Saturday, April 20, 2013

Au Revoir, France - Part 1

Avignon through the windows of Palais du Papes

"The sweetness and generosity and politeness
and gentleness and humanity of the French
had shown me how lovely life can be if only
one takes the time to be friendly."
~ Julia Child

Today was our last full day in France. It makes me sad to think that this part of the journey is over even though I'm thrilled to know that tomorrow at this time, we'll be in Italy.

I'm so glad we've had this time, however short, in France. It's gone a long way in changing my mind about the country. We've met a few curmudgeons, but curmudgeons live everywhere (and believe me, I know a LOT of them in the States....). I think trying to say a few words in French goes a long way with people, just as trying to speak English in America would. Agree?

Anyway, it was chilly and cloudy again today, and we had a few instances of rain. While we were having coffee this morning, I kept looking at the old, old buildings around the plaza where we were.

"I can't imagine living in a place this old," I said.

"What do you mean by that?" Mike asked me.

"It means I can't imagine living in a place this old. What else would it mean?" I snipped back.

"Then you couldn't live anywhere in Europe," he replied.

"That's not what I meant. I could live here. I just can't imagine living in a building that is hundreds of years old." I couldn't figure out why he would think I said I couldn't live here. "We don't have the same type of building in the States. We've talked about that for two weeks."  I mean, come on.  I was clear with what I meant.  (Of course, let me add here that Riley would have to be part of the package. ;-) )

"That's not how I took it," he said.

Stone street in Avignon

It makes perfect sense to me. I look at the old buildings, the narrow streets and alleys, the roads paved with smooth rock and cobblestones and think how different it is from the life most of us know. I wonder how the people survived life in the circumstances they faced in these towns hundreds of years ago. The history is overwhelming, and what we don't know is so amazing and exciting.

Tonight Mike and I had champagne with Amaury and Giles, the owners of our flat in Avignon. Their apartment is above the studio where we're staying, and they showed us around it and around the new property that they're renovating at the end of our street. (When I say end of the street, think small.  Fifty steps to the right will put you on the main drag, and twenty to the left put you at the gate shown below.)

The house they bought was, most recently, a school where they taught French to foreigners and English to the French.  However, in its first life, it belonged to the Catholic Church, and part of it was the residence of a cardinal, and the other part was a nun's convent.

"Le révolution put end to that," Amaury told us.  "They chase off the sisters an' make them run away."

"They kill them," Giles added while drawing his finger across his neck.

"They killed nuns?"  This information shocked me.

"Oui. Le révolution, she was not good for them."  Yikes.

The gate to Amaury & Gilles's new property
Without going into a lot of detail, let me just say that Amaury and Giles are renovating the 16th century property now, and while they aren't going to make it religious in any way, they hope to renew the feeling of peace and friendship, spirituality, and good that once existed there.

"We love meeting people" Amaury said, "and we want a place for all kinds of artists to come.  How you say it?"

"Like a retreat?"

"Oui.  Retreat."

Amaury, Moi & Giles

If you've read this blog since its inception, you may remember that I mentioned Amaury and Gilles a few months ago.  I said that Amaury sent a quick and friendly reply to my inquiry about renting the flat and that I felt like I already knew him after several emails between us.  I really do feel that way with both of them. They are sweet, generous, polite, gentle, and kind.  We're better for having met them.

By the way, the flat in which we're staying and the apartment where Amaury and Giles live was once home to Jean-Pierre Gras (1879-1964), a sculptor, painter and ceramist from Avignon.  The studio in the front of their apartment is a two-story, glassed-in room that has absolutely beautiful light. I can imagine painting or writing or sculpting in that space.

And, yes, I could live here.... at least for a little while.

Side note:  We'll be leaving Avignon tomorrow before many of you say Au revoir to today.  Have a great rest of your Saturday!

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