A French Holiday: Part I
We were driving along a French country lane in the early evening yesterday. The dappled sunlight filtered through the canopy of greenery overhead forming magical flickering patterns in the air. I was put in mind of the fairy sprites in a Midsummer Night’s Dream and their mischievous activity which results in so much hilarious chaos. As a starry eyed teenager in far off days I took part in a production of this Shakespeare comedy. When I read the play I can still hear the echoes of those young actors of yesteryear.
We’ve been in France for over a week now and time has slid into a different tempo. I felt this most keenly a couple of days ago when my husband and son departed- bound for Los Angeles and for home. Suddenly my daughter and I were surrounded by quiet. Bereft of my son’s teenage boisterousness and the commanding presence of my husband, I was close to tears for a time until I felt a change move through me and my spirit began to slow from its customary gallop to a gentler pace.
We had spent a lovely week together; staying in my parents’ new house in Rouffignac for the first time. We attended my father’s four day course at the French Buddhist center Dhakpo Kagyu Ling. It’s a spaciously friendly and tranquil place with an air of unpretentious focus; an environment in which people can pursue a serious interest in Buddhism and as such we always feel immediately at home. Afternoons and evenings were spent reacquainting ourselves with the area. Rouffignac is slightly to the north of where we have stayed in the past and for a short while everything seemed strange and unfamiliar before settling back down into normality as our geography adjusted and new landmarks took shape.
There was a bittersweet tone to the visit for my son. Unable to stay for the duration, his early return home was necessitated by the beginning of Freshman year of high school. He seemed, in fact, to grow in maturity during the course of his stay and when he said goodbye it was with a sense of lightness rather than sorrow which was wonderful to see. We took the time, while we were all together, for visits to old favorite haunts and also for new discoveries. A canoeing trip on the River Vezere for my husband and son while my daughter and I lingered over ice cream, short black coffee and our favorite jewelry store Les bijoux de Sylvie in the picturesque riverside town of Limeuil. On the following day we drove to Perigueux, the capital of the Dordogne and the most important city in the region of Perigord Blanc. I hadn’t visited this city for many years and reacquaintance was a wonderful surprise! The medieval part is home to a cathedral whose multi-domed roof allows for impressive internal architectural space with high vaulted ceilings. We spent time inside the cool and dimly lit quiet marveling over the soaring ideals and vast visions of time past. The city itself was festooned with garlands and streams of brightly colored paper flowers and as we sat for lunch in one of the squares I looked at my husband and children for a fleeting moment and smiled internally with joy at the wonder of family.
And now my daughter and I remain to enjoy our French sojourn a while longer. I am, for the first time, driving whilst in France. Usually my husband takes charge of this aspect of our visit. While I would never have volunteered for the job in the normal course of events, it is, as I had suspected, liberating to be in command of the wheels. Despite being a seasoned driver in Los Angeles there is something about the narrow fast country lanes, endless greenery and roundabouts here in rural France that is entirely fresh and compelling. As I’ve written before, it’s the patient determination to render one’s self imposed and illusory chains meaningless that becomes more important to me as time passes. In a small way my presence behind the wheel here for the next three weeks is part of that. One more activity to accomplish and one further space to step into. Perhaps, in the end, it will be possible to be as fluid and free as the shimmering notes of music I hear floating up through the open window from the room below where my sister practises piano.