Wednesday, August 26, 2009

do not go gently

I have decided to give my foolhardy youth another chance, to join the throng of directionless twentysomethings chasing their shadows. I will stand and be accountable for my rashness, my boldness in the face of certain defeat. Now is the hour of our bad decisions!

You cannot make these choices overnight. I find myself still haunted by the words of my long lost high school English teacher—not to suffer so greatly under the pangs of uncertainty. And so I have chosen to extend my sentence. Not to run, not to flee—as is my impulse, but to sit in the mire in which landed my boat and let the mud squish between my toes for one more year. To mix metaphors, I've buttered my toast and now I'm going to lie in it.

One year. In which to make some pretty big calls. About people, places, wheres and whats and whos and hows. A final year for New York City to prove itself to me or lose me forever. A final year to sharpen my teeth against the grindstone (there I go again with the metaphors) and figure out—for once and for all—what I want to be when I grow up. The rest, I'm sure, will follow.

But for now there is tango at the seaport. There are pints of Guinness in Irish pubs, leaves falling in Central Park, a new start at an old job and a long list of loose ends to tie. Like I said, I'm ready to grow up now. Wish me luck.

Monday, August 24, 2009

front skies

Perhaps it is as easy as this: quality of life = having a porch.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

je suis arrivée

It all smells wrong. It's jungle humid. And I don't belong here.

I will say this for New York City: it is positively beautiful at five in the morning. Not that I will remember this fact next week once the jet lag abates.

At nine at night, however, everything sucks. The air conditioning is broken, this was my first day back at work, and I can't imagine staying awake ten minutes longer.

Today's highlights include: an extra early cafe au lait, the bouquet of flowers in a windowless office, and having my skirt zipper break in the middle of Greene Street, exposing my lacy backside to the SoHo cognoscenti... and Ms. Whoopie Goldberg.

Yes, ladies and gents, this is going to take some adjusting.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

the garden of last days

Looking at the glot of days on the calendar, you never imagine how fast they will fly. But here we are at the end. This is the last middle afternoon breeze off the water. The last violet and rose ice cream covered in sake. The last bike ride home from the plage. The last stupid advertisement for Marineland or PEZ, pulled by a prop plane across the shoreline.

I'm really no smarter than I was, despite my ambitious plans for self-discovery, for yoga on the lawn, for reading and writing and decision making. Mostly what I've done here is lie around with my mouth agape, grateful and awestruck by the fact that I, twenty-something ex-waitress, got to spend a whole month in paradise. I've settled into being someone I like—for a change. But more than that, I've eaten myself stupid, I've read a dozen plus wonderfully formulaic murder mysteries, and I haven't regretted a single blessed moment. These are my immortal days.

Sure, life will come slapping back as soon as we land. But right now, I'd rather just sit here looking out at the gulf, with my boyfriend playing mournful piano, and crying quietly because I am stupid lucky and I damn well know it.

I've been around most of the globe and I've never found a person or a place that has felt more like home. You just don't give that up, do you?

Monday, August 10, 2009

quarter life crisis part i

It's no good when your nomadic twenty-five year old heart finds a place to worry in its teeth like a mutt with a bone. When your vacations whittle down and yet your surroundings stay lodged like a shard in your heart. When home is such a foreign idea that you belong nowhere.

But this place has started to feel like home. Day trips in the hills wind finally around the corner onto the Bord de Mer and my body sinks back into the passenger seat with relief. The rhythm here has settled under my skin; it is as if I have swallowed the clock and my heartbeat depends upon it ticking. Waking up in the garden of Eden is no longer unreal. Sitting on the terrasse looking out through the frame of a painting is by no means ordinary, but it has become custom. The corners of the house have softened; I can navigate them in the dark.

The person I am here no longer surprises me. I have written all my postcards and taken all of my pictures. I've browned to the deepest shade of bronze my Irishness will allow. We've had all our fancy meals and my palette has narrowed to accommodate only what springs up in the markets. My daily choices are few and simple. Piscine or plage. Sandwich or salad. Walk or read.

I suppose you could—and should—say that I am spoiled. I am the first to admit that queens have had it harder. I am the luckiest woman I know. This month has restored me like a crumbling ceiling frieze. My little pictograms and bas-reliefs are now marching across me in reassuring stone, all telling the same story. Clear and calm.

