Living in Cordes – Mocha

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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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Cordes-sur-ciel

Our journey to Cordes-sur-Ciel began as an open-ended exploration about a year ago when I realized I could get dual Austrian-American citizenship, EU citizenship, opening the possibility of living anywhere in the European Union.

 

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The European Union

At first Tom and I imagined we would go to Luçon, the small city on the Atlantic coast of France, near to my guru family at  Centre Tripoura. We’ve been going to visit them since the 80’s. But when I heard the mayor of Luçon say that his main vision for the town was to keep it French, I began looking elsewhere.

 

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We considered Montauban next. My parents were there for a few months in 1940, after the exodus from Paris. Through the collaborative efforts the Austrian Social Democratic Party, the Philadelphia Quakers, and the French Resistance, they went into hiding nearby for two and a half years. Then, sponsored by the Quakers, they came to Philadelphia where I was born. I thought we would take a furnished apartment in Montauban for a few months, do some research on that very interesting collaboration, and then move on. We found a lovely apartment in Montauban right away, but it was only available for a full year, September to September, longer than we wanted to spend there. In the end, Montauban didn’t call us.


Over the next few days we visited four medieval villages. The third of them was Cordes.
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It was a crazy busy holiday that day, no parking anywhere in the lower village – except at Le Jardin des Paradis, where they probably want you gone after your tour of the gardens. Tom suggested we use one of the many empty 30-minute spaces and pay the fine. A good idea, I thought. When he deposited the euros in the machine, out popped a ticket telling us there were no fines that day. Free parking.
We ate, and climbed the cobblestone road up the hill to the old village. The first building we noticed at the top turned out to house a most unusual shrine to Anandamayi Ma, my guru Ganesh Baba’s teacher. It was a complete surprise – my friends in Vendée didn’t know it was there.
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I’ve had Anandamayi Ma picture on my altar for forty years.
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Then, also at the top of the hill, we discovered Yves Thuriés’ chocolate museum. One of the founders of nouvelle cuisine, Thuriés has been Tom’s favorite for the same forty years. He lives in Cordes.
We felt at home immediately.

The next day, I found the house on Leboncoin, the French Craigslist. We put in an offer late that afternoon.

IMG_2057.jpegAs luck would have it, we had one night with no place to sleep scheduled, so we stayed at Le Secret du Chat, on the same street as the house. The proprietors there were able to answer so many questions!

The following day, we discovered that Cordes is only twenty minutes from Verfeil-sur-Seye, where my parents were in hiding for two and a half years.
It’s the right place.

Om is Home

Ganesh Baba used to say that. Such a delightful aphorism – so full of broad and deep meaning.

To me, it means wherever you are is exactly the right place for you to be. The central secret is at your center. The treasure is buried in your own garden.

We didn’t move. Tom and I are still living in the same house, and working at the same business, Mama Ganache. The house, in my mind all ready to be someone else’s, wanted to be ours a little longer. Everything seemed to be in place, and I’d done all kinds of symbolic, metaphoric, ritual,  and inner work around letting go—I even led the session called “Letting Go” in a Year-to-Live class I co-teach—but the fates had it that we’re here, at home again.

It’s a fortunate thing, although fraught with difficulties and very hard work. This house is filled with light and beauty. And now it’s clean and repaired! What a gift!

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During the weeks the house was on the market and the first few after, I was tired and depressed and sick. Not all at once. Yeah, all at once.

Still, underneath all that physical, biological and psychological stress, I managed to retain a small, frequently imperceptible, sense that everything was going to be alright. It’s true I was wearing my little ceramic disk that says THIS TOO SHALL PASS, which always helps, but it was the way life itself unfolded that gave me the message most profoundly.

The very moment Tom and I decided that we would stay here, a text arrived from a friend, who had another friend, who was in need of a furnished room or two. Our new housemate moved in an hour later. Best housemate we’ve ever had. It would have been enough.

Events had almost inevitably been turns for the worse over the weeks before that. Things broke down, big things, the water heater, the sewage pump, the washer, all within a short time. The toilet overflowed and needed to be replaced when Airbnb guests were here. Everything took forever and cost too much. Then, in a flash, a helpful, upbeat, mature, and kind housemate moves in.

A week later, Mama Ganache lost both of its weekday shop employees at the same time, and it became clear to me that I should step back into the business. So here I am, Mama Ganache again.

I spent the last month on a new website: mama-ganache.com. I set up a chocolate club and free delivery service to hospitals and nursing homes. Tom and I are hosting two weekly events at the shop, a tea on Sundays, and a conversation on Thursday afternoons. We’re hosting two parties a month, Art after Dark on first Fridays, and the chocolate club pick-up party on second Fridays. I’ve been crazy busy.

In the middle of all that, Eva came on Thursday last week. She and I already have a long relationship with hummingbirds, so I knew the hummingbird who flew into the living room just before Luana dropped her off, had some message for me.

It was another rufous hummingbird, West Coast parallel to the ruby-throated hummingbird. It was trying frantically to fly out of the window above the dog’s bed. Lily Bear thought it was very exciting indeed, but she backed off when I asked her to. Almost immediately the bird fell, stunned, onto the window sill. When I tried to lift it up gently, it awoke and dashed into the upper corner of the window again. In my hand were three tiny hummingbird feathers.

As I stared at them, astonished, the bird fell again, very nearly into my open hands. This time I could lift it and carry it outdoors. I put it in a flower box and went to get a succulent leaf to make a sun shield for it.

When I came back with the leaf, the hummingbird looked at me with one eye and took off, circling around once and then landing high in the oak tree.

The feathers must have slid out of my hand when I put the bird in the flower box.

