After a week in France with my friend Anne and her family and a week with my parents, I found it difficult to come back to work. It felt like the first half mile of a run, when my heart rate is still so slow that my muscles are begging for more oxygen. The pace felt too fast. People seemed to be talking too much about too many things. One week later, I’m moving at the same speed as the work, so it’s fine. I’m over jet lag, and the memory of a vacation continues to bring almost as much pleasure as the vacation itself. That’s one of the benefits to having an imagination as vivid as my actual senses.
Steve, Caroline, and Margaret and me: our three days with Anne, Eric, and Bea in Ansouis are now like a perfectly smooth, giant pearl in my pocket. I can wrap the fingers of my memory around it and admire its beauty.
The beauty of traveling with family and friends is that the pearl can be passed around. We can remember together.
Just now, our children are laughing. They are trying to learn how to do a somersault in the water, but they turn catawampus and come up wiping the pool from their faces. They are holding hands and jumping in, blue and green sunbursts of flowers opening just behind their shoulders.
On the bulwark of the castle behind us, our husbands lean over the wall. Steve is saying “Hey, look at me! See what I did?” because he climbed part of the tower to get a better view.
You notice that there’s lavender growing by the side of the pool. You say, “Wouldn’t it be great to drive through lavender fields?”
We walk past a festival of Porches to reach the farmers’ market, where you and B buy radishes to make a French side dish. The men are giddy to buy un poulet entier for dinner. We wash our hands with a lavender soap stone, rinsing them with water the seller pumps from a jug with her foot. My children beg to buy colored pencils, and I let them.
In the afternoon, we walk out of the village and look back on it, sun slanting across the blonde stone walls of the castle and church. We know what is inside the rectory: red poppies, wild flowers bending thickly over streams, and a few naked women painted by the man in the corner. His art is on display annually in the region. The posters are a year or two old, announcing the show’s location.
At the church where scenes from Manon des Source was filmed, a baptism takes place on Saturday morning. French families navigate their cars up the narrow streets (as we did looking for our hotel) and park by the entrance to the castle, taking the final climb to the church on foot.
We walk the steep angle of the streets for the pleasure of the views, vinyards stretching to the feet of forested hills in the distance. I hope we will walk up the closest hill and look back on the village, and we do. We slowly learn to read the trail signage through trial and error. We scramble over fallen trunks to a vista on a rocky outcrop. I take a photo of Caroline taking a photo.
At night, we let the light fade around us on the patio. Our children sleep nearby together, while we lament and laugh at politics. In our hands are French wine and chocolate. In our hands are our husbands hands. We have no papers to grade, no lessons to prepare. The next day will be like this one.
So, when I want to feel relaxed, to be convinced that life is beautiful, I’m going back to Ansouis. I can rearrange the chronology, erase the travel discomfort, and stretch it out as long as I like. Memory is good like that.