setting aside their industrial cleaners for the simple home remedy: le vinaigre—good ol' sour wine!
As Bobby settles into her chair, Michèle and her belle-mère, Shirley, shake their heads in appreciation of their friend's latest adventure.
"Oh, they must love you, Bobby!"
Bobby says that's possible, perhaps because of the beer she gives the men at the end of the workday!
The ladies at the table laugh as Bobby explains what happens when she runs out of Kronenbourg.
"I knock on the neighbor's door." We then learn about Bobby's 72-year-old friend. At 18 years her junior, le voisin wears a black toupee and a handlebar mustache, and provides back-up beer for the sour-scented workmen.
Listening to her colorful story, I notice Bobby's charm and how the flowering cerisier frames her beautifully. Its full, white blossoms muffle the rumbling of a thousand nectar-hungry bees. The buzzing causes us to look up through the trees, to the clear blue sky above.
"When the Mistral wind blows through, it chases away the clouds," Bobby notes. We search the ciel bleu. Not a cloud in sight.
The sky invites our wondering eyes and questioning hearts. I pull my chair closer to Bobby's.
"What brought you to France?" I ask.
Bobby tells me that when her husband died 12 years ago, she decided to come to the South of France and build a summer nest. She was 78 at the time.
As she shares her story, I can't help but admire her. Her eyes are that pretty shade between "steel" and "powder" that some call robin's-egg blue. Her short hair has that quality of white that tips the edges of the blue sea. I notice how it falls back off her face in endless waves.
Bobby is now talking about her 35-year-old granddaughter, an art teacher in Texas. As she speaks, I try to pinpoint her British accent. Just what part of Angleterre has rubbed off on her voice?
I notice her earrings: large pearl-colored disks. I make a note to wear such earrings in 53 years' time, as if boucles d'oreille would render me as beautiful as she.
Bobby tells me that her 63-year-old daughter has a butterfly tattoo on her hand.
"She got it thirty years ago."
"Were you upset?"
"No. But I told her the butterfly might look different when her skin begins to wrinkle!"
"Does it?" I am curious.
"It's looking fine," Bobby smiles. Her blue eyes deepen as she turns her attention to the saturated sky.
I look down at my hands as I search for words. I want to tell Bobby that she is like that butterfly.
Did you enjoy this story? Check out Kristi's books, including Blossoming in Provence. They are a wonderful way to increase your French vocabulary and to support this blog. Merci beaucoup!
a town in the Var, not far from the sea
place setting (fork, knive, spoon)
guest of honor
le ciel bleu
une boucle d'oreille
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety