Monday, November 16, 2009
Southern France Part III - Uzès
After the potluck meal we got back in the car. I happened to mention to Sophie that the ride from Nimes had made me a little woozy; dad found it necessary to follow up with a story about me vomiting on a Swiss postal bus at six months old. We drove down another set of winding roads to Uzès, to Sophie and Brayton´s home that dates back to 1550. This house is twice as old as America, I thought as I navigated the stone spiral staircase that led to the guest room. It seemed that everything around me could be calculated in terms of how much older it was than the country I live in. We visited the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct built around 19b.c., and olive trees that were 1100 years old. These trees are five times older than America, I thought as I looked at them.
Dad and I dropped off our luggage and walked through the cobblestone streets of the hillside town while Sophie cooked the first of several delicious meals - in the three days we spent in Uzès I don´t think we had a meal that didn´t include local wine and cheese. Dad and I walked past The Duchy of Uzès, where the red and yellow Catalan flag flapped in the wind, and I heard the sounds of a children´s choir practicing from a building somewhere nearby. The dramatic sounds of a pipe organ mixed with the children´s voices, and as they practiced it began to sound oddly familiar. I stood in my tracks for a minute listening, and then it came to me - through their angelic voices I made out the tune and the words to Beat It. My eyes widened, my jaw dropped and I rummaged through my purse looking for my audio recorder, this was one sound I wanted to remember forever. I quickly set it to record, and stood underneath the window where the music was coming from with my arm in the air as people walked past me with quizzical expressions. Unfortunately, in my hurried state I´d jammed the microphone jack into the headset plug, so I´ll just have to remember that incongruous meeting of medievel and Michael Jackson in my mind for the rest of my life.
To say that Sophie and Brayton were good hosts is an understatement; somehow they unlocked the secret to dad´s mannerisms, not just tolerating him but even managing to direct him at times: when dad interrupted me mid-sentence to announce that he´d found a store up the street that sold lavender sachets, Brayton stopped the conversation and pointed it out; when dad poured the last of a bottle of wine into his own glass that Sophie had just reached for, Brayton stopped the conversation and pointed it out; and when dad approached the proprieter of a vinyard to ask for a tasting while another customer was still being helped, Brayton stopped the conversation and pointed it out. I have discovered the secret to visiting dad, and it is to bring Brayton along with me. Perhaps dad has respect for Brayton because they are both mathematicians, or perhaps its the novelty of getting a reaction from someone who hasn´t been worn down from years of exposure to dad. Sophie´s kind manner and unending patience added a dimension of calm and tolerance to the experience.
The rare moments when dad wasn´t talking it was as if his voice were lodged in my head, I was unable to think of any normal topics of conversation, and remained silent for fear that I´d start talking about the history of dental floss or the particulars of my gastro-intestinal system. He remained strangely silent at the Haribo factory museum, where displays of candy, antique advertisements and Matthew Barney-esque videos of sugar being melted and poured into molds kept me and about three hundred kids enthralled. Dad claimed no knowledge of the brand, though I ate it constantly as a kid, and still indulge in the odd packet of gummy bears or raspberries. Dad´s view of sugar, unless its part of a rarified chocolate truffle, is rather preachy. He held back on paying entry to the museum, prompting Sophie to pay for all of us, and as I spent all of €9 on a gigantic box of candy and a refrigerator magnet, he hovered over the cashier and pronounced: "wow, that´s a lot of money for all that crap." His thriftiness didn´t stop at the Haribo museum, at The Medieval Garden he was willing to pay the €4 entry fee, but didn´t want to part with an extra €1.10 to walk to the top of the tower.
After three days together we parted ways at the Nimes train station; dad was taking a train back to Geneva, and I was headed south to Barcelona. There were cringe-inducing moments, to be sure - while walking to the Pont du Gard, dad asked if we could wait for him so he could step into a grove of olive trees to "do what men do", and his perennial inability to pass by a small child without waving and saying "hi", but I can´t think of the last time a visit with dad went this smoothly, and I have Sophie and Brayton to thank for it.