Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ill Wind

Autumn has hit the U.S. with a vengeance: early snows, more flooding, storms hurling the fall-color leaves away to some other part of the world… and El Nino, or La Nina, or the Pinta and Santa Maria, or all four, threatening to wash America back to Vespucci and Isabella.

Nor are we alone in facing nature’s wrath. Whether you place your bet on Global Warming or climate change or warped statistics or Mayan prophecy, the arriving winter of 2011-2012 looks to be a doozy…

It’s 25 years now since Sandra and I and various children spent a chilly fall and icy winter skirting
the Mediterranean from Provence to Portugal’s Algarve in search of warmth. The “coldest European winter in decades” was foretold, even heralded, that year by a particularly fierce mistral wind sweeping down and across Provence.

(Perfectly apt: that raw and raucous wind from hell is also the surname of the great Nobel-prizewinning poet Frederic Mistral, champion of the Provencal language. My slight whisper of air to be read below would be quickly lost in the storm gales and summer zephyrs he unleashed.)

I seem to remember, from Lawrence Durrell’s South-of-France quintet of novels (less known and less important than his dazzling, and bedazzled, Alexandria Quartet), that a mistral sometimes blows hot air rather than cold.

But not in early November, 1986…


Le Mistral

Ice-hard and unyielding,
the autumn whirlwind bruises,
pummels crisp clouds askew,
and shreds the huddling trees
of their sharp, shriveled leaves.

Rapacious, falcon-fierce,
le mistral grips Provence;
chill talons rake the Rhone
from Arles back to Avignon,
beating the soul to its knees

with all fall’s cold at once.
Now the late grapes vein blue
like Papist folk new-shriven,
and the last vineyards lose
their golden cypress shielding.

Now the blood-earth grieves
a troubadour’s song of years,
dry hectares crying woe
for the region’s tans and creams,
burnt reds, bright blues, driven

in hiding, gone to cover
in halls of bauxite bone:
a blanched rotogravure
the dull, vainglorious end
of summer's sun-drenched dreams.

Le soleil’s ancient foe,
the bandit mistral wind
demands his droit du seigneur,
pillaging Aix to Vaucluse,
till stripped to dust and stone,

Provence arrests the reiver.

2 comments:

Alan Kurtz said...

A question, posed with respect: Your masthead identifies this as "a politically progressive blog" and promises "social commentary" in the mix. So why haven't you weighed in on the Occupy phenomenon? It may be the most important politically progressive social movement of our time and place (USA).

I Witness said...

Sorry, somehow I never received notice of this comment awaiting some result, so here it comes belatedly. As for the charge of delinquency re: Operation Occupy, I do have some opinions:

1) When I offer social commentary, I prefer NOT to be echoing the remarks of thousands or tens of thousands who have already spoken; what new perspective could I possibly offer?

2)While I cheer from the warmth of a home office, I also am doubtful about the random, excitable crowd on display everywhere across this land; frustrated elders, homeless street people, college kids larking about, anarchists lurking, big-hearted moms with their babies on board... can anything unite these pockets of resistance before the cops, the criminals, and the cold winter drive them away?

3) Just as I loathe the Third Reich-influenced title "Homeland Security," so too am I wholly opposed to the word "Occupy" which, I'm convinced, does a tragic disservice to these actions, lumping us embattled 99 percenters of the beleagured middle class in with American soldiers occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, Israelis building settlements on Palestinian lands, Soviets ruling Prague and Berlin, Nazis in France and the Netherlands, and so on for the whole sorry history of the world. It's too late to change the name now, but we should be talking about "taking back," "reclaiming," or something along those lines--words spirited but more positive, with less old baggage attached.

Take Back America! Rebuild the bridges, repair the highways, recall the Supreme Injustices; regulate Wall Street and reclaim Main Street!

Okay?