Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I'll Be Back...

There are many ways in which we love: "Romantic love, filial love, agape love, uxoriousness." Then there's a love that seems to elude definition. Not because it has never been felt before by anyone but me, but because it's so precious that I lack the ability to define it. I miss my Sailor boy so much. He completed me. He made me want to laugh, want to cook, want to be a better person. I gave him all of me in return. Why did I do this? Because he did the same....
He left us so suddenly. Three days. Without warning or complaint. But that's my boy. He only gave. So now, I need to rebuild my life without him, because I know that's the healthy thing to do. He'd want me to continue loving like I did, laughing like I used to and cooking. One day I will.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Our Chetco River Adventure - Part II

If I could name one aspect of my personality that my husband truly admires, I think it would be my adventurous spirit. He knows I love a challenge and can rarely back down on a dare. In fact, whenever we watch female action flicks, most recently - Salt with Angelina Jolie, my husband has the habit of saying, rather boastfully, "I bet you could do that," at a time when the heroine is either rolling on the floor evading bullets from her assailants, or kicking in the face of a villain, then gracefully jumping out of a window - only to land safely on top of a moving truck.  Of course, I wouldn't dare dream of shattering the man's fantasy. However, there is some truth in my husband's assertion of his wife. 

Certainly, when I was younger my adventurous tendencies didn’t always earn the admiration of my friends. I was labeled a loose canon, a wild child. Even my older sister called me "Reb" - short for rebel - she still does, although now it's meaning is more sentimental than factual. Perhaps being brought up in the 70's taught me to take chances, or following around my older brother to no end made me see life differently. Whatever the case may be, if I weren’t the type of woman who thrives on adventure, I probably would have thrown in the towel the moment we curved around the last mountain, to a widening river that seemed bent on consuming us. Instead, I tucked in my chin, swallowed what little saliva I had in my mouth and paddled harder. Like the apostle Paul said, "I tell my body to do what I want it to do!" Despite my exhaustion, I told myself we would parish on that river – food for the vultures that seemed to be waiting to swoop down on us from the darkening sky - if I didn’t try my hardest. “We can do it buddy!” I yelled to my longsuffering husband, digging into the water with as much oomph as I could muster.

Hours on the Chetco River had taught me two types of paddling. There’s the shallow paddle, which is what you do when you want your partner to think you’re pulling your own weight, but really you’re only skimming the surface of the water. Then there’s the deep paddle, which is what you do when you want to show off your beautiful arm and back muscles. Shallow paddling is all right if the water is moving with you or if the water is, well, shallow. Deep paddling is required when you realize you're not going anywhere. Due to the fact that the river current was now moving against us, we could no longer waste time with anything but the sincerest paddling in order to move forward. The only downside to digging in deep is that you get tired very, very fast, unless you’re in Crew or you workout on Nautilus everyday, which unfortunately, we don’t.

When Tony noticed that my deep paddling wasn’t getting us anywhere, he stopped his respite, dutifully picked up his paddle and got to work. Together, we were able to move our kayak about an inch every two strokes - slow going, but it was better than moving backwards! As the mountains began to disappear behind us, all that lay ahead was the river. In the sky, balancing on both sides of the embankment was the slender, cement bridge that my husband drives across everyday to work. Beyond the bridge: the Pacific Ocean, the glorious Brookings Harbor, and my Ford Escape, which was waiting to take our weary bodies home. "I bet it’s nice and warm inside my car." I thought, paddling and shivering uncontrollably from the cold. It was those darn holes at the bottom of the kayak. They once served us well, cooling us from the heat of the day. Now they were mercilessly introducing ocean water to our shriveled little behinds - the cold radiating up our bodies. 

