Sunday, March 18, 2012

From Florida, with Love...

The wind sock cracked the balmy Pacific air, and suddenly I was seven years old and Mum was wrestling the wet towels, flapping them over the side of the beach hut window, the Atlantic breeze buffeting the material like an invisible bull and Mum was the matador.  My Mater-dor. 

It was odd to be caught so geographically unaware.  How far I was from my seven year old Self—in years and distance—and whilst I still dreamed bilingually, rarely was my homeland and history conjured during daylight hours.  But I dreamed in British: the grass blades thinner, the seaweed slicker, the waters murkier.

When the sun shone, I seldom missed it.  A glance at Facebook could catch me up on the recent unitings, spawnings, splicings and departures; but this surprising flash of summers as a goofy-toothed, gawky, Frecktilian, with wind-blown plaits and duck-like posture, made me oddly misty-eyed.

How strange the passing of years.  How far removed and untouchable is yesterday, today.  How I should love to bundle all those unappreciated days and hug them to me, soaking up the memories like the sun on my skin.  Summers at the beach seemed so golden and luxurious then.  As I stood swim-suited on the steps of our beach hut, my towel flapping against the wind like a superhero cape, held fast by the clenched fist at my throat, I would survey British Summer; I would watch the day-trippers walk shirtless along the prom, set up their nomadic settlements on my beach, and slowly roast their pale limbs to lobster shell pink. 

Mum, never one for the sun, would read in the hut, always her eye on the shore line when I was crabbing, swimming or anywhere a current, or a stranger with sweeties, could sweep me away.  She would call me in to eat lunch from the same plates she had eaten from as a child—sand-wiches, real wiches of sand, for no matter how careful she was, or how well the cutlery and crockery were cleaned, lunch would always be gritty.  I recall the sun-warmed skin of ripe nectarines, the colour of Mum’s lipstick; the glossy orange flesh that—however sliced, bitten or sucked—would roll its sticky trail down my chin.  Summer was nectarines.  Summer was cheese and onion loaf, the gratinated cheddar and caramelized onion crust we would fight for and savour and dip into hot mugs of creamy tomato soup.  Summer was fresh beetroot and iceberg lettuce.  Summer was a small paper bag with 25p worth of Cola Cubes, of Pear Drops, of Sherbert Lemons, boiled sugary sweets scooped from huge glass jars.

The beach huts either side of ours buzzed with people.  Families en masse, friends with their families, and their army of plastic inflatables and deck chairs that would colonize and encroach past the unmarked boundary of our beach hut turf.  They would crack their metal beer caps on the stone lip of the wall, or pop chardonnay corks at lunch, and bring out platters of king prawns, flamingo pink with beady little black eyes.  So odd to me at seven; so ordinary at thirty two.  But more peculiar than plucking off crustacean heads and sucking on their bodies was the noise: the chatter, the constant non-stop sociability of adults; the concept of holidays with non-family members.  I would listen to the hum and high-pitched laughter as I lay on the sea wall, close to their clique, cloaked by my towel and childhood invisibility.

A quarter of a century later, the beach scene is quite different, even if the little Frecktilian is still the same.  Well, she’s not, of course, she’s been sweetened, then soured and now just is, ever-hopeful that life will taste good again.

And here, it is.  Maybe it is the reminder of carefree youth.  The wind sock, ripped slightly on one side by a pugnacious pelican, flaps wildly and calls me to adulthood.  It does feel like I have been here before.  Not geographically, of course; not the sights or experiences, but the feeling, a wild déjà vu of a familiar unfamiliar family scene.  It is so glorious: the tangerine sun as it melts into the sun-sequined ocean; the lilac and pink fluffs of cloud on the horizon; the clink of wine glasses on the marble and the warm mellow of chatter, the occasional hoot of laughter, peeling into the breeze, carried off along the water.  I look around and everything shimmers.  In the background, the pale emerald whorls of the kitchen counter tops sparkle; the ornate Italian inlaid mahogany of the dining table glows; the glass, the tile, the polished bronze siren reaching up from the bottom of the spiral staircase to the twinkling crystal chandelier; and here, at my side, the smiles and gums and honey-tanned skins of my generous unrelatives. 

