Now let me say up front that I’ve found no food anywhere on the planet that matches the sheer bliss of Irish food. All organic, all clean, all fresh, and I just can’t get enough. Honestly, I wish everyone had the opportunity to eat this cleanly. That said, the Irish do have their quirks!
Left to Right and Top to Bottom:
SERIOUSLY Plant Based Chicken; The Happy Pear … ???; Jelly (or Jello?) in plastic tubs ???; Carrots and Rhubarb (LOTS of Carrots and Rhubarb), which is clearly the favorite local veggie!; Ardfert Roosters … scratching head ….; Orange Juice … with Bits???; Ardfert Eggs … Presumably these go with the roosters in some sense; Random display of a tent, some lovies, and a very large purple flower, none of which you can really access if they strike your fancy; SIX Free Range Eggs with a lively scene displayed. After some consideration, we’ve determined that SIX is the perfect number of eggs to buy at a go. Very smart indeed.
Inspired by a month-long artist residency graciously provided by Olive Stack Gallery, Listowel, Ireland
It’s cold. Not as cold as it is at my sister’s, with a wind chill in single digits and 49 mph gusts of other-people’s-trash, and not as cold as it is for friends in Edmonton, Alberta, due to hit -25 on Wednesday, and certainly not as cold as the -80 recorded in Alaska in 1971. We won’t even talk about Antarctica, because no one is intended to live in that sort of frozen perpetuity. But I am cold, nonetheless, and it’s the sort of cold that triggers the hunched-shoulder-body-tensing daylong headaches. Unpleasant for me and a bitchiness-breeder that haunts my husband, but cured rather nicely by hot tea with honey, languid baths, and browsing wildflower catalogues. However, there’s one winter reflex that I find more difficult to control.
No tail, no arboreal agility, no penchant for darting back and forth across streets, but suddenly I’ve triggered the squirrel syndrome. I can’t stop eating. And I’m not even picky, and though I haven’t yet stooped to scooping acorns, pretty much anything else is fair game. Something in my brain is craving the feeling of fullness, the defense against winter and sparsity.
I hear that creeping age lowers the appetite, and I’ve seen mothers and grandmothers who ate like birds, and great grandmothers who refused food of any kind. I’m old enough to witness the skin begin to sag beneath my jawline, but apparently young enough to eat like, well, a squirrel. Saggy skin does not pair well with bulging midriffs, and I expect to sprout bristly hair across my chubby cheeks at any moment.
We have a gargantuan turkey, beautiful breads, Spoons barbecue, fennel slaw, caramelized butternut squash, a huge tin of sugar-molested pecans, boxes of mint cookies, sweet pomegranate seeds, sugared cranberries, lots of prosecco, those smashable dark chocolate oranges, and a 10X-dusted pear clafouti, which is some sort of French Kiss made by pouring heavy cream and butter over a few sliced pears and cooking it into a 2000 calorie romp through the Jardin des Tuileries. Scratch that — I finished it off last night. Heading back in for some barbecue now.
When I was a girl, my father once came in from the garden muttering blasphemous un-niceties after the crusty man-over-the-fence grinningly brandished his .22 and a handful of dead squirrels dangling by the tails from his fist. We were not a “gun” family, and were even less enamored of the idea that a crotchety old man was shooting in our city neighborhood full of young children. My dad probably figured he shot them because they dropped nuts on his car. My mom probably thought it was the ticks, fleas, chiggers and mites. At the time, I just thought he was crazy. Now I know why.
But seriously, what’s the deal with binging? I don’t need the extra food for energy and I don’t need the extra fat for warmth. I’m blessed to have heat, fire, a stove, warm water, sweaters, coats, scarves, and ear muffs, and it rarely dips below freezing here. There’s food in the pantry and I can still use a can opener. No twitchy tail, no pointy black toenails, and no visible mites, but, apparently, a generous set of expandable cheeks.
