O! TO BE IN PROVENCE, NOW THAT MARCH IS HERE!

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that, although this blog is devoted to beautiful, and all-too-fragile New Jersey, I am always longing for Provence.

Mediterranean with Crimson Esterel Massif at its Edge by Popoff

Mediterranean Sea from Esterel Massif, en route to and from St. Tropez

I lived in Cannes from October of 1987 into August of 1988 – in other words, I saw the seasons ’round.

pine tree by Meditgerranean from Internet

Normal Provencal Drive for me, even in winter

In February and March, along the Riviera, trees bloom.  Driving in closed cars up to the sacred hill towns, the perched villages, the fragrance of blossoms fills the vehicle.  Almond blossoms like snow against gnarled hillsides.  Menton’s lemons, grapefruit, mandarines, clementines, and yes, oranges filling the air, until breathing was like drinking Cointreau.  Mingled with the sweetness of flowering fruit trees was always the pungency of wild herbs in the garrigues: thyme, marjoram, rosemary in tall shrubs, oregano, savory and pebre d’ail, a truly spicy wild flavoring.  Animals who fed in the herblands absorbed those savors into their meat, their milk, therefore infusing Provencal cheeses.

Menton's Citron Festival in February

Menton’s Citron Festival around George Washington’s Birthday

The sense of smell was literally intoxicating during my stay there.  One bitter January day in Biot, I was walking its narrow streets, marveling at flowers in small terra cotta pots even on back stoops of houses, blooming in what we know as winter.  Then, I smelled peaches.  I decided I’d just been in this land of enchantment so long that I’d ‘gone round the bend.’  Instead, I strode ’round the corner to find a small fresh food marche, with some of its produce out on the sidewalk in January sun.  Peaches filled the air, as though someone were baking a peach pie.

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Peaches in an outdoor market in Provence

The sense of hearing was newly called into play, not always pleasantly.  The mistral reared its inescapable head day after day in winter, roaring down the Rhone toward that usually placid Mediterranean Sea.  Some say, and I’d believe it, that Van Gogh cut off his ear because driven to this by the mistral.  It can roar for days, causing pipes in your home and shutters on your windows to whine and twang.  We don’t know anything like this wind.  It’s as though Provence wind came through huge faucets, all turned on at full blast at the same time and the same impossible speed, by day and by night, interminably.

Le Parfum des Garrigues

We don’t know wind like this, not even in hurricanes, which I’ve now lived through.  Our winds rise and fall in intensity and sound.  One of the greatest horrors of Sandy for me was the relentlessness of that howl.  The mistral’s is more infuriating, more intense, –a more ceaseless and inescapable blast.

Cheese of Goats, perfumed by wild herbes des garrigues

Cheese of Goats who Roam the Garrigues/wild herb fields of Provence

One time, my daughters had a good laugh on their romantic mother.  Somewhere in the South of France, high above the sea, I enthused, “Isn’t Provence wonderful?  The air smells like champagne!”  We were at a picnic ground high above the sea.  The mistral was so strong, it had blown over a family’s champagne, literally spilling it all over those ancient rocks.

perched village of Provence

Typical perched village – driving through fragrant collines to reach these treasures

It probably doesn’t make sense even to miss the annoying mistral, but I do.  Afterwards, the Provencaux would say of that wind, “Il balayer le ciel.”  (It sweeps the sky.)  No bluer blue ever existed than post-mistral skies, unless you count the Mediterranean, reflecting that ethereal hue.

typica drive near St. Tropez

Everything’s electrifying in Provence.  Breathing itself is intoxicating.  Around any corner, anything can happen.  In St. Tropez’ s Musee de l’Annonciade, one looks at Fauve masterpieces on the wall, then through the windows at the very scenes those vivid colorists painted so masterfully.

Baie de St. Tropez from Musee Annonciade at Sunset

Fishing Boats of St. Tropez, from window of Musee de l’Annonciade

Typica View from Window of Annociade Musee on Baie de St. Tropez

Baie de St.  Tropez from windows of Musee de l’Annonciade

But the queen of all Provencal sense experiences is the amazing mimosa/  Delicate as these blossoms are, they come from a tree.  One filled my second-floor bedroom window in Cannes.  Tiny puff balls moved in the slightest breeze, wafting a scent of lemon and nutmeg in through those bottle-green wooden shutters.  Nothing surpasses waking and sleeping to the delicate mimosa fragrance.  Another miracle was peering through mimosa branches to discover Napoleon’s Corsica so very far away, but only in early winter months.

