A Romantic Beach Escape- Anyone?

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Perhaps the best place to start today is with the feeling I have as a single woman participating in a four day workshop in Jamaica at a couples only resort. As a travel consultant, my role is to be knowledgeable about every aspect of travel. I have specialized for quite awhile in travel arrangements to Scandinavia and Europe. Several years ago, I took a path away from mass market travel where I represented every corner of the globe and every possible travel product. During this hiatus, I enjoyed a time away from selling everything from Vegas to Timbuktu, and instead focused my energy primarily on soft adventure and cultural travel to places like the raw appeal of Iceland, the fjords and coast of Norway, the charm of countryside Sweden and Denmark and the cultural richness of Russia. While this still meant I was working in many cases with couples and families, the primary focus has not been on creating a romantic paradise for honeymooners, destination wedding couples and romance driven clients. This past year, I circled back and am once again digging into mainstream cruises, beach vacations to all corners of the earth and my boss has asked me to join the destination wedding team. I had specialized in weddings in the past and have a strong knowledge base and so I rekindle this area of my expertise. I am in Jamaica for a refresher course on a specific collection of properties that focus entirely on a couples vacation experience.

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Becoming a specialist in the “Travel for Romance” niche means delving into every aspect of making a couples trip highly memorable and enjoyable. My goal as a dedicated travel specialist has always been to create a vacation that will have clients thinking back fondly to their time together, away from the stress and daily grind. I can’t help think of my own life experiences having lacked any luster in this department. And the truth is I am sure that many couples heading for a romantic get-away likely encounter a reality less glimmering than the glossy brochure pages of an adult-only all inclusive in the Caribbean, with its perfectly bodied models lounging on beaches and taking in that couples massage in little huts with the white flowing sheets wafting in the breeze. The reality is likely a bit less gilded.
My last travel memory with my ex-husband included shouts at me across a crowded gate area in our connecting airport city. His rage at me was embroidered with explitives because I had dialed my cell phone to check on the house and dog sitter since she had not appeared at the house before we headed to the airport. I was nervous that she might have forgotten her arrangement with us for some reason, and we had not been able to reach her by phone prior to our departure. I was merely calling to make absolutely sure that the dogs had not been abandoned by us and that someone was with them by now, and if not I would call my plan B option. The problem was that I had not asked his permission. This phone call was going to cost money and he was trying to figure out a way to avoid the phone call in order to save money. The fact was that we only had so much time before the next flight, and the dogs were our babies… and we had to get down to business and make sure all was ok. Mama was checking on her brood, after all. The good news is we did reach her and all was fine. This miserly behavior on his part followed us throughout the trip. Since I had coffee with my breakfast in the morning, later in the day when I wanted a coffee- he refused me. This sounds minor, but it was this tension over every decision that made the trip dreadful for me. A heaviness hung around my shoulders which made my chest feel heavy, as if I was pressing against a hurricane force wind gust most of the time.  I couldn’t seem to get my footing. Everything about that trip was an effort, there were not any moments of tenderness. Our time in London, the Lakes District and Cornwall were fairly rigid and mechanical, moving from one place to the next to take that next thing in and mark it off our list. During this final trip that led to our last months together before I would finally leave him, I recall having this urge to flee, all the time. I wanted to get away from him and find a quiet spot, somewhere to sit down with a coffee, pull out a journal and write, or read a good book. I wanted privacy.
