5th December, 2011
Okay. Done with death. I’m sure that’s a relief to many of our dear readers. It certainly is for me!
We caught the train to Providence this past weekend. Not quite Provence, and certainly not Provincetown, thank God. In fact, we took the train because to go by car would have meant driving the first 3 hours of the Cape journey and I wanted nothing to do with that. I had booked us Business seats, thinking it frugally sensible to not spend an extra 100 bucks a piece and assuming that it was, well, business class, you know, a step up from Economy. But train-land is different than plane-land.
At first it was all very jolly. We got 2 seats together, opened up the tray tables and set out our cheese and crackers and 2 lovely pears. The conductor was jolly, too, asking us “Where’s the wine?” And he actually punched holes in our tickets with one of those clipper things that conductors used in days of yore. We watched him work his way down the car, greeting everyone with bonhomie, chatting with a few regulars, mainly men, who obviously caught this Friday afternoon train, originating in Washington and ending in Boston. Gosh, I thought, how lucky these men are, to be leaving work so early on a Friday. Maybe the country’s not in as bad shape as we feared.
Within 15 minutes, however, I began to understand the meaning of Business. The laptops and phones were out and in use, some had 2 phones going at once. Everyone was wheeling and dealing in full stage voice. And the things they were saying! One guy let us all know that he and whomever he was talking to – besides us – had been pre-approved for 15 million and could draw down 2 on Monday. It was the first time hacking seemed like something I could get into. Another guy across the aisle was looking for a job and left voicemail for someone whom I hoped was not dying, that’s how many times the job seeker said how he hoped “he” was well.
The guy behind me made several calls of complaint. The same complaint. And it was an ironic doozy. Evidently it had taken him 3 days to find someone in the office who could overnight a package for him! The guy in front was busy using nouns for verbs, my favorite being when he told his silent partner that they could “hotel the whole thing.” But really, apart from the 15 million, we listened for two and half hours to the most inane and desperate one-sided conversations imaginable and I thought, oh, the country is in worse shape that we had feared. It was like being in an office complex on wheels and the crazy thing was, every time the train passed a city, like say, New Haven or New London, there, out the window, were empty, possibly foreclosed, office complexes.
When the conductor came back our way we asked him where the Quiet car was. For some crazy reason I thought there’d be plenty of available seats there. Wrong. Which although a drag in one way, was actually thrilling in another: there are more people than you would think who want to be quiet. Of course, it’s all relative. I didn’t actually see anyone reading, or gazing dreamily out the window. They were all, I mean all, digitally connected, earbuds in place as they worked the screens of their pods, pads and ‘puters.
But Providence saved us. Our dear friends K + P with whom we had rendezvoused in Provence in October, for a picnic in the woods, once again adventured us: a tour by car and later on foot, of their historic neighborhood, the streets boasting architecturally unique houses, the nabe sprinkled with enough bakeries, cafes, boutiques and…a real bookstore to give it a lively atmosphere. Their home, although still a work in progress, mainly done and fabulous, an old factory with storeys and stories. We listened to jazz, ate French food and learned the next layer of our personal histories and after a good night’s sleep and a breakfast of croissant, pain chocolate and damn good coffee they lent us their groovy convertible and we whizzed off to another historic town on the water to spend a day and a night with a woman who is one of my heroes.
When we arrived she told me she had just read my latest post: The Ultimate Companion, and I felt, if not quite guilty, perhaps a little insensitive not to have forewarned her of its subject, for she lost her soulmate last year. It’s part of what makes her one of my heroes, as I have watched her amazing courage in the face of this loss. And, in fact, it was being with her and her family this weekend that put me back in the land of the living. Because living, she is. With style and generosity, with yes, of course, sadness, but curiosity, also, and laughter.
In June when Joel and I left the Cape house for the last time, I dug up 2 of my roses and a lavender plant which we took to her on our way back to New York. I desperately needed a piece of my land to keep on living in a place where I could sometimes visit, under the care of of someone I trust and love. And also, I had wanted to gift her a living thing of beauty. This weekend, on her kitchen window sill, we all watched as a small coral rosebud slowly opened, its perfume issuing from its center. It was the bonus rose of the season.
Photo by a friend
It had been a sickly plant when I bought it 5 years ago, hovering between life and death the first 2 years until I gave it more space, and then it took off, climbing the fence and blooming profusely from early summer to late autumn. I knew when I uprooted it in June that it would survive. Knew that it would adapt to the new climate. The name of this rose is “America.”