It's only now that the end lurks around the weekend corner on the calendar that the questions rise like a rip tide and start churning. Who am I really. What am I doing. Where do I belong.

Maybe nowhere, maybe here, maybe I have no business making decisions so young. But the first quarter stretch of my life's relay has been swum; the next swimmer is perched on the platform ready to go. Surely this is a time to take stock. Particularly when people and places and moments have begun to snag on my heart. Memories have started to wash up on my shore like driftwood. Soon my island will be covered—laden—and I will sink from the weight of it.

It's the little things that will kill you. For example: The other night my boyfriend's mother (whom I adore beyond words) loudly announced me to an influx of company by proclaiming, "She's one of us." That simple declaration made me feel part of something in a way I never have.

Mind you, this is the same woman who, in the past two weeks, has twice suggested I consecrate my relationship with her son by the fountain in her Provencal olive garden—and also offhandedly tried to set me up with her friends' son (before she remembered exactly how she knew me and recanted, of course).

I want nothing more than to make this woman happy. (I want nothing more than to make me happy.) So marrying her son in this plot of heaven, surrounded by herbs and bees, then populating its rooms with grandchildren, is my dream as much as hers. But it has become increasingly apparent that her son A) does not believe in marriage and B) does not believe in children. Not to mention the unmentionable C): his Peter Pan complex. What do you do when you have found your husband and he's unwilling to grow up?

I know this all sounds terribly selfish and dramatic (and much more personal than usual), but I'm worried that when next I blink my eyes I will be forty and childless and still treading water. I think I want to grow up now. I think I want to pack my rucksack and set up shop somewhere that feels like home, with someone who feels like home. Which is not to say I want a big white wedding tomorrow. I don't. I have a lot of youth to waste yet, and many more months to pilfer chasing rainbows. But the world is hard enough when you drift along rootless, trying to float your boat along all by yourself. Eventually you want someone on the other oar. Someone who really wants to be there.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

adventures in podologie

I tend to attract the bizarre. Therefore I can be a royal pain in the ass. When I travel, chances are I will develop or contract something horribly inconvenient given my environs. There was the rather hairy tonsillitis in Rome, the Mexican ulcer attacks, the family cross-country pukathon and of course that time I popped a braces bracket on a Friday night in Bar Harbor. Not to mention the frostbitten kneecap incident.

This time I outdid myself.

But in the process I got to visit the podologue, who surgically fished the jagged, half-inch shard of infected toenail from out of my gros orteil then stuffed a gauze pad soaked in betadine into the cuticle.

Seriously. One wrong pedicure and three weeks later I'm muscling around the south of France on an impacted ingrown toenail... braving the surgery of a very nice woman with a whole arsenal of pointy podiatric torture tools.

I now understand why men at war bite straps of leather and then get all post-op silly on whiskey and pub songs. Oh, the sweet relief.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

dinner for ten chez Wood

Champagne and Crostini
( avec des tapenades: noire, pistou, tomatine )

Crema fredda di Pomodori
( basilic, haricots verts, bocconcini, prosciutto di parma )

Raviolis au Daube
( beurre noisette, fresh sage, eschalotes )

Assiete de Fromage
( figue, abricot, cérise )

Sorbet au Poire
( coulis de framboise et fraises du bois )

Perhaps I've missed my calling as proprietor of a Bed & Breakfast. The dishes are dry, the kitchen clean... and I am enjoying the last of the wine and the company, wishing I could make such an honest living and live somewhere by the sea, unmolested by the concerns of the century.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

nel blu dipinto di blu

We have breached the halfway point of this ever so indulgent summer stay. I am therefore compelled to catalogue the feel of this life on my skin before I board the return flight and forfeit my tactile memories to the unforgiving grey expanses of New York.

We have been here two weeks and the days continue drowsily on as they have done. A routine grows around you here if you allow it, creeping vine-like up the shady side of you until you can no longer imagine your former life. Even now as I become maddeningly clock conscious, aware of the looming end, I can't quite imagine myself back where I was. Perhaps it is true that we live in spirals; Though we press ever-forward in our progress, the sights along the way repeat—because we have been there before. We are what changes. Our choices form the scenery doomed to rerun out the car windows when we are lost.

