The number of coincidences, through people I’ve met, books I’ve read, the information that has come to me unbidden—or only bidden in thought— as I’ve been doing the research for Two Suitcases was already extraordinary when we met Monique Lagard a few days ago, courtesy of Montalbanais friends, Ian and Janet Milligan.
In 1993-1994, Monique and her lycée students made a short film about Adèle Kurzweil, a young Austrian refugee who came to Montauban at the same time as my parents, in 1940. Surely Adèle’s parents knew mine. They were active Austrian Social Democrats. Adèle’s mother worked for Ernst Papanek at Montmorency, outside of Paris, between 1938 and 1940, at the same time that my mother did. Her father was interned with mine. And the film project began with the discovery of three suitcases (not two) filled with the family’s memorabilia.
Now that I am writing about this, vague memories of hearing my parents talking about Adèle and her family are returning.
Thank you so much, Ian and Janet. Thank you so much, Monique.
The film, which is only thirteen minutes long, is subtitled in English.
We’re told that this winter is not typical for Cordes-sur-Ciel, that it was unusually short, that, in fact, it may well not be over yet.
On nous dit que cet hiver n’est pas typique de Cordes-sur-Ciel, qu’il a été exceptionnellement court, qu’en fait, il se pourrait bien qu’il ne soit pas encore terminé.
After six weeks in California, we came back to our little house in Cordes on January 11. The skies were gray, but the fields were still green.
Après six semaines en Californie, nous sommes rentrés dans notre petite maison à Cordes le 11 janvier. Le ciel était gris, mais les champs étaient toujours verts.
It was cold that month, cold and damp and very gray.
Il faisait froid ce mois-ci, froid et humide et très gris.
It even snowed a little.
Il a même neigé un peu.
But it was cozy indoors and there were at least a couple sunny and clear days each week.
Mais c’était agréable à l’intérieur et il y avait au moins deux journées ensoleillées et claires chaque semaine.
It was a good time for making potimarron soup.
C’était un bon moment pour faire de la soupe au potimarron.
And poached pears.
Et des poires pochées.
I love seeing the trees and bushes without leaves.
J’aime voir les arbres et les buissons sans feuilles.
We took long walks with the dog. One day, I noticed hyacinths in bud in front of a neighbor’s house. It happens, our neighbor said, but then it gets very, very cold again, and the buds never bloom.
Nous avons fait de longues promenades avec le chien. Un jour, j’ai remarqué des jacinthes en boutons devant la maison d’un voisin. Cela arrive, a dit notre voisin, mais ensuite, il fait à nouveau très froid et les bourgeons ne fleurissent jamais.
It was about then that a fortunate thing happened. We’d wondered who the abandoned garden across the street from our house belonged to, and had asked around before we left for California. We could look over the wall and see that, though largely covered in brush, it looked like there there were fruit trees, a chicken coop, and maybe a well.
C’était à peu près alors qu’une chose chanceuse s’est produite. Nous nous étions demandés à qui appartenait le jardin abandonné situé de l’autre côté de la rue de notre maison et nous l’avions demandé avant notre départ pour la Californie. Nous pourrions regarder par-dessus le mur et voir que, bien que largement recouvert de broussailles, il semblait y avoir des arbres fruitiers, un poulailler et peut-être un puits.
Travelling for so long – we’d left Cordes in mid-October for Morocco, stayed four weeks, returning for only a couple, before our time in California – I was longing for roots. As I fell asleep in all those different beds, I’d imagine asking for permission to use that garden: cleaning it up, pruning the trees, digging over the beds and planting vegetables and flowers, and maybe even having a few chickens.
Voyager pendant si longtemps – nous avions quitté Cordes à la mi-octobre pour le Maroc, sommes restés quatre semaines et n’y étions revenus que deux semaines avant notre séjour en Californie – je rêvais de racines. Quand je me suis endormi dans tous ces différents lits, j’imagine que demander l’autorisation d’utiliser ce jardin: le nettoyer, tailler les arbres, creuser par-dessus les lits, planter des légumes et des fleurs et peut-être même avoir quelques poulets.
