We recently spent three days in New Orleans–a first visit to the city for both of us–and that lucky thing happened where a weekend can feel like a proper escape, like a proper break. We walked across great swaths of the city, and in between we ate and drank like princes. The Frenchman exhausted his business-accrued hotel points and rented us a room bigger than our Brooklyn apartment; we basked like lizards. One muggy afternoon we traded site-seeing for the hotel pool, and I fulfilled a childhood dream and ordered a strawberry daiquiri from one of the passing waiters. (The daiquiri tasted more like red-flavored corn syrup than actual strawberries, but never mind. Isn’t it glorious to be an adult sometimes?)
I was told, and it’s true: New Orleans is a bit magic. It’s not a tidy city, actually it’s a bit disheveled in places, but then–those massive tufty trees, like something out of a fairy tale, looming and mossy and colorful bead-dappled. And the sound of brass instruments ringing from the insides of one dark bar or another. The intricate, woven iron balconies, festooned with bright and hanging flowers; the promise of so many ghosts. An oppressive heat informs a checkered past–a history that takes in origin, culture, and religion–and gives New Orleans a character all its own. I have never seen a place to match it.
During our sojourn, we saw as much as two people can manage in three days, but I know we left stones unturned. Next time, I’d like to return in the company of friends who know the city well; I have a feeling there are experiences waiting below the tourist surface. New Orleans seems to me a lady with many faces.
Did you see it, drifting, all night on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air,
an armful of white blossoms,
a perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings: a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
a shrill dark music, like the rain pelting trees,
like a waterfall
knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds–
a white cross streaming across the sky, its feet
like black leaves, its wings like the stretching light
of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
Summer arrived in New York last weekend, suddenly and unexpectedly, like an uninvited guest. As I biked around our neighborhood, collecting ingredients for a Mother’s Day meal from more retailers than most would deem reasonable, I was struck by the outrageous greenery I think must have sprung up overnight, while we were all asleep. Asparagus just arrived at the market and I have not seen a single sugar pea, but still, all evidence suggests summer. Honestly, I feel a little gypped. I love spring, and there is a snap pea salad recipe I’ve been waiting to work out.
I have a friend who is happy. There is no other way to describe it–she is generally, genuinely, effervescently happy. Of course she is not without her troubles or hardships; when she is sad, she fully embraces sadness, a two handed hand shake. But she does not dwell in sadness or self doubt. She has a natural, easy ability to see the best in people. She is a loving friend. I often wonder–are some people born preternaturally happier than others? Or is happiness instead a conscious choice, or maybe a series of micro choices? Does it care where you’ve come from, or more about where you are going?
Part of the Frenchman’s job involves visiting clients on site. He might be home for few months, and then sporadically gone for the next handful. There is often little notice–“I have to go to x-far flung city in a couple of days.” I hate this aspect of his job. I hate when he goes away.
If it’s possible, he will catch an early morning Monday flight, so that we can spend a full weekend together. This isn’t always convenient, but he does it anyway. He gets up at the edge of dawn and creeps out of bed. I am one quarter awake: I hear the soft wash of the shower; later, the scrape of a suitcase zipper. The bar of light pressing from the living room through to our bedroom lets me know he is still here.
When he leaves, he kisses me good morning, goodbye. Maybe it is 5:30am. The front door clacks behind him and I snap awake. I usually can’t fall back asleep after that.
The day will go by as usual. Often, he has landed, or almost, by the time I get to work. We talk on various mobile devices throughout the day. It’s only at night that I really register his absence. Our apartment feels somehow smaller without him there. I cannot be bothered to cook something complicated for just myself, and I am reminded of what a social experience food is, how quietly significant it is to share dinner and conversation with this person I love on a regular basis. Dinners together are an investment–in us, for our future, toward a balanced life.
Of course, these business trips are probably healthy for us in the long run. They make me conscious of what we have. After five plus years together, the reality of love is not often butterflies. How reassuring then, to really miss someone when they are gone. In the gloom of the thick of it, I think about homecoming, about dinner. I think about dashing on some red lipstick to meet him at the airport, stomach full of butterflies.
A couple weeks ago, the Frenchman and I flew to Los Angeles for a quick long weekend. It was my first visit, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was desperate for a little sunshine, though, and really looking forward to seeing old friends. True to fashion, I also compiled a laundry list of restaurants I wanted to try.
We managed to pack quite a few activities into a short span of time; nonetheless, the trip was brief, and I feel like we only scratched the surface. I am still unpacking my thoughts about LA, but I wanted to share my impressions, experiences, and favorite places to eat, in the hope that this information will prove useful to future visitors. (Also, these travel records are useful for myself—-I have the memory of a guppy, and I don’t want to forget!)
Thank you to the people who made such great recommendations: Antonio, Stef, Crissy & Ryan, Julia, and Amanda. Read more
On Sunday, the Frenchman and I organized a picnic and barbecue in Brooklyn Bridge Park. We met friends, and friends of friends, on a grassy knoll tipping toward the water, an open view of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty off to the left. We sat together on a massive tapestry, played cards, and drank gin, basil, and grapefruit punch.
That afternoon, the first warm one in eons, reminded me of many picnics past, first in El Retiro in Madrid, where we ate potato chips cooked in olive oil and sipped cheap Spanish beer, watching the rowboats pass across the pond, and then later in Paris, on the Pont des Arts or in Parc Monceau, with a bottle of rosé and a game of tarot to celebrate early summer.
The spring night is bitterly cold, but still I insist we bike across three neighborhoods, to that new restaurant I want to try, because it is fortifying to leave the house at least once on a Sunday. I have spent all day barefoot and messy in the kitchen, laboring over new recipes, and it feels wonderful to put the responsibility of dinner in someone else’s capable hands.
In the dining room, the wavering light of tiny votives ghost the brick walls and spare wooden tables. We order drinks and sip them and watch the cooks as they pass in front of the wood burning fire, slinging tarte flambée across the hot oven floor, pulling casseroles piled high with gruyere and raclette-laced potato purée.
Across the table, we hold hands and bicker, bicker and then hold hands. We are half joking tonight, half pushing, to find the edges of what is possible to say. We share a whole roast chicken, its heat wilting a nest of watercress and fennel, and a pot of creamy white beans rich with duck confit. We talk about the wedding, and about the week ahead.
At home, we take turns brushing our teeth and filling water glasses. Our evening has been both supremely ordinary and tinged with newness–the promise of a fresh season, the hatching of future plans. I rest my head against the Frenchman’s chest, on the spot where I have rested my head uncountable times before, and tuck my icy feet between his warm ones. I am asleep before he switches off the light.
“You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.
So I suppose the best piece of advice I could give anyone is pretty simple: get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you’d care so very much about those things if you developed an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast while in the shower?
Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over the dunes, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over a pond and a stand of pines. Get a life in which you pay attention to the baby as she scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger.
Turn off your cell phone. Turn off your regular phone, for that matter. Keep still. Be present.
Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work.
Get a life in which you are generous. Look around at the azaleas making fuchsia star bursts in spring; look at a full moon hanging silver in a black sky on a cold night. And realize that life is glorious, and that you have no business taking it for granted.
It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the pale new growth on an evergreen, the sheen of the limestone on Fifth Avenue, the color of our kids’ eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of live. Unless you know there is a clock ticking.