Jean & La Picadora, Spain 1992 During our last summers overseas, my daughter and I took to camping on our vacations, as the most economical way of traveling and seeing as much of the country as we could. A nice campground in Spain provided the convenience of a hotel at a fraction of the cost, and for a child, the chance to run and romp freely. Guided by a copy of the “guia”, which listed the campgrounds in proximity to various cities, and icons indicating what sort of comforts were provided— pool, shop, hot showers, electricity— and where (km 320 N, carretera # so and so) one summer trip described a large loop through Extremedura, Andalucia and Granada. Blondie’s only dictate about our camping place concerned the availability of either a pool, the sea, or in a pinch, a river in which to frolic. She swam like a fish, and preferred to spend as much time as possible in a bathing suit.

The nearest campground to Seville was several miles distant inland from the city, a dusty tract on a frontage road paralleling the autopista between Cordoba and Seville, grown with trees, and scrub brush, stretching uphill from the entrance. The main permanent buildings were clustered around a pool at the bottom end: a bar with a little restaurant, the managers office, a little store selling small propane bottles, soft drinks, bread and canned goods. A narrow paved roadway zigzagged up the hill, past the pool and bar, past clusters of tent sites and parking places, leveled out of the hillside here and there, looped around the top of the property, where the washrooms and showers, and the water spigots and sinks for doing dishes crowned a little, rocky knoll, and meandered down again on the opposite side. Since it was not actually the holiday season— the month of August— for Spaniards, the campground was all but deserted, and the restaurant not yet open for business. There were a couple of families with caravans on the electrified campsites, lower down the hill, and a couple from Holland on the site next to ours, tent-camping.

My daughter and I had gotten very adept at setting up the tent, and the little gas stove with our cooking pots. We had a couple of folding chairs, and an ice-box, and managed very efficiently, cramming it all into the Very Elderly Volvo’s generous trunk and moving on, ever couple of days— unlike the Spanish, who set up elaborate tent-cottages at some salubrious spot for the month of August, and brought along refrigerators, televisions, pets and all. We had seen cats, birds, dogs, and even a pair of monkeys at a campground near Leon, but the campground in Seville took the cake, because there was a horse.

We came up from the pool, early in the evening, walking up the dusty footpath towards our tent, and there was a man on a dapple-gray horse, exercising the horse among the trees at the upper end of the campground. The man was a wiry little guy, in jeans and a short-sleeved shirt, missing half the buttons, and a soft cap pulled over his eyes. The horse was a dainty thing, several hands shorter than Wilson, the horse that Mom and Dad had bought for us to learn to ride, with an elegantly dark gray muzzle, hard-muscled and sleek. My daughter was enchanted, and eaten up with curiosity. The rider as well as the horse were very much dressed down: the light saddle was worn, and the bridle was held together at some points with knots of plastic string, while the rider slouched through some paces, and briefly struck a pose you see in pictures; reins in one hand, fist on hip; glorious, martial and Spanish to the core. Then he waved to us, casually.
“’Ola… como ‘stas.”
“Buenos,” I said with the proper Aragonese slur. “Habla englis? Habla un poco espanol.”
“Si.” He rode up to us, as my daughter asked,
“Can I pet the horse?”
“Si. “ He affectionately slapped the horses’ neck, and it dipped a velvety muzzle to us.
“Mind the teeth,” I said to my daughter. I rubbed the flat part, above the nostrils, and the horse blew out an alfalfa-scented gust, “Pet the dark parts… doesn’t that feel like velvet.” Her eyes were huge. The rider swung down, still holding the reins in one hand, and we began to talk. I cannot now remember sure exactly how the conversation went, only that it was in a combination of fractured English and Spanish. He gave us to understand that the horse was a mare, in foal (he slapped her barrel gently) and that he had been at an equestrian event in Seville. His good friend was the bartender at the campground bar, and his wife was coming tonight with a horse trailer, but he was killing time until then. He had a finca (a ranch) several hours away, and the mare was a proper bull-fighting horse. He proudly pointed out a healed scar on her shoulder, and casually asked if either of us would like to ride for a bit. I demurred, as it had been a good many years since Wilson, and I had been more used to riding without a saddle, but my daughters’ eyes got huge with excitement,
“Si, por favor!” she breathed.
I held the reins, while he gave her a leg up, and showed her how to put her toes into the stirrups. She had only once been on a horse, and twice on donkeys, all three times while someone led the animal around. He handed her the reins, and showed her how to use them to control the horse, while I watched apprehensively as she pulled too far back, and the mare began to rear. Both of us dove for the mare’s nose, while my daughter stuck like a burr to the saddle, not the least bit frightened or out of countenance.

