Editor’s Note: This is one installment of a seven-week series from an ITKT featured writer.
After breakfast I hike the roads overlooking the village, thanking God for Zumba as I make my way up steep, windy hills. As usual the vistas are both breath-taking and quaint, like a Cezanne painting.
I move along and feel a funny contentment. No doubt some of it comes from being unshackled from the washing machine and dirty dishes. But it’s also the air, the food, the sun. I think of the people back home who would love this trip and know I’m lucky.
I find myself back at the church. Although not a very religious person, this sanctuary’s powder-blue walls, frescos of saints, and burning votives are soothing. I light a candle, saying a prayer for my father who hasn’t been feeling well and my mother who’s his caretaker. I pray for the safety of my husband and two sons.
Above the altar stands the Virgin Mary on a fluffy white cloud. Golden light bathes her from stained glass windows. Little birds twitter among her robes, giving a feeling of life and movement. Of all the religious figures, Mary’s my favorite. Yes, Jesus may be great but who raised Jesus? For me she’s always represented the female ideals of peace, kindness, and love.
Before leaving, I stand in the doorway, silent. Back home I feel closest to heaven in my backyard with its maple trees, lady bugs and blue jays. And yet this church touches something. I especially love the two angels by the front door that stand there as if in hello or goodbye.
My writing group has its first workshop that afternoon. Outside men play boule and our readings compete with their cries of victory and despair. Later, upon leaving, we come across a memorial march for the two slain police women. Both were buried today. I stand on the side and watch. Policemen in gray uniform carry flags, one the red, white, and blue emblem of France. Their faces are wet with tears. Somber priests file past dressed in white and brown robes. Townspeople follow, no doubt friends and colleagues of the fallen women. Some sob, others stare straight ahead. Nobody speaks.
In a strange way, the people of this town are revealed in a way I would never have seen otherwise. And in this moment I see how alike we all are, despite language and cultural barriers. Old people, young, babies in carriages, it could be any village. A week ago these women were tending families, their jobs, buying groceries. The pain of their loss is universal and I wipe my own eyes.
Along the procession route, gendarmes from other regions stand stiffly at attention, saluting. In the town square, Madame Mayor addresses the crowd, a dignified, middle-aged woman. I don’t understand what she says but it sounds heartfelt and shaken. At one point everyone bows their head for a moment of silence and again, the feeling is all too familiar, the living coming to terms with dying.
I return to the hotel subdued and tired. And yet later as I walk toward the restaurant for dinner, people sit and talk in cafes. Children run around, laughing. An older couple shares an ice cream cone.
After another wonderful meal, I walk with friends and end up in front of the town’s cemetery. A rusty iron gate keeps everyone out but I stand there, peering inside. The sun is setting yet instead of appearing spooky this burial ground is interesting with white monuments covered with flowers, photographs, and gifts for the dead.
I turn back to the hotel and walk past the church, remembering the two angels in the doorway. I think of those two police women, now in heaven, maybe angels themselves. Wherever they may be, I hope they find peace. I think of the feeling of contentment I had earlier. Maybe it comes from being in Provence. Maybe it comes from having no housework. But I suspect it’s something more. Maybe it’s the simple pleasure of being alive.
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.