For many years I practiced noticing the small things in my days. Sometimes, they were simple, unexpected moments; sometimes, surprising gifts that provided a possible direction for my life to take. Recently there have been several bright lights leading the way: A poster advertising a day in the country led me to a small French village, featuring horse drawn carriages. This particular fete (fair), under a bright blue sky, made it possible for me to talk to people about different types of horses, discuss their genetic strengths, and watch them at work. Another was a blog post that appeared on my Facebook page, written by a family living and traveling in France in their roulotte. They post every day and I am able to follow their life on the road. I've not only enjoyed reading about their travels, but I've learned some important practical information that will help with my project. And…. there is the following story:
It began many years ago when I found a small ancient stone house for sale in the medieval French village of Sorèze. This building was simply a stone shell, stripped of crumbling plaster walls and ceilings. As I stood in the downstairs room and looked around, I fell in love with the idea of bringing this house back to life. I imagined all the families who had lived here and the history hidden in its stone walls. The dream of it was alluring, but the reality of taking on the project was daunting. Friends encouraged me to buy it, offering to help with the work. The price was difficult to refuse, so I closed my eyes to fear and followed my heart. Several years of hard work later, and many hours of help from friends, brought those ancient stone walls back to life; and this former shell of a building became a comforting home for me.
One day, stepping outside of my front door, I was greeted by a woman with a brilliant smile, holding a piece of paper in her hand with my name written on it. She explained that she had long dreamed of living in a French village, and someone suggested she talk to me. She was at the end of her vacation and she had only one day left before leaving for the states. In that one precious day we found a tiny house on a quiet street just a few minutes walk away from my house. She loved the property I showed her and asked if I would help restore it. I said yes….. of course.
Glenda came every year for ten years and stayed in her petite maison for several months each visit. She painted her shutters a soft blue. Slowly, soft blue shutters began appearing on other houses in the village. She covered the front of her house with flowers; hydrangeas, blue morning glories and red climbing roses flourished. Soon, every house on her street that previously had little vegetation harbored flowers. Groups of art students were often found painting in front of her house. For several years this “petite rue” won the village prize for the most beautiful flowers. She brought life and beauty to the village. She lived her dream of a home in France with tremendous pleasure, and she brought joy and inspiration to everyone she met–especially her neighbors.
Last year she met a man and decided to stay in the states with the love of her life. She asked if I would pack up her treasures and ship them to her. She considered selling her house but that felt too painful, so she asked if I would prepare it for friends who might like to visit, which I did.
While packing and sorting, I found a box on a shelf amidst many of Glenda's vide grenier (flea market) treasures. It is a small metal box I uncovered amidst other boxes of tea; on this particular box was a copy of a very famous painting by Van Gogh titled Caravans/1888. (He completed this painting when he was in the Camargue in southern France.) When I picked it up, I felt as if I had found a treasure, an unexpected gift. I brought it home and placed it in a position of honor. I knew that Glenda would be happy for me to have it. It has, of course, a very special meaning to me at this time in my life. I now imagine it filled with enough money for Tòti Bleu. The original painting is in The Musée D'Orsay, Paris; and I plan to visit it as soon as I can.
Back at home, the evenings have been chilly enough for a fire, and several mornings I have looked out the window to see a frost covered world. I have begun preparing for winter, stocking up on books, music, and searching the internet for information about traveling people, gypsies, gypsy wagons, roulottes (French) or vardoes (British). The discoveries are endless. A curtain has been pulled aside and I have entered into a world unknown to me–and I gladly enter this world from the past.
Hidden deep in the forest, protected by caressing trees, I discovered an ancient moissonneuse-batteuse (harvester). A hundred years ago, horses pulled it over fields of grain under the brilliant blue sky of southern France. After it was replaced by the motorized version, I imagine it still stood looking over the golden fields, providing shelter for migrant workers. Now it waits silently, slowly being reclaimed by nature.
I would like to share a few of my discoveries with any armchair traveling “gypsies” that are reading this:
The Seven Year Hitch: A Family Odyssey by David R Grant – the story of a family's around the world journey in a gypsy wagon
The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer by Gordon Stables – 1300 miles around Britain in the 1800's.
Jessie's Journey by Jess Smith – stories of the author's life growing up in a traveling family.
The New Gypsies by Iain McKell – a collection of photographs (I don't have the budget for this one yet)
Gypsies of Britain by Janet Keet-Black – this one is on my wish list for later this winter
The Yellow on the Broom: The Early Days of a Traveller Woman
Traveller's Joy by Juliette de Bairacli Levy – survival information for travellers by a legendary wayfarer
A small discovery:
The Appleby Horse Fair in Britain which has been held every June since the 17th century; I am planning on attending.