I let out my breath… my god, she was at home as if she had been born in a saddle and ridden every day of her life. She sat proud and fearless, all of ten years old, while the mare’s owner jovially called out a reminder to keep her elbows in. She nudged the mares’ flanks with her heels, and the mare obediently walked ahead— no gentle old plug kept for a children’s easy ride, but a working, bullfighting horse, but then she had ever been the most fearless of children: not heights, not barking dogs, not strangers or the deepest of water had ever held terror for her.

She rode that horse all over the upper part of the campground for two hours, at a walk, trot, even essaying a short gallop or two, while the Dutch couple and I watched, and the mare’s owner kept company with us. We all drank sangria in the twilight and talked in English and Spanish about horses, and what we had seen in Spain, and where we lived. Occasionally, as my daughter went by on the dapple mare, he called out encouragement and praise, and reminders about keeping elbows in and heels down, and I wondered where on earth and by what genetic predilection this skill had come from, appearing in full flower. People are not supposed to be instantly good at something, this was like watching a kid go to a piano for the very first time, and belt out a Goldberg Variation, or diagram an obscure and complicated mathematical theory the first time they pick up a piece of chalk… but there she was, instantly at ease, better than I had been after weeks of lessons.

Where are those talents hidden, and how many revealed by an unexpected coincidence? How often does this happen with parents, watching their children suddenly take to the air and fly on the wings of that talent, while we stand on the ground and watch. For me, it was that time in a campground in Spain, when my daughter took the reins of a bullfighting horse, and never once looked down.

30. September 2012 · Comments Off on Oranges and Honey · Categories: Domestic, Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , , ,

I have a shoebox full of vintage postcards, collected in the Thirties by the invalid young son of Grandpa Jim’s employer. Among my favorite cards are those of places I knew, like the Devil’s Gate Dam, on the nebulous border between La Crescenta and Pasadena, with a Model-A Ford on the roadway atop the dam, and Mt. Wilson topped with snow in the background, and a view of the Arroyo Vista hotel, still a landmark in the days when Mom was driving us to Pasadena to visit the grandparents, but half a century past its Roaring Twenties prime.

My very favorite is a view again of Mt. Wilson and the San Bernardino range, edged with snow against a turquoise blue sky, and acres of orange groves covering the entire plain below, even up to the foothills. From the mountain peaks and ridges, an expert could deduce where that particular vista had been taken down for 3-penny posterity. The citrus groves were long gone from Pasadena when I was a child, nibbled away by suburbia, but pockets of hold-outs still held sway in back yards; Grannie Jessie and Uncle Jim had an enormous lemon tree in their front yard, and a smaller orange tree along the driveway, shading the only place where JP and I were allowed to dig, and make mud pies amid the sweet scent of orange blossoms and the still-sweet moldy smell of the windfalls.

When Grandpa Al and Grannie Dodie first moved out to Camarillo in the early 1960ies, and Mom and Dad would drive up on Saturday afternoons for dinner, the way there from the Valley that was not rolling hills covered in tawny dry grass and dark green live-oaks, was still taken up with citrus groves. The orchards were like vast, roofless rooms, walled with the windbreak trees, and floored in neat rows of orange, lemon and grapefruit trees, guarded by tall towers with slow-moving vanes intended to move the air when it came too close to freezing.

Gradually, creeping fingers of suburbia reached into the groves along the highway, just as they had before in Pasadena and the San Fernando Valley. Between one Saturday dinner and the next, the grove was bulldozed and by the next year, there would be a tract of houses, and the windbreak around the grove would be ragged, no longer a tall, sheltering wall against the wind. No doubt a few survivor trees lingered in back yards, or maybe were planted by the builders. Redwood House was built on hills which had once been olive groves, and the surviving trees still aligned in rows, along the roads or from yard to yard, but someone had planted orange and lemon trees there, and around Hilltop House. After we moved in, Dad averred that he had favored buying it because he had a wish to have fresh-made lemonade from fresh-picked lemons from his own tree on the Fourth of July.

