what despair is; then
winter should have meaning for you.
I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring–
afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy
“I come to a tree so rich with autumn’s golds and reds it makes for a mild ache. I lie down under it, close my eyes, and let my mind wander. I think of all that is happening elsewhere, as I lie here. Nearby, I can hear the sounds of a road crew. Somewhere else, monkeys chatter in trees. A male seahorse becomes pregnant. A diamond forms, a bee dances out directions, a windshield shatters. Somewhere a mother spreads peanut butter for her son’s lunch, a lover sighs, a knitter binds off the edge of a sleeve. Clouds gather to make rain, corn ripens on the stalk, a cancer cell divides, a little league team scores. Somewhere blossoms open, a man pushes a knife in deeper, a painter darkens her blue. A cashier pours new dimes into an outstretched hand, rainbows form and fade, plates in the earth shift and settle. A woman opens a velvet box, male spiders pluck gently on the females’ webs, falcons fall from the sky. Abstracts are real and time is a lie, it cannot be measured when one moment can expand to hold everything. You can want to live and end up choosing death; and you can want to die and end up living. What keeps us here, really? A thread that breaks in a breeze. And yet a thread that cannot be broken.” – Elizabeth Berg, Never Change
In about an hour, we’re due to leave for the airport. We’re off to France to visit the Frenchman’s family, but also–to have a second, French wedding. We’re trading wedding cake for piècemontée, vanilla extract wedding favors for dragée, and the city for the seaside. I’m wearing the same dress because come on, but I did buy new earrings and lipstick.
Have you ever taken a wedding dress in a now very-puffy garment bag on a plane? Me neither, but here we go.
For reasons both mundane but also exciting-I-can’t-mention-yet, work feels especially crushing at the moment, which makes me a bit nervous for this trip. I’m worried that relaxing will feel irresponsible. If anyone has advice for overcoming this feeling/really enjoying time off when it’s presented, instead of obsessing over all the things you could be doing, I’m all ears.
Lastly for the moment–in my never ending search for exercise I actually enjoy–I’ve been taking this class. I’m by far and away the least fashionable/flat-stomached/coordinated person in there, but it’s so hard, and so much fun.
One night last week, when the Frenchman was away on business, I dominated every single one of our wedding invitations. I stayed at the table late into the night, five hours in fact, watching Gilmore Girls for company. I painted the inside of each envelope with gold foil liners–Has anyone else done this? The liners should come with a “tedious work ahead!” label. My first five attempts were embarrassing, but I quickly worked out a system. And then came the actual invitation-stuffing. (The Frenchman and I designed our invites based on watercolorsofourweddingflowers, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the towers of La Rochelle, from where the Frenchman hails.)
But now I’m frightening our doorman. You see, the only thing still standing in my way are the stamps, which are taking their sweet time arriving in the mail. Every time I go downstairs I bound toward the desk: “Do we have any packageeees?” Like a demented puppy. It isn’t dignified. Doesn’t he know that stamps are the only thing separating me from the oncoming rush of rsvps?! And eventual table seating charts? With post-its? (Actually, yes he does, since I bring it up regularly.)
If you think I sound a little left of center at the moment, you’re right. In my defense, I’m mostly planning the wedding myself. Also, to say I’m a list-obsessed micromanager is a bit of a gentle understatement. You should see the joint excel files the Frenchman and I have going! I try to show them to people–“Look! Look at our color-coded wedding excels!” And then the person has to say to me, “No, Cris, no. This isn’t a thing. I don’t want to see your excel files.” Can you believe that?!
We have twelve weeks to go. There are so many details, so many little tasks to be completed. But despite my basket case tendencies, the whole process has been really enjoyable. And it’s lovely working with the Frenchman in all sorts of creative ways.
I paused the wedding madness long enough to make these tartines for lunch. I thought they were delicious. I hope you will too.
I wake up abruptly, for no reason at all, in a white bed on Rue Cambon. The Frenchman is asleep, one arm thrown over his head like backstroke. He’ll have been out until small hours, drinking beers on the Canal St. Martin with friends. The room is small, all white, all teeth, except for a stained mirror occupying one wall. A single window runs to the ceiling: beyond gauze white curtains, a gray window box, a spray of fuchsia geraniums, and beyond that, the pearl light of an overcast summer day.
