It’s our fourth day in France; the vacation is more than half over. I’m overly aware of the modern dictum to “live in the moment,” but it’s almost impossible not to anticipate with sadness the final days—days of packing and leaving. It’s so relaxing to be surrounded by sights, sounds, textures and thoughts that aren’t the same ones that make up the every-day. Yesterday, for example, I spent much of the day thinking about two elemental substances—flesh and stone—which don’t often cross my mind in Italy in quite the same way.
We’re renovating a modest barn here, and it is my greatest pleasure (as if I’m living a life that isn’t really mine) to watch the work unfold. Much of it is done by hand, and much of it concerns the renovation of old materials in existing walls and roofs. At 8 a.m. sharp, the men arrive, and within minutes the cold winter air is filled with the sharp metallic ringing of mallet against stone or the grisly chipping away of old mortar. Perhaps it’s just the romantic in me, but I feel as if there is a love that exists in this process—in the stone masons as they manipulate their material, in the original “bones” of the building, in the insightful intents of the architect, and in our own watching and waiting. Love and respect. I look at the stones and touch them often. They are not, somehow, inert. They seem alive. They tell stories. I love it that many of them are old, original, and that they are being given new life.
Two days ago there was a small notice in the local paper, l’Yonne Republicaine, about Jean-Paul Gautier’s show in Paris featuring French comic actress, Valérie Lemercier, in his collection dedicated to anti-jeunisme, anti-youthism. Familiar with her recent performance in the charming film Le Petit Nicolas, 2010, based on the beautiful children’s book series by René Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempé, I went immediately to the internet to catch glimpses of her on the runway. What I saw was an accomplished woman, born in 1964, wearing her age like the fabulous accessory it is. Proud. Self-assured. Witty. Charismatic. And I felt gratitude to Gautier for having the vision to put her there, in front of the fashion world. The vision, and again, the love and the respect.
III. What has the one to do with the other?
Perhaps it’s a stretch, perhaps it’s not. But in both cases, I kept responding to the same principles at work: Loving the way things are. Letting them remain true to themselves. Preserving them with respect and observing them in their best light. Acknowledging life and purpose as long as they’re there. Valuing what things are, what we are—as much for how we are now as for how we were “then.” Seeing the innate beauty of things, of people. In fact, really seeing.