Monday, December 29, 2008
There's something so undeniably mature about that sentence.
"Our" being an operative word, in that Eric and I both have daughters, meaning we both have at this point full and lengthy pasts.
"Kids" is what I kept referring to them as. First jokingly, then not so. We were, after all, the oldest people in the house. So what does that make us?
"Were" in that they have lives of their own, and other places to go back to.
"Here" as we thankfully have somewhere they can come to.
It was like a miracle, having them visit, because we actually ate meals at the table, went on outings, and got to bed before midnight (one night, anyway) for the first time in months. We were transformed into grownups, and it was lovely. We got groceries, doled out advice, and a little bit of money, but how can it ever be enough? I've fought being an adult for years, but having a nearly grown up child makes it not the drag I thought it would be.
I thought it meant ordering sweat pants and turtlenecks from the Lands End catalog. And sitting in those chairs with footrests attached. Knowing all kinds of recipes. Paying more attention to window treatments. With possibly a little light shoplifting thrown in.
I didn't know that those almost impossibly joyful moments you get sometimes with your child could increase in proportion to the years and experiences they have in this world. At the same time, the stress of wanting everything to turn out right for them is almost unbearable at times.
But overall there is so much to enjoy with a grown up kid. Seeing what she wears, hearing what she thinks, about anything. Just being around her. With Eric's daughter too, and her boyfriend. Youth is all it's cracked up to be, isn't it, even if it is someone else's job now. I am definitely in transition - I think the best thing to aspire to at this point is crone-dom. At least then I'll have some helpful insights to offer.
So now it's back to eating whatever, wherever and Play Misty For Me at 2 AM. But if the occasion arrives I know we can crank up that maturity machine, like a time machine in reverse, that puts us in some temporary position of wisdom and authority. Then, when the kids leave, it's back to being clueless as usual.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Then we went to the train station in Limoges to pick Hazel up, with Eric's daughter and her boyfriend who are here with us. They arrived on Monday by train from England, about an hour after we arrived by car from England. Silly, that we couldn't have driven down with them but the car was so full of assorted guitars and P.A. equipment and the odd Christmas present that there was barely room for us.
At the beautiful Benedictins station we all went onto the platform to wait for Hazel's train from Paris when police started appearing all up and down the steps and on the platform. They gruffly directed everyone to go back upstairs for cinq minutes. It all looked pretty sinister. Murmurs that they would be looking for someone on the train.
Of course my mind was fixed on Hazel - was she alright? As the train pulled into the station we could see police officers crouching on the stairs - ready for what?
They kept holding people back from going down the stairs with no explanation, and they weren't allowing anyone to get off either. A man dressed in Limoges-style "casual" civilian clothes (ie v-neck sweater, grey wool trousers, white shirt) pushed through the crowd at the top of the stairs and onto the platform, shaking hands all around. He seemed to be in charge of the whole operation but there was a distinct impression nobody knew exactly what they were supposed to be doing.
Finally they let people off the train but when it pulled away and the last passenger had come up the stairs Hazel wasn't there.
All of a sudden it didn't feel so great to be the only people in Europe without a mobile phone. But we figured she'd be on the next train, and went to a cafe for some lunch.
We've finally found the one decent cafe in Limoges - it looks like you want a cafe to look, with the huge mirrors, dark wood and old murals on the walls. In this case, "old" means possibly late 70's but given that nowadays most cafes have been remodeled and filled with molded plastic and faux marble it's got something going for it.
When we went back for the next train, still no Hazel. We were starting to get worried. In our rush to get the duck and groceries I had neglected to check that the flight had arrived on time. I think the strain and exhaustion of four months of almost non-stop touring probably had something to do with it. It has definitely pushed me over the edge in terms of being able to think straight. Add to that the general holiday muddle, where you just want things to go well and will it to be so. Our plan was to pick Hazel up and go get the Christmas tree and a few more things we needed and goddammit that is exactly how it had to be.