Oranges and lemons were so ubiquitous, so much a part of the public and private landscape that it came as a shock to realize there were people elsewhere who had to go to the store and actually buy them… and they were an exotic and foreign delicacy at that. Our neighbors at Hilltop House brought over their visiting English cousins, so their children and their little cousins could swim in the pool— three little boys who looked like various incarnations of the juvenile Roddy McDowell. The youngest happened to notice the orange tree, growing in the hillside by the steps to the pool.
“What is that, miss? A peach tree?”
“No, it’s an orange tree, “ I said, and his eyes widened.
“May I have one, miss?” he asked, tremulously, “To eat?”
“You can pick many as you like,” I said, and damned if he didn’t sit down and eat four of them.

Feeling a little guilty over the fruit that fell from the tree and was wasted, Pippy and I made a concerted effort to keep ahead of production, that summer. We filled three or four shopping bags with ripe oranges, without making an appreciable dent in the bounty. It was more than we and our neighbors could ever eat, so we converted it into juice. Gallon jugs of juice filled the refrigerator— still more than we could drink, and before we could think of what to do with it all, the brush at the end of the hill caught fire, and we would up taking it out to the firemen afterwards. They drank it gratefully every drop, straight from the jugs, fresh-pressed and icy cold on a hot day after a brushfire. So much for trying to keep ahead of the bounty, but we could not count on a fire every day.

We went back to letting the surplus rot on the ground, but at least our bees got the good out of it. Amidst the other pets, strays and lab survivors and Hilltop House, we had taken on a hive of bees. Our pastor’s oldest son had begun working on a Scout Merit Badge in beekeeping, and alas, too late, discovered that he was one of those severely allergic to bee stings. The hive had to go, and go it did, with all the paraphernalia, to the sunny hillside above the vacant lot next door, which was planted in thyme and native chaparral. For two or three years, we had our own honey.
We never did figure out what plants the bees favored, because the honey was like nothing else I have tasted since. It was clear, almost like Karo syrup, with a delicate flavor, not quite citrus, not thyme, distinctive, but unidentifiable, as rare as the oranges were common.

Oranges and honey, tart and sweet, enduring, but ephemeral, a vision of California that still exists in the backyards of suburbia, and on the postcards from another era.

A number of summers ago, when I was still stationed in Spain, I packed up my daughter, and a tent and all the necessary gear, and did a long looping camping tour of the southern part of Spain, down through the Extremadura, and to the rock of Gib al Tarik, and a long leisurely drive along the Golden Coast – I had driven from Sevilla, past the sherry-manufacturies around Jerez La Frontera (on a Sunday, so they were closed, although the Harvey’s people should have given me a freebie on general principals, I had sipped enough of their stuff, over the years), made a pit stop at the Rota naval base for laundry and groceries. I had driven into Gibraltar, done a tour of the historic gun galleries, seen the famous Gibraltar apes, and then waited in the long customs line to come back into Spain. We had even stopped at the Most Disgusting Public Loo on the face of the earth, at a gas station outside of San Roque, before following the road signs along the coastal road towards Malaga and Motril, and our turn-off, the road that climbed steadily higher into the mountains, the tall mountains that guarded the fortress city of Granada, and the fragile fairy-tale pavilions of the Alhambra.

The road followed the coastline, for the most part, sweeping through towns like Estepona and Marbella as the main thoroughfare, always the dark blue Mediterranean on the right, running wide of the open beaches, hugging the headlands, with new condos and little towns shaded by palm and olive trees, splashed with the brilliant colors of bougainvillea, interspersed with the sage-green scrublands. The traffic was light enough along the coastal road, and I began to notice a certain trend in place names; Torre de Calahonda, Torremolinos, Torre del Mar, Torrenueva – and to notice that most of the tall headlands, rearing up to the left of the road, were topped by a (usually) ruinous stone watchtower. Forever and brokenly looking out to the sea, and a danger that might come from there, a danger of such permanence as to justify the building of many strong towers, to guard the little towns, and the inlets where fisher-folk would beach their boats and mend their nets.

