DRINKING HOLY WATER IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE

Several days ago, I returned from a weeklong trip to France, where I visited my dear friend, author Jennifer Steil, and her wonderful six-year-old daughter, Theadora.  I knew the trip was going to be magnificent.  How could it not be?  Exploring the South of France with two of the most wondrous people I’ve ever known?  Sign me up.  But I had no idea how wonderful it would be.  I’ve been struggling to put the experience into words, and of course, I’m butting up agains the thing I butt up against every time I try to describe something ethereal.  Words aren’t enough.

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The view outside my bedroom window in Sauve

We stayed in a remote village of less than 2,000 people—most of them artists, musicians, and writers—that was built in the 12th century.  Everything about it is breathtaking.  It is cradled by magnificent mountains that even in the middle of winter were lush and green.  A river runs through it, transcended by a centuries old stone bridge.  Its buildings rise tall and pastel colored, bedecked with balconies and wooden shutters, beside narrow cobblestone streets.  It is all cafes and galleries and bookstores and open air markets.  In a word, it’s heaven.

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The streets of Sauve

I don’t know where to go from there.  Do I take this essay is in a spiritual direction and tell you about the way I started having Mary Magdalene dreams there (I write poems from Mary Magdalene’s perspective often), and finally decided to run a Google search for “Mary Magdalene France” and found out that I was an hour away from the place legend says she ran after Christ was crucified?  Do I take this in a comedic direction and tell you about how I accidentally put Jennifer’s husband’s favorite electric teapot on the stove and started it on fire and flung melted black rubber all over their gorgeous kitchen? (I thought of titling this post “How I Melted the Ambassador’s Kettle and Destroyed His Kitchen in One Easy Step.”)  Do I take this in an artistic direction and tell you about the galleries and art openings and book readings?  Do I take it in a personal direction and tell you about the friends I made, the dinner parties, the hikes through mountains littered with castle ruins?

 

The answer is I don’t know.  I don’t know what to say except that very rarely, maybe once a decade, I have an experience that utterly transforms me, and for me, Sauve was this.  As my plane was landing in Paris, I had a dream in which my mother told me that France was full of holy water, and I needed to drink it.  “Drink it!  Drink it!” she yelled, not angrily, but enthusiastically, and I woke with her shouts still echoing in my ears to see that we were landing.

The trip came at the end of a long bout of soul searching, and one night, I found myself sitting at a table with Jennifer, sobbing, telling her things I never tell anyone.  I don’t know why I did it.  It’s not like me.  I don’t let very many people see my pain.  I’ll put it on the page.  I’ll cry alone standing in the front row of a rock show, but not one on one.  I hate to be weak in front of people. I don’t like to let them see me cry.  I don’t like to let them know the steps I took to become what I am, the past that is littered, yes, with miracles and wonder, but also with skeletons and demons.  But that night with Jennifer, I felt almost possessed, like I had to tell her the truth about my shame and pain.  (Poor Jennifer.)  I kept trying to stop, but it just kept coming. I didn’t just tell her things that had been done to me.  I told her things that I had done.  It felt like a confession, and she hugged me when I was done and told me there was no shame in my tears.  And when I went to bed, I felt something I’ve never felt before.  Total peace.  That was the night I had the first Magdalene dream.  The next morning, Jennifer and Theadora woke me with breakfast in bed, and a few days later, as I was flying home, looking out at the sunset, I saw colors I’d never seen before.  It was as if my vision had been washed clean.  The word “baptism” comes to mind, though a week eating cheese and drinking wine and taking in luscious art feels like a baptism of a very decadent variety.

I miss France now.  I miss waking up to feel Theadora curled beside me. (She always crawled into bed with me in the morning and waited for me to wake so she could show me the pictures she’d drawn for me while I slept.)

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One of Theadora’s masterpieces, which she left on my bed for me, along with a bunny to cuddle

 

I miss watching Jennifer dance around while preparing breakfast smoothies singing, “I got another man, and he ain’t nothing like you!”

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Jennifer baking chocolate chip cookies for our dinner party.  She thought the French guests would get a kick out of the American dessert.  They did.

I miss our hikes through the mountains, with Theadora collecting stones and leaves and sticks for me, all of which I promised to “keep until the day I die.”  (One rather gargantuan stone caused some consternation to security as I came through customs on my way back into the U.S.  After the bag had been run through the machine several times and then hand searched, an incredulous guard asked me, “You have a rock???”)  I miss Martine, the wonderful Australian novelist Jennifer and I spent a good deal of our time with, along with her beautiful, wise daughter, ten-year-old Manon.  I miss the markets and the galleries and the bread and the wine.  I miss looking outside and seeing heaven in the stone buildings and colored shutters and rolling hills.  And of course, I miss the holy water.  I miss that thing I felt when I was there—the sense that I was somehow home.  I’ve traveled much of the world, and I’ve never had that feeling anywhere.  It was like I’d been running all over looking for something (I have, actually), and I’d finally found it.

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I took this photo as I was driving through France.  Yes, I know it’s dangerous to take photos while driving, but I had to hold up my phone and snap it because for me, this moment encapsulated why I am addicted to the road, the glory always waiting around the next bend.

I have been living on the road full time for a year now, traveling from place to place.  It was a bit of a pilgrimage for me, a process of cleansing, of finding my truth and my peace.  My friends have been asking me where I’m going to end up, and I kept saying I didn’t know.  I didn’t know because nothing felt right.  My intuition said that when I found my next step, I would know it, and every time I thought about staying in Knoxville or Albuquerque or Los Angeles, something felt off.  But France feels like my next step.  In a strange twist of serendipity, the woman who rents an apartment attached to Jennifer’s house gave her unexpected notice the day I arrived in France.  Nothing is set in stone, but I hope to be able to rent the apartment and return to France to live for a while.  I’m not sure it will happen.  If Sauve is really meant to be, it will be.  I believe in destiny.  I believe fate has its way.  But if I’m not meant to return, I’m so grateful I was able to visit the South of France for a week.  It changed me forever.

Momma, I drank the holy water.

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Me in Sauve

P.S.  Here is my song for the day.  I listened to it over and over while I was in Sauve.  Ave Maria.

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