France Day 22: Behind the Doors

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Today is our last full day in Provence.  Tomorrow we begin our journey to Chamonix, where Geoff will attempt to climb Mont Blanc, which, if his summit bid is successful, will be his highest elevation (by quite a lot) and climbed at the highest altitude.  Although we haven't done the math yet to compare it to his previous expeditions, it may be the greatest change in elevation as well.  Geoff has been training religiously for 6 months, missing maybe 3 or 4 workouts the entire training season.  I'm simultaneously confident, excited, and apprehensive. Every expedition brings possibilities and what-ifs I try not to entertain.  But as our family grows closer, I know we would miss him all the more were anything unthinkable to happen.  He is the light and life of our family, my true love, and hero to us all.  He is both the clear-headed leader and the one who brings humor and sparkle to our family.  He is the one who picks up all the children, plays with them without distraction...and I've never seen a man love children quite so much as he does.  Both the children are very close with him and always will be, and I will always be in love with him, no matter what were to happen.  We've already been through so much together, I cannot imagine anything coming between us at this point.  Luckily, each year he grows in skill and experience with his climbing, and I anticipate his climbing career to continue for at least another 20 years.  He already has plans for what he'll climb on his 50th birthday.

We decided to take it easy with another morning laying in bed, allowing the children to play freely and wander in and out of the house playing with their basket of rocks while we kept an ear out for them.  We followed leisurely breakfast (really more like American brunch), and a drive down into the town of Apt.

We were supposed to get up and drive up the mountains just a bit more to look at some more of the lavender, but honestly, we needed a rest day, and it was VERY windy outside, so we spent our morning at home in our pajamas.  I washed some laundry, and put it out on the line.  Bittykins went with me outside in the sunshine, and held my hand the whole way down the path and past the gardens to the lavender fields.  She handed me each piece and was so patient.  At the end, she wanted to upend the basket and wear it on her head as a hat.

“Mommy?  Tan I wear dis…as a HAT?!”

“Bien sur!”

“Yay!”

I helped her put it on.  This basket is maybe 15 inches tall, and when she wore it it came down to her hips.  What a sweet baby tiny.  I knelt down and peeked up into her basket, leaning down all the way until I could see her eyes, and she giggled.  I offered to hold her “train” – the basket’s lid, which is attached on the handle, but she preferred to remove the basket altogether, a bit of a relief for our little walk back.  I swung the basket over my shoulder, and bent down low again, this time to kiss her sunny little face.  For a moment, when she wore the basket, I wished I’d had my camera, then assessed the light and decided, nah, it wouldn’t make that great of a photo, but it sure was cute.

Not every cute moment is a compelling visual image.  That’s something that took me a few months to give in to.  Doesn’t mean it isn’t worth documenting, but that you can either use your phone or just watch with your mind and capture with your memory.

My favorite part of this moment was bending over to kiss her before we left…something I might not have done with a heavy camera over my shoulder.  And what I remember of it is something my lens could not have captured: my eyes just an inch or two from hers, kissing her soft, sweet little giggling baby cheeks, smelling her sweet baby skin, and just catching sight of her eyelashes closing over her smiling eyes as I moved in for the kiss.  I remember the sound of her giggle – one I could pick out of a thousand giggles – and her gossamer golden curls brushing my face in the wind.  I remember the flutter of her fresh white sleeves and how pale and bright the summer sky was as I lingered in that final second.  When I am dying, it will be a three-second place I return to.  If you’d been watching us, it wouldn’t have looked like anything special.  And the place was so quiet – no sound but the wind rustling trees and the occasional headgehog scurrying off into the woods.  But to me, it was worth remembering.

If you've been reading along, you may remember the series of doors I began a couple weeks earlier when I went shopping alone, and I decided to complete it.  Not at all easy with Geoff and both children in town, jumping in and out of my frame.  There were pedestrians, cars, narrow alleyways, and lighting challenges, not to mention, I'm short.  So I had to make myself as tall as possible to get the door to look straight in the frame, and back myself against the opposite wall with my widest-angle lens, just to get the door and enough breathing room around it to fix any crookedness.  Most of these images have no duplicates; I would have one shot before a child darted around the corner, or a car came by, or Geoff simply wanted to keep moving to keep the children happy.  I had to be quick.

We returned for naps.

I didn’t intend to fall asleep with Bittykins, but then I thought, you know, this is my vacation, too.  I ought to be able to both sleep and have time to myself instead of having to choose like normal.  When we all woke up, Geoff was still out for his run, so we had a few cookies until he returned.

That evening, we returned to Saignon for dinner, but the restaurant we were planning to visit was reserved and full.  (And by full, they meant all 3 tables on their small porch were spoken for.)  Back down the hill we drove, around the lavender field and down the narrow, winding path into town, past the cemetery and the apartment building.  I saw an elderly couple somewhere on about the 5th floor, eating dinner on their closet-sized porch and smiling at each other.  “That will be us someday,” we mused. (But maybe not in an apartment.  Unless we’re traveling the world.)

So we ventured into Apt, only to find several more desirable restaurants full.  At the end of the avenue, we found a charming bistro waiting for us, with a cold glass of beer for Geoff, and plenty of steak and salad and frites for us all, thanks to the misunderstanding of the waitress, who brought 3 plates-of-the-day rather than the 3-plate dinner for me with 2 extra plates for the children... Oh well.

It turned out not to be a bad investment for Butterscotch, but Bittykins was more interested in sliding her fork down her knife and giving me the mischief eye, swimming her napkin in her drink to remove Princess Sofia’s “makeup” she’d applied with a pen earlier in the day, or licking the back of her chair.  The meal was nice, the mistake not that costly after all, and it was a fine evening.  Geoff did decide to go get the car and let me pay, and then meet him with the children.  This sounded like a fine plan, until all 3 cards I handed the waitress were declined.  And just as I was about to wrangle the children and the iPad, Princess Sofia, the coloring pages they’d been handed while waiting, my wallet, my bag, my camera, and my 3-year-old who’s toying with the idea of playing in the street, the waitress saves me by calling me inside, and lo and behold, a different card reader worked fine.  While I was trying to grab Bittykins off the booth and hold her while signing the receipt, the waitress handed both of my children a Chupa Chup lollipop.  Thanks.  We say “Merci!” excitedly, but I’m not that excited.

After dinner, we drove back up the hill into our beloved Saignon, the closest village to our house.  We passed the lavender fields, now blooming deep purple, no longer weeded as harvest looms closer.  We passed the rows of cherry trees, no longer dripping heavily with the fruit that greeted us when we arrived in late spring.  But as with all of France, the seasons change rapidly while some things seem never to change.  The sameness seems complacent as a backdrop what we cannot change as time rolls by, children grow, and we all roll over into sameness ourselves.

Saignon was a walled city skirted by an intimidating wall at the top of a cliff, the top of which teeters a tower...ruins from Roman rule.  Though it was getting quite dark (possibly too dark to see on unlit stairs over 80-some years shy of a millennium old), we climbed the stairs anyway, taking careful care of the children, keeping them on the inside and holding their hands every second without exception.  On the way, we found a giant lightning bug glowing.  Amazing!  It was just larger than a walnut!  At the top, we saw the last of the sun painting the horizon hot pink, fading into French cobalt blue and pinned up for everyone to see with stars.  All at once, the severity of the precipice and the wind bring a dire feeling of recognizing you are in a very brief window between coming from the stars and returning there.  It is almost too much to take.

Tomorrow, a new adventure.

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