Monday, February 2, 2009
I had an idea today V/9 pt. 2
The old farmer from St. Jean came by today. He has the four hectares my vigneron is working. They are nice parcels, down by the river. He wanted my vigneron to come over to the house to ‘talk’. In the field they talked about the weather, hospital care for the elderly and funereal concerns, something about the daughter in Lyon. All briefly. We were working. Details take time. Hence the sit-down.
The old man is dying. His wife is dying too. She will probably go first he says. He sounds like he won’t wait much longer after she does go. He is fed up. Not bitter, but something that hints of that same taste, touches that same area of strong, not pleasant sensation. In the end there are doctors and hospitals. He finds himself operating in a world of people who don’t care or have time, and right now those are the only two things he wants. In spite of that the life goes on. In the meantime there are affairs to be arranged.
M. Guy was a gardener in Paris for 20 years. He was employed by the abdicated king of England, Edward VIII. Re-titled as Duke of Windsor, Edward lived in Paris with his forbidden bride until he died in 1972. It was then that M. Guy left Paris and installed with his wife in St Jean. He said they were all given a nice bonus when he left. That gesture made the rest of M. Guys life more secure, less fraught with stress. Perhaps in consequence M. Guy is a generally pleasant and happy man. He attributes a lot of that regard on life to the Gardens of the Duke of Windsor
So M. Guy got his vines in the village, and made the world in his order. Along his vines he had all kinds of flowers, and fruit trees. There was plenty of water from the stream that runs along his vines. The life flourished and he lived it among the paysans with a constant and quiet knowledge of his earthy but not peasant past. They had at least one daughter. The daughter is 40ish, perhaps she was even born in St Jean, but in any case now lives in Lyon and visits once in a while with her family.
Alors... now it is 2009 and this couple is I guess in their eighties. He is dying, running out of steam as he says it. He sounds so British when he says “Running out of Steam” even though he is speaking French. He is French, but his time under Edward changed him, “given me an English color” he said. He seemed happy at having acquired it.
That’s why he had an interest in me. For him the Americans were some kind of stranger, shinier offspring of the already strange English. He had taken a liking to them during his time tending the Paris garden of the expatriated English King and his American wife. That story was sold as a heroic English love story. It played out, like the war that was brewing in 1936 (and perhaps because of it) on a global scale. The old vigneron standing in front of me had witnessed a part of that global love story on a very intimate scale. He thought well towards the Duke’s wife, Ms. Wallis Warfield Simpson. Hence the vigneron of St Jean’s kind, glaucoma-ed, eye towards me.
I’m an American too, now tending his vines in France. His own heroic love story of personal proportions is ending. His wife didn’t even recognize him the other day in the hospital. When he asked the nurse how she was doing, the nurse had responded ‘fine’. He was exasperated.
He said it was then that he saw the funny little circle he had run on. We all run on. Even an abdicated king of England. We all finish old and if we are lucky in our gardens. But we finish, and it is never without that slight taste of bitterness that it is that way. Now the old vigneron was seeing it first hand. It was that taste he was trying to spit out. He was a gardener, a vigneron, a self willed paysan, he knew the only thing that would rinse that bitter taste from him was the earth. It was for that he was prodding about in the vines looking for the vigneron.
‘That’s what the doctors should be for. They should have a solution for the bitter tastes of life that we have acquired and need rinsed away". He knows the doctors aren’t going to ‘cure’ his wife, or for that matter him. But he couldn’t accept that they end up adding more bitterness because old age and dying was a business. He was asking for something different. He was simply asking, as any good citizen should have the right to do, for a bit of respectful concern and accompaniment on the way out.
There was something in his demand for a bit of simple justice that struck me as very English in its upright manner and, for the good of mankind, delivery. I could almost see a powdered and wigged courtier leaning over to the dethroned king and in his fay, proper English accent saying, “It was stated properly and was just on level, wouldn’t you agree your Royal Highness?
So the four hectares need to be dispersed with. It makes no sense for the daughter to take them, by the time she deals with all the other heritage matters the vines will have gone to seed. My vigneron has been working them for the past two years for costs and the sale of the grapes, which isn’t much, up until this point. There are four parcels, two with new vines that are just about to start producing. I stooped over for several days in a hot May sun and put those new vines in the ground two years ago.
So there was the old farmer from St. Jean. He has the four hectares my vigneron is working. They are nice parcels, down by the river. They are going to exchange hands, we know which pair is giving them over, we don’t know yet whose will be receiving them. Those things are not always clear, even after the notary has stamped the papers.
After I left the vines that night, I stopped at a friends house. His wife is in the wine making business, she deals with my vigneron and M. Guy amongst others. He does whatever needs being done. He’s a stranger here too, his roots come from gardens a long way from here.
He has envy to lay down roots here, but even a house and some kids don’t seem deep enough. He dreams of a little plot where he can sink down in the earth. A hectare or two in St Jean. Tend some grapes that his wife will change into wine. He wants to build a tiny flagship. I’m trying to convince them to do, and that they’ll need a partner.
The old vigneron said the abdicated king always told him that the further you strayed from your land, the more important your garden became. He said that was why the exiled Edward valued him so highly, he tended his gardens. It is also why M. Guy wants to see his vines settled before he departs. He wants to believe they’ll continue to be tended, to feel the weather change when he no longer can.