March 31, 2020

Greetings from Les Baux.

In my head right now, I am speaking that sentence in Garrison Keiler’s deep baritone voice ( “Greetings from Lake Woebegone…”).

That makes me smile because in just three days I have morphed into this wierd cross between a lumberjack, a hearth-witch (fine, I was always a hearth-witch) MacGuyver and a kind of Lady Garrison Keiler.

Here I am, world! As solitary and ensconced in the remote hills as can be except now I am speaking in this low, fine voice, reporting to my imagined listeners from the acres of farmland and vineyards of the mountains of Bedoin, France, to deliver the daily report.

And it’s a fine day here in Les Baux.

The sun is golden-warm and the breeze is nippy-cold. The morning air smells like wood burning from the neighbors fireplace. It is very rural here but my friend’s beautiful little Hamlet-house–which has become my new home– is in the tiny cluster of houses in this tiny village. The houses are ancient stone with the aforementioned wood burning ovens, or they are terra cotta colored with red tile roof, with magenta and green and blue and orange colored flowers in clay pots, and dusty cats posed next to them, lazily drumming their feathered tails in a slice of sunlight.

You may be thinking, what on earth is a nice Jewish girl from Los Angeles doing during the Covid-19 lockdown, all by herself, in the middle of a rural French village? Well, it all started because in early March I was in Tours for work. Tours is a beautiful little French city in the Loire Valley. I was there to perform the Thomas Ades opera “Powder Her Face”. Then Covid-19 came roaring in and everything was cancelled. My colleagues flew home but I felt raw terror of flying. I was terrified of exposing my father—who lives next door to me in LA and is older and vulnerable— to whatever I might have picked up in the airports. Sensing that it might be safer to stay put in France, I did exactly that. And, I reasoned, my Airbnb in Tours was paid up till April anyways. Or so I thought. One week after Macron announced the lockdown, my French Airbnb host demanded that I vacate her apt. Terrified of getting stuck in France with dwindling flights home and at a time when friends could not take a guest into their homes, and with Airbnbs being forbidden to operate, I was rescued by friends in Les Baux. Their guest cottage was free. “Come.” they said. Come here and be safe. So I did.

As I write this I have the terrace door open and I can hear the sound of someone’s tractor in the field, plus the lip-trembling fluttering sound of wings touching air, from a flock of tiny birds—are they humming birds?– swooping down, delicately, in my back deck.Right now as I type, I can hear the neighbors horses sneezing or whinnying or talking to each other in the field where they graze. I have a cup of hot Darjeeling with milk and Walkers Shortbread cookies on a plate next to me. I am writing and it is blissful.

Yesterday, my kind friend, who owns the house, and whose family lives a quarter mile away– delivered a cardboard box of groceries.  I had made a list. She left them on the doorstep and left quickly to keep safe distance.

The most exciting thing in the box were the carrots. They were covered in soil, blackened with earth. I washed them with hot water in the sink.

“Sorry I couldn’t find everything on your list.” she had texted me earlier. ” I should have just told you what was in season. Right now its asparagus and strawberries.”

I was slightly embarrassed; it’s a bit of a clueless city-slicker mistake, the things I requested (brussel sprouts!) are nowhere near in season.

Next time, I will do the shopping for her and her family. We have decided to trade off, to keep all of us out of the markets as much as possible.

And now I am sitting, with the terrace door open, listening to the breeze, and the sound of what I think is a bumblebee out back.

It is so beautiful here that it feels easy to forget that  that my 78 and 82 year old parents are far away from me in Los Angeles, and that I worry for their well being and safety and the safety of my older aunt and uncle and cousins, that I worry for my immuno-compromised older sister, that I am worried about my vulnerable friends, desperately miss the touch of my friends, and massage, and my Sansa and her sweet warm body on my lap, my beloved Sansa dog who is not with me.

It’s almost enough that if I squint I could forget the daily deaths popping up on my Faceboook.

It’s almost enough to forget that I am currently doing this whole self-isolation without any other mammal for company, in a country that is not my own, and with no idea how long any of this will last, and will I be able to sing in a theatre with humans again—its almost like if it weren’t for those things, I could just swoon about the fact that this countryside scenario here is my childhood dream come true.

So I try to focus on the beauty. Happily, I have an endless capacity for seeing beauty, and a matching capacity for solitude, one that would shock most people even in non-pandemic times, even if the latter is more complex.

I sleep very well here.

The house is cold—but somehow I like it. I put kindling on the wood burning stove at night, even though its more for the poetic value than actual warmth ( Look at me trying to stay warm!  I am Mimi in La Boheme; I will sing *che gelida manina*, yay, at long last I get to be in Puccini opera, even if there’s no one here to witness… )

In truth, I had to call a friend on FaceTime who kindly coached me through lighting the  wood-burning oven, my friend who used who lived in a log cabin in Maine ( “Now make sure the flue is open…now break off a littler piece of wood! That’s it! Now make a pyramid…now crumble paper at the bottom….now blow on it….good….No, don’t blow that hard—“ this, after I have indeed blown too hard and started coughing frantically due to the cloud of ash that has come up to my face.)

Still to my surprise, I did manage to make a very decent little fire, even if went out after 30 mins. Thankfully there is one radiator in the house that gives a glorious heat so I just pushed the wooden kitchen table up close to the wall.  Then I could sit right practically on top of that warmth.

Before bed last night, I heated up my red flannel hot water bottle, and got the three heavy blankets ready. I took a hot bath and then dried myself and got under the heavy down covers, running quickly into the warmth, snuggling deep down. I fell asleep fast and easy, the darkness and stillness of the countryside facilliating a whole different kind of rest. It may be true that for a time,  I will not be held by a human or snuggled up to by a child or an animal but somehow, something in the air here holds me, soothes me, rocks me to sleep.

I’ve already gone outside into this beautiful morning, in my pajamas, clutching my mug of Darjeeling.

I wanted to check whether my new Jack Russel Terrier friend, Jacque was there. I am currently trying to work up the courage to knock on his human’s door and ask if he can come walk with me again today. No touching or cuddling —just walking.

Two days ago, on my very first morning in Les Baux, little Jacques saw me across the way and bolted over to accompany me on my nature walk. This, without any invitation on my part, or any objection from his human, who was reading on a chair in her garden. I just started walking towards the crumbly stone path toward the olive groves and Jacques  ran to keep pace with his short little white legs. I kept thinking he would run home, but he did not; he stayed right by my side, growling at the neighboring dogs we passed in their big yards, looking up at me for approval and then scampering in the fields of wild flowers like a bunny rabbit.

When we came home an hour later, his human cried out to him “ Salut mon petit chou!” and he leapt into her arms and she kissed him about a thousand times.

“ Is it OK that he came with me?” I ask in French.

“Mais oui! He anyways goes wherever he wants, he always comes back.” she said.

I desperately wanted to say “Can he walk with me every single day? Can we have your blessing to be friends? ” but I thought it might be a bit much and also my French momentarily dissapeared.

So instead I smiled and pointed like a child to my front door and said “ I live here now. I am Sara.”

Read: I know we can’t hang out but I am the new kid on the block and just wanted to say hi.

And so now I am trying to drum up the courage to knock on Jacque the Terrier’s human’s door,  but I am afraid—first, who knocks on strangers doors during Covid-19 times, except if they need help or are offering help? And also what if they say no? I would not blame them. I would not want my Sansa going with anyone. But I am a city girl and here in the country it feels so remote, so far away—until you flip open Facebook, or check your WhatsApp and 6 different friends have sent you virus graphs.

Still I might dare to. Maybe after another cup of Darjeeling.

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