En Route to Hawaii

We’re entering our third day at sea, bound for Hilo. We’ve shared Tom’s book and my “Well-Being and Being Well” collection with several members of the writing group we meet with every day, and have had wonderful reactions. It will be fun to see where it leads. Just the idea of learning poems by heart, or writing an idea and then paring away the extraneous words and listening for the rhythms, is new to many people.

Later in the morning, we sit in the library, Tom reading, I pasting the cutout paper Hawaiian quilting designs we made yesterday onto cards, and the librarian comes over to talk. I’d given her copies of Art Is/Letters Are and “Well-Being and Being Well” the other day. She says she loved them and is putting them into the collection here. I find that delightful and very touching. She was glad to meet Tom, amused at how much his logo looks like him and like the sculptures that are “Self Portraits.”

Just finished The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. The feel of Provence is strong as you build toward the end of the book. Right at this time of year in 1952, a group of us were settling in to families in Aix-en-Provence for six weeks before going North for the academic year in Paris. Those were vivid weeks full of wind and new impressions, views of Mont St. Victoire, trips into the countryside, speaking only French. My hostess was an impressive lady named Madame Lanes who dominated the dinner table with tales from the past, as far back as “la guerre de Soixante-Dix,” by which we finally realized she meant the war against Germany of 1870.

Tom and I had just met that spring, and I had sent him a postcard during the summer from somewhere along our route, singing with the Smith College Chamber Singers from England to Rome and back. Now, in Aix, I got my first letter from him, with photos, and I was overwhelmed with the idea that he might have felt the same way I did! Love at first sight is what they call it. I remember reading that first letter over and over and over! We wrote sporadically all that year, those little blue air-letter forms, occasionally if you wanted to enclose a picture, a regular envelope. We didn’t meet again till September of 1953, he returned to teach again at Williston, I back after a summer in Seattle for my senior year at Smith.

So the South of France is imbued with strong emotions for me, though I didn’t get back to it with Tom till years later when in 1979 at the end of a sabbatical we camped our way across from Spain to Avignon. We visited friends in Villeneuve-sur-Lot and Nimes, eating enormous meals pressed on us by those loving friends, the same dishes whose recipes appear at the end of this wonderful, evocative book.

We’ll sometimes sit at a meal now, so carefully taken care of aboard the Amsterdam, and recreate moments in that journey. We weave the details, the smells, a turn of the road: “….that time we stopped for lunch by a field of cork oaks in Spain, popped the top of the camper, and part way through our picnic realized the field was full of young black bulls and their huge mothers! They were curious about us, too.” Which of those young bulls would prove to be a Ferdinand and which would challenge a Matador even to his death?

The Internet connection is down so I will store this up to send later. Son Tom has shipped the keyboard to meet us in Honolulu. I will be glad of it!

[Editor’s Note: I am back in Portland, digitizing collections of Tom & Joan’s slides onto the computer. I must have been channeling the conversations Joanie mentions above, because I have just finished the slides from that very 1979 trip. See a few of the photos below. – TCB Jr.]

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