Sure, they melt in your mouth. Sure, every layer is laced with butter. Sure, it’s really, really, really GOOD butter. Sure, it’s a three-day process with 27 layers. But no matter how delicious the authentic Parisian croissant may be (and trust me, it is), you might be surprised at how much more — so much more — there is to do in Paris.
Why does a long, dark rain in North Carolina make me feel like I might as well take a pass on the day — lolling about in a giant white cotton sleep shirt, sipping tea, and considering dreams in the grayness passing by my window just a bit too slowly. Is this punishment for a day wasted last week? A gift of possibility following too many days of work? A Dream Machine that fell out of that last cloud and into my lap? Let’s go with Dream Machine. Today I’ve decided to do something rather impractical and guaranteed to cure the blahs.
Don’t laugh, but I’m going to plan my dream day.
I’ll wake with the sunrise (again, no laughing) in Paris, stretching like a cat who hasn’t yet caught a whiff of the mouse, rustle around for some French yogurt, and sip a cup of tea at my windowsill facing Rue du Pré aux Clercs. After a quick shower, I’ll stroll over to Rue de Raspail, a delightful market so crammed with gorgeous edibles that you could walk through and fill your basket blindfolded and still return home with with the makings of a fabulously fresh, flavorful and delicately presented feast. But let’s pass on the blindfold because you’ll want to see it all, including the French babies. French babies rock. The jury’s split on French dogs.
Veggies grabbed and stashed in my flat, I’m off across the Seine to the Right Bank in search of the Marais Dance School, nestled into the upper floors of a 17th century building on a delightful square. And co-ed changing rooms, because of course it’s France and the bodies are beautiful and no one feels the need to hide them. Since my toes last eased into ballet slippers a few decades ago, I’ll choose the beginner class and have at it with the gusto of a spring robin, hitting every plié, relevé, and glissé with a smile on my face bigger than my wealth of accrued blisters. Who cares about blisters?
I’ll still leave feeling as if I’ve conquered the world — in Paris — wearing tights — Ka-Ching!.
I’ll be hyped, heady and ready for Act 2, and the walk to my next adventure feels great. Here I’m trading movement for a more tactile eroticism — clay. My tutor, a graduate in both fine arts and Beaux-Arts, will take the reins and delightfully overwhelm me with more types of clay than I ever knew existed. That’s a good thing, right? I’ve tried clay in the past, with rather grisly results, but this time, right????? Because it’s Paris! I work it like nobody’s business, but at the end of the day, I still suck at clay (and that’s okay). I’ve met new friends, laughed more than most, and shaken off a lot of new-student anxiety. I’m calling it a win.
After a couple of hours strolling The Seine and my favorite Gothic gorgeousness Sainte-Chapelle, and my hunger for all things French points me back toward the Left Bank. No one has ever tacked a Best Cook Ever sign to my forehead, but neither am I the worst, and surely a late afternoon dedicated to faire la cuisine is just what I need, crave, hunger for. Drooling with lust, I haul it over to LeFoodist, where I’ll learn to make the most perfect, most exquisite, most shockingly life-changing baguette known to woman. But first I need an address and, no surprise, it’s smack between two of my favorite Paris haunts, Île Saint Louis and Le Jardin du Luxembourg — a very good sign indeed.
How does it go?
Okay, so it turns out that a true French croissant is no easy roll in the hay, but it really does change your life, not only because it’s a previously un-imagined wonder, but because it’s literally possible to make it yourself … if you really love baking, layering, experimenting, buttering, perfect measurements, and starting over. All part of the fun, right? When you’re in Paris, absolutely.
My imaginary day is one I’ll visit again and again when I’m feeling a little dreamy. Every moment teaches. Every moment inspires. And no matter the magnificence of my French experiences, the best of them will always, always, include the croissant.
