|‘If the fates are kind,' I read somewhere, ‘the wise man will gradually
release himself from the harness of years and shrug off the routine of
a days work.'
Sitting here in the shadows of Saint-Paul de Vence, a small, medieval
town in southern France, far enough from the Cote D'azur to escape the
sun-seeking tourist, I hear the wisdom in these words.
Not that my own life is fraught with anxiety, far from it, after all,
I'm here on a three-week vacation. But making a conscious decision to
stop work, even gradually, now that's another thing. I don't do any
less now than I did when I was twenty. Up at the crack of dawn,
sometimes before, and following a certain routine. Not unpleasant by
any means. Hot shower, hot cup of tea, walk my dogs and then a good
half an hour spent browsing through the newspaper before researching
the stock market.
When is enough, enough? On what day will I cease looking to the markets
to make money, but instead to buy groceries? I know wise men; men who
have willingly, gleefully resigned themselves to having little. Men I
respect, but I am not such a one.
So, I ask myself, as I wander, enraptured by the scent of flowers
hanging at the corner of place Du Frene, what is enough and when will I
Only the deep, almost erotic smell of freshly roasting Arabica beans
entices me to stop ambling and sit awhile. I remove my hat and watch
young lovers strolling, a tangle of arms, joy on their faces and hope
in their hearts. The man sitting opposite me is clearly, unmistakably
French. His beret, worn only as a Frenchman can, reminding me of
stories surrounding the French resistance, sits askew on his head. If,
and this is merely my imagination at work, there were there to be a
baguette under his arm and a bicycle close by, the cliché would be
complete. Alas, that is not the picture. He looks seventy, perhaps more,
a lightweight, tan jacket worn over a lilac colored shirt. I look at him
for some minutes, wondering about his life, perhaps its simplicity, or
maybe the heartache.
Saint Paul de Vence has another smell, brought today by small rain,
the pungent, wet and warm smell of history before the richness of cheeses
and vino. Though originally a Ligurian town, Vence was important during
Roman times, and equally significant in the early years of Christian France.
During the Wars of Religion, the town was besieged by Huguenots, but did
not fall; a fact commemorated each Easter with a festival.
I am unfortunate in that, for me, there is peril born of boredom. Some
medical experts say it is unwise for a man to give up his life long
work at sixty-five or seventy, for pretty soon he will wither away and
die. Work has never been something that took over my life, but it
consumed the greater part of it. Money itself holds no interest for
me, just what it enables me to do, such as sit here on the sidewalk of
a beautiful café in Saint Paul de Vence without once considering the
cost. It is the reward for a life's labor of love, not the result of
seeking wealth as the first cause.
The old man wearing the beret knows nothing about me, or I him, yet I
wonder if we share a real sense of the things that are important to us
and he, like me, has given over time and thought to troubling matters.
Doubtless he's born of a liberal education. I feel confident this is
true. In France the beret is worn mostly by the elderly and worn with
pride, the signature of a peasant, and the word ‘Peasant' by no means
insults a working class Frenchman.
He sips at his coffee, removes a timepiece from his pocket, checks the
time and throws coins on the table. He gets up and leaves; a slow,
somewhat agonizing gate to his step.
St. Paul de Vence begs you to wander. It insists you care about art, about religion,
and about beauty. There are many places like it in the world. I come
here every three or four months to peruse the streets, far from my
home in California. I take my coffee on the corner of place Du Frene.
Perhaps one day you'll walk by. If you do, say hello.