Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sieste

There is nothing quite like the clatter of power tools to wake you gently from an afternoon nap. But the sun that was shining upon my lying upside down on my quilt-covered bed, felt like an anomaly in the midst of this slow démarche from winter rains back into the steady months of sun, that I had left my large bay window open to warm my small room. In my sleeping the noise had come, the wind too, widening the opening of my window from a crack, to an unforgiving gape, as a mouth widening to allow an entrance or exit. And through quick, half-conscious glances, I can remember as in dreaming, looking at the clouds gathering there, flaunting their deep grey underbellies and peering in my window with the bright and almost blinding light of a hidden spring sun.
It was rude of them to come that way, while I had been clearly out of sorts, but nature has a way of taking advantage of the gluttons, and it is true that the deep, drunkenness of such a warm afternoon nap could be counted as nothing less than debauchery. Now in the heavy work of late afternoon-waking, the gawk of my window has never been so pronounced, flagrantly announcing the entrance of such an unwelcome collection of auditory guests, the preliminary winds of ruinous rain pressing and testing the construction of the trees across the street, and the disquieting cries of some power tool shredding something lovely, as the quiet of my own front yard, as it rips me from my weighty dreaming.
In a weary and unbalanced swagger, I sling myself up to my feet, and limpingly move to latch the window shut. There is quiet still obtainable. And though what looks like mist has transformed the day, earlier uniquely charged with warm and moist Southern mountain air, into the grey of something much more expectable, I can see that some light clings to the sky and still yet the warmest moments of evening sun is to be seen. So in an act of repentance for such afternoon indulgences, I know I must go outside, to walk, as I promised I would before coming home, as the evening would surely have a graceful, blushing sunset worth seeing with warm and inviting light. I know this too is an indulgence, but one of another kind, one acceptable to gorge on in these warming spring evenings who, by their design, learn to hold their violet light longer into the evening, only letting the night blend in its darker shades after we've retreated from the dinner table, admitting to another end of day.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Last Light

There is a time of night here in Pau, that always presents itself suddenly. The hour when the final parts of what is obviously day leaves, and only those who look out their windows or happen to be still making their way home see the change, catch the light that rests in the last visible clouds, charged with color from the sun who has already made his way behind the blackening mountians.
It is the time when you must turn on the first lights of evening to continue your reading by, or prepare your meal.
Each tall house on the street out my window begins to slowly illuminate itself. Each room one by one, inside the kitchen, living room, entryway, there is life and there is movement. These small houses on the street like doll houses, lit up by hesitant candle light not yet holding its full strength against a still grey sky.
These small, toy signs of life populate my evenings with silent gestures in the window panes, with whispers just far enough not to be heard.
But this eclipse of time passes quickly, and soon the quiet, heavy of night  invades the boundaries of this imagined childhood safety and places itself as equally in plain view as in that which is hidden.
Our front doors closing behind the dog let in for the evening, our curtains drawing, our gates locking, and the street lights finally coming aglow. Theirs will be the light to lead the last few home, and theirs will be the light by which I will see you, hands full of groceries, closing the gate to your yard and disappearing into the now darkness of your mild home.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Réelire

Last night I descended the stairs for dinner with my French family. The bunch was not quite yet assembled but the savory smells of the meal and the warmth of a small fire invited me to wait in the living room until dinnertime. Of course the coverage of Obama's re-election was playing on the TV and I imagined almost all the world gathered around their TV's, in China, in Africa, in India, us in France and those in the U.S. watching, or having already watched the re-election of the American president. It is funny how international American politics is, and I want to say that the world perhaps takes more interested in U.S. political movement than Americans often do.
My family slowly collected in the living room, each person with a different comment for me about the election, and eventually came the sweet wine for a toast to Obama and also to my host-brother's voyage which would begin the following day.
I felt warm there with my French family, celebrating an American advancement, celebrating something with me that they didn't have to, but wanted to.
These moments remind me of our global community, the community of humanity that makes us all unified. Whether the world views America as an aggressor or as an ally, we all can celebrate globally a success and we all can mourn, as the world did on 9/11. The key is to seek this global understanding, to have an open mind and an open heart, to feel empathy, and to seek sympathy. So there in the living room of my modest French home I felt exactly that, that I was part of a family that wanted to understand me as an American and also as a person, as I was there in France to understand them as Frenchmen and as people.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Toulouse

