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For the past 15 years, our house in Provence has been a major part of my life. I’m fast to admit that Victor loved it more than I. For him, it was a refuge and a “return to the soil.” Buying a country house was a clause in our marriage contract that I had hoped he’d forget since I’m a city/hotel person. What was the advantage of being the proud owners of our very own septic tank?
There’s no question the house is beautiful and our friends and family love visiting. We hosted a really gorgeous wedding, many birthday parties and some wonderful dinners. It didn’t take much of an excuse to celebrate. We sat looking up at craggy Mont Ventoux. Many of our houseguests rode to the summit. None of them made it in the same time frame as Lance Armstrong when he was wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour de France.
The weather is generally good, except during a mistral when voracious winds rocket down the Rhone Valley for more days than I care to remember. During summer months, these winds have a cooling impact. But, I’ll never get over seeing a production of Verdi’s Aida in the Roman Theater in near-by Orange. The winds created such havoc that the sheet music went everywhere and the costumes followed. Talk about one unhappy diva as she was simultaneously trying to belt out arias while keeping her clothes in tact. Suffice it to say, it was a memorable evening.
The mistral is reputed to come in 3, 6 or 9 days cycles. After nine days, I would be ready to set my hair on fire and return to Paris as fast as the high-speed TGV could transport me. But when you look at the meteo (weather) charts, chances were better than good that when Paris was overcast and depressing, the sun most likely would be shining in the Midi.
I viewed the house as a maintenance challenge. It was an ongoing money consumption pit. Once you thought you’d finished a project, there was always another one just begging to be done. Gee, why did that tile need replacing, shouldn’t we add a shower, a closet and another enhancement? I used to laugh when people asked me about Provence and I spieled off the locations of all of the hardware stores within a 50-mile radius. Ditto for the tiles stores and the quarries. Ours was the house the EU built, because during our myriad travels, I’d take off and go tile hunting. Victor was subjected to non-stop meetings, cloistered in an office, never seeing the light of day.
Victor viewed our home as a country house and, “so what if some dirt from the garden and the potager (veggie garden) were tracked in?” After all, vineyards were just outside and we enjoyed a view of three hill towns as we sat in the garden enjoying more than the occasional glass of Pastis or probably too much wine. The advent of the bag-in-box made it so much easier to have one more verre. There was a bit of amnesia involved since you’re not forced to open another bottle of wine. Think of all of the glass conservation we were doing, and saving gas by not having to go to a glass re-cycling center.
In his mind, country is country. In my (obsessive compulsive) mind, I liked neat and not having to run around lugging a vacuum. It was bad enough I was carrying a computer from room to room. I should add our village Seguret, was only able to get high-speed Internet last season, and it was hardly what I’d call very high-speed. It chugged along and was substantially less painful than having to use a dial-up modem. How soon we forget.
My recent trip to Seguret was considerably more contemplative. How empty the house felt without Victor being there. The house was eerily quiet and the potager (vegetable garden) had gone to seed. I went to our usual café in Vaison-la-Romaine half expecting to find him sitting at his usual table surrounded by friends.
I found the Tuesday roving market overwhelming and ended up buying plants at one of Victor’s favorite nurseries. I didn’t have it in me to discuss with Victor’s favorite plant vendors (and he had many depending on what he was buying) what plant should go where, how much sun it could tolerate, the necessary amount of water not to mention the specific fertilizer or dirt needed for the alkaline soil.
I did what only seemed right to do. A few of us spread Victor’s ashes on the property… a “return to the soil”. The house and its land was one of his greatest joys and it only seemed fitting that Victor is able to enjoy all he and I created. May his ashes fertilize the garden for an eternity.
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