Then and Now

August 7, 2011

Tonight I made ratatouille for dinner.  I cut two big eggplants from the garden, then chopped and salted them to get them to release their bitterness.  I gathered basil, thyme, a bowlful of tomatoes, and a gargantuan zucchini with a skin as tough as a winter squash.  I chopped onions and peppers, and cooked each ingredient separately, soaked in lots and lots of olive oil, then cooked it all together in a deep cast iron skillet, with a sprig of fresh rosemary floating on the top.  It was delicious.

The trick is to cook each kid of super-fresh vegetable in its own pan before you mix them together.

This is the view from the table where I cooked:

The view, then

Or rather, this is an old photograph of that same view, but taken two years ago, the first time I visited the magical house in Southern France where we have found ourselves again. The view tonight while I was chopping garlic and tomatoes was just as beautiful, but over the course of the evening, the pastels were replaced by a violently fiery orange, darkening over the course of an hour to red and then into night.

The view from now

And we had changed, as well.  Whereas when we came here first, everything felt new, and confusing, and strange, this time around it all feels familiar.  Seriously — we got on a plane in New York, sat uncomfortably without sleeping all night long, and then woke up at the Marseilles airport.  That was where we used to have to drive once a month to exchange our rental car, so it’s about as exotic to me as the place where you go pick up a Zipcar to drive to Ikea.  The drive was a catalogue of places we had visited during the year we spent here — not a mysterious Edenic landscape anymore.

Today we drove to a nearby town and ate lunch, then wandered around a market with the rest of the French-speaking tourists.  While Abigail’s French had gone far too rusty to use, the other three of us just fell back in right where we had been a year ago in May when we left.  (By this I mean that I was still butchering my verb tenses and inserting English words with a French accent when I couldn’t come up with the right vocabulary.  But having no problem whatsoever understanding what the shopgirls and the waiters had to say.)  Abigail still knew her way around the market, however, and Grace fell back into living here as though she had never left.

We were so different then, two years ago when I took that photograph of the same view, different sky.  Since I wrote it all down, I can remember almost every day as though it were yesterday.  But then, having put so much time between myself then and myself now, I find it strange and unsettling to be back in a place that should feel foreign, but feels like home.

This was us, near the start of all our transformations:

September, 2009

And then, a lot of things changed.  Here in France, way back then, we made ourselves the home that had somehow eluded us in the city and the country we lived before.  This is the place that I learned to cook.  It’s here that Bill and I traded roles and learned to care for one another and the girls in a new way.  Here, I stopped wishing my kids would be tough and hardy, and learned to give them what they needed to become so of their own accord.  Here, I traded ideas about the world for the sensations of experience.  I gave up teaching and directing, and took up storytelling and wandering.  Here, I learned to feel the weight of forty-thousand years of human history, as well as the fleeting power of each individual moment.

All of that, in just two years of my life.  Perhaps things always changed this fast.  But since I never wrote it all down before that year, narrating the story of our changes as they were happening, I had never seen my life in the process of change.

So here we are. Same place.  But a different time, and a very, very different us.


Jessica August 8, 2011 at 10:06 am

Also making ratatouille ..!! Cant wait to see you all
J xxx

GailNHB August 8, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Have a wonder-filled time there in France. I look forward to more photos and stories of how you and your surroundings have changed – and how you have stayed the same.

Bon voyage.

Sarah August 9, 2011 at 9:25 am

I feel the changes in my life, too. Not brought on by a move to France, of course, but by the subtler aspects of life moving and time presing forth. You make me remember that I should wake up and take the time to write it all down, too. I think I’m missing the what and the why and the how of the change and barely acknowledging how far this family has come…and I certainly don’t want to forget.

Cheers to you in France, in life!

Caroline August 9, 2011 at 7:57 pm

How wonderful to read your reflections, Launa. And I’m inspired by your devotion to documenting the family’s wanderings – both external and internal. It all passes so quickly, and this is a guaranteed method for appreciating the moments you have. Could I make just one critique about this posting? I really wanted to see a photo of that ratatouille! mmm… you’ve reminded me of a terrific idea for dinner. Amusez-vous bien!

Launa August 9, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Even better, Caroline — I’ll make you some in September. Yes, documenting things not only helps me appreciate these last moments of childhood… it’s also come to shape the way I choose to live them.

Anna-maria February 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Lovely to read this launa. I like the bit where you say you learnt to cook. x

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