It’s my day today. I’m taking off, all alone, to have an adventure in another city.
I get on the train while the sky is still black. It slowly fades to blue, then pale yellow when I step off the train at my destination. The morning is spent poking around the quiet walkways, before shops even open.
It’s lunchtime. There’s an inviting café that serves tapas, and my stomach is starting to rumble. I sit in the back, surrounded by funky art: psychedelic cartoon faces wink at me while I consider the menu, which is written in chalk on a large piece of slate.
I choose a mild Catalan saucisson, with sardine rillettes, a creamy fish spread that I enjoy on crusty brown bread. Last, the server brings out hot spinach puffs in flaky pastry, served with lamb’s lettuce (mâche) and balsamic vinaigrette. I’ve got a glass of beautifully robust red wine to enjoy with it. The meal is deeply satisfying, and there is nothing to distract me from savoring each tasty morsel.
After, I continue walking through town, getting lost in small side streets, following no particular direction. I appreciate the care and attention each shopkeeper has put into their window display. Light, texture, color, and movement are all incorporated to attract and delight the passersby. I make my way to the central square, where the Christmas market is in full effect. Artisan truffle products stand next to gleaming handmade jewelry and leather-bound journals. Now this is a market.
I order myself a cup of vin chaud and rest it on a barrel to take out my notebook. The hot spiced red wine goes down smoothly and sweetly, and I’m absorbing the scene. Above my head are pine garlands, clusters of gold ornaments, and twinkling lights. The carousel with grinding pipe organ music is a fine backdrop to the squealing delight of children.
The sun is so brilliant, my eyes start to water as I make my way back to the train station. Stamp my ticket, step up from the platform onto the small local train that will bring me back home.
I ease into a seat next to the window. A group of teenage girls giggles into the car, bringing along a typhoon of pink sparkles and flowers. They speak unintelligibly fast about some incoherent, yet apparently highly important, subject. I am unmoving in the midst of this thick fog of unbridled youthful female naïveté. It’s almost painfully resonant and familiar.
In a flurry of hair flips, they disappear at the next station. In their place, a woman about my mother’s age gets on. She quietly sits in the seat facing me with a journal and a book about food, puts on some sunglasses, and gazes out the window.
This local train is pulling us through endless green fields, sensuously illuminated in the golden sun. The trees are bare, except for the clusters of mistletoe that are suspended in their spindly branches like Christmas ornaments. The sunlight is so warm and inviting, one could easily imagine it was spring or summer.
I’m brought back to a childhood memory: visiting a relative’s house in the summer, and running around the seemingly endless back yard. There were no obstructions, nothing between me, the grass, the hot sun, and boundless lightness within myself. That is the feeling I want to go back to. The source of life. Pure joy, safety, warmth, freedom, possibility.
I notice my reflection in the glass. I’m smiling to myself. The woman’s reflection is just next to it, facing mine like a time-lapse mirror.
Later that evening, F and I are around the fireplace at our friends’ house. The wind outside thumps at the windows, but we’re cozy and safe inside. We’re toasting with some bubbly, and just enjoying each other’s company.
It’s been a day of quiet fulfillment and loving kindness. My heart and soul are full to bursting, and I am overcome. I smile into my glass of bubbly, and my eyes well up. Where I’ve been, where I might be tomorrow, are not my concern.
I am living Now, which is just where I belong.
The 8 o’clock hour. If I am to make or break this day, it’s decided in the 8 o’clock hour.
I crack open an eye to get my bearings.
When the sky is still thick, before the sun clears away the mist. The world is silent. The shutter is cracked open just enough for me to see the day. The window faces west, and a soft glow comes through the pinpricks. Good morning, world.
In my fluffy robe and socks I feel like a human-sized stuffed animal as I pad out to my little spot next to the window that overlooks the garden.
This morning, the sun kisses the trees and houses. The sun drips through pine branches and makes them look illuminated from within. The ground hasn’t been touched by sunlight yet, and the remaining leaves are painted a dull purple. Ferns fan out in a beautifully random spread, and the grass looks a deep turquoise-green. Dusted with a gentle frost, the ground looks like a delicate still life.
I stir some honey into coconut milk for my morning treat. It’s a rich soothing comfort to my empty grumbling stomach.
From my little window, this is all mine.
My fingers itch, and I smile to myself.
It’s time to write.
Today is made.
It’s time to head into town and put on my worker-bee hat. Work starts in just over an hour.
I duck under the rose trellis to cut through the neighbor’s yard. The dew darkens the leather on my boots, and I step around a few errant apples that have fallen from the tree.
Hitting pavement, I climb the hill that leads to vineyards, and to the train station beyond…
On the left bank of the hill, I greet my two buddies: Sweetie Pie and Surly Grump. Sweetie Pie looks up from her innocent grass nibbling, bats her eyelashes at me, and coos out her bleat. Surly Grump’s head pops up; wispy strands of grass stick to his chin like whiskers. He glares at me, digs his hooves into the ground, and aggressively croaks out a husky wheeze. He sounds like an old man who’s shouted himself hoarse by yelling at the neighbor kids to get the hell off his lawn.
Yeah, hello to you too.
I reach the sculptor’s house, and the familiar flapping circles around my head before coming to rest in front of me. He flutters in, lands on the pavement, and pat-pats alongside me as I continue my walk. He must be a homing pigeon; this isn’t the first time he’s followed me to the station. He’s got green and blue tags on his ankles, and I wonder where he lives, who owns him, and why he follows me.
I’m singing softly to myself, and my feet crunch the gravel in time. I’m on a one-lane country path, and large expanses of grapevines and untouched land yawn out on either side. I can see the whole valley from this vantage point, and I feel free. When I get too far ahead of my walking buddy, he takes flight, circles around, and falls back in step alongside me. When I reach the end of the one-lane country path, he flies up to the top of the first building, and watches me as I descend toward the sleepy train station.
I’m back in the “real world,” and work starts in 45 minutes.
Summer, circa 2014.
F strums his guitar and I sing along. We giggle when he hits a false note and when my voice cracks. My feet are bare and we sit facing the window that opens to the garden. It’s sunny and we have nowhere to go, nothing else we’re supposed to be doing, no other responsibilities except to each other.
Later on, I’m in my favorite napping spot. Laying on the couch, sun filtering in through the blinds, I’m dozing. Just around the corner, F has taken up his guitar again. I suppose he’s determined to get that chord just right, every time. And he starts to sing: his voice is gentle, not much more than a whisper.
Now that she’s back in the atmosphere
With drops of Jupiter in her hair, yeah…
She acts like summer and walks like rain
Reminds me that there’s time to change, yeah…
I bury my face into my pillow and let out a tear. I can’t help it; he opens my heart and pours love in.
F and I sit down for his birthday meal. For apéritif, we enjoy marinated anchovy fillets, and mussels with peppers. Relaxed, we chit-chat and ignore the clock. We pass from starters to the main meal, which I happily finish preparing. In the kitchen, I feel like an alchemist: I place seasoned steaks onto a hot cast-iron grill pan, searing them to medium-rare. I put aside those perfect steaks and make the sauce: deglaze with red wine and cognac, add the veal stock, swirl in the cream. The bubbles grow thicker as the sauce becomes more unctuous. To finish, stir through a pat of butter and a sprinkle of pepper. I spoon some creamy garlic mashed potatoes onto the plate next to a green salad, lay the beef upon the potatoes, and finish with the sauce. I bring my two picture-perfect plates to the living room, and we ogle how delicious they look before we clink glasses and tuck in. This moment is delicious, and there’s nowhere else we need to be, except present with each other.
8:00 a.m. Wake up, open eyes, lift the shutters a few inches. Let the day slowly come into focus. Deep green-gray morning light comes into the bedroom. The light is the same as it was in summer back home; the heavy greenness of the trees coupled with the muggy grayness was hypnotizing and almost narcotic. The sky was a thick gray comforter that cocooned and muffled the world. It inspired a contented lethargy that made me relate to Rip Van Winkle.
Then came the rain. First in fat heavy drops that smacked your face. You would hear the rush of rain hit the tree leaves a split second before the downpour hit you. The burst of fresh rain cut into your doziness and woke you right up.
I would run to put on some scrappy play clothes and run around in the rain. I’d dance, stomp around on the sidewalk, and bask in the glorious shower. Mom would greet me at the door with a towel, and there was nothing like the contented feeling of changing into dry clothes. I can almost still feel it.
But it’s not going to rain today, in France, in 2016. It will be a seasonably warm, sunny day. This moment will pass soon enough. I’m a bit let down that nature has played this trick on me. Nostalgia has struck again.
Nostalgia in French has a negative connotation. La nostalgie is associated with regret, yearning, and melancholy. Sadness. I think it’s a pity, because Nostalgia is that old friend that connects me with the sentimentality that gives a hankering for a certain dish, or to draw, to write: in other words, the endless, untapped creativity inspired by my childhood.
Nostalgia connects me with the wonder I had at the world that I want to hold on to. It reminds me of the way the seasons have passed around and through me; man, I can still feel them all in my guts.
The smell of the ground and dry grass; the color of the early-morning sun mixed with dew on a summer morning; the smell of snow with its diamond luster.
The torrential downpours typical of the rainy season in Korea, when it was almost hard to breathe.
The crisp fall air, surrounded by brilliant tree leaves while hiking Gwanak Mountain (and how damn delicious a hard-boiled egg tastes when you reach the top and your body is aching for energy).
The cold days at the end of fall, when warm toffee-colored sunlight hit you while a cold breeze shook the last few crisp leaves off the trees.
Nostalgia is the resonance of these visceral memories. It’s not the melancholy in knowing that these experiences are long gone; it’s the joy in remembering that they happened.
My second Fourth of July spent in France was a success; last year we had a barbecue with friends, and this year I had a completely different time. With F away on a fishing weekend, I had all day to myself to enjoy the hot weather.