This longing for my own space where I could breathe and live more fully has been with me ever since I left him more than eleven years ago. I have remained single by choice because the idea of getting entangled in another lie, another hidden monster behind the initial facade of love and tenderness, frightens me. And it is that feeling of being caged by an impossible and ornery person that keeps me single. One day, perhaps, those love songs I hear streaming through the public areas of this couples only paradise might once again apply to me. Maybe I will get caught by the bug again and feel the surge of joy and awe at being part of a world built for two. Still, my memories feel fresh and I lived through two cautionary tales. With my second husband, I left him because he was mean more than he was nice. We tried counseling, which did not work well because he felt that the counselor was stupid. The minute we would leave the office, he would launch into a diatribe on all the reasons this was a complete waste of time. In hindsight, I agree with him on that point because there was no way that counseling was going to work since he did not feel we had an issue- or rather, that he had an issue. The issue was all me. My “love” partner was the kind of person that put a wet blanket on any kind of notion of lavishing the spouse with messages of affection. Mind you I am not high maintenance. I don’t require much. But a little indicator of having any kind of fondness for me would have gone a long way. There were never any efforts made for birthdays, nor for Christmas – not because he would forget, but because no one was going to tell him when to offer up gifts to someone else. No Valentines’ Day special expressions- and back then, I worked in a major department store (still as a travel agent) that would deck itself out each season- to the gills. For Valentines Day one would encounter dangling hearts and bursts of flowers on every floor – weeks before the romantic date, to entice consumers to buy that special treasure for their lover or spouse. Every department had their announcements that this was the place you could find that personal gift which would convey the deepest love and appreciation you carried for your beloved. In the end, with my spouse, the final expression I received on the final Valentine’s Day of our marriage was “Don’t Expect Anything!!! Because, if you expect something from me on this Hallmark driven day- you can expect to be disappointed”. There- in case I was not clear on his intentions. For New Year’s Eve that year, I reached out to a friend of his- asked him to call my husband to go out on the town… a sort of boys night out. My husband was more than delighted at the prospect of having some bar hopping fun with the boys. It did not occur to him that he should want to spend New Year’s with me. So off he went, and I packed my bag to head up to my parents for the night with sumptuous Lobster, Filet Mignon with Bernaise sauce and sautéed mushroom caps and, of course, some bubbly. I took one of our dogs with me, my Skye Terrier whom I had in my life long before the marriage. I wasn’t planning to actually leave him that night permanently, that was not my intention. But after the New Year celebrations and no phone calls from him to wish me well or find out how my evening went (I could have called him of course, but something in me prevented me from calling), I felt an exhaustion overcome me that blanketed me like one of those old dental visit X-Ray blankets they would lay across your chest to protect you. I just couldn’t go back to him. So, I looked at my parents over breakfast, and said: “I can’t go back”- simple. Dad immediately had my back: “Ok sweetheart, you got it”. They were so supportive because they had witnessed so many moments of my spouse’s narcissism over the years, his rudeness to them, his lack of care for me. Dad was only too willing to help make an exit from him a reality. They had been sitting in the wings for a couple of years just waiting for an indicator that I was finally ready.
Ah, so romance and the supportive role I play in making it happen for others? Well, I take the plunge and detach myself from my own reality and offer bursts of joy and excitement for the couple, after all- they are blessed and the fact that they are now taking their own dive into a partnership gives one hope that love can and does exist. So how about that Beachfront Walk-Out with private plunge pool only steps away from Azure Blue Caribbean Waters with a romantic beach dinner by candlelight to get things going? Tomorrow, shall we schedule your private couples massage combined with a soak in the tranquility tub with champagne service and chocolate covered strawberries? In a couple of days, we set you up with a private catamaran dive excursion with your own captain. Sound enticing? Let’s help you celebrate this once in a lifetime opportunity to kick off your lives together as a married couple. Salut!

Universal Love Dashed

Recently, Mom and I were talking about the past and about faithfulness to one’s spouse.

