Editor’s Note: This is one installment of a seven-week series from an ITKT featured writer.
For the first time I hold my own in a little shop, buying souvenirs. The man behind the counter is patient, and I sort of understand him as he sort of understands me. I know if I stayed longer, the language would begin to seep in. It already has.
I walk the streets alone for the first time, silently saying goodbye to the people in the cafes. A stooped old woman walks by with a cane. “Bon jour madam,” I say. She stops, responding with a wide, toothless smile. “Bon jour madam.”
Lionel’s is crowded so I try a new café next door. They serve plates of thin smoked salmon with lemons and capers, red peppers spread with artichoke paste, breaded shrimp with tangy Thai sauce. Two tiny cups of sorbet – one carrot, one gazpacho – are included as palate cleansers. “Delicieux,” I tell the young waiter who looks like Jake Gyllenhaal. Already my world here is expanding with more townspeople I smile and nod to. The French have been kind and friendly.
That night a fete, or party, is held in the town square where I had my first meal. Originally this was scheduled for Sunday but that was the day of the policewomen’s memorial. Tonight the space is full of long tables covered in white cloth. The main dish is moules-frites, or mussels and fries, a French classic. Of course there’s lots of beer and wine.
I join this celebration around 10:00 p.m. and can’t help but contrast it to the silent, sad procession a few days ago. Tonight townspeople eat and drink and laugh while a local band plays rousing popular songs. Lyrics are displayed on a screen and everyone joins in. As usual there are families, older people, teenagers, and children. It could be any home town.
One song is very stirring and everyone stands, some on chairs, waving white linen napkins in unison. My American group waves too, trying to sing the French lyrics. I’m thankful for such a wonderful send-off, such a perfect last night in Collobrieres. Through chance, I’ve seen this village at its most sad and now it’s most joyful. Life goes on and I’m sure the two policewomen would’ve wanted it that way.
For more of Laurie’s stories about Provence France
Laurie Stone is a writer living in Easton, CT who occasionally hears the siren sound of travel and needles her husband and two college-age sons to come explore. If they’re not available she’ll take any unsuspecting friend or colleague. The more she travels, the more she sees how humans are really all alike, despite language, cultural or political differences.