It's interesting, despite the fact that we were in more than a bit of trouble, I was still in awe of the beauty that surrounded us, and my trembling hands managed to take two more pictures, much to my husband’s chagrin. I couldn't help it! I felt like a war correspondent, and we were two insignificant humans in some sort of nature battle with the mighty Checto - her beautiful, rolling current in cahoots with the bracing wind, both trying to keep us from our land goal. Paddling with all our might, we painfully drew closer and closer to the bridge. Suddenly, my husband exclaimed, "Look! There's an abandoned boat up ahead!" Then panting for breath, "If we can't make it....to the harbor...let's go aboard her... and rest a little...or until...we can get help!" Thank God for my husband I thought to myself; he has the ability to make me laugh even in the most dire circumstances. "No way!" I said, laughing. I could hear him laughing too, which somehow gave me the strength to keep paddling like a 20 year-old, my neck and shoulder muscles constricting painfully. "Let's paddle closer to the shoreline!" He said next. "Alright." I answered, not sure about his reasons, but humbled enough by my past actions not to argue. 

When we finally reached the shoreline, I felt the force of the river pushing us back even more, so I attempted to paddle harder, but was seizing by a cramp in my shoulder and lost my paddle. Luckily, I was able to grab it before it got too far. As I turned my body around to reclaim it from the river, I spied Tony trying to grab for a large tree trunk that stuck out of the embankment. "What are you doing?!" I yelled surprisedly. "Maybe we can find a place along the shoreline to pull up next to, and climb up the side of the mountain!" He said half laughing, half serious. "Honey!" I said, "It's straight up all along the river! We won't be able to climb up....with the kayak!" I couldn't believe it. He was giving up! 

I think The Great Depression in American history is fascinating. I'm constantly researching it: The Stock Market Crash of 1929, The Dust Bowl of 1930, Eleanor Roosevelt's "It's Up to the Women" speech of 1933, in which she exhorted American women to help pull our country through the gravest economic crisis we'd ever known. 

"The women know that life must go on and that the needs of life must be met and it is their courage and determination which, time and again, have pulled us through worse crises than the present one." 

The women, it always comes down to the women, doesn't it? Men may be physically stronger, get better pay, but it's the women who pull them through hard times. "We can do it Honey!" I yelled, fixing Rosie the Riveter in my mind. "Just keep paddling with me!" As we paddled, I felt my entire body loose all its strength, then regain it supernaturally. It was crazy. All smiles left my face - replaced with wincing pain and determination. I knew we could make it to shore, if we worked together.

After the bridge was behind us, I thought we were home free, that the harbor would be an open door weary travelers could paddle through easily. Nope. We forgot about the jetty, which went the entire length of the harbor, then opened up to anyone wanting to tie their boat up to the dock. The water grew choppy and merciless. I half considered the possibility of clamoring over the jetty rocks, but what good would that do? I'd still have to swim to one of the boat docks. No, just a little farther and we can tie up the kayak and climb onto the dock like respectable folk.

Next thing I knew, Tony was grabbing for the dock, clinging onto an old rusty boat cleat with all his might. "Toss me the rope." He ordered. We were successfully tied up now. "Get out of the boat." He said, feigning a smile this time. I tried to get up, but my legs stiffened painfully, refusing to straighten. Hours of sitting in the kayak must have given me a case of fibromyalgia. I tried again, this time using my arms to grab the dock, and then climbed up like a lizard on my belly until my feet were out of the boat and on the dock. I rolled over on my back panting. "Help me." I heard my husband say, so I rolled back over, got on my knees and helped pull him up onto the dock with an agonizing grunt. For a minute we both laid there panting, then we started laughing uncontrollably and screaming, "We made it! We did it! Thank you God! We're safe."

When we finally sat up, Tony reached down and got the backpack which was strapped tightly to the nose of our kayak. "Honey go. Get the car." He said exhaustedly, as he threw me the bag. I opened it up and searched for the keys to my Ford Escape. They weren't in there. I searched my pockets, Tony his pockets. Nada. "Did you leave them in the truck?" He asked me, with a most serious look on his face. "Wha? Uh? No way." I dumped everything out of the bag, and then I remembered. At the top of the river, after we put the kayak into the water I did a 'hasty' checklist of what goes and what stays. I vaguely remember putting my car keys, which Tony kindly put in one of his Ziploc bags, into his glove box. Yikes. I was going to have to find a taxi. "I'll be right back." I said hastily. He just lay there on his back, eyes shut. 