Our neighbors, Dominique and Lucie, were kind enough to keep Mocha for us while we were gone. A week or so after we came back, we invited them over for dinner. To our delight, Dominique told us the garden belonged to Lucette, who passed away three years ago, and whose house was maintained by her children, though they rarely use it. Coincidentally, they were there that weekend.
Nos voisins, Dominique et Lucie, ont eu la gentillesse de garder Mocha pour nous pendant notre absence. Environ une semaine après notre retour, nous les avons invités à dîner. À notre plus grand plaisir, Dominique nous a dit que le jardin appartenait à Lucette, décédée il y a trois ans et dont la maison était entretenue par ses enfants, bien qu’ils l’utilisent rarement. Par coïncidence, ils étaient là ce week-end.
The next morning, Tom went over, introduced himself, and minutes later, we had permission to use the garden.
Le lendemain matin, Tom est allé se présenter, et quelques minutes plus tard, nous avons eu la permission d’utiliser le jardin.
And, even though it was January, there were irises blooming.
Et, même si c’était en janvier, des iris étaient en fleurs.
We also found a peach tree already budding.
Nous avons également trouvé un pêcher en herbe.
So we began work in the garden, pruning, clearing brush, cleaning up in general.
Nous avons donc commencé à travailler dans le jardin: élagage, débroussaillage, nettoyage en général.
On February 10, M. Jazz de Rodez, a cat of great dignity and considerable curiosity, came to live with us.
Le 10 février, M. Jazz de Rodez, un chat d’une grande dignité et d’une grande curiosité, est venu vivre avec nous.
While the two of them make their peace, the garden keeps growing.
Alors que les deux font leur paix, le jardin ne cesse de croître.
Now there are trees in bloom everywhere.
Maintenant, il y a des arbres en fleurs partout.
Inside, Mocha waits a little impatiently to be taken for a walk.
A l’intérieur, Mocha attend un peu avec impatience de se promener.
And Jazz is sleeping on my lap.
Et Jazz dort sur mes genoux.
I don’t think winter will come back this year.
Je ne pense pas que l’hiver reviendra cette année.
It’s only eight months since we passed Mama Ganache on to Ben Taylor and his family. In some ways that feels like an eternity; in others, the blink of an eye. It was harder than I expected to review my pictures from all those years. Assembling them for this blog brings a lump to my throat, an ache in my heart, and even some tears.
Mama Ganache began her life in the basement of the Vets Hall in San Luis. We rented the kitchen there on Sunday afternoons to create some ridiculously labor-intensive, ridiculously delicious chocolate bars: layers of chocolate, crispy rice and peanut butter. Tom sold them at local churches to fund his fledgling NGO, Project Hope and Fairness.
When his sister Joanne opened Splash Cafe in San Luis, our newly named Sweet Earth Chocolates were made in the second floor kitchen.
In 2009, we moved down the street to 1445 Monterey.
Our chocolates grew more and more beautiful and delicious, especially when Rebecca Wamsley came to work for us.
We held art shows, wine tastings and parties.
In 2012, we changed our name to Mama Ganache.
Valentine’s Day was always fun.
As was Easter:
In 2013, we started to make our own chocolate from beans sourced from around the world.
Truffle critters were always popular.
We gave tours, hosted birthday parties and meetings, and raffled off huge bunnies and turkeys.
Our artists were amazing.
As was their art.
And our customers.
Tom and I will be forever grateful to all the incredible people who worked for us over the years. Apologies to those of you – and there are many – who aren’t included here because I don’t have pictures of you.
Tom and I (and Joanne) had Mama Ganache for thirteen years. I went through close to 6000 pictures to choose these, and the ones I picked in the end don’t cover a fraction of the love, life, and laughter that we shared in those years.
What I am has nothing to do with the things and stories that surround me. It doesn’t need even one suitcase to contain it, much less two. When nostalgia for what I had begins to fill me, wherever I am, I can go to my heart and feel at home with who I am, and that is enough.
