After we piled the insane amount of things we brought across oceans into our absolument tiny Fiat Canc Cent (yes, people of Cannes, we too travel in a Yacht, a Fi-Yacht), our very first stop in France was one of those crazy-Euro-mall compounds that sells absolutely everything. Though these stores are sort of nightmarish and not at all the authentic-ancient-crumbling-stucco-boulangerie feel you hope for in France, they also have everything you need in one place (excellent if you require camp stove gas AND saussicon) and boast 500 foot long aisles of nothing but rosé.
Our first shopping list was this: camp stove gas, corkscrew, sausage, cheese, bread, peaches, a strange spicy watercress, water, wine, and 4 small tin mugs for morning coffees and sodas de route. Armed with our tin cups, the corkscrew, and my trusty opinel, we proceeded to picnic our way across the countryside, spreading the tie-dyed towels Rav had sent us in a gay ladies care package to precede her arrival, breaking out the bread and covering absolutely everything in a fine scrim of baguette crumbs and sausage ends. Slanted sunset mugs in the backseat full of champagne and an antire wooden plateau of honeyed peaches in les Hautes Alpes, brimming with funky cider at 10 am, the perfect breakfast with the three cheeses in ascending pungencies (le goute!) purchased straight from the farmer in Erveden, dusky red wine with the hazelnut sausages of Dordogne, and all the beautiful baguettes we could stuff in our baguette holes. Nage tous le jours y Vive le pique-nique.
A very good song to sing when you are dipping your toes for the very first time into the surprisingly warm bright turqouise waters of a clue in the Hautes Alpes Maritimes or when you’re doing the run-in-a-figure-8-high-five-then-book-it-into-the-freezing-ocean that we first perfected on the beaches of Maine (but is equally as necessary in the chilly waters of Bretagne) or when you’re in a valley of waterfalls flowing under an old Roman Bridge or diving into a saltwater pool above Cannes or crossing a river of blooming flowers to get to an Ophelia cave… a good little chant to do with your ladyloves is this: Les Filles Américaines Nage Tous Les Jours. Sometimes chanted to the tune of Citizen Cope, sometimes spoken lustily in the style of Serge Gainsbourg, this is our mantra: The American Girls Swim Every Day. An ode to our friend, Daniel Start, who wrote the best book, Wild Swimming, that dictated our route every morning, our map annotated with places to swim and to sleep, the resting locales of ancient megalithes anointed with red wine and confirmed with a finger trace.
Les Filles Américaines Nage Tous Les Jours. When your agenda is only dictated by whether or not you have time to go to the farther swimming spot or not before it gets dark (at 11pm) to get to the bar on the ancient stone square in time before it stops serving its savory crepes filled with caramelized onions and topped with an egg (at 10pm) and you need to set up your tent while there is still a shred of light (12am), then that is a day dictated by the good and pure impulses of the world indeed and you thank your lucky stars that you’ve chosen to live by the mantra (Nage Tous Les Jours) and that you’ve surrounded yourself with those of like mind (Les Filles Américaines) who are on your same page, who are most happy when wet bathing suits and plateaus full of ripe peaches and tin cups full of vin rouge festoon the backseat on the way to adventure. Les Filles Américaines Nage Tous Les Jours.
many of these photos are from Mlle. AMR and Mlle. McKay, immortalized here.
BACK. BACK. BACK. BACK. Oh la la and oh my my, mama, mama many worlds I’ve come since I first left home! Back in a whirlwind to New York, picked up by Sweetheart at the airport, immediately to New Park Pizza for the city’s most iconic slice (when you find yourself in Howard Beach…), and home to Virginia on the wings of a sailing sheepskinned jet lag, home to find the house totally overturned in anticipation of “holy moly we’re getting married, like, NOW, we’d better get this joint fixed up!”, the garden: NOT DEAD! and yielding 1 tomato, 1 yellow crookneck squash, and 1 costata romanesca squash. Heir. Loom. Cukes and Peppers greening and golding up, weeds and dust and vines covering everything like a redneck Miss Havisham. Infinite adventures to recount between now and then (and we’ll get there) but in the meantime, just want to send L.O.V.E. to this cow that McKay hired to wake us up in the Haute Pyrennes so that we could go swimming in that utterly freezing glacial snow-melt lake before coffee (watch the video here. BON JOUR!). As Ann Marie says: If Lac, Then Nage. And L.O.V.E. to these ladies, these women of adventure and grandeur who are at once so different than I and also so very much the same. It is one of the most sincere joys and pleasures there is to crease the map against its folds (I promise), eat the red diamonds, run through the crowd holding hands, be re-taught stickshift, receive energy barefoot in the farmer’s field, cover the car in flowers and honey, and make bread and wine and saussicon in the crumb filled scarf strewn backseat of a Fiat 500 with you all. Nage. Tour. La. Jours, ma biches.
