“Mommy, Up” my tiny voice barely audible as I tugged on my mother’s below the knee knitted beige and orange sweater. My neck straining and pudgy finger pointing to another little girl, one about my age, perched a world above me as she sat atop her father’s shoulders, chin rested on his thinning head of curly hair, the sparkle of the Disneyland Main Street Parade played out before me better in the reflection of her eyes than what I was actually able to see by desperately trying to shove my pin head through the throng of long, to me anyway, legs that lined the curb. The night sky swollen and heavy with the smell of cotton candy, fireworks, sour pickles, sweat, lemonade and hard candy suckers. My once a year visit to see the happiest place on earth. “Sam, I can’t. Come stand in front of me, maybe you can see better” her painful to the both of us response as my agonizingly single mother tussled my already messy hair and looked, just as longingly at the family beside us. The parade I could see in her eyes then made me sort of glad I couldn’t see…..much.
Years later I was able to see the whole light parade on my own two feet. The loud music, the twinkle lights of Cinderella’s pumpkin inspired carriage, the painted grinning princess graciously waving her silken white glove covered slender arm in our direction as Jiminy Cricket skipped along behind her dodging piles of horse poo and the occasional three year old that came darting out from the curb. The whole of the ordeal looking, feeling, so much more exciting and enthralling when I was watching it play out on the face of a little girl whose legs were dented by her father’s thick fingers, him holding her tight as he bounced up and down and told her who was coming next. Never really suffered from that whole grass is greener thing, just sort of accepted that everyone’s view can make a massive impact on how you see and feel things. I never quite got the worship and adoration of the whole shiny, polished, white gloved show, Disney or otherwise, but I very early on found my desire, inspiration and place canonizing the tiny details. The face before the paint. The reflections and reactions. The genuine. To this day I’m not content to not see but I follow the faces, the scents, the thick fingers and storied ridges more than the twinkle lights and horse poo covered main streets.
Our first full day in Caen was spent listening to the waves lap and splash upon the sand and monuments at Omaha Beach. The sun just splitting the clouds as we stepped out of the car and without words or enough breath in our lungs we tiptoed upon the grains of real, and agonizing history. I heard nothing but the thump of my heart in my ears and the slosh and pull of utterly wrenching water scraping, cleaning but never erasing what had happened there. The cold air slapping against my cheeks couldn’t even begin to sting as much as feeling of loss, and pride, one feels standing there.
From there it was on to the American Cemetery and there simply are not words big enough to explain or express what it is like to walk the gorgeous tree-lined, achingly silent path, make a slight bend left in the road and see before you the stark white, crossed bones, an ocean of them laid before you, your freedom to be there because of their courage and sacrifice. The sun once again pulling the clouds aside, a warm beam of sun splashing upon my icy cold pink cheeks and there was but one thing to do and I did it, I wept.
Randomly walking the rows, reading the names, seeing slightly wilted flowers left by loved ones, the children or grandchildren of loved ones, sort of nestled between the green lawn and the severity of the blazingly white crosses….I couldn’t stay silent for fear that the knot in my throat would overtake me. Instead I whispered their names aloud as I passed, my fingertips tracing the etched letters as the warm bits of air stamped with their names left my lips. The day was a gift. An honor and a gift.
Big heavy powerful day behind us and day two was all about exploration. Caen is sort of centrally located enough in Normandy that we were able to just pop into the rental car, wiz about in the round abouts and be spun out in a direction that was sure to give me something to devour. Aesthetically, emotionally or as per my favorite, the kind of treasures that part my lips, fill my palate and warm me from throat to tummy. The sun triumphantly high, the air engorged with mossy, wet, green aromas that reeked, in that come-get-me way, of wet woods and new life. Our bright orange rental car spit out on what just so happened to be the cider trail. I felt my legs get just a touch longer in the passenger seat, the fact that I was there, in that place so far from my own history and reality, feeling like thick fingers holding me tight as I soaked in the entire view.
There is something sort of isolating about riding through tiny towns in Europe, or France anyway, midday in early spring. The weather not yet welcoming of families sitting alfresco for or after a meal, and there are few, if any, people taking unhurried walks on the side of the road. Windows are shuttered and closed and the loudest sound we heard was the rubber of our own tires taking in dirt and petite clay soaked pebbles. No radio, no outside noise, no idle chit-chat and nothing but the stillness of post lunch resting, and the click-click-clicking of my eyes taking in each and every layer of it I could.
The tight tiny road/trail allegedly built for two way traffic, our built for this Euro car, taking up two thirds of the road which would have caused me severe angst if I weren’t so fucking engrossed in the utter lusciousness of the garden-like splendor that was spinning around my head so fast I was punch drunk and tingling. The vibrant colors, grand naked trees, two or three hundred of them in each patch, standing erect and tall, leaves months ago shriveled up and fallen to the cold wet earth providing a plushy blanket of decomposition of feed for the next season. There they all stood, these massive skeletal frames like upright witches brooms standing in bunches shoulder to shoulder, brothers in arms, proud but not one too proud as to stand even an inch taller than its brethren. Perfectly aligned as if the universe knew I was coming and gave them all the uniform buzz cut.
Whipping around each corner there was new feast for me to devour. A tuff of white smoke huffing from the slightly crumbling brick chimney of a century’s old home, the shutters closed revealing sincere shades of lavender and white, a tricycle left at the front steps and an open sign with an arrow pointing to an open, empty, barn offering cider samples. I pictured a family entertaining the three or four year old tricycler, coaxing her to finish her bowl of lentils before taking her nap, the men of the family talking about rebuilding fences, maybe fixing that crumbling fireplace when the weather is better and the ladies taking a few deep tokes of a cigarette between sips of dry cider and collecting the lunch dishes for washing. Would they see us, sure but did I want to bust into the picture and require them to slip on the silken white gloves?
I shook my head, snuggled into my voyeurism and nodded for us to move forward. I was feeling my own pangs. Pangs of isolation, pangs of hunger, those pangs that make your mouth and throat loosen and water, as your body readies for the warm hum and tingle of fruity and boozy satiation. My pangs aside I couldn’t bring myself to disrupt the screaming silence, so we just weaved about the snaking roads, feasted on the way the moisture from the morning rain clung to the thick and statuesque blades of grass making the field shimmer as if it were sprinkled with silver glitter. If I could capture the vibrancy and colors of that ride that day and feast from it for the rest of my days I would never grow tired or underwhelmed. I’m here now, just weeks from my last nibble as it were and I feel like I might be detoxing….might be in need of, just, one, more, hit. Until the next.
We gorged on history, beauty, the relative serenity after Paris. The apple and pear based cider and booze, diversity of the wine shops in a French region where they don’t actually make wine, ate sick amounts of ocean treats, savory crepes stuffed with cheese, sausage and runny eggs, each other’s cold air stained cheeks, quiet, perfectly manicured un-manicured scenery and the knowing that there were still weeks of wine ahead of us.