Back in November, dearest Ann Marie, fresh off the heels of tumultuous autumn that precipitated a few enjoyably feisty red-wine-nocturnes at my old kitchen table, got an invite to her friend Jerome’s wedding. A Frenchman she met in Oregon, a bon vivant and adventurer of the old school, she introduced Jerome to his future bride and now got the tap to come to Bretagne for the wedding, to loll on the beaches and drink apple cider from tin mugs and listen as the crackle of drippings from fatted pigs with Norman apples in their mouths sizzled over ancient spits in soaring castles plunked down in the middle of lavender fields buzzing with bees and honey and love and majesty and romance. PLUS ONE. Taking into account all of that+wanderlust+roadstripping histories, and after much discussion about the quickening turn of years and pulling apart of our orbits that we fight against tooth and nail, Miss Ann Marie asked if I’d be her plus one. I consulted the oracles (Mama said DO. IT.), backed into that math (don’t know how I’ll swing it but I’ll figure it out), put on some red lipstick and a beret (obviously), and pulled the trigger. If not this, what? If not now, when? The yes, the spark, the setting into motion a butterfly tumble of good-vibes ripples that actually finds us now, on the eve of departure, a whole clan of women ready to move and meet and join in joy on the gilded coasts of SOFRA (the SOuth of FRAnce), to dance and leap and swim and wrap ourselves in scarves and memories and chilled rosé and funky cheeses and celebrate the living of it because, if you hadn’t noticed, that’s the way that you’ve got. to. do. it. Because, honestly, what else is there? As Daddy says: Life is a Banquet and Most Poor Suckers are Starving To Death. To the feast.
So, yes, I know that Valentine’s Day was over a week ago, but but but there were literally FEET of snow on the ground on the actual mostromanticredrosebannerdayoftheyear so, I wasn’t allowed to actually break out my valentine until just this weekend, when the temperatures inexplicably were in the low 70’s. Let me just say: after an incredibly long winter of incessant snow-fall, shin-deep city sidewalk slush, and muddy-pawed squirrels tirelessly breaking into my birdseed, 70 degrees on the naked skin feels totally, utterly, soul-rising-in-the-body-like-sap-in-a-maple incredible. But, I have to say… it doesn’t feel as incredible as the revving and rumbling motor horsetremble of my very own gorgeous gas powered lady sized Stihl chainsaw. Which is what I got for Valentine’s Day this year. To be fair, Sweetheart and I actually got it for each other (and we’ve decided this is how we’re going to roll on Valentine’s Day from here on out: an excuse to buy the big-ticket-thing we’ve both been jonesing for together), but, per usual, even though it’s “ours”, he’s letting me take the reins, letting me wear the orange-kevlar-pants, only yelling from the side (he has to yell since I’m wearing safety ear-muffs) “PLANT YOUR FEET! DON’T SWITCH YOUR HANDS WHEN YOU TAKE OFF THE CHAIN BRAKE! DON’T LET THE CHAIN HIT THE GROUND”. Bellows which, honestly, are sweeter than any sweet nothing whispered into a naked ear by a moon-eyed-cassanova. Be still my beating heart, it’s revving at 2.3 HP, fully oiled up, and ready to take on the world.
Oh, our valley. Our little farmhouse is nestled, as we like to say “in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains”, and this isn’t necessarily, literally, true since the honest, round shouldered mountains I look up at from my kitchen sink are too kind to throw their shadows over us. Instead those mountains, my mountains, Buck’s Elbow, Calf Mountain, and the big mama, Afton, lie quiet and strong, old and wise, the Farmer’s Almanac to the Rocky Mountains’ Motorcycle Diaries, close enough to touch, and easy enough to climb. In the winter sunlight, their bare branched sides look like tawny brushed velvet from the middle distance, and in the far away reaches of the valley, they do, indeed look blue. We’ve explored up and down the back side of Calf Mountain from the windy switchbacks that rise above the peach orchard, an adventurous drive that requires kicking it into 4 wheel and along which live several beekeepers who keep their bee yards fenced in electric wires (by necessity they have to be more serious about bears than we do), but we hadn’t ever taken the swift and easy hike to the top of it via the Appalachian Trail.Cold, clear, and winding through golden chaffed meadows dotted with relics of ancient apple trees, the most amazing thing about the simple hour or two we spent taking our time was (duh) the view from the top. Calf Mountain rises, stately, and, again quietly, between two valleys, ours, the Rockfish to the east, and on the other side, the legendary Shenandoah to the west. From the top of it, you can sit quietly in the still, warm, shadow of the wind, and see the valleys, spreading away from Afton in front of you like slow honey off into the distance, the peaks bluer and softer as they hold hands and walk farther and farther away, chiaoscuroed by the smokes of a thousand woodstoves as far as the eye can see.Forgive the awkward stitching on this photo, it was too majestic not to even try to capture it…
And back in the bosom of the sweet sunny south, where it is pretty much never a kick in the guts and when, after a day of glorious physical labor stolen from the computer desk, after filling the bird feeders with dark seed and fresh suet and watching the menagerie return one by crimson-feathered one, when the sun is setting over these mountains, beers are are only $3.
