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. 

 

aerial-view-boulevard-croisette-cannes-french-riviera

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.

 

french-marketplace

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.

 

traitor-to-his-class-fdr-book-cover-image

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.

for-unto-us-a-son-is-given

For Unto Us A Son Is Given

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

polar-ice-caps-melt

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.

burning-planet

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.

 

boulevard-de-la-croisette-sign

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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THE REAL FOURTH OF JULY – Courage the norm, rights the motive…

Star-Spangled Banner on Stern of Twilight Steamboat on the Flooded Mississippi River 2010

Star-Spangled Banner on Stern of Twilight Steamboat on the Flooded Mississippi River
2010

I am an old-fashioned patriot.  I mean really old-fashioned, as in the time of and the paradigm of the Founding Fathers.

When people ask, lightly for them, “In what era would like to have lived?”, I always say the 1770’s in Philadelphia.  Only not as a woman.  None of this Betsy Ross business, nor even the brilliant Abigail, urging John, “Remember the women.”

No, I don’t even care which man I am, so long as I am a man, and off to the City Tavern with Toms (1 and 2 — Jefferson and Paine), John (Adams of course), Ben – who needs no surname, and George, Father of our Country in many ways beyond war.  I have a powdered wig and those dusky pantalons, and white long stockings, and uncomfortable-looking shoes with sort-of high heels and shiny buckles.  Night after night, in the rustic taverns, lit by candle or gaslight, I am saying with my buddies, “Give me Liberty, or give me death.”

Hancock House, Scene of British Massacre of Patriots, Salem County NJ after Battle of Quinton Bridge

Hancock House, Scene of British Massacre of Patriots, Salem County NJ after Battle of Quinton Bridge — its upstairs room is said still to reveal splotches of true Patriots’ blood – slaughtered in sleep

I don’t have any patience with the skim-milk liberty of the 21st Century.  I bristle when the Fourth of July is termed a Freedom Fest.  In our country now, which our Founding Fathers would never recognize, the more we prate of liberty and freedom, the less we have.

America The Beautiful -- Pole Farm's Red Barn, Fields and Berries

America The Beautiful — Pole Farm’s Red Barn, Fields and Berries

This scene of barn and fields is my personal American icon.  It stands for Independence, such as farmers lived and passed on through generations.  It stands for salt-of-the-earth people, who worked with the earth, not in spite of it, to feed families and neighbors, to nourish not only bodies, but the very spirit of our land.

Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were farmers.  They knew the solid safety of our country rested on rural realities.  Not in slogans, let alone in the renaming of airports.

Those inalienable rights for which our Forefathers pledged and some lost their fortunes and lives, tho never their sacred honor, are trampled daily in 21st-Century Washington, by mega-corporations, in our very un-free media, in books, in trade deals, in intra-country negotiations.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s International Bill of Rights, for which she (the only woman at the United Nations) thought and fought and negotiated and declared, seems a figment of imagination.  Lost in the shuffle, and worse.  Her proudest achievement – trampled in the dust.

Reeds Beach Flag, One of NJ's Land's Ends, Battered by Sandy, Returning to Life

Reeds Beach Flag, One of NJ’s Land’s Ends, Battered by Sandy, Returning to Life

Our entire country won the war of Revolution here, where I live now, in Lawrenceville (then Maidenhead) and in Trenton’s two Christmas battles, and in nearby Monmouth and in distant Yorktown, thanks to the French Fleet and heroic Lafayette.  It was also won in small towns, such as Concord and Lexinbton and on Bunker Hill in Boston, and in kitchens where wives and children melted the family pewter and silver and whatever other metals, to create bullets to defeat the tyrranical Brits.

Proud Names of the Greenwich Town Tea Burners in Salem County NJ

Proud Names of the Greenwich Town Tea Burners in Salem County NJ

Give Me Libert;y, or Give Me Death - Tea Burners' Monument, Greenwich Town, Salem County, NJ

Give Me Libert;y, or Give Me Death – Tea Burners’ Monument, Greenwich Town, Salem County, NJ

in weeks and months before the written Declaration, and in the interminable years thereafter, the man and woman in the streets, in the fields, and even in tea-burning ceremonies in Greenwich New Jersey and yes in Princeton, as well as in Boston, courage was the norm, and rights were the motive.. 

My Country, 'tis of Thee, Sweet Land -- in Spring Leaves, Rhinebeck NJ

My Country, ’tis of Thee, Sweet Land — in Spring Leaves, Rhinebeck NJ

Heroes were also our norm in those decades, and they didn’t only wear pantalons.  Resistance was as fierce among wives and daughters of our Founding Fathers, as among the men in Philadelphia.  In many cases, the women were nearer to the maurading British, gunpowder, cannonfire, destruction by many means of their homes and communities.  Their spines were as stiff as those of their mates, negotiating in various capitals, riding to country taverns with muffled horses’ hooves, standing on balconies and reading declarations of rights.

