Finding My Way….

The air wrapped around me like cool silk. As I walked it warmed  just enough to hint that the sun would be stronger in an hour, but not hot, not today. Warm, fresh air with overtones of sage and warm cement wafted around me.  The sensation of this winter day transported me to my high school years in a town south of here,  walking to school in January wearing a new sweater and woolen skirt, rarely needed and often longed for, like those preppy girls back east wearing the fashions on magazine covers.  I wanted to be them.  To live in a place with seasons where you needed warm clothes in winter, with snow on the ground at Christmas.

I have been in such a place.  I know what it feels like to need warm clothes when you leave the house, to layer your clothes, put on a jacket, a hat, a scarf, gloves.   Day, after day, after day it is not so romantic.

Today is Sunday.  The weekly farmer’s market is thriving, the flower stall, first on the right, sends strong, cold, sweet fragrances blasting across the walk way.  The Japanese farmer next to it sells only field greens, like arugula, dandelion, mizuna, mustard, and purslane, and mushrooms such as enoki, chanterelle, shitoke, boleti, all with earth clinging to roots and stems.

Oranges, apples, berries, celery, peas, green beans, and more lie on tables, the names of the farms on signs behind them.   Stalls bearing brown, crusty artisan breads, rolls, muffins and cakes, local goat cheeses,and fresh fish stalls give way to a few stands with hand made items like jewelry and pottery and knitted caps. A man sells cacti and succulents, another all kinds of plants and vines.    Locals and people from outside Claremont push children in prams, hold toddlers’ hands, and older people,walking more slowly, stop to squeeze avocados. Most people are wearing shorts, light tops, and sandals.

Every Sunday a groups of musicians, all past 50, gather to play folk music or blues or country at the market.  Today it is Mexican folk music, mariachi-like violins scratch out familiar tunes to make your feet itch to dance.  At the end of the street, closed off for the market, you can turn left or right to the small shops, cafes, and restaurants which make up the village, sit outside and have a coffee or a light lunch or a real Sunday Lunch.

Mountains like cut outs against the blue sky form a backdrop to the town and colleges, and I almost get the car to drive up there, to sit beside the little stream on a warm boulder.   Better yet, I could get my paints and brushes and paint the whitish bark of leafless trees, the gray of granite, the  stark, stick like remains of bushes and grass.  But I don’t.  I go to the cafe on the square for a coffee and croissant and listen to today’s busker sing  Bojangles and a couple of other songs.   He gives up, puts his guitar away and counts his money.   I saunter back home, content to have nothing to do except to be here where I am, right now.


Well, whadayaknow.

I feared that my life experience, which includes living in two countries besides my own for over 20 years, would be  a barrier to making new friends in this southern California community.  I knew that the Latino population would be influential, and indeed, many public signs are now in both English and Spanish.  But I hardly expected much influence from Europe.    Granted, it is a college town, with professors and students from all over the globe, and its inhabitants are hardly the WASP’s who formerly dominated this part of the world.   One of the oldest restaurants in Claremont is owned by an Afghan family who have been here for many years.   There are Italian, Japanese, Peruvian,  and fusion restaurants in addition to the ubiquitous Mexican ones, and the people who own and run them.   Still.  I lived in the UK, and in France, and while I would possibly meet people who have uprooted themselves to come from other countries to settle in the US, not so many from Europe.   I was wrong.

I joined a gym to counteract too many months and years of inactivity.  One of the women there came up to me to introduce herself.   She is English.  She identified me as not from this area because of my “accent”!   I still don’t speak total American anymore!!

I called a handyman from a small ad in the local paper, The Claremont Courier.  He had an accent.  I asked him where he was from.  Guess what.  He is English, and so is his wife, who works in Claremont.  They have been here for 25 years.  When he comes to help me with something, we have a good old natter about how different it is living here as opposed to England.

