Magic is now, in this moment,
the moment when the cloud bank that has hung over Salies all grey day long
suddenly can no longer hide the sun that bursts through in the most
gloriously golden Rembrandt-hour I recall. The Rembrandt-hour is that time of
day when the sun has sunken low enough to turn everything to gold, when the
light it gives forth arrives obliquely and creates a quality that always
reminds me of the light in Rembrandt’s paintings: a soft golden glow that
emanates more from the things than from its real source. The trees outside my
living room window turn golden-green against the steel grey sky; the sky
towards the north which I can see from my kitchen window mellows into a
strawberry blond glint that reflects on the white walls and turns them pink;
outside the bedroom window facing the west everything has become purple and
gold: my small apartment is filled with magic light from every direction and I
simply fall in love over and over again. Slowly, the purple turns darker, the
gold begins to fade and the kitchen walls once more return to their natural
white. The sun has dropped below the horizon and only to the west the play of
light transforms the clouds into an easel-worth of pinks, goldens, oranges and
purples; now it is only through the window that I can glimpse the colorful
memory of sunlight being painted upon the darkening sky.
Miracles are what seem to happen in Salies on a daily
basis and come in all shapes and sizes. For instance: the first day my son
arrived to visit and we walked through the town, we ran into 90% of the people –French
and English- that I consider friends. Every ten yards or so we had to stop as I
proudly introduced him to one friend or another (puffed up as a peacock, was I)
and we chatted for a moment before moving on and meeting someone else. And that
was a miracle because I don’t usually run into more than one familiar person
when I walk into town.
Miracle is to suddenly realize I am expressing myself in
French with something that begins to feel like ease some of the time, and
understanding most of what is said to me (as long as it is not over the phone,
which still sounds many times like gobbledy-gook) most of the time. Miracle is
genuinely feeling that I now own a third language in which I can read, write
is to live in a town where it is –so far- impossible to lose anything. For
example: As I was leaving my house this morning I looked for Salomé’s leash on
the coat stand. It wasn’t there. I looked in my large hand bag to no avail.
Deciding that I had probably left it in the car yesterday, I went downstairs
with Salomé without a leash. After a careful search of the car, Salomé was
still leash less. My mind immediately pictured the leash two flights up,
somewhere in my apartment where it shouldn’t have been, like on the dressing
table or the kitchen counter. As Salomé has –miraculously- learned to walk on
the sidewalk and not cross the street, I left without the leash. Halfway to the
corner my cell phone rang: it was my New Zealander friend. As we chatted my eyes
wandered to the street crossing where a round red and white sign with the silhouette
of a truck on it forbids heavy traffic through the center of town. There was
something hanging on the sign; it looked black and had strange brown plastic
things sticking out from it. A few more steps and I stopped dead in my tracks:
Salome´s leash was draped over the sign waiting for me. How in the world did it
get there for me to find it? I didn’t even know it was lost. Not having been
able to find it did not mean it was lost, only that I had not looked in the
right place; but it never would have occurred to me that the ‘right place’ was
the sign on the corner of the street! There is no doubt that I must have
dropped it yesterday on the way home (it had the bags I had gathered in town
before returning in the afternoon) but when that had happened and why I had not
even heard the ‘clunk’ of the plastic leash container hit the ground will
forever remain a mystery, as much as the identity of the kind person who
thought to hang it up so the idiot who had lost it would be sure to see it on
passing. The experience of finding that which you don’t even know you are
looking for because you are not conscious of having lost it definitely goes
under the heading of ‘miracle’ because of the delight with the unexpected that
goes shooting through one’s heart.
the misunderstandings… They have to do with losing my cell phone, which I didn’t
know I had lost, but I couldn’t find it. I dumped the contents of my handbag
onto the bed and ruffled through them: no phone. I looked in the bathroom where
I keep my makeup, on the kitchen counter, on the night table, under the papers
on my desk, in the dressing room: no phone. It wasn’t in the pockets of the
coat or the jeans I had worn the day before. It had to be somewhere but I just
wasn’t finding it. I did the logical thing: picking up the regular phone, I
rang the number of my cell phone. I heard it connect and begin to ring but the
sound came from the phone at my ear not from the surroundings where I had
expected it to be. On the third ring a man’s voice answered in French: Oui?
“Who are you?” I squawked in imperfect French.
“Who are you?” he volleyed back in perfect French.
As best I could I explained that I was looking for my cell phone and on not being able to
find it had dialed the number hoping it would ring and I would discover where
it was hiding.
“What number did you dial?” he queried.
It occurred to me that maybe I had made a mistake in dialing; I repeated my cell number.
“Describe your phone,” he ordered.
“Who is this?” I was beginning to get angry.
“This is the police,” came the answer. I described the phone and a few minutes later I
was walking into the center of town to the police office to pick up a phone I
didn’t even know I had lost and that was when the misunderstandings began. The
police office was on the second floor of the Mairie or town hall. On the first floor I ran into the concierge of the building where I live; she was talking to another lady and in passing I
said: “I am coming for my phone which somebody found and turned over to the
police.” She began laughing as if I had said something very funny.
“Were you the one who found my phone?” I asked. She continued laughing without answering my question. I repeated myself. The laughter got worse and she turned to walk
into the office nearby. Suddenly, I was furious.
“Why don’t you answer me? I am asking a direct question: Did you find my cell phone?” I
practically growled as I glared straight at her. She shook her head “no”, and still
laughing slipped behind the office door. Smoldering, I went up to the police
office on the second floor. The man with the pleasant voice who had probably
answered my call was at the computer and a woman in her late forties or early
fifties came to the counter. I explained that I was the person who had lost the
phone. From under the counter she withdrew my small white Samsung portable and
showed it to me. I nodded in recognition. She asked me several questions to
ascertain the phone was mine and then handed it over. I signed a receipt and walked
home still ruminating over what I considered the absolute rudeness and
disrespect of the concierge.
I hadn’t been home more than five minutes when the doorbell rang. It was the concierge.
She apologized for what had seemed like rudeness.
“The police told me not to say anything, not that I had found it or where, nothing. That is
why I didn’t answer,” she explained. I understood and began laughing myself:
how easily I had made up my own story of disrespect; how rapidly I had started
a war in my head, how unthinkingly I had felt the need to defend myself by
attacking her in my head. The Arabs and the Jews, Israel and Palestine, Muslims
and Christians, East and West: all it takes is to believe a story my mind tells