I was standing next to the Swiss Family Tree House at Disneyland Paris listening to my daughter debate the theories of Lacan. I said why don’t you go ride a roller coaster like a normal teenager?
She just laughed at me and said Because I’m not normal, silly!
Later that same night we left the kids at the hotel with my mother and went walking next to the Seine. Past Notre Dame we encountered a group of hip young things smoking and practicing music on a banjo, a couple of guitars, a french horn, a trombone, and a tuba.
We sat and listened until some bike punks showed up and started doing jumps that took them flying at high speeds right past our heads. Byron whispered I could take ’em but in fact, he could not, so we wandered up into the Latin Quarter.
We found a table at Cafe Contrescarpe and the waiter said something to my arm before dropping a glass of wine on my foot. We all laughed and I remembered the first trip to Paris, when I sat in the same cafe, depressed by world events and the realization that I had once again chosen to take on complicated work projects that left no time for writing.
Back then I wondered if I would be satisfied with my life if I continued to commit all of my time to running a social media company, and decided the answer was no. I started to think about my whole life, from the fundamentals of our family structure to the complexities of my social scene. I realized that I felt trapped, and that is probably the feeling I dislike the most.
From that afternoon four years ago came the series of questions that took us from Portland to Seattle and then to England, so abruptly that many of my friends still do not know that I’ve left Portland.
From being bored and stuck in the Northwest, I’ve become the sort of person who travels half the year. I move easily across wildly divergent social scenes. I do the work I wish to do, which looks something like it did back then – but also includes lashings of time to write, even time to write things that I have no intention of publishing.
Sometimes saying no is the most appropriate choice.
I exorcised some of my guilt over being a bad daughter (I moved to a different country and never call or send photographs) by taking my mother to the top of the Eiffel Tower to watch the sunset. The children tumbled about laughing while we stared down at the lights of the city.
Later we left my children and mother at the hotel and had dinner with various interesting Parisian people, including someone described as a businessman. I know lots of people who work for businesses, including but not limited to nefarious multinational corporations. But they all have technical jobs – mostly doing obscure research.
This fellow is employed to make business for a company, and also advise other companies on how to do business.
We were fascinated and pestered him with questions, but no clarity was achieved.
Twenty years ago, I would never have predicted that this would be my life.
The Gare du Nord train station was unseasonably warm, the air muggy, too warm for a jacket. I walked down the stairs just ahead of Byron, who whispered You’re turning on the tourists.
I scowled at him and asked what do you mean?
He started to tell me that people were staring at my tattoo. Just then a disheveled drunken man walked up and started shouting what appeared to be compliments, before saluting my left arm. I just kept walking.
We found a table at a crowded cafe under the Eurostar departure gate, and before we could order a different drunken wreck of a man made his way to our table. He stood in front of me making elaborate lewd gestures as I stared straight through him. Two well-dressed elderly ladies at the next table laughed, and one turned in her chair to stare at me.
I am not accustomed to creating such a stir. As a general rule, people do not talk to me at all, and they certainly do not come right up and make sexually suggestive remarks about my body. I felt confused and queasy, and wondered out loud if All Soul’s Day makes people more crazy than usual. Byron shrugged.
The women at the next table stood to leave. The one who had been staring pointed at my shoulder, indicating that she wanted to see the whole design. I obliged, pulling my sleeve up to show the top of the dagger. She reached out a hand and traced the design, smiling, a gold tooth flashing. Her friend stood back, nodding.
We were all smiling when she started to roll up her sleeve. Byron laughed but I froze.
Before she had pulled her sweater far enough to show the first line I knew what she was about to show us: a serial number etched on her forearm in smudgy ink. I reached toward her reflexively, then flinched back. We did not need a translator to understand as she asked if we recognized what it was.
Concentration camp, Byron replied, and she nodded, still smiling, before turning to leave.
One of the perils of living on a different continent is the perpetual conundrum of mail. It is never certain that anything will arrive at all, let alone in a timely fashion.
Today I received a package mailed on August 13 from the states. Stella returned a book borrowed long ago, and presented me with a new cookbook. The note attached mentions that it is the end of their time in Olympia, that they are about to move to upstate New York. She scrawled Thanksgiving….?
I can’t wait to see their new home.
Upon hearing that my referral for testing never went through, the GP pulled up the file, glanced through it, and agreed that I should have been seen more than a year ago. The fact that the referral was for oncology didn’t seem to strike him as an unusual glitch in the system; in fact, we had quite a nice conversation about the structure of health care trusts and the sneaky habits of a certain teaching hospital.
I now have the direct phone number for the oncologist, and approval to invoke my private insurance if there is any further delay in getting an appointment. Which is all well and good, except the bit where I really do not want to do the tests.
In more interesting news, we spent the weekend in London and showed my mother all sorts of things, including but not limited to Kensington Palace, where we had a tour of Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon’s shabby 60’s era kitchen. I was very impressed that the private stairwells all had the same sort of rub and skid marks that haunt my own walls. Apparently even the royals can be somewhat lax when it comes to upkeep.
We left the children with their grandmother and the televised celebration of Trafalgar Day to meet up with Iain and Xtina for dinner and drinks. We had a fantastic time; they are hilarious and have excellent taste in restaurants. The pub they chose even featured a photograph of the Queen Mother pulling pints – with extraordinary glee.
