I’ve had this same thought back home, lying outside at night in the hammock, wind in the trees, the leaves a dark blur while above me the countless stars flicker. How different must life be for city-dwellers who are never outside in the true dark of night, alone with the vast dome of sky. After all, for centuries human experience was fashioned beneath this same sky, its constant presence evoking awe, fear, and thoughts of the eternal. Isn’t it important to be regularly stunned by the wonderment of the universe beyond?
This language study is a puzzle of words and structures, strung together like beads on a string. Beautiful, foreign beads. We students sit in silly desks, the same sort I sat in during high school. We grown-ups from all over the world try to please our teachers. Follow the rules. Line up for lunch.
Now back in my studio apartment, it is evening. Just me and my thoughts, gentle and vague: the shape of my wine glass, the color of the wine, the smell from the restaurants just outside, the evening sun on the pale orange walls and green shutters. The warm, dark night is approaching. And soon I will have a new morning with new words.
Just as a place will always be home, no matter how ordinary, even drab, certain places on this earth will be magical. These places, usually from one’s youth, exist in a town or city or country setting that we visited and it was as if the sun cut through on a cloudy day and the world is illuminated in all its splendor. We suddenly know: “So this is beauty! This is why I am alive! It is for this.”
Have you experienced such a time and place? A first glimpse of the seashore? A first stroll down Fifth Avenue? A first visit to the symphony?
My mother-in-law spent her childhood on a small, hard-scrabble farm in the middle of Kansas during the Depression. Winters were cold and the summers, for her, worse: scorching hot and humid. The kind of weather we know so well in the Midwest, a steam bath of heat not relieved by sundown and, of course, back then unmitigated by air-conditioning. The summer she turned 16, she was invited to work on a relatives berry farm near Greeley, Colorado.
Warm, dry mountain air and cool nights that required a blanket. The grass stayed green all summer, not scorched brown and desolate. I’m quite sure that the blood of her Swiss immigrant grandparents awakened — these places of epiphany may very well be our DNA stirring to life. Colorado, just a state away, was now her magical place. One-week summer vacations and, finally, the place she retired.
Epiphany can be a sudden, intuitive insight into the reality of life–that it is glorious.
Two places on this earth will always be magical to me: coastal California and France. As a child in the first and a young woman in the second, I intensely experienced the sublime. In California I rode salty waves on a boogie board, ate soft-serve ice cream on the warm sand, and was happier than I had ever been. Ever. In France, well, I’m hardly the first: the food, the architecture, the art, the people. I’ve been to many stunning places since, but those were the first two times that I fell madly in love with life.
You don’t forget. If you are lucky you return again and again.
When I was 44 and took a summer off to write, I went to Central California.
And now I go to France. I will study the language and write.