It’s been awhile. I’m sorry… really I am. I had the best of intentions to come on here and write every evening, but when your days start at six and end at midnight or one in the morning, it’s all I can do to finish my freelance articles before passing out face-down on my keyboard. I tried to write a blog yesterday, but I’m not entirely sure it was in English or French, and when even I have no idea what I’m writing, I know that the only thing I can do is down another coffee and step away from the keyboard.
It’s OK, though. I’m back now, with lots of things to share. Mostly, though, I want to tell a story about the two little Turkish girls who appeared at our doorway a few days ago.
It’s astounding to me that less than a week ago, the house had only a handful of teenagers in it, and now it’s filled with children. These two sweet things were the first of the group to come to the house, with suitcases holding matching nightgowns and matching headbands for sleeping. They change their clothes at least three times a day, and they have all sorts of jewelry and perfume that they put on au hasard, as though dinner in Paziols were some sort of fancy outing instead of a family-style spread on the terrace in front of the vines and the setting sun.
Two days ago, the other kids began to arrive, with them a handful of Turkish girls whose French was limited at best. The older of the pair of sisters immediately took it upon herself to be a “junior counselor,” putting them into straight lines with buddies, making sure the younger ones had sunscreen on and translating for those who didn’t understand.
I watched her as we walked to the Fontaine des Eaux, walking on the street side of the sidewalk, the way the rest of us animateurs tend to do, herding the little ones like sheep and carrying their towels and water bottles when they realized how heavy they were.
Coming back to Paziols is always a mix of emotions for me. It’s my favorite place in the world–there’s no denying it. I love everything about the vines, the old roads that wind through the hills, the little hidden spots we’ve found. There’s something about this place that makes me want to be all alone here to cherish it, to be able to sit at the water’s edge and dip my feet into the river that runs so pure that fresh, wild mint grows at its banks. It’s so fresh you could drink it, if you wanted to.
But that’s not how I experience Paziols–not by a long shot. Instead, I’m here with the kids, making sure that they all have a sandwich and a banana and a water bottle, and though it’s strange not to be able to sit and let my thoughts run and flow as freely as I like, to sit as quietly as I do when I’m alone with just a notebook to write down a stray idea that I think might be worth hanging onto, there’s something about seeing the elation on the kids’ tired faces when they realize we’ve finally arrived where we’ve been headed for the past twenty minutes, watching as they descend on the water like a pack of wild animals dying of thirst, that makes me appreciate it even more, as though seeing it through their eyes lets me relive what it was like the first summer I came here, when the trees leaning in over the water were new to me too, when the bridge we now know is there was something we had to discover.
My Junior Counselor jumped in with the rest of them, splashing around and posing giddily for pictures that I took as I waded and prayed that no one would knock me over as I held my camera above my head to keep it dry. She’s just a kid herself, after all: once the fun of newfound responsibility’s allure had faded, she was happy as anyone to wait to have a cookie passed to her and to have someone waiting at the water’s edge with a dry towel.
Still, there’s something about her that makes her different from the other kids: we made our way back home and I descended on the kitchen, as I’m known to do, and she immediately appeared, dressed to the nines, of course, with a sparkly dress covered in sequins and elbow-length cotton gloves.
“Je peux t’aider?” she asked, and as I always do, I looked around for something she could do, some job she could get her hands on so she would feel useful without making me worry about knives and hot oil. The tomato salad, the same one I’ve been making for the past four years, was the perfect thing. And so my little Junior Counselor carefully picked fresh basil leaves from the plant in the garden, added salt and oil–”Tu me dis stop?”–until I told her it was enough, and mixed carefully with a wooden spoon until everything was ready.
She fades back and forth between being nearly an adult to just another little girl. She came with me to pick up peaches from the marchande de pêches, and she immediately grew tired and wanted to be held and cuddled and amused. But as soon as Anne-Marie arrived with the three younger Turkish girls, Junior Counselor was back to giving orders and telling the little ones what they could do to help.
I jokingly call her my mini-me now. She’s taken over some of my daily tasks–she writes the menu on the chalkboard in the kitchen every night and carefully wipes down the whiteboard to write the schedule for the next day before she goes to bed. In the morning, as I cut bread for tartines, she appears and, without even asking, starts setting the table: assiettes, bols, couverts. She shows the younger kids where everything is and helps them to put it in the right place.
And then when she’s done, she comes to where I’m sitting and climbs into my lap and waits for a hug.
“Ta robe est jolie,” she tells me, petting the fabric of my cotton dress. I kiss the top of her head, because with little kids, sometimes all you want to do is kiss and hug them, and all they want is to be kissed and hugged. The Junior Counselor is never far now–she can tell when I’m ready to start making dinner, and she appears, already wearing an apron to cover whatever dress she’s picked out for the occasion.
“Je peux t’aider?” she asks. Even if there’s nothing to do, I find something, just so I can see the look on her face as everything comes together, and I can remember what that was like when I was eleven and things were that new.
Salade de Tomates
This salad is perfect to make with kids, because the recipe is so not exact. Good, fresh tomatoes and good olive oil are key here. After that, there’s no need to worry.
5-6 large, fresh tomatoes, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, pressed
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2-3 tsp. salt
5-6 fresh basil leaves
Combine the tomatoes, garlic, oil and salt to taste in a large bowl. Rip the basil leaves into the salad and toss to combine. Serve with a smile, and be sure to say “merci” to your junior counselor.
La Fontaine des Eaux–Paziols