Merde!

We quickly climbed out of the Port City of Marseille in our rented Hyundai sport hatchback—stick of course—and into the hills toward Provence. The roads got steeper and narrower and an hour later, we were looking down on a beautiful valley dotted by green vineyards and purple lavender and old stone structures. I couldn’t help but think of Napa, the difference being that these stone structures weren’t made to look old, they were old. Not the houses necessarily, though I’m sure there were plenty of ancient ones, but the farm buildings; Usually smack in the middle of a field, covered in vines and sometimes falling apart, but still standing after many hundreds of years. Unfortunately the newer construction, even here, doesn’t seem to have the same integrity: not a lot of stone, mostly stucco and more straight lines than curves.

A few roundabouts, illegal U-turns and frayed nerves later, we arrived at our apartment in Apt. Our French hostess, Nathalie, was a stern but pretty woman with dark Mediterranean features. All of us, including her little boy Rafael, huddled into the tiny foyer to get the rules of the house.

We had reserved a one-bedroom apartment with a daybed in the family room, so we thought it would be no problem when Jen decided to join us last minute. Nathalie even said “no problem”, but remembering back to my days in Paris after college, oftentimes “no problem” really means “merde!” The next ten minutes saw Nathalie huffing and puffing as she arranged bedding for the daybed and extra towels for the shower.

Once settled, I headed down to the pool. The house was crowded between buildings and looked out over old town Apt. It was an old 18th century stone building split up into 6 units with Nathalie and family on the entire first level.

The pool was really just a small rectangle to cool off in, likely more for looks and rental value than functionality. I jumped into cold water, dried off and laid down under a palm tree on a real chaise longue. The village below hummed with cars and I heard cooing doves nearby. Sunlight flickered through the palm fronds blowing gently in the wind, and I didn’t even notice the traffic sounds below as I fell to sleep.

I woke to an abrupt sound of a crash on the pebble path nearby, then running footsteps and another crash. I looked up to see Nathalie’s son Rafael throwing a Frisbee to himself— well, more like to no one since he had to chase it down after each toss. The poor kid needed a partner, so I staggered up from my nap and decided not to scare him with my still rusty French, and simply held out my hand to accept a pass. Rafael’s face brightened and he threw the Frisbee my way. The universal language of sport had come through yet again.

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