Mom has some family history with relatives that for her reinforced how sacred marriage is and that for her laid the foundation of how, as a young girl in the midst of these stories, she would promise to always be true to her spouse once she married. Mom told me about how sad she was about one of the stories..  This one relating to one of her many uncles and his wife in Norway. As a child, Mom had been deeply fond of her aunt. And it made her so sad to hear about what happened between her aunt and uncle. Up until that revelation, all she had thought about her aunt was how beautiful she was and what an amazing smile she had. She was always smiling.
Mom pulls out an old photo album that is filled with these tiny black and white photos mostly faded and some hard to make out. They are all tainted with the sepia tone of time passing, the glue from the pages no longer holds the images as they lie there somewhat scattered on the page under a flimsy cellophane sleeve. A turn of the page and holding the album at a slight angle brings some of them tumbling to the floor. “I have a couple of pictures of her in here somewhere, a nice large one of her” she says.   As she turns the pages slowly, pausing on each page to examine faces and ancient places of her childhood, she comments on various characters from her past. “Who’s that Mom?” I ask pointing at a picture that shows Mor Far facing another man, his arm is wrapped around this man’s shoulder and they are smiling at each other like a couple of brothers. “That’s my father and his best friend”. Strange, I think, that Mor Far (Mother’s Father), had a best friend other than the one I knew in later years- Erling. “He just passed away not too long ago”. I don’t ask why we never met this best friend… I just sit there silently watching her take in her past. “Here she is” she exclaims. The picture shows a girl with ivory skin and thick wavy shoulder length black hair, her chin and head are tilted just slightly giving a coquettish glance at the camera.    Mom repeats that she always loved her aunt’s smile.  This young woman has the tiniest shoulders,  her head of hair billowing above her emphasizes her petit frame.  One can make out that she is wearing a particularly dark lipstick, typical of the fifties.

Mom  moves on to other pictures “There, look- Røseim, we spent so much time up there” she is looking at a photo of the black timbered exterior of a mountain cabin with a porch occupied by several twenty something women and men, some with arms wrapped around each other, all beaming at the camera, marking a ski vacation spent with friends. “Wasn’t she beautiful?” she whispers as she lifts the cellophane cover to a different photo that she retrieves to get a closer look.  It is a picture of her mother standing in light culotte shorts with a white blouse while holding Mom’s hand.  Mom must be about four or five years old in this picture.   Mor Mor sure was a beauty, and so skinny back then. I don’t think I have ever seen a picture of her that slender; not that she was ever large.  But in my memory, she was soft to squeeze, not bony.  “I understand based on this picture, why you have said he didn’t want her to take you to church alone..  I can better understand his jealousy”.   Mom just nods, she is deep in thought as she gazes at the picture. “Yes, he was very jealous” she whispers. Mor Far had forbidden Mor Mor to take my mom to church.  He didn’t want anyone having access to Mor Mor without him being present, and he was unwilling to go to church himself. So, mom stopped going to church as a young girl.
Still, she had received enough of a dose and spiritual guidance by then to have fallen head over heels in love with Jesus.  She was hooked, and her love for God would never leave her.  And as a grandchild, I recall Mor Mor often in her own world in the kitchen, singing Norwegian hymns and love songs to Jesus while cooking or washing up.

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Fortunately many years later, almost a year into her overseas life in America, Mom would meet a man named Jack who had a dashing smile, the most kind eyes she had ever seen, and a love for Jesus. Jack did not wear his love or awe for God on his sleeve, he didn’t really speak of it.  His beliefs have always been close to his heart and in his view, not to be talked of, but rather to be lived out.   However, with Mom  he did share what his upbringing had been like.  And, Mom knew that Jack’s mother had been a dedicated woman for Christ, involved with many outreach organizations,  and that generosity of spirit had transferred to her son.
Jack was a genuinely kind and gentle man. And in short order Mom knew she could never leave him. Over fifty years later, she still talks about how she can’t believe she did it- she left her country for him. Her beautiful country. Back then she offers, she had no idea how incredibly beautiful Norway was until it was gone. At least, gone for her in terms of daily life- a future only of stolen moments – visits to relatives. And her parents over the years, especially Mor Mor – would say to her that she couldn’t believe her sweet Karin had left her for America. This would be a repeated conversation each time we visited them.

But back to her aunt. This aunt had tortured her husband with a torrid affair that had started when she went on a trip to Russia without him. She had met someone on that trip and on return to Norway, she had continued the romance and even got ready for dates with this lover in front of her husband. And mom shares how shocked she had been on learning of her aunts behavior, because she had really liked this aunt and loved her uncle and she couldn’t imagine what might have gone wrong to cause her to behave in such a way.

