RSS

A Simple Truth

02 Apr

Song suggestion: Under My Wheels, Alice Cooper
Drink suggestion: Domain de Saint Hilaire rosé, Coteaux d’Aix

It has been a year now since I published my first postcard.  A year of exploring, testing, learning, of savoring a few small victories and suffering a few (and then some) humbling failures. Did someone say, “if we aren’t failing we aren’t learning,” or did I just imagine that? Either way, I am getting an Ivy League education here in the south of France.

My infatuation with Aix-en-Provence has matured into a deep appreciation over this past year. I continue to marvel at the splendors of this Roman city, with its 101 fountains, its bountiful outdoor markets, its elegant 18th century architecture cast in the soft pastels of the Provence sun, and its easy Mediterranean character. A warm breeze at twilight, café chatter and a chilled glass of rosé with friends, and in a moment of wonder you try to recall the shooting star, rabbit’s foot, 4-leaf clover, or incredibly selfless deed that brought you all of this good fortune. It is like that.

My life is simpler here. This I value and this I have learned: simple is better. It is hard to find simplicity in a life bounded by possessions and fueled with a heavy dose of consumption. We are remembered for what we create, not what we consume; what we share, not what we possess. The centrifuge of stuff spinning around our daily lives is exhausting to maintain and distracting to manage. Do you ever feel like a whirling hammer thrower in the Olympics? Well let that hammer go. It is one hell of a release.

If you share my suspicions of consumerism as a hobby consider pairing back to the essentials. Feed the desires that bring you sustainable joy and personal definition, or perhaps defined you many years ago, and let the rest go. Our apartment in Aix is not monastic but certainly basic. The few furnishings we have are nice, but there aren’t many. I’ve invested happily in those essentials that feed the soul: for me, things like great pots and pans, an antique desk at which to write, a good stereo system, a new guitar and a decent piano. My 16 year old son has a great guitar as well, a gift from his generous uncle, and the usual teenage kit: cell phone, iPod, laptop, PS3 system for gaming. I got my soul, he’s got his soul. We’re all good.

One decision that I don’t regret was to become carless. I’ve had my own wheels since the dented and scraped Opel station-wagon I bought for $50 in 1975, and quite often I have had 2 money sinks sitting in the driveway. An encyclopedia of American muscle cars has pole position on my living room table and I still love checking out beautiful automobiles, almost as much as watching the les belles femmes d’Aix glide along Cours Mirabeau in their light summer dresses (but I digress). Yes, I am a serious car guy, but I don’t miss owning one.

There is a good public transport system in much of France (your eyes are rolling), and the network of busses and trains around Aix is truly impressive. Why drive to Marseille, for example, when a bus leaves every 10 minutes, makes 2 quick stops en route, then takes the same auto route that you would be following in your car? There are no worries about finding parking, getting lost, having an accident, or pairing that lunch with a nice glass of wine.

When public transportation doesn’t work I take a taxi. If I really need a car for a day or a week then there is an Avis center 3 blocks from home. When I get out of the cab or turn in the car, I am done. Imagine not having to deal with registration fees, emissions tests, insurance premiums, gas prices, accidents, recalls, repairs, monthly payments, oil changes, dot dot dot. Is there any single possession – other than a home, perhaps – that consumes more of our energy?

There are 2 tradeoffs to a life without wheels: it’s an urban life and it’s a life amongst the masses (as in mass transportation). If you are a city person like me then #1 won’t be a problem. #2 is a thornier challenge. We are conditioned to avoid exposure to people beyond our safe bubble of friends and family and the automobile is the perfect cocoon; our own little isolation tank on wheels. We get all the creature comforts of home – leather seats, 6 speaker stereo with an iPod port, telephone and even internet hookups – and with the finely filtered climate control systems that keep us at a perfect 72° F (22° C [295° K  {inside joke, see my last blog}]), we don’t even share air with the grubby multitudes around us. Love it!

Actually, I don’t love it. I am bored by it. Try the bus or the train. People are fascinating, people of all color, age and stripe, not just the antiseptic middle and upper classes with whom you and I mostly associate. I am no Mother Theresa. I’ve had to change seats more than once when a soap-challenged bus passenger plants nearby. But we humans are endlessly curious creatures, intriguing to watch and titillating to eavesdrop on.  Why isolate oneself from all of this fascinating diversity? To listen to the mono-dimensions of Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern? Personally, I love NPR’s Terry Gross, and with my archaic gen 1 iPod in hand (worth about what I paid for that Opel wagon in 1975) there is no need for a $30,000 car radio to get my Fresh Air fix.

The blind ache to see a human face, the deaf ache to hear a human voice, and the dying don’t want to die alone. When faced with the loss of human connection, we value nothing more. Why then do we try so hard and spend so much to avoid it?

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Advertisements
 
3 Comments

Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Essays

 

Tags: , , ,

3 responses to “A Simple Truth

  1. Janet Spahr

    April 2, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    A very nice read, once again, Bill!
    Ah Yes, the Opel gets a mention!! I would bet that your family didn’t go through as many Opels as ours, though ~ thanks to my Opel-fanatic Father! My first car was an Opel GT that left me sitting on the side of the road more than once (and once in Newport, right across from your Dad’s doctor’s office!)

    Aix-en-Provence sounds perfectly wonderful. So does not owning a car! (I love my fold-up bike.)
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, as always.
    Best, Janet

     
    • John

      February 22, 2013 at 3:31 pm

      I must show my admiration for your gensoreity in support of men who actually need help with the study. Your special commitment to getting the solution all through had been remarkably beneficial and has specifically empowered associates much like me to get to their endeavors. The helpful help signifies much to me and especially to my colleagues. Warm regards; from all of us. 27 fd7

       
  2. Ella

    April 3, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    You make a good case! Sounds like all is very well, and I love the visuals of your writing. Ella

     
 
%d bloggers like this: