Ten years ago today I stood shivering in pointy-toed flats on an icy Montpellier street. I wore Wolford Adelia tights under my jeans and a cashmere wrap sweater under my beryl-blue wool coat and a wine-colored scarf around my neck and it just wasn’t enough. My clothes, which seemed posh and chic at home, felt dowdy and unsubstantial in France, and like me they were astonished by the cutting wind whipping inland off of the Mediterranean. We were in Europe for a wedding and I spent the week simultaneously enamored by and uncomfortable with everything.
The groom’s sister had made chocolate mousse for dessert after a family dinner; it was the first time I’d ever eaten it outside of a restaurant and the realization that something so luxe could be made so effortlessly at home was astounding. Later I learned that she’d been making mousse since she was a child and the idea that this was a trifling little thing French children did as though it was as simple as peeling a banana — a task for which I sometimes need a knife or help, even as a full-fledged adult — all but bowled me over. I ate as much as I could without calling attention to my gluttony. Later in the evening I wrapped myself in the quilt at our chambre d’hôtes and swallowed one tablet of Pepto-Bismol after another, knowing full well that if the opportunity for more mousse presented itself tomorrow I wouldn’t have learned my lesson.
I wore a dusky slate-colored draped jersey dress to the wedding and a fuzzy off-white bolero-ish sweater with a hidden hook-and-eye clasp. Before the trip I had road-tested my outfit with opaque tights and a pair of tweed-and-metal Prada heels of which I was especially fond. In Boston, my reflection looked stylish and festive, perfectly dressed for a winter wedding; in France, I looked ridiculous, a girl playing dress-up in an incomprehensible mélange of clothes. Helpfully, the hairdryer at the chambre d’hôtes had gone against its nature; rather than blowing heat out, it sucked air into itself — along with a hunk of my hair. My husband of four months borrowed scissors from our host family and cut me free, leaving me looking like a second-rate Robert Smith impersonator. That said, even if I had managed to recreate the Thandie Newton curls I’d been going for, there’s no way I would’ve been able to come close to matching the natty elegance of French women.
Slim and hipless gamines, curvaceous and bosomy bombshells, all of them at once elegant and louche. Each smoking cigarettes and drinking champagne and speaking in nimble quick-fire English with ridiculously cartoonish and alluring accents. Later, in the bathroom, I caught one straightening after leaning over a sink, wiping powder prettily from her nose. Part of me was aghast, the prudish American, but a larger part of me, likely my insatiable and growling gut, was jealous of her recklessness, her audacity.
On New Year’s Eve we prowled the boulevards and alleyways of Montpellier, heading to a party. The streets were strung with a latticework of white lights overhead and everything was impossibly romantic. Strangers called out to one another — bonne année, bonne santé — waving bottles of champagne out of windows. In a crammed studio apartment on the top floor of a courtyard building, I sat with another ill-at-ease American. Neither of us had anything to say to the other. Eventually he pulled out a notebook and after a time I realized he was drawing pictures of penises. Dicks in coats, dicks riding bicycles, dicks eating pizzas, dicks kissing dicks. Most were uncircumcised. Two days prior, I had sat across the dinner table from this man’s mother, listening with a terror-stricken smile on my face as she genially told me how much of a disappointment he was to her.
“Yup,” he agreed, just as genially. “It’s true.”
Today I took the dog for a long walk while I waited for my chicken to come out of the oven. I had crushed garlic, rosemary, sage and thyme into butter, which I’d then spread in a thick layer underneath the bird’s skin. The chicken would roast over potatoes, sunchokes and carrots; my hope was that the chicken would be generous and share its herbs and fat and seasoning with the vegetables. It’s an easy dish to make, and one that requires little effort from the cook, so the dog and I went for a really long wander, rambling through our neighborhood without a specified path.
This has always been my approach to resolutions and the new year and life, really. I think obliquely about what I want, or about what I think will make me happy, but I rarely have a solid plan in place. It’s not a system that’s gotten me far, though I have accidentally stumbled upon success and a degree of prosperity by sheer happenstance and luck.
I met my husband at a college I chose arbitrarily — I was waitlisted for my top pick; my second selection was in the-middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin and as a New Yorker that kind of terrified me; my “safety” school was truly a last resort option. So I chose a college in Boston that proclaimed everyone was welcome, the weirder the better.
And people were weird in college. They were weird and strange and bizarre and like every other college student in America, except this group had more green hair and nose piercings. They threw parties and hooked up and smoked clove cigarettes and were pretentious and used the phrase post-modern way too much and worked hard and slacked off and were ambitious and wrote papers and missed class and had grand ideas and talked late into the night about everything and everyone and nothing and no one all in one big collective breath as though if their thoughts didn’t come out right that very second they would dissolve like the sound of a siren suddenly screaming to life and fading just as quickly into silence.
Silence is something I’m familiar with. It’s easy to not say anything substantial when you don’t have a set objective, and from there it’s easy too to be a disappointment, even if you don’t spend a lot of time drawing anthropomorphized dicks. So it’s time to establish some goals, after so many years of doing a unintentionally great impersonation of a dust mote. (A loveable dust mote with decent hair and excellent eye liner, but a dust mote nonetheless.) I’m putting them out there, and trying not to think of any of you who may be reading this — no offense, but in order to write this, I can’t think of anything but honesty, and sometimes being honest means being selfish.
Get healthy. I am lazy and I am fat and I am too old for this. Also, I’m tired of catching sight of my stomach reflected back at me in a floor-to-ceiling window and being both embarrassed and surprised. And I would like, for once, to choose to not to get my picture taken because I simply don’t want to, as opposed to feeling too fat to.
Write something. I was going to say write more, but write something is more accurate. I have had a partially formed idea in my head for years now and it’s time for me to do something about it. It could be something truly great. It could also be something truly mediocre but considering that right now it’s truly nothing I figure there’s nothing to lose.
Make bread. Yeast is scary, you guys. Not scary in a it’s-got-a-lot-of-teeth-and-is-evolutionarily-perfect like a shark, but it creeps me out. And, unlike a shark, I’m pretty sure I can conquer it.
There they are. Three seems like a good number. It’s a place to start. Let’s see what I say about 2016 in ten years.