Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Simple, Elegant World of Elizabeth T. Rightor

Preparing lunch with Elizabeth in front of her home.
Lourmarin, Le Mas Theotime.

Journal Excerpt - August 1976

Saying hello again to Elizabeth, this time at her home in Lourmarin, a charming village in the south of France, felt as though we were old friends coming to visit rather than two inquisitive young women whom she'd met by chance aboard the Leonardo da Vinci the ocean liner we sailed on from New York City to Genoa, Italy last April. She greeted us with open arms and a warm smile in the courtyard outside the small stone farmhouse she'd appropriately named, Le Mas Theotime. She was as elegant as ever and possessed a type of self-assured, eternal beauty - an innate quality - that glistens through every pore of any woman fully aware of her place in the world. I remember the first day we stepped into her house and how I felt so immediately at home. The feeling grabbed and shook me, placing me in countless situations I'd experienced in the past, yet isolating me in this unique moment of the present.

Five of the most lovely days of my life followed - each filled with peace and a type of tranquility that I'm sure could be found no place else in the world - Elizabeth's modest home was welcoming to all. Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven played continuously accompanied by the earthy smells of mint, lavendar, and thyme. I shall never forget the day the mistral blew (and it blew hard!) and we went out to pick thyme in the field behind her house.

Her furniture was old and built sturdily out of dark wood - dried wild flowers decorated her walls and one could imagine her out picking them in the warm sunshine out in the fields behind her house. Her kitchen was so small that the only thing that separated it from the living room was a divider over which she had carefully draped a beautiful silk shawl. During our first visit I immediately noticed a painting of Mount Saint Victoire. She informed us, proudly, that her Grandson, Hank, had painted it in a class at the Leo Marchutz School where I'd applied for a scholarship. The excitement of being at Elizabeth's coupled with the prospect of attending art school in Aix-en-Provence was a bit overwhelming. After she showed us upstairs to our room, we took showers (a luxury!) and calmed down abit.

How did it come to be that I met this amazing woman aboard the Leonardo who connected me with the art school so that I would remain in France for another year? Elizabeth made me realize how to get the most out of life by enjoying the simplest of pleasures. She changed my life forever and I will always be grateful for this enriching, magical encounter.

Journal Excerpt - late 1970's or early 80's

I will never forget Elizabeth's world as it is probably the only place visited in all my travels where I could not somehow dig up even the most subtle fragrance of hell. I am not referring to the colorful, and at times, even comic pictoral Hell of Bosch or the more serious literal Hell depicted by Dante but rather that dimension which sometimes exists as a real part of our lives in the Twentieth Century.

The old stone chateau surrounded by soft cascading hills and lush purple vineyards is for the lonely young wanderer what a brimming oasis is for that individual who has lost all hope within a vast and engulfing wasteland.

When I first arrived, the lace curtain covering her doorway was being lifted ever so slightly by the afternoon breeze, so typical of Provence. The smell of thyme from a nearby field awakened new senses and I had the sudden urge to raise my arms in exultation at this final and most amazing discovery. It was indeed comparable if not superior to Milton's Paradise yet, fortunately, there were no Serpents to contend with and no Hell.

As the sun cast a bright orange and pink light over the mountains, the people in the village quickly filled their baskets with vegetables and fruits. The church bell chimed eight times as the narrow little streets were quickly emptied in preparation for dinner.

I have never eaten a meal at Elizabeth's that was not an occasion. She would prepare these meals so effortlessly that one got the feeling that there were tiny elves dancing around her feet. Yet, at the same time, she would be the most gracious of hostesses bestowing her gift of vibrant conversation as the most beautiful classical music played. Then candies and fruits would suddenly appear magically as we sipped, with elegance, un petit peu du vin ordinaire.

Soon it would be time to build a fire from the wood we had gathered earlier. Outside, the Mistral was once again making its presence known as shutters banged noisily against stone walls and trees scraped their branches against windows. This infamous wind would pay us a visit three days on and three days off. It was a dreaded enemy of those who lived in the village but for the visitor it was a strange and dramatic force that seemed to bring those inside closer together.