Eventually the poor girl did arrive, but by that time it was too late to get a tree or anything. Still, we were all together and that's what matters in the end - there was foie gras and Champagne and the kids watching Reservoir Dogs. And duck for Christmas, that I'm willing to be cooked to perfection.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
I don't know what I was thinking. Since when did the words "leisurely" and "strolling" have anything to do with London? I took the express train to Liverpool Street and parked my bag in the Left Luggage place there easily enough. I was trying to figure out where to go first when the decision was made for me, as I was carried up the stairs by the rushing wool-coated tide, all of whom seemed to be redistributing phlegm: hacking, coughing, blowing, while simultaneously talking into mobile phones.
Out on the street was like being hit in the face repeatedly with a slightly damp leather glove. Lashings of cold air, snatches of conversations, bursts of steam and greasy food smells. And I remembered how it is, with London. In some ways, I love it. But it rarely loves me back.
I got on a bus to Tottenham Court and climbed to the second level. From up there I could enjoy the architectural details of the buildings and look down on all the striding strivers. Everyone was in motion, everybody going somewhere or trying to get things done by phone, except the little knots of smokers outside bars and pubs. The bus wound through Broad Street, Bank Street, past St. Paul's, but then without explanation went out of service. I picked up the next one but it sat in traffic for so long I decided I'd be better off walking.
So I walked, past Holborn, down to the Strand, up through Covent Garden, and all of a sudden I was right in front of Saint Martin's. I spent a year in London once, under the guise of attending art college there, and that's the only reason I can think of that I always end up back in this part of the city. I know there are lots of better places to spend an afternoon but something, call it muscle memory, always brings me back there. Maybe it's an attempt to solve the unresolved mystery of what I was doing here all those years ago.
Down Charing Cross, and I thought of going to see a movie. I was almost tempted by the marquee advertising Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn in "Four Christmases" but that would have been admitting some kind of defeat. Plus it wasn't showing for another forty minutes.
After all the walking I was shaking with hunger. I saw the back of the National Portrait Gallery. It's free to get in and I know they have a decent cafe so I headed straight down there and got some delicious mushroom soup and, because I'd exerted myself so much, warm apple cinnamon cake with lots of double cream.
Too lazy to go back in time before the last century, I strolled around an exhibit of portraits of important Brits, people like the Queen and Prince Charles and Margot Fonteyn and David Hockney, but after the third or fourth picture of Prince Charles I thought "I don't care about these people" (except David Hockney), and because it had been free to get in, I could leave.
Up to Regent Street, into Liberty which is such a beautifully intact old department store. Funny, the conspicuously expensive items on display now seem from another era too. I ran my hands over the pricy scarves and notebooks, just to acknowledge that these things do exist, not as good as owning them but almost. H&M, Zara, Top Shop: for some reason I felt compelled to examine the trendy, tacky stuff too, thinking maybe I could find a gift or two but realizing it was useless. I forget how pointless shopping can feel in these kind of places. I wanted to get back to Foyle's bookstore. "I know it's on Charing Cross, just past that Nando's restaurant there. Wait, is that the same Nando's I passed five minutes ago, or a different one? Is that Pizza Hut the one next to the Starbucks between the Next and Boots or the one around the corner from Superdrug?" The West End always had a lot of tourist crap but way back when there were little corners of civilization and charm that captured my imagination. It gets harder and harder to find anything that isn't a chain store.
I loved looking around Foyle's but I lost my scarf in there. Paranoid, I imagined one of the clerks found it, and the whole staff were sworn to secrecy to keep me from getting it back. No doubt one of them is sporting that red mohair beauty to work today, just like that motel employee in Rochester, NY is still using the brand new bottles of Pureology shampoo and conditioner he refused to acknowledge I'd left behind this past October.
I decided to head back over to Liverpool St. where I was supposed to meet our friend Peter for the 8:30 train to Norwich. I wanted to get a nice glass of wine somewhere. Pubs with names like Dirty Dick's and the Cock and Sparrow didn't hold a lot of appeal, so I settled on, forgive me, Pizza Express. Not a bad chain of jazz venue/pizza restaurants, but - a chain. I shouldn't have bothered - the waiter ejected me when I told him I only wanted to order an appetizer and some wine. Unlike France, where you can sit for hours over one little cup of coffee, this place is only about making money. It's harsh. I found a small wine bar with a good selection but there weren't any seats, no doubt so they can jam more bodies in there. Still, I enjoyed the wine and listening to the boring conversations around me, about where to go on holiday if everyone still has jobs next year.