Magnificent Mimosa in ad for l'Occitane, Provencal's quintessential fabrics

Magnificent Mimosa Tree in Ad by l’Occitane, house of superb Provencal fabrics

Even with my love of New Jersey’s soul-filling beauty, I miss the many electrifications of Provence, especially as March — the month of flower fragrances in that land – begins, with a nor’easter, no less.  No flower fragrances for us, let alone peaches around the corner.

flowering almond treeFlowering Almond Tree – subject of Pierre Bonnard’s last painting – he lived at Le Cannet, one hill over from ‘mine’, L’Observatoire of Cannes

flowering orange treeIn

In Menton, flowers and Fruit at Same Time, on February Trees

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“Haut les coeurs!” — High the Hearts!, from the French… The Role of Beauty in These Times

When I lived in Cannes, my neighbors of the villa taught me a slogan they were utilizing to get them through their dire campaign involving Le Pen – for which they had to vote three times in the departement of their births, which meant leaving the haven of Provence.

“Haut les coeurs!”, [sounds like “o, liqueurs!”] conveys the sustaining command to hold high our hearts, no matter what.  The French are masters of this art, as their revolutionary scene of Marianne in the midst of the battle, hearteningly conveys.

 

https://i2.wp.com/resources3.news.com.au/images/2013/10/25/1226746/604343-liberty-leading-the-people-marianne.jpg

 

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that my own heart has been leaden, so that I have not been able summon the Muse to craft new blogs.  A certain level of joie de vivre is essential to these ‘pages’, a joie seriously lacking.  My heart does not even  feel red any longer — rather, the grey/yellow-green of this morning’s discouraging sky.

 

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“Willow, Weep For Me”, Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands, January 20, 2017

 

A British friend writes us, warning that we not “fall into the Slough of Despond.”  A kind of “Pilgrim’s Progress” is our plan this day, although it’s too late about the falling.  My friend’s warning is timely and urgent – that we not descend further; above all that we do not wallow.  Attention to the beautiful and the wild, she urges, has never been more important.  I’m considering this, considering…

 

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Beckoning Tree, Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands, January 20, 2017

 

France’s Marianne, with her brave, billowing Tricoleur [flag] sustains me in these times.  Although we choose somewhat different garb, her spirit is required now.  We of this young country would call it “The Spirit of ’76”.

All my life, I’ve carried the spirit of our true Patriots, our Founding Fathers and Mothers.

But now — this recent scene in Trenton’s Abbott Marshlands is the world I deplore and dread — sheer desecration of our wild and sacred spaces:  We can expect far more than this — the visible and the invisible — as with pipelines beyond counting.

 

how-the-world-will-look-in-this-regime-abbott-marshlands

Present, at the Marsh.   Future, as we move on from this day.  Note small sign honoring habitat and the creatures whom we stand to lose…

And, to forge my way out of the Slough of Despond, I begin balancing images from this Abbott Marshlands pilgrimage upon “Inauguration” Day.  You’ll see that even in an overcast time, even when muddy trails greet hikers, beauty prevails.

But birding is why we are here.  Susan Burns, –indispensable Willing Hands (volunteer) at D&R Greenway events–, does so to save habitat, for birds in particular.  Here, she’s memorizing subtle gadwalls; dapper northern pintails, merry black and white coots; interspersed with jazzy orange, forest green and new-snow-white shovelers, — the rare ducks of winter — on waterways of the Marsh. 

 

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Susan Burns Intent Upon Rare Winter Ducks at Abbott Marshlands

 

Regarding the next image, Susan and (other birding friends and) I never know whose side we’re on.   “Nature raw in tooth and claw” is why we SAVE wildlands!  That balancing act, where everything cycles into use and blessing for everything else.  She and I conclude that this raptor must have been a great horned owl…  These clusters punctuate our waterside trail, followed by lacings of “whitewash” — excretions — typical of owls.  Of course, we’ll never know.  But without this preserved wild natural habitat, neither owls nor prey could survive.

