Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Night Frolic — The Metamorphosis (To Come)

'Now my dears,' said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, 'you may go into the fields or down the lane, 
but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden: your Father had an accident there; 
he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.'
~Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Peter Rabbit

There are forces—intrinsic, extrinsic, otherworldly, Olympian—in the preteen psyche that I hadn't anticipated. The girl is petitioning for a room makeover. Well, is it any wonder? I shouldn't be so surprised, after all, she is surrounded by storybook misfortune: rabbits captured for pie, eggs swiped from ducks, foxy-whiskered, prick-eared gentleman not to be trusted, and owls who skin squirrels alive.

Lulu, who turns thirteen in a little more than two months, has lived among the red hued toile rendering—wall covering and coordinating balloon shades—of Beatrix Potter's creatures for as many years. 

I hadn't thought about Potter's nursery rhyme characters in that light when I decorated Lu's room more than a dozen years ago. I thought, to be candid, that the paper and fabric made for a nursery design with which I could live and a wall covering that would easily grow up with Lu. Now I wonder how easily she's slept for all those years in that angelic, antique three quarter bed while Potter's beasts dallied on the walls.

I admit, the toile was for me. 

But thirteen is a coming of age birthday—a right of passage that has been known to be marked (her brother's room as precedent) by inner sanctum transformation. Hence, Lu's passage into teen-hood will be observed by the conspicuous and abrupt changes that are characteristic of any metamorphosis: a permutation of color; the shedding of layers; altered structures.

The coming transformation is for Lu.

I worry. I wonder if any morsel of Lu's youth will be recognizable in her transmuted cocoon. Or shall I enter to find a Kafka nightmare? Lu as a gargantuan pest?

Goodbye Jemima Puddle-Duck, Pigling Bland, Squirrel Nutkin, my Peter. Augmented inner sanctums take no victims. (Nor—I hope—accidents, like fluorescent permutations.)

*  *  * 

Lacrymosa is the stage name for 22 year old Brooklyn singer/pianist/composer Caitlin Pasko, whose warm, tranquil music gently fills space, time, and captivates. Her second album, Selah, was released in 2010.

Pasko studied classical piano from a young age, and quickly developed a style which she has described as whimsical forest music. Her angelic soprano lends itself well to her otherworldly sound, as well as the pastoral imagery her songs evoke.

Pasko's lyrics are peppered with fields of gold, roses, buttercups, parrots, trees, spiders and tiny horses—just the type of visuals that also might make for something really sweet, like, say...


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Goofy Stuff

And winning ladies' hearts.

A mid-seventies post card from Richie (whom I don't remember):

(Postcard text below—grammatical corrections mine.)
Hi, How's baseball? I thought maybe you would like to try golf, because your baseball isn't too hot.
Say Hi too Izzy for me.
See you both when I get back.
Hi Beth

Apparently, guys liked sending me postcards from Florida.

I'll be asking Backwoods Betty (my sister, "Beth") about Richie. I wonder if she'll remember who he is. I mean, how could I forget a guy who wrote such sweet love letters?

And who the heck is Izzy?

Where the years go...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Magnolia Monday

“Blue, green, grey, white, or black; smooth, ruffled, or mountainous; that ocean is not silent.”

~ H.P. Lovecraft, “The White Ship”

Last year I nearly missed the magnolia bloom. It was mid April when it was in full blossom (perhaps beyond) and Max told me that rain made him feel good. Two weeks ago the same bush fussed with buds and I've had my eye on it each day since. It doesn't last long--its innocent, blushing youth.

I don't much like March. The shrieking wind, premature flourish, spurious hope, inescapable fray and wilt. Moist, silky efflorescence plummets to its doom. Becomes earth. Anon. Sky. Heavens.

Black and white.

Grey is the illusion.

And then... 

Spring's noble, ancient magnolia persists! Sweet magnolia. Riding in like a white knight on its cloaked horse, lance clenched in hand. Awaken! Hear ye, hear ye: Spring is for the living!

Monday is for the living.

Today is for the living.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Night Frolic — Fair Gale (Part II)

Wheatfield with Crows--Vinent Van Gogh, from the Van Gogh Museum.

