Saturday, May 28, 2011

Parasols, philosophy and poetry

Although I've lived in Provence for seven years and visited the region for much longer before I came to live here year-round, I'm still often surprised by aspects of the region's culture. Since Provence, like all of France, has such a rich culture there's a feeling that you never stop learning.

One of the interesting aspects of life here is the way people think. Almost everything flows from what goes on in people's heads and Provence has a great intellectual mix of earthy philosophy and subtle poetry. Or, you could just as easily say a mix of earthy poetry and subtle philosophy.

Over and over I see and hear evidence of this. In contrast I guess that the people of Provence, like the French generally, view Anglo-Saxon minds as pretty clod-hopping and overly concerned with practical matters like money and commerce.

Today I had one small example of local thinking, or maybe just French thinking. I was in conversation with a friend and - I can't remember why - parasols were mentioned.

He said he finds parasols quite interesting. My immediate thought was that I don't find them in the least interesting and haven't ever really given them a thought. They're just things you use, aren't they?, and maybe the extent of any interest in them would be what the material, colour and price were.

But he expounded a bit, as Provencal men will, on what he thought interesting. He talked about the way the rigid structure, the frame, worked with a soft, supple covering. Both were dissimilar, opposites really, but they work together. And neither's any use on its own. He talked for a while about that relationship and I can't describe what he said because it sort of slipped away from me - but it was interesting (and didn't involve any reference to sex or the human form, which it might easily have done.)

Whether from my Anglo-Saxon and Celtic heritage, genes or culture, or just through having a rather rusty brain, I tend to see household objects in a rather practical way or maybe in design terms. I can see symbolism in them easily enough - an empty chair, a dusty photo frame... But this conversation had me thinking about everyday objects in a different way.

When he'd finished describing what he meant, or what he saw, I commented that I couldn't decide whether I'd call what he'd just said poetry or philosophy.

He burst out laughing as if a child had said something funny. Then he said "Why should it be one or the other?"

(Just broke off to go and watch Antoine, the young berger, leading a hundred or so sheep along the track, with his two enormous white guard dogs. We chatted for a moment while the sheep tugged at my shrubs and then he led them down into long grass where they'll graze tonight and tomorrow. They ambled lazily along behind him, a bell tinkling here and there in the middle of the flock. It's wonderful to watch them all on the track and then grazing calmly. That's definitely poetry...)

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