In my own life, I have endured pain through two broken marriages. I know what can go on behind closed doors that might cause a once passionate love flame to blow out. What others see from the outside is very rarely the truth of what is going on within the privacy of the home. I know how a fervor of not getting to the presence of your lover quickly enough can turn into wanting to be as far away from that same soul as possible. Often it has to do with expectations. Unreasonable and unfounded expectations. And, it can have a lot to do with blinders, like those worn by a horse. Thoses blinders force you to look straight ahead and prevents you from seeing distractions along the side that could take you off course. When one is in love, one welcomes the blinders because we want to believe in the romance and the fairytale. We want to be a part of the great symphony called love. We want our part of the miracle of connecting with another soul. And maybe we put on those so called “Rose Colored Glasses”. Those glasses exist and many a lover has put them on and kept them on right up through to the alter and the vows and perhaps even through to the first weeks and months- I daresay, even the first few years of a marriage. And, then the glasses come off. And somehow, life isn’t the romance ending within which we had imagined ourselves.
For my mother’s aunt, something along the way went wrong enough for her to consider the option of setting herself up with an affair. You see this is not an option for most people who are in love with their spouses. I do not believe that someone who loves, truly loves their spouse- can be unfaithful. Some might disagree with me but it is my view that the vast majority of people do honor the sacred vows of marriage until they have reached a tipping point. Something happens that breaks the soul a bit, creates a wound that needs a bandaid and perhaps some ointment. And then, that wound properly tended to needs time to heal. Most people don’t allow the healing part to take place after having been emotionally wounded by another person.
For me, my wound kept getting picked at so that a scab couldn’t even really form. Oh don’t worry, I never did have that affair. I never let it get that far because I planned my escape early on- at least that is the case with husband number one. I stayed faithful until I just couldn’t take it anymore and until I figured out how I would exit stage left. Then I acted on my plan and I left. In each case, not going back. My first marriage was fairly short lived. I was smart enough and had enough self preservation in me to know that the slowly escalating acts of violence would one day mean a very bad ending.

The control nature of my first husband with his reprimands for how I incorrectly transferred the eggs from carton to egg holder in the fridge door, and how I didn’t remove them from the fridge properly- from right to left – never randomly as I did… there was an order on how one was meant to take the eggs out of their holder. Or the way that my cans were not turned properly to show their labels from the cupboard. After my marriage was over, I recall being in shock watching that movie “Sleeping with the Enemy” with Julia Roberts- because some of the behaviors of her character’s husband mirrored my ex. Then, towards the end of the marriage, there was that time when his moodiness during a visit from his seven year old daughter on one of his every other parental rights weekends ended up with a hole in our kitchen wall because of his anger directed towards me. On that same weekend, I came home to find dozens of little pieces of telephone all over the dining room floor because I had excused myself to go for a drive to get away from the tension. I had asked his daughter for forgiveness as I gathered my purse to leave, I told her I had to go run some errands. I fled the apartment and went for a drive. I recall feeling directionless that day- I just drove randomly up this street, down another with tears streaminng down my cheeks and blurring vision, which made it necessary for me to finally pull over. There were no cell phones back then, so I found a pay phone and tried to call him. I wanted so desperately to try to connect with him on that level we use to have together. But I had no success. Instead, the phone just went dead in my hand. On my return to the apartment, I understood why the phone was dead. It was broken in pieces; weeks later I was still finding the odd opaque button with letter 4 or 7 along the baseboards in the dining room- buried in the plush carpet. All this anger in the presence of his daughter. His poor sweet daughter. And now over twenty years later, I wonder how their relationship is now? Do they even have one? And how is her ability to have healthy relationships with men? She might be married now. She might have kids of her own. I would never know the outcome because I escaped within six months of that episode and was divorced from him within that year. And, we did not keep in touch. It was one of those marriages that almost feels like it never really happened. Like it was one of those nightmares that I wake up from that feel so real and thankful that it was just a dream. Except that it was real. And it forms a layer in my psyche.
So I think about my Mom’s aunt and her uncle. What are their stories. Why did she go to Russia? Who was her lover? And her uncle, what of him? What are their back stories?  One thing I do know, theirs is a  universal story of disappointment, of lost love, of sadness and of shame.

