Tag Archive: church

Pink sunset over the Esterel.

I began my day by walking to the market in the village centre and ordering ‘un demi-poulet fermier,’ or half of a farm chicken. Verity highly recommends them. You order in the morning, and they roast the chickens in the side of this van with a rotisserie built into it. A few hours later, you come pick up your hot, roasted chicken (or in my case, half). While they roast the chickens, they roast potato wedges below the chickens, so all of the herby-greasy-chicken-fat bastes the potatoes. I learned you need to order those, too – I asked about the ‘pommes de terre’ and the woman said, ‘we don’t have enough, you have to order those, too – next week.’ (In French.) Not unfriendly, but matter-of-fact. So, next time, I will order my potatoes with my chicken.

So of course, I went home and mauled the chicken. YUM.

But in between, I went to church.

I’m enjoying the regularity of the Mass, the predictability of it as well as the variation. I still get completely lost when they sing and I don’t know the page number, and I think it’s quite interesting that there seem to be long pieces that everyone sings without looking in the hymn book, as well as bits which even I can figure out are the equivalent to the ‘Our Father’ recitations and those sorts of thing. There are certain parts where people cross themselves, and then other parts where they make little mini-crosses over their mouth or chest. At times, some people kneel, but not everyone, and at other times, everyone stands. I quite like not knowing the significance of all of it, and trying to figure it out, or just absorbing it.

It’s also incredibly sweet that at the end of the Mass, Marius says to everyone, ‘have a good Sunday,’ in French, and then says in English, ‘and Kelley, have a nice Sunday,’ and then, to the German girl who is visiting, in German, ‘have a good Sunday.’ (I can’t remember her name, but he remembers it.) And possibly my favourite part, at the end: When Marius and the alter boy kneel briefly and bow their heads towards the altar, Marius is holding a big glass jar full of sweets, which he then takes to the door and gives to everyone (mostly the kids,) as they leave. It’s just too cute. I chose some huge, pink, sticky, strawberry-flavoured thing and worried about my teeth.

I saw Ilona, and Gabrielle and Jean, and Francoise and Jean, and about four other people whose names I can’t remember but who remember me, and who ask after Verity, (who calls every few days for updates,) and I made sure my plans with Ilona were clear for later in the week, and figured out the times for Christmas Mass, which I think my mom would enjoy.

Then, I stepped out into the sunshine and tried to start my Vespa.

It takes awhile to start it from cold, and I’d only ridden it down to the church, so it wouldn’t start right away. I’ve begun to accept this, so I don’t get too nervous if it doesn’t start on the first kick (or fifth, or tenth) kick. It usually takes a few tries. Rather, if it does start on the first kick, I’m mildly ecstatic.

So it wouldn’t start. A gaggle of people from the church, who were chatting in the parking lot, turned to look. Some of them knew me a little, and I tried to reassure them – ‘pas probleme!’ – but they started murmuring amongst themselves, fretting. (The average age here was probably 80.) Some advice was given (in French). I took off my helmet, which inexplicably seems to help me start the Vespa. It’s probably because I can hear the engine better.

Vespa started!

Everyone cried ‘Ahh!’ and burst into applause. I bowed.

La lune & Jupiter tonight; view out the window.

It was only 11am, so I turned left out of the church parking lot, which I’d never done before, and rode down a gorgeous, winding road, over two little bridges, and then up, up, out of the river valley. When I got to where the road connects with the (ever-so-slightly-larger) N7, which would take me to Mandelieu, I turned around. Down, down, down, over the bridges, then up, up up…past the church, through the sunshine, and to the village centre, where I picked up my warm, roasted, demi-poulet.

By noon, I was back at the house, arms akimbo over my chicken whilst Gaston army-crawled across the table trying, unsuccessfully, to ‘sneak up on me’ while I ate. Even a 19-year-old cat just can’t resist the scent of roast chicken. He seemed completely gutted when I ate all of my portion (the rest safely in the fridge,) and whisked my plate away without giving him a nibble. (He’s now sitting next to me, but with his back decidedly to me, and it’s well past dinnertime!)

I settled at my little table outside in the afternoon sun, to thrash out a pantoum for the poetry play. I wrote two poems, grappling with the form of the pantoum, writing and re-writing and re-writing again. I’m still uncertain of the result. As I write this play in verse, and as the story moves along, I’m trying to weave in echoes of earlier poems with later ones, so themes come out, hopefully in eerie ways. I’m also interested in how difficult (or not) it may be to write the darkest poems of a tragic play when I’m in such a sunny, positive place. I might need to finish this in the gloom of London.