 

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The Way of the Wild, Abbott Marshlands

 

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Beavers’ Breakfast, Abbott Marshlands

 

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Beaver Point, on the Yellow Trail, Abbott Marshlands

 

In the Marsh, Nature’ processes, –almost invisible, way beyond time–, are at work on every side.  Here we marvel at the splendid tapestry of fungus performing its slow transformative service upon the majestic felled beech.  Susan and I insist, — yes, aloud, yes, to the tree — “You are beautiful, imposing, arresting, even in death!”

 

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Beech Fungus, felled beech, Abbott Marshlands

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Beech Fungus at Work near Beaver Point

 

Preservationists “pay any price, bear any burden” [JFK Inauguration] to save land and water to foster slow and sacred processes in force since before time itself.

Historians now grant Dr. Charles Conrad Abbott every honor for realizing and daring to state that artifacts he discovered in this Marsh give evidence of Lenape presence and use for 10,000 years and more! 

But Nature’s actions and interactions have been dynamically present here far far far far longer.  Who are WE to intrude, let alone arrest or destroy>

 

evocative-weeds-abbott-marshlands

Weeds Evoke my Mood, Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands

 

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Weeds Surpass my Mood, Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands

 

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Nature’s Mourning

 

We are told that the Lenapes named this Spring Lake in their own far more beautiful language, because it was born of a spring.  We are also told that the beavers were the engineers…

In its center, though invisible to my camera, are coots, gadwalls, pintails, shovelers and a plethora of gulls.  Over our heads here and at another watery site deep into our journey, we were circled and circled by an enormous mute swan.  It may be mating season — he sure acts like it.  We decided that this swan, circling us at least six times, was a teen-ager in a white convertible, cruising as did my best friends and I along Detroit’s Woodward Avenue in our teens.  That swan was simply displaying how spectacular he is, how absolutely irresistible.

It is so still in the Marsh, that we were overwhelmed by the irreplaceable whisper/roar [a kind of ‘whuff whuff whuff’] of air in the mute swan’s wings.

 

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“All will be well. All manner of things will be well.” Julian of Norwich — Spring Lake, Abbott Marshlands

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.

 

 

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!

PROVENCAL CHRISTMAS EVE – My Story in Princeton Packet on Midnight Mass in Cannes

Provencal Creche and Evergreens on French Table back in Princeton

Provencal Creche and Evergreens on French Table back in Princeton

In Provence, the real Christmas

Sharing a special holiday ritual in France

DATE POSTED: Tuesday, December 23, 2014 11:17 PM EST  The Princeton Packet

By Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Provence to see the seasons round. “But, Carolyn, you’ll be lonely!” “You with your two years of college French!” “The French will never invite you into their homes.” And so forth.

I paid no attention, as I wasn’t going to the south of France to be invited into homes. All my life I had wanted to be a resident in what has always felt my real country. The country was my goal. And, as it turned out, the nay sayers were wrong.

Take Christmas Eve. The year is 1987. As I walk across the crest of Observatoire Hill, high above Cannes, the night is bright, colder than I expected. The dark sky is nearly blinding, Vincent’s “Starry, Starry Night” seemed all around me, coming to more and more intense life.

I had been invited to my neighbors’ for that special time. They were a young and merry family in all seasons, from my first fall days on the hill, we had taken full and casual delight in one another’s company.

This night, I would not only share their Christmas Eve meal, we also would open presents together, beside their Christmas tree (or “sapin de Noel,”) quietly resplendent with its handmade ornaments. The boy and girl were fully a part of every aspect of those rituals.

The purpose of my presence was not only to share the sacredness of these home rituals. At a certain moment, we bundled ourselves warmly, and the father drove us all to Le Suquet, the old part of the Cannes the world connects mostly with movies. It’s a high and stony hill, from which watchmen peered over many centuries, especially during 800 years of Saracen invasions. Steep and rocky enough to be defended, high enough to light warning fires that could reach sentinels on the Iles de Lerin off-shore, without Le Suquet all those years, there might not be a Cannes.

A no-nonsense stone church crowns the rocky enclave of old Cannes. We walked from the velvet, nearly absolute darkness of these ancient towns into a nave of nearly blinding light. Votive candles flickered along both sides, leading our eyes to a wall-length “creche,” a Nativity scene created with terra cotta “santons” for which this region is famous.