This rich and lovely coast was scourged for centuries by corsairs who swept in from the sea, peacetime and wartime all alike, savage raiders with swords and torches and chains, who came to burn and pillage – and not just the portable riches of gold, or silver, but those human folk who had a cold, hard cash value along the Barbary Coast, in the slave markets of Algiers and Sale. It was a scourge of such magnitude that came close to emptying out the coastal districts all along the Spanish, French and Italian coasts, and even reached insolently into Cornwall, Wales, Ireland and Iceland. The raiders from the port of Sale (present-day Morocco) grew fabulously wealthy form their expertise in capturing and trafficking in captured Christians from all across coastal villages in Western Europe, and from ships’ crews taken in the Mediterranean and the coastal Atlantic waters. This desperate state of affairs lasted into the early 19th century, until the power and reach of the Barbary slave-raiders was decisively broken. For hundreds of years, though, families all along this coast and elsewhere must have risen up from bed every morning knowing that by the end of the day they and or their loved ones might very well be in chains, on their way to the slave markets across the water, free no longer, but a market commodity.

This kind of life-knowledge is out of living memory along that golden Spanish coast, but it is within nearly touchable distance in Texas and other parts of the American West, where my own parent’s generation, as children in the Twenties and Thirties would have known elderly men and women who remembered the frontier – not out of movies, or from television, but as children themselves, first-hand and with that particular vividness of sight that children have, all that adventure, and danger, privation and beauty, the triumph of building a successful life and community out of nothing more than homesteaded land and hard work.

There was no chain of watchtowers in the harsh and open borderlands of Texas, watching over far-scattered settlements and little towns, and lonely ranches in a country never entirely at peace, but not absolutely at war. The southwestern tribes, Comanche, Apache and their allies roamed as they wished, a wild and free life, hunting what they wanted, raiding when they felt like it, and could get away with it. Sometimes, it was just a coarse game, to frighten the settlers, to watch a settler family run for the shelter of their rickety cabin, fumbling for a weapon with shaking hands, children sheltering behind their parents like chicks. But all too often, for all too many homesteading and ranching families, it ended with the cabin looted and burned, the adults and small children butchered in the cruelest fashion, stripped and scalped.

And the cruelest cut of all, to survivors of such raids in Texas and the borderlands, was that children of a certain age— not too young to be a burden, not too old to be un-malleable (aged about seven to twelve, usually) were carried away, and adopted into the tribes. Over months and years, those children adapted to that life so completely that even when they were ransomed back and brought home, they never entirely fitted in to a life that seemed like a cage. They had been taken as children, returned as teenagers or adults, to an alien life, to parents and family they could no longer see as theirs. Some of them pined away after their return, like the most famous of them, Cynthia Ann Parker, others returned to their Indian families. For parents of these lost children, that must have been so cruel, to lose a much-loved child not just once, but upon finally get them back, and then discovering that they were no longer yours, they had not been a slave, a captive … and now they longed to be away, roving the open lands as free as a bird.

(The connection between these two topics is that I was reading Giles Milton’s White Gold, and Scott Zesch’s Captured at more or less the same time.) The Captured gave me a fantastic idea for a plot twist in Book Three – Adelsverein … who knows, I might yet write more about that character?

09. August 2012 · Comments Off on In the Post · Categories: Domestic · Tags: , , , , ,

I’ve been thinking for a while – based on my own use of the service – that the good old US Post Office is something well past its best-if-used-by date. Oh, no – not that it should be done away with as a government service entirely. But I can contemplate delivery of the mail only two or three times a week with perfect equanimity … which is at least a little tragic for there were times when the daily arrival of the mail was a much-looked-forward-to thing. When I was overseas, or in a remote location – like Greenland (and in military outposts today I am certain) the arrival of the mail (three times a week) was anticipated with keen interest, since it was our lifeline to the outside world. There were letters from family, loved ones, magazines, catalogues and packages with goodies in them – sometimes gifts, sometimes items ordered … the whole world, crammed into a tiny box with a locking door in the central post office; the magical envelopes, the catalogues and magazines in a tight-packed roll, the little pink slips that meant a package … and then, between one or two decades, it all changed.