Flag and East Point Light, Delaware Bayshore, New Jersey

Flag and East Point Light, Delaware Bayshore, New Jersey

Life.  Liberty.  The Pursuit of Happiness.  How simple they sounded when I was a child.  How they fired the soldiers in WWI and WWII, especially on D Day and beyond.  How rare those qualities seem now.

We fought for them, even more than for our flag.

I am greatly disturbed always that the Stars and Stripes became a symbol of aggression and revenge, instead of freedom and inalienable rights, from the first moments of 9/11 ever onward.

Do you ever wonder where all those flapping auto-flags came from, within hours of the dissolution of the Twin Towers?  Who alerted the flag-manufacturers?

Before 9/11, we never saw those flags except in rare personal presidential motorcades, as when JFK motored through Detroit and Illinois before his impossible election.

After 9/11, little flags were everywhere and big ones inexplicably on bridges and overpasses.  Why?  In those days, it seemed, our banner stood for vengeance, even war.

One of Five Covered Bridges of Bennington VT, where the Green Mountain Boys Helped Create and Preserve Liberty in Our Land

One of Five Covered Bridges of Bennington VT, where the Green Mountain Boys Helped Create and Preserve Liberty in Our Land

I happen to love the Stars and Stripes.

All year, I’ve been photographing them hither and yon, to try to recapture the pride and honor of Fourth of July as a child.

Beekman Arms Flags, Rhinebeck NY

Beekman Arms Flags, Rhinebeck NY, where Revolutionary sentiments were pounded into the tavern tables

Hence the collection.  What does it mean to YOU?

THE JUNO CHRONICLES — The Blizzard of 2015

Snowed Ash Tree

Snowed Ash Tree, Jan. 27, 2015

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know that I always feel, and often obey, a mandate imposed by my hero, Henry David Thoreau.: In natural situations, I resonate to the question, “What would Henry do?”  Of course, he’d journal the development of this storm.

So here goes, with no pretensions as to literary merit.

Yesterday (Tuesday, January 26th) driving home from D&R Greenway, I was puzzled to realize that — a mere two blocks from the red barn of the Pole Farm– I could NOT find that bright red barn.  An infinity of tiny whitenesses created snow fog worse than any white-out during ski trips to Zermatt.  Even more amazing, when close enough to see the barn, it HAD NO COLOR!

“Blowing and Drifting Snow”, –infamous in my Minnesota years, zwooshing across those prairies, absolutely obscuring the edges of major highways–, was alive and well and zwooshing along Cold Soil Road.  I am too aware of ditches on both sides of that narrow (seemingly unsalted, unsanded) roadway. The ditches had filled somehow.  Snow coursed, like fat white greedy hands, onto and beyond the so-called shoulder.

The snow reminded me of Royal Icing with which I had had to frost a wedding cake for a British cookbook at Tested Recipe Institute, 500 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan.  Royal Icing hardens irrevocably – and that’s exactly what the Cold Soil snow-icing seemed to have done.  With the wedding cake, [a fruit cake (!)], I had to go on and make roses.  With the Royal Icing of Cold Soil, I only had to make my halting, near-blinded way a few more blocks into Society Hill.

Royal Icing Snow

Royal Icing Snow

Possibly the hardest part of the homeward journey turned out to be the attempt to back into my parking place, with all stripes and of course parking place numbers, covered.  The car’s a little crooked, but, at least, with four-wheel drive, whenever I do essay a journey, I can go safely frontwards.

Midnight Magic Snowstorm 1 2015

Midnight Tree, Snowflakes Catching the Flash]

Fast forward to morning, Tuesday, January 27.  In the night, emergency orders closed New Jersey roads. Snow didn’t look that perilous at various times in the night, but it’s done a grand job of coating everything.  We never had the wild winds.  Our office was supposed to open at noon, but an early call put that to rest for this day.

This is no Nor’easter — ‘my’ snow pours ceaselessly, angling sharply from southwest to northeast, often flat-out sideways.

Snow From Northwest Coats Tree Trunk

Snow From SOUTHWEST Coats Tree Trunk

I ‘screwed my courage to the sticking place” and proceeded to brush off my car and a neighbor’s, [probably the Samaritan who had done the same for my car, last week, anonymously.]  I could STAND on the accumulated snow.  That hasn’t happened since I was ten years old!  I had forgotten how snow dampens clothes — at first it doesn’t melt and you think it doesn’t matter…

Cold Rhododendrons

Cold Rhododendrons

Now the promised “blowing and drifting snow” has arrived with a vengeance.  (It’s around noon.)  At first, great thick swirls, like Isadora scarves, whirled from the roof.  It seemed as though a Giant on the roof had just drunk hot soup, breathing furious gusts out onto the gelid air.  The energy and curvaceousness of the puffs brought back a Renaissance mural at Rome’s Farnese Gallery.  There, a wind god puffed fat cheeks, and white billows scurried across the wall.

