Age and time are strange concepts. We all feel time passing us by quickly. As we age we have this sense that the speed of time is changing, that it is moving even faster. It is not. Time is time – the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, years. We all have the same time- but some of us have a shorter appointment with time. We die earlier. Some in infancy, in childhood, or simply what we would consider before our time.
When we are young, we are somewhat ignorant of the value of time. And this lack of full understanding of what is at stake may stay with us for awhile until something shakes us out of our oblivion. Then suddenly, we are fully aware and realize that time is running out.
When I was born, World War II had only ended twenty one years prior. My first awareness of war and of the places around the globe that were suffering from large losses of life at the hands of warfare due to disagreements between peoples, was the Vietnam War. I have vivid images in my memory bank of those magazine covers depicting the atrocities; the famous image of the little girl naked, her arms outstretched and running towards the camera naked – sheer terror displayed across her face and through her body. There are other children around her running in the same direction towards the camera, and soldiers following close behind. What strikes me is that at the time, I was about the same age as that little girl in the photo. Looking into it, I find I am actually about four years older than her. I broke then at her complete and utter vulnerability, fear, sorrow and pain; even at that young age, I can remember its affects on me.
During the last five years of the Vietnam War, we lived in Marly-le-Roi, a suburb of Paris. Dad had been transferred to an office there and Mom was grateful to be closer to her parents in Norway during these key years of raising her children. Dad was a sales man and on the road most of the time. Mom was often alone with us. We traveled to Oslo three times a year- every Christmas, Easter and Summer. Dad would usually join us for parts of those visits, then retreat back to Paris or another part of his territory for work. As Americans, my brother and I (as well as our little poodle Simone) endured some of the ugliness of a few of the children in our apartment building whose parents had obvious disdain for the U.S. involvement in the war; this came out in bullying tactics in the play yard- even throwing stones at Simone. Simone became a fragile terrified mess and the result was that my parents found her a home with a quiet pair of friends that lived in a lovely apartment in the city.
I looked up Marly on the internet the other day. I checked out a Google map of my old neighborhood. That was surreal. I found my school, the street that led to our supermarket, and there was Chateau de Monte-Cristo, one of the homes and gardens of Alexander Dumas (we were proud that our village was part of his past too). I was able to locate our actual apartment building on Chemin du Bas Des Ormes. My bedroom balcony used to look out over a farm that had a large orchard of pear trees. The tree branches would be stuck into these green bottles so that the tree looked like it had these arms with green glass hands sticking up into the air and waiving at me with the occasional breeze. The bottles were meant to capture the pear before it grew too big to be squeezed into the bottle, Dad explained. This was to be a pear liqueur… so delicious, he said. That farm is now much smaller than the original plot of land that I recall and it looks like my building has another building that has been built right beside it – taking up some of the original farm real estate. I can remember their cock crowing each morning- really loud. I remember the long walks to my school each morning: Ecole Blanche de Louvencourt- where I attended maternelle.
Most days, the market on the way to school was emptied of stalls and the hustle and bustle of commerce. But on Tuesdays, the place came alive with activity and the morning would offer locals all the necessary provisions of the week… or at least for several days. Freshly plucked fowl hung from their bound claws on one stall, skinned rabbits hung down from another. Fresh fish on full display, head and all- lay on ice. Mounds of cheeses called out with their pungent smells. A constant stream of water was doused onto the floor of the market to keep things clean. There were lots of voices; shouting requests and shouting orders. It was a cacophonic symphony of life in a small French village that retained its historic charm from centuries past. This little village was once the summer retreat for royalty; the buildings now in ruins – we residents enjoyed full access the grounds for our recreation on weekends. I fondly remember bike rides through town to the Parc de Marly, we would lay out our blanket on the lawn and enjoy a picnic followed by long hours of play; our adventures could include collecting fallen chestnuts, moving my hands through the gushing water that flowed from the various fountains, leisurely strolls down long tree covered boulevards or simply riding the many unpaved pathways that were accessible to bikes. It was an amazing experience to live in Marly as a child. Looking back, it feels a bit like a fairytale window of time in my life, a slightly unreal and perhaps vivid dream rather than actual reality.