REALITY – Joyeux Noel

NJWILDBEAUTY readers and all my friends know; and some powerfully share; my longing always to be in France in general, in Provence in particular.

Writing in my journal this morning, Christmas Eve, I discovered, “I wish it were 1987.”

Then, I was a resident of Cannes, although it was far easier to walk into Picasso’s Vallauris than to drive down into Cannes on those cooked-spaghetti roads.

The scene below does not take place in an unheated, unscreened, capacious apartment above the Mediterranean, while magenta rose laurier bloom in my garden.  There aren’t Alps out my kitchen window, frosted with first flakes.  There are no un-snowy pre-Alps processing beyond living room windows, wreathed with all those Corniches, leading from beloved France into redolent, resonant Italy.  There is neither the Esterel Forest nor the Esteril Massif (mountain range), — all coppery and russet and terra cotta and sometimes even magenta and claret and ruby; the turquoise sea frothing at their feet.  No, this is Lawrenceville, New Jersey.  It’s the home of a person who was only an expatriate for one year; but who thinks she was born that way, and will never recover.

The poster in the scene below celebrates an exhibit at Galerie La Licorne, (the Unicorn) in Juan-les-Pins.  My firstborn and I, back in 1981, were enthralled by it, in the lobby of the establishment of potters in that storied town.  Madoura are solely licensed to bring Picasso’s platters, plates and pitchers to life in the years after his death.

The Madoura staff watched that young girl reverently touch, study, absorb Pablo’s work throughout those bountiful rooms. Her hands, in the presence of Picasso’s ouevre, were as full of awe as a priest’s at his first mass, holding the Host.

Entranced from the first, we’d asked the owners if we might buy the poster (l’affiche.)  “No,” they instructed, “you’ll have to go to Juan-les-PIns.”  We explained that we’d been there only yesterday, and that we would fly home the following day.  We regretted together that a return to the Unicorn was not possible.

Ah, but the owners of Madoura Poterie were so impressed by Diane’s attention to the Master’s work, that they presented her with the rolled, beribboned poster, when we finally brought ourselves to leave.

santons-and-french-poster-and-ungerleiter-still-life-december-2016

Santons de Provence, the Large and the Small, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey

No that is not a Cezanne, nearer the viewer, needless to say.  It is a Bernard Ungerleiter (of Lambertville, New Jersey), our Cezanne.  I have two of his works in my dining room – the other of garlic.  I had been with his wife, Peg, as she bought the fat pale heads, as juicy as l’ail de Provence, at a Pennsylvania farm market in the early 1980’s.  Bernard wouldn’t let her cook with it – he had to paint it!

The large santons (terra cotta figures that accompany the manger scene in Provence) were bought by my Swiss husband for our family, in Vence or St. Paul-de-Vence, when the girls were 7 and 8 years old.  The tiny santons, –not garbed as are the older sets, are of plain terra cotta (terre cuite in France — cooked earth).  One is supposed to buy them at the smart art store on Rue d’Antibes in Cannes, then take them home to paint  I love the hues and textures of the roof-tiles of Provence.  When I can bring myself to arrange those santons each current Christmas, I am very glad not to have altered them in any way..

close-up-santons-december-2016

Close-Up of the Santons, and of Noel Provencal — which I re-read each December, savoring hearty rituals of the land I cherish, from the wheat of the feast of Saint Barbara to les treize (13!) desserts of this night of the birth of Le Nouveau-Ne

Why do I want this Christmas Eve to be 1987’s?  Because, then I’d be taking my French gifts, –bought in the Nice Vieux Ville (Old Towne)– across the way in the dark to the tower where my young neighbors lived:  L’Observatoire… 

We’d had so much fun exploring together, since my late autumn arrival.  Even though everyone back home had said, “You’re going to be so lonely.  They will never invite you into their homes!”  Wrong.

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Santon de Provence, Shepherd’s Cape

Jeanette et Didier and their little ones  wanted me with them for Christmas Eve supper next to their real tree, abundant with home-made ornaments.  They wanted me to share gift-opening with their family.  But the heart of the matter would be Midnight Mass (La Messe de Minuit) in Le Suquet.  This is the oldest part of Cannes, its barely known rocky promontory.  It served as a major watch site for hundreds of years and conflicts, dating back to Phonecians and Saracens. .

Our normal French Christmas Eve supper was nothing less than canard a la orange and frites’ and o, my, such slender, savory golden turnips!  Jeanette had tossed it all together without any fuss, the way my Michigan mother had made meat loaf and baked potatoes.

