10th of August
I often visited Baptiste’s grandfather. I opened the gate leading to his tiny garden, and he got up from the chair, which was leant against the brick wall covered with grapevine, in order to greet me with a smile as if he’d been actually waiting for me. He asked me to sit down and went to the house to fetch some pastis mixed with cold water and ice cubes. I talked to him in the privacy of his home, sharing my observations concerning the ripening grapes and providing him with a vivid description of the traditional Polish meals – he was fascinated with cuisine. Apart from that, those discussions helped me learn to speak French; I didn’t want to fall victim to another one of Julia’s silly practical jokes. Once, having realized at the bakery’s threshold that I couldn’t understand a thing in French, she wanted to me to say: “Trente baguettes, s’il vous plait”. Now, I wouldn’t fall for such pranks. Still, despite the fact that I had learnt to speak French quite fluently, the lady in the bakery would always look at me in an awkward manner since that incident.
I never got the chance to learn Baptiste’s grandfather’s name; he didn’t know mine either. We rather sheered away from discussing personal matters although we had become close to each other, engaging in a grandson-grandfather relation. One time, we talked for quite a long while, and an idea of asking him about the poems and the old cook book from the garage ran through my mind but I quickly abandoned my intention, without a clear reason for it. Our conversations were simple, as the lunch break chats usually are. I would come to him around one o’clock in the afternoon to find him sitting stretched out on his little chair. It remained incomprehensible to me how anyone could procrastinate like that, doing completely nothing.
“Well, I’m very busy at the moment,” Baptiste’s grandfather would answer. “I’m taking a siesta after dinner.”
Sometimes I paid him a visit later in the day, making a short break from the work. He would still occupy the chair in the small garden of his, observing the vineyard. There wasn’t much to observe, in my opinion, at least not for such a long time, but he claimed the opposite. He didn’t have to hurry anywhere. He would sometimes stroll around the vineyard, patting us on the shoulders and saying: “Doucement, doucement”. I wasn’t able to reach the state of such serenity myself yet; he had almost completely domesticated the time whereas it was rather a lion imprisoned in a cage, in my case. I asked him once what exactly he was doing in the afternoons while sitting in the chair in front of the house.
“I thought it was obvious,” he answered, truly surprised. “I’m resting after the siesta.”
At that time, Robert was beginning to intensely ponder about what he would do for a living once we get back to Poland. I tried to reassure him, telling him that it wasn’t a proper time to worry about such matters, but he proved immune to my attempts. Julia, on the other hand, was joyful as never, even a bit too much – there wasn’t a single trace of despair she had fallen into in La Madrague. Nevertheless, it appeared to me those explosions of joy were nothing more than the single flames burning in the boundless darkness of the night. I was still anxious about the things she had told me so I asked her about her health.
“Everything’s fine. Why do you ask about it?” she answered in surprise.
“You told me about your illness and…”
She looked at me as though she didn’t make anything out of my words.
“I don’t remember saying any such thing. When exactly was it?”
Her words settled me down a little but I still didn’t know what to expect from her. As I’m writing this, Julia’s in hospital – at first, I was really terrified but after a few days it turned out it wasn’t anything serious. On that night in La Madrague, Julia simply exaggerated, which was quite natural for her; she would usually laugh too loud or cry too much.
I think we missed home at that time although it kept flying away from us, like a helium-filled balloon rising into the air, losing its connection with reality. It had a positive aspect – we had managed to free ourselves from all the distress, disapproving looks, illusions lurking into the various rooms in our hearts, and our own constraints. We were beyond all of that, approaching the source of freedom and joie de vivre, which we had been searching for so intensely.
“Charles, do you know what Heaven looks like?” Julia asked me one day.
“Maybe this is actually our Heaven?” I answered her with another question.
I liked to think that way. Some people said they waited patiently to go to Heaven where they would finally be able to fully enjoy life, doing only the things they wanted to, but I didn’t intend to wait. I’d rather do it here and now, and despite being aware that I would be forgotten in the end, I wanted to begin my eternal life that instant.
On Monday, we set off for a trip. There wasn’t any work to be done at the vineyard – we were waiting for the vintage, which was supposed to begin at the end of August, and that’s exactly when we would come back from the trip. We said goodbye to Baptiste on the day before our departure and hit the road early in the morning so we could discover our love for Provence to the fullest, according to Robert.
We drove to Avignon where Julia suggested that I should write stories about different bridges from across the world. I told her it was a great idea and I would certainly give it a try at some point. Frankly speaking, Avignon didn’t make an impression on me; I prefer small, charming towns gracing the tops of green hills like royal crowns. I feel a lot better in such places.
