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.

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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..

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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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOLSTICE RITUALS: Poem in “Cool Women,” Volume II

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Alert Fox, by Fine Art Photographer, Brenda Jones

SOLSTICE RITUALS

 

the fox began it

that long-legged adolescent

who appeared to my song

in the time of beach plums

and first frosts

 

but now it is snowing

and the ruddy one

curves – half cat, half pup –

about my calves to tug me

to the cave

 

its floor’s fur-lined

warmth like flames

reflecting on his pelt,

those snappy eyes,

the glistening nose

 

his long lush tail

curls across my eyes

as I recline

to puzzle at the rustle

of arrival

 

I kneel, then sit back on my heels

to face you as the gods

have always planned

the fox twines ’round your hips

stares with sweet command

into my startled gaze

 

 

CAROLYN FOOTE EDELMANN

January 2000

Cool Women, Volume II

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Fox Gaze by Brenda Jones, Fine Art Photographer

Easter Running of the Bulls, Arles, France

Running of the Bulls

Running of the Bulls – Pamplona, not France

Once upon a time, I lived in Provence, on Observatoire Hill, high above Cannes, and within walking distance of Picasso’s pottery town, Vallauris.  In February, I waked to see, through fragrant blooming mimosa at my bedroom window, the serene but blindingly blue Mediterranean.

In winter, I could see Corsica from that same aperture.  With my passion for Napoleon, seeing his homeland was a thrill.  Even though my neighbors in the villa snorted at all my visits to the Musee Napoleon in nearby Antibes:  “That Corsican!”

My narrow curving balcony was planted with the wild herbs of the “garrigue”, the scrubland, which Provence shares with Corsica.  It’s local nickname is “le Maquis”, which basically means a tangle of nearly impenetrable shrubs and weeds – and gave its name to the noble Resistance in the South of France.

When the wind blows over the garrigue, especially le mistral, it is scented with rosemary, thyme, savory, and something the Provencal call “pebre d’ail.”  My balcony held and transmitted that perfume, by night and by day.

I traveled all I could each day of my year in Provence.  Friends from home came and shared some of those incredible, indelible excursions.

One of the best was my Manhattan roommate from the 60’s, Joan Stouffer, an architect who specialized in historic restorations in Washington D.C.  She was soon to be headhunted from her D.C. firm to work on the Holocaust Museum in Manhattan, returning home to transform the support building for the Museum, which holds all the nuts and bolts of machinery required to keep the Museum functioning.  Joan is now Joan Scharnberg, still my friend since college days at the Detroit Free Press, filling in for vacationing women’s editors.

Joan was graduated from Smith, having spent her junior year studying in Aix.  When she’d be in Paris, the locals would not her Aixoise accent.  I, on the other, hand, this one-year habitant of Provence, has studied French for two college years with a nun who had never left Indiana and never wanted us to.  She certainly hadn’t taught us how to converse with French people, especially not men.  I didn’t know the familiar endings for any of the verbs.  So when my Cannes neighbors began to ‘tutoyer’ me, to use the familiar with me, out of affection, I didn’t know how to do it back.

Joan loved haute Provence, la France profonde, the hill towns, the garrigues, the scruffier and more paysanesque (peasants) the better.  By this time, I had tired of La Cote d’Azur, and was ready for any remote setting Joan desired.

Arles isn’t THAT remote, but it’s OLDE Provence, and very not Cote d’Azur.  We went there for Palm Sunday weekend.  Posters alerted us to a custom we would not miss — the running of the bulls.  We’d both been Hemingway addicts in our teens, so of course we were going to do this.  It wasn’t Pamplona, but we will never forget it.

Arles has many convoluted cobblestoned strees near the Arena, where the bullfights themselves would take place the following day.  It was before noon, long shadows, coolness in the ‘rues” (roadways).  There were pretty flimsy barricades of metal pipes alongside these roads, behind which we took our places – the only Americans we saw or heard.  Everywhere, the young people of Arles began sprinkling each other wildly with flour.

Joan’s perfect French and my insatiable curiosity + Indiana pre-school French, were of absollutely no use.  Not a single person could tell us why.

It was somewhat hilarious.