Her daughter's breathy kiss lingered in the air, aflutter, like a corvid beating its way through the evening breeze, migrating to places she'd not considered in a long while. Places saturated in deep alluvial and poseidon hues, where prismatic skies swirl and lime-coated mountains plummet madly into ravines. The cold winds that sweep through these places sweep through the heart, loosening it from its chamber like a tin can from a toppled refuse bin, clanking through the empty streets.

The Rhone Valley was like this, and her heart was open to it, to being lost to its craggy mountaintop villages and billowing vineyards, to chaparral covered plateaus, to the warm springs and high cliffs of the Vaucluse, to the artery and veins of the river, to the very mouth of the Rhone. But not to its empty streets.

Mon nom et Lucien, she thought she heard him say as he stepped into his toe clips and cruised easily along the gravel path, out to the main road. Lucien.

The streets were busy with traffic and she pushed hard on her pedals to keep close behind him. Several riders, changing gears, passed them as they climbed a hill. His calves, chiseled into the shape of an upside down heart, hardened as he clamped down on his pedals, accelerating up the hill, and she sensed she'd lose sight of him beyond the crest--he would take a left or right somewhere along the decline and she wouldn't know which way to turn--but he slowed when he noticed her fall behind. She downshifted twice and hurried up the steep incline to catch up with him. The gap between them narrowed at the hill's crest, and she nearly clipped his back tire with her front, having turned too hard to the right as she drew near him. She had lost sight of what lay ahead, preoccupied with the why and the where to which she was going, she hadn't asked the destination, and she tried to divert her racing thoughts to those of Van Gogh, and the green and beige squares of farmland and scattered olive groves that rose with her to the road's crescendo. She was thankful he hadn't turned to see her approach. She wondered if he'd even heard her, certainly he'd heard the grinding of her gears. As he fell below the horizon she saw ahead of him the road dipping gently into a long, thin, grey ribbon unwinding into the valley and the river beyond.

Van Gogh, she remembered, had painted his Wheatfield with Crows in Auvers, during the last weeks of what would be the final summer of his life. Attempting to escape the turmoil in his head, Van Gogh had left Saint-Paul with an injured ear, but even in the soft pastel glow of Auvers, just outside the City of Light, among midsummer ploughed and weeded fields of wheat, a countryside tinged with light pinks, pale yellows and greens, he painted inky, turbulent skies, twisted tree roots and ashen branches. But he painted the light, too. 

The road through Saint-Étienne-du-Grès, where she had expected Lucien to stop, took them past washed lime morter stone villas, windows adorned with periwinkle shutters, and roofs of arched terra cotta tiles. Everything looked peachy, and she wanted to stop and linger, she wanted to know where they were headed, and was growing impatient with her own naiveté, but she could tell that Lucien, still ahead of her, had reached a cadence that obviated slowing, and she dared not suggest a break. They wheeled swiftly through the town's center and out along pea green fields, continuing west along Av. D'Arles, until they reached the roundabout where they circled north up Route D'Arles, across Boulevard Victor Hugo, and into Tarascon on the Rhone.

She'd been to many villages in Provence, but never to Tarascon. They glided along a stretch of road that led directly to the village's Place du Marché, where they found the outdoor market stands buzzing with noontime shoppers looking for fresh cheese, fruits and olives. Lucien dismounted from his bike, swinging his right leg up and over the back wheel with his left foot still on the pedal. She slowed behind him, placing both feet carefully on the gritty road, straddling her Raleigh, scanning the circular perimeter of the town. He grabbed his bike by the stem and marched authoritatively to her with an enthusiastic smile, pointing at the vendors and a massive, stone block of an ancient castle sitting at the banks of the Rhone, You see! Worth the ride, non?

Yes, it's quite lovely, she said, breathing deeply from her diaphram, squeezing water from her plastic bottle onto the tip of her tongue. The sight of a castle did not surprise her, there were Romanesque ruins and medieval castles scattered all over Provence. She looked at his glistening yellow shirt as the knight in shining armor cliche passed through her head. 

She smiled slightly, You like castles? Your not planning on climbing to the top of that thing, are you?

Oh, tu est fatigué, mon cher?

