One Christmas, Clémence sends me a thin paperback collection of stories called Lettres de mon moulin. Letters from my windmill. I love French books, not just for reading but for the sake of the object itself---the spines are upside-down, the words going from top to bottom, which makes bookstore browsing feel simultaneously awkward and fun.
I read the stories not knowing anything about where they come from. Provence, as it turns out. The author, Alphonse Daudet, is one of the more known provençal writers. He had a windmill where he wrote these stories, a collection of tales about his life and experiences in the south of France. The mill is still tucked away in the countryside somewhere to the east of Avignon. But I don’t learn any of this until years later.
My favorite story, then and now, is “L’Arlésienne,” about a young man in love with a woman from Arles. He finds out that she’s married to someone else and he kills himself.
Il s’était dit, le pauvre enfant: “Je l’aime trop . . . Je m’en vais . . .” Ah! misérables coeurs que nous sommes!
It sounds melancholy, wistful, and it is. But the language is sparse and lovely and the ending always makes me cry. Just like this France of mine.