Editor’s Note: This is one installment of a seven-week series from an ITKT featured writer.
After breakfast of croissants and coffee, I explore Collobrieres. Around every corner I gasp at huge, medieval wooden doors, thick wrought iron gates, lavender gardens. I meander down side streets no wider than ten feet. Red geraniums sit in window boxes, aged wooden shutters lie against rough walls painted in blues, yellows and greens.
I happen down a narrow side street and find a memorial of flowers in a doorway. Two days before, a random shooting occurred in this peaceful community. Two young female gendarmes, policewomen trying to stop a robbery, were shot dead. Pictures of these women, young and smiling, stare up at me. The pain of loss and shock is etched in the faces of neighbors who stand in the street, as if still in disbelief.
I continue up a long, steep hill until I come to the town spread below. A church steeple made from blue and brown tiles rises into the sky. Ochre-colored houses with red terra cotta roofs nestle around it. The sight is so European, so out of art museums and story books, it feels almost unreal. Thumb-size bumble bees buzz around a blue hydrangea bush. An older man on a bicycle peddles up a steep hill. He looks in his seventies but has the hard, fit body of someone decades younger.
I make my way to the church. Two statues of life-size angels stand inside the front door as if in greeting. Their faces are kind and patient. Candles burn everywhere and the air smells like wax and incense. The interior is hushed and dark and cool. A sign says a mass for the two slain policewomen will be held on Sunday, 11 heures.
I’m starting to know and recognize people in the village. Of course there’s Olivier and his beautiful, Iranian wife Nili who run the Hotel Notre Dame. They have a dark-eyed teenage daughter, a young son, and Chelsy, a chestnut brown dachshund who runs around with a squeak toy in her mouth. Each morning Chelsy greets guests with kisses and tail wags.
Then there’s tall, thin Lionel who runs the cafe. He’s funny, mock-scolding me when I don’t finish my meal. I see the older bicyclist eating lunch at a nearby table. There are groups of men sitting on town benches and women who stop to chat with each other, bags of baguettes in hand.
And in a sad way, I feel like I know the two young policewomen who died. Their pictures are everywhere, one blond and one brunette. They could be anyone’s daughter, sister, or friend. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, a reminder that life can be cruel and unfair.
The days are falling into a pattern and I’m discovering my natural writing rhythm which is nice since I had no idea I had a natural writing rhythm. Back home I scribble between loads of laundry, yelling at my kids to turn down the music, errands, volunteering and the gym. Here I’m forced to do nothing but write and love it. I adore my pink bedroom with its gentle afternoon sun. Outside I hear doves cooing, ducks quacking, and the squeaking of Chelsy’s dog toys. Olivier’s wife Nili sings a song as she clears plates on the terrace. The village church bell tolls.
That night I dine at a nearby restaurant. I try chestnut wine for the first time and love its thick sweetness. This restaurant happens to be near the village’s boule court. Boisterous male voices yell out, cheering one move or lamenting another. It reminds me of pick-up baseball games back home. Funny how in every culture, men have the need (or maybe the freedom?) to play. I can’t think of any place where I’ve seen gangs of grown women frolicking in the street. Maybe that’s a universal truth. I seem to be discovering a lot of those these days.
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.