Byron left for Paris this afternoon; on the way out the door he said that he couldn’t wait to get to the hotel and sleep. I retorted You aren’t going to stay in, you are going to go to a cafe and get picked up by strangers who will take you out to fabulous clubs and parties.
He opened his eyes very wide in an expression of mock innocence.
I’m very annoyed that I have to go to the doctor next week; the appointment conflicted with my Paris trip and I am losing a day in France in favor of berating my recalcitrant GP. But it must be done: I am now three years overdue for one of my routine cancer tests. Mostly because I dislike the test.
I also dislike doctors, hospitals, and, well, having cancer.
This morning in the bath I remembered that when I started driving (the day it was legally possible, mostly because it was necessary to take myself to medical appointments) I had to wedge such things into my social routine.
It was normal to pick up assorted friends to go to a show, stop at the clinic on the way, tell everyone to wait for a bit, and pop in to have a couple dozen cancerous lesions sliced off my torso. Then back to the car without a word, and onward to see some random band.
From what I recall and what the more dependable witnesses report, I never mentioned what happened in the clinic, and certainly never let the whole stupid thing halt my schemes.
My behavior probably warped my personality, but what were the other options? Staying home, or crying? It was better by far to keep moving.
Living in Cambridge has turned me into a curmudgeon: spending large portions of my daily life stepping around tourists with cameras is quite tiresome.
If I’m just trying to go to the grocery store for milk, why do I have to dodge (on average) two dozen attempts by strangers to get a picture of their head with the Trinity college chapel in the background? Usually I just trudge straight through the shot without noticing. This is, after all, where I live. If I accommodated every tour group I would never make it past the Round Church.
But then again, most of my trips over the last few months have been to quaint old towns. I’m just as guilty as any other tourist when it comes to the collection of personal souvenirs. Though arguably I am also much more lazy; I never take more than a handful of photographs, and usually those feature things like Soviet observation towers, rather than my own knotty head.
Byron hadn’t been back to Granada since he lived in the Albaicin twelve or thirteen years ago. The place has changed – Sacromonte, for instance, appears to have been at least partially gentrified. We took lots of reading materials and some work but remained far too busy walking and talking:
The Alhambra at night with a full moon
Sunlight – how daring. The Abadia del Sacromonte:
A view of the city from the top of Sacromonte</a>.
The city wall and the moon
We saw a parade
The Palacios Nazaries gardens
His arrival in this world was a bit like a slasher flick, but luckily that afternoon was in no way symbolic. My thoughtful, eccentric son turned nine today.
We’re off to London to see Mary Poppins.
I’ve been running (up or down? I do not know) to London recently. During one trip we stopped at a restaurant and the children exclaimed that our waiter looked exactly like the lead singer of Belle & Sebastian. But that is impossible they added.
Why? I asked.
Because he is famous!
I said Lots of famous people have regular jobs.
The children chorused But that is impossible!
I stared at them in amazement. They have met scores of people who are well-known for their creative work, but still need to keep their day jobs. I reeled through examples from our friend group, and from history, and eventually they understood.
But if my kids don’t get it, what about the rest of the world? This is a simple concept: fame and fortune are uneasy bedfellows. The amount of money a person earns from a book, album, or art very seldom has anything to do with the importance of the work.
Lessons in Taxidermy is on the Forbes book list.
Byron has been hanging out with Jeffrey and sending me random texts containing gossip about the indie rock underbelly of Seattle. None of which is appropriate for public dissemination, except a muddled brief report about a karaoke bar and Tori Spelling, but I couldn’t make out the details.
Texting is not a very sophisticated mode of communication.
Then my phone lit up with dozens of texts from Seattle to say that Tori Spelling was (right at that moment) sitting on Byron’s lap.
I was puzzled, but The Stranger confirms the incident, albeit not in detail.
I asked Byron Did Tori sit on your lap?
He thought for a minute, and said I don’t think so. But her sidekick sat on Jeffrey.
I’m scheduled to do a Mothering Magazine live chat on October 19.
Hope some of you join in and ask me good questions!
The tricky part of having a two-career egalitarian relationship is all in the details. For the most part we take turns traveling and rarely have any conflicts. Unfortunately, we both have events and meetings in the states in November and December.
No matter how we tried to arrange the schedule, there was simply no solution available. We can’t take the kids out of school and our friends here are all busy with work.
Normally I refuse to play the If we were in Portland…. game but could not resist the allure this time. If we were in Portland, my friends could help…
But wait! If I asked, wouldn’t they help me regardless of where I live? And might one of them actually quite enjoy visiting the UK?
The answer is yes: Marisa cheerfully agreed to come stay with the kids for a bit, and spend some time with us upon our return.
Marisa is one of my all-time favorite people.
Last night we went to see Howl’s Moving Castle; the children attended the world premiere during the film festival this summer, and insisted that I should not miss seeing it in the theatre. I resisted because I’m a cheapskate but they persevered; they said that we would have fun.
My son couldn’t read the captions fast enough so I craned my neck over his seat, whispering each line. Walking home from the (very good) movie, we stopped on the Jesus Green to look at the stars. He pointed out the constellations, and I saw the Big Dipper for the first time.
In other news, it was “Walk to School Week” and my son interpreted this to mean that he must not ride his bicycle.
This morning on the walk to school we watched as a cyclist was hit by a car. It could have been much more bloody than it was; the bus that could have run over him stopped.
I would have preferred not to have this object lesson to reinforce my fundamental views, namely, that it is important to strive for safety but also enjoy life when possible.
Anything could change at any moment.