My hostess shakes her linen napkin out—that maternal signature tune—and she places her arm around me,
“It’s so good to have you here, Eleanor honey.  Here, have a shrimp.” 
It’s funny the things that bring you back, those that take you forward, and those that just make you feel like you’ve come home. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

On Love. A Decent Proposal.

“LOVE.”  I suppose I have been thinking about the meaning of this oddly bandied-about word, lately.  Well, it has just been February AND a Leap Year at that, so I feel justified in giving it a bit of consideration.  Just a smidgen.  Don’t tell anyone, or say I’ve gone all moony.

Oh feck, who am I kidding?  I’m a hopeless romantic, and, to me, the concept of a specific day (Feb 29th) on which women can propose is like walking into the movies to see the closing credits, or absorbing calories without tasting the cheesecake.  What is the point?

Okay, so the point is that you are then engaged, betrothed, promised… ta dah!   I get it.  Mazel tov.  But... but... it just seems so wrong, so unromantic, so emasculating!
I’m an equal opportunities gal.  (In Eleanor World, the Spice Girls were my homies.  Girl Power!  Karate kicks!  Short skirts!  "We're not sluts!"  "We're empowered!"  High five!)  But really?  Really?  What woman wants to tell their friends, family, old school compadres who-you-didn’t-really-like-but-now-have-to-keep-up-with-on-Facebook that,
“Oh, it was so romantic, we were out to dinner and …”  and what?  Men don’t wear engagement rings, so what do you whip out of your little heart-shaped box?  “ …I hid a Home Depot gift certificate under his oysters and said, ‘Sweetie-Prune-Face, will you do me the honour of living with me forever and fixing my shit?’”

Nay, nay and thrice nay.  This is not how the story should go.  Rewrite. 

Now, before you get the impression—as I believe some of the male variety have—that all women are out to get a ring, FEAR not!  Back off there, Champ!  Step away from the Tiffany counter!  Some women are quite happy to march their own merry way, independently slicing through the crowd to the click clack of their heels on the marble, and the sound of their favourite Beyonce track echoing through their cerebellum.  "I don't think you're ready for this jelly."  I know many fine females able to change a light bulb, order direct TV, who own homes, and tools, like drills with attachments, who take out their own rubbish; finding someone you can do some of these with is just an added bonus, not a necessity.

So what am I saying?  If you do erm… *cough* “love” someone, does it matter who or how one proposes?  Does one even need to propose?  Can’t there be togetherness and marital sportsmanship without the whole Pride and Goon bit?  I suppose it makes a nicer story to tell folks.  It certainly must feel good to know that of all the girls in the world, you are special to someone other than your parents and the stray cat you randomly feed.  And Lordy, if he has thoughtfully planned some surprise to take your breath away and says something heartfelt that makes one jelly-kneed, well doesn’t that make one feel valued as a person, adored as a lover, treasured as a Goddess?  Yes.

A good friend of mine was swept away for the weekend by her now fiancé and, as they walked back to their hotel on a spectacularly star-filled night, he turned to her and said “How would you like to be buried with my people?”  It wasn’t the gesture of the weekend away, or the celestial backdrop, it was his words.  He wanted to be with her for the rest of his life and thereafter; their bones crumbling to dust together.  Kind of macabre, yes, but very earthy and celtic and fitting.  My heart melt into my stomach to hear it.

Another friend, actually, my oldest, bestest friend from Blighty, has quite the sigh-worthy proposal story.  Her betrothed, a HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy aficionado, took her to a lavish dinner to celebrate his forty second birthday.  Following an indulgent repast, he noticed a loose thread from his jacket, and he asked her to pull it.  She pulled, and to the thread a ticker tape and then a ring were attached; the tape read, “The meaning of life, the universe, everything is not 42… it’s you.”