Ceiling tile for sale on a street in Morocco
It’s where I find hope, where I can recover that sense of eager anticipation the Hathors recommend in these times of failing expectations and beliefs, the loss of story, and crumbling perceptual boundaries.
One of the seminal books of my hippie years was a typewritten channeled teaching called Season of Changes. I’ve forgotten the details of the predictions, but I’m sure they’ve been borne out or will be soon enough. It was a dark view of the future, full of cataclysm and apocalypse. Written in question and answer format, the last responses concern how to respond to the changes. As I recall, the advice most forcefully given was to practice meditation.
It’s comforting to imagine that more people than ever are doing that, at least in my own bubble. It’s less comforting to remember how tiny a percentage of the world’s population my bubble contains.
But it’s sound advice. When the now threatening storm of storms is full upon us, when that moment of personal and collective apocalypse that we all feel coming finally arrives, it’s the meditators who will be able to hold the rudder.
Storm coming in at our house in Cordes
Meditation takes you to your center, to the center, the one we all have in common. It takes you out of the chaotic whirl of stories to the place of no story, where energy is conserved instead of fueling the miasma of outer experience.
It takes you beyond imagination, beyond the limits of space and time, and beyond the singular focus of our culture on the physical: on acquisition (growth vs. maintenance), on hierarchy (dominion vs. sharing), beyond your own little bit of the apocryphal elephant.
Letting go of the world as we know it, the world of perception, this particular consensus reality, is necessarily heart-breaking. It’s painful to separate from the things and people and stories we love, and love is, after all, what it’s all about.
The tricky part is to connect love to the universal rather than the particular.
After nearly three weeks in the big cities of Morocco, Tom and I headed to the mountains.
Atlas Mountains from the road from Marrakech to Ourika
Tom had visited the Ourika Valley in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains before, so we booked a room at in Tnine, the village he’d visited with a souk where the Berbers came by donkey. We planned to see that on Monday, the day of the week it happens. We arrived on Friday.
Our hosts in Morocco have been very hospitable, but Abdurrahman at the Secret Atlas is by far the most generous and friendly of them all. Using a translator on his phone because he speaks only Arabic, he served us delicious thyme tea on our arrival, told us about his family, and shared beautiful passages from the Koran that explained his exceptional hospitality. For 11€/night, we have a spacious bedroom, living room and kitchen. The extraordinary breakfasts Abdurrahman cooks for us each morning are a few euros more.
Tiles on the wall and floor of the Atlas Secret
The apartment is elegantly spare and spotless, the bed excellent, and views spectacular.
View from the Atlas Secret
We were a little surprised, however, to find that the Secret Atlas is in apartment building on the relatively busy street that connects the two parts of the village. On Airbnb, it’s listed as a “farm stay.”
On our first afternoon in Tnine, we explored the part of the village near the river. It was hot, the pollution from all the cars and motorcycles hung low, and other than offering a window into the lives of ordinary residents of the valley, there wasn’t much to see there.
Street scene, Tnine, Ourika
The next morning, we discovered that other than a couple nice places for tea or a meal, the other end of the village had little to offer either.
We looked on the internet to see what else we could do. Everything looked like it would require another expensive taxi ride. The taxis to and from Marrakech are a bargain because they’re shared by up to seven people, but to call one to go from point A to point B requires paying the fee for the distance traveled to where you are and to where you’re going at the full rate.
But wait. It looked like at least one destination was close by, and it was something neither of us had ever seen: a saffron farm!
Le Jardin du Safran is an easy walk from the Secret Atlas. We’d passed by the dirt road that leads to it the day before.
What an enchanted place! We found the front gate open.
Entrance to Jardin du Safran
A sign told us we were free to wander around but not to pick the fruit or flowers. Pretty soon the farm manager found us and took us on a tour that lasted a couple hours.
Pathways, Le Jardin du Safran
Synchronistically, we’d arrived the day before the four best and busiest days of the year: the saffron harvest. Every year, from November 4 – 8, when the flowers of the crocus sativa bloom, dozens of local women are hired to do the delicate work of pulling the bright red pistils out of the flowers, nipping off the yellow end with their fingernails just so, to produce the tiny strands of highly aromatic spice so highly valued throughout the Mediterranean, and the world.
