1947. The war is over yet some schism separates my parents. On July 1st, her children in tow, my mother embarks on an endless train ride out of Brussels. A day later, at the train station of Saint Rémy de Provence, we are met by a horse and cart to continue the journey to a small stone cottage, "Le Mas du Diable", the House of the Devil. I am not scared because Maman is quite firm: there is neither god, nor devil. Outside the village, we are in a landscape unchanged since tormented Vincent painted it, and it is glorious.
I am utterly enchanted by the warm sun, the light on the hills, the tournesols in their brilliant golden yellows. Great swatches of violet blue flowers all around us exude an indescribable perfume. I breathe mouth open trying to keep it inside my body. Maman closes her eyes and inhales deeply, "Lavender", she murmurs. "Are we staying here?" I want to know. Maman looks at me thoughtfully, "Yes, all summer". I am 8 and all summer is forever.
All summer I run free through the pinèdes, watch out for snakes and scorpions, see gypsies in painted carts. In Les Beaux, at the edge of a cliff, a violent gust of mistral suddenly lifts me. Maman grabs me and then hugs me tightly. We buy tiny santons.
All summer wonderful food appears on my plate: olives, smooth green and wrinkled brown, goat cheeses, baguette made from corn meal (wheat is still so expensive), figs, melons, ratatouille and grilled sardines. To our syrop de cassis, Maman adds water, to hers white wine and calls it kir.
All summer there is fresh lavender on the table, and lavender inside our pillows so we'll sleep well. We wear short shorts and espadrilles, and turn as brown as baguettes.
All summer, in an irrigation basin in the midst of lavender fields, naked, I practice diving and swimming. Bees are buzzing and ciccadas singing in the heady scented heat. Eyes closed, sun on my belly, cool water on my back, I float. I am a small Ophelia in nirvana. Then one day, the fields are full of people cutting flowers. Maman explains about soaps and perfumes. I am stunned.
All summer letters have come from Papa, a few at first then more. "When is he coming?" "You'll see Papa soon, in Brussels". I am stunned again, but most of all heartbroken to be torn from paradise. Maman tells me I should love Papa more.
In gray Brussels, arm in arm, they take me to the swimming pool so I can display my new prowess. Maman said it was like the irrigation basin only bigger. Not true. Not true. It is an immense indoor echoing place, full of noisy people, smelling horribly of chlorine. "I want to go back to St Rémy!" I wail. Papa says, "C'mon, swim!". Later, so I'll sleep well, Maman puts lavender in my pillow . I cry deep into it. Then sleep.