The pursuit of happiness: part two

A small village in the South of France: town events are announced via loudspeaker from the church tower, always preceded by a bit of rock music so that you momentarily think it’s the neighbors.

What’s the right verb for to turn down? Will it be to lower, as one might lower a pail down a well, or turn down as one might a bed or an offer? Will you use the verb to debase, to lower the tone?

No need to reach for the two-volume English-to-French-and-back-again dictionary, it is just an announcement. There is a wedding. The family invites friends to raise a toast in front of the town hall. It is our second chance for a free drink.

Our first opportunity was the eve of Bastille Day, when the flyer posted in the boulangerie announced an aperitif with the mayor. We join the townspeople for the jeux d’enfants. Later, there would be a reasonably priced meal for the entire town, the menu of which is printed on the flyer, but instead I took the older daughter to the fireworks display on the tambourin court. It was 10 PM, to ensure a dark sky but too late for the husband or the younger daughter. Children ran about to music beforehand, teens lined the periphery, tuned into their own private frequencies with an undercurrent of perpetual significance. My daughter is alert.

How well I remember getting ready to go out into the dark night at that age, with that sense that anything might happen and that you might be on the verge of some new discovery or insight. We watch the villagers emerge. We have never seen this many people here. The old men will gather in a small group outside the cafe, or by the bus stop. There is always another customer at the bread shop, but never a crowd.

The fireworks are set off to The Doors (“Light my Fire.” I’d never put Jim Morrison and Jerry Lewis in the same category, and now I do.)

I don’t know if my daughter is disappointed by the dark, anonymity of our foray or if it satisfies expectations. We walk home together, through the medieval streets that surround the church, the lights out to the subdivision in the vineyards haloed in mist. Some nights we invite the girls to sit with us while we watch the bats test the skies and then swoop down across the swimming pool. For us, these moments define happiness, while for them, they are the pause before it begins.


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