These figures used to be created in the churches, until the Revolution. I don’t know why that ordeal meant no more santons and creches. But the clever French decided to create their own figures to honor Christmas in their homes. The irst post-Revolution santons were made of cookie dough.It had something to do with danger in people’s gathering in public places in those fiery times. This night, this church was one profoundly connected gathering.

There was a real wood stable, about as big as a breadbox. Mary and Joseph knelt by an empty manger. The requisite donkey and cow and other farm animals of baked clay were artfully placed to create a sense of waiting. Awaiting the birth of the child, outside the creche stable were the bread-maker, the garlic-braider, the aioli-maker, the lavender lady, the herdsman, the basket-weaver and so forth. Each more delightful than the last.

Along the creche hills moved a procession: tawny long-legged camels, their handlers, and, of course, the three kings and assorted servants. The proprietors of nearby Les Baux claim to be descended from the Balthazar of this pilgrimage. We know that stars directed the journey of the kings. They may well have been en route as Mary and Joseph found their way to Bethlehem. In the Cannes church, the reverent Kings were visible, lit and steadily nearing on some sort of motorized walkway. But, even though it was Christmas Eve, there wasn’t what my daughters called “the baby Jesus.”

That church was cavernous and deeply cold. My neighbors had warned me to dress as though for one of my daily hikes, with many layers. The pews were filled with people of all types, dressed in everything from full-length sable to the bleu of the laborer. Perfume mingled with incense. An eager though hushed restlessness stirred from front to back as the hour turned. I was reminded of suddenly riveted attention, as a bridal procession is about to begin.

Altar boys proudly swung censers, so that frankincense purled through the air. More clergy than I’d seen since the Vatican moved toward the altar. Music surrounded us, our seatmates singing carols in French, in Latin and Provencal.

The priests arrayed themselves, backs to the altar, facing the aisle. Suddenly, old Provence came to life before my very eyes. Villagers, garbed like the hand-made santons I’d owned since the early 1970s, walked where the clergy had been. The women’s thick quilted skirts belled out just like mine on the shelves at home. Each woman carried — like scepters, like jewels — objects identifying her role in the town. One held a bowl and a whisk; one a cluster of baguettes. One was adorned with a lei of braided fat white succulent garlic.

The women were followed by men. The shepherds wore long tobacco-brown cloaks, with an extra flap along the shoulders. And that night I learned why. The men carried live lambs over their shoulders, resting on those capes. The baker toted a handmade basket, full of his multi-shaped breads. Others held guns, so that the hunt might be blessed. Twosomes bore demijohns of wine, otherspaniers of grapes. Each and every living santon went to the clergy, knelt for the blessing, then took his or her very real offering off to the side, for “the baby Jesus.”

But even that was not the culmination. A cluster of townswomen moved as solemnly as brides, each carrying items of a baby’s layette — handmade, hand-decorated, proudly borne. Behind them walked a young man, carefully cradling the elbow of his even younger wife. In her arms was a baby. A real baby. “Le nouveau-ne” — the newborn — the most recent child of the town.

They, too, knelt at the front, between all the harvest offerings, flanked by the delicate layette. Mass was said and sung in the three languages. When the gospel came to “dans le temps de Cesar Auguste,” chills suffused me.

The mass concluded with exquisite timing. The incense boys turned and recessed toward the back of the church, followed by all those priests. Only the young parents and their amazingly silent infant walked carefully behind them. They all went over to the wall-sized creche. The priest who had said mass blessed the real infant in its mother’s arms. Then Father took something from the head altar boy — the Infant Jesus, “le nouveau-ne,” this one made of clay — as are all humans, come to think of it. Tower bells pealed, exactly as the terra cotta child was settled into its manger, lined with real straw provided by real shepherds.

Interestingly, the carol we sang then was “Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabella,” — “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella.” We were each metaphorically carrying the torch of wonder to that cradle. My dear neighbor turned to me with a very special grin, her name being Jeanette.

Provencal Madonna and Roman Mosaic of Madonna, Provencal Doorways, on table back in Princeton

Provencal Madonna and Roman Mosaic of Madonna, Provencal Doorways, on table back in Princeton