Romance!  It appeals, because I suppose a good proposal, or Valentine’s Day surprise, or heck, a surprise any day of the year, means that someone thinks enough of you to make an effort.  Effort.  Change the ‘e’ to the end, lose a 'f', and you have the French “forte,” strong.  A strong effort: not a lame college try; or the Valentine’s day Interflora package deal that comes up first on Google search; but an effort that takes thought and action.
Of course, it’s all very well making this grandiose gesture or proclamation of undying love, but a proposal is supposed to be an indication of intent.  If there is a superhuman display and no follow up, one could say that the “buyer” was mis-sold.  And aren’t proposals getting more and more extravagant nowadays?  The simple betrothal from days of yore, the down-on-one-knee bit, looks kinda shabby in comparsion to the sky-written proposal, or the Youtube ode, or the live TV recording.

Who is it for anyway?  Are proposals for the delectation of the viewing Public and bragging rights to ones Facebook friends and Twitter followers?  Or should they be private moments, in which you lay your heart on a plate for someone else to stab, or hold?

Marriage isn’t the be-all, end all, women strive for in 2012 anyway.  We can take out our own trash.  We just want to be happy.  For me, finding that someone who does not “complete me,” but complements me, who makes me want to be even better as a person, even though he loves me “just as I am,” would be a lovely thing.  A ring seems rather irrelevant.

 As the fabulous best-selling author Jane Green writes, “Love is a verb.”  A verb is a “doing” word.  Sometimes the odds seem insurmountable: the geography, or the age-difference, or the family opposition,  or the history involved—just to throw a few little hurdles in there—but if you really care, these things shouldn’t make a damn bit of difference.  If I were in love, I’d pole-vault over all of them.  Or at least try, and crash *splat* into them.

I was trying to give a friend a definition—she was grilling me about love and bemoaning her internet dating experience (that’s for another blog)—I quoted Jane Green, and she replied,
“So love is about doing things for people?”  She looked rather non-plused.
“Well, yes, because you love them.  You do things for them to show it.”
Her frown did not smooth itself.
“Well, I do things for my boss, but I certainly don’t love him.”
“Granted.  He pays you.  There are exceptions.”
“I do volunteering, but it’s not because I’m in love with the …”
“Okay!  Okay.  So, let me define it!  It’s not what you can do for him, or what he can do for you, but it is about wanting to do things for him, of your own free will.  Not because anyone is paying you, or for a profound sense of gratification, or for your reward in Heaven or wherever, but because you want to make his life easier, better.  It's finding someone you want to be a team with; to do things, to share things and enjoy experiences together; someone who makes your ovaries can-can with one look, or one breath of his scent.  And he'll smell so good to you.  It's someone you can curl up beside and not want to be anywhere else, with anyone else.  The person whose gaze feels like the sun on your skin, and in whose eyes you feel even more beautiful and lighter and more interesting.  And the thought of never basking in the heat from his eyes again makes your heart wither with sadness.   And,”  I steam-rollered on, “when you love someone you don’t necessarily need this person to reciprocate and do things for you; you don't need a ring and the whole elaborate public "I do"; you just feel compelled, down deep, like rooted in your stomach-deep, right there, that this is the person you would do anything for, not because of anything he said or did, but just the way he made you feel.  And life will go on without him, if we don't find him, if we lose him, or if he loses himself, but crikey, doesn't everything seem lovelier when you have someone that makes you just...sing?"
She bit meditatively on the flake of skin on her bottom lip,
“Interesting.  So it’s a gut thing.”
“I’ve always thought so.  You know you have more nerve endings in your stomach than your spine?  That’s why you feel that stomach implosion when he so much as looks at you.”
“That’s just nerves.  Or a bowel movement.  That goes away.”
“That’s why love is a verb!  It’s an effort, but a strong effort can be easy, and you will want to make it.  Don’t you want to be 70 and feel full with contentment when he smiles at you, or takes your hand and walks you to your stair-lift?  Don't you want to still feel butterflies?”
“I think maybe, En, you just need some Rolaids.  And a puppy.”