Bonjour Mon Petit Chouchou!

She is lying in the gutter that forms between my foam pillows and the decorative pillows that I have pushed up again the headboard to give her more cushion. She found this sweet spot within about two months of her arrival. It took her at least a week or two to move from the very furthest corner of the bed, sitting up most of the night watching me, to the present completely relaxed pose she now occupies.


Prior to her journey north, Sofie’s Foster Mom shared with me that they had no concrete history. All she knew was that Sofie along with hundreds of others were regularly being rescued from puppy mills across the country and that her existence up until that point would likely have meant that she never came out of a cage. Her future would have been likely that of a mass breeding machine to fill the vast orders coming in from various pet shops. Those cute little adorable puppies in pet shops are for the most part originating in a puppy mill. Not all puppy mills might be as horrendous as the pictures I have in my imagination- most coming from images I have seen on the internet. But very many are that bad. I have heard that in some cases, they don’t even take the dogs out of the crates to wash them down with gushing water from a hose. There is likely pulling, grabbing, pushing and general harm coming at the hand of the owners of these mills, making the idea of the human hand conjure up all kinds of scary for these little dogs. If a female is not sent to the pet store for commerce, then likely she will live years of her life cramped into a crate – her only exit for breeding if necessary.

Sofie was seven months already when her puppy mill was shut down, so she was set-up for a life of breeding. Now, almost two years later, I bring my hand to her face slowly, she bats my fingers with her quarter sized little paw. Her mouth opens just slightly and so slowly- she wants to bring my finger to her mouth to gently gnaw on it. She has come such a long way. And still, when now lounging with me in the morning, any noise, any intrusion, anything unknown will send her back to her fear zone and generally she would run to her crate in our den to seek safety. Her crate in our home is small enough for her to sleep in but big enough for her to turn around, she has her toys in there, a small water bottle that one would imagine providing to a rabbit or a hamster– it was interesting to see that the bottle’s packaging when I bought it had a little picture of a papillon on the cardboard backing. Just like my Sofie. She loves sitting in her crate- we always have the door open, just in case she needs to rush to it during the day or if she simply wants to take her midday nap. We have also provided her with a soft bed that sits at the foot of my armchair in the den- I can dangle my hand down to her while I watch TV and stroke her soft coat, which she enjoys.
A colleague of mine is a Foster Mom for Rottweilers that are rescued from Puppy Mills. She just took another one in (her pack now counts 3). This new arrival of hers has legs that are premanently bent because her crate was way too small for her and she had been locked up in one for around 3-4 years. Pictures on my friends’ iPad show that Kona has one of the sweetest faces but there is concern over her health as she keeps losing weight and she is already so emaciated. I learned over he weekend that Kona had turned a corner and that things were looking good. What a blessing to have these Fosters that are willing to put everything they have into these souls.


I am learning so much from Sofie and so grateful to have the privilege of helping her become better, freer. I signed a contract two years ago that suggested that Sofie might never be a normal dog.. she might never play. She may never want to come when I call her, she might never want to really snuggle. Sofie suffers in my view from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder- every display of fear, her body tensing up, her flight responses to something as little as opening the kitchen cabinet and accidently letting it close just little too loud, filling a glass with icecubes from the refrigerator dispenser, having the TV on too loud- never mind the construction work on our road these past few weeks.  The other night, I attempted to take Sofie out for her walk but the neighbor and his daughter were throwing a Frisbee and laughing – having a great time. The Frisbee was often careening out of control- banging into the newly laid asphalt and the mailboxes. Sofie tensed up completely and would not walk down the driveway- too scared. I picked her up gently and walked her a block away to a safer space and let her down into the lush grass. She tentatively walks on the grass always looking back to the pair down the street at play- making sure they were still at that safer distance. When I walk her along the paths at the nearby lake, it is marvelous for her. There it is quiet, there are not that many people – it’s a pedestrian only zone, so no cars And here, she relaxes completely, sniffs grass and branches dangling down and walks normally with me. The only challenges she faces here is that she is just so darn adorable that any families with kids results in these squeels of joy as they come running towards us. “Can I pet your dog?” – at least they asked. Still, they have given themselves permission to quickly rush in close to examine her, and Sofie is backing up… backing up… looking at me.    Help.    I gently tell the children that my dog is very scared of people and I am so sorry …and I go to Sofie and pick her up. Depending on the children and the situation, I might engage a bit longer to help educate and give them an opportunity to learn and then I tell them the rules “always bring your hand to them first slowly from under – not top, do not hover over her head, it’s scary… yes, like that- let her smell you first.”

