Apparently, I forgot to do a Paris recap. It is worth doing to me only because of my strong need for consistency in a series. Like comma usage or list styling. The week must be documented.
So, with all of our luggage in tow, we went to Paris for a week before we came home. And it was grand. It lived up to all of my (already extremely high) expectations. The thing I’ve been telling people, when they ask about my impressions of Paris, is that it felt simultaneously a lot dirtier/grittier and a lot more beautiful than London. Perhaps it is not fair to compare cities so directly, but this comparison kept rushing to mind as we strolled along the Seine and stepped in feces. It seems to always be both, in Paris: beauty and excrement.
A day trip to the utter madness that is Versailles:
Whew. What a magical city. Merci beaucoup, Paris; let’s meet again soon.
“Am I disorganized because I lost something I didn’t need? In this new cowardice of mine—cowardice is the newest thing to happen to me, it’s my greatest adventure, this cowardice of mine is a field so wide that only the great courage leads me to accept it—in my new cowardice, which is like waking one morning in a foreigner’s house, I don’t know if I’ll have the courage just to go. It’s hard to get lost. It’s so hard that I’ll probably quickly figure out some way to find myself, even if finding myself is once again my vital lie. Until now finding myself was already having an idea of a person and fitting myself into it: I’d incarnate myself into this organized person, and didn’t even feel the great effort of construction that is living. The idea I had of what a person is came from my third leg, the one that pinned me to the ground. But, and now? Will I be freer?”
— The Passion According to G.H., Clarice Lispector (translation by Idra Novey)
Clarice Lispector is blowing my mind right now. I don’t know what she’s on about 50% of the time, but I am so in. I’m committed to whatever game she is playing.
“Don’t you try to Ryan Lochte your way out of this one,” Guion said to me, during a recent disagreement. Normally, we both would have laughed at this off-the-cuff cultural appropriation, but we were too deadly serious in the moment to even crack a smile. I think we can laugh about it now, though, now that “to Ryan Lochte” has become a verb.
No one is ever at the same “life stage” as anyone else and that is OK. (A recent realization.) I used to think “same life stage” was a precursor to deep friendship. It certainly makes it easier to forge a connection with people who are in the same general social/relational place as you (e.g., single, dating, consciously not dating, married but childless, married with just one child, etc.), but I’ve ceased to believe that it is a prerequisite or even preferable. It is silly of me to think that (a) people will always be around who map their lives to my life stage and (b) when they cease to share my life stage, this occasions a natural breakdown of the friendship. Neither is true. When a life stage changes, we may have to work harder to maintain that bond, to find time to see each other, but it is not a moment for grief or an ending. It is good to have people in one’s life who are not consumed with exactly the same things. It is good to be around people who know nothing of your life stage. It is broadening, deepening, humbling.
Charlottesville 2.0 (our post-Europe life) so far has been a continual lesson in patience. And a reminder of the rich, unspoken joys of our community here.
Even amid the oppressive heat and the skunks residing under our shed, everything about my daily life remains good and solid and happy because Mom gave me an e-cloth mop upon our return to America, and it is all I ever dreamed about and more.
*Post title comes from The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson, which she (apparently) lifted from her encyclopedia.
It is good to be home. We are settling back in to old routines and creating new ones.
I am so happy to have the dogs again, but I think they regret being back with us (there is no Jak to play with them every day, take them for rollerblade runs or swims in the river, etc.). I’ve been trying to walk them more than usual and play Frisbee with Edie at least once a day to make them love me again. Hard to tell if it’s working.
Things I had forgotten to miss while abroad but am so pleased to have again
Our public library. I put 10 books on hold the first week we were back, and now I’m swamped, but I am so happy to be back in the swing of reading and to have every conceivable book at my fingertips again. (Our London library, while quaint, left a lot to be desired.)
Vast American grocery stores
My calligraphy studio
Our house, dingy as it now appears in certain lights
The local art scene and the people who curate it
The subsidized cafeteria in my office
The little Wednesday farmers’ market around the corner from our house
The loony neighborhood email group
My sprawling, mismanaged house plants
Latest reading obsessions:
History of domestic American architecture. Once you see (and learn how to see) a properly and stylistically restored home, you can’t unsee it. I see spindly porch columns and bad banisters everywhere in and outside our house, and now my eyes burn. I suddenly loathe the asbestos siding, the structural incongruities. Would that I had a cool $100K to re-do the entire exterior of our circa-1959 house. I am chock-full of renovation ideas that I utterly cannot fund.
Maggie Nelson. Maggie Nelson! Reading The Argonauts very slowly and drinking it all in. The past year has been filled with these utterly breathtaking women writers who are simultaneously under-read and deeply revered by those who have found them (see: Anne Carson, Lydia Davis). Up next in this vein: Clarice Lispector. Just bought myself a copy of The Passion According to G.H.
Things to be happy about: Donald Trump seems to be trying to tank his own candidacy. We might get to save America from itself after all! Also: So many new babies in town. And dear friends getting puppies and kitties. And today was only 90 degrees, so it felt almost cool.
London has been our temporary home this summer, and even though I have the first flutterings of homesickness for dear old Virginia, I will miss the joys of this great, sprawling city.
Things I’ll miss about London/the English way of life
All of the glorious, beautifully maintained public parks. Really. I don’t think any city wins at the park game as much as London does.
Pubs and pub culture
Well-behaved off-leash dogs everywhere
Tea! It’s ubiquitous and well made and consumed on a near-constant basis. Unlike in Virginia, I don’t have to explain to anyone what I want when I order tea.
Walking everywhere, the preservation of walking culture, the delineation of trails and country paths
Preservation of history, architecture, and art throughout the city
Endless variety of things to do, see, and eat
Every imaginable international cuisine right at your doorstep (or, at least, an hour’s walk away)
The friends we’ve made (and reunited with) here
Things I won’t miss about London/the English way of life
Fish & chips. So overrated.
Sweltering daily rides on the Tube
Having to ride the Tube every day in general. (Although I vastly prefer it to the NY subway system! So much cleaner and quieter and more reliable)
Feeling like you are breathing in black clouds of toxins every day on the street. I am eager for that clean Blue Ridge mountain air.
The weather! (We had a gorgeous sunny, 80-degree day in Wield; then the next day, it was misty and rainy, and the Brits we were with literally walked out the door into the cold fog and said, “Oh, thank God, the weather is back to normal.” They’re insane.)
Walking behind people who are smoking and being unable to pass them
How outrageously expensive everything is (we can’t really complain, compared with actual Londoners, but it still was shocking)
Guion and I have been talking about London customs we want to adopt in our life when we get back to Charlottesville. For instance, we realized that we are really lazy about walking places. We live very centrally to many things, and yet we’ll choose to drive instead of walk 45 minutes. A 45-minute walk in London is no big deal. Other aspects to adopt: taking advantage of all of the hikes and parks around us; training the dogs to behave themselves better in public; and acting like tourists in our own city (e.g., we have lived in Charlottesville for six years and have still never been to Monticello. I know).
London, you’ve been grand. We hope to come see you again soon.
This past weekend, we took a long-awaited tiny pilgrimage to Southwest Ireland, traveling mainly to visit Guion’s old friends, farming mentors, and beloved haunts. As you can see, it was an enchanting weekend in one of the most beautiful parts of the known world.
We started in County Clare and stayed at the most charming B&B ever, and then journeyed from there to the spectacular Cliffs of Moher.
The next day and a half were spent on Mizen Head, which is the southernmost point in all of Ireland, and it feels like the gorgeous end of the world out there. We stayed with Guion’s dear friends Tim and Laurence, who generously hosted and fed us for two days. Look at their amazing garden!
They also have this delightful one-eyed cat named Peewee (she was badly injured while sleeping in the engine of a friend’s car). She’s like a dog, and so I loved her. She would sleep in my lap for hours while we ate dinner and talked.
Magic all around:
We strolled along the beach at Barley Cove (where kelp abounds):
And enjoyed the charming seaside village of Crookhaven:
Perhaps my favorite afternoon was taking a short, secluded, foggy hike to see the 13th-century ruins at Three Castle Head. It was especially enchanting because we were almost entirely alone there. If more people knew about it, it’d be swamped with tourists like ourselves, but it’s so far off the beaten path that we had it in almost perfect, eerie solitude.