Crocus flowers harvested the morning of our visit
Instead of watching the women at work, we sat down on the stools around one of the round tables and learned how to pull the pistils out of the flowers ourselves! Then we saw the drying process and smelled the exquisitely freshly dried product.
Saffron before drying
The second part of the tour was a leisurely walk through the farm, where a wide array of other herbs are grown, and trees: olive, walnut, persimmon, pomegranate, date, apple, and argan for oil, all arranged around small square plots in which the crocus bulbs were planted. The day’s harvest was already picked, but a few flowers were left for the tourists.
Tom and our guide
Roses in November
There were also goats and donkeys.
Tomorrow we’ll visit another local farm, one that calls itself the bio-aromatique, organic-aromatic, farm. After today’s surprise, I can’t wait.
It was in the Nejjarine Museum of Wood Arts in Fès that the thought struck me. The chaos of the crumbling medina, the vibrancy of the souks, the noise, the pollution, the exploding energy of the colors, and the sheer quantity of stuff –
Souk, medina, Marrakech
– is beautifully balanced by prevalence of the purposeful geometry, sacred geometry, everywhere.
That’s why Morocco is so enchanting.
Souk, medina, Fès, Morocco
Doorway, Marrakech Musèe
Wall, Palais el Mokri
Islam takes the prohibition of worshipping graven images seriously, and discourages figurative art. Like all of life, art should be dedicated to God, and God is only describable as essence. Geometry is essence.
Fountain, Palais Glaoui, Fès
Who can resist being centered by such design?
All my years of studying sacred geometry, beginning even before my Ganesh Baba days, and then Dan Winter and most deeply with Alice O. Howell, peaked at that moment in the museum. I stood at the center of a ideally proportioned room surrounded by mandalas, exquisite symmetry, perfect curves, rhythmic repetition, and profoundly satisfying rectangles and squares.
I wanted to take dozens of pictures, but photography was not allowed, so I was forced to confront the serene beauty of that room face on. It was transformative.
Since then I’ve consciously attuned myself to noticing and letting the geometry take me in.
Palais el Mokri
Palais el Mokri, Fes
Pastry, souk, medina, Fès
Even contemporary Moroccan design uses the elements of sacred geometry to create beautiful calm spaces, as exemplified by our current Airbnb in the new part of Marrakech.
Detail, lamp, Marrakech apartment
Detail, lamp, Marrakech apartment
Dining room table and chairs
Gate to new apartment building
Light fixture in our Airbnb apartment in Tnine, Ourika
Cordes-sur-Ciel was built as a safe haven for people who lost their homes in the nearby city of Saint Marcel, which was razed during the Albigensian Crusade. Said to be the first of the bastides, it has five walls built in concentric circles.
(More about the history of Cordes-sur-Ciel can be found here.)
A neighbor recently told us that the stone wall across from our home is the unfinished fifth wall. Indeed, our house is just below the Porte de l’Horloge, the eastern entrance to the medieval city, which is in the fourth wall, built between the 14th and 16th century. Our neighborhood, quartier du Barri, is a 17th century suburb of the medieval village.
Cordes sits on a rocky outcropping, and is entirely built of local stone: limestone, sandstone, and dolomite. The houses are stone and the streets in the medieval village are cobbled. Walls surround every garden and line every street.
There are walls upon walls upon walls.
Living without a car gives me plenty of time to appreciate stone walls all around. One of the most delightful things about Cordes is its authenticity: it looks like and is a place that has been continually inhabited since the 13th century. The walls reflect its history.
They bring me peace, connectedness, and a sense of stability. They are the keepers of the stories.
I never tire of their variety, their richness, their complexity.
In a village of art, the stone walls are perhaps the greatest art.
Most mornings I wake up before sunrise, open the shutters, roll out my rug and light a candle, and then do some stretches, breathe, and meditate for a while. When I open my eyes, the sun is up – or on its way up – and the view is so lovely, I try to save it in a photo.