Oh, New York, you beauty. Sometimes the city is a real kick in the guts, and sometimes it is a gilded wonder full of love, flower crowns, good music, old friends, and truffled egg toasts. Guess which one it is this week?
This is what we’re doing right now. New Years cats flying in a mistletoe laden bi-plane with a mushroom and a horseshoe hanging from it (is there a strange French New Year symbolism I don’t know about here? please enlighten me) heading for Cleveland. Cleveland, city of light, city of magic! Seriously, though, you know we love a good mid-sized American city. Especially one where we will visit our dear friends shoo out the old, good year with whispers of thankyouforallthewhiskeys and christen the new year with sparkles and blustery toasts and hopefully a funny hat and/or tiara. So very much love to you all this 2013 and hip hip hoorah for a brilliant, bountiful, and beautiful new year.
This was our Black Friday. Shaking out the dust and pecan pie crumbs and hitting our old favorite trail. Visions of turkeys and latkes and table settings and crimped-edged pies and luscious hams and champagne toasts and Christmas tree tagging and parlor games and living room jam sessions (perhaps) to follow, but, just like after the heated flush and bustle of a nineteen person ever-thankful dinner surrounded by loving friends and sweetest family needed a follow up chill-winter-air-rosy-cheeked mountain hike to clear the mind, this is now a week of introspection and TCB-ing and preparations for the next bourbon soaked gathering coming in hot in lo three weeks. Wow.
Just stumbled upon this wonderful never-before-seen video one of my favorite (wanderlust) songs, Joni Mitchell’s “Refuge of the Roads”, directed by Miss Joni herself and interspersed with super 8 home movies and awesome Joni-in-the-80’s fashions. Click that ‘ol link. It won’t let me embed the video for some reason. Do it, if you know what’s good for you. Ok… now that you’re listening: For me this isn’t one of those songs that you put on when you’re actually on the road (unless you’re stopped at a strange new cottage in Berkeley and it’s rainy and there’s coffee and they happen to have Hejira on vinyl), but rather one that you listen to in the darkening twilight once you’ve finally made it home. The exact right space between wishing you were travelling again, bittersweet you’re not, and quiet and triumphant and content that you’re home. And here at home, as it gets dark earlier and a stream of fall storms cross over the mountains, twilight has been getting out of control. These are some Michelangelo clouds (muscular with gods and sun-gold) if I’ve ever seen ’em.
The last time that we were in New Orleans, we split our time between two sets of friends, the fabulous doctors-in-love completing their residencies and living in a gorgeous walk-up in the Garden District, and an amazing boho restauranteur couple who were savvy enough to snag a double shotgun in the Bywater ten years ago. As most hosts would do, they both gave us recommendations of their favorite places, seedy-wonderful dives and juke joints, po’boy shacks and wine bars, fancy oyster houses and music halls. Occasionally, the lists overlapped, and we saw (perhaps in a head-slapping-obvious moment) that whenever both sets of friends, very different and divine in their differences, both recommended the same thing that that thing was undeniably the best. We’ve followed this mandate ever since, and it’s taken us to Luke’s for 50 cent oysters, Robert’s and Jeni’s in Nashville, Cole’s in LA, Edo’s Squid in Richmond, the Tomales Bay Oyster Pound, Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, the farmstand in Bolinas, The Tip Top in Bed Stuy… if two people recommend that you do something in their fair city, go out of your way to do it. Simple, brilliant.