In the evening, we arrived at the vineyard in Chateneuf du Pape, the owner of which was an acquaintance of Baptiste’s. He gave us his consent to put up a tent on his property. The vineyard produces wine from the old and famous Chateneuf du Pape appellation, bringing the times when Popes used to live in the area to mind. Grapevines are grown on the stony soil, which is responsible for the unusual flavor of wine from this particular appellation – stones accumulate heat during daytime and give it back to grapevines at night. The vineyard produces the classical Chateneuf du Pape from as many as thirteen different strains of grapevine. As one of the few vineyards in the region, it also employs the ancient method of wine making – a long-term fermentation.
Damien, the owner of the vineyard, invited us over for wine tasting. We went into a chilly room with old family portraits on the walls. On the counter, there was a row of bottles with red wine, and Damien went to fetch some of the white as well.
“We’ll begin from a two-strain, through a four-, eight-, and thirteen-strain, ending up with the wine produced in an ancient manner. When we’re finished, we can additionally try some other vintage for the comparison, and then we’ll move to the white wine,” he announced. We felt dizzy at the sole thought of his schedule. So we kept tasting while he was describing the flavor of each wine, using the most poetic language possible. I listened to him attentively despite the slight buzzing in my head. I returned to my body the moment I noticed a bottle of red wine behind the vineyard’s owner.
“Is that 1997?” I wanted to make sure if I read the date correctly.
“Yes, it is,” answered Damien. A shiver ran through me – that wine was produced in the same year that I was born. “Others didn’t go off well that year but this one is special. It was a rainy summer, pouring down all days long. The wine has a very characteristic flavor. It’s soaked in mushrooms,” described the owner. “Would you like to give it a try?”
I was so staggered that I only nodded silently. Damien opened the bottle, smelled the cork with a clearly genuine pleasure, and poured the dark-red thick fluid into our glasses. I smelled the wine and I could actually distinguish the scent of the mushroom he had just mentioned. The moment I took the first sip, I experienced the taste of my seventeen-year old life. That bottle had been used to confine the air gathered in a rain-drenched forest, soaked with the fresh aroma of mushrooms and wet soil. That particular wine had been waiting for me – it had been ripening as I had been growing older. Now, we finally met each other.
“C’est magnifique,” I expressed my admiration. I had never drunk wine of such a characteristic taste. Damien was just about to thank me when Robert suddenly interrupted him.
“Nous voudrions acheter cette bouteille,” he said in a voice that didn’t reveal any hesitation. He had never been more determined before.
I turned around to face him, slightly agitated. I wanted to remind him that he had lost his job and that we didn’t have any money. At that point, I still believed that financial standing was of rather major importance but the same evening I realized that our existence wasn’t about money at all.
“We can’t just buy it, Robert. It must be worth a fortune!”
He dismissed me with a wave of his hand.
“Come on, old man! Don’t be such a spendthrift. You won’t live twice.”
He was right – money didn’t matter in the slightest. We purchased the bottle of red wine produced in 1997, and Damien threw in the opened one, saying with a smile that it was for a pleasant evening. Then, we said goodbye to him, left one bottle in our tent, and took the one that had been already uncorked for a walk around the vineyard. We kept taking small sips while the setting sun was stroking the green leaves of grapevine, as if it wanted to kiss them goodnight. I felt really happy.
“Let’s stay here for a bit longer,” suggested Robert out of a sudden.
“I’d be happy to own a vineyard like this, you know. I’m sure it would be the thing for me.”
“And that’s the reason for staying?”
“Damien mentioned his eighteen-year old daughter. And…” He didn’t even finish because Julia and I burst into laughter. Robert gave us a serious look but the next second he started to laugh with us.
Before falling asleep, we wrapped the day up by exchanging our reflections. That was an everyday routine. I said that I was quite certain that it hadn’t been a matter of chance that we had arrived at that vineyard. I recalled the girl from my dreams and quickly added that, indeed, I still believed in miracles. I believe that we keep dying and being born again in an endless circle, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. I believe that life resembles the life of a work of art; it’s a picture painted on the pavement by a street artist, which makes it exposed to the destructive effects of an unexpected rain. Sometimes we fall silent in the middle of the song, similarly to cicadas, but then we go on with the music. Every one of us leads his or her own life; however, there are also others, people we meet while traveling, and those meetings are not accidental. There’s we, them, and something else as well. I believe there’s something else out there.
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