My gifts of large comic books (Tin-Tin — the French never lose their taste for comic strips) for the children, and candied fruits from the legendary Confiserie Auer near Nice’s Place Massena, were enormous successes.  I was one with this family, wrapped in their fondness, uplifted by their merriment.

These qualities have been in pretty short supply ever since.  Some who know me; and some who read my blogs; realize that I work very hard to survive Christmas every year, deprived as I am of my own family.

Usually, I ‘run away’.  Last year, I fled to Cape May, and often to the Brigantine. I pretend that birding the day away is all that matters.  I never did this with my lost daughters because I didn’t know any interesting birds in those days.

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The Basket-Weaver and the Garlic-Braider observe Le Nouveau-Ne

Midnight Mass in Cannes was spoken and sung in three languages:  Latin, English and Provencal!  I knew two, but not three.  It was a thrill to hear the old songs in all tongues, and be able to sing some, even remembering Latin.

How I marveled to hear the gospel begin, “Dans le temps de Cesar Auguste.”   Indeed.  The very day before, I had spent in Frejus, favorite town of Augustus Caesar.  I’d found his port, his forum, his theatre, and something called La Lanterne d’Auguste — a species of lighthouse.  I’d feasted on rare lamb and Salade Antiboise across from that forum, writing feverish poems about the sense of ancient bullfights suffusing me near the ancient chutes through which animals had exploded innto the sawdust arena.

This is not the first time I’ve said, “Call me a dreamer; well, maybe I am…”   But when the French priest spoke those words of the emperor in whose footsteps I’d trod all the previous day, I suddenly realized the bible was real!  I didn’t know I didn’t know that until the holy night alongside my dear new friends of Cannes.

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Traditional Santons de Provence, in hand-made costumes

The Mass was enlivened with living santons.  Women and men and children of the village had practiced for months for these few moments of procession and recession (which had NO economic tinge in that place!)  They wore the noble costumes of ancient times, in this region that has never fully been assimilated into France itself!  Accurate down to the lace on their petticoats, and the heft of sabots (like Dutch wooden shoes) of other eras, making a venerable sound of hollowness on the church’s marble floor.

Shepherds in flowing cloaks, the hue of camels, demonstrated why their hefty garb had the extra fabric on the shoulders.  They carried real lambs and real kids, on those capelets, to be blessed by the priest and to honor the Infant, Le Nouveau-Ne, the Newborn.

Others bore grapes; demijohns of wine; clear glass globules of golden olive oil.  The oldest women preceded the parents of the newest babe, these honorary grandmothers presenting layettes freshly made for this precious human child.  The young ones knelt and placed their infant in straw in a manger at the foot of the altar.

Then, all who carried the season’s fruits, alive and otherwise, recessed to the enormous terra cotta creche (Nativity Scene) on a far wall.  High in the back, where mountains loomed, the Three Kings and their servants (one of whom, Balthazar, is said to have founded nearby Les Baux) moved in stately array, ponderous and elegant as any wedding in Westminster Abbey.  Epiphany would have to wait until January the 6th, but the royal ones were already en route, following the star.

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Portrait of my Daughters by V. Durbin Thibodeau, Artist-in-Residence of the Sacred Heart School of Grosse Point, Michigan

1987 was the year in which my daughters were taken.  I realized this fully at the time of my fiftieth birthday.  Standing on my luminous balcony, overlooking the midnight-blue-black Mediterranean, I watched stars wink on high.  They seemed to fall right into my shallow champagne glass, joining tears.

But Christmas Eve, 1987, for those few hours with friends in the tiny stony church of Le Suqauet, beloved traditions in my favorite favorite region of my favorite land, washed over me, banishing grief.

It became clear that night, and I must return to this certainty every year.  My loss was as nothing, compared to what had happened “dans le temps de Cesar Auguste,” in a time in the world when Peace ruled.

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La lavandiere, Provencal Santon

Tonight, many will follow La Messe de Minuit in tiny churches all over the South of France.  When they eat their ‘meagre supper’ (meatless), it will be followed by les treize desserts.   At a certain time during the family gathering, the eldest will lead and the youngest grace the rear of the family parade in to the Yule Log.  Vin cuit, cooked wine, will be sprinkled onto this hefty log, chosen just that afternoon for the purposes.  A prayer will be said, hearthside.  I wish it for all of you:

“Next year, if we are not more, may we at least, not be fewer.”