Mid=Blizzard

Mid=Blizzard

Then, out in the middle of the ‘greensward’ between my building and the one across the way, a disembodied curtain of snow zoomed across, blotting out the other buildings.  This was like the Nutcracker’s corps de ballet, impersonating not mere snowflakes, but a vertical blizzard, fast-forwarded.

Frosted Conifers, Mid-Storm

Frosted Conifers, Mid-Storm

Meanwhile, snow descends with the furious relentlessness that categorizes this storm named Juno. This is an ironic name, as I am deep in Masters and Commanders by Andrew Roberts.  You could call it a quadruple biography of the decision-makers of WWII.  This spectacular British biographer/historian has great respect for FDR, affection for and pride in Churchill yet sees ‘warts and all’, and clear eyes and wisdom regarding George Marshall and Alan Brooke.  Juno was one of code names for British beaches in Normandy.  On a later D Day, I visited Juno, touched by intimate bouquets, as though hand-made, carefully placed.  Ribbons of the French tricoleur blew in the sea wind, at sites where British and American soldiers had given their lives to save France and the free world.  Ribbons of snow efface everything here at my study window.

Farm Fresh Omelet, Farm-Raised Bacon, Lettuce from Live Lettuce Plant from Terhune Orchards

Farm Fresh Omelet, Farm-Raised Bacon, Lettuce from Live Lettuce Plant from Terhune Orchards

After a restorative lunch, I note the turkey vulture, tipping and soaring.  This may not be easy for him, as the ground is too cold to generate thermals which vultures require for lift.  He’s elegant, practiced, even graceful.  Pete Dunne, consummate birder, terms vultures “The Wind Masters”.  Pete taught me to appreciate them. This black and grey icon of the wild is very welcome in the totally motionless landscape out my windows.

Sun Like a Lightbulb

Sun Like a Lightbulb

I realize, suddenly, the snow has topped falling.

There is that strange sepulchral glow to the world that comes after storm, but before sun.

Sepulchral Glow

Sepulchral Glow

The other highlight of my day was the sudden gaggle of snow geese, heard before seen.  There is no other sound in the wild to equal their liquid mellifluous murmuring.  It is light years more wonderful than the barking of Canada geese, and thousands of times more rare.  I only encounter the snow geese chorale at ‘The Brig, in South Jersey.

These snow geese, about twenty, were nearly invisible in the impenetrable mass of minuscule flakes, if you could call them flakes. Their cluster (snow geese do not do ‘V’s’) was very determinedly flying sharply east from somewhere north.  I concluded that snow geese must have to gabble throughout their flights, whenever the element for whom they are named rules the day.  Must these black-and-white visitors from afar carry on like this, vocally, so that they do not lose each other, lose their way?

The most important New Year’s Eve of my life, when my century changed, took place at the Brig.  Hundreds, if not thousands, of snow geese blanketed Absecon Bay, the way real snow blankets everything today.  The setting sun of the 20th Century painted the bay water pink and rose and coral, and the snow geese with it.  My New Year’s Eve noisemakers were the liquidities of these birds. And now, for the first time (and I have lived in Princeton off and on since 1968), I hear that music in my back yard.

A mourning dove landed – then, the only sign of nearby life.  It looked anything but mournful, perky rather, even triumphant.

Snow Rescuers Snowstorm 1 2015

Snow-Rescuers at Dusk

There is a sea of white on the ground, seafoam on all the clenched rhododendrons, foam and sea spray and god knows what else taking the place of sky.  All day, that sky resembled the solid fog that surrounds icebergs.  This I experienced from the deck of the SS France, which had embarked on the anniversary of the Titanic disaster, sailing that long-ago April of 1964

If Henry were here, he’d be chronicling numbers assiduously.  He would want you to know that all day the thermometer at the front door has ranged very few degrees above ten.  Late afternoon, and it has soared to eighteen.

Snow Removal Snowstorm 1 2015

Snowplows in Half-Light

This yard is so empty of life, because Society Hill residents are forbidden to feed the birds.

The mourning dove seems taken up residence for now, puffing itself to stay warm.  There is no nourishment for it nor for turkey vulture, anywhere around here.

One friend who lives at Society Hill tells me that she and a friend have seen a coyote right in the middle of their street, very nearby.  I have yet to find coyotes here nor in the Pole Farm, but I am always searching

Another friend has gone ski-birding twice this week.  Some of her miracles include kinglets — those golden-crowned and ruby-crowned living jewels who zip about on the ground, feeding with the dapper chickadees.  And, also at the Pole Farm, she was blessed with two female Northern harriers, and the most elusive and rare male, known as “the grey ghost.”

Although the snow has seemed to stop, swirls arrive, I guess from roofs.  The last burst itself was a grey ghost.

Dire Beauty, Mid-Storm

Dire Beauty, Mid-Storm

AFTER THE STORM

After the Snow Snowstorm 1 2015

Calm after Snowstorm 1 2015