I should have marked the place where he lay with some sort of landmark, but I was so embarrassed for leaving the keys in his truck, that I went off running like a chicken. Ten minutes later, I found Zola's Pizza, our most frequented eatery on the harbor. When I opened the door and the heat of the brick pizza oven hit my face, I closed my eyes and smiled. "Rachel!" Vanessa said, a bit shocked at my appearance. "What's wrong?" She asked, her kind eyes searching my face. "Kayaking...stuck on dock...no keys...need taxi...may I...restroom?" Was all I could sputter. When I came back there was a taxi waiting outside. I love you Vanessa. I ordered a large pepperoni, mushroom and olive pizza, paid my girl then flew out the door.

The taxi ride was one of the most surreal moments of my life. The driver talked non-stop about his failing health, being homeless, his girlfriend who is addicted to meth, her daughter, who has emotional issues, and how much he hates tourists. He never noticed my withdrawn face, my bloody, blistered hands, my wet clothes or the watermark I was leaving on his velvety seat. I tried to listen sympathetically, and it turned out, we were both from the Bay Area. This switched the conversation to food. "The Bay Area has the best restaurants in the world!" He exclaimed, and then he talked about how much he missed the produce, etc.. He went on and on while I nodded deliriously, shivering, my stomach growling. 

After driving twenty minutes or so alongside the river, I spotted the turn off and he skidded to a stop. "Can you pull up next to that truck?" I asked, pointing. "Um, it's a bit rough, I may pop my tires." He answered. "Oh, ok I'll get out then." I gave him a twenty, thanked him and slammed the door, unintentionally of course. As I walked shivering to the truck, I noticed the sun worshipers were gone, the children too. All was quiet now, the sun was slowly setting in the horizon and the temperature was dropping fast. There was only one other car parked close to the rocky shoreline, it was a couple making out passionately. I couldn't help smiling, then I reached into my wet shorts pocket and pulled out the truck keys, which I don't remember putting in there.

Next, I was thundering down the mountain to rescue my man.

Driving through the harbor, I was trying to remember where I had left him. Walking gives one a completely different vantage point compared to driving. I peered through piles upon piles of crab pots and between giant storage spaces, then pulled into an abandoned lot with mounds of broken cement and gravel. Driving around the un-drivable lot, I finally saw two feet propped up on the tip of a yellow kayak. "Honey!" I yelled out loud to myself. It was my sweet man. My man, who would do anything for me, whose love humbles me on a daily basis. "Honey! I'm here!" I squealed, running toward him, then hugging him tightly I kissed his salty neck. "Wow, that was fast Darlin'." He said, getting up slowly with my help. "I ordered you a pizza." I said, grinning at the pleasure in his face. "Yesssss." He said through his teeth, smiling, with his fist in the air.

"You won't believe what I just went through!" I said excitedly, driving towards Zola's. As I told him all about my most recent adventure, he sat in the passenger seat, grinning, listening admiringly...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Posting Soon...

Cat Mission Houses, Gold Beach, OR
We've had glorious company - two weeks in a row! Now, battling a cold. Will be writing tomorrow. I Promise!

My apologies, hope all's well with you,
Your GF...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Our Chetco River Adventure - Part I

My husband is an incredibly sweet man. For example, when he got me Bella's backpack from the movie Twilight, he'd gone on-line and found out what kind of bag it was and the most reliable place to buy it. Mind you, I did not ask for Bella's backpack but he thought I would like it and to my surprise, I did. Or the time I tore out a picture of the boots Keira Knightley wore on a Vogue fashion shoot because I liked them, he secretly found out who made them and bought them for me. The man is incorrigible! Well, when we came to this little seaside town and I happened to say, "How fun would it be to spend the day on a lake?" Guess what he did? He researched and found a place in town that rents boats, well kayaks, so we could spend the day on the lake for my birthday.

After a great surprise visit from my Pops, he left for home. I was so touch that he made the trek all the way from Oakland to see me for my 40th. I gave my Papa Bear a big hug and a kiss and watched him zoom down the road, then Tony and I headed out to pick-up our very first kayak at Escape Hatch Sports.

