French mailboxes--at least some of them--have two slots. One slot is for local mail; the other slot is marked simply Autres Destinations, other destinations. If your mail isn't going to the local region--in our case, the Alpes-Maritimes--then it doesn't matter whether it's going to Addis Ababa or Akron or Arles. It goes in the second slot.
I love the two slot mailbox. It is so French: at once so efficient--pre-sorting the mail, as it were--and so fussy, demanding just a little extra attention on the part of the mailer. And then there's what it has to say about the importance of the local, the classification of where you are standing at this moment, where you live, versus other places. The French are people of place, and many stay in the same place not just for a lifetime but for generations. The names you see on village war monuments, from wars a century ago, are the same names you see on store fronts today. There's a sense of locality that has had centuries to develop. Either you're from a place, of a place, or you're not. Either your mail is local, or it's not. Addis Ababa or Arles: what does it matter which? Neither place is here.
I'm an inveterate purchaser of post cards. Everywhere we go, I choose a few with particular people in mind. I'm a less inveterate sender of post cards. We get home and they go on my desk, and then the stamps, if there are any, are downstairs, or I can't find the right address book, and before long the cards are buried in the paper drifts. I've uncovered several recently, in the Moving Process, and, since I've also found a cache of stamps and--imagine--my various address books (I keep intending to consolidate them), I've been catching up on my post card correspondence.
Which is what brought me to our local post office the other day. I went to put my cards in the Autres Destinations slot, as all of them were addressed to different time zones. Then I looked again.
A local wag had painted over the last two syllables of destinations and replaced them with an s, turning Autres Destinations into Autres Destins. Other destinies.
Well, it brought me up short. What is the relationship between destination--where you're going--and destiny--where your fate leads you? And are destiny and destination ever one and the same? We thought they might be: we thought that this destination--weather, beauty, history, food--could be our destiny. We thought we might stay, become permanent foreigners. Maybe destiny, or maybe just forces greater than we were--or maybe a little of both--leaned hard on our decision, and here I sit with the dogs, in an empty house, listening to the drone of the cicadas and thinking about where I'll be a few days from now.
We'll go--as I think I've told you--to my mother's house, to a place where you could pitch a ham biscuit in any direction and hit someone who was kin to me either by blood or history. And a few weeks later we'll go to Washington. Our current destination is home. It turns out that La Bastiole was a destination, and a good one, a happy one, but not our destiny. At least not for now. As for destiny: if it could be that we are together, and that we see our girls grow into strong and happy women, and if we could live in a place with good baguettes, above average Thai food, and fresh sweet corn in July, with a good bookstore and movie theater and--don't forget this one--people who share our stories and can remind us of them when we forget, well, let's just say we could do a lot worse.
Our time here has been a wonder, and now we've come to the end. We're closing the gates to La Bastiole--the portail secret, of course, but also the legal gate--and driving off down the hill. You've been good traveling companions; thanks for making La Bastiole one of your destinations. I don't know whether I'll have more stories for you once we reach the New World. I do know that this is the end for now.
As the child of an English teacher, I have bits of poetry that jingle round my mind. I can't remember phone numbers, bank codes, or passwords, but a line from a poem will lodge in my head for days. These last few days it's been T.S. Eliot, one of poetry's wettest blankets, but with what an ear for language. The end is where we start from, he said.
So here we go.