No, a little winded, but I'm fine.

There is a moat.

A moat? You don't think I've seen moats? she laughed.

Je pense, eh, I think there is much you haven't seen, he replied, grinning. Come, I'll give you a tour. From the top you can see Beaucaire, across the river. It's where the great plague came in from Syria. Greedy merchants didn't care if the ship's captain was sick. It killed almost all of Marseille.

He coaxed her off her Raleigh, and they tied their bikes together against a cypress tree. The air was thick with the scent of lavender and lemon and olive oil, and she followed him, reticently, toward the castle.

* * * 

Madison Violet, a/k/a Mad Violet, is Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac. The duo have been playing together for more than than a decade, but serious acclaim has come to them only within the last couple of years, after releasing No Fool for Trying (2009). 

Their latest release, The Good in Goodbye, is a beautiful expression of their friendship, the essence of their relationship preserved in silky harmonies. You can read more about Madison Violet here.

(The first part of Fair Gale can be found here.)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Accepting the Challenge

Never try to arrange things. Objects and poems are irreconcilable. 
~ Francis Ponge

It is the last day of winter, the young, well-dressed neurologist says, looking up from the folder.

Mmm, yes it is, though it wasn't much of a winter, she replies mournfully. In any event, you'll be happy to know that your magnesium/B2 cocktail has taken the edge off the migraines. I haven't spent a full day in bed, dodging light, for two months now.

He's pleased by this news, though not surprised. His patients find relief. This, he knows. He seems to know a lot for his young years. Though she wonders if he, who’s never felt a migraine’s crippling blows—the rapid-fire constriction of nerves and vessels (in her case a three or four-day, often monthly, basal ganglia guerilla warfare, in which she is the only casualty, shut-off, shut down, from family, words, writing, lifeblood)—could ever truly empathize. Nevertheless, what he certainly cannot know is that in less than two hours she'll be sitting in a greyed and splintered teak chair by the table on her deck, in her skinny jeans and black cardigan, kicking off her black flats, unwinding the scarf from around her neck, lunching on last night's leftovers of salad and grilled salmon, debating the tense and POV in which to write this piece, and staring down a pretty, yellow daffodil plant that Mother brought to dinner the previous night. (She had thought to begin with: Mother brought daffodils to dinner last night.) He is confident, but cannot know this. She did not know that the day would progress as such herself. She, nor he, did not know that she'd find Francis Ponge at Symposium Books downtown. Ponge, Celine, Paz, Toussaint, all at steep discount. But she knows that when she leaves, he'll be sitting in his office with his next patient, reading his or her chart, peering up from under his wire-framed glasses and saying, It is the last day of winter.

Tomorrow is the first day of spring, the doctor's receptionist, says, as she hands her her stamped parking ticket and receipt.

Mmm, yes it is, she replies. Spring is such a pretty word.

Oh, it is. Very pretty, a welcome word, the receptionist smiles.

Goodbye my anemic winter, she thinks. Outside, the world is warming. As she walks down the street to the parking garage, she thinks about the daffodils, the color yellow, not like the walls of her kitchen which are tinted the yellow of Provence--a baby mustard--but the yellow of the sun at noontime when, during days that ululate spring, she sits on her deck for lunch and watches the glinting sun center itself above the teak table, much like she'll do today.

"Accept the challenge things offer to language," Ponge says.

(Ponge, who wrote of the wasp [or bee]: A little itinerant siphon, a little distillery on wheels and wings, like the ones that go about from farm to farm through the countryside in certain seasons; a little airborne kitchen, a little public sanitation truck...  [they] carry out an intimate activity that's generally quite mysterious... What we call having an inner life.)

Where was she now? Yes, she's left downtown's brick streets and is back home. She's on the deck. Vital fluids flowing. Taking notes: they are Tête-à-Têtes, their heads gently brushing against one another, and they need beaucoup de lumière. So she sets the daffodils out on the weathered teak table for a dose of vitamin D. They are delicate, yet hardy things. Their outer petals are lemony and frosty like a Matisse star. The rippled center cup,  trumpeting spring (she can almost hear the music), is slightly darker. The tips of the rubbery, bright green stems are curved upwards in a gothic arch--like the petals--and spliced open where the flowers, in clusters of three, have burst from their casing like electrical wiring freed from insulation. Fireworks!

