In the midst of a pandemic with international travel a distant dream, memories of past travels sustain me. Right now I can close my eyes and remember being in France with my friend, Tania. Of how we found our way to the town of Pézenas after a visit to a winery that left us, perhaps, a little drunk on wine and olive oil and sunshine from a winery tour and tasting.
The tour itself would have been enough to make the day perfect, walking through rows of grapevines, under the canopy of olive trees, through the cool ancient buildings holding giant vats of wine. The post-tour tasting where we made bruschetta with tomatoes and olive oil fresh from vine and tree. How I threw salt over my shoulder for good luck. The jolly time sharing the food and wine with Brits – a couple of ex-pats, the others visiting them on holiday. How goat cheese, something I normally don’t care for, tasted so good I put even more on the rustic crackers fresh made by a local baker, and topped it all with locally made jam. How Tania fell asleep when she took a quick lie-down on the age-old stone wall shaded from the sun.
We found our way to Pézenas to pick up a few last trinkets for ourselves and to bring to friends and family at home. A Languadoc cross made of iron for me, lavender soaps, candies made from almond paste, a linen table cloth for Tania’s aunt, some coasters for my friend. In the late afternoon, desperate for sustenance and rest, we found our way to a bar-by-night-cafe-by-day along the main street. People were seated at small tables outside but we weren’t sure how or where to order. Tentatively, we found our way inside where, with smiles, faltering French and help from a bartender who was happy to try out his English, managed to order a cafe au lait for me and a pot of tea for Tania.“I’ll bring it out to you,” we think he said, so we made our way out to find a place to sit.
We needed a treat, we decided, so from our tiny round table for two, looked around us and saw a patisserie one shop away. “Bonjour,” the pretty clerk said as we walked inside and breathed in the smell of fresh breads and sweets.“Bonjour!” we responded. She said something we didn’t understand so we smiled, laughed, and tried our best to communicate by asking “Macaron?” She pointed to little cakes in the pastry case with tiny macaron shells decorating their tops. We shook our heads no. “Macaron? Deux? We held up two fingers, looked at all of the breads and pastries before us, all of them beautiful, but no macarons. Then we noticed a freezer along the wall with dozens of packaged macarons inside it. “Oui! Macarons!” we said, excited. With shrugs and smiles, we managed to order a package of six macarons, each a different flavor, which we carried in their little cardboard box to our tiny table. The bartender brought us our coffee and tea and we each took a breath and settled in.
We decided to eat just one macaron each. I wish I remember which I ate first. The orange? The chocolate? I don’t remember the flavor but I do remember the give of their shells as I bit into them, the softness of their centers. And I remember that instead of eating one macaron each we ate all six. And that while we drank and ate we talked. About what? I’m not certain. But I’m sure we said we were glad we took a chance and said “yes” to the invitation to share a rental in France with a woman we barely knew. Of how she baked French meals for us each day and of how delicious they were. Of how we spent hours writing and reading at our giant run-down house in a tiny village of only a thousand souls in the southwest of France. Of how I walked all around that village but still couldn’t find the giant chateau. Of how we barely could manage to drive our compact stick-shift rental through the narrow streets. Of how we were sad our trip was about to end.
We watched tourists and locals as they walked into shops and, later, walked out of them with bags full. We noticed three people way across the cobbled street who, we concluded based on their hand gestures and body language, were arguing. We saw children sit down with grownups at the tables near us. Saw women talking over glasses of wine.
We noticed a smallish old man sitting by himself at a table about ten feet away. He had a bottle of beer in front of him, maybe it was two. No cell phone did he pull out of his pocket to look at. Instead, he sat and watched all that was going on around him while he drank his bottle of beer. I imagined him there every afternoon, just him and his beer at his table. I tucked away the memory of the stillness of the man with his beer, all alone but seeming not at all unhappy. I tucked it away to pull out at a later time like on this cloudy, snowy afternoon over a year later when I needed the memory of what it was like to be in the presence of contentment and unbothered rest.
Bio: Myrna CG Mibus is a writer and bookseller living in Northfield, Minnesota. She enjoys baking, bicycling, gardening and reading. England is her favorite travel destination.
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