Wednesday, April 22, 2009


The girls came hiking with the ladies and me this week; they started their vacances de printemps Monday. Lunch was a special birthday picnic. Everyone brought food to share: smoked salmon rolled up in flat bread with horseradish sauce and crême fraiche, guacamole with vegetables, tomato salad, onion tarts, Spanish tortilla, homemade bread, prosciutto and butter on brown bread. And then dessert: carrot cake, English fruit cake, coconut macaroons, chocolate chip cookies (the girls made those). And champagne, of course.

After the picnic it was time for games. One of our number, a retired hospital president called Georgiana, had brought along clothespins, which she passed out, one for each. She put a small box at either end of our picnic ground--and perhaps I should say here, to help you imagine it, that we were 800 meters up, on top of a mountain, in the shadow of a ruined château and with the entire coastline spread out below us--and, to get back to my story, divided the group into two. Half lined up behind one box, half behind the other. Georgiana then instructed them--she'd run out of clothespins before she got to me; I was on the sidelines--to hold the clothespin between their knees and travel from one end of the field to the other and back again before dropping the clothespin into the box. Ready, steady, go, she said, in her proper English voice, and pandemonium broke loose.

Two dozen women of a certain age, and two 13 year old girls, who have had a good lunch and are given a silly goal, can make an amazing amount of racket. There was a great deal of hopping and jumping and shrieking and dropping of clothespins, and even a little multi-lingual cursing, and within a minute or two the field had dwindled to three. Those three were not jumping or hopping or doing the funny little shuffle-skip that had led to the downfall of the other 23. They were, slowly and steadily and with great concentration, walking or, more honestly, waddling, toward the box.

Jon Carroll had me thinking this week about time. The clock, he wrote, is an opportunity. The clock will tell you what you need to do.

There are different schools of thought on how we should spend our last few months in France, how we should run down the clock. There's the Eurail pass school, which doesn't necessarily advocate the purchase of a pass but does imagine a trip to Major Capitals, a sort of condensed Grand Tour. Picture photographs of la famille Marron in front of an ever-changing green screen of Cultural Meccas. Then there's the Weekends in Provence school, which has us packing up every Friday and setting out for another charming village, preferably the ones near famous abbeys or vineyards, guidebook and map in hand. The green screen in this scenario features boules courts, antiques markets, and out of the way restaurants.

And then there's another school, which, if you're planning on placing any bets, I'd give good odds. It looks a little like this: we walk the dogs. Nice evenings, we drink a glass of wine on the terrace while we watch the shadows lengthen. We all sit together in the salon and read. We buy strawberries from Marjolaine and eat them right out of the barquette. We talk to each other about inconsequential daily things. We eat as many meals as we can outside. Maybe we go to the beach once or twice; we definitely go up into the mountains, and if we can, we look for wild mushrooms. If the opportunity presents itself, we sit in the place and watch the village go about its business.

What the three clothespin winners--because they were the only ones who got their clothespins to the box--had grasped, and that no one else did, was that there was no rush to finish. They had all the time they needed to get across the field. When we'll be in Europe again as a family, or in Provence, I don't know. But I think what I know is that it's not about being in Europe. It's about being a family. So what I'm going to try to do is take small, focused, present steps until, come mid-July, I waddle across the line, clothespin firmly pinched, and see what happens next.


  1. You're right - just enjoy every moment. I do here in Virginia while my children still live with me, before they grow up and move on.Just enjoy.No need to run around in forced enjoyment

  2. I love that sentiment. I often catch myself waiting for 'something' to happen - and have to remind myself that this is the something that is