I am hopeful that over time, she will continue to heal. We already see progress almost every day. But then, there are set backs and we then work patiently with her at her pace- to come back forward towards being safe and healthy and loved.

American Church of Paris, Language and a Farmhouse in Barrington

Sundays in the early 1970s meant a routine that included services at the American Church of Paris followed by a potluck lunch in the upper room of the common area, then in the afternoon an exploratory journey of some kind that brought in leisure, culture and important family time.  Often, the day would include a visit to an art museum. I loved collecting postcards of my favorite art pieces that hung in museums… the end of any museum visit meant we would go to the gift shop so I could have one postcard to add to my growing collection.

 

There were afternoons walking amid the easels in Montmartre while Mom took in the various techniques and appreciated her fellowship with like minded people; these strolls often meant enjoying a crepe with Nutella which was a marvelous treat for us kids, or maybe there was an item my parents had in mind as we trolled through the various stalls at the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen.
The traditional atmosphere and setting of our church during those years was a comfort. The shiny heavy dark wood pews, the what seemed endless distance between my little spot on the bench and the vast ceiling above me. My brother and I would spend a good amount of time in the sanctuary with the adults before being dismissed to our Sunday School Class. There were snatches of time I grabbed getting lost in the dark library with its massive leather chairs. A fairly nice collection of books in English ended up being my way of learning to read the language. I recall feeling desperate in a way to learn my home country language.

 

At home, we spoke English because Dad never really got the hang of French. On my thrice yearly visits to Norway, spending a lot of time with cousins at play- I learned the Norwegian language fairly fluently, at least in a passing conversational way, using comic books to teach myself to read.  Since my schooling was in a French maternelle, I was not exposed to the written English language, so I would check out two to three books on a regular basis from the library, working my way through them on my own. I had no formal English language class until a few years later, just before our return transfer to the States.

 
My brother’s experience was much different from my own. When we arrived in France, he being a couple of years older than me meant that his introduction to school was quite a bit more stressful. The expectations that they had of him were very high, imagine- one poem a week that he had to come up with in French… and he didn’t even speak the language. This high failure set-up was devastating to his confidence and perhaps informed his abilities later on. My parents had been given advice from other ex-pats that the best and only way for full integration was to put their kids into a French school. In this way, the kids would adapt to life in France so much quicker.

 

 

I vividly recall the drop off at school those first few days. Mom backing up from me in the courtyard of the school. I am standing facing her in the doorway – a teacher or other adult person is holding onto my hand to keep me from going to her. And she has tears in her eyes and she is backing up across the courtyard- backing up towards the exit- waving tentatively, I can see she is conflicted. She felt she was doing the right thing. But this sunny child of hers that basically never cried or gave her any challenges was now screaming bloody murder at the top of her lungs: “Don’t leave me- please Mom ….. NOOOOOOOOooooo … hun hun hun hun” came the staggered breaths as I rebuilt the channel so I could belt out another wail. But she left. The adult motioned me to move indoors, taking my body in a different direction to seal the deal. And now, I am surrounded by blabbering sounds that make absolutely no sense. I don’t know how to say anything to these people. And I can’t recall that anyone said anything to me in English.

