Britain closed shop to party this week, so I found myself with a week’s holiday on my hands. Ok, really this happened because I have been working so hard I haven’t been taking my holidays, and if I don’t take them soon they will be lost. I hate losing so I booked time off and mentally prepared myself to go sit in the sun with a book for the week. I bought suntan lotion and an extra book. Weeded the garden a few weeks ago, so I’m all set. And then it rains. A lot.
As the forecast was for rain all week, “occasionally hard and persistent”, as one radio professional puzzlingly put it, I had a choice to make: mope around the house all week and end up arguing with husband, who is setting up a new online business from the study; cancel my leave and go back to work; or finally paint the house. You’d have to be hare brained not to understand option 1 was not a smart choice, so I won’t elaborate further. Option 2 was frankly no-go as well: I am p*d off with my employers right now; I would do myself a disservice not to distract myself for a while. I have to dip into my inner energy pool to manage going back smiling. So, painting it is!
We have lived in this house for 5 years and never touched the walls, which were covered by some dusty coat that is supposedly meant to let the walls “breathe” – apparently a new house breathes. I’d have to modify that statement: the children did touch the walls, leaving their grimy paw prints. I’d rub off the dusty paint trying to wipe them off, so we’d ended up with patches of near-bare plaster board, still grimy. I told myself for a long time we should just wait for the children to grow up. They are 15 and 13 now. But really I was daunted by the idea of painting the house myself: surely I am no good, we want the house to look nice so let’s get the professionals in. Cue the British holidays. I tried to get professional painters interested in the job, but didn’t get any takers. By Monday morning there was no more escape: I had to spend the week painting. I knew I shouldn’t push husband to help much: DIY is not his thing, he gets very frustrated. We’d only find ourselves in option 1. But crucially I also knew I must leave the story intact that he has every intention of sharing the paint work with me.
And so it happens that I spend the best part of every day up and down the steps, contorting myself to reach awkward corners with a precision brush without knocking over the TV. Husband has a breakthrough with his business preparations so he can’t join me as much as he would have liked. By the end of the week and of a particularly long day, my back broken and my hand in a permanent precision grip (I swear I was made for a desk job – hat off to painters), husband bursts in: “Oooh, my ear really hurts: I must have been on the phone for hours on end!” The only thing that saved him from a very bad fate indeed was the look of realisation that dawned on him once he’d seen my face. And the stumbling attempt at apology that followed. Which I gave him all the time in the world to get through.
With spring turning the limp tufts into lush green grass again my thoughts are turning to the other side. They say the grass is not greener over there, but I don’t know. It sure looks that way. With every fibre of my being I want to be there, in that patch of green green grass.
Work is great there: it is gratifying, with wonderful people, it pays well, and is just around the corner from my house.
The sun shines most of the time, it rains only during the night. Keeps the farmers happy, and the fruit in the garden abundant. We live in the garden as much as in the house. I could have my own vineyard if I knew how.
There is a fabulous baker around the corner where I get fresh bread every morning, and pastries on a Sunday.
I’m sure I can see it from here. How do I get there?
I have not traveled for a month now, and I am getting itchy feet. The thing is, business travel is a drag: get up at stupid in the morning, schlep to the airport, dissemble luggage and get half undressed in a public place, re-assemble luggage, get dressed again in a public place, trying to ignore the feeling of being sneakily watched; find breakfast and try not to get it on your clothes; walk and walk some more, fight for a place to store your compliant little suitcase on the plane, find a taxi that will take credit cards, and finally make it to the office. Everyone there aspires to my life and wants to breeze in just before lunch time like I do. If I am lucky I get to have lunch, with people who have all sorts to discuss because they don’t see me often enough. The rest of the people are waiting for something bad to happen because they hardly ever see me. There must be a very good reason for my visit, and it can’t be good news. Umpteen meetings and conversations later I get to make my way to a hotel halfway across the city and look forward to a dinner by myself. Sometimes I get company, which can truly be that but just as often turns into another work meeting. I am really really tired by then.
And yet here I am, wondering when my next trip is going to be. I love being home, but routine bores me. I crave input from other people than those who surround me every day, and enjoy being in different places. For all my whingeing about the drag of business travel, there often is a brief window when I can appreciate my surroundings. I like to walk to and from my hotels, if at all feasible (mostly in Europe, to be honest). I discovered how nice that was once I was forced to, having waited for 20 minutes for a taxi that just wasn’t getting through traffic in Paris. In the end I assured the hotel reception staff I would be fine, and started walking. I checked the city maps on my way to keep myself on track but any other human would not even have to do that – I just have a formidably lacking sense of direction. And even I got to the office without getting lost. Since Hausmann Paris has a backbone of wide boulevards and follow-on arteries that take you effortlessly through the city. I noticed how recently a lot more people are cycling to work or college there. People also dress differently than they do in the UK.
Smells play a key role in experiencing the environment, I noticed while walking. Paris in the morning smells of the cigarettes of the many pedestrians smoking, with a dash of croissant and bitter coffee wafting out from coffee bars. One July morning, after a violent thunderstorm, it smelt freshly laundered.
And then there was that time I had a hotel room with a view out to the Atlantic in North Carolina. I watched the sun rise, pouring watercolours over the ocean in ever changing shades. It was so mild I threw the doors open so I could smell the salt on the air. That was terrific.
When is my next trip again?