Monday, July 04, 2011

MAGPIE TALE: All the Wheat in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Our contribution to the Magpie Tales series.

Great grand grand father Adelard had no idea he was being painted from the window of the asylum. Some days as he wiped his brow from the summer heat, he would look up at the Saint-Paul Hospital and would see a face peering out at him from a window. Their gaze would be as intent and steady as a cat, making him wonder what was happening with the information sent to the brain by those eyes. Adelard hated being in the range of such eyes, as if they could suck him up from the wheat field and possess him.
And on the afternoon of July 27, 1890, he saw that odd man with red hair and a wound to his head step by his table outside of the Ravoux Inn. He had seen this off fellow around quite a bit, knew he spoke with what he mistook for a German accent and was likely on release or escape from Saint-Paul Hospital. Our Aunt Clarrisse worked as a laundress there for six months, but our family had no other connection. Adelard always wondered why that wheat field stood there between the asylum and and the stone wall that stood between it and the outside world. Who was that wall protecting -- the inmates, those of us on the outside or the wheat?

Wheat was so central to the life of our family. Adelard's hands worked the fields, and the bounty of the harvest nourished his body. The word gluten, which would come to be a scourge in our family in the next century, was a term Adelard had never heard nor understood. When the opportunity to marry Inès Boulliard presented itself in 1893, it was not because of any passion or attraction to this rather plain woman of 24 who had been waiting for a suitor for nearly a decade. It was only because 82 hectares of prime wheat fields and a small vineyard came to him with her hand.

Years later, Inès would educated Adelard on who that "odd little Dutch fellow" was and urged him to sell 12 hectares of the fields to buy a painting. Adelard would hear nothing of it, pointing out that the painting were very poorly executed -- wasting too much paint that was piled on thickly and the man clearly had poor eyesight as well as mental problems because all of his landscapes and figures were blurry and lacked precision.
Adelard knew he was much wiser investing in new farm equipment, practical tools that would put food on the table. He would hear no more of these insane ideas of from Inès. She bristled at the word "insane" but would say nothing of it, fearing that Adelard might learn the truth about her sister Jasmine who had been at Saint-Paul since she turned 14. She clung to the hope that her long, near-spinsterhood was not because of her less than stellar complexion but the reputation the Boulliards had gained for being "a bit off" because of Jasmine. She just prayed that it would not be passed down to the next generation they hoped to produce soon. Nearly 25, there was much pressure for Inès to produce heirs while "the field was still fertile" as Adelard and her father would say, unapologetic about putting every situation in to agricultural terms.
A full year and a half passed without any children, and then suddenly they began to arrive. Adelard did little more than to pose in family photos with them. Fatherhood did not suit Adelard , and he fairly much chose to ignore it. Children were there to help him tend the fields in his opinion. But the two boys had no interest in farming, and he daughter had no interest in him or her brothers. She and Inès, however, had a close bond that Adelard always resented. They seemed to speak in their own language, finding refuge from that household of three males, three males who never talked to each other. It was Etienne, the younger son, who worried Inès. He had developed a brooding demeanor worse than his father’s at much too early an age. And she caught him drinking bourbon at the age of 12. Clearly he was following in his father’s footsteps at much too early an age. Adelard’s sullen moods grew darker, and he had gained the nick name of the “grim reaper” as he sauntered along the back trails of the village as he departed the wheat fields at dusk.

Etienne, Inès was certain, would end up in a room at Saint-Paul Hospital before he turned 18, staring out at those wheat fields. Those wheat fields that would turn one more male to madness.

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