These are some of the morning pictures I’ve taken. They begin in early August. The last one was taken this morning, the first day of fall.
The evening Tom and I returned from Le Havre with our rented van full of the boxes we’d shipped from Los Angeles, our neighbors Ann and Leif greeted us in front of our house with sad news. Andreas, the other newcomer to our neighborhood, a Swiss artist who’d also moved to Cordes from California, had died suddenly.
His dog Mocha was staying with another neighbor, Dominique, who couldn’t keep her until Andreas’s relatives came, which could be several weeks. Not only did Pompom the cat object, but Mocha’s barking was bothering Dominique’s guests.
When we saw that the address on Mocha’s address was Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA, the solution was obvious. Mocha would come to stay with us until Andreas’s family decided where she would go.
The next day, after we returned the van to Albi where we’d rented it, we picked Mocha up at Dominique’s house. Mocha was not happy. She didn’t want to stay with us. It was clear that she loved Andreas very much and was grieving deeply.
So, when Tom opened the door take some empty boxes to the recycling, she was out like a flash.
Naturally, she headed back straight to Andreas’s place. Tom and I managed to corner her briefly, but when a car went by and we had to alter our very strategically chosen positions, she took off again, this time down the street toward the bistro where Andreas, like most Cordais, liked to sit.
We had pictures on my phone, and people knew Mocha, but no one had seen her. She was spotted near Andreas’s place several times. We left a note with Tom’s French phone number on his door; people called, but no one could catch her. Pretty soon half the village was involved.
At 10:30 that night we heard voices in front of our house and looked out the window to see Leif, who told us that Dominique found Mocha sleeping on Andreas’s step, scooped her up, and now had her in her car. She’d be right over.
So Mocha came home. She had chopped sausage and a little duck for dinner. And she went to sleep on our bed.
Day by day she is becoming more accustomed to her new home. She no longer pulls on the leash when we go near Andreas’s house. She enjoys hanging out at the bistro, where she’s very popular.
And she loves being groomed! (Not so much the bath.)
But a long walk, table food, and sleeping on a good bed suits her very well!
Now we’ve heard from the family that we can keep her!
Thank you, Andreas, for this wonderful new family member.
Perhaps August is the most beautiful month of the year in this medieval village in southwest France, or maybe it only seems so because it’s the beginning of our new life here and we’re seeing everything with fresh eyes.
Either way, here’s a series of pictures from our first two weeks. A few, like the one above, were taken from our bedroom window first thing in the morning; the view is enchanting.
After dinner we usually climb the hill behind our house. This picture was taken about half way to the top.Our neighbor, Lilliane, who comes from Paris every summer, tells us the best restaurant in the village is at the Hostellerie du Vieux Cordes. Rochelle, Tom, and I sat on the patio there, shaded by a 300 year old wisteria, until a thunderstorm chased us inside. Even inside it was dramatic. As I took the last bite of my oeufs brouillé au truffes (the English menu called them “blurred eggs with truffles”) one of the tall casement windows blew open with a bang, startling everyone in the room.
Later we sheltered under the roof of Les Halles, the covered square at the top of the village, and watched as lightning lit up the sky above the museum of contemporary art, once one of the grand houses of the village.When taking the footpath from our house to the lower village, bring a bucket for all the wild fruit: blackberries, plums, quince, apples and grapes.
I think my favorite meal is soup, salad, and bread, with a Gaillac rosé.
One day we were greeted by traditional Occitan music and dancing when we got off the bus from Albi.
Another view from the window:
A doorway on our street:
After Rochelle left, Garrett, Chris, and Ed visited. Garrett cooked us a spectacular Sichuan Chinese meal.
A walk in the upper village:
And a visit to the Musèe Charles Portal, the history and archeology museum, which rises high above the western gate to the city, the Charles Portal.
Lace-making machinery from the early 20th century:
And more morning pictures:
Including some hot air balloons which floated gently over the village at daybreak.