As we loaded the sucker, I noticed it was a lot larger and heavier than I'd imagined, but it was a fun, bright yellow and it had two seats, which eased my mind since I thought we'd be in individual kayaks. Next stop - Lake Earl. Tony was told by his buddies at work that this was a very serene lake - perfect for beginners. When we got there however, the water level was so low that it looked more like a bog than a lake, and it smelled. After some discussion, we turned around and headed for our second choice - the Chetco River.

The Chetco is a pristine, scenic river that runs deep into the mountains and pours out into the Pacific Ocean. "Are you sure?" My husband asked me concernedly. "Kayaking on a lake is a lot different from kayaking down a river." Was he insinuating that I couldn't paddle down one little river? I was offended! "Sure I'm sure." I said confidently. "Besides, this river has a strong current that will help lead us down stream and right into the ocean, probably, without much effort on our part." I pretty much made all that up, but it made sense to me: river runs into ocean = strong current.

As we began driving up into the mountains I could see the mighty Chetco sparkle through the trees. "Keep going." I said excitedly, when he put on his blinker to pull over. "Alright." He said uneasily. After two more attempts to pull over and my egging him on, we finally found a place where you can pull your vehicle right onto the river's edge. On the rocky shore were sun worshipers and families sitting in beach chairs; some were drinking beer, others were sleepily fishing in their inter tubes, and kids were swimming and splashing in the beautiful green water like river otters. As we started to unload, everyone began watching us. The bright, banana yellow kayak seemed to clash hideously with our surroundings.

After a hasty inventory of what goes and what stays in the truck, I strapped on my puffy life vest and hopped into the kayak, which was much easier on the eyes once it was in the water. As I sat down, it bottomed out. I think I heard some of the river otters laugh. "Oh!" I said surprisedly, as the water started pouring into the holes at the bottom of the kayak. This is when I discovered the difference between a boat and a kayak.  In a boat we would have been dry. Kayaks are meant to roll, which I did not plan on doing since I'm not a very good swimmer. Of course, I can dog paddle like a champ, and even breaststroke pretty well, but I never mastered distance swimming or holding my breath under water. Oh well, who cares if our behinds are going to be wet, I thought, we're on a river and it's a beautiful day! After we walked our banana slug into deeper water, we got in with as little fuss as possible, which meant almost tipping over several times while I squealed with laughter, holding my backpack over my head. When we were finally in, I looked over my shoulder and could tell that our audience was a little sad we were off and running. Or glad.

Truth be told, Tony and I are straight City. We both grew up in the Bay Area and we've only gone camping once together, which was an adventurous nightmare to say the least (perhaps another story for another day). That's why we're so excited to be living in the county now, we've always wanted to get away from the smog and experience nature: fishing, hiking, kayaking. Sure, we're new to it all but we want to learn, and Kayaking down the Chetco River was our biggest and newest adventure since we moved from the East Bay two months prior. So here I was sitting in a giant, yellow river Cadillac, life vest secure (Tony refused to wear his), with a hideous sun hat on my head that I normally wouldn't be caught dead in (thanks mom), thrilled to be paddling down a river on my own steam. Life couldn't be better.

My husband thought it would be best if I sat up front - he being stronger, would act as our rudder. I was quite happy with the arrangement, this gave me an unobstructed view of the river; my job was to report what lay ahead.

The first couple of hours I was as happy as a clam, taking pictures of the incredible scenery, videoing my husband paddle while we sang songs that glorified the Chetco. When we hit a stretch of river that was especially calm, Tony asked me to help paddle. "I've been paddling." I said jokingly. Then I resealed my birthday camera in the Ziploc bag my husband made me promise to use, and threw it into the backpack. As we paddled together we developed a good rhythm and I felt like we were a real team. That's when I spotted my first white water. "Um, honey, I see rapids ahead." I reported calmly. "Alright, just sit tight and let the water take us!" He yelled, as if we were about to go straight over a waterfall. I nodded, laughing at the volume in his voice. As we approached the rapidly running water, I failed to mention the rather large tree trunk that hung low, directly over the rapid. As I ducked my head to let the tree pass, my sweet husband tried blocking it with his arm, and fell overboard.

