“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Day 85: More Travels at Home

Today I have traveled from the North Country to France to India to Iceland, and then back to the North Country with a vengeance.

I start with the novel.  Today the characters get into a sketchy situation in a bar in Montmartre and I have to figure out how to get them back safely to their apartment above the Mouffetard Market on the other side of the Seine.  Homework for tomorrow: learn more swear words in French and the French version of the finger which I knew once but forgot, as I never had reason to use it. 

At lunchtime I tour our back yard with our intrepid voyager, the dog.  I try to see it all as a new wondrous place.  Lately I have been channeling Richard from Seattle (whom I wrote about on Post 52, Travels at Home) who declared himself to be a traveler in his own city and made it his mission to invest every walk, every errand run, and every excursion into the familiar with the same curiosity and sense of adventure he brought to his trips to far-flung locales.  And of course, I channel Zoe.  So I am part smiley mellow dude circa 1982, and part dog.  This new way of navigating through the familiar works for me.

Today our crusty North Country snow is especially fragrant.  Zoe explores the back yard as though she has never seen it, not even in postcards.  She goes from patch of icy snow to patch of icy snow, sniffing with excitement.  Is it the groundhog who has come early this year?  Or something else?

I find the opening to a tree trunk I've never noticed before although I walk past it every single day, and she thinks I have found something good in there to eat, so she starts smelling that too.

Cindy arrives and tells me about the four movie-like dreams she has had this week.  In the one last night, she was cleaning the house for a family like the Von Trapps, and they had to flee because the Nazis were coming.  She was doing laundry and helping them pack.  Then, in a small room, with a bench and a toilet and a bath all in one, she found a skinny naked woman who needed her help.  The woman, she realized, was Anne Frank.  She never died in the camps and has been hiding from the Nazis ever since.  Cindy tried to help her get dressed, but then she woke up.

At 2, I have a tea date with a work friend.  I try to see this café with new eyes, even though it's generally the only place I go in town for lunch or for tea dates.  It's nice in there, with all the old wood, and I love the lemon tea, and I like the sign out front too.  If you were a stranger to my town and you came upon this door, wouldn't you want to go in?

My friend and I talk about her partner's voyage around the world by sea, and how soon the ship will land in the town of Cochin, in Kerala, a southern state in India. We talk about how long it would take to get there from here--two days, but you cross the international date line, so coming home you get a day back.  It's Saturday twice.

We talk about farming in the North Country, and farming in India, and I mention a farmer I met who lived for 20 years in Seattle designing software but now has returned home to India and lives in a town known for its camel fair every year.  My friend is excited to hear about the camels in India.  I will later send her the link to Pushkar's camel fair and I am sending it to you now, gentle reader, right here.  Pushkar is in the Northern state of Rajasthan, where I traveled last summer with 10 of my students and another professor, and is probably one of the true sources for the Tales of Arabian Nights.

When she asks me what I like about India I confess a big part of it is the food.  France and India are my favorite foreign countries.  (Italy is up there too.)  "I couldn't get excited about a place that didn't have good food." I tell her.  There's the yoga and meditation in India, yes, and centuries of history, and temples, and so much beauty, but the food is out of this world.

She tells me that I probably should avoid Iceland.  The specialty there is a shark meat called Hákarl.  To make this delicacy you have to gut and behead a shark, she explains, and put it in a hole and cover it up.  The shark ferments that way, and the fluids leave its body, and eventually, two or three months later, you have a salty, fermented fishy foodstuff you will never forget the taste of for as long as you live.  If you can get past the ammonia smell first.

After my friend and I part ways, I take Zoe for a walk on the track around our campus.  Zoe meets a beagle/retriever mix and the two take off.  I am so happy when she is disobedient.  I know, then, that she is feeling her best.  After I think the beagle/retriever has left with his person, Zoe disappears for a few minutes and I start to get nervous only because she has headed in the direction of a big road.  She has taken off on her own independent voyage.  She is gone.  She hasn't done this once since she got sick.  She has stayed by my side.  I call for her, and she eventually races back at top speed, looking quite pleased with herself.

When we return to the car, she says, "I'm not done."  She sits down and puts all her weight into this resistance.  It's her stubborn pose that I need to capture on film for you soon.  It's her  Hell no, I won't go.  We've only walked for 40 minutes, she tells me.  That won't do.  So I ask her where she would like to go and she points.  We eventually work our way around a few blocks and find the beagle/retriever again with his person going into their house.  Did she smell them from where we were--a half mile away?  Has my dog stalked them? She looks sublimely happy.

It is clear that Zoe wants to travel for as long and as far as she can, and I'm fine with that.

At the restaurant/bar where I meet friends early at Midwest Supper Time as from my youth, 5:15 PM, because one is trying to beat the storm home to Canada (and as we established recently in Post 80, The Lady and the Dog Enter New Territory, Part Two, Canada has stopped plowing its highway to and from the U.S.) and another has to get up at 4 AM to write, we have a spirited conversation and eventually overhear a mother and her kids at the next table ask the men beneath the TV to "tone down" their "language."  We ourselves have used quite colorful language, but this nice family haven't heard us.

To retaliate, the foul-mouthed men turn up the TV until it is blaring so loudly that no one else in the restaurant/bar can have a conversation.  They tell the woman who asked them to tone it down that she has no class. That's it.  I want to avenge the nice family (even though, had they overheard us, they would not have approved of our diction either) and I say to the men, "Are you happy now?  Driving all of us away?  Clearing out the place?"  They say yes and cross their arms in that pleased way certain bullies have. Then they swear at me.

Do you want to know what I do, gentle reader?  The nice English professor with the dog, who meditates every morning and reads Thich Nhat Han?  I give them the finger.

Now I feel like I've traveled far from my familiar to the most distant land of all.

It felt as foreign to me as drinking in the red-light district of Montmartre.  Or riding a camel in the sands of Rajasthan.

And it was very satisfying.

I suppose the day has come full circle.  My fictional characters were swearing in French at thugs at 9 AM today.

I can tell myself I was just doing research. 

When I get home to my husband and my beautiful dog, I feel that I have crossed many continents, even though I have only put a mile and half on my car's mileage today. 

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