Details of daily living here are fixed. Questions are easily answered. In the morning, the sun blares off the sea through the open windows of the back-facing bedrooms, the light pure and white, and the soundtrack changes from cigale serenade and evening breeze to landscaping motors, deisel engines and barking dogs as the day warms. There is a window each morning when the back patio and lawn are shaded, before the sun works its way up the horizon and over the cypresses. After nineish, the sun clears the foliage and the whole back of the house is flooded with warm and yellow heat until it disappears again over the roof and the shade, like a curtain, is pulled back down.

Breakfast is invariably served in the front, on a stone porch overlooking the garden, from a serving window into the kitchen. If there are new guests, the table is laid with fresh croissants and pains au chocolat, raspberries and fraises du bois, coffee cups and jars upon jars of confiture. Once the newcomers are folded into the routine, as eggs into batter, the production value goes down. Breakfast becomes a personal affair. Wander into kitchen. Fix something. Find a quiet corner of the table with your mug of tea and last night's novel.

At about noon, the sun has crested the roof and so the breakfast porch grows overwarm. Lunch, when taken at home, is served without fanfare on the little square tile table on the back terrace, swathed in shade. Else we go to Le Diamant, a white tent on the rock beach for salads and grilled fish. Or we take ham sandwiches wrapped in tinfoil to the beach.

The afternoon can be frittered away on rare excursions, but typically it lazes by in a steady rhythm of beach to pool to shower—the first and only of the day—that culminates on or around the dinner hour. When the heat breaks and the breeze begins, someone suggests cocktails and, invariably, the lime from a rogue gin and tonic will be seen floating forlorn about the pool the next afternoon. We watch as the activity drains from the gulf like bathwater. Boats and jetskis disappear, the plane-pulled supermarket ads return to their hangars, the water fades from brilliant blue to placid grey. A quiet chill descends.

Dinners out are spectacular, whether the creperie for gallettes or a seven course candlelit affair somewhere in the outlying hills. Dinners in are a joy of garden goods and fresh herbs. Either calls for bottles and bottles of white, red, rosé... Evenings are sedentary: long genial conversations, french standards on the stereo, books on laps. Sleep is marvelous, half drunk and cool for the wind off the water.

Variables include market days, trips to Carrefour, walks into town for a morning coffee, an occasional ferry boat to St. Tropez. These too have a rhythm, a smell, a feeling. Ste. Maxime is pink and white and smells of roasting chickens and baking baguettes too hot to carry home. Bees and flies buzz idly around the flowers and the unattended food. Stores close between one and three for lunch. Church bells peal all Sunday morning and most evenings. Moto scooters weave in and out of the center line of traffic between the stagnant rows of diesel cars on the Bord de Mer, constantly congested from rond point to rond point along the gulf.

Simple tasks like parking are rendered comically treacherous by steep inclines and tiny enclosures. Things happen on a schedule like a loose fitting dress. This is life by the senses. If a loaf of bread is not consumed in its ten hour window of freshness, there will be toast the next morning. If the garden yields a few too many tomatoes, bruschetta is made. If the garden yields too much of everything, ratatouille.

The sky is a heart-wrecking shade of blue. Occasionally a mistral will blow through, wreaking havoc and slamming doors, making an apocalyptic wail ring through the masts of sailboats in their moorings, but this only serves to blow the clouds to sea. Eventually the water warms back up for swimming and the palm fronds lie flat again.

I go through this life with a half formed smile. I take unexpected joy in tidying the kitchen after meals, in making a bed in the morning, in the labored rotation of beach towels. I become the domestic goddess I've dreamt of being, learning the day by feel, as if by Braille, by the body and what it begs for. Coffee made, breakfast, book, coffee cleaned, lunch, sea, sand, pool, shower, dinner, wine, couch, doors locked only to be thrown open the next morning.

In the end it will be the details I forget first. As if this whole world and not just its cheese is unpasteurized. As if it has no shelf life.

I will forget the ease with which I use these french pleasantries in daily speech (bon journée, au revoir!). I will forget the cigarette heat of the beach, the sweat prickling at my headband, then the warm water on my naked skin, the world seen suddenly from reverse. I will forget the taste of the tiny apricots, the perfect sauteed blend of zucchini, onions and olive oil, the precise flavor of herbes de Provence. It will seem less credible that rosemary grows like a weed in the garden, that stands of lavender litter the sidewalks.

It will seem impossible to be this happy.