After somehow stopping the kayak and apologizing my head off, he got back in and almost tipped us over. Lucky for us, I have cat-like reflexes and shifted my body weight just right. "Well, at least you're cooler now." I said, looking on the bright side. He was a champ about it. And it was only three feet deep in the rapids.

For the next two hours, the current seemed to move at a snail's pace, but I didn't mind one bit. It was so refreshing and beautiful on the river. As I alternated taking pictures with paddling - mind you every time I wanted to use the camera it meant going into the backpack, taking it out of it's protective plastic bag, then reversing the process when I finished getting that magical shot - I could see that Tony was beginning to fatigue. "Let's pull over and eat." I offered. "Great idea." He said. I could tell he needed a stogie. When we spied a nice spot to pull over, we paddled hard toward the shore and the nose of our kayak slid up perfectly. "Ahoy!" We had landed.

As I pulled our lunch out of the backpack, I realized how meager it was. Then I remembered - we had planned on spending a couple of hours on "Lake Placid," not four hours and counting, paddling, then walking our kayak downstream. Yes, walking. Our kayak was so big and heavy that we had to get out quite often and walk it through the shallows. All this in and out and constant paddling was a real workout, but we became quite good at it - no more nearly tipping over.

After inhaling our PB&Js, chips and downing our one Hansen's soda (how can food taste this good?!), we noticed that it was starting to get late. Neither of us had the time - who brings a watch on a nature quest? But the sun wasn't as warm as when we first began our adventure, and the breeze, which started out balmy and warm was chilly now and blowing in our faces. "How much farther before we make it to the bridge?" I asked rolling down my sleeves. "Well, you see that mountain range up ahead?" My husband said, pointing West. The mountains were all around us, and they stretched and curved as far as the eye could see. "Uh, yeah?" I said doubtfully. "We need to make it all the way through those, then it's about half a mile to the bridge. This is where the ocean water meets the river, then it's another half-mile to the pier." Wow, that's far I thought, so I put my camera away for good and started to pull my own weight.

We were really sailing for almost an hour, and I loved the way it felt when we synchronized our paddling, our kayak slicing through the sparkling, green water. As we steadily moved along, I noticed the shoreline was changing and the river was getting wider. When we first began, the river was calm, the water was warm and crystal clear with beautiful multi-colored rocks at the bottom, which were covered with a blanket of green moss. Salmon and steelhead, mallards, egrets and a multitude of birds whose names went beyond my knowledge, surrounded us.

Now, the current was pushing us back, the water was colder, darker, and much deeper, and the only birds I noticed were carrion, and the occasional seagull. Even when my arms began to shake I didn't stop paddling. Once, Tony took a break, but I kept on going and I realized how difficult it was to paddle by myself. Then I felt bad. Most of the time I was laying back in the sun, like a modern day Lady of Shallot, while my husband slaved away without complaint. Or, I was taking pictures of the ducks and birds on the water, the salmon that passed us by, the dog that chased us away from his shore, and the whole time Tony was paddling non-stop. "Badly done Emma," I thought to myself, and felt the sting of my selfishness.

"Honey, I'm sorry!" I said to the outstretched river in front of me, still paddling as hard as I could. "I shouldn't have said 'keep going' when we were driving up river. I should have trusted you!" I could hear him laughing behind me, which made me smile. When I turned around, I saw that his face was badly sun burnt, and although he smiled back at me, his eyes showed how exhausted he really was. As did his body, which was slumped over the paddle in his lap. "Honey!" I yelled worriedly. "It's alright darlin' just keep paddling. We're almost through the mountains." He said, sounding drunk with fatigue. As the wind started to blow harder and harder in my face, my paddling wasn't even noticeable anymore. Up ahead, I could see the mountain curve and the river widen maddeningly before my eyes....

