“One must dare to be happy.” – Gertrude Stein
I’ve just had the most idyllic weekend. My friend Anny generously hosted a group of volunteers in our region at her retreatlike villa out in the bled, or countryside. Thanks to the peacefully pastoral setting and Anny’s superb homemaking/chef skills, it felt as if we’d gathered for a family reunion at some high-priced, all-inclusive B&B – and the cost of admission was a bag of produce and some cheese.
The setup of her home would be right at home in upscale Santa Fe: A series of rooms face onto a small courtyard with high, whitewashed walls and a pomegranate tree surrounded by herbs in various buckets and soda bottles, a rustic table and chairs in one corner, a bamboo mat under the verdigred iron window frame. Her main room is a shrine to individuality, all kitschy fabrics, photos of beloved faces and places, inspirational poetry and Obamabilia.
One of several remote villages, Anny’s site is a bumpily slow 45-minute drive from the nearest town over rutted, gravelly trails, in a taxi given to bottoming out under the stress of (at least) six passengers. The only sounds here are birdsong, the occasional braying of a donkey, a herd of sheep rumbling past. Her neighbors are quietly friendly and accepting – none of the harsh stares and snickers we often encounter in the city.
The weekend’s menu could have been pulled from any gourmet cookbook: Gazpacho with baguettes, Brie and various chutneys; an onion tart with zucchini soup; nothing from a jar or a can or a box. We ate pasta with homemade marinara under the stars, scones and fresh orange juice in dappled morning sunlight.
We took long walks on the trails meandering around her duoar, admiring wheat fields as tall as me, wildflowers resembling poppies, daisies and morning glories, the ruins of a long-ago village. A group of women riding in the bed of a pickup, heading home after working in the groves, tossed us fresh, juicy oranges like candies from a parade float.
Back at the villa, we ate more good food, traded books, movies and music, watched “Airplane!”, had a dance party, suffered late-night fits of giggles, solved the world’s problems and generally enjoyed each others’ company.
We also visited the association of rug weavers Anny works with. After two years of labor, the dozen or so women have paid off their startup costs and received their first envelopes of cash for the long hours spent hunched over their looms. Much more than a way to bring extra money into the household, the association gives women something creative to do with their time, and a social setting they wouldn’t otherwise enjoy.
I put in an order for a rug of my own, deep red with an Egyptian-inspired border and the word “Peace” in Arabic script at the center; it’ll look something like this:
Working with what I have.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m battling a fair amount of jealousy over Anny’s site. This is the Peace Corps I’d imagined myself in, plopped down in a remote, rural village with no amenities save time and quiet. I’d perfect my yoga, start to meditate, learn to cook from the village women, and finally write that book … all while saving the world.
In reality, I live on a busy highway, above a variety of shops with crowds of people passing all day long. Besides the street noise, there’s the drill of the dentist across the hall whirring all day long, and the din of neighboring families and televisions amplified by poor acoustics. To enjoy the “great outdoors,” I have to trek out of town, past the grins and fingers pointing at my strange foreign getups for cycling or run/walking; even then, I am surrounded by exhaust, by insistent horns and rumbling motors. No backyard where I can relax with my lunch and a book, surrounded by fresh air and plant life.
I often long for peace, stillness.
But I also realize the grass is always greener (or, in our case, the desert always more deserted?), and I am given to gazing romantically over the fence. Important to remember all I have to be grateful for. If I run out of anything – tomatoes, dry goods, toilet paper, cheese – it’s at best a block away, rather than two hours round-trip once I happen to find a car going that way. I don’t have to plan and shop for two weeks’ worth of meals at a time. I never have to wonder how long the water or electricity’s going to hold out. If anything breaks, someone who can fix it is close to hand. My “office” is a five-minute walk away, rather than a half-hour by bicycle. I’m blissfully located between two cities with any modern amenity or diversion I might desire.
This is where I am. Generally I am content, interspersed with moments of dread and panic that are more than offset by the moments of wonder and laughter.
Song of the day: “I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got,” Bettye Lavette channeling Sinead O’Connor
Currently reading: “Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific,” J. Maarten Troost; “Summer Camp Teacher Curriculum,
Currently mourning: The loss of my upper ear piercing … the fastener went down the shower drain and I couldn’t keep the hoop in without it, so I guess I am no longer cool or Down With That.
Currently listening to: All kinds of awesome music from Shawn and Ann. Coltrane! Monk! Thom Yorke! Stars! Amos Lee! Bonnie Prince Charley. Been soooo long since I had new music … thanks, y’all.
Currently NOT listening to: Any news or podcasts. I’ve messed up the shaky infrastructure that was holding my Internet connection together, so I’m back to visiting the cybers for the time being. If anyone’s familiar with Parallels for Mac and can tell me how to force it to Install Parallels Tools, I’d be most grateful! Failing that, I’m thinking it might be time for a shortwave radio …