Somehow- time, yes that marvelous thing we call time, helped me manage.    There were many days that I would come home from school and Mom would find me sitting in the soft gold Queen Anne chair in the corner of our, playing with my doll and talking to her in a language of my own, that I was in the process of making up.  The words streamed together made no sense at all.   They were sounds I was forming and repeating from my memories earlier in the day- cobbled together into my own little necklace of language which then eventually morphed into actual French.

 

Within just a few months, I became the school’s go to gal for anything that involved anyting Anglo.   In a year or so- fellow playmates would tell me I was lying that I was an American.  I had to show them my Dad to prove I was an American.   At the age of about 4 or 5, the elastic in our brains allows us to collect languages and speak each of them well- like natives.  At least this was the case for me.    I learned fairly recently that Marly-le-Roi was actually a selected site for expats living and working for NATO.   It’s no wonder then that we had so many new arrivals at school from places around the globe- like South Africa, or Australia or Great Britain.  It became my role in fairly short order- to take these new students through the paces.   I would give them the tour and fill them in on general tips. Like for example, don’t put anything in your mouth that the other kids call “gum”. That’s an eraser. I actually ended up thriving in that school- loved it. My brother on the other hand had a disaster on his hands. He ended up tuning everything out. Mom would show up at times to check on us and she would look into the window of John’s class and see him in his chair with a matchbox car making imaginary journeys around the roads on his head and arms and on the desk. It seemed the teacher allowed this, likely giving up on how to make this work. John ended up being held back a year and was transferred to a British school where he made great friends and had the requisite French class too. Adjustments are made.

 

 

Our routines were so different from that point on and since we were no longer with one another — or anyhow connecting to one another at school, I think back and realize that there was a bit of a chasm building between us even back then.  As an adult now, I wonder if his resentment of me didn’t start that first year in France.   In fact, I know that it must have.   I became that child that amplified what he couldn’t do.  I must have been exhausting for him to have as a sister.

 

 
I remember the day we got the call from Dad.   He was traveling back in the States and had called Mom to inform her that we were moving back to the US. She was standing in what we called our “Entrée” which was the entryway to our apartment where we had this lovely chandelier, a tiny Louix IV style telephone table and doors leading on one side to the kitchen, another to the living area (living room, dining room and den) and then off  to the right – the hallway that led to our bedrooms, bathrooms and water closet.   It was early evening, and the phone hand rung in the middle of her preparations to cook us dinner, and she had been holding an egg in her hand. She didn’t put the egg down but rather dashed straight for the phone, knowing it would likely be Dad. We kids too- ran towards the phone to overhear their conversation. I sat myself down on the oriental rug and was looking down at the gold tendrils of illustrations, tracing one of the swirls with my finger, when I heard her take a breath in and then crash. The egg fell to the hardwood floor just beyond the rug where I had taken up residence, and the gooey white began to ooze. She didn’t rush to it, she just stood there looking at it and I could hear her say: “Ok Jack- you know best”. Her voice sounded a bit whispy and hard to hear. I sensed this was not a joyous occasion for her but understood that she would follow him wherever he would lead her.

 

 
We would be moved into a farmhouse in the middle of a vast empty landscape in South Barrington IL by middle February 1976.  This would be our temporary logding until my parents found something more permanent for us.

Marly-Le-Roi /  Dichotomy of Memory.

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.

A Random Dream, Cyber World .. An Old Fashioned Letter.

I had some vivid dreams last night. I often have vivid dreams. One in particular stands out as a bit weird. I was being hosted by a department store to try out their various departments. I was being shown by one of the hosts to an area where I would be sleeping the night… and I was with another woman. The host turned a corner between rugs and art, and she brought us into this area where there were two beds made up in the style of what I might imagine finding in one of the most opulent homes in Texas; this one with dramatic leather cowhide stretched headboards for each of the queen sized beds, the coverlets were somewhat plain- dark steel colored sheets that looked like they were made of a thicker silk, a wagon wheel turned into a massive overhead chandelier, the floor was slate with a rather large cream and vanilla toned long haired and wavy sheep skin throw, the hair curly like that of an Icelandic Sheep.  Our host retreats and lets us have time to settle in and I declare to my companion: “Well, looks like this is us”.  “Here?  We are sleeping here tonight?” she responds. “Yes, isn’t it great! Dinner- I believe will be served just over there”.   I point to a remote area beyond shiny counters whose contents are hard to make out… it is hard to see.   I notice that there are customers still in the store and this image fades and I wake up.    It’s 1:25am.

