Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Week in June With Family & Friends in Lagrasse, France

It's dark in this downstairs living room, with no lights on and quiet, except for the night-time hum & gurgling of the household machines that permeate & support the western world...

Utpal & Caroline are asleep (j'espere...) upstairs where Shakun just took Ms. Leah to bed, as well. Down the alleyways, in Matthew's home, Josh, Ezra, Jeremy & Luke, no doubt, have taken to their beds, as well.

All is silent here in petite Lagrasse, past midnight, somewhere in SW France, up a circuitous country road from the main Narbonne-Toulouse-Montpellier highway. Not even the stones speak. A world quite far away from ours in Kathmandu, much less most of the busy & troubled world in which we live...

Yet, here, in this small stone town, with its medieval monastery (recently reinhabited by Dominican monks) in Corbierre, the foothills of the Pyrenees, where the Carthars once retreated to mountains keeps to protect their independence, there is no echo of footsteps, nor howling of stray dogs, nor steady roar of roadside traffic. Only the steady sound of the church bell that just struck 1 am, as it does every hour with the number of bells matching the number of hours.

We have been fortunate to return to this beautiful vale where Matthew first, then Caroline & Utpal, have created homes. We last past through this way in 2002 to meet Matthew & Laura and their family with Jerry & Monique, when Matthew (my dear brother from Save the Children days...) had just bought a shell of a building in Lagrasse. Then, we went on to see Caroline & Utpal (dear friends from Kathmandu...) at Caroline's mom's home in Alban, a few hours from here. When we mentioned how exquisite this town was, they, too, came and bought a home.

Now, five years later, both families have charming, spacious homes in this town of 600 houses, both nestled here amid the cobblestone alleys of this forgotten world. While, we, travellers still, are fortunate to be able to share their lives for more than a week, slipping easily from one home to the other, with the boys billeted at Matthew's while Shaks, Leah & I are here in C&U's home, the former Christian School of Lagrasse, tastefully redone as a Himalayan retreat far from the maddening crowd.

It's been a calming & soothing week to start our summer journey. I protect these summer weeks as they allow Shakun, Josh, Ezra, Leah et moi this luxury of time together as a family. The days, as always, pass too quickly -- but they, at least, pass together. We have time to share the moments of the days that we almost never have in our busy lives in Nepal. As the boys have gotten bigger (in every way...), our time together shrinks to precious evening moments over dinner, before they rush back to homework (or we miss dinner for some evening engagement w/ friends), or a few hours on the w/end before they head out to play soccer or meet their friends for the night together. And time, in such ways, disappears...

So, these summer adventures are the time for family, for creating this sense of family, for seeing friends together, family reunited and explorations of new places forming memories for all of us to recall & value.

Last night, we came back to Lagrasse at exactly 2 am from a long w/end trip to Espagne. I hadn't been since Scott & I passed this way in March 1978 at the start of the journey that became a lifetime. Now, 29 years later, surrounded by family and following Matthew w/ his in our rental cars, we slipped out of town on Saturday morning w/ no exact plans in place, except to breach the Spanish border and get Shakun to Barcelona while watching the final for the La Liga football championship somewhere among the Catalanian fans.

We proved, at least, that eight people & two cars can stay together, enjoy together, play together and even find parking in Girona and Barcelona on a summer w/end. Lovely, too, to see Josh (16) & Ez (14) bond so easily w/ Jeremy (13) and Luke (11), playing soccer, throwing the American football or tossing the frisbee, eagerly discussing their expatriate kid worlds in Kathmandu & Hanoi, with Ms. Leah (6) eager to be among her big brothers and newfound friends.

After a gently winding route along the beautiful Coasta Brava we reached Girona. This city (I'd never even heard of before) is a minor gem w/ a beautiful cloistered feel about it, a river that rruns through it & the ochre and pastel colors that remind me of a painting that my grandfather, Ben-Henry Rose, had done in the early 60s of a similar vista in a Mediterranean city reflected in the waters of a late afternoon light. We visited the cathedral, strolled the streets, played frisbee in the squares found a 145 euro pensione for all of us, then sat with tapas & cerveza among the kids in Independence Plaza til 11 pm.

Then, yesterday, Sunday, we had a leisurely b'fast in a small square under the sycamore trees with our coffees, fresh orange juice & sandwiches before driving to Barcelona. Ahhh, Barcelona. There is an elegant feel to this historical city proud of its heritage, its culture & refinement. We strolled the main streets and minor lanes, stepping into the Museum of Barcelona where we rode an elevator five meters below the square to see the remains of the original Roman city of Barca with Jewish tomstones built into the walls and the original court of the kings of Aragon above. Then, following the wishes of the four teenage boys, we bought tixs to the Espanya vs Deportiva game, their last game of the season, where we sat in the stadium on one of the hills, beside the regal Museum of Art, overlooking the famous Gaudi cathedral and the city below.

A long walk back to the subway, the large crowds on the streets, the life & stimulus of the urban world all around us, then back in our cars to head home, back to Lagrasse and the sweet hearth of the homes our friends have created for themselves (and their friends...) in special glade in rural France.

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