Disclaimer: The locations listed are accurate and currently operating as of this post and are well-respected businesses I look forward to visiting. At this writing, I haven’t yet had the pleasure, so no, they’re not yet legitimate recommendations. Emphasis on Yet. But I can promise you I’m headed that way.
It’s a cloudy, drizzly Sunday, and there are 30 people in the check-out line at Barnes and Noble. There are 12 in the cafe/caffeine line. I head for the second, mostly because I perused (and occasionally bought) everything in the first line a few weeks ago.
One of those heavy gray days with crows flying about, and the sky so wet that dribbles of moisture keep sliding down the sides of me like a cold bath. It’s dreary, and no one looks quite normal as they hunch this way or that trying to ward off discomfort.
The young girl across from me sits in the cafe section by way of the cash register section, and the belongings that cover her small table and quite a bit of the floor include giftwrap (a roll of gold and a roll of white with gold stars), a furry stuffed cat (orange), a science kit on Climate Control, nine record albums whose titles are sadly just beyond my view, a black purse, Monopoly (with Hello Kitty gracing the box), and two hefty hardcover books. The girl is midway through an even heftier paperback. I like her.
Every person in the cafe is wearing black on at least half of their body, with the exception of one girl wearing pajamas.
I got here just before the crowd. I get here every day just before the crowd, no matter what time I arrive. I’m lucky that way. I love bookstores, probably because they’re filled with minimally comfortable humans making their way in a world that generally includes few and excludes many, most of whom love to read.
I used to read. I pulled back when so many novels suddenly became harder to handle, and indeed happy books seem not to be in style these days. There were decades when I could handle the murders and loss, mostly because there was always a happy enough ending, and of course the good girl or good guy in charge of it all always saved the day. Now just as often, the good guy dies. Realism, they call it. It’s the third Saturday before Christmas. I’m in no mood for murders. Or much realism, for that matter. When I started writing, I devoured books until they began to hurt — when books came too close to reality.
So now I write. Growing up, I had no use for fiction and was all about truth and evolution, or as close as you can get from a carefully selected book chosen at least partially because you liked the cover. I still tiptoe around fiction a bit, but I love the process and the character creation. Those girls live with me always.
I envy the girl with the hefty book and the orange cat. I miss the days when I could read a slightly disturbing book, find the silver lining, and move on with a bit of new understanding enlightening my brain.
Yes, my mom did indeed tell me not to pick up “stuff” on the street. And yes, she had good reason, but also yes, I do it anyway. In fact, I do it every chance I get. It’s a kinda caffeine-like addiction, but without the shakes — only glee.
I’m not sure how or why or when it started, but I can’t get enough of accidental street art. The random bits of shape and color against black asphalt call to me like mourning doves, only a bit dirtier, and I grab them like Sandpipers stealing periwinkles on the beach.
I’m pretty sure you can see the allure, right? A little boy whose wagon wheel fell from his pocket, the death of a worm whose last message to the planet is love, a yellow bottle cap whose vaginal shape speaks of rebirth, a gorgeous fall leaf that has somehow matured and fallen several months early (which couldn’t be a good thing), total joy in the marriage of children and chalk, and a crimson leaf that has succumbed to changes I can’t identify, but I love her just the same.
My daughter arrived on Wednesday, creating a little hurricane in my carefully organized room, and isn’t that what we all need? Someone to stir the pot, to rustle us from the same old, to say “no” to our plans and shoulder us into the new?
She was ten when we first came here together, posing beneath the miniature Statue of Liberty in Luxembourg Gardens and dressed all in purple and pigtails. She won’t let me show the photo and she knows a secret: Honor the past, but don’t let it define you. I need to remember that myself.
Dressing this morning, she pulled a straw-like and scythe-shaped grey hair from her locks and held it toward me. I told her it didn’t belong there and not to worry; it had most likely blown off the weathered head of a boat captain as we walked along the Seine last night. Another gift from getting outside your self. He knows secrets too, but we decide to only imagine them.
