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Today in southern California, it’s brisk with a stiff breeze. If I closed my eyes I could imagine myself back in a New York fall again.
The mountains are really busy, making a ton of clouds, which in turn are busy dumping snow on the mountains.
The sun, trying to keep pace with the clouds and the stiff breeze, disappears and reappears when it can. At the moment it’s grey out in my front yard, while in my backyard there’s plenty of blue sky.
Days like this drag me right back to Aix-en-Provence, where I spent the first month of a semester studying abroad. It was our immersive month, where we’d speak French as much as we could before diving headlong into an attempt to live a life in Paris. We arrived in January, just ahead of the mistral season, which rivals our Santa Ana winds here. My roommate Julia and I sometimes ran together in the dark mornings, getting up at five, jogging for half an hour and then scrambling to get ready in time to make the three-mile walk to our campus.
We lived in a room that I’d later learn was pretty much the size of a bedroom in Manhattan, my later home, and our host mother was a single woman with one child and an unruly boyfriend who smoked like gangbusters. It was nearly intolerable, but I’ll always remember our month there with fondness, if only because it was the first time we were truly, truly self-sufficient. Julia and I parsed the directions to school ourselves and fed ourselves in the morning with madeleines dunked in milky black tea that we served in massive cafe-au-lait bowls.
While our host mother slept off another late night with her boyfriend, Julia and I ate by the one weak light in the kitchen, struggled into our coats, grabbed our bags, and stepped out into the brisk early morning. It was always just getting light as we walked out of the apartment, and I remember watching the tops of the cypress trees move as they fought the wind.
The other thing I remember is the clemetines we ate each morning on our way to school. We each always grabbed three, cramming them into our pockets and eating them on the way to school. We put the peels back into our pockets until we could pass a garbage can.
By the end of our month there, my fingers would regularly find white strands of dessicated pith in the seams of my coat pockets, and I imagined my hands smelled like orange at any given time.
Of course, by the time I’d moved to Paris, it was warm enough to not need my winter coat. I bet, if I dragged out that coat today, it might still smell like orange peel and a brisk winter in Aix-en-Provence.
Funny how the brain works. Early this morning, as I was writing a letter to a friend, I was thinking about how much I missed the morning post that came in Paris. Letters. First thing in the morning, with some crusty toast and more millky tea and the fresh butter and jam that went around and around the table on the tea cart my geriatric host parents used…

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