May Day/Le Premier Mai
There was this weird freak of nature that Saturday: the sun came out. Sébastien and I didn’t want to go inside for this unnatural nice weather, so we walked along the Seine. Muguets, or lilies-of-the-valley, were everywhere, adding a sweet, delicate scent to the car fumes and cigarette smoke of Paris. People stood on corners of the streets and passed through parks with buckets of the little bell-shaped white flowers to sell as a gift for happiness. Ça porte le bonheur, les muguets. It was the first weekend after the Fête du Premier Mai, May Day, and I thought of sinking ships. (excerpt, Blame It on Paris)
We always consider May Day our anniversary. We can’t remember any other dates, but we remember this one.
Buying our first house after we got married was a scary proposition for us. Were we making the right choice? Did we really want to live here for that long? Could we survive looking at the amortization table on that mortgage?
But a few months after we moved in, Sébastien came inside and said, “There are muguets coming up all around the house!”
And there were. A lady had lived in this house for forty years, and as she aged, the house had fallen into extreme disrepair, and the garden she once had tended had completely grown over. The man who bought it from her rebuilt/remodeled the house to sell and razed the back garden rather than try to fight through the growth and see what was salvageable.
But things come up: rose bushes, growing back from the roots. Forsythia. Lilies. I like that about this lady’s life–that though she may have felt toward the last that she had lost so much, and that is a grieving thing, in fact, the things she planted still grow and enrich other lives.
And most wonderful of all of the things she planted, this one came up: scores and scores of lilies-of-the-valley, lining the walls of the house like a magic ring.
I’ve never seen anything like it. My sister tried for years and years to get lilies-of-the-valley to grow in the South and never managed it. Yet here they are.
And to us, given the extra specialness of that day and those flowers to us, we thought this was a sign.
Lilies-of-the-valley. Muguets. In France, they “portent bonheur.” Most people like to translate “porter bonheur” as “bring good fortune” but the first meaning of bonheur is happiness, so I’m going to stick with that.
Happy May Day everyone! Here’s a muguet from me to you, and I’m posting this a day early so you can pass these May Day wishes on to anyone you like. I feel it’s a tradition we could stand to renew in the U.S.–gifting flowers and happiness on May Day.
(This is an old fantasy of mine, restoring May Day. As a child, after reading Louisa May Alcott’s Jack & Jill, where the girls sneak around leaving May Day bouquets early in the morning, I tried single-handedly to get the tradition going again among people I knew by doing the same with my sister. And she still sometimes tries, but now she makes elaborate and exquisite tussie-mussies, full of symbolism.)
Here’s my symbolism, the muguet. Good happiness to you. Embrace that happiness, don’t get caught up in things that make it easy to ignore.