Thursday, November 26, 2009

Novembre est sombre

This image is like a dream I had. I dreamed I was all alone, I repeat, ALL ALONE, at sunrise in a beautiful European city, just wandering in whichever direction I was pulled, rive droit, rive gauche, rive droit, rive gauche. I've had harder, much less pleasant, decisions to make.

That river and that city are feeling very far away at the moment. I'm back in my quiet, creepily so, little village where the shutters close at dusk, shutting out any trace of warm light within.

This is the hardest thing for me.

One of the things I love about New England in the winter, one of the few comforts I have, other than a blanket of fresh snow, is driving or walking past houses and looking through their windows into warmly-lit living rooms. Seeing someone reading in their favorite chair, watching TV, families moving about, eating dinner, bringing glasses to their lips, laughing, kids doing homework, someone at their computer even.

It is encouraging to see and know, even if you are going back to your own dark house, that you are not alone in this dark world.

But here in France, in this labrynth of a stone village, the houses are like fortresses. Once the people go inside, you don’t see, hear or feel any sign of their presence. They disappear into the depths of their caves and don’t emerge again until their stomachs urge them back to the baker for more bread in the morning.

Occasionally, in summer months, you see someone standing in their open kitchen door, or upstairs window, talking to a friend on the street, taking time to chat and visit, but not in winter. It’s hibernation time.

I’m still trying to figure out how a person can go from completely giddy, neck-deep in puppy- love pond, beer-goggle-wearing worshipper of her surroundings, smelly cheese and all, to whining, complaining, muttering under her breath about everything from having to park the bloody car against people’s kitchen windows to having to pick up my kid at noon for lunch everyday, curser of her surroundings. Pas bon.

Whatever the opposite of beer goggles is, I'm wearing them. And I can't figure out how to get them off.

It goes beyond the simple fact that France has been stripped, by a persistent cold breeze and just a few driving rains, of her fancy, gauzy, fragrant, billowy gown and the anorexic boniness of her figure has been fully exposed.

To be more specific, it’s not France, it’s rural, small- town Burgundy-- the tiny, forgotten village, with its boarded up shops and hotels, which even at the height of summer has never seen a sidewalk buzz-- that has been robbed of the only thing that kept me feeling hopeful about it: physical beauty. (The irony is, this is exactly how so many people, not passionate about snow, not rooted by seven generations of Vermonters before them, feel about winters in Vermont.)

To be even more specific, the fact that I have no real connection to this place, it was a hastily- chosen crash pad, a halfway house to rest in before we moved into the farmhouse, ha, has finally sunken through the porous layer of top soil and is sitting, stagnant, on my bedrock brain.

It’s just like falling in love, or thinking you’re in love, with a beautiful person whom you don’t even know. There is a risk of getting to know them, marrying them even, making wild promises to them, and, waking up one day to find them lying beside you, and wanting to scream.

Okay I’m exaggerating. I don’t find this place repulsive, not at all, just depressing, shabby and devoid of warmth.

I’m lying now. Because our neighbors on many sides, aside from the Grumps, the ones that smile at me and some who even attempt to engage me in conversation, despite the fact that I most often reply in smiles and present-tense, monosyllabic grunts--I am the mute, smiling American-- are truly warm.

And my friends, those who I’ve grown to know and like, Gail, Bridgett and Mandy and their families, send shards of bright light searing through my otherwise estranged existence, cut me open and help me to feel anything but numb. But the difference between me and them is they have laid down roots here, I have not. I am a transient passer through. It's like an affliction, like living behind glass.

There are days when I'm downright giddy with elation and smugness at this strange new life we've made for ourselves here. Then there are other days.

This can happen anywhere. No?

There are some benefits to being a foreigner when it comes to the stories your kids tell about you.

Disclaimer: The author of this blog is prone to irrational bouts of mild depression-- exacerbated by stress and change, and lack of exercise-- and her words, thoughts, sentiments cannot be trusted, or expected to remain truth, for longer than one day at a time. In other words, I'm having another sad day. For lighter, less stodgy fare, Try again tomorrow, or in my lazy-ass case, next month.