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.


  1. very atmospheric post Jayne - makes me miss the feel and smell of Provence.

    1. Thanks, David. I've had Paris, and Provence, on my mind lately. The smells of Provence are intoxicating. ;)

  2. My favorite story thus far!! So perfectly detailed in sight and emotion.

    1. I'm so glad to hear that, Leonora. I don 't feel like it's yet a story--perhaps the beginning of a story, but I have a place card for it and I may be back to it. :)

  3. Jayne, I could see, smell,hear and feel that completely. I have to ask, was this a personal experience? Because it seems so real.

    1. It's a fiction piece, Bill, although I have traveled to France, and spent a small amount of time in Provence. But it didn't include bike riding. Maybe next time! ;)

  4. I like the way you send the mother down a trail of reminiscence. I particularly enjoyed this:

    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?

    That "In things here, you know?" is delightfully open-ended, an invitation to each reader to go off on a trail of reminiscence of his or her own.

  5. Yes, Susan, and there are so many roads and canals and trails to follow. Although this is a work of fiction it was inspired by certain places and things my daughter is now studying in Geography. Funny how helping my kids study not only re-teaches me everything I've forgotten, but it can also whisk me away to a little fantasy land of stories. There's a lot of inspiration in those textbooks. Too bad I didn't feel that way when I was in school! ;)

  6. another wow from over here...i like how this is developing..good setting and background details...tease this one out a bit more and you have a captivating story going...
    as for tennis..i heard them on the radio the other day...
    oh btw..i have a musical interlude in the wings you may like so tune in if you wish over the next day or so..i reckon it will tickle your fancy ;)

    1. Dan--thanks for that. You know, I have a hard time sticking w/a story and that's my biggest obstacle to the almighty novel. But, I may very well tease this out further because I enjoyed the setting myself, and I'm thinking that these characters may very well cycle along the Riviera at some point in time, and wouldn't I love to write about the Riviera, and Ha!, perhaps a little research trip to the Côte d'Azur is in order, and well.... oh, such fantasies.

      Always up for your musical interludes, Dan. Looking forward to hopping on over to OZ... ;)

  7. I have a feeling there may have been a little Zen-sprung satori encountered during this biking trip, if you know what I mean and I think you do, whether the trip was real or fictional.

    It's impossible for me to see or hear the word chaparral without thinking of this. You're probably a bit too young to remember it (and maybe just old enough to twinkle whenever someone says you're too young for something :)).

    This really is an outstanding piece, Jayne. I for one will be disappointed if you don't return to "finish" it!

    1. P.S. Funny coincidence -- I've been thinking a lot about Van Gogh's other wheatfields painting this week, the one with the crows though rather than the cypress. Somehow, though, I can't see Wheatfield with Crows as the setting for a sorta-kinda-maybe-and-maybe-not romantic encounter, though!

    2. Ha!! Talk about choking w/laughter, JES. Yes, a deep, spiritual encounter, no doubt. Wait a minute--I haven't gotten that far! What kind of road are you leading me, er, the characters down? They will, at the very least, dance, I can tell you that. ;)

      Wow, I don't remember The High Chaparral, although we were a real Gunsmoke and Bonanza family--especially my three brothers--so I'm thinking we must have run across THC on the tube at some point. Makes me want to head over to Youtube.

      And Wheatfield--what is it about Van Gogh's wheat fields? Why are we thinking about wheat fields? Must be spring in the air. And well, crows in the field, probably not the best setting for romance. But there's always the olive grove, which I can tell you, in Provence, is quite romantic... :}

    3. So there IS some non-fictional basis for this little rhapsody. I knew it. I knew it. And you can disclaim all you want, young lady; I don't believe they're discussing dance -- yeah, RIGHT -- any more than we're discussing meditation.

      Er, this possibly says more about my predispositions and preoccupations than it does about the characters'. (I wouldn't presume to guess what it might say about yours.)

  8. This is a powerful blog post that is filled with wisdom and exsitentialism--for me anyway. I've never been to France, but in a good way, this brought back memories of the film "French Kiss" with Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan. Your stories are wonderfully written and detailed, Jayne! :)

    1. Michael-- Go to France! Truly, it has a way of staying with you in a really good, satisfying way. Beautiful country, beautiful people. I haven't seen French Kiss, but, of course, now you know I'm going to have to rent it. :)

  9. 'What you need is someone to ride with. Someone to give you a little push. A partner. Non?'


    I agree with Michael, your words brim with wisdom. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment on my post, today, btw. I really appreciate you, Jayne.

    1. Merci beaucoup, Suze. I'm glad you think so, and I'm glad you're still writing over at AB. Don't stop! ;)

  10. I visited a small "castle-town" called Saint-Paul de Vence a couple of years ago, not sure if it's the same place you're talking about. I guess Provence means something like "before Vence"? Not sure; my French is very bad. I decided it was a useless and difficult language to learn, so I dropped out after the 1st lesson. Anyway, Saint Paul is a cool town, and the nearby city of Vence (a little bit further up the hill) has a nice chapel decorated by Matisse himself >:)

    Cold As Heaven

    1. Cold- I've been to the Matisse Chapel in St. Paul de Vence! What a gorgeous hilltop town St. Paul is, and what a pretty Matisse designed chapel it has. I was struck by the simplicity of the chapel and of course, the works inside. What I found most amazing about being in France was the sheer amount of artistry everywhere you turn. Artists like Matisse paid their way in restaurants and inns throughout France, so you can see their masterpieces for free.

      Have you been to the restaurant La Coupole in Paris? Incredible art inside on the walls and columns, from the greats. I was so overwhelmed by it I could barely eat! :)

      Saint Paul the infirmary, where Van Gogh was hospitalize, is in St. Remy (or St. Remy-de-Provence)--which is west of St. Paul de Vence.

  11. Funny enough, we just posted a "storytelling" story today as well. It's *ahem* quite disturbing. Especially in comparison to this piece of yours, which is fucking beautiful, if I may say so. I know I'm only repeating what everyone else has already pointed out, but you're incredibly talented, Jayne. Thanks for sharing. And I do hope you, er, the character, wound up having a nice dance.

    1. LOL!!! Beer, of course you may say so, especially when you say it so, well, so charmingly! *blush* (I needed that laugh tonight.) Of course, I'll be over to check out the latest "disturbing" installment over at ABFTS (my 14 year old son is now enjoying your disturbingstories, too). Quite disturbing makes it all the more alluring.

      Oh yes, they had their dance. ;)

  12. Wonderful story, Jayne! I might not mind getting a little distracted if I had a handsome young man whispering French in my ear. I love the mother-daughter bit, too. I wonder if the daughter will ever find a shrubby little plant so thought-provoking...

  13. Ha! Nessa, I'd imagine the daughter could conjure all kinds of interesting stories from a shrub. Or maybe something more, um, coniferous.

    Hey, it's kinda fun posting fiction isn't it?! ;)