Le Dernier Mot: Elvis in the Troisième Âge
My mother-in-law and I are sightseeing in the olive-making town of Nyons. I love the stories Michèle-France shares as we stroll and it’s hard not to laugh at her delightful turn of phrase – if only she could twirl her body as she does her words.
Michèle-France pauses in front of l’Office de Tourisme and I look over to find her eyes glued to a municipal poster promoting next week’s Petit Bal Rétro. “Ah, you should have seen me dance when I was young!” she sighs.
“J’étais fine comme un haricot! You can’t believe it!” I nod my head, assuring her that I believe she was once “lithe as a green bean”. Satisfied, she reaches up, laces her arm through my own and we continue on. The town of Nyons is teeming with olive-themed boutiques and there is even a stand selling olive-oil ice cream! We can’t resist…
Wiping the corners of our lips, we toss our stained napkins in the poubelle and head towards Nyons’ panoramic viewpoint. Soon we approach a steep passage.
“Careful! Hold on! And use the handrail, too,” I suggest, but my belle-mère responds by mouthing off.
“Ne me fais pas crier Manon dans toutes les langues!” she barks, soliciting stares from the locals. However, she’s only teasing – ‘Do not fire up my temper!’ she is saying, in so many words. Yet the truth is she is happy for the attention of her belle-fille, her American accompagnatrice.
As I guide her up the ramp and the village stairs, my belle-mère feigns indignation, which is just her way of hiding her frustration. It isn’t easy being dependent, not for one who used to dance the twist at high speed.
“J’ai adoré El-veece!” my mother-in-law giggles, her thoughts still dancing with nostalgie. “How is it you pronounce his name?” she asks, tugging impatiently at my arm.
“El-vuss,” I answer, steering my belle-mère over to another handrail with the strong suggestion that she uses it as we’ve got ten stairs to go for a view of the red-tiled rooftops and the olive orchards below.
“You are probably too young to remember him,” Michèle-France sighs. Not so! Elvis was still alive in the 1970s, my first decade of life, only I was busy listening to David Bowie’s Space Oddity, which reminds me that I need to keep my eyes on the bumpy path before us. Tripping over so much as one cobblestone could put my mother-in-law in the hospital!
We continue on, two careful-footed women ascending the stairs to olive heaven. Surely, Elvis would sympathise with us, were he watching from above. And, if you listened closely, above the flutter of the leaves of those olive trees, you could hear Elvis himself, tenderly singing his 1966 version of a certain Ben E King classic:
“When I’m growing old and feeble… stand by me… stand by me.”
Kristin Espinasse writes the French Word-A-Day blog, which she began in 2002. Author of the books Words in a French Life and Blossoming in Provence, she lives on an olive farm near Bandol. Read our review of her most recent book, First French Essais.
From France Today magazine
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