Books, culture, fishing, and other games

August 18, 2003

Rx for Jet Lag

This may be the perfect cure for trans-Atlantic jet lag: I arrive after a sleepless flight, miss connections with Sarah at Orly due to combined schedule slippages and poor planning, explore the nuances of France Telecom, decipher Air France bus schedules to Invalides terminal (aptly named to my mental state), and feel as one more of Ezra's petals to bow before le Metro, before finally arriving at Porte Maillot (not "Torte Maillot," as echoic connections would have it) and achieving conversation with something other than an answering machine at Alain and Sarah's apartment.

Sarah finds me unbeaten, though bowed, outside a mall boutique. I am the image, though not the essence, of nonchalance. From there we walk the several blocks to their apartment. I am developing a blister.

Paris has trees. Long rows of them overlap along the avenues, embracing. There are birds, too, in these trees, and they sing. "Welcome to Paris," Sarah says. We sit beneath a fine old oak in the small courtyard behind the apartment. I drink glass after glass of water. After a while it rains and we move inside to the high-ceilinged living room and continue our talk.

Sarah has returned to school: the Sorbonne. She's taking law. I share my dream to finally go back and finish my degree and then go on to post-grad, wishing I could skip some steps.

The hours flee.

I met Alain and Sarah years ago. He buttonholed me in my company's booth at a trade show in Dallas, pounded me with detailed technical questions for an hour, all while Sarah looked on with eyes that glowed and seemed to pierce beyond my answers. At the time I had no idea they were together. I had to fight to keep focused on answering Alain's questions. At dinner the next night, we all laughed when I admitted my struggle.

It became an annual event. Alain and I spoke on the phone occasionally, but mainly we saw each other at trade shows in the States once or twice a year, had dinner, commiserated over product bugs and customer support inadequacies. Then we got down to serious conversation.

Alain's passion is film; mine is writing. But he writes too, and I like film. And there's always politics, religion, history, music, food, and anything else that occurs to us. We formed our own little Arguers Anonymous on my first visit to France.

Alain arrives. Work and traffic had kept him late. Sarah and I hadn't noticed.

We pack the car and head Northwest, stopping for romaine, veau and porc, and then on along the crest of ridges on which tiny towns lie in the afternoon sun. The overcast has broken. Clouds skid across a deep blue. I gaze out across fields of sun-dappled wheat stubble, plains of bowing sunflowers, and hedgerows of black-green hardwoods.

I gain sudden insights into impressionism. There is a depth to the view and a brightness to the air in the countryside here that I have seen nowhere else. The foggy mornings somehow enhance this impression. I've been struggling to understand the phenomenon since we left the city. While there is the impression of seeing great distances, I see much farther in the grasslands of the great plains. The rolling hills play a part. Perhaps it's the constraints the copses and hedgerows provide to the view, far enough off to give space, but there to provide a measure of distance, after the long, open breadth of the fields.

The villages stand on the hilltops as if they have lost a battle against the fields and woods that crowd their edges and have fled to the high ground for a desperate last stand. Built of stone, steep-roofed with brick tiles, their small wood-framed windows squint down at the valleys and scan the skies. The walls alongside the road show their ages: some are pockmarked from a world war in adolescence; some cringe shyly, pale in the sun of their infancy; others, craggy with their dignity, still heave their bouldered shoulders up despite their sunken chests and withered gates. Character permeates.

We pause at the town boulangerie for fresh croissants for the morning. The baker, or her daughter, a dough-plump lady, flirts with local boys in the lane beside the shop. One waves and tosses us a dark-eyed smile as we drive away.

A bit farther on we see an ancient stone church set against a hill far off beyond a harvested field. "This is Cresnes," Alain explains, "Our town." To the right of the church an old farmhouse, complete with stone-wall-enclosed yard, sits contemplating the afternoon. Just over the hill, among a tight cluster of houses and walls, we pause, Sarah hops out to open the gate. The long driveway skirts the hedge, slipping beside the house through to a spray of gravel. The engine ticks, cooling, as I step out, and stop. Two lush, dark hazelnut trees, set wide apart, bow their heads together, whispering shyly in this stranger's presence. Between them I see a rough sketch of meadow extending out to a fence, and beyond, the gold of wheat stubble slashed diagonally down the hill to a shadowed grove. At the fence two holly bushes give the view depth. The horizon is a quiltwork of light fields and dark trees, a more ordered reflection of the cloud-studded sky. Finally they entice me away from the view. We go in.

The talk extends and intensifies through the dinner of salad with duck gizzards, and later, fried pork loin. The cider's two percent cannot be blamed for the odd euphoria I feel, though I do wonder about the bubbles. I'm in a haze, a comfortable one; there is a tautness at my temples, an almost pleasant prickling. My eyes burn from the accumulated strain, but my mind will not admit to exhaustion. We resort to eau-de-vie to seduce it, but only succeed in fueling more wide-ranging talk. It's midnight before I know I can sleep.

This morning I am well-rested and hungry on schedule. Alain and Sarah have driven to de Gaulle to fetch her father and stepmother and I have for companions the ticking of a clock, the faint sounds of crowing roosters, and dog barks drifting to me on a cool morning breeze. Occasionally a car races past on the narrow lane before the house.

Despite the blister on my right heel, I explore the long yard, discovering an old apple tree, a spray of grapevines above the front door, tart blackberries in the hedge, and everywhere the scent of flowers. The view is best from this chair looking out the back windows, and here I sit. Far out, beyond the trees at the fence, swallows quarter the sky. One white cabbage butterfly is dancing a tarantella in the grass.

Posted by dan at August 18, 2003 02:05 AM
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