Behind the Mistral is the beauty of Provence. Its fierceness blows away clouds and grime and doubt, leaving colors the depth of dreams and a freshness that can come only after the Mistral’s scouring.
The wind was blowing today, fast and fierce. In Provence when the wind blows with a bite, they give it a special name: the Mistral. I laughed when I first heard that because that’s the name of a font on Microsoft Word. How like Americans to name binary code after something so foreign sounding.
I can’t laugh when the Mistral blows because it is so sharp and twisting that I think it will steal my laugh and my breath. I walk down rue de la Paix with my collar turned up and my scarf wrapped tight, and I wonder at the story the Mistral is trying to tell. It’s trying so hard, straining to be understood but it speaks a different language than I do. It screams of discontent and longing, of fear and irrationality. The Mistral can be used as a line of defense in a murder trial – the Mistral blew right through me, icing my heart and forcing me to kill. The Mistral whispers of change, but it’s not an innocent whisper in a quiet library. The Mistral is a whisper of a death-bringing secret. It throws all the leaves off the cypress trees and pulls bad omens behind it.
It feels like that to me, at least. I came to Aix-en-Provence expecting Monet days – impossible colors wrapped in a warm haze. The Mistral cut through my Monet like a sharp slap of Cocteau. It is the furious balance to my idealized France that I’ve built around Madeline books and Ella Fitzgerald singing “I Love Paris.” The Mistral is part of France’s reality that I didn’t know in my mind, along with the grating sound of French sirens and how there is always dog poop on the sidewalks. The first time the Mistral blew, I felt like France had betrayed me. I lay in bed the first night, empty and wishing for Iowa, and from outside I heard France being torn apart. Maybe it just sounded like that to me; maybe I wanted to hear in the wind what my own heart felt like – scattered. That first night, the Mistral and I did speak the same language of loss, but it couldn’t comfort me. It cried for centuries of loss, far more plaintive than my cry for America, familiar smiles, and the smell of my house. I had come to France, an unknown going to another unknown, and that first night the unknown hid my cries in the Mistral.
I can’t tell when exactly the Mistral stopped speaking to my heart and hiding my cries. I can’t tell when I stopped crying, stopped hearing in the Mistral what I wanted to hear – echoes of my own heart. I started wondering instead what the Mistral was trying to tell.
The Mistral can blow for days, tiresome headache days. It rattles the Provençal tiled roofs at 100 mph sometimes, filling the hours with a clatter chatter that denies solitude. It comes from the northwest, aiming for the Bouches-du-Rhone then pushing along the coast to the Cote d’Azur where it escapes to the Mediterranean. The trees along the coast are forever bent to sea because of the Mistral’s insistence; they shield themselves from its power or bow down to its dominance.
Walking down rue de la Paix, a winding street made smaller by parked mopeds, I feel trapped in the Mistral’s insistence, pushed along by its will. Again I wonder at the bad omens it seems to bring, but I know that’s a child’s imaginings, wanting to find magic and unusual in even the unseen – especially in the unseen. The Mistral doesn’t have a death-bringing secret, and it doesn’t pull bad omens. Behind the Mistral is the beauty of Provence. Its fierceness blows away clouds and grime and doubt, leaving colors the depth of dreams and a freshness that can come only after the Mistral’s scouring.
Provence needs the Mistral or it ceases to be the Provence of my dreams. I need the Mistral to cut through those dreams to truth – beauty comes after the wind.