Portraits


Resistance 3

I turned away from last week’s Economist, with its haunting cover of Trump’s lipstick kiss on Putin’s cheek, to page 10 of our local newspaper, Le Resistant. Unlike most of today’s news outlets, Le Resistant doesn’t live on bad news.  Of course there are the usual reports of burglaries, fires and accidents, but most of the stories are about people who don’t groan much about the world because they’re busy doing something about it. Like the tiny village down the hill, where the mayor sponsored a drive to set up a young woman in her own vegetable growing business; 200 […]


To Graft a Fruit Tree – Lesson from a Village Elder 3

Our neighbor Monsieur C. called last night to ask about his patient. A month now since our grafting lesson and each day we check the old/young pear tree for new signs of life. I tell him the first green bud just popped and his pleasure is audible – he’ll hop over on his bicycle to see for himself. Monsieur C – “Anthony” is helping us achieve a grand wish – learning how to graft trees.  But his entry into our life is an even grander wish fulfillment, the discovery of an endangered species in our own back yard: an octogenarian […]


Hands 3

John has been complaining about his hands lately. They’re cracked and irritated and purpled with wine stains. Made worse when we filled our first oak barrels to age 1200 bottles. It was a bit of a circus, as always when we do something for the first time. He gripped a fancy nozzle to feed the barrels and yelled to keep me alert on the pump. We assumed there would be some kind of signal indicating almost full, like when you fill up your car. No such luck. No signal, just an exploding geyser of purple, gushing into the air, all […]


A Vat of One’s Own 2

The wine business often seems dominated by men.  But long before Jesus made his winemaking debut at Cana, there were women at the helm.  Like Oeno.  Mere mortal, yes, but also a descendent of Dionysus, (god of the grape harvest and ritual madness).  Oeno was renowned for her skill in turning water into wine.  Naturally, she was carried off to war by the Trojans to keep them supplied. This century is showing up differently.  At our recent village council elections, the candidate mayor was determined to fill some of his seats with vigneronnes (women grape-farmers) because of their important and […]


The Stonemason’s Hands 2

Many years ago we thought a diagnostic of the house stones would be wise. Did that crack in the façade presage a catastrophe? Or normal settling after a few centuries? Acknowledging that reading stones was like reading runes – interpreter required – we looked up the most reputable stonemason in our region. I was expecting an iron booted, massive sumo type covered in rock dust, but it was a smallish fellow in canvas sneakers, hopping out of a truck nimble as a goat who extended his hand.  His eyes burned a bleached out blue against the worker’s tan, framed by […]


Women in their Vineyards 2

“Go east at the top of the second hill and meet me at the Roman Road.”  All these years and I didn’t know a Roman Road runs from the Romanesque church of the Blessed Mother through the hilltop vineyards and on down to the river.  But I discovered it by hunting for M in one of her far off parcels, yodeling for some sign of life on a silent, freezing afternoon. M and her husband are the 3rd generation owners of an old Juillac vineyard.  They are local pioneers of organic viticulture and their success has been hard won by self […]


March 12th 2012 – Daffodils

Up at the tomb this morning, bearing the first daffodils of Spring.  The indefatigable maitresse de maison planted the bulbs years ago, but she was rarely here when they popped up.   March has always been a month of happy birthdays in our family, but it took on a different tone last year when Maman et Papa came to their final rest here.  I like to think they would have been pleased to see their granddaughters standing in the March sunshine, enormous bouquets of yellow in their arms; glorious, indefatigable daffodils to honor their memory.


Paris Refugees

We were in the Bibliothèque, my mother in law and I, cleaning the chandelier.  A  delicate task L. trusted to no one since it involved taking apart scores of pieces of crystal, cleaning each jewel with cotton batting and alcohol, then putting the puzzle back together again while balancing at the top of a ladder. From the ceiling I had an eagle’s view of the mahogany cabinets, laden with meticulous stacks of antique green file boxes.  L. was very proud of her library; it had become the central repository for family archives as her peers left the earth and left […]