Her voice chirped through the hedge and I scrambled up from the patio chair where I’d been since sunrise, working at my laptop and trying to see things eye to eye with my camera.
“Oui, Madame, bonjour?” I called back, folding laptop flat, setting it on the tiled table next to me, maneuvering off the lavender linen cushion that made the wrought iron tolerable for so many hours. I then searched for the person to match the voice.
There was the top of a head. Blonde. Then a face. Smiling. Wide bright blue eyes. And two waving hands over the uppermost greenery of the hedge.
She continued to address me in French.
“So, you speak French? Wonderful! I’m so relieved. Enchanted to make your acquaintance,” her manicured hand stretched over the branches to meet my hand, also stretching. Unmanicured.
“Blanchard, Françoise. I’m here during the summers. And you?”
“Bradford, Mélissa. Only this week. Unfortunately. We’ve driven down from Geneva this time, but we’ve vacationed here in Maussane for over 15 years, now.” I was glad to talk with this neighbor, but must have seemed distracted, since I was already sensing sweat seeping beneath my hair pulled back in its typical morning pony tail. The instant I appeared from under the shade of the awning, I began sizzling. Things were beyond glistening. They were dripping.
Maussane is a village in the heart of Provence at the base of the low range of mountains called les Alpilles. It is also, this past week at least, in the heart of a heat wave. Until this year we’d come in early June or latest, July. Never late August, and I felt the difference, drizzling while squinting into sun that was high in the sky and fierce as an angry bull’s snort. My boys and husband had been at the pool for a couple of hours already, escaping temperatures that would make my lap top, by the time I would return to it following this neighborly chat, hot enough to fry my thighs when I would open it up again.
“So, you write, I see.” Françoise motioned to where she’d apparently been watching me sitting, tapping.
“Yes, yes. Working on two books at once, actually,” and I rolled my eyes at myself, sputtering, as if to mock my own Type A idea of vacation.
I’m an author, too, imagine!”, she exclaimed as she clapped her hands together. “Eight novels. I’ll give you one, if you’d like. Little romances, you know. Local stories. Fragrant. French.”
“I’d love a copy, thank you. I’m always looking for inspiration.” I wiped my forehead into my hairline, dabbed my upper lip.
“Oh, don’t you worry,” my sweat must have made me look worried, “You’ll find inspiration here. This area grows writers like it does olives,” Françoise said. “Or grapes. Or figs.”
“Figs?” I’d sampled more than my share of Provençal olive oil, no use hiding that. Better said, olive oil is my beverage of choice. Since I don’t drink the wine. But figs?
“But of course! Figs!” Françoise lifted her voice and fingers, pointing behind my head. “Your tree! Les figues!”
Okay. So that’s what those small black pouches were plopping now and again on the pebbles all this time I was writing. Les figues!
“This tree?” I turned to the tallest thing in the garden, impossible to miss. “A fig tree?”
“But of course! Tell me . . .” her large blue eyes narrowed in the direction of the fig tree, “Are you, uh, are you going to harvest them?” She smiled, caution holding her lips just a bit tightly.
“Harvest? I guess. . .yes, of course, I planned on waiting till the sun gets lower this afternoon, then I’ll—”
“Simply rinse them well, stem them, cut them into quarters, soak them in some water and honey, and let them cook, “ she instructed with spirit. “Lentement. Come Christmas? Confit de figues avec foie gras! Absoluement délicieux, I assure you.”
“Then I can bring a basket of fresh figs to you a bit later?”
“To me?” Françoise acted surprised. “Very kind of you. But I must warn you: once you discover Provençal figs, you’ll add them to everything. I tell you: Everything.”
That day, (and I couldn’t wait until the sun moved lower in the bleached denim sky to do this), I gathered a whole sink full of newly fallen figs.
Then I climbed the tree, eating as I went. Another bucket full. I followed her instructions and had my first ever confit de figues.
Then the next day, same routine. Figs with chilled lemon yogurt.
Next day the same. And many figs. And many pots of lemon yogurt.
Figs with tomatoes and endive (and rivers of olive oil) for my salad. Figs with steamed fennel and toasted walnuts. Figs on rye toast with almond butter.
Figs as facial scrub.
Françoise was right. You can add figs to everything. Even to your writing.
So to test her words, in the following posts describing our week in Provence, I’ll make “fig” figure in everywhere. As a figure of speech. A figment of my imagination. A terrifig figtion.
I figure I’ll work it all out.
We will begin tomorrow with Afignon.
Make that Avignon. . .
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.