Le Road Trip: A Traveler's Journal of Love and France

Anticipation. In love and travel, getting there is half the fun. The lustful impatience, the passionate daydreams, the nerve-wracking waiting... lovers and travelers are all alike when they find themselves on the brink of a new adventure.

As a rule, romance is not a place you can find on a map. But sometimes it is.

Calamities are unavoidable, in love and travel.

All it takes to make it to the end of the road are some good Survival Tips.

NEXT LIFE. My embroidery studio on the main street of Bayeux will be just one part of my Institute of Slow Information. I will also teach letter writing, listening, miniature portrait painting, and the art of doing one thing at a time.

X and Y
the Co-ordinates of
Zen Navigation

X = the limited time you have on the road, in a life
Y = the eternity you have in every hour, every day
Z = Each step you take is a once-in-a-lifetime infinite thing

I am acutely aware that I am now the middle-aged traveler that I used to consider to lame, so embarrassing. And I have something to say to my 20-year-old self:

You cannot possibly know how much time it takes to learn to treasure this world, how many years it takes to properly cherish your place in it.

As you age, you will find it more and more remarkable, a miracle really, that any of us -- you, me -- are here at all, the result of an undeserved, infinite gift.

And the older you get, the more you know how much you will miss all this when you are gone.

In the end, the world was not all that changed by your coming, you were not all that crucial to it. But the world, this world, which you will one day travel in homage and gratitude, this world was everything to you.

I am used to going to and fro without much thought. Walking alone, I am used to never having a conversation about the whys, when's, and how's of getting from one side of a strett to the other.

But walking in twosome is different. It seems to require an ungodly amount of conversation. Because, it seems, James (my new husband) has a strategy for crossing roads, and a need to teach it to me. I did not know that; I did not know that my street-crossing skills were so in need of improvement.

If I want my marriage to survive this honeymoon road trip I know I have to stop offering my special helpful tips for driving in foreign lands. So now, whenever we are heading into a traffic situation where I think my opinion could be particularly useful, I just take a deep breath and close my eyes. I'm learning to be a good wife.

I had it all planned.

That was my first mistake.

In America, being able to get things done, especially if it's by bending rules, making exceptions, or calling in a favor, is the way to show power. In France, being able to say non (especially to a bureaucratically legitimate request) is the way to show power. And piss me off.

Romance is showing my new husband the places and things that mean the most to me.

I can't help it if some of those places and things are in France.

That's one of the most reliable things about a long road trip. There's always a cat, just when you need one.

The French abhor drafts. They do not like the feel of the courant d'air , which is why they do not take it kindly when a foreigner opens a window on a train or a bus, which is probably why all the windows on the bus to Giverny were locked. Never think that, when you let in some fresh air in France, the natives won't hate you for it.

There's a fortune of Authentic Vintage French Linen Tea Towels on every clothes line. These are the exact kind of linens that specialty shops in America sell for top dollar to affluent customers who pay dearly to add that touch of French Farmhouse Fabulousness to their million-dollar McMansions.

Flaubert is so wrong.

Even wash day in Normandy is achingly chic.

They were as unexpected as a mirage, those dancers on the Pont des Arts. Strictly speaking, the bridge is for pedestrians only, but waltzing is allowed on special nights like this. A guitar, a violin, an accordian -- a tune everyone knows -- and the dancers begin to twirl, spin, soar and glide all around us, in love with life at 3/4 time.

Did I say waltzing was allowed?

Under these circumstances, it's mandatory.

This is not my first road trip and it's not my first marriage either. I know that my hissy fit in Fougeres and our bad luck on the road to Bordeaux does not spell doom for either our love affair or our journey. Love affairs are like road trips, and road trips are like love affairs -- from beginning to end the emotions are equally intense, the phases just as predictable. Love and travel. They both have their ups and downs.

Travel Tip: Relax. It's not a crime to want to sit in a cafe and not take a walking our of all those historic monuments in your peripheral vision.

Travel Tip: The term is in situ -- in the place of origin. We travel to put ourselves in situ , in a place where we belong. The feeling that one was born in the wrong place is an ancient an universal experience, such that I suspect (a) it is part of our human DNA; and (b) is why our kind are born wanderers. We travel to find the place where we can recognize ourselves for once. Be on the lookout for that jolt of unexpected familiarity in a foreign land: that's how you'll know you are in situ .