I brush my teeth to an episode of Downton Abbey I’ve seen several times already and then set out into the drizzling city. My first stop is G. Detou (the French love wordplay: “j’ai de tout” means “I have all”) where I sometimes buy fifty bean pouches of vanilla for a song, but today a massive bag of quality cocoa powder. I skirt along the edge of Les Halles. Paris is a city of settled beauty, but I love it for the tiny details, so easy to overlook: the almost hidden covered passages containing multitudes, the throwback, neon green detective’s sign just before the Louvre.
I take myself to Fish for lunch and sit at the bar and order Sancerre. I’ll have the white bean velouté, thin and earthy with whisker slicks of olive oil and sourdough croutons half submerged like sunken ships. I’ll eat juicy sole over tangles of purple cabbage, zucchini ribbons, fennel fronds, chervil, capers. It’s really raining now, so I order the darkest espresso there ever was and drop in a craggy raw sugar cube that I break up with a miniature, heated spoon. I read my book. The rain subsides.
The book is almost finished, and I’m downright heartbroken about, do you know what I mean? I walk to Shakespeare and Co. for a new one and there’s a line out the door; a tall, blonde, American actress is also buying books. I need some peace. I wind my way into the 3eme, so many turning, narrow streets, hushed like the inside of a maze. I want to visit the Picasso Museum, a beige square block surrounded by towering beige walls, but it’s still closed. It’s been years. I’m starting to think they’ll never reopen.
I make my way back to the hotel. I needed the day alone. In the wake of the last week, how does a person put one foot in front of the other? Evening will bring dinner with my family, and then more beers with the Frenchman’s friends. In the room, the bed’s been made, a chocolate left on each pillow. I shower in the white marble bathroom, maybe just for the luxury of donning the billowing white robe. I read some more, enmesh myself in someone else’s tragedy. Then I eat both the chocolates, and lick my fingers clean.
Part of the Frenchman’s job involves visiting clients on site. He might be home for few months, and then sporadically gone for the next handful. There is often little notice–“I have to go to x-far flung city in a couple of days.” I hate this aspect of his job. I hate when he goes away.
If it’s possible, he will catch an early morning Monday flight, so that we can spend a full weekend together. This isn’t always convenient, but he does it anyway. He gets up at the edge of dawn and creeps out of bed. I am one quarter awake: I hear the soft wash of the shower; later, the scrape of a suitcase zipper. The bar of light pressing from the living room through to our bedroom lets me know he is still here.
When he leaves, he kisses me good morning, goodbye. Maybe it is 5:30am. The front door clacks behind him and I snap awake. I usually can’t fall back asleep after that.
The day will go by as usual. Often, he has landed, or almost, by the time I get to work. We talk on various mobile devices throughout the day. It’s only at night that I really register his absence. Our apartment feels somehow smaller without him there. I cannot be bothered to cook something complicated for just myself, and I am reminded of what a social experience food is, how quietly significant it is to share dinner and conversation with this person I love on a regular basis. Dinners together are an investment–in us, for our future, toward a balanced life.
Of course, these business trips are probably healthy for us in the long run. They make me conscious of what we have. After five plus years together, the reality of love is not often butterflies. How reassuring then, to really miss someone when they are gone. In the gloom of the thick of it, I think about homecoming, about dinner. I think about dashing on some red lipstick to meet him at the airport, stomach full of butterflies.
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.
It is past four o’clock in the morning and I am still awake, up to nothing in particular except listening to a plunking blanket of rain beat and tinker onto the skylight above our bed, down the mansard roof. The man I love more than yesterday, less than tomorrow, more even than vanilla-peanut butter ice cream sleeps fitfully in the bed beside me, taking up more than his fair share of sheet real estate, but no matter.
We are in Paris, in the attic room of a narrow gray hotel tucked onto an unremarkable street in the 3eme arrondissement. The room is small, comically so, but in return we have a view—a true panorama of Paris’s shabby-chic, sprawling skyline, the expanse of grays, charcoals, and creams, the embarrassment of clay chimneystacks, like so many upturned flowerpots abandoned in a garden row. The Sacre Coeur stands alone, rising ivory on a distant hill, hazy at the edges in the somber light, a neat little postage stamp of a cathedral. We have a small balcony, and I move from the bed to stand outside as the rain softens, following the white lights that lick the wet road, slick as oil after hours of rain. Read more »