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Come Back Soon...Prelude to Our Kayaking Adventure

Last September, my Dad surprised me and came up to visit us in Oregon for my birthday. He loves going on road trips in his shiny black Corvette, and HWY 101 from the Bay Area is a road tripper's dream. For hours you wind through hilly emerald green pastures dotted with boulders, cows and sheep; the countryside, we discovered on our travels looks a lot like northern Scotland. Next, you drive through lush valleys packed with conifers, which eases your mind about the shortage of trees, then quite suddenly, the road spits you out along the coastline. Here you can get out of your car, walk barefoot through the soft, white sand, get your feet wet enough to realize how bloody cold the water is, then get back into your warm car and continue on.

101 then rolls you up hills that become thousand foot peaks, where you can stop again and take in the Pacific Ocean in all her majesty. Oh it's beautiful up there! The cliffs are breathtaking and from that height, the ocean appears to be broken up in lines like desert sands and each line introduces different shades of green, blue, even black water. As your eyes scan the horizon you find yourself taking in and holding deep breaths of crisp, salty air that flows straight into your capillaries. Whenever I stand on those cliffs I like to imagine I'm in Ireland or Nova Scotia, or perhaps I am one of Jane Austen's heroines who has left home to travel west - and seeing the sea for the first time. It's always thrilling on the cliffs.

After you pull yourself away from the inspiring ocean views, the landscape drastically changes from sandy tree-lined cliffs to dense redwood forests that beckon you to stop once more, and take in a moment of calm. There's something otherworldly yet welcoming about the redwoods. It's as if they're waiting for something. What that is I'm not exactly sure, I think it's different for everyone. What I do know is that after I leave, I feel elated.

Leaving the gigantic redwoods is difficult, but you still have a few more hours alternating ocean views with patches of redwood forest. Then you finally make it to the Oregon border, where people stop to have their picture taken. This is my favorite part of driving through the border. I love the excitement in people's faces as they stand in front of the Welcome to Oregon or Welcome to California sign and awkwardly have their picture taken by their mom or husband, girlfriend or grandma. I love the adventurousness of the human spirit - I think even the smallest adventures keep us young.

Unlike my mom who is a young 65, Pop is an old 65. Like they say, "It's not the years, it's the miles." But I think this trip helped him regain some of his youth. When he arrived he had color in his cheeks and pep in his step, despite the fact that he was exhausted after such a long drive. It was great to see him and he was awfully sweet to come up for my birthday, since I hadn't made any friends yet and family live so far away. In return, I spoiled him with starlit nights and culinary delights. After his nap, he and I went for a long walk on the beach which he loved, and said it reminded him of Morro Bay because of the large rock formations. For dinner I made him my special chicken potpie, which has sort-of become our favorite "guest meal." I got the recipe from Comfort Food by Williams-Sonoma, my most favorite cookbook at the moment.

After dinner, we all went outside and lit sparklers. I danced around with them while my husband watched, my dad, who is fascinated with outer space, was looking at the star-filled sky. "You know, I haven't seen this many stars and the Milky Way Galaxy since I was a boy." He said in wonderment. I thought it was adorable that he called the Milky Way by it's proper name. As we all gazed up at the stars, he showed us how to differentiate between a planet and a star - a star "twinkles" a planet doesn't. When I spotted the planet Venus, he explained why this planet is brighter than any other planet or star in our galaxy - it's partly due to the highly reflective clouds that surround it. Laying down on an old quilt, he showed me how to spot satellites in space, which I'd never done before. It's quite simple really, you just stare for a long time in one spot, and all of a sudden you'll see something that looks like a star moving across the sky at a steady pace. It's crazy, as soon as you have the eye, you can spot them all over the place. "Ok...that's a little scary." I said. "We're always being watched by big brother." Pop said, almost admiringly. Next, he attempted to explain something even scarier - Dark Matter, which is something Einstein tried to prove. By this time, I began to realized how smart my dad was on the subject of Astronomy. After all, he's been studying it for pleasure for as long as I can remember. Excitedly, I listened to him explain how outer space is slowly spreading, when all of a sudden I felt just as excited for cake - so we went in.

