Sunday, November 09, 2003

No post yesterday. By the time I was ready to write, I was in pain, so I retired to lying on the bed with a magazine.

Janna invited me down to watch some science fiction film in the evening. She has given me a large bottle of water to try, water which has been infused with some power or emanations by a healer friend of hers who was recently visiting mutual friends in Boston from Old Europe.

I believe in the power of water; I know water has a memory. I also believe some people are natural born healers, that they have special healing powers in their hands. I took the water.

The thing about these natural healers, as opposed to those who train for such methods as reflexology, is that they are never depleted when they treat. I have a French friend, who works as a reflexologist. I asked her once how she knows she is right, when she says to a client, such-and-such is the matter, she told me: "It's easy, their pain comes into my body". Not much fun, I laughed. She told me that the only way she can function is to work like a psychiatrist, with a 55 minute hour: she needs those five minutes for herself, to clear herself, like putting a car in neutral.

The natural born healers, however, can just go on and on, without the need for any respite, without the need for recuperation.

At first, I didn't want to take Janna's bottle of water. After all, she had driven all the way up to Boston to get it for herself, for her arthritis, I thought it had been infused, or whatever, specially for her. "No, no, no" she protested, "All the while, I had it in my mind that one of the bottles would be for you." So, I finally accepted it.

In time-honored tradition, I have bought a small chicken, which I shall roast for her and serve her tonight, when she comes home late. It will be a surprise for her, and I shall do my best not to turn it into a burnt offering.

The post about food the other day was missing the story of mushrooms. Mushrooms come to mind, quite naturally, after the mention of Janna, who is Russian, and therefore has done her fair share of mushroom gathering in the forests of Siberia, Russia and Lithuania.

My mushroom story is placed in France, in the low hills near the border with Switzerland where I used to spend school vacations. My brother and I would be sent there as paying guests to stay with the old mother of one of my father's employees. Her house was a very simple non-working farmhouse on the edge of a village. She was the widow of the local Notary. It was one of the many places of my childhood where I did not have my own bedroom, where I slept in a corridor at the top of a flight of stairs, from which opened out a number of bedrooms occupied by those who rated a bedroom of their own. I don't know what they were like, they were off limits to me and although the doors were not locked, I never tried to look in.

I slept in what was like a wooden manger, with a wool mattress in the bottom. There was a tall grandfather clock at the end of the landing, tick, tick, tock, ringing out the quarter hours and the hours, a small window letting in the light, or the dark, and all night, everything would creak, the floors, the doors, the stairs, the ceiling beams. I loved my sleeping space.

Every so often during these holidays, all the grownups would descend on us from Paris, and the days would take on a different flavor. Quite often, the rain would fall steadily for days on end, and we would all put on plastic ponchos and boots and go off into the woods to collect wild mushrooms. The region was famous for some of those pale yellow, trumpet-shaped mushrooms called "chanterelles", and we gathered and ate, day after day, huge amounts of chanterelles, a veritable fortune's worth of chanterelles. The adults would end up saying "Sick of chanterelles", personally, I belonged to the category of those who say "You can't get too much of a good thing".

Anyway, obviously the trips into the woods couldn't only be about food, about mushrooms. For the grownups, I am sure they were a good deal about restlessness, and boredom, and cabin fever, and for me, they were also about slugs. It is just amazing how many slugs go about soaked-through woods, and mysterious indeed where they might disappear to when the weather dries up. Thousands of slugs would be crisscrossing the paths and in between the trees, and the great majority of them were a sort of ginger-yellow, like the chanterelles only brighter and shiny. Every now and again, you might spot a black one, and very, very seldom, you might come across one that was part black and part ginger.

One day, I came across one that had a perfect tiger striping, Oh, What a beauty! It was love at first sight, I had to have it, I had to take it home with me.

Of course, when we got back to Madame R's house, she would not let me into the house with my tiger slug, not even into the kitchen. None of the grownups, quite frankly, could stomach the simple sight of the "slimy" things, let alone handle them. It was no good pointing out that they were very shy creatures, who pulled in their horns and stopped moving at the slightest touch, and who would take time to feel comfortable enough to come out again, and move on, they would play "dead" it seemed forever. No, the word was final, the tiger slug had to be left outside the door, and I would have to pick it up again, after lunch.

Of course, the tiger slug wasn't there for me after lunch. Excuse me, I wasn't that stupid, I knew very well it wouldn't have run away anywhere, I knew one of the grownups had somehow simply got rid of it, when we were all at table, I knew it had come to a terrible end in my forced absence, and I accordingly went into mourning, which I can say continues to this day.

Paris Match this week has the kind of story I love. It's about Raphaela Le Gouvelor, a Bretonne (what else?) who, at age 43, has just completed "windsurfing" from Chili to Tahiti. That's 8,251 kilomteters in three months.

She experienced it all: storms with waves 5 meters high, windless days in torrid sunshine, waiting it out on an oil-slick, flat sea, day upon day of terrible seasickness, moments of great joy and other moments of the deepest despair. She left Lima on August 5 and arrived in Papeete on November 2.

She is the baby of a family with five brothers and five sisters. She took up windsurfing when she was sixteen years old, when her 55-year old mother discovered the sport and fell in love with it.

Why did she do it? She says:

"Everyone asks me why undertake this adventure? But I am not at all sure I know why. I'm an average but passionate windsurfer. Since my earliest childhood, I have dreamed of confronting the high seas. To do this, you have to be well balanced in your head, which is why I waited until I reached my 40's to do it. My first crossing only scratched the surface of what I had imagined." That was in 2000, when she windsurfed across the Atlantic. Then she crossed the Mediterranean in 2002. Her desire to start over again only grew with her experience, and this year she challenged the Pacific.

There is a photo of her, exploding with joy on top of her board, when she reached Tahiti, with a bottle of champagne in one hand and what looks like a glass in the other.

Not an ounce of middle-age fat on her: 1m75 tall, 56 kilos, and a smile to light up the world.

What was her landfall wish? Some fresh baked warm bread. And then, to go home to write her story and take up her crochet...

They say of every Bretonne that she comes into the world with a crochet hook in her hand. They might add: And with a dream of the sea in her heart.
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