We make — or perhaps it’s more apt to say that we are made to make — 5-year plans, imagine and establish life goals, and often organize ourselves enough to know what the next day or hour is going to look like in terms of activity, transportation, and location. But planning life with the fortnight as the organizing tool brings with it its unique complications. Two weeks spent in a single place is certainly long enough to become acclimated to something — the sounds that surround you when you sleep, identifying and frequenting the local supermarket or cafe, getting a handle on nearby public transportation, accessing green spaces, becoming a “regular” face for the neighbors, and so. Likewise, two weeks of frenetic activity can also become routine. That is, with breakneck speed one can pack and repack, leap from one mode of transportation to another, and even switch between languages in order to make oneself understood to another and vice versa. In fact, last week I made use of 5 modes of conveyance, touched ground in 4 different cities, maneuvered through 3 languages in 2 countries all on 1 day. It was also the week when, shortly before boarding a train from Paris to Amsterdam, I found myself hungry and suddenly craving something other than the baguette sandwiches that I otherwise love. Who can explain how or why I found myself seated at a window seat inside of a Saravana Bhavan, a South Indian food franchise, consuming a rather delicious plate of idli, sambhar, and the various chutney fixins.
The experience was sublime and more than a bit surreal, although it was not my first time speaking Tamil in Paris. (During a previous trip, my travel companion was determined to scope out Alphonso mangoes at a bodega near the Gare du Nord, which is apparently heavily populated with South Asians, and so the first words out of my mouth in Paris that late day in May were spoken in Tamil to the shopkeeper about whether he would sell individual mangoes. He wouldn’t.) So, without thinking, with a plate of idli in front of me, I responded to the kind waiter’s question of whether everything was fine with a comment in Tamil. Idli must mean Tamil, right? Perhaps that was the logic my hungry self was using as I launched into linguistic autopilot. Anyway, in that manner I learned that the waiter was from Thanjavur (a city in the state of Tamilnadu, India), had been living in Paris for a year, was enrolled in business school and also language classes; incidentally, he also loved the French language.
And so it has been, these past couple of summer months, living in and out of fortnights. I am looking unbelievably forward to a time later this month when I may be in a place for slightly longer — or, if not in one location, at least adhering to the routine that characterizes much of my life outside of this sabbatical bubble.
But in the meantime, I will continue to embrace the happenings in which I am given the chance to participate including ones out of my wheelhouse: one afternoon spent planting sunflowers and delphinium with A and A’s children, who meticulously dug trenches in the soil, delicately sprinkled seeds into their new homes, and ladeled water onto the newly covered trenches. Something horticultural must be in the air of my karma because later in the week I was once squarely in the company of flora of all varieties. I accompanied my aunt and uncle to the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, quite a spectacle of small stalls, large tents, artisans, craftsmen, and the artful use of plants to design gardens I couldn’t hope to dream up even if I was given all the time in the world. The tent full of roses moved me most of all. The varieties were abundant, and what connected them — their rose classification — was also what allowed their variation to blossom (if you’ll excuse the very bad pun). Roses of so many shapes, shades, petal movement and tightness, thorniness and varying fragrance quotient. These were all roses, and no two were identical. The same was true of the numerous varieties and colors — oh my, the colors! — of fuschias (which I never knew was type of flower, because I had always used the word to signify a deep, purpley-pink hue), gladiolas, begonias, lilies, orchids, irises, penstemon and clematis. In flowers, whole shows have been established to seek out and celebrate variation — not only across flower families, but within varieties as well. Human beings, it seems yet again, can learn a lot not only from the natural world, but also our perceptions of this very same natural world.
Philosophizing aside, the blooms were simply stunning. These photos barely do them justice. (A few related pics of the grounds and surround art included, too.)