Now, the packages come mostly through UPS or Fed-Ex. The various utility bills arrive as emails and are paid on-line. My pension and my daughters’ VA disability are paid by automatic deposit to bank accounts. Magazines? I dropped a lot of my various subscriptions through lack of interest (I am looking at you, Newsweek and Entertainment Weekly) or through the magazines or the publications themselves going under. My news and intellectual-contact jones is fed on-line. Email works for just about everything else save for birthday cards to Luddites like my mother. My various businesses as a freelance are conducted thru Paypal, or through email with my business partner. I realize that not everyone has this kind of luxury – and in the case of the zombie apocalypse or some sort of solar event that crashes the internet I will be SO screwed … but then I am not advocating abolition of the post office. Just that in those metropolitan areas in the continental US that are well-served by internet services and by the various rival delivery services, the Postal Service can probably dial it back, quite a bit. Nothing much comes in the daily mail any more, save the print equivalent of the stuff that I empty out of my spam email box. Really – I am never going to respond to the Capitol One offers for a credit card, so do they need to have their weekly c**p underwritten with tax dollars? My way back into the house from the group mailbox leads past my trash and recycle cans; convenient, as that is where the bulk of it winds up.

I’ll shed a nostalgic tear for the USPS, when they cut back services. I really will – as there are (or were) the occasional business that would send a payment check by mail, instead of an automatic transfer. And the businesses which depend upon cheap bulk mail deliveries will be set back a peg or two. I do dispatch my own books when bought by readers through media mail, and the workers at the post offices where I do and have done business are wonderful, competent and cheerful people (Yeah, I know that is SO much against the usual stereotype) … but otherwise I fear that the USPS is a zombie corpse, being kept alive out of habit. To enable it to keep shambling around in those places where it does truly provide a neccessary service, I’d be willing to give up delivery service on Saturdays and at least two weekdays.

I’d also be able to avoid encountering my slightly-deranged and very chatty neighbor, who haunts the group mailbox; another win-win, as I count it.

07. August 2012 · Comments Off on Country Roads and Confiture Bar le Duc · Categories: Domestic · Tags: , , , , ,

(For the anniversary of the beginning of World War One – which began August 1, 1914. This was supposed to be the war to end all wars, which ended instead three monarchies, came close to ending one republic and saw another empire totter … one of my best archive posts from my original blog.)

We drove across the border on a Sunday, my daughter and I, on a mild autumn day that began by being veiled in fog when I gassed up the VEV at the PX gas station at Bitburg, and headed southwest assisted by the invaluable Hallwag drivers’ atlas, open on the passenger seat beside me. Blondie shared the back seat with a basket of books, a pillow, some soft luggage stuffed into the space between the seats, and half a dozen Asterix and Obelix comic books. Fortunate child, she could read in the back seat of a moving car for hours. Not like me— child or adult, I could not even look at the printed word while underway without becoming nauseated.

“We’ll cross right over Luxemburg, and then we’ll be in France,” I said. “You know, Gaul.”
“Will there be indomitable Gauls?” my daughter asked, seriously. She was just coming up to five years old. Her favorite comic books followed the adventures of the bold Gaulish warrior Asterix, and his friend, the menhir-deliveryman Oblelix, whose tiny village was the last to hold out against the imperial might of Roman conquest, thanks to a magic potion worked up by the druid Getafix, which gave superhuman strength to all the village warriors. The drawings in the books were artistically literate, and there were all sorts of puns and word-plays in the stories – and they had been translated and distributed all over.
“There could be,” I said, noncommittally. Three or four weeks ago, we had left the apartment in the suburb of Athens where we had lived for most of what she could remember of life and taken the car ferry from Patras to Brindisi, on our way to my new assignment in Spain.

In easy stages I had driven the length of Italy, over the Brenner Pass, through the tiny neck of Austria, and across Southern Germany. We had so far stayed in a castle on the Rhine, a couple of guesthouses, a hotel outside Siena which could have been nearly anywhere, as it overlooked a junkyard on one side, and acres of grapevines on the other three, and another which covered two floors on the top of an office block in Florence and offered a view of the Duomo from the terrace. We had been to see ruins in Pompeii, the Sistine chapel, the wondrous Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna, a Nazi concentration camp, and a mineral bath in Baden-Baden.

“Where are we going to do first?”
“Buy some jam,” I said.
“What kind of jam?” my daughter asked.
“It’s very superior jam, made with currents. They pick out the seeds by hand with a goose-quill, so it’s very expensive and only made in this one little town in France, but it is supposed to be the tastiest on earth. It’s on the way between here and Paris.”
Well, it wasn’t any odder than anything else I had taken her to see in the time that we had lived in Europe. She curled up with Asterix, while the VEV’s tires hummed tirelessly down the road.

