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.
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.
I love apéritif, or apéro for short. (In plain English, pre-dinner cocktails). Taking a slow moment to enjoy your time with your friends/family over a drink and some light finger food or snacks is a great pleasure. Whether you’re having a neat whiskey (like F), a glass of cola with lemon (F’s sister), a mojito (F’s mom), or a nice, cold beer, it’s a wonderfully relaxing moment to converse and spend a nice moment together. To whet the appetite, the host may put out an assortment of small dishes to enjoy, such as: toasts spread with tapenade, radishes or cherry tomatoes, sliced saucisson (dry cured pork sausage), olives, nuts.
Then there is “apéro-dinatoire,” where cocktail hour extends through dinner, with various small dishes to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. If it’s a potluck-style affair, I like to bring something special, like ripe cantaloupe cubes wrapped with nice parma ham, or new recipes for which I need taste testers: mini falafel, savory cake, dumplings… I make a mean homemade garlic and herb spread, too. Thankfully, I find that my French compadres are very willing guinea pigs!
Apéro is something I’d love to do in the States; there’s no pressure to hurry up with the meal, and the emphasis is on taking one’s time and appreciating the company of the people around you. Slow down, take it easy… Yeah, I can get used to that.