Painting by Gustav Klimt

Write to register history, and name each thing. Write what should not be forgotten.

Isabel Allende

*

“The more we cling to the overriding importance of parents and the more cosmological power we accord them, the less we notice the fathering and mothering afforded by the world every day in what it sends our way. The world affords nesting and sheltering, nourishing and quenching, adventuring and playing. The world is made less of nouns than of verbs. It doesn’t consist merely in objects and things; it is filled with useful, playful, and intriguing opportunities. The oriole doesn’t see a branch, but an occasion for perching; the cat doesn’t see a thing we call an empty box, but sees safe hiding for peering. The bear doesn’t smell honeycomb, but the opportunity for delicious feeding. The world is buzzing and blooming with information, which is always available and never absent.

— James Hillman

A number of people showed up at our door, one by one, offering help and advice to ease our adjustment to the French village we had chosen to live in. The first was a heavy set man who eventually became mayor, a retired professor at a nearby University and the one Communist in town. Word had gotten around that we were Americans, so naturally he wore his leather I-love-NY cap to go with his leather shorts. He assured us he was at our disposition.

We soon found ourselves in hot water with immigration authorities because we lacked proper documentation. Regulations had gotten much stricter since I first went to France in 1963. The European Union now insists that Americans only get a three month tourist visa every year. We needed a long stay visa, which we were told could not be gotten in France. They said we had to go back, which we really didn’t want to do.

Monsieur Carre — that was his name — offered to try to straighten everything out for us, pushing against a formidable and inflexible French bureaucracy. I sat in his home office as he spoke on the phone with various officials, selling us as deserving but clueless American artists who couldn’t possibly be expected to follow the rules.

Of course we did have to follow the rules, regardless how deserving we might be, but that was our introduction to Gilbert Carre. Once he became mayor, getting our visas and house plans approved was assured. He had been a senator and knew everyone. He was an extroverted and generous man, always ready to help.

The ecological movement was a mystery to Monsieur Carre. His focus was on getting economic justice for everyone. We were shocked and disappointed that the grove of trees in the center of the village was cut down to fatten the municipal coffers a bit, for example.

When we put a new roof on our house he would walk around it often, exclaiming how much good it did him just to see it. By that time he was dying from an undiagnosed cancer and walked with a pronounced limp. He had a long history with our village, which had been abandoned by the younger generation in favor of cities where they could find work.

We, the clueless Americans, had shown up and renovated a crumbling-but-once-noble house (built in 1718) that had been mistreated for over a hundred years. We didn’t know the history of the house, though. To us it was a big enough structure that could hold all of us and our projects.

In Austin we had worked on older houses, but those were wooden houses with plumbing and electricity. This house had been recently retrofitted with basic plumbing and heating but everything was different. The roof beams were made from giant trees a foot thick. The stone walls were a meter in thickness. We had never seen or used ancient wine cellars.

Gilbert Carre was there from the first day we arrived with encouragement and a helping hand.

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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