It is January 1, 2018 and I am sitting in my small apartment in Salies de Béarn thinking about writing this piece to begin the year. I am happy. It is pouring rain, the wind is howling around with a tempest called “Carmen” which will continue all through the week; according to the weather man there is no chance we will see the sun until Sunday (how appropriate!) and today is only Monday. And I am happy and peaceful.
Two days ago (that would be the 30th of December, 2017) I awoke at 9:30 in the morning in the small hotel where I always stay in Madrid. It was a beautiful, sunny day so I decided that, in spite of possible jet-lag, I would make the 6 hour drive home that very day. But there was no
jet-lag and the drive was easy, and I even went the extra 10 kilometers to pick up Salomé before heading home.
The no-jet-lag was definitely a surprise, but perhaps I should start at the beginning.
This year my son had invited the whole family to spend Christmas at his house in Lake Tahoe. After enjoying two days in Madrid, where I was treated to the most incredible sunset over the city, I flew to Los Angeles on the 19th of December and spent the night in my son’s house in Malibu; the following day, we (my son, his wife, me, three grandchildren and their little dog) drove in two cars to Lake Tahoe (10 hours); it was snowing when we arrived (delightful). To make a long story short, a couple of days later my daughter and two more grandchildren arrived, one of them with his girlfriend. By that time we were 10; one other grandson –who had to work over Xmas- spent three days with us before returning to L.A. My son’s eldest male offspring arrived on the 25th with his girlfriend making us an even dozen.
Now consider that I spend 99 percent of my time living alone in a small apartment with a dog that doesn’t even bark; I hardly ever put on music and the only sound I hear is when I watch a movie or while talking with someone over Skype. I am my own boss: I eat, play and sleep when I want, what I want and with or without whomever I want. So the idea of spending 9 days with 12 other people –no matter how close to my heart they are- was daunting to say the least. Would I be able to stand it? Would I get irritated? Would I find myself running off to hide in my room most of the time? Were there going to be fights, unpleasantness, criticisms… I admit I was, at moments, a bit frazzled.
However, once there I began to have the time of my life. Yes, at moments the noise level was daunting with no one listening and everyone talking at once in voices that got louder and louder as everyone strove to dominate the general mayhem, and occasionally I found myself going hoarse in my effort to get a message across and finally giving up; I admit that –added to this- the constant musical background without which modern generations seem unable to live seemed absolutely unnecessary as it was never actually listened to. (I am tempted to remember that in my days and those of my parents, we put on music and then sat down and actually listened to it without talking. Music constituted an art form to be enjoyed of and by itself. Today, I’m afraid, people appreciate music the way my mother appreciated the Louvre, a museum she went through in less than 15 minutes.) The day everyone went skiing and I stayed home alone, my son asked if I wanted him to put on some music for me (he kindly thought that it might make me feel less lonely, as if being alone ever made me feel lonely) and I said “most certainly not!” and proceeded to enjoy the absolute silence.
Except for that one day, I spent every waking moment with the family: helping in the kitchen, making the gravy for the turkey, washing the dishes, playing table games with my grandchildren, shopping for food, petting or walking the dogs, fixing my own breakfast, mixing granola to share with the grandchildren or just sitting and watching and listening to my wonderful, beautiful family. I don’t remember a happier Christmas in my whole life, and it wasn’t at all about presents. Yes, presents were given, but somehow they weren’t the center of attention; they were almost like an afterthought. Much more important were the conversations, the hugs, the caresses, the games we played and all the times I got the giggles with one grandchild or another. Everyone participated in the preparation of meals and I loved just being one more cog in the machinery of cooking and cleaning up.
When the moment my departure came, I realized that I would have loved to stay another four or five days until after New Year’s; I feared I would be terribly sad upon leaving. Apart from separating from the family, I had booked myself 26 hours of travel which made the prospect even less promising. But then I did something I had never done, and everything was perfect. I left without leaving. From the moment I stepped into the Uber car for my drive to the Reno airport, I began documenting my trip by taking photos and then sending them by Whatsapp to the family site so that every moment of the trip I was still with them and they were with me.
There was the picture of Lake Tahoe from the mountain top as we drove towards Reno; (below which I wrote “I still see you!!”); then an image of sprawling Los Angeles right before landing.
In the terminal, where I had a 7 hour layover, the “I Love L.A.” sign over a store in the airport, the moving belt where I waited for my luggage, my suitcase coming down the chute and then the two matching bags standing side by side were all recorded and duly sent. I kept taking pictures and sending the info of my progress towards home, and this way, I realized that I hadn’t really left, I could still imagine each member of my family hearing the ‘ding’ of his or her phone, gazing at the screen and connecting with me upon receiving the photo.
My hours in L.A. airport became pictures of what I ate in the VIP lounge, of a hat on a stand outside a store which read: “I can’t Adult today” which was exactly how I was feeling in my playful mood; there were pictures of other travelers crossing my path; of a frozen yoghurt I treated myself to in memory of another time when I had shared one at the same stand with my daughter and granddaughter; of me reclining in a comfy chair; of the moving walkway where I strolled back and forth to get my exercise of the day; of the luminous Iberia sign announcing that the flight would leave on time and that boarding was to begin at 8:50p.m. It became a game in which I was the only player and I was having a great time. I knew the other family members would be looking at different moments and so felt connected to them even if there made no comments: they were busy still having their own fun. But I was taking them with me at the same time: there was no way I was letting go.
There is a picture of the people ahead of me going down the jet way onto the plane; and of me in my seat with my feet up, followed by a shot of L.A. lights on takeoff.
Then I settled into my usual routine on long flights: supper and then a sleeping pill. I awoke 5 hours later perfectly rested, took a picture of the moon over the wing against a beautiful blue sky and sent it to the family. Still in touch. I followed with a snapshot of the porthole, wing and a bed of clouds below; and finally of the London landing field at Heathrow the evening of the 29th as I sat in the plane for over 30 minutes waiting for a slot to disembark and fearing I would miss my connection to Madrid. Finally, after the usual race through Heathrow airport convinced that I would never make it, I sent a photo showing my boarding gate as closed (panic) and then one discovering that they had changed the
gate and my flight to Madrid was delayed. Plenty of time to board. Once more, a selfie of me sitting in my seat for the final leg of the
journey. By the time we took off, I had been travelling for 24 hours although, by clock time, I would lose a total of 9 hours in the transit. I landed in Madrid an hour and a half later (which by the clock was two hours and a half because of the time difference), picked up my car and drove to the hotel, arriving exactly 27 hours after leaving Tahoe; I was –by then- quite tired. The last two pictures I sent were of a bowl of hot soup I had in the restaurant for supper with the caption: “warm soup for good little girls”, and my hotel room. Then I crashed.
And yet, I was not home. The following morning (after sleeping 9 whole hours) I hopped in my car and took off, continuing my
pictorial journal with photos of the fog filled highway, and then the clear skies once leaving the central part of Spain, a photo of
my luncheon salad and detox juice in a place called Quintalapalla, and finally the picture of little Salomé on the car seat beside me which appears at the beginning of this post, and the sunset from my bedroom window. I was home.
I sent a message of thanks to my family for the wonderful, wonderful holiday and unpacked. Surprisingly enough I have neither suffered from jetlag nor from sadness or solitude. Everything about the trip was so perfect, even the way I ended it; where would sadness fit in? It turns out that nowhere! WHAT A WAY TO END 2017!!!