It was a hot day, the first hot day of our trip, in fact. We had been gifted with cool spring weather up until that point, unusual for July in France. I stared out into the lavender fields, watching the gently swaying purple stalks. The floating specks above the fields snapped me out of my momentary trance. Busy lavender bees pollinating fields reminded me of my own to-do list.
I walked back inside the lavender distillery where our guests were sitting down to lunch. It was a lovely meal, perfect for a high-end and kosher vacation. Kosher Culinary Adventures was serving grilled artichokes with aioli, fig tapenade, deli sandwiches, and more during a live private lavender distilling. Talk about getting to experience a hands on kosher France.
Once our group had departed from the distillery for their next activity, Avicam handed me a lavender bouquet to bring back to our team who was preparing dinner back at the hotel. I took one deep inhale before placing it down — I needed both hands to pack the car.
As Avicam and I bustled around the distillery collecting plates and folding tablecloths, an elderly gentleman was busy sweeping all the lavender on the floor from the distilling. I heard the dropping of a plate, and Avicam rushed to find a broom.
As both men stood sweeping, a heavily accented voice from the corner asked, “You have served in the IDF?”.
“Yes.” Avicam replied.
“And in what unit were you?”
I kept busy folding and packing, not wanting to disturb their conversation.
“I served in the armoured corps,” Avicam replied proudly.
“Eh,” the gentleman replied, clearly unimpressed.
The sudden silence let me know Avicam had stopped what he was doing. I glanced over, giving him a surprised look.
The stranger’s response could have been that of two 18 year old boys arguing which unit was more impressive — Tzanchanim or Nachal. How strange to meet an old Israeli man in a lavender distillery in a quiet small village in the South of France. Why would he wait so long to reveal himself? I looked him over, confused.
“You’ve been to Israel?” I asked.
“Sure,” he calmly replied.
I was waiting for more information, but he just kept sweeping. If he had not spoken, I would have never noticed him. Once he spoke, however, his presence took up the entire room. Avicam and I stood silently, waiting for more.
“I spent some time in the Golan,” he began slowly.
“Did you serve?” I asked, wanting to know if he was Israeli.
“No, I photographed,” he said, as he finally stopped sweeping.
I didn’t want to move, waiting as I was to hear his story, afraid he might resume his silent sweeping.
“I was a war photographer in Israel 1967 and 1973,” he said casually, like he was telling us about what he’d just eaten for lunch.
He folded his arms and rested them on top of his broom. His skin was dark, and his hands looked rough. He spoke slowly with deliberate words.
After a conversation about war and peace and everything in between, we asked him what he was doing working in a lavender distillery.
“War smells bad. It is not a pretty thing, and death? Death smells very bad. Lavender smells good. I’ve smelled too much war and the lavender fixes that smell for me. Yes. I would choose lavender over the smell of death.”
He stared off, and his eyes sparkled brightly. I wanted to grab my camera and photograph him, but didn’t want to risk breaking the moment. He looked like a man in his 70′s, and embodied both a stoic and warm presence perfectly.
When we were packed up and ready to leave, he walked us out and I didn’t quite want to say goodbye. He was quite magnetic. I kept wondering if I should ask him for photography tips but it seemed that so much more was being communicated in his silence. With the warmest of smiles, he pinched my cheek and handed me a second bouquet of lavender.
When I arrived home I researched him. He was the youngest photographer to cover the Vietnam War at the age of 17. In the strangest most delightful way possible, I’m glad I didn’t ask him a thing. It reminded me of the amazing depths human beings contain within them, and of the unlimited possibilities you have for discovering wonderfully unique things when travelling. Talk about a kosher adventure.
By Nechama Jacobson from Kosher Culinary Adventures.
For recipes using Lavender in your cooking click here.