Thursday, September 25, 2008

Stop and Smell the Lavender -- Eve

I just spent 10 days biking through wine country in Southern France. A huge group of us got together to celebrate the life of a great friend who recently defied the odds to beat a deadly cancer. He “Lance Armstrong-ed” his way back to health through biking and came back better and stronger than science predicted he could.

Attacking Mount Ventoux, the most feared portion of the Tour De France, was the original point of our biking trip. Unfortunately, I busted my knee the day before and was unable to make it up the mountain. But I did take this pic from my hotel room at the very moment my buddies summitted. Can you see them waving?

Because the other bikers I traveled with tend to ride at the speed of Lance, and I ride more at the speed of, say, a lame snail, I ended up spending a lot of hours alone checking out the scenery. Having never been to France, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Funny thing is that upon first glance the French countryside looks a lot like, well, the San Luis Obispo countryside with its vineyards, wildflowers, and tiny rural towns. But below the surface, it’s a whole different world.

There’s something different about the air in French wine country. It’s somehow crisper, sweeter, more oxygenated. Although the trees are probably the same exact species we have here, there’s something about the way they tilt against the sky, the way the branches bend and leaves curve, that makes them appear to have been sculpted individually with an artist’s hand. Like maybe the guy who trims those shrubs at Disneyland into animal shapes took his shears to France and became a master of abstract composition. Everything in France is about aesthetics. Fruit stands are meticulously arranged. Buildings are preserved in all their ancient Roman magnificence. Even their ghettos are dazzling with perfectly pruned flowers and cobblestone streets.

One day I abandoned my bike and hiked a good twelve miles alone through untouched wilderness. As I was walking through yet another endless lavender field I realized that the space was so quiet, I could not remember ever hearing such a loud quiet. No cars, no airplanes, no voices, nothing! Not even a bumblebee buzz. Normally that would creep me out. But instead it was calming and I had one of those writerly epiphany moments. When a distant rooster finally broke the silence I realized that although the setting initially appeared so familiar, it felt so completely different. It was a “feeling” type of setting.

I’ ve always been sucked into books where a moody “feeling” type setting emerges. You know, the kind where you “feel” like you are “in” it, not just being told about it. A few great examples come to mind; Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers, and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

I love the idea of setting as a character in itself. And while hiking I promised myself that while writing I will now and forever pay more attention to setting. Describing one’s surroundings always seemed so boring to me back in 9th grade English. But now I realize there’s more to it. Setting has to evoke a feeling. Whether it’s soothing and familiar, or uncomfortable and frightening, the right setting can make or break a book. And a vacation!

- Eve


Christy Raedeke said...

What an amazing thing to do! I love the idea of friends celebrating the life of someone who has come through a dark period, making the victory more memorable than the fight.

And I love the image of the Disney hedge guy going berserk in the French countryside!

Disco Mermaids said...

Thanks CR! I knew I could count on you to appreciate my attempt to connect a ridiculously crazy fun, wine-filled romp through France to my writing!

In re-reading, I realized I made the trip sound really mellow...but it certainly wasn't. Lotta wine to be drunk in France...those people LOVE their wine!

Yeah, who is that Disney hedge clipper guy anyway? I'd like to party with him!


Suzanne Young said...

Wow. What amazing pictures!!! Well, glad to have you back!

And I doubt I would have been able to bike at all. I would have had to ride in one of those little pull behind bike carts they have for children. haha.

Hm. Come to think of it, that would be AWESOME!!!

Katie said...

Beautiful post Eve! And beautifully described! I want to go there now!

My sis and bro-in-law live in Nice - I have never been. You might have convinced me :-)

Glad you're back!


Sondra said...

Ooh, that sounds cool.
LOL, just found your blog through the the back flap of your book, I'm not like a stalker or anything. :)

Kim Kasch said...

OMG: Those are beautiful photos. And it looks like UPhill. I rode to work for two days (10 miles)!!! Then I left my bike in the backyard, with my 7 mo old Siberian Husky. I came home and no bike seat. She ATE it!!!

Disco Mermaids said...

Hey Sondra-
No, I didn't think you were a stalker for a second. Just checked out your blog...very interesting and insightful. I will definitely be keeping up with yours now. Thanks so much for stopping by!

That is hilarious! My puppy ate a cell phone once. Not just chewed, but ATE the entire cell phone!

Yes, a LOT of uphill biking. Is France made up of all up-going hills?? I'm pretty sure it is!