Finally, after sunset, I began to close up the house and the shutters. During the sunny, warm part of the day, I’ll turn off the heaters and open the windows to air the house out. Once the sun goes down it gets pretty chilly, so I’ll close the shutters and the windows and turn on the heater in the main room (living/dining room,) and my bedroom. As I moved to shut the window overlooking the valley, I gasped at a gorgeous sliver of crescent moon. The fingernail of light glowed, revealing the faint full circle of the moon. Jupiter shone bright beneath, over the dark valley.


Notre Dame Des Maures

Yesterday, Sunday, I went to Mass.

Rather than wear jeans and my caramel-leather jacket, for the first time I rode my Vespa wearing a grey dress, black tights and my long, wool camel coat. I felt deliciously European.

The church of Les Adrets is, as Verity explained last time, unusually, not in the village centre. It’s down a scenic, winding road which makes one realise how large Les Adrets actually is. There are so many tiny roads that I think are driveways, which in fact are extensive, with many nooks, cul-de-sacs, houses, and further roads off of those roads. If the description from the website of the Mayor’s office is correct, then 2,650 people live in Les Adrets, which is surprising.

The website gives an excellent history of Les Adrets, and explains that the current church was built (or completed) and blessed on 24 August 1648, under the name of Notre Dame Des Maures, “Our Lady of the Moors”. The Parish of Les Adrets was created on 10 May, 1745.

So I’ve been enjoying Mass in a church built in 1648. I suppose I can forgive the lack of heating.



Antique glass chandelier and painting of The Virgin.

One of the most charming parts of the church service is its small-town nature. There is one lady, Reine, who clearly runs everything, and it really does seem things would fall apart without her. This was my third time going to a service – the first time, upon my first visit, with Verity, when it was ‘Children’s Mass,’ and Reine (who had prepared the children ahead of time,) ushered each kid, whether age seven or age fourteen, up to the podium to say their little piece, and to help the child pronounce words as needed, while the parishioners (people in the pews?) sang bits in between.

The service was led by the Polish Priest, Marius, who has just completed his PhD in Theology. He was in Poland defending his Thesis last weekend, so when I went with Verity before she left for Australia, that time we had a French-Canadian Priest, whom I believe is taking over for Marius when he returns to Poland. Both Priests are spectacularly multi-lingual, both with excellent English.

This Sunday, Marius was back (with some applause for him on behalf of the Thesis,) and it was again ‘Children’s Mass,’ so again, all the little ones lined up and said their parts. Reine her work cut out for her, because, with Verity gone, there was a pianist standing in. Verity has been doing this for more than 30 years (I believe,) so knows things by heart: music, timing, pauses, etc. I think she & the rather severe but kind Reine, who is in charge (officially or not,) are an excellent team. There was really a feeling this Sunday of ‘shepherding,’ with Reine prompting the pianist, and prompting the congregation, and singing loudly to lead everyone, because it wasn’t as clear as it usually is. It was shepherding which I appreciated: the world needs good leaders, on the largest and smallest scales.

Cobblestone crosswalk to the door of the church laid by Italian stonemasons.

I love the Pagan qualities of the Mass: the warm, woody incense which the Priest uses to cleanse the spiritual centre of the building, the draped altar, the spangled robes, the bowing, the goblets, the wafers and wine. I love the music, especially when everyone sings together, and the (mostly high, clear, women’s) voices echoing off the curve of the ancient stone ceiling.

I love how confused everyone can become, such as yesterday, when half were standing and half were sitting and Reine had to basically wave everyone to their feet and point to the correct place on the notes so we could all sing.

I love the reverence of some of the older women, who are perhaps widows, or perhaps spinsters, who dress in boiled wool skirt-and-jacket sets, whose hair is curled and coiffed, who smell of my Nana’s power, who wave you to the correct page of the psalms, and who kneel on the hard wooden rests of the pews, even though it is clearly an effort to stand up again.

I love the wide-eyed, bewildered look of the freckled, ginger-haired alter boy who seems to wonder just what it all means when the silver incense burner is filled with great ritual, or when he is ushered to move a cup or take a bowl. And all the little children, bowing their heads and crossing their arms to their chests, queuing up to have the Priest press his thumb into their foreheads and say some words, and how they simply accept and trust this ritual. And the tiny, white-blonde toddler who completely disrupted the whole service by wandering around the isle with his gummed stuffed rabbit, who very nearly clambered up to the altar but decided it was better to return to his father and take a nap.

I spent a good part of the service staring at a dead, dried gecko on the floor while I listened to the French words being spoken and sung.

I spent a lot of the rest of it trying to figure out where we were in which book. But I enjoyed it all, in my atheist-yet-spiritual way. And afterwards, I had (very small but I believe comprehensible) conversations with three or four people who remembered me.

‘Mon petite Américaine’

Fruits de mer: lunch with Verity

When Dani and I spent a long weekend with Verity a few months ago, I felt she’d introduced me to half of the village.

This time, over the few days between my arrival and her departure, she introduced me to the other half. She adopted me as ‘mon petite Américaine,’ a term of endearment, and we practised some French.

She helped sum up my journey – this is what I could say:

‘Je suis venue de Londres à Paris en Vespa. J’ai pris le ferry de Newhaven à Dieppe. Et ensuite, j’ai pris le TGV jusqu’à San Raphael, et la Vespa est venue en Train-Auto.’

It sounds so simple.

I love how the word ‘Vespa’ inspires people (almost always men in their 60s and 70s,) to reminisce. ‘One time I rode a Vespa from Nantes to Barcelona, 1,000 kilometres!’ (I’m an amateur!)

Verity’s friends decided it was ‘like Italian Holiday.’ We figured out that they meant ‘Roman Holiday,’ the film which served as Audrey Hepburn’s famous debut.

I went to church with Verity on Sunday. I’m planning to go regularly while I’m in Les Adrets. Though this is unusual for me, it is one of few opportunities to see people I’ve been introduced to, and I really like the music. I love listening to the words and working to understand them – though to be fair, at a Catholic Mass, it’s pretty easy to figure out what is being said.

The dove inside the roof of the ancient church.

A couple whom I met last Sunday, Gabrielle and Jean, have already adopted me. Gabrielle swept me to their house for tea yesterday (Wednesday,) and we spent two hours working hard at simple conversation. They were immensely patient, and we found common ground – one of their daughters lives on Reunion, and Dani & I honeymooned on Mauritius. Gabrielle served Vanilla tea from Mauritius, which is very familiar to me. Their English is definitely better than my French, but it’s something they have to work at too, which I am glad for. It takes equal patience and listening on both sides. After two hours, I was exhausted, but gratified.

Gabrielle also invited me to the pool – she drives to Frejus every Friday for a swim. It was the most gorgeous setting for a swimming pool I’ve ever enjoyed. The indoor pool has huge windows overlooking la mer - the sea. I was the youngest person there by, oh, about forty years, but no matter.

My next invitation is to join them for a walk/hike up the Esterel with G&J and another couple, Francoise and Jean. (I’m beginning to notice that if I forget a man’s name here, Jean is a good guess.) Apparently the second Jean likes to get pizza after his walks.

And I understood a joke! One of G&J’s friends who joined us at the pool (guess what? His name is also Jean,) said, in French, ‘He walks a kilometre and eats a kilo of pizza.’ And I laughed with everyone else, and he was pleased I understood. That’s immensely gratifying.

Tarte aux pommes, pas tarte tatin. (YUM.)

Of course, there have been some misunderstandings as well. For example, I said, ‘I bought a goat at the market.’ Fortunately they cottoned on that I meant ‘I bought goat’s cheese at the market,’ and corrected me.

At the boulangerie, I asked for a slice of tarte tatin and the baker said it was tarte aux pommes. I can forgive myself for mistaking one type of apple tart for another type of apple tart, but to a baker, the difference is night and day. (I’d say ‘the difference is apples and oranges,’ but it’s apples and apples, and that could get confusing.)

When we were discussing the pizza (le pizza,) and hike (marche,) Gabrille was trying to tell me that after the walk, they go back to the house and have ‘bee-yarr’. ‘Bee-yarr? Is the same en Anglaise?’ Some gestures.

Beer? I thought. She doesn’t strike me as the type to drink beer, but maybe the men do…Pizza and beer? Is that universal?

‘Bee-yarr’ more gestures. ‘In our ‘ouse.’ I thought back to the sitting room where we’d had tea. In which there was a covered-up pool table. Ah-ha!


‘Oui! Billiards!’ I said, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. (There was no way I was going to go into the fact that in American English, we say ‘pool,’ especially as we were returning from the swimming pool – la piscine – just then). ‘Je pense que tu bois…beer,’ I said. ‘I thought that you drink…beer.’ Jean cottoned on and explained in French, and we had a laugh.

It’s always said that immersion is the way to learn a language, and that is absolutely true for me. Goodness knows how I’ll be speaking when this winter is over.


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