So I’m wandering down an empty lane thinking about how I’ve gotten myself into a place where time has me by the short hairs when I glance up and suddenly burst out laughing, quite alone and suddenly quite relaxed to spot my feelings so blatantly displayed for all to see. How likely is it that someone would have taped up this clock and dropped it onto my path on the very day I’m feeling overloaded? Strapped for time, that’s me, and a big thank you to the universe for letting me laugh it out in a big way.
I’m not sure about the nature of time. I know we all want more of it, but we’re quick to specify that we want *this* kind of time and not *that* kind of time. More time with those we love, and less time paying bills. More time to learn and create, and less time studying for finals. More time to savor a good meal and less time standing in supermarket lines. Of course there are a few enlightened souls among us who can make the most of the lines and the numbers and the tests and find joy there, but mostly we tend to bargain with time — this for that — rather than changing the way we experience it.
Like most, I experience change and attribute many of those changes to the passage of time. But how often have we said “it’s as if time stood still?” So change isn’t dependent on time, and time doesn’t always equal change. If I allot eight hours and fifteen minutes to a flight, I can walk the streets of Paris instead of Charlotte’s, but can I not *feel* Paris in an instant on any day of any year? And I can guarantee you that I’m able to dedicate eight hours to writing a proposal and get absolutely nothing of value accomplished. So honestly, the concept of time is pretty wishy washy, and how can I hold myself so accountable to wishy washy?
Let’s say I have ten great years left, and fifteen good ones, and five glad-to-be-here years. As a girl, my dad was really big on the Ten Year Plan, and he was always asking us about ours. At 25, I figured I was young enough to feel my way through it. At 60, planning my next Ten Fabulous Years has become high priority. Fortunately I’ve learned along the way that life can be pretty much exactly what you make it, and I love that daily creation.
Except for the unexpected. Never discount the unexpected. After 50, always eat dessert first. Don’t put aside your hopes and dreams.
So I’m going to look at this giant banded clock another way. Instead of Time wrapping her arms tight around me and demanding a response, I think I’ll tie these big blue bands around *her* for a week and breathe, dream, plan, and grab my joy. Sometimes You Gotta.
I try my best to remember how long it’s been since I traveled alone. Where I went, when I last felt this blossoming possibility of quietly intense discovery, the possibility of returning to the pulse so firmly silenced by the minutiae of days upon days of falling further behind with every tick of the clock. Melodrama, and yet the truth of it eats away at me.
I’m certain there are bad meals to be had in Paris, and certain that the odds are good on a street just off the plaza in front of Notre Dame, but the dressing on my salad of bright greens and deep purples is as light and crisp as air, and the generous slice of quiche is so breathy and moist that, having baked a gazillion quiches in my life, I can’t imagine what alchemy has gone into this one, how the maker has combined eggs and cream and cheese and ham and crust to bring forth a meal totally unlike what I know as quiche. And it strikes me how life is like this: how often we look in the same direction we’ve always looked, grabbing the same materials to create a life day after day. I am a mix of A, B, C, and D, and that mix creates X. Why do I so rarely see that ABCD can create P just as easily? How are we clear-eyed and blind simultaneously?
I’ve come to Paris to meet my daughter, who’ll be reviewing hotels. But I’ve arrived a few days early to get my bearings on my own terms first. It was a stroke of genius, but the timing is awful. I’m hopelessly behind on several deadlines, struggling with remnants of the flu, and I’ll return amidst frenzied preparations for our biggest event of the year.
And yet, of course, the timing is perfect, coming as it does at the moment before implosion. I’m at a tipping point, and I desperately need the space and time to reinvent. How much easier it is to take the hard looks and consider alternatives surrounded by strangers instead of those we don’t want to disappoint. How much easier it is to imagine change when everything I see is already a drastic departure from my everyday.
