September 13 2012
It’s been 11 days since we drove away from Tuscany: the farm, our friends, the solitude, the peace, the rhythm of languid days, the fresh produce cooking on the stove in some form or other, ready to be lidded, tied in an old kitchen cloth, placed safely in the straw basket and carried up the hill to Gianni and Luana’s where it would find its rightful place on their table, all of us sitting under the grape arbor talking and laughing while watching the light play on the hills, until the starry night beckons us home to our sweet bed, the soft murmur of sleepy cows and their sweet smell drifting in our open window. So, yes, we cried as we pulled away. Our roots groaned.
And then there was silence, it seemed, a soft rain on the windshield blending with our tears. It didn’t matter how much we reminded each other why it was important to return to New York for the next 4 months, it still seemed wrong to be leaving Tuscany.
I spend a fair portion of my life arguing with myself and it always involves the word ‘should’. Like I should be able to drive 7 highway hours even though my instincts told me it was too much in one day, especially after all those months of living in the slow lane. Maybe it started with my parents all those years ago when, if I dared to leave a vomitus brussel sprout on my plate, I was shamed into thinking about all the starving children somewhere else in the world. I would gladly have sent the brussel sprout to China.
And so it was that we made the long drive to Nice where we had arranged to drop off the rented car. Again, I tried to change the way I felt by listing all the good reasons for going “home”: the kids, friends, PR for our Provence book and for Joel’s retrospective book, the Lucie Award for Joel, theatre, museums, a tooth implant. It was a valiant effort but the thought of NY still remained as unpalatable as the brussel sprout.
But really, how bad can it be to spend a late summer evening in Nice? And it was a beautiful evening; the air soft and warm, the stony beach littered with sun worshipers, the sea dotted with swimmers. And lining the other side of the street, those wonderful, elegant buildings that once housed artists and writers. Little did they know that one day, between them and the sea a constant stream of traffic would fill the ears with a drone that drowns the waves and obliterates the meditation of the horizon.
But okay, it’s not so bad. We turn from the sea and walk into the old town. The Monday flea market was packing up, the café owners putting chairs and tables where the stalls had been, the chairs already filled with trendy young things full of smoke and wine and possibility. It was exciting for a while, and then it wasn’t. I really have been there and done that. I used to live for it; the deep inhalation, the first hit of alcohol seeming to dissolve my limitations, the flirty looks, the witty remark and the belief, for some small speck of time, that tonight would be the night.
I had no idea then that my happiness would lie in the soft hills of Tuscany and the company of my husband, the two of us side by side in our deck chairs.
Yet all these threads we spin, the fine gossamer ones, the knotty hemp, the stray scarlet silk, the dropped stitch, all weaving themselves into the tapestry of our lives while remaining individual strands that we pick up at random, testing their validity, their place in the larger scheme, a scheme that is always slightly beyond our understanding and always beyond our control.
Certainly the polyester sheets in the hotel were beyond our understanding…and as repulsive as that old grey brussel sprout.
But one soldiers on in modern day travel; soldiers on to the morning airport, heaving four months of our lives in 2 big and 2 small suitcases. Soldiers on through security and a change of planes and terminals in Paris and more security while all the while knowing there is absolutely no such thing. And finally, London, still high from the Olympics, manic with energy, our own ramped up out of thin air for 2 days of events and socializing. My dear Joel a shining star at the Royal Photographic Society Awards where he was presented with the biggie, his name called out, the audience roaring and cheering as he ran like a teenager to the stage and leapt onto it like a rock star. It was a moment of utter joy to see my man heralded in my hometown.
And then we partied into the wee hours with family and friends, lords and ladies and yes, the trendy ones. Then it was Friday and the flight to New York, the thread from our Tuscan lives spinning us further and further into space; a thread that will never disconnect.
So why then, the disconnect of the body? Was it the 7 hour drive to Nice, the polyester sheets, the oxymoron of security, city mania, cabin pressure, the long ago lonely brussel sprout?
Who knows, but 3 hours after we arrived back in our NYC apartment I was on my way to the ER, oxygen mask in place, body shaking, hard to breathe, unable to move. I said my goodbyes to Joel while watching his stricken face. I journeyed from the fear of death to the anti-climax of what seemed its simple inevitability, to an overwhelming acceptance and peace that came the with gratitude of a life well-lived, with just enough left to assure Joel he’d be all right. And then, according to him, I was gone for about 15 seconds.
I have vague recollection of the ambulance ride, of the lost souls of the ER, those Friday night handcuffed and howling souls, the unutterable suffering of humanity, the overworked, shutdown nurses, the utter loneliness of no eye contact and finally 2 bags of IV fluids and the verdict: exhaustion and dehydration. Really? That’s all it took? 5 days of city life and plane flights and I’m ready to check out? Bring on the brussel sprouts!
Does age bring us to the brink of fragility or is this the price one pays for refusing to admit one is a sensitive soul? And what irony; to find that the thing I’ve worked so hard to get closer to, i.e., my sensitive soul, is still something I too often refuse to listen to.
It’s that damn brussel sprout again, the one that little girl knew with absolute certainty would make her ill if she ate it. But she succumbed instead to the posture of adult reasoning and the guilt of all those starving children. What absolute nonsense. I wasn’t a starving child, but I learned that the only way to be grateful for that fact was to shove something into me that didn’t belong there.
Well, I am grateful for all the many riches of my life and I’ve grown to genuinely like brussel sprouts, but I don’t really like cities and I put one too many on my plate last week. After 3 months on a Tuscan farm I tried to down 3 cities in 5 days and my sensitive system rejected the last one. Poor old New York. I always give it such a bad rap. Yet the truth is I have a lot of empathy for it. This great, magnetic, desperate, magnificent pile of energy teetering on the verge of collapse every moment, yet still filled with hope and striving and possibility.
I’ll take it in slowly over the next few months, savoring the juicy bits and spitting out the gristle. Eventually my ears will attune and I’ll be able to hear the birds over the roar of air-conditioners and traffic. The light on the river will beguile me. Already an evening breeze is drifting in the window. A plane drones overhead, carrying its sensitive souls onward to something or someone or somewhere, the silk thread of their journey quivering with the longing to touch down in the place where they belong.