The candle’s flicker atop the wooden table waves good evening. Gazpacho and fresh bread accompany the flame, their scents floating around my nose circulated by the fresh mountain air around us. Brilliant red reflects in the windows on the back of the villa, the poppy fields a native mark of Provence. No place more perfect for a writer’s and painter’s workshop. No place more perfect to foster new friendships. Our makeshift family files in for our last meal. To some, we’re still strangers, but here at the table there is no such thing.
Next to me rests an empty, wooden chair, an absence of a free spirit off for a wander. A wanderer of Nepal, Haiti, Indonesia, Costa Rica. My ears towards the field, anxious to the friction of crunching stones, an indication of her return. She’s missing out on quite the party. Although a party is never really something she cares to miss. In fact, her definition of a shindig is something else entirely. Other sounds distract my hungry ears. Porcelain clanking, voices. Other seats filled with stories. A rectangle full of history.
In the seat past the empty one sits a quiet girl, more polite than shy. I know this from having sat next to her during many workshops back in the states as well as on the plane over. Her cloth napkin rests on her lap as she cuts her field greens delicately. And next to her, a him, a man of wisdom from here and there having been. I’ve been an apprentice of this man for some years now; his words reconstruct the world unlike any digital lens I’ve seen. I hope to one day be this man, to be someone who can inspire others as he has instilled such passion in me. He speaks to an older mate sitting within earshot. This man I know nothing about, but he too, seems well traveled, well spoken.
He says, “When I jump to a conclusion and make a broad judgment…” stopping to take a sip of wine.
He says, continuing, “I stop myself and find another way of thinking…”
Another taste of the vineyard.
I make a mental note to always find a positive way of thinking.
Other words and sounds at the table take over and I lose the ending of his sentence. I check for the arrival of the wanderer, the darkening sky hinting of her soon return.
Near the two wise men sits two ladies and a gentleman.
A young lad at a pit stop from his European travels—a writer, an adventurer—long hair flanking his cheeks without a care; the first woman, her features younger than her age, full of history from the Slavic regions; and the second, a younger lass with curly locks, perhaps mid-twenties, her education surpassing all: knowledge of tissues and medicine, cells and biology. Together she and I reminisce over our travels to China— differing years, same places, being linked by culture over time.
Three very different individuals, linking conversation as they sit squeezed on the edge of the table.
And back to the second wise man, who has now finished his second glass of wine; becoming more fluid, he seems to ignore the woman by his side, supposedly his better half. His eyes suggest he fancies the studious traveler to his right. Or perhaps it’s the wine. This woman speaks little, but she appears to be enjoying the chips.
My attention is drawn elsewhere, towards the other end of the table.
“What are you writing there?” The young lady to my right asks me, lovely in a French accent.
I answer, after making sure no one was watching my lips.
“The table. Everyone around it.”
Two snotty women, older—snotty because they referred to themselves as such as I eavesdropped, because they are posh, from Britain, not because of any conclusion I might have jumped to—sit on the opposite side of myself.
And to the right of them, a larger woman, also older, in black. Black hair, jacket, shirt, slacks, socks, shoes. Dark eyes, too. Silent as she snacks on hour doves, not particularly keen on using silverware.
A calm sweeps over the table, and I’m able to enter back into the wise men’s conversation.
“Life is too short to disagree with people, I feel,” said the wise man.
“Seems you’ve found a level of Buddha-hood, my friend,” replied the wiser.
“Yes, well, it took me a while to get there.” He says, nodding.
“And all the more zen you shall become in due time.”
More mixing of words and language and wine.
I take a moment to continue eating my gazpacho which has lots its chill.
A voice on the opposite end, a woman of age, an artist of her own era, speaks: “Phillip, are you writing anything important?”
I say, “Perhaps.”
“I hope so. You look very intent.”
I jot that down.
She tells me why she’s a painter. How she finds tranquility in taking something man-made and manipulating it until it blurs the distinction. And if anything, certain colors warrant a distraction when placed in a frame, and sometimes the eyes need something still to focus on.
She elaborates further whilst others share their ways of fighting life’s clock.
Writing and traveling are how I fight life’s clock. Although I relish every second of the fight when I have these two, which in this moment, I do, and in this moment, all is well.
Laughter. Good conversation. Happiness.
Next to the artist rests a man and a woman, a son and a mother, neither of each other. A chef and a teacher, both masters of their own niches. They converse over the food using words such as flambé and percolate, fricassee and congeal. I just savor the tastes of the steak and crème brulee. Adjacent to them, two girls, two more artists, protégés of the voice that addressed me. Quiet, but plotting their next painting. Tired from an earlier hike, a search for inspiration in the mountainous ruins. I bought a piece from one of them earlier, a landscape including the table we sit at, our villa, the poppy field. The perfect memento.
And back in front of me, the two snotty women, they, too, address me.
“Yes, there, what are you writing?” One says, the leader.
I say, “Oh, just…writing.”
The other intrudes, disregarding me, “A lad I knew once wrote a story about—”
And the other interrupts, “Boring shit, I’d imagine, eh?”
“It held my interest. Was a bit wordy.”
“Ah, yes. It’s never as people say.”