We also ventured off the grid to visit Guion’s other farm mentors, Dan and Pika, at their truly wild spot on the north side of Mizen Head.
Pika is a sculptor and potter, and her kiln room is Tolkien inspired. They call this shed “Middle Earth,” appropriately:
We read to broaden our minds, and nowhere does this seem more vital right now than for white America to read black America. Following is a list of books that have challenged, enlightened, and inspired me.
Have read and heartily recommend
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander
White Girls, Hilton Als
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”, Beverly Daniel Tatum
Go Tell It on a Mountain, James Baldwin
Another Country, James Baldwin
The Sellout, Paul Beatty
The Chaneysville Incident, David Bradley
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
Passing, Nella Larsen
Beloved, Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
A Mercy, Toni Morrison
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
Sula, Toni Morrison
Cane, Jean Toomer
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
Native Son, Richard Wright
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass
Up from Slavery, Booker T. Washington
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X and Alex Haley
Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems, Robin Coste Lewis
Selected Poems, Rita Dove
Thomas and Beulah, Rita Dove
Head Off & Split, Nikky Finney
Against Which, Ross Gay
Totem, Gregory Pardlo
Life on Mars, Tracy K. Smith
Native Guard, Natasha Trethewey
And I still have a good many books that I want to read, including the following.
On my reading list
Collected Essays, James Baldwin
The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin
Going to Meet the Man, James Baldwin
Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin
Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, James Baldwin
Slaves in the Family, Edward Ball
Blacks, Gwendolyn Brooks
The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. du Bois
The Hemingses of Monticello, Annette Gordon-Reed
Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, bell hooks
Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama, Peniel E. Joseph
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Audre Lorde
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Audre Lorde
Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, Diane McWhorter
Freshwater Road, Denise Nicholas
The Street, Ann Petry
Citizen, Claudia Rankine
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson
We feel the darkness of America from afar, but we are still enjoying our last month in London.
This past weekend, we were able to visit two green spaces I have long wanted to see—Richmond Park and Kew Gardens—and see Buckingham Palace for a hot second, Trafalgar Square, and the National Gallery. Photos ensue.
I don’t know what to do about cops who keep murdering black people.
But I do know that I live in a bubble of white ignorance. I am ensconced in privilege because of centuries of racism, building up like a geological shelf in this country. We add a thin layer of progress and then cover it up with more hatred, more fear, more terror.
I have the freedom, in America, to live in this awful blindness. I am not afraid to pass a police officer when I walk down the street. I am not afraid to drive, anywhere; I do not have to wonder, when I drive to the grocery store or to my office, if today is my last day. I am not afraid that my brother will be mistaken for a criminal and murdered in the street on a sunny afternoon. I am not afraid that my sisters will be arrested for an imaginary traffic violation and then be found dead in a jail cell. My life is not under constant threat from my fellow citizens. I have the undeserved freedom to not fear these things.
I do know that I am afraid to talk about race. I am afraid of saying the wrong thing. I am afraid of being misinterpreted. This fear seems to characterize most white people. And so we stay silent.
Our silence is what helps keep racism alive and well in the United States.
White people, we have to talk to each other about race. We have to stop pretending that we’re not racist, that we don’t know anyone who is racist, that we have X number of black friends. Stop.
We have to eliminate racism in our communities by starting these conversations with each other. We have to rebuild bridges that we have been aloof and indifferent enough to watch burn. We have to help each other overcome our collective lifetimes of bigotry, brought on by comfortable ignorance and comparative freedom.
The quieter we are, the more complicit we become in this evil.
It’s hard to believe that it’s July, that we’re already in the final month of our sweet summer sojourn in London. This month, we have particularly enjoyed a bit less international travel and a bit more local travel: getting to see more London museums, parks, and neighborhoods. Despite my true nature as a small-town-loving woman, I have developed quite a fondness for this sprawling city. Some recent photos follow.