Things that remain

My enduring memory of Provence doesn't involve olive groves, farmers' markets, or sunflowers.

As newlyweds, my husband and I visited Aix-en-Provence. It was August and Aix was in the middle of two things: an arts festival and a heat wave. Our hotel was centrally located - too much so. Each night musicians and diners turned the square below our window into Party Central. It was exciting, until you wanted to sleep.

The only other place that had a room was outside town, at the Relais de Saint-Pons, a 17th-century inn. The place needed sprucing up, but it was quiet, and so we took it. A walk around the grounds revealed an overgrown garden, a rustic stable, trails that led off into the brush, and - a lone man building a road.

He was an Algerian immigrant, evidently the inn's groundskeeper. Piles of stones lay on either side, and he had tied two lengths of string, parallel on the ground, to guide him. In the hot sun, he was painstakingly, patiently, fitting each large, dusty stone into place.

Impressed with his workmanship, my husband spoke to him. The man said he knew there were easier ways to build a road, but he preferred this way because the road would last.

Our encounter was brief, but I thought of how often I'm tempted to take shortcuts, to compromise. This man, born in another land, was of another time. He treated his work like a meditation.

I remembered the Roman ruins that survive in French towns like Arles. And I'm certain that this man's road, built of stone and with such care, will remain to serve and inspire.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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