Boys and girls were running, flinging flour, skidding on the cobblestones, now white as snow.

Then they began cracking fresh raw eggs on one another’s hair, already white as their grandparents’.

Again, our “Comments?” and “Pourquois?” were inutile/useless.

Suddenly, the crowd changed.

It hushed.

People began to move against the ancient walls, tense and all staring in one direction.

A roar went up, such as one hears while a bullfight is going on.

Many young people, mostly garbed in white, now egg-and-flour bedecked, were moving erratically. We pressed up against the metal rods, trying to understand what was taking place.

Black heads, dark horns, glaring eyes, flaring nostrils, huge furry bodies came hurtling toward us. The bulls, also, slipped on the flour, now mixed with raw egg as though for some bizarre cake.  The bulls also began to wound the runners.  Blood on white shirts, white pants.  Blood on the cobblestones, mixing with flour and egg.  Angry bulls, who did not like skidding.  Confused bulls, who reversed partway through this strange corridor, and somehow turned round and kept pouring toward us

This is all I remember, and I have no pictures of my own to share.

Those bulls ultimately ended up at the arena, where they would engage with matadors, toreadors, and picadors the next day.  Yes, to the songs of the opera, Carmen – which had been written about bullfights in France, not in Spain.

Aerial View of Arena, Arles, South of France

Aerial View of Arena, Arles, South of France

Joan would attend the next day’s full bullfight.

I would drive over to Tarascon and Beaucaire, for ancient literary reasons, and on to Maussane, where the Provencal Nobel Prize-winning Poet Frederic Mistral had lived.  I would stand in the shade of Mistral’s trees outside his home, honoring his determination to preserve his true native language, no matter how the French would strive and even battle to take it from these staunch people.

Joan would brave the bullfight entire.

Reunited, we would figure out at last that the entire bullfight had been something of ancient times, purely pagan, an inescapable fertility rite.

A far cry from the Palm Sunday rituals of childhood!

Runner and Bull, Arles, South of France

Runner and Bull, Arles, South of France

Here is a soupcon of a web-explanation, about what we experienced:

Easter Feria in Arles

updated: November 5, 2014

arles feria poster

Arles (13 Bouches-du-Rhone, Provence) starts its bullfighting season with theFeria de Pâques (Easter Festival) from 3-6 April 2015.

Many visitors may feel squeamish or even disapproving about the spectacle of bull-fighting, but it is a long-maintained tradition in Provence and southern France, especially in the Camargue.  You can however still enjoy the spectacle (and avoid the risk of any gore) by seeing the noisy and colourful parades and bull-running through the town. My view is that if you really object to this form of “entertainment” then avoid the area.

The bull-fighting (corrida) takes place in the spectacular Roman Arena in Arles, and there are other options such as the  Course Camargaise, which is another local form of bullfighting without the drawing of any blood.

About course camarguaise:  It is a summer pastime practiced in many small towns around Arles and the area. There are local leagues which are reported in local newspapers..
This different kind of bullfighting is known alternately as “course libre” or “course camarguaise“. This is a bloodless spectacle (for the bulls) in which the objective is to snatch a rosette from the head of a young bull.

The participants, or raseteurs, begin training in their early teens against young bulls from the Camargue region before graduating to regular contests held principally in Arles andNîmes but also in other Provençal and Languedoc towns and villages.


Before the course, anencierro — a “running” of the bulls in the streets — takes place, in which young men compete to outrun the charging bulls. The course itself takes place in a small (often portable) arena erected in a town square.


For a period of about 15–20 minutes, the raseteurs compete to snatch rosettes (cocardes) tied between the bulls’ horns. They don’t take the rosette with their bare hands but with a claw-shaped metal instrument called a raset or crochet(hook) in their hands, hence their name. Afterwards, the bulls are herded back to their pen by gardiens (Camarguais cowboys) in a bandido, amidst a great deal of ceremony. The star of these spectacles are the bulls, who get top billing and stand to gain fame and statues in their honor, and lucrative product endorsement contracts!

See what I mean?  No explanation about the running of the bulls, the flour, the eggs — some mention of blood.  That’s Provence!

Vive la France!