Back in November, dearest Ann Marie, fresh off the heels of tumultuous autumn that precipitated a few enjoyably feisty red-wine-nocturnes at my old kitchen table, got an invite to her friend Jerome’s wedding. A Frenchman she met in Oregon, a bon vivant and adventurer of the old school, she introduced Jerome to his future bride and now got the tap to come to Bretagne for the wedding, to loll on the beaches and drink apple cider from tin mugs and listen as the crackle of drippings from fatted pigs with Norman apples in their mouths sizzled over ancient spits in soaring castles plunked down in the middle of lavender fields buzzing with bees and honey and love and majesty and romance. PLUS ONE. Taking into account all of that+wanderlust+roadstripping histories, and after much discussion about the quickening turn of years and pulling apart of our orbits that we fight against tooth and nail, Miss Ann Marie asked if I’d be her plus one. I consulted the oracles (Mama said DO. IT.), backed into that math (don’t know how I’ll swing it but I’ll figure it out), put on some red lipstick and a beret (obviously), and pulled the trigger. If not this, what? If not now, when? The yes, the spark, the setting into motion a butterfly tumble of good-vibes ripples that actually finds us now, on the eve of departure, a whole clan of women ready to move and meet and join in joy on the gilded coasts of SOFRA (the SOuth of FRAnce), to dance and leap and swim and wrap ourselves in scarves and memories and chilled rosé and funky cheeses and celebrate the living of it because, if you hadn’t noticed, that’s the way that you’ve got. to. do. it. Because, honestly, what else is there? As Daddy says: Life is a Banquet and Most Poor Suckers are Starving To Death. To the feast.
So, yes, I know that Valentine’s Day was over a week ago, but but but there were literally FEET of snow on the ground on the actual mostromanticredrosebannerdayoftheyear so, I wasn’t allowed to actually break out my valentine until just this weekend, when the temperatures inexplicably were in the low 70’s. Let me just say: after an incredibly long winter of incessant snow-fall, shin-deep city sidewalk slush, and muddy-pawed squirrels tirelessly breaking into my birdseed, 70 degrees on the naked skin feels totally, utterly, soul-rising-in-the-body-like-sap-in-a-maple incredible. But, I have to say… it doesn’t feel as incredible as the revving and rumbling motor horsetremble of my very own gorgeous gas powered lady sized Stihl chainsaw. Which is what I got for Valentine’s Day this year. To be fair, Sweetheart and I actually got it for each other (and we’ve decided this is how we’re going to roll on Valentine’s Day from here on out: an excuse to buy the big-ticket-thing we’ve both been jonesing for together), but, per usual, even though it’s “ours”, he’s letting me take the reins, letting me wear the orange-kevlar-pants, only yelling from the side (he has to yell since I’m wearing safety ear-muffs) “PLANT YOUR FEET! DON’T SWITCH YOUR HANDS WHEN YOU TAKE OFF THE CHAIN BRAKE! DON’T LET THE CHAIN HIT THE GROUND”. Bellows which, honestly, are sweeter than any sweet nothing whispered into a naked ear by a moon-eyed-cassanova. Be still my beating heart, it’s revving at 2.3 HP, fully oiled up, and ready to take on the world.
Oh, our valley. Our little farmhouse is nestled, as we like to say “in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains”, and this isn’t necessarily, literally, true since the honest, round shouldered mountains I look up at from my kitchen sink are too kind to throw their shadows over us. Instead those mountains, my mountains, Buck’s Elbow, Calf Mountain, and the big mama, Afton, lie quiet and strong, old and wise, the Farmer’s Almanac to the Rocky Mountains’ Motorcycle Diaries, close enough to touch, and easy enough to climb. In the winter sunlight, their bare branched sides look like tawny brushed velvet from the middle distance, and in the far away reaches of the valley, they do, indeed look blue. We’ve explored up and down the back side of Calf Mountain from the windy switchbacks that rise above the peach orchard, an adventurous drive that requires kicking it into 4 wheel and along which live several beekeepers who keep their bee yards fenced in electric wires (by necessity they have to be more serious about bears than we do), but we hadn’t ever taken the swift and easy hike to the top of it via the Appalachian Trail.Cold, clear, and winding through golden chaffed meadows dotted with relics of ancient apple trees, the most amazing thing about the simple hour or two we spent taking our time was (duh) the view from the top. Calf Mountain rises, stately, and, again quietly, between two valleys, ours, the Rockfish to the east, and on the other side, the legendary Shenandoah to the west. From the top of it, you can sit quietly in the still, warm, shadow of the wind, and see the valleys, spreading away from Afton in front of you like slow honey off into the distance, the peaks bluer and softer as they hold hands and walk farther and farther away, chiaoscuroed by the smokes of a thousand woodstoves as far as the eye can see.Forgive the awkward stitching on this photo, it was too majestic not to even try to capture it…
And back in the bosom of the sweet sunny south, where it is pretty much never a kick in the guts and when, after a day of glorious physical labor stolen from the computer desk, after filling the bird feeders with dark seed and fresh suet and watching the menagerie return one by crimson-feathered one, when the sun is setting over these mountains, beers are are only $3.