Part 3. Southbound. Provence, Here We Come
Come Fall, geese, ducks and other migratory birds travel south. Enormous quantities of feathers gather up and follow their inner GPS to warmer lands to roast - pun intended - their chilled bones under the sun. French people are... just about the same (minus the feathers).
One last wise word, one last lesson, one last scolding from the teacher, and students will damn their ink-stained notebooks to hell on their way out at the end of school year. With no remaining care in the world, they will join their parents in what is effectively the ritualistic preparation of the French vacationer’s yearly migration to the South.
My family and I, this year, were no different.
We packed the car with fancy outfits and other necessities such as the quintessential Evian water spray - one of my grandma’s favorites - and joined hundreds (thousands!) on the treacherous roads to Southern France… on one of the hottest days of the year.
Our thighs fused together, we exchange sweat and stories. "Cousin X had better stop overindulging in the cured meats or he’ll found himself in the hospital. Oh I bought the coolest pair of shoes in that shop in Macon. You know! The one where I bought my black ankle boots last winter?” These are facts of the utmost importance if you now reside in the microcosm that is our car.
Everything and everyone gets a review. No topic is safe with us, nothing escapes our hyperactive blabber.
Inevitably, inappropriate jokes soon become the norm:
“Can you please turn down the air conditioning? It is blasting straight between my legs and I am wearing a skirt. My crotch is officially frozen, 'winter has come'.”
“Don’t worry. With the heat, it will defrost faster than Picard's mini quiches.”
Inside jokes become a badge of honor and resurface throughout the weekend. We gleefully repeat them at any opportunity we have and never, ever get bored with them: there will be the adventures of 'frozen crotch’ in Luberon, ‘frozen crotch' defrosting over a pastis at the hotel terrace, 'frozen crotch' having goat cheese for breakfast and regretting it…
Stupefied by the blistering heat, we rebel against Francis’ driving. He is now all too closely following the car in front of us because they are, and I quote: “Driving like idiots and being dangerous.” The irony is not lost on any of us. But apparently, you cannot be French and not take the opportunity to teach other drivers a valuable lesson by doing to them exactly what they are doing to you… only worse, to really stick it to them.
Another classic on French roads: teaching a speeding and swerving idiot a lesson by passing them full speed, swerving right in front of them, and then slowing down to granny pace. And when they honk and raise their fist at you in anger and curse you, your family and your unborn children, you slow down some more.
And laugh, and laugh, and laugh.
For many, time spent in a confined space with their family is purgatory. For me, it is a precious jewel wrapped up in a shiny bow. I cherish it to no end. I live far away and the times I get to do just that are so few and far between.
We glide further south and landscapes change.
Smells do too. I attempt cracking my car window open for a fraction of a second and get vetoed. I won’t do it again or I’ll get voted off the island. But it was enough to give me a hint of the regional scent: lavender, dust, and pine. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Burgundy anymore. Welcome to Provence.