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.)

21 comments:

  1. I love the playful tension throughout and then how they tie their bikes together. Symbolic of things to come? I've never been to France but your writing allows me to be the ultimate arm chair tourist.

    Also, never heard Madison Violet before. I'll be buying their new CD come pay day.

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    1. Rubye- wish I could tell you--I'm writing on the fly...

      The girls are fabulous, aren't they? Their harmony is beautiful--a female version of Simon & Garfunkel.

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  2. My mind just wanders to many places with this.

    I've been to France. I love the sleepy little villages. Hmm. Maybe next time I'll take a bike hike.

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    1. Loree- It's good for the mind to wander, isn't it? It's those hilltop villages, with the little church at the tippity top, that are so amazing. I need to plan a trip back but soon. ;)

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  3. You've taken me to Provence! Can my imagination be better than the real thing? I think yes. Your details are wonderful- the shifting gears, the lay of the land, colors, light, and sounds and the feeling of midsummer.
    It ends with lavender, lemon and olive oil...beautiful scents...and a castle. Oh no, this is still just the beginning.

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    1. Leonora- Oh, good! Although the real thing is spectacular, and I do hope I am somehow conveying a sense of that. Still the beginning, yes. Of what?? Ah!

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  4. i like madison violet,nice clean acoustic guitar is hard to beat.

    euros might be real cheap soon.

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    1. Great duo, Billy. Keep watching the exchange rate. ;)

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  5. My daughter lived in Provence when she was going to school; she worked as an au pair. We got to visit her and the family she lived with treated us to tours and cuisine and hospitality that we remember vividly to this day. We hope someday to go back.

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    1. Robert- Lucky girl! How nice for you, too, to be able to visit w/her and spend time with a French family--that is an experience not many ordinary tourists get to taste. I hope you get back--it's such a beautiful country, and in Provence, especially, very welcoming people.

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  6. J'adore tes mots. Ils sont si beaux.

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    1. Ah, merci beaucoup, Guillaume. :)

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  7. I love your music choice this week. I just kept on clicking and listening...
    The story is coming along nicely. It leaves me feeling sunny and cheerful. I'd better find something gloomy and macabre to read quickly, before I get too unbalanced.

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    1. Ha, Nessa-well, you know if I follow the arc successfully, there's bound to be conflict at some point. It's climbing that arc that I'm still working on. ;)

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  8. "But he painted the light, too." The simplicity of this line, expressing the power of hope amidst all, kept me coming back to that paragraph just to read it again.

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    1. Yes, Susan--always hope. I'm wondering if you've read any of Van Gogh's letters. The Van Gogh Museum has a link to his letters, which can be read online for free. There are application for the same, as well. Remarkable archive!

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    2. I have read some of them. He was a marvelous writer, as well as painter, wasn't he?

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  9. Ah, Madison Violet. That's one Midweek Music Break post that will remain in the draft hopper for now -- don't want to oversaturate the neighborhood with their lovely, running-water music!

    You know these French reveries of yours knock me out... Just for the heck of it, I keyed one of the locations you mention here into Google Maps, and then switched over to Street View so I could stroll along with the "you" and Lucien in this piece. Boy, I'll tell ya -- the season (and hence the color) in these images isn't right, but anyone who doesn't see the real landscape there in Van Gogh's paintings isn't looking very hard! [sample]

    (I haven't used Google Earth in a while, but as I recall there's also a way to define a route there, and have the software automatically "fly" you from point to point in a 3D simulation-type thing. Not remotely the same thing as pedaling along with -- or, more likely, far, far behind -- you and Lucien. But fun anyway!)

    Love castles, myself, and I've never even been in a real one. That's part of the Wales fixation, I am pretty sure -- how many are still standing there, and fairly accessible.

    Hope you're keeping these little vignettes together someplace... definitely a story line there. (And yes, I know you resist. Heh.)

    Btw, are you familiar with a little short film called Les Bicyclettes de Belsize, from the '60s? There's a brief Wikipedia article on it, and also a couple (or more) YouTube clips, e.g.: (1) "Julie's Song," and (2) "Part one of four" (I haven't yet looked for the other three parts :)). Classic, classic 1960s England, and something of a hat tip to Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

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    1. Oh, I'm sure you'd do MV more justice than I've done here--they are just waiting for a midweek music breakover at RAMH.

      So, if I'd have used that Google view (I did look at maps, but not that microscopically--I've got figure out how to use the gadget!) the narrative here might have changed a bit. Turns out our cyclists took the long way into Tarascon! Which is probably why Lucien opted to bypass Saint-Étienne-du-Grès--needed to get into Tarascon before everything closed for the 2pm siesta. Ya, that's it! ;)

      Had not seen Les Bicyclettes, nor Julie's Song. Love those 60's musicals--Paris Blues, Dr. Dolittle, My Fair Lady. The singer in Julie's Song reminded me of Pony Boy. Hmm. I'm going to have to take a look at the other vids. Thanks for the introduction. :)

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  10. Beautiful music and beautiful words. I must be in heaven. Reading this makes me want to take a ride through France. Hell, even just my neighborhood will do, now that it's sunny.

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    1. Thanks, B. Ride! And I'll bet cycling the hills where you are will get you ready in no time for the Tour de France. ;)

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