Her daughter is home from school, now, sitting next to her at the table, gnawing at a slice of watermelon.

Mom, don't you ever get lonely at home? she asks.

No, never. She leans her head back against the top of the chair, And it's so good not have to hide from the light any longer.

(She wonders if Ponge ever wrote about daffodils.)

The next day, it is spring. The sun shining all over again. Daffodils singing their songs and challenging.

Does not everything have an inner life?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Night Frolic - Tournaments and Predictions

Courtesy of the Web. (Trouble sourcing this one.)

And so, yes, the spring soccer season has begun in earnest, and the Suburban Soliloquist will soon be fighting off gnats, dressing in layers for chilly, late night games, damp grounds, wet benches, or prepping with sunblock, and trying to avoid parents who pose as sideline coaches, screaming at their superstars: Behind youPick it upPass to your leftShoot goddammit! and What the hell were you thinking? (seriously), on fields somewhere out in the green pastures of Massachusetts this weekend. Beginning, um, just about now.

She wishes she could spend more time with you this evening, but this being the case, she will leave you in the good hands (and voice and soul) of what the Suburban Soliloquist predicts (and she doesn't often predict, no, no, trained legal professionals do not predict, legal pros---not that she's claiming to be one--say only: it depends) will soon be one of the most successful bands in the music industry. She knows, high praise for a band who has yet to release their first album. But mark her words.

Goosebumps were the indicator.

This versatile, multitalented band, Alabama Shakeswhose origins began with a simple question posed by then high school student, Brittany Howard (singer/songwriter/guitarist), to a classmate who wore cool T-shirts: You wanna make some music?, has lately written a few handfuls of passionate and rockin' songs.

Howard's powerful and confident vocals summon Joplin, Cocker, Redding, even Winehouse. The toddler aged band's debut Album, Boys & Girls, will be released April 9th/10th, 2012.

They're on their way. Howard's sure to be a superstar (not just in her parent's eyes). The Suburban Soliloquist, though, dares not make predictions as to the outcome of this weekend's tournament. Most of it depends on...

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Night Frolic — For The Children (and Daphne)

What is the use of a house if you don't have a decent planet to put it on? 
~ Henry David Thoreau

The brook is so low it's barely moving. The whole of our little riparian zone here in our corner lot in Suburbaland is a mess with fallen branches, twisted twig, and windswept trash. It looks miserable. This time of year, when mud season creeps in, I always feel like our land is telling us that it would like to be left alone. That it should never have been disturbed. That it wasn't meant to have been developed. We bought it, though, despite my general concerns regarding suburbia, after the cul-de-sac had been close to fully developed, and the biggish house (and in the grand scope of big-home suburbia--land of obscene McMansions--ours is the caretaker's home, which is still more than I care to care for) and pretty wetlands at its border drew us in.

We bought it for quality of life. For the family. We bought it for the school system (which, as it turned out, was rather overrated and spiraled southward soon after we moved in). We bought it because we got more home for the dollar here in lil' Rhody (oh, but the taxes!). We bought it for the dream.

Lately, I've been reading and reassessing our quality of life and what that means to me, my family, our environment, our ecosystems, the world as a whole...

Swift growth outside of urban areas is not unique to Suburbaland. Our town, to which I have before, by way of photo essay, referred, is like many other suburbs that hope to lure families to the dream with biggish new lots on which sit biggish new homes with biggish new lawns (and sometimes littleish lots with biggish homes and littleish lawns) and the pièce de résistance: biggish privacy. Though I'm not well versed in Suburbaland's permitting process, I'd imagine that developers love towns like ours that seem, or at least seemed at one point, quick to hand out building permits. Of course, we all know how that ended. Yet, it hasn't actually ended.

Several years after we moved into town, a new development went up on a hilly parcel of land along an old country road. The land comprised the few remaining untouched acres on this particular part of the road. Right under the bridge of a highway. McMansions set on steep mounds of craggy soil below the highway. I wondered if we needed housing that badly.

