Saturday, July 19, 2008


Lois' mother, Lillian Heinlein, passed away peacefully yesterday at the age of 92 with her daughters at her bedside. The sisters were singing hymns, some of which their mother would have sung during her years as a member of her church choir. Although she had been unconscious for longer and longer periods as the days passed, who knows but that the familiar melodies helped her transition in some way. I know that it was important to Lois and Ellen to be at their mother's side, and the rest of us will gather to pay our respects in just a few days.

Given this development, it feels awkward to be writing this post, but I also want to complete the record of our experience here. So please bear with me.

Mike and I are flying out of Marseilles tomorrow morning, July 20. Lois left on July 10 to be with Lillian. We'll be joining her and the rest of the family in New York for a few days before flying to Asheville to see my side of the clan. We just spoke with Lois and she believes the funeral is scheduled for Tuesday.

Monday, July 14, is, as all the world knows, Bastille Day! Earlier in the day before heading to downtown Eguilles for the civic celebration I took these pictures of what has been our back yard for the last year. I guess it's natural to start feeling nostalgic at the end of an experience like this, and I've been taking "memory book" photos for a couple weeks now. They may not have much artistic value, but they do have sentimental significance.

While Mike and I were sitting outside inspecting grasshoppers, one of the people who boards her horse on the farm came by for a training session.

During the day the musical aggregation pictured below was playing in the courtyard in front of the mairie, or city hall, which adjoins the church.

Shortly after sunset...

...we drove to town to revel with the populace. We were here for the celebration last year and Mike vividly remembered the carnival, or rather, the shooting gallery. We agreed on a limit to his expenditure ("It's my own money, Dad!") and he spent every centime of the sum blasting away at balloons. That's him in the white t-shirt. I guess it was worth it because he won, guess what, a BB gun! A more benign type than they had when I was a kid, with plastic BBs, but it sure looks real, like a Colt 45. I should say "looked", because it lasted about 2 days. Two days of extremely heavy use. And now, as we're cleaning the apartment, we're sweeping up dustpanfuls of little round yellow spheres from under all the furniture. (Mike tells me, and he's done his reasearch, that they make biodegradable BBs now!)

Then the citizenry assembled in the courtyard of the mairie for the piece de resistance - an artillery barrage. At least it seemed like it. They were setting off major fireworks right there in the middle of the crowd. Last year there was no wind and fiery debris was raining down on all of us. This year conditions were more normal and the howling wind was wafting the stuff southwards over town. It's amazing that no houses burned down.

Last year the display was accompanied by the thunderous strains of Carmen reverberating out across the square from a giant PA system. Yes, the opera IS about Spain, but it was written by a Frenchman, so I guess it qualifies as patriotic. This year I didn't recognize the music - something pseudo-classical - but it was just as loud!

The next day, we drove eastwards along the coast to Le Castellet to visit the Kratzes for one last time: Francois, Maria and Matthew - Helene was in Scotland. (In previous posts I've referred to her as Elaine. Well, that's what it sounds like! French is so confusing! Lois has already mentioned what a relief it is to be able to speak English all the time. Even in New Jersey, where they speak something very similar.) Earlier in the week we had lunch at the home of Edith (ay-deet) and her charming daughters in Gardanne. The friends we've made have been the best part of the trip.

That evening Mike and I took one of our last promenades through the garrigue (brushy forest) across the street. This rapidly became a family tradition which we inflicted on unsuspecting visitors, some of whom may recognize the pictures.

Next day we went to the library for the last time to get some movies. The library has been one of the high spots of our sojourn. It's amazing how much reading one can do when one doesn't have a job! By far most of their books in English are novels, so we read fiction almost exclusively this year: from Austin to Auster, Eliot to Ellis and Dickens to DeLillo. In my real life, I mostly read history books, so this was a change of pace for me, whereas Lois has always been an aficionado of the novel - an afictionado, so to speak.

I'm afraid I don't know the story behind these decorative monoliths, but they're somehow SO French, nezz pa?
And here is our landlord, Michel Olive. Great guy, virtually no English, constantly busy. He was another of the good things that happened to us. The French are pretty cagey about their material goods (centuries of dodging the tax collector, whether of Louis XIV, Napoleon or the Republic. Truly, taxes are forever!) and we could never find out exactly how much of the surrounding land he owns, but he also seems to spend time building or renovating apartments both here and in Marseilles, so he could very well be a man of considerable substance. But he still has fun driving his tractor!

There are a lot of things to like about France - art, architecture, fashion, style, scenery, the Tour - but when I glance down at my waistline I'm reminded of what has been really important. This was taken at our favorite brasserie on the Cours Mirabeau, where we went after the library.

And, in closing, a sunset, of course. The last French sunset for a while. Only in this final week of our stay have I learned that our little camera has a digital zoom function, which lets you get in way closer than the regular optical zoom allows. Think of all the great sunset pictures I could have taken! I really must start reading instructions! Which should be easier from now on, since they'll all be in English!

I can only repeat what I said last time: It's been fun; thanks for reading; and Au Revoir!
And this time I mean it!


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