I walked down to the town center to buy some fresh local vegetables from the farmer’s market. I was pleasantly surprised to find a tag sale was going on at the same time. Walking around the tables at the tag sale, I was brought back to my childhood, when I loved looking them up in the classified section of the newspaper. I’d undoubtedly want to go if it were close by; it was an eternal Saturday morning wish, to hit the tag sales with my mom. So I bought a few cute dishes and a couple of stainless steel pots for a steal.
Past the tables of the tag sale, I got closer to the heart of the market; it was a pretty hot morning, and the windows of the buildings lining the narrow street were all open. The sounds and smells were wonderful. The sound of a tattoo artist’s buzzing needle resounded through the street that led to the farmer’s market: two seemingly contradictory elements that nevertheless coexist. There was a vender selling a variety of dried cured sausages that smelled vaguely like feet when I walked past; nevertheless, they looked quite appetizing. Another man was unsuccessfully trying to hawk loaves of brioche to passersby. I caught earfuls of the practiced rhetoric of salespeople as I walked by the shops: the carefully practiced jokes and puns and choreographed sales pitches.
In the heart of the market, as always, there were fruit and vegetable stands, some proudly displaying signs that show the food is locally produced and organic. Vibrant produce was laid out and waiting to be selected: deep red tomatoes, radishes, broccoli, cucumbers… One vendor was selling freshly shucked oysters, and the briny ocean smell caught my nose. There was also a man with a truck outfitted with two rotisserie racks, with whole chickens rotating and roasting, giving off a fabulous smell; underneath the chickens, whole potatoes were cooking in a tray, caramelized with chicken drippings. One of these days, I need to buy one of those chickens; if they taste half as good as they smell, I’ll be in roast chicken heaven.
I went home and worked on a couple recipes and killed time until… nighttime canoeing. 9 of us went down to a canoe rental place, right on the bank of an offshoot of the Loire River. By 11:30 pm, we were on the water for a two-hour casual paddle. The water was so warm, it was nearly body temperature after a hot day. It was also quite shallow: our oars occasionally scraped the sand at the bottom. We spent two hours canoeing in a black-and-white world tinted with blue, a bright carpet of stars in the sky. The moon was nearly full, and at certain bends in the river it illuminated us with surprising brilliance. It was so bright it looked like a far-off halogen light bulb. Funny how the moonlight can play tricks on your eyes. Huge dried fallen trees looked like beastly dinosaur skeletons on the sandbanks in the river. Bleached white by the sun, they looked like ancient fossils of mythical creatures: a large dragon head, a creature from a Maurice Sendak book… beautiful. The river was full of beauty that night. Happy Fourth of July indeed.
It’s summertime. I don’t know what day it is, nor does it matter. Summer days tended to flow from one to the next, and the memories stick together as if I lived a whole summer’s worth of adventures in one long day. I wake up with a start, with the thrill of excitement at starting a new day. The first lazy rays of sunlight seep into my room, bringing the silent air of mystery that I’m enamored with. Nobody else is awake, nothing moves. I’ve got this special time all to myself.
I slide out of bed, barefoot and already dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. No need to change, I’m fine just as I am. From the kitchen I grab a little plastic bowl, then slip on my sandals and quietly sneak out the back door into the garden.
The sky is still an inviting shade of bluish-violet, which means today I’ll be able to see the watercolor sky redden until the first shock of sunlight spills over the horizon. That special kind of sunlight that tints everything it touches and makes it glow, like I’m looking through rose-colored glasses. The birds are yawning out their first peeps and chirps of the day. As the sky warms gradually, the birdsong swells and the air fills to saturation. The smell of the dew on the grass is uplifting, and the unmoving air leaves a refreshing chill on my skin.
I like being here alone. The presence of anyone else here in my special world would undo its perfection.
In this calm, still moment, I don’t even want to breathe too loudly, for fear of disrupting the sanctity of it all. The whispers of last night’s dreams are still in my head, and reality feels abstract. Time is immaterial, and it feels like anything and everything is possible. I feel capable and independent, like I have no limitations and the world is mine to discover.
I walk slowly and deliberately toward the back of the garden, where the raspberry bushes sit. The raspberries wink at me from their hiding spots, scattered among vibrant leaves. The color combination is deeply attractive: variegated shades of green leaves and beautifully arched stems are punctuated with the luminous red berries.
I pick the first raspberry of the day and pop it straight into my mouth: the seeds crunch and the fragrant, sweet, slightly sour berry flavor overpowers my taste buds. The flavor is so concentrated that I can both smell and taste it at the same time. Glorious. I continue to hunt through the thorny vines to fill my plastic bowl with more. I love the satisfying feeling of a freshly-ripened raspberry slipping off the vine–to me, they look like little crocheted hats meant for garden gnomes.
As my bowl fills, I dream about the raspberry waffles that Mom will make in my favorite Bugs Bunny waffle iron. Maybe she’ll let me pour the batter and make my own waffles today…
The flavor of that first berry fades, and I consecrate myself to my task. The day has begun.