Very strange. What in the world?  I focus my mind on the dream because usually these images evaporate fast and I want to remember the details this time.   And I recognize the woman in my dream.  Funny how I got connected up in this strange mini-film to an old colleague whose face only recently appeared in my world because of a recent encounter I had with her picture on the friends list of a mutual Facebook Friend? I have not worked with nor seen her in over 23 years. There she was with her handsome ethnic husband and two adorable boys. In the picture they look to be about 6 and 8 respectively. All of them beaming at the camera- so full of joy. She looks as beautiful as ever with her raven black wavy hair and that ear to ear smile. Her skin so perfect, those expressive eyes.  She had one of those spirits that just filled the room; she was fairly tall, very lean, elegant in her adornments. Classy and never over done. And smart- very smart. Quick witted. Someone would say something funny and her head would whip back with this brilliant fluid laugh swirled around us and then quickly tuck her head in embarrassment at her excitement, a self conscious hand covering her mouth.. but her shoulders would still shake out her merriment. I was never good friends with her, she was just one of those co-workers that you enjoyed working alongside. I recall as I looked at her picture thinking- they probably had one of those amazing traditional Indian weddings – full of glitter and spectacle. I could picture her in some kind of opulent setting with tents and flowing silk gowns – waving fabrics in the wind. And she, lost in the moment with her beloved – smiling at him in full force.
I remember that I hesitated to ‘friend her’, it’s been over twenty years after all and we barely knew each other. It would be weird. It’s not that I don’t have a large list of friends that are barely acquaintances- in the beginning with Facebook, I was very liberal with my friend requests and acceptances both. There are quite a few casual friends on Facebook that I really enjoy- their posts are fun or profound or just human and good. I have connections around the globe with suppliers and other work connections over the years that are really great. I enjoy seeing one person posting his fishing outing in the Netherlands with commentary in Dutch or another sharing a wedding picture from over thirty years ago that took place in Finland- even though I only met her once over a Musk Ox dinner in Greenland. A poem or song shared by the niece of an aunt whom I have only met once in person – when we were both little girls – I was about seven years old and a flower girl and while I am sure she was at that wedding in Oslo, Norway- there were so many people at that wedding that I don’t actually remember her physically. But now, I connect with her on Facebook and perhaps one day we will have a cup of coffee together in Norway- on one of my future visits. We share a common bond with our spiritual beliefs, so it is nice occasionally to see her expressions and moments on the net.

We are all fundamentally the same.  We seek connection with each other.  And even though connections these days may seem impersonal – far away from one another physically, in this place we call cyber space- that maybe that is OK.   People complain that the internet has turned us into people that don’t know how to interact with each other in the real world.    There is some truth in that.  Maybe we are more connected now than we have been in the past, when we lived in isolation from one another. Perhaps it’s a matter of balancing out the cyber from the real.

What would it be like to write an ordinary hand written letter.. it’s been over 20 years I am sure since I have written one of those. In my youth, I loved writing letters and sending them off, and waiting for a response.  Today, that seems so old fashioned and it does not even occur to us to consider it.  I wonder if I did write one of those letters, would anyone answer it? Life is so busy for most of us, it might end up on one of those to do lists that never gets done.  Or, maybe they would text me back.    This could be an interesting experiment. I am putting it on my list. I am going to write an ordinary letter in the next week or so, and I will send it to someone in my past… or maybe, to someone with whom I have a more shallow connection on Facebook. Someone I would love to rekindle friendship with in a more meaningful way or someone I just want to get to know better. Create a future that carries a deeper community of friendships.