If We Were Having Coffee…

If we were having coffee, I’d wish that we’d be having it in that little cafe in rue de Thorigny, after a slow afternoon meandering through the Picasso museum. I would have a crème – avec plus de lait svp – because I’m not a real coffee drinker and I like the aroma of it more than the taste. The coffee is really the excuse for the cupcake.

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I would ask you to tell me your story, the places you’ve left your heart at, the lives that are all twined up with yours even though you may have said goodbye a long time ago, the dreams that make you feel strong in the morning and make you cry at night, your favourite poems and what they mean to you. I would listen to the music of your tale, forget myself in the shape of your words, let my coffee get cold. Maybe I would be able to share your loneliness, by showing you mine.

 

Landscape – Provence in Summer

Summer 2015, canicule (heat wave)
Driving in a white Fiat, rented at the Aix-en-Provence TGV

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The journeys were worth as much as the destination – those long drives beneath the billowy clouds and that famous Provencal light, chancing upon fields of beaming sunflowers, listening to our favourite tracks, eating overripe apricots and chips, talking about the past and the future, and the hot, beautiful present.

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The destinations were mostly tiny sleepy villages in brilliant Provençal colours, silent and secretive in the summer light.

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Three fragments of love

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” 
― Ernest HemingwayA Moveable Feast

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La grande roue seen from the other side, the literary side, of the Seine

I was lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a youngish woman, and it has possibly ruined me forever for any other city.

I recall it like an ex-lover, in the soft glow of unfaithful memory where minute details – two crooked front teeth, a mole on the inside of the right ear – are clearly etched but the face, the voice, the reason we broke up, escape me.

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Fontaine Wallace in red at Porte de Versailles. The four caryatids represent kindness, simplicity, charity and sobriety. 

Paris comes to me now in snatches of colour, in a familiar scent that disappears as soon as I notice it, in a wandering tune and most of all, in a taste.

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Artisan dark chocolates laced with passion fruit and ginger, each branded A Night of Love. This is Paris.

Provençal song

There are slivers of colour in my life.
The 18 months I lived in Provence, doing a lot of growing up, pushing out my edges, shutting down the well-trained conforming voice in my head, meandering from my beloved Aix-en-Provence through tiny villages from Roussillon to Jouques, knocking my heart on every sharp edge and just being alive.
provenceI did a lifetime’s worth of learning here, under a sky so gorgeously blue it drenched my poems and dreams.
I spent long minutes gazing at wisterias heavy with violet-blue. It stops time.
Exploring weekend markets where farmers and witches meet, and you could buy sun-soaked courgette flowers (delicious when lightly battered and fried in butter) or magic herbs to flavour soups and teas or draw love to you.
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Summers filled with dazzling music festivals, my most unforgettable being a magical piano recital surrounded by centenary redwoods and sycamores at the Parc du Château de Florans.
There were lonely winter days too, cocooned by the scent of thyme and honey.
Long drives down nameless country roads where when you stopped your car in the dead of night and turned off your headlights, a whole other universe came alive with a million, tiny stars and the mighty song of cicadas.
This is where I discovered the sky, listened to the whispers of the clouds swept into bold, creamy folds by the unforgiving mistral.
Where I noticed patterns in tiny pond ripples and the random gathering of dead leaves.
Today, a thousand miles and selves away, I heard my old Provençal song in a mandala of petals.

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A light story, Tokyo

transparence1A path leads to the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, one of the favourite destinations for hatsumōde (the first shrine visit and prayer of the new year). Bordered by thick green, grey foliage that lets hints of light skitter across the dusty path. Feet kick up the dust so that the air and light create a shadow show. On that day, magnificent, transparent ice sculptures watched us as we made our way toward the main torii. They sat still in the sun, throwing the light about and dripping dainty puddles in the dust. Their transparency made them blend into the winter trees but the light made them shine from within. There were mermaids, chameleons, phoenixes, warriors and dragons in the most intricate detail. As I was admiring a beautiful dragonfly glittering in the sun, his melting wing fell off and hit the ground with a dull thud. The crowd shared a murmur of dismay. “What a pity!” someone said. Yet, its creator knew full well while he was chiseling and carving that every stroke was destined to disappear in a few hours in the sun. I’ve been pondering ever since what motivates us to pour energy and love into a fleeting void?

With chisel and grinder
he chases the sharp, eloquent
8.20 am light into the ice,
one scale and petal at a time,
teasing eyes and tongue from indifference.
How much of himself
given to his frozen mid-action chameleon
who will sit on the edge of the Meiji Jingu forest,
one hundred thousand old trees watching it
softening – too quickly – satiated with dancing winter beams?

I think of us, carved from such fragile substances
as shared moments and love
with such care and tenderness, knowing
that as soon as it is recognizable, beautiful
the sharp, eloquent 8.20 am light
will melt our wings away and
leave us with only stories,
precious stories.

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Vermilion wishes, Kyoto

TEMPLE2The sweet-scented dance of incense and purifying chimes of temple bells drew me into 2016, along with the belief that making a wish here would lead to happy endings.  It was winter – 2 January – but late autumn lingered, lining our temple visits with stunning red-bronze maple leaves, delicately beautiful like the wagashi or Japanese sweets. My favourite temple was the Fushimi Inari, dedicated to the Shinto god of rice (abundance). Maybe it was the presence of the fox in the forms of statues and ema (wooden wishing plaques), the thousands of bright vermilion torii gates illuminating a path through the mountain, or the meditative process of putting one foot in front of the other to climb the seemingly endless little steps to the summit. It was not a breezy hike so I was impressed by the many older temple goers, some with walking sticks, taking on that same journey with peaceful yet determined expressions. They were a part of my meditation. I didn’t reach the top, I stopped climbing when my thoughts became clear and sharp, and my restless heart found stillness – it will be a year of blessedness.

A thousand steps
watched by a thousand vermilion gates.  
Fragile offerings carried by crooked feet    
contested by large soot crows  
in uproar, up wintery Mount Inari
where wishes could perhaps be    
stitched into destiny.
I focus only on my first step.

 
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