Eventually, the homes sold, with the exception of the first house built at the corner of the country road and the new road. What was also sold off was our buffer zone. Trees and brush and any living thing that offered padding from the noise of the expressway was flattened. A half-mile or so away from the new McHood, my neighborhood is now a little bit noisier. But certainly not noisier than the old Boston 'hood, on Comm. Ave., where most services were a walk away, and the T screeched by every fifteen minutes (which I never, ever minded).

It's all relative, as they say.

Still, I reassess. Our mayor, who hitherto has been the champion of town edification, has proposed a plan to create a town center on the protected lands of our old Monastery, in which the town library is housed. It's a beautiful 550 acre swath of grassy tracts, leafy trails and wetlands where I walk and cross country ski, and where the children run cross-country, and while I applaud the idea of a town center, the thought of transforming any portion of this slice of verdant land into what the mayor dubs an "Educational Village," containing a relocated town hall (in perhaps a more desirable location?) is shameful. The reason we don't have a town center is because of historically poor town planning. It's by this same reason, and at the hands of town solicitors and leaders who believe that land conservation easements were meant to be modified, that this community is at risk of losing even more of our valuable fields and woodland. 

So much for Suburbaland's open space priorities

Simply by virtue of living in this town, in this neat little subdivision without sidewalks, in this world of homes of unused living rooms and front porches, on the edge of the remains of a place that was once fully adorned with flora and fauna, I am beginning to feel that I am in collusion with suburban sprawl--the need to push our planet to its absolute limit, and the willingness to turn a blind eye at the cannibalization of every morsel of land. I am a part of the rapid consumption of open space, the degradation of environment, biodiversity, farmlands, our very quality of life. I am a part.

Yet here we remain. For the children. Until the time, not too long from now, I can remain no more. And when that time arrives I'm going to pray like hell that someone else wants the caretaker's home in the dream.

Will it be different elsewhere?

 Lia Ices - Daphne by Pop Culture Monster

Lia Ices released her sophomore effort, Grown Unknown, last January 2011. Pitchfork reviewed it soon thereafter:
When Ices indulges her avant leanings, the material provides a more suitable foil for her voice. A mixture of finger snaps, glinting piano, and subdued organ provides a suitably artful backbone over which she hangs a touchingly forlorn vocal turn on "Little Marriage", and there's a deft marrying of chamber music sadness and welts of distorted guitar on "Bag of Wind". But it's the standout title track that provides the most successful conduit for Ices' eclectic whims, with a militaristic handclap and acoustic picking alongside feather-light string parts. Here Ices sounds relaxed, locating a natural meeting point for her disparate sounds and easing into a vocal that effortlessly intertwines with the arrangement.
From Necima (2008):

Grown Unknown, has all the same haunting melancholy feel as her debut album, Necima, but is less shaky, more grown up than unknown, and clearly reflects her experimental theatre education at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, as well as her Shakespearian studies at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. 

 Lia ices -grownunknown by totosarg
Bravo, Lia.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What She's Thinking About When She's Alone in the Car Thinking

Usually, she tries to think about the road. Ordinarily she listens. To NPR, to which she is utterly addicted. Sometimes she fantasizes that she is working for NPR. Or with NPR, with its brilliant reporters, producers and commentators. Maybe she's assisting with or producing a show for Ira Glass. Or Terry Gross. Or Bob Boilen. Or Robin Young. Or, Wait, Wait!, Peter Sagal. And Carl Kasell, who's taken her under his wing, not only records dulcet-toned voice messages for her answering machine, but personally delivers them to her home, and stays long enough to personally answer at least one phone call. She wonders how long he'd have to stick around. She reminds herself to keep the fridge stocked with his favorite crudités.

She speculates that perhaps she's been away from the office for too long. No one, with whom she might bounce around an idea, sits within earshot (or footsteps) of her kitchen cubicle. Her mind is beginning to atrophy, working from home. This would never happen at NPR.

