December 28, 2016
We missed Paris, but we saw Barcelona. Well, we didn’t see much of Paris, arriving late in the evening, just enough time to grab a bite and walk the edges of the Latin Quarter a mite. But Barcelona, we saw its night and day. And though we opted out of the nightlife bar scene, we did tour el centro de la ciudad, walked a good swath of the city from Barcelona cathedral to Sangria de familia cathedral, and spent hours admiring Picasso’s seemingly endless transformational creativity at el museo de Picasso.
We rest heavily, sinking into the cushions of our bullet train seats to nap, write, tune out and glance out the window to see the pastels of fading light cast over the Pyrenees. Over eating, over walking and over sightseeing depletes us like the satiety of a sumptuous meal oh too much. We smile in our pain. That sums up the entire trip so far for me.
It occurred to me upon taking a certain step down an unknown curb on a forgotten street in the center of a city recently eye-soaked that there’s nothing wrong with me. It’s my life. Had I encountered half the snafu’s we did on this trip back home, my blood pressure would have ripped my skull open in a gusher of anger and frustration. I’m thin triggered. Not always, but too often. And nothing truly ruffled me this trip, despite jet lag, sleeplessness, homelessness and digestion disasters.
Maybe I’m finally there–finally. I’ve reached the center of where it’s at and glimpsed what it could be.
Like most days this week, I start out of a disrupted sleep, having lain way past a decent hour. I awaken late morning French time most days and go to bed early evening California time. My iPad tells French time and my laptop refuses to leave California. I work late into the French night completing blog posts for my employer on Miami time. Time spins nauseatingly.
Yesterday, after awakening around 11:30 French time and playing musical transformer and usb chords (Who has the Samsung/iPhone charger??!!), I swallowed a bite of pain au chocolat and quick coffee to motor off to Carcassonne, the Medieval fortress and castle, which also sports a lovely restaurant rated by a tire company (yes, I know it’s a coincidence that restaurant raters and tires have the same name).
After eating a sumptuous lunch of creative concoctions like foie gras coated in sweet wine emulsion merengue on a pop sickle stick (wtf, right?), and drinking too many Kir Royals and local white wine, we walked through the castle entry via a narrow cobble stone street filled with souvenir shops.
And when my oldest daughter ran into one shop walled with medieval swords and daggers, I knew it wouldn’t be long before her father was paying for two Game of Thrones John Snow swords. I warned them that drunken purchases never look good in the morning, to no avail.
But the day was lovely, the castle impressive and our spirits high. Captive momentarily to another time, another dimension really (Can you believe this was all built manually over decades?), I quietly absorbed every loose stone in the dirt path, every brilliantly green blade of grass, every cotton cloud in the sky, and every skip, hop and climb of my scampering daughters up and down castle walls and walkways.
The drive home along pine and canal-lined country lanes that often slowed us into narrow cobble stone alley towns squeezed between sugar cube cafes and cursive patisseries, in the quiet cold darkness just after dusk was peaceful. Four phones, two iPhones and two Samsungs, ran out of juice (and GPS), so we had to feel our way home, through every roundabout.
Home: Medieval dust still lingering on our clothes, in our breath, we each retired to our places, the girls to their room with stolen chargers to resurrect their connections to Snapchat, Twitter and California life time, me to my laptop and work, and mother and son to the telly to watch lame French game shows.
And the next day: do it all over again in a new town, new castle or cathedral, casting our lines into a timeless sea of changing faces, feasts and facades, our feet in neither and both worlds, floating, lost and leisurely.
What a thing to do, this getting away to change the scenery. Being on a family trip to France and Spain has brought not only refreshment to a pretty stale when it wasn’t toxic year, even years (I’ve had some years), but also a much needed perspective check. Seeing new lands, even if they’re the old ones, helps shift awareness into the absorbing/observing mode and backed out of the constant spewing mode.
The women I travel with, my daughters, are entwined in memory and making memories. My mother in law’s home is filled with childhood memories, flashbacks and glimpses: one was six and the other three the last time we visited. It was summer then. But this time they’ve brought themselves to their mamie’s house: inquisitive, cynical, wry and wondering. They’re excited but skeptical about this new outlook they were promised in this more socially conscious historically and gustatorily fermented with history country. It’s all about food, everywhere, every day.
They want to believe this land holds lure, romance–and it does–but they’re wise enough to know, despite the language barrier, that their 82 year old grandmother can sound as narrow-minded, silly, prejudiced, stereotypical and judgmental as any American. It’s both a national and a family thing. Their mamie is…well, their mamie. She is all of France and all of her. They love and hate to see themselves in her.
And yet, the strangeness and familiarity of it all gives them, us, the comfort and discomfort to sit back and play compare and contrast, and practice some serious appreciation. They have options to be part of the world, not just their world.
Oh, and internet access is sketch at best. The better to see their sometimes scowling, sometimes intent, oftentimes laughing faces.