Read On A Gorgeous 5th Saturday In May

From Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water:

Hannah was one of those lesbians who looks like a beautiful boy—hazel eyes, that cool short curtain of hair hanging over one eye, broad shoulders, little hips, barely there titties. More like m & m’s. Hannah played basketball and softball and soccer when she wasn’t being a Eugene lesbo and English grad student. She used to wait for me by my blue Toyota pick up truck between classes and hijack me and drive me to the coast, where we’d stay up all night getting it on in the back of my truck, drinking Heinekins and waiting for the sun to come up. Then we’d drive back and go to class. Or I would. Hannah thought grad school was kind of lame. She much preferred sex and club dancing.

From Henry Adams’ The Education Of Henry Adams:

Winter and summer, then, were two hostile lives, and bred two separate natures. Winter was always the effort to live; summer was tropical license…

…he felt his nature crudely, as it was meant. To the boy Henry Adams, summer was drunken. Among senses, smell was the strongest — smell of hot pine-woods and sweet-fern in the scorching summer noon; of new-mown hay; of ploughed earth; of box hedges; of peaches, lilacs, syringas; of stables, barns, cow-yards; of salt water and low tide on the marshes; nothing came amiss. Next to smell came taste, and the children knew the taste of everything they saw or touched, from pennyroyal and flagroot to the shell of a pignut and the letters of a spelling-book — the taste of A-B, AB, suddenly revived on the boy’s tongue sixty years afterwards.

From Gary Snyder’s poem Burning Island:

O Wave God who broke through me today
Sea Bream
massive pink and silver
cool swimming down with me watching
staying away from the spear

Home From France

Back in Portland this morning. Memorial Day week, my favorite time in the Northwest. Winter is done, Spring is wrapping up. It starts getting light around 5AM and I’m up not long after. Barefoot on the deck, watering the arugula, watering the strawberries. Early summer: Everything is green, everything is bright, but there’s still the annual west coast June gloom to get through before the majesty of mid-Summer takes over.

Last night we had a big meal. Salmon and asparagus and mushrooms, Oregon Pinot alongside. Cheese course. Digestifs. When we went to bed at eight, the sun was still on the neighbor’s gum tree.

Travel is amazing. Not least of which because you get to be Travel You. World Stomper. An undauntable you, able to cobble together a full day’s itinerary after five minutes reconnoiter of a city. Able to walk up to anyone with a smile and few words of their language and ask for what you need. And usually get it.

Coming home from travel is hard. You’ve been planning the adventure for weeks, months. It’s over. You’re back home. Back into the you who is the you fifty weeks out of the year. It’s hard not to feel like someone isn’t there. Like in The Sun Also Rises when Brett leaves with the bullfighter, and Jake is left to mull over how “The three of us sat at the table, and it seemed as though about six people were missing.”

Hemingway nailed it too about Paris, when he wrote “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

That’s how I feel about spending time in Paris. It’s an investment. More than anywhere else I’ve been, time spent in Paris becomes something you bring home and you incorporate into your life.

Home now in the Northwest. Back to work, back to exercise, back to not gorging ourselves on pastries as a daily avocation. Back to life. But with a little bit of Paris mixed in.

Lost Vintage

A winemaker in Cornas tells us about bad years: “They are good for the vines. A year to rest.”

In Burgundy they talk about cool years and warm years. Cool years are good for the Chardonnay, producing high acidity for the wines to age on. Warm years tend to be better for the Pinot.

Every once in a while there is a lost year in Burgundy. Neither the reds nor the whites thrive. 1998 was the last one. Every twenty years. A lost vintage.

Maybe an occasional lost vintage is a good thing. Maybe that’s when the vines rest from the stress of producing some of the best wine grapes in the world. Maybe a year off makes the next twenty years worth of wines that much better.

Meursault

Looking back on the last five years of my life. A natural sentiment, laying here in the same bed in the same Bresse country B&B I laid in five years ago.

There are no regrets, but if I could change anything, I would have taken a full year off.

The reality is that I essentially started a business immediately after leaving. The day I arrived in Paris, I was already working. Hammering away at something new. Stressing my body and mind.

What I would have done, what I will do next time, is take a year and call it a lost vintage. A year to putter, to sketch, to play with art forms I’m no good at, to wander, to dream. To rest.

Lyon

Gare de Lyon. Champagne on the train. Beauty and joy and the French countryside rolling by at a 180 MPH.

City of Lyon. Usual arrival confusion, first time in a city. In a traveller mood, we charge into the Metro. Pungency of smell (brakes and industrial lubricants), rush of charging commuters, someone’s playing Pata Pata and I’m in the 4th grade again. On the train this dude either propositions me or is just asking the time, I don’t have sufficient command of the idiom to tell.

We surface at the Place Bellecouer. A plaza, a large plaza, a governmental plaza, red sand and statuary. Something you’d see in Italy, Spain, or Mexico. This is the Presqu’île, the peninsula, the spit of land between the Rhone in the east and the Saone in the west.