She looks at the great green sign hovering over the highway, announcing the number of miles to the next exit, and questions how well it's mounted onto the steel tubular mast arm, and whether or not the tubular supports have been compromised, corroded by exposure to the elements, like rain and natural wind gusts. She considers the stress of wind shears, cracks in truss connections, welded joints and anchor rods. Have the high strength threaded nuts and bolts, by which the sign is pinned to its mast, been installed properly? What's to prevent these fasteners from being stripped and loosened? How tired is the sign? Who manufactured the bolts? How shoddy is the overall work? If that sign drops from its arm, she concludes, it becomes the supreme guillotine.

She imagines it slicing her car in half. Or worse.

And then there are the bridges. She doesn't want to go there: pondering the percentage of time truckers ignore load carrying limits, or, given state and federal budget constraints, how often these structures are actually inspected. She recalls certain steel deck truss failures and mulls over the integrity of design, the condition of the piers and cantilevers, reinforcements and anything else that might have anything whatsoever to do with preventing the bridge from its almost certain doom of sudden collapse.

The wooden crosses on the side of the highway unnerve her, but she reckons they're a sober reminder for her son, who, within little more than a year's time, will acquire his driver's license. She reminds herself not to remind him of this. Then she reminds herself to remember not to remind him of this. Perhaps he'll forget that he wants to learn how to drive.

She doesn't like the guy in front of her who is on his cell phone and swerving from lane to lane. She beeps her horn. Wake the HELL up! 

She gets irritated by the big Peterbilt trucks that box her in. She wonders if the trucks might hit the overhead signs, or blast them from their nuts and bolts by the sheer force of truck-induced wind gusts. And if the guy on the cell phone, weaving in and out of three lanes, might be right behind the truckers. Hmm.

But now she's slipping off the highway, right at the exit, the sky is ablaze in blue, and the static crackling of radio interference has subsided. Composer Philip Glass fades back in. On Point. The furling and unfurling movements of Symphony No. 9 illuminate the airwaves, and her mind wanders off to the fields and the geese, pushing, flapping, harder and harder, determined to lift themselves from the grassy glebe. Suddenly, they are off, in flight, in harmony, with springtime's cerulean breeze. And in the driveway, she listens, and dares not turn off the engine.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Night Frolic — Fair Gale

"Vincent van Gogh: Wheat Field with Cypresses (1993.132)". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.
New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.

Chaparral, she says, reading from her notes while sitting near her mother in the king sized bed, is a small tree or shrub that grows densely in a Mediterranean-like climate.

Chaparraaaal, her mother repeats, extending the last breathy syllable in windy, treble swells like the mistral that blows cold over the Rhone Valley in the spring and fall, piercing ancient, ochre-colored hilltop villages, sweeping through the lowlands of Provence, over the sparkling lights of Marseilles and out to the Mediterranean Sea.

The girl laughs, Mother, it’s scrub. You say it like it’s some exotic plant. Chaparral is all over California.

Not just California, my dear. It’s found in any Mediterranean climate, like in southern France, where sage, fragrant juniper, and pretty white petals of myrtle cover the countryside. The mother remembers a certain half-year or so in Provence and the Riviera, the man she'd rode her bike with for a time, and her mind trails off to a different season and place while her voice tells the girl an automated story of Mediterranean vegetation.

After college she’d gone off to France with a pension from her father and a notion that she’d train for the women's version of the renowned Tour de France. Instead, she spent most of her time in two towns that flanked Cavaillon, where she kept an apartment. She'd take the bus or bike north, to L'Isle sur la Sorgue, and browse the antique shops or stroll the canals. On warm, sunny days, of which there were many that summer, she’d ride her bike south to Saint-Rémy, often stopping at the Saint-Paul asylum to doze beneath rows of aged olive trees that wreathed the hospital.

It was there, in St. Remy, while quietly walking the halls of Saint-Paul, where Van Gogh had taken residence for a year of respite, that she met a man she was to ride with. This is where he painted the Wheat Field, tu sais? He whispered to her as she gazed at a small Van Gogh etching hung in a shaded hall. Yes, the Wheat Field. She knew the Wheat Field, the dark Cypress trees, the swirling wind of a mistral, and she looked at this man, flaxen hair, sea-blue eyes, the muscular arms and legs of a triathlete, dressed in a tight yellow cycling jersey and black shorts, and felt a chilly breeze from the northwest, its whistle cascading from the mountains, almost flattening her to the stone ground.