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Santon – Bread-Maker:  [ALL SANTONS CLOSE-UPS ARE FROM INTERNET)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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HEMINGWAY DREAM ~ Paris, in the 20s

Paris cafe life in 20s from internet

Paris Cafe Scene in the Twenties

NJWILDBEAUTY Readers know that, for all my deep enthusiasm for natural New Jersey, my heart belongs to France.  Sometimes, most of the time, to Provence.  Other times, Normandy and Brittany, especially Mt. St. Michel.  Before I lived in Provence, however, Paris was my heart’s home.

Tour Eiffel by Night from Internet

La Tour Eiffel par la Nuit, from Internet

The tragedy of Nice, of Slaughter on the Beach, alongside my sacred Boulevard des Anglais, haunts me, day and night.  This insult to, revenge upon, beloved France, –who bore the brunt of battles to save the free world in the 1940s–, repeatedly astounds me.  But even beyond that, –along with the Marathon Massacre in Boston, there has been a travesty against a  major ritual of a country — the Bastille Day that honors its transformation into a place of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite.  What happened in Nice is the antithesis of everything for which Bastille Day and our Fourth of July have always stood.  This summer’s meaningless massacres stain beach and Bastille Day forever.

bastille-day-parisianist-Iconic Liberte Egalite Fraternite image from Internet

Iconic French Image Symbolizing their Historic Battle for Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite in the time of the Monarchy: Marianne Leading the Rebels

My inner response has been multiple — most recently a series of Hemingway dreams.  I am reading, [to relive the glory days of France and of American influence on Paris, on France and upon literature itself], “Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation.”  This tour-de-force is a moment-by-moment evocation of Princetonian, Sylvia Beach, and her remarkable Shakespeare & C0mpany lending library.

Shakespeare&Co Bookplate in 1920's from Internet

Boikplate, Shakespeare & Company, Paris in the Twenties

Within its few small rooms, not only poetry and prose, but also music, dance, theatre; little reviews and major publishing coups (think James Joyce, Ulysses) were catalyzed.  The beginnings of Hemingway; the expansion of Fitzgerald; the influence of doctor/poet William Carlos Williams; evenings involving T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and Ford Madox Ford and the reclusive/demanding James Joyce.  (Whom Hem dared to call Jim!)  This level of cross-pollination took place under the dynamic, ceaseless leadership of the little dynamo, daughter of a Princeton minister: Sylvia Beach.

sylvia_beach_and_hemingway at Shakespeare & Co from Internet

Sylvia Beach and Ernest Hemingway outside Shakespeare & Co. in the 20s

Really important in these pages is the power of women to forward all the arts in that daring time, described by another memoir as “Everybody Was So Young.” 

Paris Was Yesterday Janet Flanner

Paris Was Yesterday“, Janet Flanner: The New Yorker’s ‘Genet’

Every time I read my favorite Hemingways, he improves, somehow.  Paris, A Moveable Feast preceded Professor Noel Riley Fitch’s tome in my series of pilgrimages to France.  Subtitled, “A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties,” I have been re-reading forever, and am only about in 1925.

Sylvia Beach & the Lost Generation Cover

Cover – Sylvia Beach & the Lost Generation by Noel Riley Fitch

Even so, this book is having a deep impact upon my dream life.  Here are notes on Hemingway as I never, of course, actually experienced him.  Stroll (no one walks fast in France) with me into the Paris cafe and celebrate the impact of this amazing city and inoubliable (unforgettable) country on the world as we know it today.  Honor her glory, which no evil can erase, not even Hitler’s!

letters-o-hemingway from INternet

Hemingway Letters Cover from Internet

HEMINGWAY DREAM  Notes:

1920’s.  Hem’s earliest days in Paris.  Knows no one.  Seated at small hard white round table. Could be marble.  Cardboard beer advertising coasters, –much used–, echo its circular shape.  Although new to town, Hem is in rare form.  [usual form in those years].  Cocky yet subtle.  Looking all around.  Taking it all in.

Cafe pretty empty, it’s that early.  The Dome?  Place of smoke-filtered pale winter sunlight.  His hair is dark, unruly.  Suit rumpled.  Elbows on the table.  Glancing around, grinning, though expecting to know people there.  Waiters quietly scrub and wipe other tables, preparatory to lunch  Pretty quiet.

