The Calm Before the Storm

The days leading up to harvest have slowed dramatically. There is always work to be done, but it's tasks like cleaning out 50 buckets, then scrubbing 50 crates. Tedious things done in the driveway of the family home under the sun. I don't go very far, and three days of that feels like two weeks. But it's all in preparation. 

The afternoons here are the slowest. Renaud is a light sleeper; the house must be absolutely still for his siesta, which sometimes goes as late at 5:30 pm. It's understandable--he wakes up at 3 am for work, and harvest at his patron's vineyard has already started. I've finished my book, and have somehow exhausted entertainment from the internet in efforts to avoid the worsening afternoon heat. 

It's in this lull that sharing a collection of small moments seems most appropriate. Written snapshots of my experiences here to pass the time with. 

I. There is a sommelier in town. Of the three times I have seen him, he has been dressed in all black: collared shirt, pants, sunglasses, bracelet. His grey and white hair is slicked back with gel, and curls at the back of his neck. He is wrinkled and tan, just like everyone in this town. The first time I saw him, Aline pointed him out to me as the sommelier. I watched him swirl and smell the wine at the festival tasting with timed excellence. He laughed and nodded with his companions, but it didn't erase the seriousness the lines of time gave his face. The last time I saw him, Aline told me he can't drink anymore. He has cancer. If he drinks any more wine, he will die. 

II. The children were off at their grandparents for the week. It was just Aline, Renaud, and I. One particular night after dinner we ended up in the living room, watching a movie: Ghost Writer, in French of course. In Aline's version of the story, she'll tell you about how the movie mentions Napa wine--she knows I was born in that area. But in my version, it's an aimless conversation we were having about my parents. Aline asked me a question. Either I wasn't listening or didn't hear her addressing me. She asked me the question twice in English. The third time in French, which I responded to immediately. She and Renaud laughed together, and it was the best I have ever felt while being laughed at. 

III. There is a small costal town called Collioure; it's equal parts beautiful and tourist trap. I was set loose there one evening to explore while Aline and Renaud had a business dinner. It was largely an exercise in eating alone, an experience that made me feel small and homesick. But as sun set behind the town (instead of over the bay, where I was reminded even more that I wasn't on the West coast of the States anymore) I walked along the promenade, looking for ice cream. Standing in line, a familiar sound perked up my ears--English. Three older couples were, rather desperately, trying to order ice cream. "No English," snapped the woman behind the glass case, when they tried to order in their own language first. The group pushed their "French speaker" to the front of the pack to order on their behalf. It was a chaotic combination of pointing, demanding in English, asking in French, for four ice cream orders. These people weren't English; they were Americans. The process was painful to watch, but it concluded with one of the women from the pack saying "Mare-si Boocoup," enunciating every letter in the phrase. It was finally my turn. I quietly requested the ice cream I wanted, handed over my money, and that was that. A small, ego-boosting moment where, for the first time, I didn't feel like the worst offender to the French language. 

IV. Aline likes the way I braid my hair. I learned to French braid just before I left because the weight and length of this mess demanded it to cope with the summer heat. I braid it fresh out of the shower so it will hold for two days of work in the fields. But Aline first asked me to do her hair like mine before going out to a neighbor's dinner. She was freshly showered too, hair still wet, but in a beautifully embroidered bloused and white jeans, compared to my T-shirt and sweats. 

"Really? Okay, yeah, I can do that," I said. "In the States, we call them French braids. And if you do it under instead of over, it's a Dutch braid." 

"Here, we call them Indian braids." 

After that first time, I have braided Aline's hair before every social event: weekend away with Renaud, house warming party in Perpignan, birthday party down at the river, the instances multiply. 


Amendment: Harvest actually started on Friday for Aline and I, but it was just two small fields. We collected grapes for juice, which meant we just cut and hacked all the fruit off the plant. Apparently, you can be less discerning with which grapes go into the juice, and not a lot of skill or time is required. It was a short day. We were done by 10:30 am. A long afternoon indoors followed.