The girl at my left has managed all of her salad, a slab of French bread, and at least 4/5 of her enormous quiche. She sips randomly on a lemonade, an ice water, and a glass of white (not bothering to choose only one), scrolling her phone and smoking in the breezy sunlight. A couple several tables over pays and stands up to leave, the woman becoming louder and louder as she speaks with agitation to the owner. I can’t/don’t-want-to hear her, don’t want to know if she is French or American or Other, don’t want to wonder what stuck in her craw on this gorgeous day of freedom and light. She leaves and we all shake it off and try to move back to ourselves.
So what will it be Pam? In the last 37 hours of flight and flu recovery, I’ve slept 16 hours, read a 451 page book, eaten two meals, and downed 8 cups of tea. I’m primed. Let’s get to it.
Remember when it was all the rage to sit on the floor of the campus gym sans pants, whip out your compact, and examine your vagina? No weewees, no woohoos, no girliebits; we were hot to call a vagina a vagina, and we were determined to get up close and personal enough to be on a first name basis. Our Bodies, Our Selves was the handbook, although I seem to remember the 70’s bearing a rather unbalanced focus on the Bodies half of the equation. Frankly, it was a whole lot easier to find a group of women ready to shed their clothes for Enlightenment than to find one who actually carried (or owned) an actual compact. Makeup was for sissy girls.
We were a Gung Ho sort, and even if we read our Sartre naked in the bathtub with a guy we’d met at the falafel house only an hour earlier, we were hungry to know it all, do it all, feel it all, read it all, live it all, conquer it all, save the world, free women from centuries of silence, get it out there, and live it real. We were ready and primed to Make Life Our Bitch. We all looked like Ali McGraw, and we were determined to be taken as seriously as Gloria Steinem. We brought womanhood, for a time, from darkness into light, and it all started with a fierce determination to know ourselves, vaginas and all.
When did we lose touch?
A year ago today I sat in my kitchen with a close friend that I see only twice a year. She was waiting for test results from a biopsy, which would be positive. I had cancer too but didn’t know it — didn’t suspect — and wouldn’t until much later that spring. When did we move from living our lives armed with mirrors and books and knowledge and experimentation to living our lives with long and mostly irrelevant To Do lists, blindfolded against our innermost secrets? When did answers become written in water, and taking care of Our Selves become a second fiddle melody? When did we move from Knowing to Not Knowing, because Knowing has become so damn hard?
Contrary to popular belief, Our Bodies Our Selves was not about sexual liberation, even though most of us seemed to read it that way. In fact, it was about women learning to care for their own health. Forty-ish years later, we pretty much take care of others instead.
We march; we speak out; we advocate for free mammograms; we rally; we sit with each other and shave our heads in sisterhood; we refuse to be talked down to; we have each other’s backs. But we still never quite know what’s inside us at any given moment — a sobering reminder to seize the day.
In many ways, 18 was bliss, wasn’t it? Knowing our bodies was largely a pursuit of pleasure: learning to kiss, trying exotic new tastes from multicultural gems near college campuses, teaching our muscles to scale mountains on weekends with adventurous new friends, getting silly with markers or grimacing under tattoo needles. At 56, knowing my body means something else entirely, and mostly what it means is discovering how much of what I’ve learned to love is now on the list of things that I’m forced to un-love (exotic tastes and climbing mountains high on the list). Making peace with the woohoo was a hell of a lot easier than making peace with organs that mutate in silence, and oh, how much more fun!
And so these later days reprise that urge to know, deep down; to feel, deep down; to live, deep down. If there is no magic mirror to show me what monsters lurk inside or to predict which cures will simply kill me another way on another day, I need to be in tune enough with my spirit to hear the longings of the body I yearn to heal: feed me; love me; take me out dancing; sing me a song; let me spend the afternoon painting my body with daisies and then giggle loud and long enough to wake the neighbors; or linger in a field of wildflowers way past time for dinner. Feed me a daily moment of bliss. Or three.
