By Kathleen Barber
Provence, France, July 2014
As I climb from the village to the Château de Lacoste, the castle home of the Marquis de Sade, I realize that I am little more than a papered-over fourteen year old. I am still searching for my life, even though by now, I have lived most of it. I stop on the precariously steep path to wait for my friend, Lorraine. She has known me since I was fourteen and I marvel at her generosity in forgetting who I was back then: a swirling vortex of disappointment and desire laced with a foolish belief that there was something out there that would put me in order—if only I could find it.
A slice of gold catches my eye. I peer down a long, dark alley formed by two ochre buildings standing like angry lovers, an arms-length apart. Beyond the alley lies a quilt pattern of gold and green farmland. Lorraine passes me, good-naturedly complaining about my fascination with going up hills.
Hills excite me and Lorraine never says ‘no’, which is fortunate as we are spending a week in the Luberon, the hill country of Provence. Cobblestones make the path uneven: we aren’t ashamed to hold on to the handrails. In America, we probably wouldn’t be allowed to walk up here. In America, we are so bent on suing our neighbors for every bump that life gives us that we allow little risk . . . little adventure. I imagine the servants of the Marquis trudging this path, bringing grapes from the farm, a blue bowl recently fired, or perhaps a query about a daughter last seen following the Marquis through a side door of the local church. Hanging on a coral-colored wall of a butcher’s shop is a poster announcing Festival de Lacoste, an annual celebration of music and theater created by Pierre Cardin who is also the current owner of the Château. The poster lists Puccinni, Tchaikovsky, Natalie Dessay, and I want to hear everything.
We navigate the last of the cobblestone pathway and all at once are entering the upper courtyard of the eleventh century castle. At this level the building is mostly a limestone ruin. I wonder if there are ghosts. My breathing is heavy with anticipation; my heart is bursting with the discovery of a new world. I turn to see a road and a carpark nearby, but rather than feel foolish for having made the climb from the village, I feel sorry for the tourists who have driven. I smile at Lorraine and she grins back, then makes her way to the magnificent sculpture of a muscular man, his form unnaturally posed. The statue is both beautiful and disturbing, and its placement against the canvas of the sky, magnificent.
A sculpture of a disembodied, imprisoned head of the Marquis de Sade draws me to it. Though his victims have been long at rest, his torment is still not over. I shudder. Instead of thinking about gardens and wine, I find myself trying to reconcile the impulse of life that is sometimes loving and sometimes cruel. What has brought me here?
I go to the edge of the hill and look down and down and do not fall and do not step back. My eyes sweep over the Luberon valley, and I long to explore every town, stand in fields of grapes, climb every hill. A forgotten self writhes beneath the layers of family, career, husband, friends . . . of definitions unsought and dreams abandoned. Time is running out.
“Ready?” Lorriane asks. “There’s plenty more to see today.” I have known Lorraine since she was fourteen, too. When I look at her, I see her sisters, brother, parents—see my own family. Days of unfulfilled longing and moments of exaltation have brought us here. Layers of my life peel away and they float down the hill on a Provence breeze. There is more to see, and Lorraine and I are both still looking. We go back the way we came, and nothing looks the same.
Click images to enlarge. Copyright © 2015, Kathleen Barber
Kathleen Barber, on the right, stands with her friend Lorraine in a field of Provence lavender. Ms. Barber has had over fifteen plays produced in Baltimore community theaters, most recently In the Shadow of Lushan, produced by Fells Point Corner Theater as part of The Baltimore Playwrights Festival. Kathleen is a partner in a manufacturing business, The Fairlawn Tool & Die Company, founded by her father, which has served as the basis for several of her plays. She has had short stories published in Teen Magazine, New England Senior Citizen, and The Maryland Poetry Review.
By Whyndam Standing
(Click images for larger views.)