Hemingway’s gaze veiled yet intense.  Although he strives to look as though he knows someone there, I (standing in shadowy corner) realize he is looking around to see who HE is.

Hem’s right shoe rests upside-down upon his left knee,– audacious pose that would not have gone over in Oak Park or River Forest.  He maintains the backwoods air — though not large, a Paul Bunyan in a Paris suit.

In the dream, I boldly sit across from Hemingway, [as I once did at an Outward-Bound-like event, with Roy Scheider of Jaws], because Hem is alone.  He nods without words, orders me a biere.  I sip reluctantly, because it is warm and tastes soapy.  He doesn’t care if I like beer or not.

Hem wants me to know who he is, to ask “How did the writing go this morning?

What I say is, “Tell me about Michigan!  Speak of trout, of birch-studded forests.  Of the Indians who were there when YOU were, but not for me.  Why did you have to rearrange the setting of the Big Two-Hearted River?”

The beer I do not like acts like a tonic, a potion, opening doors.

 

EXILE – a poem in honor of France

 

EXILE

 

despite the impact of Cézanne

upon the poet

Rilke considered himself

“exiled to the Seine”

 

I am exiled here

under a Caligula governor

to whom ‘my’ nature is enemy

while the new Hitler secures

nomination by the former

Grand Old Party

 

as every World War II book

recounts the rise of fascism

all too recognizable

on every side

in what used to be

our country

 

exile ME to the Seine!

I’ll start at that point of rockiness

where old fishermen gather new fish

beneath the venerable willows

— silence of shadiness

broken only by riverine ripples

 

nearby dark barges

— sleek and gleaming —

–quaint names glowing

at their prows–

evoke other lifetimes

hint of vagabondage

brigandry, while

geraniums and laundry

ripple brightly at their sterns

 

let me become habitué

of the Seine’s Left Bank

savoring anew the courtly lunch

at that dark and storied restaurant

upon the Quai Voltaire

 

followed by long studious strolls

among des bouquinistes

whether or not I buy

I’ll stroke venerable bindings

 

thinking in almost-French

Allons-y, à la Ste. Chapelle”…

“et, après ca, le pèlerinage”

to the grim fortress where

Marie Antoinette

whiled last hours

playing chess

 

awash in sombreness

I’ll seek “une glace

at ice cream’s mecca

upon Isle St. Louis

— seeming a venerable boat

at anchor

upon the dimpling Seine

 

wrinkling and whispering,

the river will announce

“Caroline, bienvenue.”

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

in mourning with France

for the tragedy of Nice

in the summer of 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

LET US ALL PRAISE FRANCE!

The Normal Peace of the South of France

Abbey in lavender fields South of France from Internet

Abbey, Senanque?, in Lavender Bounty, South of France, from Internet

My heart is in fragments, scattered along the beaches of Nice, across from the Negresco – where we stayed in 1964, before I knew that Provence is different from France.

Down the road from the Hotel Suisse, where my daughters and I and Charlie and Rose Mary Clancy stayed, –our balconies overlooking the Boulevard des Anglais, in 1984.  We woke to the sussurus of Mediterranean waves, and the aroma of French coffee and fresh brioches on little trays at our doors.  We slept to the slow weaving of delicately illuminated pleasure craft stitching one ‘Cap’ (as in Cap Ferrat, Cap d’Antibes) to another across an ink black sea.  The lit craft shattered the stars’ wakes, and we could barely leave to go to sleep.  But another day in wondrous France awaited us, and attention must be paid.

It cannot BE that enraged bitter people believe their lives, this world will be better if they strew the beaches of Nice with bodies and blood.

I have this horrid vision of my beloved tricoleur, shredded, trampled.

Once, blood-soaked French beaches saved the free world.  But that was Normandy.  Yes, there was a battle of the Riviera, (August 15, 1944).  Cannes (where I lived in ’88 and ’89) was right in the heart of it.  Her Bay held firing warships, aiming at Nazi strongholds around the corner from our villa L’Aquila.  I could feel the bad vibes of the German centers, as I took circuitous walk after circuitous walk on the heights of Cannes.

But that was a real war, with declared enemies, and somehow generals and politicians knew who won and who lost and we won and liberty was assured.

Or so we thought.

Now there are phantom enemies everywhere.  France is bleeding again.  Only it’s not for a good cause.  She’s the victim again, as in the 1940s.  Then, she was betrayed from within.  Now we have no idea how to contend with this evil.

My heart breaks with France.  Mourn with me, please.