I could tell, without having to see a border sign, when we had left Germany. Germany was as clean as if Granny Dodie had dusted it all, and scoured it twice with Lysol, and then groomed all the grass and trees with a pair of manicure scissors. Houses and cottages were all trim and immaculate, not a sagging roof or a broken shutter to be seen – and then, we were in another place, where slacker standards prevailed. Not absolute rural blight, just everything a little grimier, a little more overgrown, not so aggressively, compulsively tidy. And the highway became a toll road, and a rather expensive one at that. I made a snap decision to take the rural, surface roads at that point, and the toll-taker indulgently wrote out a list for me of the towns along the way of the road I wanted, hop-scotching from town to town, along a two-lane road among rolling hills and dark green scrub-forest, and little collections of houses around a square, or a traffic circle labeled ‘centre’ around which I would spin until I saw a signpost with the name of the next town, and the VEV ricocheted out of the roundabout, and plunged headlong down this new road. (Good heavens, a signpost that way for Malmedy! Well, they did say snottily in Europe that wars were a means to teach Americans about geography, but I was interested this day in the earlier war, and my route led south.)

Always two lanes, little traveled on a Sunday it seemed. I had no shred of confidence in my ability to pronounce French without mangling every syllable, but at least I could read signs in Latinate alphabets. And this was Alsace-Lorraine, I was sunnily confident of being able to make myself clear in German, if required. The VEV’s tank was still better than half full, and it was only midday. Here we were climbing a long steady slope, a wooded table-land, and a break in the trees, where a great stone finger pointed accusingly at an overcast sky. A signpost with several arrows pointed the various ways farther on – Ossuaire …Ft. Douaumont … Fleury. A parking lot with a scattering of cars, the same oppressive sense of silence I had felt in places like Pompeii, and Dachau, as if even the birds and insects were muffled.
“What’s this place?” My daughter emerged from the back seat, yawning.
“There was a horrendous battle here, sixty years ago. The Germans tried to take it, but the French held on.”
“Indomitable Gauls,” My daughter said wisely, and I pointed up at the Ossuary,
“That place is full of their bones. We’ll go see the museum, first.”

This was the place of which the stalwart Joffe had commanded, “They shall not pass,” the place in which it could be claimed— over any other World War I battlefield— that France bled out as a significant military power. For ten months in 1916 Germany and France battered each other into immobility, pouring men and materiel into the Verdun Salient with prodigal hands, churning every inch of soil with shellfire and poison gas, splintering the woods and little towns, gutting a whole generation of the men who would have been it�s solid middle-class, the politicians and patriots, leaders who might have forestalled the next war, or stood fast in 1940. It was the historian Barbara Tuchman who noted that the entire 1914 graduating class of St. Cyr, the French approximation of West Point had been killed within the first month of war. For this was a wasteful war, as if the great generals all stood around saying “Well, that didn’t work very well, did it?— so let’s do it again, and again and again, until it does indeed work.” And afterwards, no one could very well say what it had all been for, and certainly not that it had been worth it, only that the place was a mass grave for a million men.

There was the usual little sign at the admittance desk to the museum— so many francs, but students and small children were admitted free, and so were war veterans and members of the military. I got out my military ID, and politely showed it to the concierge, a gentleman who looked nearly old enough to have been a veteran of Verdun saying
“Ici militaire…”
He looked at me, at the card, at my tits, and at my daughter, and then at the card again, and laughed, jovially waving me on to the exhibits; models and bits of battered gear, mostly, and a bit in the cellar made up to look like a corner of the battlefield, hell in a very small place, all the ground stirred up again and again. Supposedly, they had despaired of ever planting a straight row of trees; there was so much stuff in the ground.
When we came out again, the clouds were lifting a bit … down and across the river there was a golden haze over the town.

“Are we going to buy jam now?” my daughter asked.
“When we get to Bar le Duc. I think we’ll get something to eat, and stay the night there,” I said, and in that golden afternoon, I followed the two-lane road, the Voie Sacree, the only road into Verdun from the railhead at Bar le Duc, where traffic never stopped during the battle, two hundred trucks an hour, and 8,000 men shoveling gravel under their wheels day and night. The only visible mark left along the road were square white-washed mile markers, topped with a metal replica of a poilu’s helmet, like grave markers for a France gone sixty years ago.

I bought six jars of the confiture, six tiny jars of preserve as bright as blood, filled with tiny globes of clear red fruit. It was exquisite; saved for special occasions; I made them last for nearly a decade.