The year of Jonas’s birth, we stayed in Provence for Christmas. He’d been due for Christmas week, so it had been out of the question to travel. In fact, he decided to come early, and greeted Christmas as a two-week-old in my arms. Two of my former au pairs, one living in Aix and another living in Paris, joined us. My mother came over from the States, and after feasting and a little bit of music on the piano, we all set out to the little hill-side village of Séguret to watch the all-Provençal re-enactment of the nativity by the villagers (amongst them one of my favorite potters).
I'd learned of this event on one of the many visits to the potter's shop, or perhaps a day we went to hike the hills behind the village. And, I just so wanted to experience this unique event that has been held in the village from medieval times.
The potter’s father got us tickets and saved us well-chosen seats. The potter’s mother guided us up to the church from her house where I'd been happily ensconced with Jonas at the breast, enjoying the delicious smells of their Christmas Eve repast. I just love their home with the view over the family from the front window, the tiny fireplace, the cupboards full of home-made jams.
As we made our way to our seats, my hostess fussed over my tiny baby, suggesting he might be called upon as a last-minute replacement for baby Jesus.
It turned out to be an over two-hour affair with every character in a santon display spouting in Provençal -- not too difficult to understand, but still.... Leo, just 4 ½, was under the chair after the first 45 minutes, and no amount of whispered scolding could bring him out. Jonas went from breast to breast, nursing, sleeping, nursing, sleeping. A local village baby – weighing in at a huge 8 months-old – weepily managed the role of Jesus. And all went relatively smoothly as each villager reprised his traditional role of the blind man, or Joseph, or a shepherd, or the inn-keeper.
When the last strains of a capella singing from the young teenage angels (who, contrary to the other roles, were permitted to sing in French) had drifted into the darkness, we made their way out into the crisp night air. Above our heads, in a marvelously clichéd moment, the stars twinkled brightly and all felt magical and possible.
It was over an hour’s drive back from the village to Arles. Erick got us home way after mid-night, no doubt a bit uncertain as to whether his crazy American wife had improved Christmas with this extraordinary production, or simply added more work to his already full schedule.
But still to this day, I can see and hear my potter in his role as a shepherd berating the inn-keeper, ‘testo duro’ or hard headed nut.