LA DOLCE FAR NIENTE – “The Sweetness of Doing Nothing”

Provence used to be Italian.  Many foods, customs, and sayings remain from that time – which ended by plebiscite in the 1860’s.  One of the dearest, and most challenging to this Type A American, phrases is the Italian concept of “La dolce far niente”, — the sweetness of doing nothing.

I didn’t know how un-Provencal, how un-Italian, how un-far-niente I was until my first Thanksgiving in Cannes.  I decided to do something very un-American on that day, –since I couldn’t find any cranberries anywhere.    I went strolling all along La Croisette. 

 

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Aerial View, La Croisette Boulevard, Cannes, Provence, France

 

If you care about the Cannes Film Festival [developed to magnetize tourists during the rainy month of May], you’ll have read about all sorts of stars out upon La Croisette, — dressed and not-so-dressed, singly and together, by day and by night.   And some, –like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward–, being robbed of their passports the year I was there .  I used to picture the border-crossing guards as one headed into real Italy at La Bordighera,  — laid-back uniformed men studying Paul’s and Joanne’s passports, passing those clever thieves right on through with languid waves of the hand.

 

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Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward Image from Internet

 

That Thanksgiving Day, moving right along, Mediterranean to my left, towering palm trees casting flickering shade, the Pailais (Palace) of the film festival dead ahead, I heard a most unpleasant sound.  I stopped and looked around.  The sound stopped.  I set out again.  So did the sound.  It was my rapid American feet on the broad wave-splashed sidewalk.

Nobody else walks fast.  They have a verb I was never taught at St. Mary of the Woods College — “se flaner”.  It means “to stroll.”    We didn’t stroll in Detroit, let alone when I moved to Manhattan.  But that’s another story.

 

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Not Strolling, but a good American clip — and definitely not on La Croisette

 

Today, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, I am doing nothing.  None of the tasks of the season, not even the tasks of the bill-basket.  And certainly not the tasks of the marketplace.

 

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French Marketplace Scene — See, Even Here, They Emphasize Sitting, Relaxing, Doing NOTHING!

 

I am languishing with a superb history of FDR as Politician Par Excellence — H. W. Brands’  stirring Traitor to His Class.  Chapter-by-chapter, I am tugging us through World War II and learning more than ever before about strategies and justifications, –in Franklin, in Winston, in the brilliant George Marshall, in Harriman, and even in De Gaulle and Stalin.  This is not anything I need to know, but I cannot get enough of it.  Sheer luxury.

 

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Traitor to His Class, H. W. Brands

 

In between, –in my ever-present journal–, I am taking notes on the politics of yesteryear and the same field, if you can call it that, now.  In 1942, FDR insisted upon raising all taxes, –especially upon the wealthy, especially those who were being enriched by the war–, “so that the sacrifices demanded by the war would be shared equitably.”  Imagine..  But that’s another story.

 

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Frank Capra’s Iconic D-Day Image – June 6, 1944, Normandy, France — A Day That Will Life in … HONOR

 

On my Retreat Day, I am neither making nor taking phone calls.  I am not initiating e-mails — although a few prove irresistible.  I certainly am not going near Facebook.

I make two delightful meals, and eat them at a table rich in items Provencal, because I never get enough France, but you already know that.

At 3 p.m., I walk outside on my tiny patio with bare feet.  I sit on a white ice-cream chair, tug slacks up over my knees, shove turtleneck sleeves halfway up my arms, and face the sun.  I do all the sitting yoga and p.t. exercises that normally take up morning hours, there on that chair, in that hot sun.

 

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Ice Cream Chair, Tiny Patio, in another season                                                                       Cups in Plants Courtesy of Sociopathic Upstairs Neighbors…  But that’s another story…

The grass is silken and of an aggressive green suitable for Easter.

There isn’t a sound – not a car; not a voice; not a jet; not a team shouting on Lawrenceville playing fields so far away except auditorially; not the mew of a cat or a catbird; not the caw of imperious crows.

A small miracle is that I can sit here, gently exercising, while ‘my’ goldfinches nourish themselves daintily at the thistle seed.  Not even they are murmuring.  But these small, seasonally muted birds are usually so skittish.  If I move fast, inside my study, behind my monitor, they, outside on their thistle socks, all explode away into the sheltering ash tree. Not today. We are all outdoors here together.

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Goldfinches on Thistle Sock (Breeding Plumage)

What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s not Easter.

It’s Christmas Day.

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For Unto Us A Son Is Given

Ice caps and ice sheets are melting, and nobody in power gives a damn.

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MELTING – 21st Century Reality

I spend many hours, when I’m not saving New Jersey at D&R Greenway Land Trust, signing urgent protests about the plight of the Planet.  Not today.

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21st-Century Reality – Does No One Care but Bill McKibben?

 

Today I am remembering La Croisette, before I’d ever even heard of Catastrophic Climate Change, and it was supposed to be warm on Thanksgiving, on Christmas.

 

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Along the Boulevard

 

Today, Christmas 2016, I learn that I possess resources for this level of solitude.  Worth knowing…  One of the major lessons of my own Year in Provence.

 

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Flaneurs Along La Croisette in Earlier Times

 

Tonight, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, on December 25, 2016, I am sunburnt — proof that I have practiced “la dolce far niente” this day.

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Whatever Happened to Soft Rain?

Water tumultuous Brenda Jones

Tumultuous Water, the Delaware — by Brenda Jones

My Tremulous Storm Scenes above the Millstone and the Canal:

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Wild Storm, Floodwater High Across Canal Road, north of 518

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Ponding on the Driveway, High Water, Canal Road, north of 518

Neither my friend, Brenda Jones, nor I, spends much time outdoors in rain, –at least not intentionally, and not with our cameras.

Hers is far better than mine in chronicling wild water.  I lived on a hill high above Canal Road, and the waters came up from the flood plain, over the Millstone River, over the Road, and far up the driveway, drowning its protective metal rail, in recent storms.

Last night, in a rather ordinary storm, poles went down, and wires with them, all over the Princeton Region.

My 5.5-mile ride from Lawrenceville to work took 90 minutes this morning.  “Rosedale Road is closed,” declared the policeman (yes, I had ignored the closed sign and bright lights- I had to get work!)  It would be closed from 2 hours to 2 days.  Still closed when I left work this afternoon.

Thanks to human greed, burning of fossil fuel, refusal by our country to take the lead and reverse catastrophic climate change, we basically never have normal rain any more.  Read Elizabeth Kolbert’s masterworks, “The Sixth Extinction” and “Field Notes from a Catastrophe” for the best science writing yet on what we are living through, what we are causing.  “Among the few irreplaceable volumes written about climate change,” declares Bill McKibben, “Kolbert offers the best summary yet.”  Other experts praise “Sixth Extinction” as our century’s “Silent Spring.”

You all know the reasons — glacial melt.  Freshwater (light) on top of saltwater (heavy), –therefore more evaporatable water; more precipitation; more frequent precipitation; more violent precipitation.  Changes in sea and river currents, which change air currents and the Gulf Stream.  Which alter our planet, our very existence.  Pogo said it long ago:  “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Forget “the new normal”!  There ISN’t any normal any more.  Not in any season.  Not any time of day or night.

When we were little, we could go outside in bare feet and little homemade swimming outfits and paddle in bright puddles.  Soft rain blessed our shoulders, tickled our backs, rinsed our long curls in the best conditioner ever.    Tornadoes began with Flint when I was 11.  “One day, clouds went both ways, fast!”, I wrote of being out precursors to that tempest.  Nothing was ever the same.

Rain was something we liked.  Something to play in!

Not an excuse for weather gurus to use smarmy voice and smirky smile to order us all “Stay safe…” and “Shelter at home…”  If you notice, they also tell us when to shop and what to buy, and show pictures of shopping frenzy to stoke the coals…

Basically there isn’t any safe, any shelter, any more.

There used to be wonderful cadences to thunder.  A soft vacuumy hush before the first rumble.  The excitement of thunder as it grew nearer and nearer.  Counting between lightning and thunder – “one one hundred, two one hundred” — something about the distance between bolts and ears.

The other night – not EVEN last night with all the downed trees of Princeton, all the sparking, smoking wires of morning — there was not even time to say “one”, let alone “one hundred” between ceaseless stabbings of lightning throughout the greensward here at my new dwelling and the explosion of thunder.

I never wanted to be someone who yearned for the “good old days.”

But I yearn for good old rains.