I looked into a couple of art courses as a way to continue painting and meet people with a common interest. Nothing  gelled. However,  there is a wonderful little shop in the village called “Buddhamouse” where you can buy statues, wall hangings, jewelry, books, tapes, candles, incense, silver singing bowls, and just about anything to do with Buddhism and alternative spirituality.   It is owned and run by a mother and daughter who are warm and welcoming.  The shop also provides space for meditation groups, belly dancing courses,  tea ceremonies, among other things,  and also writing groups.

On Friday mornings a small group meets to trigger their creative writing skills, suggesting topics, writing for 10 minutes and then reading each others work.   As a long time lover of writing, I pep-talked myself into giving it a try.  I found a small group of talented and open men and women who also enjoyed the process of writing.  The woman who runs the group has lived in many places, as her father was a diplomat.    Her mother was from Woking, which is not more than 30 minutes from Shere.

From there, I learned of a larger group in the area,  a writing critique group a stone’s throw from where I live.  The woman who organized that group was born in England.

So I am feeling not unique after all, and not cut off from my experience of living in a multi-cultural world.  I still miss Shere, and Tourrettes, and my friends and family there,  but I don’t feel unique.

Deus ex machina-Shere-ing Time 3

The gods arrived on Thursday morning in the forms of a Phillipina cleaner and an English gardener.   Before Carmelita arrives I always clean house so she won’t think I’m a pig, so there was that to do, then young Jack Dew(er) lives up to his name by bounding to the door fresh as a spring day,  (which this should be, but isn’t, due to unseasonably cold weather), brimming with all the energy of a 27 year old, his hair a rusty mass of coils in a halo around his head.  “You all right?”, he says.  “What do you want me to do today?” Eager to begin.  My aging brain and body flood with relief.

The cellar contains all the things I jammed into it before the renter moved in to stay for the 3 months I was away.  One clothes rack fell over the other, luggage spills sweaters, shoes, t-shirts I have rummaged through to find something to wear, and it is impossible to clear out anything else until it is all sorted. I have been down there only to find clothes, leaving as soon as possible to avoid sitting down and weeping.

Showing him the mess, I say, “How about sorting the cellar?”  “No worries,”he says.   And that is what he does, sorts the  jumble, moves things to their proper places, neatens everything so I can see what is there.

We talk about getting boxes into which I can sort what goes and what stays.   I ring Sainsbury, Waitrose, B & Q to see if I can find some free ones, but most places disassemble and recycle theirs right away.I find a store that may have some.  Jack is off in his trusty van like a shot. “No worries”, he says.

Meanwhile, Carmelita tranquilly vacuums, dusts, mops, cleans toilets, and all the things she does to make the house nice and clean, and me cared for.   Jack returns with the only boxes they had available, which look like they might have contained small chain  saws; they are very deep and narrow.  Mmm.  Won’t do, Dew.  Carmelita, who has moved her boss’ house recently, says, “I have boxes.”  Jack and I look at each other.   Her English is not great, or maybe it is her listening skills.

So we arrange a time for me to pick up the boxes, I arrange with Jack a return date to do more clearing out, and I feel really ready to get on with the rest, energized, satisfied, as I have done it all myself.  No worries.   Hope this lasts the weekend.


Shere-ing Time, 2

Okay, so here’s what happened next.  I plunged into the Slough of Despond, paralyzed by fear and sense of loss, extending back to the age of about 6, and thinking that such a small person could not possibly cope with the vastness of moving an entire house, indeed, pretty much an entire life, back into an environment which is a part of that very loss; all the mistakes and errors and stupid decisions I have ever made grabbed hold of my quivering soul.  So what do I do?

Well, I play Solitaire on my iPad, of course; upon awaking in the morning, and when I wake up in the night; in the evening before I go to sleep, and of course at nap time.  I love my bed, the only place where the accusation of undone chores don’t confront me, accuse me, wake me from my somnolent state just enough for guilt to weigh me down still  further.