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I picked them up and put them in a special box. Hummingbird feathers, so tiny, so exquisite. Extraordinary.

These are hard times. The large, slow-moving astrological configuration (Uranus/Pluto) that’s been putting so many obstacles, small and large, in my path, will affect us all in one way or another. But surely something bigger is afoot, or, perhaps I should say, in the air.

 

An Enormous Hummingbird

“Hummingbird!” Éva shouted. We’ve had this beautiful puppet around the house for years, but it never occurred to me that it was a hummingbird. After all, it’s over a foot high.

Éva’s impression of a hummingbird comes from Hildegarde Hummingbird in the Mr. Rogers opera she still wants to see every time she comes here. Hildegarde Hummingbird is about the same size as our puppet, so it’s really no surprise that Éva recognized the enormous one in our basket of puppets.

That makes seven hummingbirds. It’s enough to give you hope.

Two Suitcases: a wink from Eric

My desk is filled with photos my parents and their friends in the 1920’s through the 1940’s. None of the main characters in my historical fiction novel-in-progress, Two Suitcases, is alive.

I should have asked more questions.

IMG_7014I write from pictures, from old newspaper articles and newsreels, from family stories told many times or just once, from snatches of memory, from dreams. I read about the period and places where the story is set incessantly. Then I make up stories that could have happened.

 

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There are four main characters in Ida 1940'sthe story: my mother and father, Trude and Fritz, my father’s sister, Ida, and a friend of the family, Eric. Six more characters play secondary roles. None of these are entirely fictional, but what they do in the novel is certainly not what they did in life. It’s fiction.

Sometimes I wonder if they approve.

I had the great fortune to be with both my parents when they died, and I was close to my aunt till the end, but until yesterday, I thought Eric died about eight years ago and no one knew to contact me.

In yesterday’s mail I found a beautiful handwritten note.

It says,

“Eric passed away October 3, a few weeks before his 102nd birthday. He was in good health and excellent spirits. He died peacefully at home. His heart stopped while he was reading the Wall Street Journal.”

The perfect ending.

I said good-bye to Eric in 2008 on my way home from India. I already lived in California then and came east very rarely. Eric was his usual gracious and elegant self. It was five years after my mother died, and he told me for the first time how he’d loved her. At 95, he was still walking long distances every day, but we talked about the likelihood that this would be our last meeting. He filled my rental car with treasures from his beautiful house and we stood in the driveway a long time saying good-bye.

Caught up in the hurly burly of home, I didn’t write a thank you note for some months. When I did, it came back stamped “unknown.” I mourned.

I should have asked more questions.

I missed seven good years of Eric’s life.

Still, over these last couple months, the character, Eric, has been pressuring me to give him a more and more important role in the story. He’s been developing more personality, more, in fact, than any of the others, save Ida, and that perhaps because she acts as a foil to him. His voice is clearest.

If that note isn’t a wink, I don’t know what is.

Thanks, Eric. It feels like you approve.

 

Hummingbirds (or, The End of the World)

From Tuesday to Friday each week, I watch a little girl called Éva, who is 17 months old. She is a delightful child, full of life, curiosity, and good humor.

This week Éva wasn’t feeling well, so we watched one of Mr. Rogers’ operas, “Windstorm in Bubbleland,”1475 over and over. Éva is born to opera: her father is the director of OperaSLO, and her mother is a great lover of opera.

I enjoyed Windstorm so much that I played it for Tom and later for a friend.

In the opera, Hildegarde Hummingbird, played by Lady Elaine, warns the people of Bubbleland that a great windstorm is coming, but no one will listen to her.

“Why won’t you believe me?” she asks, and the people of Bubbleland sing back,

“Because we don’t want to!”

The summary of Windstorm in Bubbleland on IMDB ends:

The wind attempts to utterly demolish Bubbleland. The fate of the world rests in the wings of an unsung feathered heroine.

IMG_7245This morning, the morning following the Paris attacks, the dawn of the apocalypse, I came across an old, handmade book hidden among some papers I was sorting for our coming move. It is a poem by Walter Gruen, written in December, 1939, while he was interned in Meslay du Maine, France, along with the artist who created the little book, Hugo Price, my father, and many other Austrian and German Socialists, intellectuals and artists.

The Song of Barbed Wire

Black and full of clouds

hardly any stars shine in the sky…

Will the night ever go away and the sky begin to lighten?

Barbed wire

separates us from love.

Longing consumes us.

When will freedom blossom?

Freedom, ah, you are so ardently awaited!

Every suffering

has its end.

The sun rises again…

March storms rage,

Longing becomes fulfilled!

Barbed wire

in all the lands

freedom is denied …

March storms will thunder

Freedom will return.

Moments after I shared the book with Tom, we discovered a hummingbird trapped in each of the three skylights in our bedroom. Three hummingbirds! Three rufous hummingbirds, the California version of Hildegarde, banging their heads against the glass.

We tried to free them, but it was time to go to the farmers’ market. After making sure the cats were elsewhere, we left the three hummingbirds to exhaust themselves until they fell, and hopefully to fly away when they recovered.

As I got into the car with my bags for the market, I moved a piece of paper from my seat. It was a flyer for a friend’s radio show:

my WIN card copy

Four hummingbirds!

A couple hours later, two of the three in the skylights were gone. The last one, like Hildegarde at the end of the opera, lay silent on the floor. As I picked the tiny body up, it woke, shook itself, and flew off. Like Hildegarde.

Traditionally a harbinger of the joy of life and of synchronicity, hummingbirds also symbolize courage, adaptability, determination and flexibility.

Four hummingbirds show up just when I’m feeling the end of the world is surely at hand. There must be a message here, don’t you think?