Editor’s Note: This is one installment of a seven-week series from an ITKT featured writer.
This morning my I-phone alarm sounds off at a strange time and I reach over to investigate. But the alarm tone I chose a year ago, church bells, is not coming from this device. It’s coming from outside my window, the call to Saturday mass. I’ve grown to love this ancient form of communication, so different from the modern world with I-pads, texting and 24-hour news.
This morning’s breakfast on the terrace is well-attended. Two weddings are taking place in town and families and friends are here at the hotel. I sneak peeks at the French, both familiar and exotic. I admire their ease, their obvious enjoyment of each other as they kiss each new arrival on both cheeks, murmuring greetings. Are they family or friends of the bride and groom? And where do they live? And what do they do?
A few hours later, I’m zooming along local byways to the Mediterranean beach at Bormes, about 35 minutes away. The drive is heart-clenching at times, fast down narrow roads with steep drops to the side. I ride past green vineyards, acres of grapes plants set in precise rows. No doubt these businesses have been in families for generations. I picture the growers and pickers with skin brown as leather.
After parking in a shady grove of trees, I make my way with our group to the beach and gasp when I come upon the Mediterranean, so turquoise, so bright, like a color in a child’s crayon box. The beach is long and narrow and I find a spot, setting down my towel. All around are families, teenagers, older couples. I note how Europeans don’t have body issues like Americans. On one side is a 70-something woman in a leopard-skin string bikini. On the other is a row of topless young females. Groups of men play with paddles or toss a rugby ball around, not only to catch rays but no doubt catch the eyes of the girls.
I take a swim, laughing and bobbing around like a child. And that’s how I feel lately. I’m twelve again. There are no responsibilities. Life is about fun and exploration. My friends and I walk along the soft sand, deciding which handsome Frenchman should feature in our next novel.
For lunch I eat at the beach’s famous restaurant, L’estagnol. Once again the French are fascinating, this time in their casual, beachside glamour. The waiter serves huge cork platters loaded with crudités dipped in anchovy-flavored oil. After comes fresh-caught fish baked in open-air ovens manned by muscled Frenchmen wearing bandanas.
I visit the ladies room but can’t figure out how to use the outdoor sink. A little girl with huge brown eyes helps me by pulling a lever from below and voila, l’eau appears. She says something and I try to answer in my usual garbled mess of pigeon French, English and hand gestures. She smiles, nods, and strolls away.
I go back to the beach but by now the sun has shifted. I’m five minutes away from sunburn when it’s time to go. Back in my hotel room I hear the sound of many cars honking. The weddings have taken place, a joyful contrast to the sadness of the past few days. Life still holds promise.
That night I attend workshop while eating dinner — ham, goat cheese, baguettes and fresh strawberries. I eat the best sandwich I’ve ever had and realize something. The writing I’ve done here is different. The words come from what’s seen, heard, smelled, and felt. Much of the fiction I write back home is made up. It’s not bad, but it’s also not as personal.
I go to bed that evening and think of the church bells. From now on wherever I go I’ll hear that sound and think of Collobrieres. They’ll remind me not only of a slower, gentler pace and wonderful food, but something else. They’ll urge me to try and be a different kind of artist, one who digs deeper, reveals more, and writes from her heart.
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.