Whoa Mama

Monday, November 01, 2010

one chouette dude

In 1993, at 20, I was extremely fortunate to go to France for 4 ½ months. I lived with a family in Paris for a month, when they patiently tolerated my horrible broken French and caringly taught me about customs, manners and culture. From this safe, unique place, I launched every day into the Metro to our school or assigned meeting point, from which our Parisian professor taught us to experience Paris at Victor Hugo’s home, the catacombs beneath Notre Dame, Ste. Chappelle, meeting fellow Wells women for afternoon café. We peeked through keyholes at Versailles, watching the world go by in Jardins des Tuilleries, took a kir before an horrendous modern dance performance at the Paris Opera House. Our professor walked out. She taught us to live it, embrace it, love it, don’t squander it. The dance sucks. Leave. I got to spend a weekend touring the chateaux of the Loire Valley and another strolling the beaches at Normandy.

Then I took the train through France to Spain, where I spend 2 weeks in Seville and a weekend in Cadiz.

These profound six weeks were followed by 3 ½ months of hard labor. But it didn't suck here:

No. I’m not kidding. It was physical and psychological hard labor. I went to La Sabranenque, a program in a small village outside of Avignon. It was a French immersion program (i.e. NOTHING BUT FRENCH – see aforementioned comment on my bad French speaking) coupled with restoration work. Not pretty, easy brushing stuff off. Serious tools! And heavy work on ladders. From which I dropped a marteau on the tete of a friend. Sorry, Weel!

We spent a month scraping cement off the inside of a pigeonnier (a silo-like pigeon house attached to the side of a house), we repaired the stones, making a smooth façade, and then laid a stone floor. All of this was done with hand-mixed cement – my hands. There were other hands too. Hands that carried a 20 foot slab of marble up the side of a hill. Hands that dealt many a game of Tarot while smoking (bien sur). Hands that passed that passed countless loaves of bread. Hands of the friend that held me in Boston, when 2 years later, I was lost in loneliness. Still other hands, that, despite best intentions, dropped the flowers when exhaustion and heat took over on the alter at my wedding. From Ste.-Victor-la-Coste to the Iles du Frioul to Carcassonne, I got to see unbelievable pockets of the world in the company of friends.

Remember that I was 20. At this tender age, this incredible journey was shepherded by a kind, sensitive, intelligent soul. Marc Simon was extraordinaire. With a caring and firm touch, we learned about the culture, the language, the country, the work, the history. As an American, Marc “got it”. Commiserated that we all have funny foibles that get tangled in the other language. Marc never remembered how many D’s and S’s were in “address” in French vs. English. Marc quietly wished me a “happy birthday”, not a “bon anniversaire”. Understood that immersion is tough business, or as the dropping bridesmaid once said, “it’s a nice idea and all, but a little excessive”. He loved the country and the mission of La Sab and showed us that we could do the same.

It has been 17 years since this amazing experience. Yet when I heard the news that Marc succumbed to cancer in April, I felt as if I left him yesterday at the Avignon train station. I can only guess how many lives Marc Simon touched over the years. Mine was one of the countless. I left, finished college, met and married my husband, got two masters degrees, had three children, many moves, and and and and. He still touched my life. Again quoting the amazing Molly “You don’t see someone for 17 years but you kind of smile and rely on the nice feeling that they are out there being wonderful”. So I hope that Marc is having a heavenly aperitif before launching into a long, indulgent French meal with good conversation and good friends, knowing that this sensitive, naïve American was safe, protected and just better for having been touched by him.

Repose en paix, Marc.


At 5:15 PM , Blogger Mary Zimmerman said...

I am someone like you who at the news of Marc Simon's passing, was deeply saddened. I spent my 3 months at La Sabranenque in 1990 and think of it as it was yesterday. Your blog post brought a smile to my face. Mary

At 10:04 PM , Blogger Leah said...

Thank you for sharing. I'm glad to have brought you a smile. La Sab is such a special place and Marc was a truly unique and wonderful person!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home