I had to make my own birthday cake this year. Growing up in the Bay Area, I've become spoiled on the best cakes you can buy, and I couldn't lower myself to eat one from Freddy Meyer. Instead, I found a great German chocolate cake recipe and used Scharffenberger chocolate, fresh eggs, sweet cream butter, King Arthur flour, organic pecans and coconut flakes. It was a two tier cake so I smothered the inside layer with the coconut-pecan filling, then I covered it with chocolate ganache frosting. I was a little surprised that it came out so well, since I rarely hit the culinary nail on the head on my first try. It usually takes me two or three attempts before something turns out just right - like my creamy chicken potpie with it's flaky, buttery crust.

After we had our fill of german chocolate cake and ice cold milk, Pop and I talked and played Kings Corners until almost midnight. It was great to spend quality time with him. When I got tired of loosing, I told him about the adventure Tony was taking me on the following day. For my actual birthday, he was treating me to a kayaking trip on Lake Earl. I'd never been in a kayak before and was beyond excited about our nature quest.

Cake for breakfast?! Absolutely.
The next morning was a beautiful, warm summer day. We had a healthful breakfast together and discussed the highlights of our visit, then Tony and I said farewell to Pop, who I could tell was excited to hit the road again. As we waved him off, I felt a little sad and melancholy, like I always do whenever I say good-bye to anyone I love.

However, I had little time to wallow in nostalgia. Tony was excitedly making PB&Js, bagging up chips and a soda for our afternoon on the lake. If only I had known what was going to happen; I would have brought some water and a more protein enriched meal, like roast beef on a roll!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Crêpes, the Champs-Elysées and Oh Joy! The Arc de Triomphe - Part IV of Paris Adventures 1996

After our adventure to the town of Enchanting School Children and the Small Castle, we ended up not at the Torcadero but the Champs-Elysées. This was perfectly fine with us, we were in Paris who cares where we ended up! We'd built up quite an appetite wandering and happened upon a crêpe stand shaped like a tiny round house. It's still there last time we checked in 2009. It sits at the top of the Champs-Elysées, on the outskirts of a lovely park where you can sit and eat your crêpe in peace. The park stretches all the way down the avenue and ends where the stores begin.

Standing in line, anxious to order my very first French crêpe, I realized I didn't know how to order. How do you say ham and cheese in French? It makes me laugh now because those two words are such an integral part of French cuisine. It's like saying cheeseburger and fries in The States. After a moment the nice middle-eastern woman in the stand faintly smiled, patiently waiting for me. I blushed and said, "Ummm, ham and cheese please." She shook her head and went away. "I make you my favorite." She said confidently, in good English.

As I watched her smooth the thin batter over the hot disk, which reminded me of a record with a strange wooden tool, I grew excited. She flipped it once with a long thin metal spatula, and looked at me as if to make sure I was watching. Next, she smoothed butter on top, sprinkled extra fine sugar and then chopped up banana at an angle, and laid it neatly into one corner of the crêpe. She was good, very very good. After expertly folding my crêpe, she wrapping it in crisp, white sandwich paper and handed it over to me steaming hot. The exchange reminded me of a nurse handing over a newborn baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. "Merci Beaucoup Madame!" I said smiling gratefully.

Nutella & banana crepe,
another favorite of mine.

Tony didn't know how to say jambon et fromage either and ordered, "Ham and cheese." He got ham and cheese. My first bite was crisp and buttery and full of banana flavor. It was utterly delicious. When Tony sat beside me on the park bench we took big bites out of each other's crêpes. "UH!" He managed to say about my creation. "I know! Right?!" I said enthusiastically. His was really good too, but not like my confection. When he had finished his jambon et fromage he ordered another crêpe like mine, along with a big cappuccino. He wanted to make sure we were fueled-up for our next adventure.

As we said au revoir to our crêpe lady and our park bench, I felt a little sad. It was such a great time sitting there talking, feeding the black birds crêpe crumbs, watching little Parisian children holding and eating their own crêpes without the assistance of their parents. It was a truly magical experience. 