I collected my bag and met up with Peter - we were going to eat in the dining car. He said the food was good, and there's something special and old-fashioned about eating off of real plates and tablecloths on a train. Civilized, right? Which used to be part of the appeal of visiting England for us vulgar, tacky Americans.
They plan to end the dining service as of next week. Something to do with job cuts, but probably more to do with the service not generating enough money. Take out the tables and they can ram some more people in. Who said life is to be enjoyed?
The dining car was already closed. So we ate bags of potato chips on a train crammed with exhausted people, some of them crouching in the corridors. That hackneyed Samuel Johnson quote kept going through my mind about when a man is tired of London he's tired of life. After one afternoon, I was just happy to get the hell out of there.
Monday, December 8, 2008
As he got older he developed certain eccentricities, like eating with his hands and flicking light switches on and off. Sometimes he kind of looked like Elvis, and there’s no denying he loved food. Bigger than average, for a brief period he took to parading around in a gold lamé cape.
Then he moved to Nashville. Maybe he thought he could make it in country music. That didn’t happen, but he discovered nature. He’d go out exploring. Got beat up bad one time, when he ventured over by the fairgrounds. After that he stuck closer to home. He spent a lot of his days looking out windows, but other times he was running all over the place. He alternated between keeping us amused and driving us crazy.
There was a brief period when he lived in Alabama. The less said about that the better. Things improved, strangely enough, with a move to Cleveland. But apartment living wasn’t really his style - too isolated.
When the day came that our crew all went their separate ways it made sense for him to head back to Brooklyn, where he’d started from. He made some new friends and began settling into comfortable late middle age. There was brief talk of checking out the scene in France but he was getting a little old for any more big changes and, smart as he was, he didn’t speak French.
He moved in with the owner of a shop in Williamsburg, right near the bridge. He liked hanging out there, charming the customers and living large, the way he always had. And that’s where he died last month, at the age of 14.
R.I.P. James “Jimmy VI” the Cat. We loved him.
Hazel & James 1999
Friday, December 5, 2008
We've had a plan for the last two years to turn the front part of the attic into a guest room, and with my daughter and Eric's daughter and her boyfriend all coming for Christmas, it seems imperative to move the job along. Eric's been working wonders up there this past week, fitting a ceiling around rugged old beams and stones. It's especially challenging because everything is going off at bizarre angles, as I guess old houses do.
I try my best to help out but the truth is I am hopeless. If there's a low-hanging beam to bang into, most likely the beam and my head have become so well-acquainted they're barely speaking to each other anymore.
Even supposedly risk-free tasks like handing over a box of nails or screws expose my true calling as a bumbler, with nails scattering and me knocking over a broom when I bend over to pick the nails up. The broom inevitably hits a chair with a cup of hot tea on it and - well, you get the idea.
My history in sheetrocking began thirty years ago in a dank basement on St. Mark's Place, where a gang of us pulled together to build a clubhouse called Stinky's. That place only lasted about three weeks, but it wasn't due to the quality of the workmanship. Eventually we joined forces with lower Manhattan bar Tier 3, as detailed in this article by Andy Schwartz.
Maybe I just peaked too early.
This woman is dangerous.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
I'm on to the next drama now, which is that I had to send my passport off to the American Embassy in Paris. It's pretty wrenching, being so far apart from it. But the pages are all used up, as the last three immigration officers have mentioned to me. The American and British officials gave me stern warnings. The French officer at Charles De Gaulle waved my passport in the air and giggled "It's full!"
I need to get a new passport anyhow because the photo is almost ten years old and I've started getting those skeptical looks at check-in counters like "this can't possibly be you". Plus it expires in April. All this travelling lately has left me no time to do anything about it. But we're going back to England next week and I have to go for the quick fix of getting a few more pages added. This can supposedly be achieved in a few days, unlike the passport renewal which takes several weeks.
It's a little like being a special agent, holed up in a village in France, waiting for her new identity. Without a passport, I'm floating free. A woman without a country. It feels great. Unless I need to go somewhere.