Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Time to Plant, A Time to Pluck up

My, we have a lot to catch up on. Do you have time to pull up a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, depending on the time zone? I'm not sure I can fit all my thoughts into one post, but we've got to start somewhere.

A time to plant, A time to pluck up what is planted. Isn't this backwards? We experience it the other way around. Two and a half weeks ago on a gray day, I painstakingly extricated my stubborn roots from foreign soil. It is good that my destination was marked "family" in my mind and not "Minneapolis", or I am afraid I might have never come back. The weather matched my mood, gloomy. Rain droplets gathered on the small oval window that peered onto the tarmac of Charles de Gaulle airport and I tried not to act like a cliche.

At the end, I was very cheered to see the bright smiles of my mom, dad, brother. Lots of shining teeth, energetic hugs held long and sweet. The next day, I dove headlong into the bustle of my cousin's wedding. More smiles, hugs, talk about France. Surprised looks when I tell some that we're back for now. Most of them figured we'd be over there, well - forever. Part of me wonders.

Karl is still on the opposite shore, holding the other end of the tape as we measure the probabilities and improbabilities of the next season of our lives. I ask him about decisions, aspirations, but he cannot fathom those questions now. He's got to uproot before he can replant. I understand completely.

As if vaguely aware of my vulnerability as a transplant, within a week of my return, I was actually planting a garden. (Okay, as fond as I am of metaphor, I mean this literally this time.) Zucchini, lettuces, beets, basil seeds dropped into pots as a birthday present for someone I love. The humidity and heat caused them to sprout almost immediately. I crouch close to the minuscule leaflets, glowing green against the black backdrop of soil. I imagine I can see them unfolding as I watch. The sun is hot on my head and I move into the blue shade along the side of the house.

Another revelation. In terms of landscape here, green is the rule, and gray is the exception. This formula is inverted in Paris, its beauty sketched out in other ways. Now, midwestern suburbs may seem calm to most, but when you've been wandering in a four-toned print for three years, Minnetonka feels as rich and colorful as a rainforest. Then I remember that it used to be a prairie. In the morning, I take my coffee onto the front porch and gaze around me, dazed and fascinated, senses swarming with exotic creatures. The metallic clatter of dragonfly wings, swarming moths, bees swinging around the daisies like industrious acrobats. It would take a long time to catalog all of the insects that scurry past my bare feet - ants of all sizes, black shiny beets, translucent spiders.

I trot off into the neighborhoods a few miles from my parents' house and find the secret passageway to the park. I remember when my best friend from across the street showed it to me, cutting through a well-worn hole in the sumac on our dusty bikes. Purgatory Creek Park. A sandy trail runs white hot in the sun where prairie grasses give off the hot breath of sweet clover, and then it dips down into the woods for relief, deep draughts of cool air and shade. A deer nearby turns his head and looks at me, unconcerned.

Other than this, I have been reading like someone starved. The lives of Dorothy Day and Ernest Hemingway help me feel at ease with the paradox, the stark contrast of landscapes in my life. The paradox of loving the city and natural beauty both. After mainly finding her identity in her hometown of Chicago and her wild life in the Village in NY, Dorothy Day went and bought a cottage on Staten Island with her first major earnings as a writer, a full hour from Manhattan. Must have been quite the switch. Hemingway found that writing about Michigan flowed nicely when he was ensconced at a table in a clattering, brassy Parisian bistro.

I wonder if that works the other way around. Will I be able to write more about Paris now that I'm back in the Midwest? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Monday, June 08, 2009

30 years and Countless Blessings.

As my consciousness bubbled to the surface, I heard exuberant voices ringing out a familiar theme. My messy head flopped out from under my covers to see my three flatmates boldly marching in with glowing candles and smiles and flags waving. I couldn't stop giggling at how wonderful it was to get woken up by the birthday song. It's a Danish tradition. What followed was a beautiful breakfast table laid out with more candles, flowers, croissants, pain au chocolat, nectarines, presents. Karl was the funniest and sweetest as he did his best to pray a blessing for me when he'd also only been roused from peaceful sleep five minutes previous, pre-coffee and everything. (I will be adding pictures shortly.)

After lingering, Karl and I decided to spend the rest of the morning using our French bikes one last time to meander down the Coulee Verte. This is a trail south of Paris that winds through some pretty little villages. We ended up in charming Sceaux, and discovered for ourselves an exceptionally good boulangerie with a sidewalk table. We started with quiche with salmon, dill, and sun-dried tomato, and the server looked at us quizzically when we said this was my “birthday cake.” We took that as a sign to indulge in a luscious tarte aux pommes, and 2 cups of espresso. She approved.

We had to book it back to Paris, as my friends Peter and Aubrey had invited me over to have lunch at their place and hang out with their new little daughter Rebecca. Indian takeout, a beautiful bouquet, good music, laughs, hugs, prayers. Karl joined and our dear friends pulled out an awesome bottle of champagne to celebrate. Tear-filled smiles- this was au revoir for a while. I paraded through the streets of Paris with a gorgeous bunch of red and white flowers (I will say that carrying flowers around sure makes one feel pretty), and continued on to my friend Alexandra's, who had offered to have me for tea. We indulged in the most amazing fondant au chocolat and fresh cherries, and laughed, played with Karl-Johann (her eight-month old), prayed, cried, and then I headed home.

When I arrived, it was already late-ish for dinner, but Ray and Karl were just finishing up the preparations for Japanese curry and a playlist of Johnny Cash (what else would you do in Paris, I mean really?) Tasty, on all counts. At this point, it was 9 pm. We were pretty tired, had to be up early. Still some packing to finish up. So, we went to bed, right?

Well, eventually. (You know us better than that, I hope!) I mean, it was our last night in Paris for a while. So, we got gussied up and ventured out for the late show at the Duc des Lombards, a famous jazz club we'd always talked about going to. As we sat bouncing our knees to the lively interpretations of Benny Goodman tunes, we lolled mouthfuls of Madiran over our tongues and just savoured. That's what this day was about – to enjoy and be thankful for 30 years, 10 percent of which I spent in this wondrous city with the man that I love, making dear friends that will last through this life and beyond. Merci, Dieu.

N.B. The best gift of all was my amazing husband, as you can see he was hovering around, carefully making sure all day that my birthday went well. Love you, K. Also, I wrote this post too soon, as more beautiful roses were awaiting me when I arrived back at home. Thank you, Pam!