On Sunday, the Frenchman and I organized a picnic and barbecue in Brooklyn Bridge Park. We met friends, and friends of friends, on a grassy knoll tipping toward the water, an open view of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty off to the left. We sat together on a massive tapestry, played cards, and drank gin, basil, and grapefruit punch.
That afternoon, the first warm one in eons, reminded me of many picnics past, first in El Retiro in Madrid, where we ate potato chips cooked in olive oil and sipped cheap Spanish beer, watching the rowboats pass across the pond, and then later in Paris, on the Pont des Arts or in Parc Monceau, with a bottle of rosé and a game of tarot to celebrate early summer.
The spring night is bitterly cold, but still I insist we bike across three neighborhoods, to that new restaurant I want to try, because it is fortifying to leave the house at least once on a Sunday. I have spent all day barefoot and messy in the kitchen, laboring over new recipes, and it feels wonderful to put the responsibility of dinner in someone else’s capable hands.
In the dining room, the wavering light of tiny votives ghost the brick walls and spare wooden tables. We order drinks and sip them and watch the cooks as they pass in front of the wood burning fire, slinging tarte flambée across the hot oven floor, pulling casseroles piled high with gruyere and raclette-laced potato purée.
Across the table, we hold hands and bicker, bicker and then hold hands. We are half joking tonight, half pushing, to find the edges of what is possible to say. We share a whole roast chicken, its heat wilting a nest of watercress and fennel, and a pot of creamy white beans rich with duck confit. We talk about the wedding, and about the week ahead.
At home, we take turns brushing our teeth and filling water glasses. Our evening has been both supremely ordinary and tinged with newness–the promise of a fresh season, the hatching of future plans. I rest my head against the Frenchman’s chest, on the spot where I have rested my head uncountable times before, and tuck my icy feet between his warm ones. I am asleep before he switches off the light.
“You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.
So I suppose the best piece of advice I could give anyone is pretty simple: get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you’d care so very much about those things if you developed an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast while in the shower?
Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over the dunes, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over a pond and a stand of pines. Get a life in which you pay attention to the baby as she scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger.
Turn off your cell phone. Turn off your regular phone, for that matter. Keep still. Be present.
Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work.
Get a life in which you are generous. Look around at the azaleas making fuchsia star bursts in spring; look at a full moon hanging silver in a black sky on a cold night. And realize that life is glorious, and that you have no business taking it for granted.
It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the pale new growth on an evergreen, the sheen of the limestone on Fifth Avenue, the color of our kids’ eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of live. Unless you know there is a clock ticking.
On Sunday, I left all my responsibilities in states of semi-completeness on my desk. We drove away from the city in search of oysters, dodging potholes and listening to bad pop music on the radio. The day was bright and brisk, downright cold really.
I wanted to write about the romance of driving across Long Island in search of oysters with someone you love. But the trees are still completely bare, the landscape a dull green-brown. Snow banks have lost their luster, half melted and speckled with grime.
I do not know what to say, lately. Or maybe, I do not know how to say it. The state of things seems marred by banal stretches dappled with small disappointments. The Frenchman’s finger is not healing the way it should and there is absolutely nothing I can do about this. I suggest oysters.
And how to talk about Florida, where we business tripped for a week–the bleached sun that took my light-starved body several days to adjust to, as if I were a bear stumbling out of hibernation. After all of the grays of this New York winter, Florida was blinding–checkers of matte pearl replaced by an open expanse of bombastic blue. And the sameness of that blue and tan, blue and tan; sky the color of water, low flat buildings the color of sand. I think it took me a week to get warm, finally, to notice the soft and carrying wind, to start scratching down recipes again; and then we flew home.
Lately, I am paralyzed by recipes. I think this is connected to the relentless cold and darkness of the current inexhaustible winter. Recipes come banging into my head–bœuf bourguignon, swordfish in lemon-butter sauce with white beans and radicchio, banana cream pie–and I am immediately exhausted. The kitchen table is cluttered, I am choosing junky television over books. My attempts at productivity feel shallow, murky.
I had lofty, multi-course ambitions to share with you for Valentine’s Day. But the more I thought about it, and the more recipe notes I jotted down, the more overwhelmed I felt. In the end, the Frenchman got a(n under-salted) pot of bœuf bourguignon a week before Valentine’s Day; a Chocolate, Blood Orange, and Candied Brioche ice cream (which I did not make myself, but traded for this cake) on the day; and just the promise of Chanterelle Mushroom Soup at, um, some unspecified point in the future. Read more
I am tired of the tundra of the mind,
where a few shabby thoughts hunker
around a shabby fire. All day from my window
I watch girls and boys hanging out
in the dark arcades of desire.
Tonight, everything is strict with cold,
the houses closed, the ice botched by skaters.
I am tired of saying things about the world,
and yet, sometimes, these streets are so
slick and bold they remind me of the wet
zinc bar at the Café Marseilles, and suddenly the sea
is green and lust is everywhere in a red cravat, Read more
There is a second hand shop in our neighborhood whose opening hours are impossible to predict. An aged proprietress lives above the store and opens only when the mood strikes; she is selling the mismatched detritus of her life. “I always loved buying things,” she tells me in a Brooklyn-tinged warble, “But now?” Her eyes rove strings of colorful beads, a crystal decanter, a wicker lamp. “What am I going to do with all this?”
I have unearthed many a gem in her store, usually sold for a song–a heavy pitcher winking with bright red roses, a set of six, flared champagne coupes. I particularly loved a juice glass, mottled with ivory and canary yellow flowers. It was a small but distinct pleasure–to fill that glass and watch the flowers pop. Read more
The expired weeks since Christmas have stretched long–a barrage of travel and too many nights that lasted until morning. I will unravel the contents of those weeks some time, but not yet. For now, I just want to remember the holiday we spent in France, with family that will soon officially be my family.
The details of so many fêted meals blur together now, but I can tell you that there was foie gras d’oie, served alongside heady-sweet, wine-poached figs. It was an especially good year for figs in the garden. Comme d’habitude, the whole roast goose traveled no farther than the farm down the road, its rearer a family friend. Read more