The “Hip Shots” series of photographs will feature images that were grabbed “on the fly,” with little or no regard for framing and focus. The object of the exercise is to create dynamic pictures, not perfect ones. With this ” shoot-from-the-hip” method the more frames exposed, the better the chances are that you’ll come up with something interesting — a related series that may be arranged as a post. If you’d like additional tips for using the technique, or to submit your own images, drop a question or note in the “Leave a Comment” section, below. This feature will appear most Fridays.
Copyright © 2012 Whyndham Standing.
My Piano Lesson
By Jo-Ann Pilardi
On the Monday after a Saturday dance at my small, all girls’ high school, Pittsburgh circa 1959, Sister Mary Magnus, our principal, called a full school assembly in the gym. A non-Friday assembly meant something serious was up. Exchanging fearful looks, we girls proceeded to the gym. Upon taking a seat in one of the cramped rows of metal folding chairs, I straightened the Student Council badge on my shiny navy blue gabardine uniform.
Sister Magnus was a woman of significant bulk and height, and one who never retreated, flinched, or allowed excuses. That day, she began the assembly by reporting that “vandalism” had taken place during the Saturday dance. Someone had carved a girl’s name into the top of the dusty old upright piano in the gym. Through clenched teeth, she commanded that we tell all, and she threatened that the assembly wouldn’t end until there was a full accounting by the guilty party.
Moving menacingly up and down the rows of girls, Sister Magnus reported that a single clue had been left behind by the culprit: “It’s the name ‘Jo-Ann’—that’s J-O-Hyphen-Capital-A-N-N,” she said. Others in our school of 300 had the same phonetic name, i.e., there were a few “Joannes,” at least one “Jo Ann,” and a couple of “Joanns” and “Joannas.” But there was only one hyphen afoot—me: “Jo-Ann.” I knew my spelling was unique. Magnus knew it too—and so did the other nuns and all my classmates.
Magnus stopped to stare at me, silently inviting—virtually forcing—me to confess. Student Councilor Me. President of the National Honor Society Me. Member of the Latin, History, and French Honor Societies. Winner of the city’s “Seven Wonders of Pittsburgh” essay contest. All those Me’s. Was I also Guilty Me? And would I be a Confessing Me?
Of course I knew who the “vandal” was. He was a friend of mine—Ronnie R., cousin of my best friend, and a chronic tease. Ronnie attended the nearby boys’ Catholic high school, so if I informed on him, within minutes the word would reach the Christian Brothers who ran the school, and Ronnie would be yanked out of class and . . . who knows what? The thought of being an informant disgusted me. On top of that, I couldn’t make a public Confession to the assembly just because it was my name engraved on the piano and I knew the vandal. Confessing meant accepting one’s guilt, and I was guilty of nothing. Besides, Sister Magnus would never believe that I wasn’t a party to the act. Remaining silent to save Ronnie was also a way to save myself.
The tense interrogation continued as Magnus repeated the histrionics, threats, and calls for a Confession. But I continued to stonewall her. I already knew that the spoken word can intimidate, but now I understood the power of silence. So I faced down my Inquisitor—Jo-Ann of Arc Me against the judges of the court. Not guilty of the sin of vandalism, I wouldn’t confess. Guilty of the non-sin of knowing the vandal, I wouldn’t confess. Surprised by my own willful silence, I learned something about my own values. Maybe Sister Magnus learned a little something too.
Copyright © 2012 Jo-Ann Pilardi.
Jo-Ann Pilardi is retired from Towson University where she taught Philosophy and Women’s Studies for 38 years. A working class Italian from Pittsburgh, she moved to Baltimore in 1969 and was active in women’s movement groups through the 1970s. Currently, she teaches for TU’s Osher Institute, reads and writes, gardens, travels, and studies jazz piano. In the schoolyard photo above, Jo-Ann is in the center, and her friend Noriene is on the right. (Click images for larger views.) She thanks Jim Sizemore for help in shortening and editing this original essay for Doodlemeister.Doodlemeister is looking for short memory pieces up to 500 words, on any subject, in any style — as long as it happened to you. Whatever the subject, we have a bias for the lighthearted tone. If need be, we’ll help you to edit and/or cut your piece. If you’d like to submit a story, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org