“Because of nuances and gaps, half sentences. It’s very difficult to get across moments as they were.”
I pondered that for a few breaths. I suppose it’s true. Sometimes language lacks a specific description. Sometimes too little leaves a moment lacking and too much leaves it lavish, unbalanced. That is, until language creates a way to better create the moment. Like how the only thing better than a photograph is actually being in the photograph. Or, until the next generation of Nikon makes it top the real deal. Yet, at times language can do what reality cannot—contortions of the mind, harmonizing the soul, making what is yet to be, thrive.
A new topic, again from the artist that addressed me at the right end of the table, opposite of the wise men to my left. I noticed the wise man was now on his third—or maybe fourth—glass of wine before I leaned over to grab a roll, my attempt at hiding my keen interest in her conversation.
“Do you miss your husband?” I’m not sure for whom she intended this.
“My cats, yes.” A mouth full of food answers, sarcastically.
Someone laughs, the joke a bit tired to me. But light and happy, nonetheless.
I reach to refill my glass of rosé.
The two snotties in front of me drown out the other’s conversation with their silliness.
“Can I pass you the cookies?”
“No, what are you doing?” another snatches back the plate. “And what is this? A lemon thing, hmm.”
And the wise men to my left, as well, carry on.
“It surely is a great freedom…” and he trails off, again sipping on his wine.
“You’ll get there in the end,” says the other.
“I’m an optimist, but you can’t remain silent. You have to be your own change.”
A clanking of glass, an interruption of conversation. The son with his mother next to him, the one that originally spoke to me about my writing as I sit here listening, writing as they speak, they unknowingly being recorded.
“We’re leaving at 9:30 in the morning. None of this quarter before notifying. Be finished with breakfast and ready to go. Our first stop will be the grave of the French Nobel Prize winning writing Albert Camus followed by a quaint lunch at a nearby vineyard before going to a village where pigments are made.”
And on the other side of him, another mother, a grandmother. Or mémé, as she prefers. “And we mustn’t be late! And don’t forget your ticket!” Such a tender spirit, this one. Her English accent warm and inviting, and her tone and spirit therapeutic for listeners. Her spirit quite jovial, surprising for dealing with a fresh divorce. A kindred spirit falling in the only world she’s known. Her King Charles Cavalier always followed close behind her heels. “Dyson, like the vacuum cleaner,” she’d repeat when asked his name.
Excitement stirs, as does the food making its rounds of the table along with the conversations now fully immersed under the sparkling sky. A breeze picks up, ruffles the pale tablecloth hugging the wooden top.
The girl to my right, and her girlfriend beside her, jokes about getting married. The two snotties ask if they are a couple, but the girls laugh and decline and say it is just a thought for the one from Spain to get an American citizenship, as she wishes to move to Florida to live with the one next to her.
A crash of ceramic and glass draws my attention back to the left end of the table. It appears the wise man was indeed on his fourth pour. Deep red seeps through the porous covering and stains the wood beneath. Merely adding a dose of character, really.
Conversations erupt over the whole table. A long rectangle of cultures and colors.
Sundresses, overcoats, plaid, a black and Kelly-green striped hoodie on the Slavic to my left, at the table’s edge, bright contrasts with her red hair, man-made. A wild soul in the midst of a peaceful poppy field, over yonder, behind us. Normally her accent intrigues me, but tonight she rather kept to herself. Perhaps a story inside that she’s not ready to share. But when she is, I’ll listen. Others more casual, basketball shirts and tees, and the shoes, each of them so different. All worn from travel.
The soul for which the empty chair longed for returned, silently snuck up, its seat now warm and chatty. She speaks to the girl to my right as I refill my plate and my glass of wine, the wise man across from me well onto his fifth.
“I love to get lost. Today we made so many U-turns before getting here. But it was an adventure, and we ended up finding a beautiful spot down by the beach.”
The soul to my left just listens, her breath intent on what’s to come.
The planner in me finds this interesting. Loving to explore nonetheless, but stuck in a nine to five itinerary, a corporate mindset. Longing for such ways, slightly.
The English mother and one of the posh ladies enter into conversation. They branch off into a new language, French, returning occasionally, but the gaps not plentiful enough to clue me in. Still, I feel at ease to their movement of lips, their voices. The sounds relaxing and comforting.
And the two on either side of me continue, I hear them over everyone else simply because of proximity, all of the conversations also of interest.
“A homeless man I once met told me it’s not about one’s rarity, but the rarity of everyone around you that matters in life.”
She continues, “I’m looking for a home. A home is somewhere safe, comfortable. It’s where you fit, like community. Where there are no excuses for my craziness, my difference, my anger.”
She says, “It’s about the rare human adventure.”
And I glance at all the rare life around me. The strange family I’ve come to favor. Caroline, Heather, Ari, Jeff, Tjasha, Selma, Ivan, Nancy, Eliza, Jill, Fred, Louise, Carly, Angela, Nelly, and Vanessa.
I never did catch the name of the mysterious lady in black, nestled in between Eliza and Jill. Another story, that one is. Another dinner, another time.
And at once, they all laughed, a connection of mismatched travels and a fusion of language.