Oui, je sais, she whispered back, he was living here at the time, but I believe he painted his wheat fields in Auvers. She looked at him, almost apologetically, I was an art student once

And now?

Now? Oh, now, I’m training for the Grande Boucle Feminine, she smiled.

Here? He laughed. You need to go up to the hills. North to Mt. Ventoux. Or better, the Pyrénées! You can’t train down here. This terrain is not challenging enough.

I prefer Provence, and I've been up Mt. Ventoux. Besides, I don’t think I’ll actually do it. I’ve gotten a bit, well, lost. In things here, you know?

Ah, I see. It is easy to be lost in Provence. It's the good life. Suddenly, you don't want to go anywhere else. What you need is someone to ride with. Someone to give you a little push. A partner. Non?

A push up the mountain? 

D'accord! Where's your bike?

They left the building and went out back to a small pebble-covered parking area, where she had locked her red Raleigh against a tree. When she saw the man's smoky Campagnolo leaning against a stone wall she knew that he'd be a formidable partner. Maybe too formidable, and she began to feel that she was not prepared for this man, for this moment.

The air is clear in Provence, the man said, moving closer to her. It is the wind, the mistral, it dries up the mud and muck, cleanses the atmosphere. And the soul, too. It's good for the soul. And it makes for a good ride. You will ride with me today, non? I know a wine cave, the best olives, too. I'll take you there, it's not far from the Rhone.

The man's thick hair glinted in the sunlight, and she noticed a shadow of light stubble along his jawline. He was handsome and confident, and she didn't want to fall for him. Yet, there he was, offering a push. 

I need to be back to Cavaillon by dark, she said. Can I be back by then?

He shook his head, Oui, absolutement. And if it gets too late, there are buses back, along D99.

She unlocked her bike, put the cord in a pouch under her seat, and they rode down the long drive, out to the main road. Suddenly she wondered. Had he? Had Van Gogh painted the Wheat Field with Cypresses at Saint-Paul? Were they even thinking about the same painting? Or was this stranger, with whom she was now wheeling the roads of Provence, thinking of another wheat field? The wheat field with crows?

But she was following him now. His golden locks flapping in the breeze, his wide shoulders low to the handlebars. The mistral at their backs. She was going. Going, going. Between here and the Rhone, and the mountains and the sea. Falling. Falling, falling. 

Mum, that's good, I get it. The girl pushes her mother's shoulder with hers. Hey, Mom, you can stop now.

Oh, good then, the mother shakes her head, unsure of what she's been saying. You're ready for the test? You know there's yucca and agave in California?

Yup, ready as I'll ever be. It's howling out there now. You hear that?

Hmm, I hear it now. Oh, I feel it, she says as she rises to lower the partially opened bedroom window.
It's got a bit of a sting. Maybe a spring storm is coming in. 

You alright, Ma? You look a little sad.

No, just tired. All this Mediterranean climate talk. You get going now.

I'm going to ace it.

Ah, lofty thoughts. Good then, go get 'em girl. Nite, nite.

Nite, Ma, the girl says, and before she's fully out the bedroom door she turns and blows her mother a long, airy kiss that trails off in a soft trill, following her down the hall.

* * *

Husband and wife team, Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore, are Tennis. Their debut album, Cape Dory (2011),  a compilation of retro-pop/surf music, was put together after spending a year touring the eastern seacoast on board their 30-foot sail boat.

From NPR Music:
Riley and Moore released Cape Dory under the self-aware name Tennis, poking fun at the fact that, "from an outsider's perspective, [they] might look very WASPy." The finished collection of songs not only retraces their route along the coast, but also follows the relationship between the then-unmarried couple, which was tested and strengthened over the course of the trip.
In "Long Boat Pass," they find themselves anchoring away from their marina for the first time and rocked by powerful gales. Moore says the song is her telling Riley, "I'm going to trust you that this is not the worst idea that we've ever had, and hope we make it through." They did make it through, emerging from the experience a stronger couple.

This year they've returned with their sophomore album, Young and Old, a new band member, drummer James Barone, more mature collection of songs, and a more confident and evolved sound.

You can read more about Tennis here at Fat Possum Records.