Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Boîte aux lettres

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.


  1. Bon voyage to you and your family, Madame Marron.
    I'm surely going to miss your great posts, they really enlightened my days...

  2. I really do hope that you have more stories from the new world. I have so much enjoyed reading about your life in France.

    Bon voyage.

  3. Not wishing to sound banal, I at least want to say thank you for sharing your observations of life, not just in La Bastiole, but in the world. Looking forward to your future posts on the changes met, the struggles endured and the joy found...though not necessarily in that order. Godspeed.

  4. Ah, merde, you do have such a wonderful way with words! I am wondering if we are twins parted at birth. Please ask your mother when you see her. The postcard routine is soooo me. I have a two inch thick wad of them sitting in my bag as I type and nary a one has a stamp or an address attached, never mind a note.

    This is a wonderful, marvelous, inspiring post and I do hope that you will continue to take us with you on life's journey.

    The T.S. Eliot snippet is actually the crux of one of the best books I've read this year by William Bridges called "Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes." I've been using it as my handbook to make the move to France, little by little.

    Bonne route et bonne continuation,

  5. What a beautiful (last?) post. You have such a way with words and the wisdom from paying attention. Loved your thoughts on destination and destiny ... good for me to read today.

    Peaceful journeying and I hope to see you soon!

  6. Au revoir, Mme Marron. I will miss you. I hope I see you around Washington DC. We live in Alexandria, near Mt. Vernon. There are good baguettes here now (not French of course, but still good). Have a safe journey!

  7. Thank you for this wonderful blog. Your writing has been a very nice part of my week. It will be missed immensely.

  8. In my small (still small enough to know all the movers and shakers that is), we have a local and autres destins choices at the post office.
    I'll miss your stories and your positive outlook to living in France. Our next French experience begins soon with two young friends arriving in a few weeks and then we'll fly back to Paris together. After we stay with friends in Provence, Elisa will take the train down and escort us to her family. She wants to be sure we get there to meet her parents!
    I hope you will be back in France someday and your girls grow up to be happy young women. I'm sure they will. The biggest treasure in life is good parents.
    Thanks for your writing. I loved the dog story, I would think you could bring a lost dog to dinner, especially if your friends are British.

  9. Thank you for sharing this part of your journey with us.

    I have enjoyed reading of the many characters you met, and the places you have been. I hope you will occasionally update us on the next leg of your journey.

    May everything go well for you and your family, wherever you find yourselves.

  10. So sorry to see this end. You've created a blog that's, as we say in Missouri, at a whole other level, and I've learned a lot. And as we say in Moscow, пожелание успеха! I sincerely hope I'll encounter your beautiful writing again, in whatever form - blog, book, etc.
    Cheers, Carmen

  11. Bon Voyage and thanks for a lovely blog.