Saturday, November 25, 2006

a taste of home

We kept the kids home from school yesterday and enlisted them in the effort to prepare for the evening Thanksgiving celebration. My Friday schedule enables me to get home by 11:30. Things were in full cleaning, laundry, an apple pie underway... I relieved Beth who dashed off to the Friday market in Andernos. We passed the day orbiting each other, busy but able to talk about stuff at the same time.
Both of us were wanting to take stock a little bit of how we feel about where we are. The night before we had, each of us, spoken on the phone to family. In both instances, we timed our calls rather poorly as people were either in the midst of cooking or actually sitting down to eat with guests.
It can be a little disconcerting to feel the tug of familiar and familial feelings over such an enormous distance, especially when the telephone seems to collapse that distance utterly. As soon as the phone is put down however the distance is once again immediately palpable.
Another thing that happens is that Beth and I both have a tendency to then replay the phone conversation, to chew on it a bit longer. One of the facts of life for us is that our social network is very small, growing but still small. Consequently almost every social interaction we have becomes grist for the mill. The two of us sit outside on the terrace, have a drink and a cigarette, and we savor and deconstruct nearly everything we've been a party to that day. This ritual tends, in my view, to underscore and cement our partnership at the same time that it accents our craving for friendship. We are both lonely and happy.
Caught between these two currents it sometimes hard to articulate to friends and family at any given moment just how it feels to be here. A good example of this was during our conversation with Beth's brother Phillip. He and Jessica are coming for a visit in a few days and so naturally the conversation revolved around their itinerary here. His latest idea is to visit Stockholm sometime during the stay here, another possibility is Barcelona.
He is one of those people for whom the world is a giant plate of hors d'oeuvres of every possible sort. Confronted with such an appetizing array of possiblities he is inclined to want to sample as many different items on that plate as possible. Talking to Phillip about traveling, it is easy to get caught up in allure of movement, of landing out of the blue into a new city. Of traversing a new landscape. Of hearing a strange tongue or your own language resonate in the throats of alien peoples. Of eating food in restaurants and sipping drinks in cafes and bars.
It is difficult to frame our experience here, however, in terms quite like that. Ours is more of a nesting, a burrowing in. It's defining characteristic is family and it belongs to the constellation of domesticity. We have travelled a long way, it seems, for the purpose of settling down. Except for an offcial event paid for by Fulbright in October, Beth and I haven't been out to eat in a restaurant or gone to a bar since coming here. We have gone to the movies (twice).
It is tempting therefore when talking to Phillip (or anyone really who is contemplating world travel in the usual sense of the word) to engage in a kind of wistful reckoning of what we haven't done, of where we haven't gone...and to the extent that each of us is susceptible to that temptation we subsequently feel the need to sit down and reaffirm to one another just what exactly our project is here.

I suppose that project is to nothing more or less than to nurture and grow a family feeling here in Lege. This is, by the way, not a critique the world-as-a-buffet approach to travel - especially since one day we fully intend to sidle up to that table again.

And so Beth cooked, I washed dishes and moved furniture, the kids pretended to be horses, unicorns, talking cars ect...all day. The bird went in the oven around 5pm. The menu began to emerge dish by dish from the oven, first the apple pie, then the squash tort...the house was soon redolent with the savory odors of Thanksgiving.

The first invitees came around 6:30. Phil and Ann, their two kids, Liam and Mila, and Phil's mother Jennifer and her husband Patrick. Phillip poured kir made with syrup de mures and white wine. I ran across the street to borrow a meat thermometer and a food mill (mashed potatoes!) from Yannick, our neighbor, who being the chef of their house, had both items. As he led me out of his house with a lantern he steered me away from the path to the gate toward the back of his lot. He showed me into their wine cave where I saw his collection of wines...there were many, many bottles of wine there...Yannick went to one end of the cave and returned with 2 bottles of red wine, 2001 Medoc. I thanked him profusely and went back home, thinking, not for the first time, how some of my most satisfying trips this year have been the ones I've taken right across this street.
John and Gabrielle and their daughter Isabelle came from Bordeaux and showed up around 8. Nobody around here eats before 8 pm.
Beth was in constant motion. She laid out a truly splendid table. The mothers swirled around the kids in the came at them from literally every corner of the room.

Around 9 pm we came to the table. John proposed a toast "to America". Simple and unapologetic, no nuances required. Everyone at the table has been around enough to appreciate that being American may entail a complex and even paradoxical set of factors but that it is fundamental to who are and that it deserves our affirmation...subsequent to that toast I offered the Langston Hughes line, "let America be America again." All the expats (and the French spouses) raised their glasses.
We ate and drank well past midnight. John held forth on the subject of wine (he's in the business) in very entertaining fashion. My favorite adjective from John had to be "herbacious". John also dispensed some advice to everyone. "Come prepared to have your own opinion...otherwise it's just bullshit." We took pains to have as many opinions as possible after that, which of course is long hand for saying that we needed to drink more wine.

The children played all around and on top of us and sometimes with us.

It was just the kind of evening we had hoped for because it so resembled the kind of evenings we have known back home with our families and friends.


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