“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
I’m not sure whether this feeling is universal or not but, I’m finding twenty nine a very odd bird. It’s been a liminal time: I know what I want now (for the most part), but I haven’t yet figured out how to bring what I want for myself to fruition. It’s incredibly frustrating. Twenty nine is not not twenty four–I’m not trying to discover who I am. And it’s not thirty either, which in my mind is the mythical year when you are unequivocally not a child anymore.
Twenty nine has been planning a wedding, now only a few months away. From a distance, a wedding seems like a concrete action, an objective step forward. But in fact, being married isn’t a hurdle to conquer; instead, it’s a symbol (and symptom) of something much longer-brewing. In future, I don’t think we’ll think of the day after the big day as the start of our “real” relationship. Our relationship, the one that brings me comfort and joy and security every day, began six years ago. The slow work of those six years carried us here. One day isn’t a beginning or an end, but instead a (special, special) punctuation mark in the story of our life together.
But in my head, I’ve detached the symbol from the practice. I’ve spent so much time scheming and dreaming this huge party we’re throwing, this party I’m looking forward to so much. But even still, the event feels like an intangible monolith. My subconscious seems to agree, because I dream about it almost nightly now. These aren’t nightmares, but they are strange and highly vivid, so that when I wake up it takes me a full minute to realize the that dream does not reflect reality.
So many of the big questions have floated to the surface this year. Where will we live? The US and France are possibilities, but the nature of the Frenchman’s work opens up other domestic or international options, too. Will we continue to rent our narrow Brooklyn apartment, or should we buy? And if so, where? And when? If you’d asked me five years ago, I would have suggested starting a family at twenty nine. Now, that idea seems ludicrous and impossible. But if not now, then when?
Reading this over, I can see that I’m in need of an herbal tea, some yoga, and the cleansing purge of an Arrested Development marathon. I get that I’m more plan-obsessed than most balanced human beings. But even when I remind myself to forget the big things for a while, the fact is, they aren’t phantoms. The realities of twenty nine cannot be wished away, whether I like it or not. Whether I like it or not, I possess no crystal ball, and there is a limit to my agency.
Twenty nine is all the balls in the air. Twenty nine is waiting for them to fall down again, to see where they land.
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 watercolors of our wedding flowers, 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.Read more
It’s been an odd week. On Sunday, I woke up with a sore throat that petered out by Wednesday, but then flared into a brief fever. Since, I’ve nursed a persistent stomachache that I can’t seem to shake. I’m a kaleidoscope of maladies over here. I seldom get sick, and rarely do I get so sick that I can’t work. As a result, I’ve found myself with a surplus of down time to just sit and think.
My 10-year high school reunion was a couple weekends ago. I attended with a clutch of dear friends and when I really think about that, it astonishes me–I’ve counted these women as friends and confidantes for almost half a lifetime. And although we’ve been largely separated by time and distance, we remain closely bonded by those invisible threads of shared experience and deep affection. At this point, conversations rarely need prelude–we know each other on a level that I think only happens with time.
It was wonderful to be back on campus (even if our class was relegated to the freshman boys’ dorm), to see old classmates, and visit with old teachers. Walking around campus was a minefield of half forgotten memories–names and events I’d tucked away until I returned to the physical place, until we were all together. High school was not all sunshine and roses for me; I suspect this is true for most people, but I can’t deny it was sometimes very sweet, and certainly formative. Being back, it was easy to remember the good (sledding in the dead of night) and the bad (slipping on black ice on my way back from swim practice and flashing probably the whole indoor track team).
Both nights we stayed up too late and drank a little too much, but that’s what was required. I made us a strawberry tart, a fancier version of the dessert we used to buy for birthdays from the local A&P and eat with our hands in a huddle on the dorm room floor. We followed tradition and devoured it in the most uncivilized manner possible.
On Sunday, my friend and I walked down to the dorm where we served as prefects our senior year. I didn’t expect to be as moved as I was. A current dorm parent let us into our old room–the room that is still gargantuan in my memory. There’s a picture of us at seventeen, dressed up for halloween, in the common room. (I’d forgotten that the whole dorm dressed as characters from Peter Pan that year.) A photograph I took in class, developed (underexposed) in the darkroom still hangs in the hallway.
If you had told me then that, in ten years, I would be performing maid of honor duties for her October wedding, and she mine the following May, I would have had a million questions. What would I tell my eighteen year-old self? It’s been an eventful decade. I am grateful for the milestone, and for the opportunity to celebrate the start of important, buoying friendships in the best possible way, with strawberry tart and plenty of wine. Read more
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.
I have recently become infatuated with Bánh Mì sandwiches. They are just so perfectly balanced. I love how the fat round richness of mayonnaise and spiced pork plays against the acidic flash of pickle-y vegetables and a flourish of herbs. The crunch of a toasty baguette tastes all the better when smeared with smooth pork pâté. This sandwich is pleasantly spicy and full of flavor. It has heft and character, but all those herbs and vegetables keep it bright. I think it’s pretty wonderful.
The recipe below is ideal for a small, casual dinner party. Everyone builds their own sandwich, so take those ingredients you like and leave the rest. For a vegetarian friend, I made a chickpea salad to replace the meat: chives, basil, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper, salam oleck, scallions, mirin, sesame oil, rice vine vinegar, and soy sauce. Words that every host loves to hear: You can prepare the whole thing in advance–when my guests arrived, I simply slid the tray of meatballs into the oven and flipped the switch on the toaster oven. Read more
I’ve started to notice the mushroom man at the market again, with his practical windbreaker and earnest smile. He looks misty-forest ready, as if he arrived at the market by way of a foraging expedition. He must be pedaling something magic, I think, because his line is five shoppers deep at the market on Sundays. Or maybe it’s just that time of year.
The Frenchman has been away for two weeks now, and I am melancholy. But, there is just enough of a chill in the air to encourage me to turn on the oven. While I don’t feel inclined to make a production out of dinner for one, I do find that chopping vegetables, and then watching them transform at the oven door like a child at the aquarium, acts as a temporary nostrum. This recipe is a simple supper, a satisfying lunch. Plus, the Frenchman loves this combination of roasted mushrooms, onions, and potatoes. I cook it and pretend as though he is here. Read more