Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Southern France Part II - Languedoc-Rousillon

I went to breakfast at 7am, as soon as the dining room opened, to find dad already there in his running gear, his pale legs poking out from under a breakfast table like matchstick potatoes. His glasses lay on the table and he was absorbed in Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. As I approached the table he said "bonjour" and then his entire body spasmed for a moment as if he´d been struck by lightning.
"I didn´t see that it was you!" he said, returning the glasses to his face, and then, as if picking up on a conversation thread from a previous discussion: "By my calculations, we´re number four and five in here for breakfast," and began a discouse on the wisdom of choosing hotels that cater to the business traveler on weekends, because that´s when the rates are cheapest. "I hate to tell you what I paid for our rooms," he said conspiratorially, his index finger resting on his lower lip. I stood up to get some orange juice and he stopped mid-sentence, continuing right where he left off when I sat down as if I´d hit a pause button on him when I stood from the table, "Eighty-Nine Euros." Two more patrons arrived, prompting dad to tell me that the breakfast count was now up to 7. Some mornings I have patience for his line of thinking, other mornings its like having breakfast with Rain Man. I finished my coffee and told him I needed to make a phone call. "Hold it, you´re not calling from the room are you?" he called after me.
"No dad, I have a calling card."

I walked outside and found a glass walled phone booth on a street corner. Nothing good ever happens in glass walled phone booths. At least once in every spy movie an innocent bystander makes a phone call from one, only to be mistaken by a hit man and killed in a drive-by shooting. I looked up and down the street for any suspicious looking vehicles before walking in. It was midnight in Chicago, and I spoke to M as tiny dogs on leashes stuck their noses underneath the glass and sniffed me as they passed by.

Sophie and Brayton, friends from Chicago who own a home in Uzes, picked us up at the hotel. We drove along a narrow, winding two-way road that was perilously close to a deep ditch that ran next to it, and looked like it barely accomodated a single car. I gripped the door handle of the passenger side seat the whole way, though I´m not sure what use it would have done me if we´d tipped over into the ditch or crashed into an oncoming vehicle. Our first stop was at the Languedoc-Roussilon Quaker meeting, housed in a building that dates back to the 1800´s and is surrounded by olive trees that get pressed into oil every year at harvest time. We were greeted by a woman who asked where dad and I were from; dad said we were from planet earth, I rolled my eyes and didn´t care who saw it.

I was glad for the silence, I haven´t attended Quaker meeting regularly in years, but I was tired and it guaranteed me one precious hour of being in the presence of dad minus his incessant patter. I´m not sure I´ve ever seen dad quiet for that long. There were 14 of us present, I was the youngest by at least 20 years. At the rise of meeting everyone introduced themselves; dad presented himself by saying he was born in a town that had not one but two periodic elements named after it - Berkelinium and Californium. I said I was visiting from Chicago and left it at that.

An outdoor pot-luck lunch followed with oysters on the half shell, wine, and other delectable treats that I´ve never seen at any other Quaker pot-luck meal. I watched as the aging Quakers around me absorbed dad´s eccentricities like wine to sponge cake, and realized that I´d hit the jackpot - Quakers always tolerate eccentricities, there are at least five eccentrics in every Quaker meeting I´ve ever been to, why hadn´t I thought of this years ago? I relaxed at the table, absorbing the late afternoon sunshine and the pleasant buzz brought on by wine from local vineyards, confident in the knowledge that I was in good hands.


j.cro said...

That meal sounds delightful! It's nice you were able to enjoy it without anxiety.

Parents are a handful, aren't they?

Midtagessen said...

Hello girl...sounds like fun, kinda.

JP said...

Sigh, parents...

Amy said...

Jess--Your writing is lovely! And YES, exactly, about Quakers welcoming eccentrics and sometimes being eccentric. Once I was looking for a monthly meeting in western NY and when I saw the guy in the faded Nuclear Freeze t-shirt practicing tai chi in a drizzle outside, I knew I was in the right place.

Hope all of your travels went well.

-Amy Hostler
(another former Northside attender)

JP said...

Thanks Amy!