It is the confluence of these two rivers which is why Lyon was settled. “Think of rivers as freeways,” and this makes sense to me. The rivers are the freeways and the only rule is that you can’t choose where they go or build any more. You have to play them as they lie. This setup is how you got from Med to North Sea: Rhone to Saone to Seine. Or Rhone to Saone to Loire to Atlantic.

Lugdunum then. What the Romans called this town. Lyon today. We walk from the Place Bellecouer over the Saone to the old city. There are squares and people idling and a breeze blowing warm wind. “Hey, it’s our first mediterranean breeze!”

“See that church on that hill? Wasn’t fifteen years ago when I was in Europe, if I saw something like that, I was charging up it. Now? I see that and think Where’s the lift?”

It’s not true though. We gut up and climb it. A wonderful staircase leading to a nice switchback. Not hard at all, really. And then the view from the top, those red roofs and street patterns of old Lyon.

And because it’s Sunday? No bouchon.

The next morning, a breeze from heaven. Clean clear air, as if we’re in the mountains. A paradise? Will have to come back, to see.

A Bouchon Deferred

A bouchon was the idea. Henry Miller, in Tropic of Cancer: “Life,” said Emerson, “consists in what a man is thinking all day.” If that be so, then my life is nothing but a big intestine. I not only think about food all day, but I dream about it at night.”

This is me, too. It’s not that I’m a glutton or anything. I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to food. It’s more of a love affair. I like to think it’s a healthy relationship. The Anton Ego character in the movie Ratatouille sums it up wonderfully, responding to the question of how he can be so thin: “I don’t *like* food; I LOVE it. If I don’t love it, I don’t *swallow*.”

So I come to Lyon for the first time, and the main thing I’m thinking, besides seeing the city and getting to know the history and all that, is eating some of that famous Lyonaise bouchon food.

I’m a sucker for the old stuff. I think that’s really what I liked so much about No Reservations. Bourdain is a kindred spirit, in that while he appreciates the nouveau, what really turns him on is the old classics. If you watch the episodes when he’s in France, you’ll see his most satisfied looks when he’s in front of a blanquette de veau or an homard amoricain or an iles flottantes.

For me, I want three things from Lyon:

  • Boudin noir, the sausages with blood and rice that are served with mashed potatoes and sautéed apples
  • Andouilette, tripe sausages
  • Quenelles, a fish dumpling served in a rich sauce

Here’s the problem then: We had one night in Lyon, and that night was a Sunday. Sundays are strange in Europe. For an ostensibly secular continent, there’s not a lot open on Sunday anywhere in the EU. Including restaurants.

Which means the quest for a true Lyon bouchon experience goes on…

In the car today. Cornas, another life long quest, this one about wine. Orange, to check out the amphitheater. And Aix, for dinner.

The French Are Rude Bastards

We talked the next morning too, the night clerk and I. About how European guests will let him know what time they’ll be back to the hotel, as a courtesy, so he can know what time people are coming in and whether he can sleep. Whereas people from the English-speaking cultures, Americans or British or Australians, they don’t let him know, because it’s not in our culture. And he has to stay up all night waiting for them, and can’t even go to the bathroom.

We don’t even consider the hotel man or letting him know our plans – in fact, we think of it as a burden… what business is it of some hotel clerk what I’m doing tonight or when I’ll be home? It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a different attitude, and in my experience living and traveling in France, it’s the lack of awareness of those different attitudes where ideas like “The French are rude” are borne from.

Jet Lag

5AM. Can’t sleep. Jet lag. Jonny In Europe, the usual plan.

So I head downstairs to the lobby to tap-tap a few words on the laptop.

And scare the shit out of the night desk clerk. “MY GOD! A ghost, with the light from your computer… J’ai pensé que vous étiez un fantôme!”

Then he made me a cup of coffee. “You have to start your day with a good cup of coffee, it’s important.”

This poor man has been up all night working. “A headache, do you have any ibuprofen?”

Of course I do. Come back downstairs with the pills. We talk. His family is from Morocco. He grew up here. Love it here. Loves it in Lyon as well. Gave me the name of a bouchon. He asks me about California. We both love where we came from and we both love Paris more.

This is why I come here. Not for the Eiffel Tower. For the moments. For conviviality. For narrow streets. To think, to feel, and to find me.

“A journey is an adventure. Henry Miller said that it is far more important to discover a church no one has heard of, than go to Rome and feel obliged to visit the Sistine Chapel, with two hundred thousand tourists shouting all around you. Go to the Sistine Chapel, but also get lost in the streets, wander down alleyways, feel free to look for something, without knowing what it is. I swear you will find it and that it will change your life.”

Paulo Coelho, Warrior of the Light

Next: Dawn patrol walk to the river to watch the sun come up from the Ile St. Louis. Jonny in Paris, the usual plan.