Prompts What I know . . . Prompt #90 July 21, 2014July 20, 2014| mcullen What I know . . . Write whatever comes up for you. Photo by Jane Person Please follow and like us:
I know St. Paul de Vence
If the fates are kind, the wise man gradually releases himself from the harness of the years and shrugs off the routine of a days work. I first visited the South of France forty-two years ago, having taken a local bus from Nice, not being exactly sure where it would take me. The fates were indeed kind to me for the bus ride ended in the town of St. Paul de Vence. There is much to adore about St. Paul’s charm and indeed the ‘Old Town’ where I can wander in my own sweet way, stepping inside the many artist’s workshops and taking in the beauty of stained glass windows, thriving on the afternoon smell of freshly brewed coffee. It is an inspiring walk, winding my way through the narrow passages, passing plants and flowers that hang from windows and walls, colorful displays of many handcraft shops; every one so individual. It is an enchantment.
I cannot resist the feeling of tranquility, the insatiable curiosity of people, and the laughter being born on the air and reborn. Forty-years later none of that charm is lost on me. I revisit the passages, walk among the many to St. Paul’s, atop the hill, light a candle and sit for a while and wonder at the beauty of it all. It was indeed wise of me to take stock of my life at fifty, buy my town cottage close to town, and to gradually prepare myself for the anticipated break that comes ten or twenty years ahead. Life has given me many secondary interests after having given my best to work and family. I am fortunate that there is no peril for me in boredom. Some medical experts say that it is unwise for a man to give up his lifelong work at sixty or sixty-five, for pretty soon he will wither away and die. I’m sorry to hear that, but I don’t think it can relate to me. Work has never been something that took my life over to the point that nothing else mattered. Money never held much interest for me. Fame and fortune; well, I never had much to do with it. Nevertheless I do recognize that being able to live where I choose is my reward to a life’s labor of love, not a man seeking money as the first cause.
Sitting here in the square, I watch the elderly residents come and go, some hunched, some lame, some holding the arms of daughters or sons. Other people include young lovers, their walk a tangle of arms around each other, joy on their faces, and hope in their heart. Then there is the man who sits opposite me, his beret sitting perfectly tilted upon his balding head. At his side a loaf of bread, broken and crumbling, where he had torn it for the eating. He looks to be eighty, perhaps more; his jacket buttoned incorrectly, and the wearing more to do with old age rather than warmth. He arrived by bicycle, the clip round his ankle holding tight his trouser leg. His face could have been chiseled out of rock, so creased and rough. I look at him for some minutes wondering about his life, the simplicity, maybe, or the heartache. If there be a God then what would He like me to do with all this beauty before my eyes?
St. Paul’s: I tell you, it smells of history and coffee during the day, and come evening the scent of flowers, cheese and vino take over. My friend, feeding the pigeons, stands a little precariously at first, then brings a cane to his aid and saunters his hooked shape across the square, to his bicycle. It is black, with a basket on the front in which he places the remains of his bread. He attaches his cane to the crossbar, and very unsteadily, rides away.
This is my man of Vence, the man I would tell you more about, the man who sits every day at the same time feeding the pigeons. You might think I would talk of the many great artists, indeed you would be right in believing there are so many more interesting people, which of course there may well be. But what I love about this man, who I’m always so delighted to see on every visit, is that he gives me a sense of place. This is his place, not mine, I simply share it with him. What I know, is that here is a man, elderly, yes, and free of any worldly ambition. He doesn’t have any use for the temporary prizes of life that lesser men strive after. He has too fine a sense of the things that are important to give time or thought to troubling matters. This man is a true friend, why? Because he is a man who shares his bread with lesser creatures. A man with a liberal education, but how can I know that? Well, in France the beret is worn mostly by the elderly; worn with immense pride. It the uniform of a peasant, and the word ‘peasant’ is by no means an insult to a Frenchman, it is a symbol of the working class.
This is just one man I see in the square of the old town. There are many such images to be had if you take the time to look. It is a place for the artist, the painter, the poet, the star gazer. Vence is a town that gathers whispers in the evening.
St. Paul de Vence, then. A place of table talk. A place that begs you to wander. It insists you care about art, about religion, about beauty. There are many places like it in the world. I come here to to sit at a table and watch. Perhaps one day you’ll walk by. If you do, say hello.
mcullen Post author
Gorgeous writing, Kelly. You have given us the gift of “place” . . . you describe this scene so eloquently and thoroughly, I feel I can visit it in my dreams. I especially like, “thriving on the afternoon smell of freshly brewed coffee.” I do indeed, want to walk by and say hello.
Thank you, Marlene. I like the photo of Churchill’s statue, by Jane. I believe this particular statue stands in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was given the name ‘Kelly’ after being adopted by my parents. My grandfather served on-board HMS Kelly, whose commander was a great friend of Churchill. Lord Mountbatten.
I can only thank the Lord, my Grandfather didn’t serve on a ship called Ark Royal!
mcullen Post author
Smiling here. Thanks for the chuckle, Kelly.
What I know is that as I get older, that which I know can keep me from seeing what I don’t know. Change is the domain of the young, for whom it is not change, but just is. The older I get, the more I realize how fragile the origins of my understanding. We are born without attachment. We die without attachment. In between, things get pretty sticky!
mcullen Post author
Love your wisdom, reflection and humor, James. What I know is that the older I get. . . the less I know. Jarring at first but then . . . liberating!
Kelly’s piece skillfully braids together a narrative on a special place, a special character, and a special time in a man’s life where he can be “released from the harness” of work. There is equal measure of personal experience and detailed description that pulls the reader into the town square and invites them to slow down.
Petaluma offers equal delights for me. Our downtown is a place to stroll or linger, mill and stir, sip and sup— in iron front style, and on a human scale. It is a treasured place and this piece reminds me to take the time to just sit and watch now that I too have shrugged off that pesky work harness.
mcullen Post author
Thanks, Kathy, for inspiring me to enjoy my nearby downtown!
Thank you, Kathy: I know Petaluma quite well, having enjoyed many hours browsing the jewels of the egg capital!I’m absolutely certain that the town offers people the same kind of solace that St. Paul’s offers me, and many others. It is a little gem!I do believe the new downtown area to be a great asset, offering pretty stores and nice areas to sit and watch people. Maybe even a place to arm wrestle!
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