I have a rare moment of wireless connection in a week of dead spots, so I will make this quick.
We have gone back in time here in rural Nova Scotia. My cell phone provider, Rogers, provides patchy coverage in this part of the country. And by patchy I mean no coverage at all at this precise locale. This bar of reception that my computer is showing is rarer than the steak tartar that they served my husband in France.
The cottage that we rent is big on location, being a few feet away from the Northumberland Strait, but small on technology. No phone lines, no Wi-Fi, no DVD players, no stereo. We do have cable, however, to get us through some rainy patches.
And so the focus falls squarely on conversation. Children have to resort to knocking on each others cottages to see if their friends can come out to play. Bonfires and hide and seek are the nightly entertainment. There is a project underway digging to China.
It is simple and lovely.
As much as I love blogging and social networking, there is a beauty to returning to the isolation of the present company.
My bars are disappearing and the ocean is calling, so farewell for the week, and hello to Nova Scotia.
I have a penchant for competition, but I would never dream of attempting to beat the French at their own game.
Their passion for eating, that is.
It would take a serious training regime of long lunches and longer dinners – over weeks, preferably months, perhaps years – before one could possibly achieve a similar metabolism, let alone the tolerance for wine that would render one a contender.
Food and drink are their game, and they play it extremely well.
Everywhere you look between the hours of 12 and 2, and then again from 7:30 – 10:30, people are enjoying sumptuous lunches and dinners, eyes closed and conversation hushed as they concentrate on the task at hand.
Rose is consumed like water. We stopped at a little cheese shop the other day and noticed the proprietor was also doing a booming business selling rose out of a vat, filling large glass jugs for his patrons for one and half euros per liter. (It was pretty good wine, I might add.) Bottled water costs more, so it is perfectly rational to drink wine instead.
So although I freely admit I will never beat the french at this game of eating, I would like to join them at playing their game, in my own miniscule way. And so to this end we ventured to Jardin d’Ivana the other night.
Jardin d’Ivana is exactly as it translates: Ivana’s garden, which also serves as a restaurant every night. Ivan is apparently the host, server, and busboy while his wife, Nadine, concocts miracles in her kitchen. It was a short walk down the hill from where we are staying, so we struck out on foot. We felt a little sheepish walking into our neighbor’s yard, but this is how it’s done here we reminded ourselves, and went in.
Ivan greeted us and ushered us in to our table. This night their tables were all set under their sheltered veranda – the mistral, high winds that blow down from Siberia, had arrived the day before, and were whipping up the tablecloths and making waves in their small swimming pool.
In the next fifteen minutes, twenty other people were ushered in to surrounding tables, reconciling our previous worries that this was, in fact, very normal here.
The feast began.
There of course were no menu’s, just Ivan telling us what the menu would be that evening. We didn’t understand all of what was to come, so it was a bit like getting a grab bag of of delicacies – each course a little present in its own right.
It was a slow but steady procession of dishes in various forms of pomp and circumstance. Slim aperatifs were served in tiny champagne flutes. Pureed carrots laced with parmesan and cardamon arrived in glass bowls. A long slice of eggplant spooned an equally long slice of zucchini on a salad plate. A pork stew with thick sauce came in round bowls. Slices of apricot sweetened with brown sugar and some other divine sauce were set down just as I started to see double. Wine glasses were replaced with tiny digestif glasses smaller than shot glasses. Espresso in tiny vessels with saucers.
As we rolled out of their garden, I humbly raised my white flag in defeat. I couldn’t eat like that every night, but it was fun trying.
And I hoped like hell that Ivana had an industrial sized dishwasher.
Grief is radically different when viewed from arms length. I read about it everyday in the news, it is almost as benign as the weather. I easily gloss over its bottomless depths when it applies to others.
Or I might begin to imagine what it could feel like, shudder, and then continue reading. Or perhaps skip to a different article altogether.
This one I can’t skip. Grief now covers my life in the same way as a heavy snowstorm can alter a landscape. Normalcy is buried far below the ground cover, and you don’t know where to begin to shovel.
The new normal is far less colorful, far less welcoming. Better to dwell in the subconscious of sleep.
The feverish hope we had been clinging to each day and night has been replaced, leaving in its place a cold grief. An unending sorrow.