As my husband walked me down the Champs-Elysées, touted as the most beautiful avenue in the world, I soon discovered why. It's the home of Chanel, Louis Pion watches, Bally bags and shoes, Louis Vuitton, YSL, Peugeot automobiles, and Häagen-Dazs, thank you very much. The Champs-Elysées is where the fashion houses are, where they design the most beautiful clothing and make Haute Couture for the world over. To sum up, whatever is in fashion today comes from this very street. The trends are then imitated or hacked by mall stores brands like Ann Taylor, Banana Republic and Target.

Now, I'm not a materialistic woman. By far, I've been wearing the same dress black shoes for almost ten years (hey, they're good shoes). But when I walked down the Champs Elysees, devouring window displays one after the other, my heart was pounding like crazy! If this is how a women feels when she is struck by the desire to own a soft as silk, caramel brown leather satchel by YSL, then you can count me out. As I nervously walked about YSL, Tony offered to buy me anything I wanted. I bashfully declined and practically sprinted out the door. It was too rich for my blood, bordering on opulent I told him. In truth, I was afraid the same thing that happened to me at La Farine would happen again. Instead of expensive french pastries, it would be exquisite leather goods. No, my giant cloth bag from Cost Plus suited me just fine. Of course when we hit Louis Pion, I was dazzled by a watch there and Tony surprisingly bought it for me, which taught me a valuable lesson. Being newlyweds, we were still learning about each other and one precious aspect about my husband is that he can refuse me nothing. If I show serious interest in something of quality, he wants to get it for me. It's so endearing. If I were a different sort of woman however, we would be in serious financial trouble.

Every step we took down the Champs-Elysées filled me with excitement. This wasn't only due to the fact that it was buzzing with Paris fashion, interesting people and Häagen-Dazs. We were drawing closer and closer to my most favorite monument in the world - the Arc de Triomphe. When we finally stood across the street from the arch I became so excited that I started laughing and jumping up and down like a school girl. My husband was so surprised that he started laughing too. After making a complete fool of myself and rousing the attention of others, I suddenly stopped and began to cry. As my husband held me, the other tourists walked on, confused, but Tony knew what was going on. This was the second dream that had ever come true for me. My first, was to fall deeply in love with a man who would never hurt me. My second, was to go to Paris and see the Arc de Triomphe with my very own eyes. For years it seemed like a pipe dream but there I was, standing before my monument, taking in the beauty of that moment. The day had come! 

How the Arc de Triomphe became MY monument is quite whimsical. Only six years prior, I was a single girl working for The Limited in Oakland. It was pretty mind numbing work, but it paid. One day we received a shipment of clothes and french inspired jewelry, ie: the Eiffel Tower, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Louvre Pyramid, etc.. In the mix were five Arc de Triomphe necklaces that hung on long silver chains. At the time I didn't even know what monument this was, but I liked its symmetry. I bought one and wore it every single day to work, dancing, church, everywhere. When people started asking me what it was, I felt compelled to educate myself and find out. I discovered the Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in both the French Revolution and the wars during Napoleon's reign. It's also a monument to the nameless soldiers who died in WWI. Then, of course there's the humiliating history: twice Germany marched their troops through the arch in an act of intimidation and humiliation. After discovering its historical significance I grew curious about the country, which developed my love for all things french.

What started out as a fashion piece became a real desire to see the Arc de Triomphe and Paris with my very own eyes, which meant traveling out of the USA, a dream I never thought I could afford. I think I wore that necklace well past the age of thirty, and when the loop that held the chain broke, my heart broke. But I had seen it, I had been to Paris and my experiences there fed my mind and my heart with even more dreams, like attending UC Berkeley at the age of thrity-three (a story we'll save for another day).

That night, in our shabby little hotel in Paris we slept like young newlyweds, and I dreamt of croissants and crêpes...and the Arc de Triomphe. I dreamt I was standing at it's base looking up at the sun, smiling. I remember feeling warm and safe, like I had triumphed myself in some way - and I had. I married a truly good man and he took me to France. Which proves, dreams really do come true.