P.S. Dedicated to Carol, Susan, the MoHos, Jeanne Beanie, Carol H, the Duke Forestry School, my Love, my family
When I was a girl, every Saturday morning breakfast was punctuated by my father pushing his chair back from the table, standing, and announcing that he was headed out to “survey the estate.” Our “estate” was quite small — the size of an average back yard in the city — but luscious, with tended perennial beds, brick paths, a secret Japanese garden with a winding stream and waterfall, a couple of small brick terraces, climbing vines, tall hedges, a fig tree, and a hand-carved grape arbor. I loved this garden because it was cool and beautiful and welcoming, but more importantly, because it lived and breathed a family. Not only did we spend summer days and nights here, but it existed because we existed. Every flower and blade of grass, every scraggly shrub starter, every brick, every hand-patinaed piece of statuary, every pond liner and edging stone and wooden arbor joist had been planted and carved and laid and edged and watered and tended by my visionary parents, with the aid of three fledgling wheelbarrow drivers. I’ve lived in gardens ever since those early years, but my first remains the gold standard. Not because it was prettier or more lush or contained a magical variety of flora, but because watching an ordinary family create that garden taught me just how much influence we have over the landscapes of our lives. I grew up believing that anything was possible with a little sweat, imagination, some scavenging, a tool or two, and someone to help with the wheelbarrow.
And my life has been very much like this. When I’ve acted on this belief, some pretty magical things have happened. I’ve always claimed to be lucky, to be blessed, to have escaped turmoil, despair, poverty. I’ve been pretty good at remembering that I have everything I need to live, create, and love, even if I can’t immediately remember which drawer or which recess of my brain has it safely tucked away. It has been, most certainly, a wondrous life and, despite a few sorrows, I could hardly have penned it any better.
And now at 57, too old to be tragic and too young to be inevitable, I have cancer, and though I am quite often irritatingly adept at seeing things coming, I did not see this.
Today will be hot, but the sky is dishing out a soul-stirring bluster. Yesterday I watched a tree throw her leaves in an arc that crossed a lane, fluttering madly in a last dance. This morning the walnut and elm on opposite sides of the garden are tossing their dual ingredients into the tango in swirls like fall, and it feels both happy and sad to see a summer breeze awash with still-green leaves. No longer green myself, I still feel the flutter and recognize change.
And so I look at the bountiful landscape of a life and wrestle to place my changing self into the life I’ve loved. Though my prognosis is good, I’m irritated that my future, which should map out genetically at a good thirty years (still peanuts!) will now be measured and celebrated in five year increments — barely time enough to make a bucket list, especially one scheduled around chemo treatments. And I’m irritated that my gurus, carefully chosen by the matching of heart to soul, will now be peopled with strangers selected by paper credentials and calendar availability, and that they will have as much say, and perhaps more, in the way I live my days from sunup to sundown for the rest of my life. And I’m irritated that cancer so often attacks women in the very organs that give and sustain life — Karma, wake the hell up!!!
Of course the bottom line is that the landscape of my life has also changed, and shockingly so. The way I look at my days has changed. The way I think and experience has changed. In a way, I’m okay with that. But I need to start over like a child with my trowel in the dirt, learning the feel of both peat and clay, the difference between nectars and nettles, how to map paths around this sinkhole or that hornet’s nest. Landscape, I want to look you full in the eye with my colored lenses off and my antennae roused. I need to know you intimately so that I can meet you on my terms. And yes, I will bitch and moan. I will withdraw. I will snap. I will be preoccupied. I will cry. I will cling. I will write more than I will speak. I will not wear the smiley face. I will be unpredictable, just like this disease. Just like this changing landscape that looks so foreign to me in this moment. But in the end, there will be beauty.
I want to be Zen again, one day, but make no mistake that this time I will be Zen with a dragon tattoo, really good hiking boots, and backup. So please pardon me while I raise a little hell and clear the nettles.