Physically, this grief manifests as a faint feeling of nausea, 24-7, mixed with lethargy. You realize you need to eat, just to keep moving, but whatever you’re eating tastes like leather. It’s pure sustenance, nothing else.
Limbs that dove into exercise, previously, are hard to coax into action. The energy required to move them could be better put to use – just remembering. Remembering a recent past that was subtly different.
A time when someone was okay, that now is not.
Grief, I’m realizing, is really a mixture of sadness and anguish. Sadness because you miss this person, and would do anything to have them back, just for one more second, but preferably until you die first.
Anguish because we live in a world where extremely wonderful, physically superior, morally impeccable and outright supreme beings can be extinguished by disease, although they have lived their lives so carefully.
And yet so many others live on, careless to their humanity.
It seems so unfair. So unjust.
Rightly or wrongly I am furious at the medical community who didn’t know anything about his cancer, a sarcoma so out of the limelight that it receives no funding, no benefits of research.
Although he was accepting and gracious with the outcome, the one we feared most and could barely turn our minds to, I am not. I can’t stop thinking about the what if’s and the if only’s, desperate to piece together a different ending.
At this juncture, I remind myself that this has happened to countless others throughout existence, to mothers, fathers, lovers, friends, sons, daughters, friends, brothers, sisters.
Others, too, have been taken from this world far too soon.
But this, this is personal. This grief is a permafrost.
We can’t choose our family. But being his sister was fate’s greatest gift.
It wasn’t the best time to discover Google is shy on its travel time estimates. One would think such a great company would be bang on, in everything it does, estimates included.
Believing that was my first mistake.
A few months ago, I’d taken a cursory glance at a map of Europe. The distance between Tuscany and Provence did not look daunting. In fact, it was only a couple of inches.
Further scrutiny of possible routes looked even better. The roads that Google suggested hugged first the Italian coastline, and then the French. It held the promise of a beautiful, awe inspiring drive. I imagined us waving to the Europeans lounging on their yachts, bidding them either bon giorno or bonjour, whichever.
Google estimated it to be a six hour journey. A bit of a haul for the kids, but certainly doable, we would stop for a nice lunch en route, and would be eating foie gras and drinking a Luberon rose for dinner.
Emboldened by my research, we started off. We had water and bananas with us. The kids each had their iPods fully charged. We were ready.
The Italian countryside gave way to the Italian Alps, and the children started asking, how much longer it would be.
Not long now, only two hours to go, we replied.
We passed the Cinque Terra, and toyed with the idea of going for a hike. We’d hoped to have lunch in Portofino, so we pressed on.
The thing about driving on the auto route, we realized, was they never gave you distances. We finally started seeing signs for Genoa, and congratulated ourselves for being so speedy.
But the signs for Genoa continued for the next two hours.
It was around this time that the tunnels started.
Instead of gazing at the impossibly blue Mediterranean Sea, we looked into the mouths of one tunnel after another, many of which stretched for two kilometres at a time.
These tunnels were both a blessing and a curse. We couldn’t enjoy much of the landscape, but they kept our children busy for hours as they tried to hold their breath the entire length of the tunnel.
With iPod batteries long dead and no radio stations worth listening to, this was something.
How much longer, they asked. About two hours, we replied. You said that two hours ago, they pointed out.
The other thing we noticed was that Italy didn’t mention any other countries that you might be stumbling into momentarily. We saw no signs indicating France was imminent, until we were in France. We happened to glance a European Union blue sign saying France between tunnels. We had arrived.
Surely, we were really only two hours from here. It was dinnertime, and in lieu of our foie gras we had sandwiches au poulet at a reststop.
Monaco gave way to Nice, and then countless other french towns we hadn’t heard of. The sun was setting in front of us, glaring into our tired eyes. We made the turn up north towards Aix en Provence.
How much longer, the kids asked. Surely less than two hours, we replied.
If you happen to be making the journey anytime soon, the drive between Tuscany and Provence is actually eleven hours, not the six that Google promises. I say this with the utmost confidence, and a whole lot of exasperation.
There are, however, two bright sides to this tale.
The first is that our children, incredulously, saw the humor in this situation, and remained good-natured throughout this marathon car ride.
The second is that when we finally reached our destination, we opened the fridge to find one glorious item: a bottle of a Luberon rose.