Once on my feet, and even dressed,   I fix a cup of coffee and shuffle papers around in the office.  I walk out to the studio, look at the capless paint tubes, paint rags stiff with dried paint, half-finished canvases and paper leaning against walls and  chairs and the easel, shelves stacked with art books, littered with pencils and brushes and charcoal and pots of dirty paint thinner, and smelling deliciously of turpentine.

However, rather than rouse me to action, it only adds to my burden of guilt and over-whelm, so I close the door and go back in the house.  At least it’s warm in here, and I can wash up a dish or two, or put in a load of laundry, and think I am actually making progress on the tasks before me.

Meantime, the moving companies I very efficiently contacted about 3 weeks ago to come and make estimates on the removal are calling me and emailing me to know if I have made a decision.  Think of it.  Six more weeks to go and they want a decision.  I haven’t even looked at the quotes yet, and how to decide on which one to use is as far away as ever.  It looks like one is about as good as another, and they’ve all been in business for centuries, have professional packers, work with the best van lines in the states, have good relations with the customs people.  And use superlative wrapping materials.

To top it all, and surely the root cause of all my woe, it is still raining off and on, it is cold, down to freezing at night, and mostly cloudy all day.  That’s why I can’t get started.

Fortunately one of my mates knocked on my door at about 6:00 the other night after a hard day at the office.   It was only Tuesday, not a week end night or anything.  She just looked at me and said, “Drink”.  What could I do but reach out to the wretched and be there for her.  In the pub.

Shere-ing Time, 1

It is early morning in late winter, and  cold outside, as it has been for days.  Elm and chestnut trees stand denuded of leaves, their  untidy branches and bony twigs scratching at frozen air, Evergreens stand stolidly, silent giants biding their time, waiting for spring.

But I am cozy in bed,alone now, huddled under a warm duvet with my grandmother’s quilt over it.  A quilt made 70 years ago. Its colors are as fresh as the day it was made, maybe on a  winter’s day like this one, but far away from here, in Missouri where I was born. My mother and grandmother cut scraps of fabric from worn-out clothing, chatting, drinking coffee, deciding on colors. Spiky stars made from outgrown pinafores and dresses of my and my sisters’ outgrown pinafores and dresses emerge on pale green cloth.  I recognize the red, white and blue striped star; it was my  pinafore, colors bright so a small child would notice.

Familiar objects surround me. A solid oak chest of drawers stands beside the bed, another faces me from across the room, next to a little marquetry table we bought in France. Curtains with red and blue flowers and birds on a white background frame my view through lead paneled windows. A small wooden book case I painted red one summer stands between them. Although this furniture and I have been here together for only a few years, the room feels like an old friend.

For centuries these thick stone walls have witnessed the many lives lived in this room, the human dramas of which my own is such a tiny part. A leather bound bible the size of  my hand is embedded in the plaster of the wall facing me, found hidden in the recesses of the beams, placed there perhaps during the Reformation in England, when it was dangerous to be on the wrong side of God.  Now it is glazed into the fabric of the house and will be there as long as the house stands

This house  will survive long after I am gone to watch other lives pass through, and in a few short weeks I will be looking at other walls, new ones which have had no time to mature,and which still smell of plaster. It will be up to me to infuse them with at least some of this lovingly charged space. I will try to make a beginning.

It won’t be easy to uproot again, to leave this comfortably settled house and village. It seems like the events of time have  worn down all the sharp edges here, whereas in America we are still spiky and hard, tumultuous teen agers testing their limits,rushing headlong from one extreme to another, testing boundaries. 

I will miss my gentle life in Shere.

Yesterday, shopping in a nearby village, I walked in the chilly shadow cast by the shops.  Suddenly there was a gap between buildings, heated by the strengthening sun,warming my face for a moment.  Although I walked back into the cold shadows I knew the sun was there, and I would step out of the shadows and into the sun again.