Behind the steering wheel in France, even though it is on the right side of the car, I am not the wimp I am when I drive in England. I don’t know whether to chalk it up to many years of experience driving in France, or the disorientation of driving on the left side of the road in the UK. Whatever, I am back to my irritatingly bossy back-seat driving when I am not driving, and my confident and agressive driving when I am.
As we near our destination, I begin to feel as though I have never left, and am only returning from an extended trip. Below Lyon, on the "Autoroute du Soleil", (the sunshine route), the familiar flat, terra cotta tile roofs of Provence dominate. We pass through Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, and we are in territory I know as well as any in the world. Mont Victoire looms up, and Cezanne’s cypresses.
Picasso also lived here at the end of his life. I am told that when Picasso painted his last picture, he said at last I have painted something original.
At Le Muy we turn toward Fayence and travel through miles and miles of vineyards, then pine woods,then through the hamlet of Broves toward Seillans.
The friends with whom we are staying live up a very steep, winding, narrow road, but I negotiate all the curves without having to back up and try again. We arrive just in time to change our clothes and set off to a choral concert at Le Chapelle de Notre Dame des Cypres in Fayence, which will be performed by friends we have known for years, and will be attended by even more old friends. We will thus get to see lots of people right at the start of our stay.
Les Choristes du Peyron have been performing together for many years, just for fun. The director has recently changed, and there are some new faces, but we know nearly every one who is singing, and have known them for 14 or 15 years. The chapel is very old, probably 12th century, small, intimate, and surrounded by huge and ancient plane trees. The music is English church music, starting with the 15th century and ending with a contemporary composer. It is beautifully performed, and very moving. I was a young mother with 3 small boys the first time I entered this chapel, and France, this countryside,and the French were unknown, foreign, to be discovered.
Now, I am a grandmother, and the twists and turns in my life since have led me back once again to this spot. I have attachment to this place, to these people, English, French, Spanish,which are inescapable . I never intended it, would not have known how to imagine it. I am grateful for it.
When the concert is over, and after hugs and promises to ring and get together, we are off to a restaurant in the village of Seillans. We will be joined by friends at La Gloire de Mon Pere, a small place owned by a young local family. It used to be a bakery., owned by the same family. The name comes from a book written by Maurice Pagnol, a writer from Marseille, around the turn of the last century, a book which speaks with great tenderness of the people and places of "son pays", his home. Films have been made of this book, and also, maybe better known, its companion book, Le Chateau de Ma Mere.
The food is regional, and it’s good. But the main draw of the restaurant is the smiles and good humor of the family. And for us, the friends we meet there, the layers of memory embedded in the cobbles of the square and the tinkling of the huge fountain under the thick branches of the trees.
- Les Villages Perches