Today is quiet and cold. It rained a hard, sideways rain all day and I snuggled in my bed doing homework and napping. Sundays are like empty space, a break in time that forces itself on you, it cannot be resisted.
Yesterday I traveled on the train to Toulouse for my History of Art class. It was a nice fall day. Warm in the sun and cold in the shade. The leaves were turning yellow and beginning to collect into piles on the sidewalks and street corners. A city was made for the fall. The smell of warm, familiar autumn air, people moving under the heaviness of an ending season. An invisible force.
We visited two cathedrals, the first of which was Gothic. The space inside was unquantifiable. Light cast itself in patches on the walls across from each massive window, intricately covered in patterns and color, the same mirrored in murky reflections. Pointed arches in every contour of the ceiling moved the air around soundlessly, high above my head. I stood looking up at the stained glass windows. The corners were covered in intricate spider webs, starting in the smooth, stone corners and cascading across the glass. Each one made a separate tunnel of light and color.
Whose work is more intricate: the spider or the man?
Next we visited a Roman cathedral. The weight of the building could be felt from outside. The tan, stone walls seemed a mile thick. Thick enough to contain a separate, secret universe. After entering, the outside world no longer exists, only the silence and weight of the place. The design seemed simple at first, nothing too decorated, arched ceilings, hallways, balconies. But the building reveals its beauty suddenly. At the end of a long smooth corridor the alter rests, so decorated, so embellished, it is hard to look at. Gold-covered sculptures illuminated by a mysterious light. The walls covered in paintings and the floors, in red rugs. At one end is this, and at the other is the organ elevated above, flaunting its dark pipes and twisting sculptures.
Who can deny the wonder of these places, these buildings made of a desire for worthiness, made of awe and obedience? They rest in total silence now, hidden around the busy streets of Toulouse, mere stone and brick on a street of apartments and cafes in the same color and material.
Who makes gestures like this anymore?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Eating Without Fear

One of the first things Colleen asked me on our Skype date after my arrival here was, "What are French meals like? Do they eat small portions?"After having spent about a month here I can confidently say - no the French do not eat small portions. The French eat sans peur.
Breakfast is a very simple meal. Something not very formal, usually a cup of coffee and some bread with jam. There is not a lot of snacking in between meals, but really it isn't needed because once lunch time arrives the French eat well.
Every true meal (lunch and dinner) consists of courses. Always courses. My French family actually laughed at me once because I almost put the tomato soup on my dry noodles. Everything is eaten separately. And when I eat meals with my French family I probably eat the equivalent of three meals alone in one sitting.
I will explain:
The other night my host parents had a niece over for dinner. So our meal was a little more formal and put together. At a formal French dinner, once everyone is served the first course, the whole table says bon apétit, almost as a prayer before they begin eating.
We started with tomato soup with noodles, of which we all took a huge bowl-full. With it we ate bread = meal #1
Next we moved into the vrai repas of grits casserole with carrots. It was delicious. We all took two servings of that with more bread = meal #2
Next we had a cheese plate with some chevre, rockaphor and ghuda (others included but I can't remember all of them).
And for dessert my host mom made an amazing apple tart and whipped cream (that of course she whipped herself) = meal #3
This is what I mean when I say the French eat without fear. They begin and there is no doubt, no second guessing, no "what did you put in this?" or "I don't know if I can finish a second serving". The French just eat. They eat quickly and efficiently and afterward they wipe their plates clean with bread. Not a morsel is wasted.
When I am not the last to finish my portion and when I can stop placing my food at the edge of the plate to make room for other things, then I will know I have mastered the French art of consumption.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

San Sebastian

Spain: Just over the border, two hours on train from Pau sits San Sebastian. One of the most stunning cities in the world. Two hours from France to Spain, one step over the border and it is another world. The streets are crowded with life. People talking and laughing and joking. People drinking cerveza or sangria and eating tapas in the street. The futball game is on. We are struggling to reach the counter through the crowd of people and none of us speak a word of Spanish.
The night doesn't even begin until 10pm at the earliest. At 10pm people are just beginning to go out for dinner, or just starting to think of going out for dinner. Dinner is loud and long, with wine and meat and seafood and wine. Tapas before. Tapas after. More beer. Maybe a bar. A loud corner bar stuffed with animated conversations in Spanish, French and English. A wedding party in the street, people are singing salutations and then retreating back inside for another drink.
And outside. Outside past the old city center. Past the ancient cathedral steps where masses of college kids are sitting with their bottles of wine. Past the signs first in Basque, then in Spanish. And past the boardwalk of bikes and walkers, there are the lights of San Sebastian. The long, elegant brush strokes of light across the quiet night sea. A perfect crescent of beach that draws the boundary between human life and nature. Here the quiet is resting, pleasantly in a briny breeze. We watch the waves move up and out. Move in and take away pieces of this city, as we also hope to do. Take away pieces of the easiness of life. The acceptance of its movement and an appreciation of the people we know and have known.



Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Nonsense.

i hear the rain on the leaves.
And also on the streets and rooftops falling.
there is a pinkness, a fog of cloud and light resting.
I am looking at a solumn sky, a silent sky with immoble parts,
waiting to be moved or touched, waiting to be noticed.
but i am not letting it know that i see.

the time is passing quickly now.
and the time is moving slowly.
in a direction, forward or backward, i do not know.

but the rain yes. is falling. yes.
and i am wearing flannel in my window in the dark for the first time.
watching you walk down the street like a stranger.
watching you sing to yourself as if you were alone.

there is a bubble in my language
that keeps me from being seen.
that keeps me from being heard
as I walk down the hall beside you.

the sun is on the other side of the world now.
someone has told me this.
and i am also a woman.
someone has told me this.
and i am sure that i am living in a world with names and letters and first names and figures.
somehow i know that.
but also somehow i am not sure.

i am writing words of nonsense. and i am writing words that organize into shapes which organize into places which organize into somewhere you have not visited before.
and i am drawing with my words
and singing with my words
and using them to ask you if you are still alive. and if you are really there
in the sun i heard was up somewhere
on the other side.

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