Touching Earth

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Angers, France – July 2016

The French have an expression for a secondary residence, a home away from home. They call it a pied-à-terre, which means “foot on the ground”. After drifting along rootless for several years, my husband and I now have such a place. Our home remains the road. From time to time we return to Earth in Angers, France. A container of possessions has sailed across the planet from New Caledonia.

“It’s depressing to have so much stuff,” my husband sighed.

“Now you know what I mean,” I replied. He used to tease me about my habit of throwing things out.

We now have a stable point in space, but our journey defies the laws of motion. Our orbit will only become more vast and unpredictable in the future.

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Here I am, on the ground. The final apartment, just below the attic, in a small corner building. Romantic French doors and wrought iron railings. From the balcony, I can see the morning fog rise over the Maine and the distinctive blue-gray slate rooftops of the Anjou region. The Cathedral is almost close enough to touch. Tolling bells, cafe chatter, chirping birds. I throw the doors open wide and let the music in.

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Colors are chosen, supplies bought. It is a novelty to be able to fully understand and communicate with everyone. At the home improvement store, I provoke amusement and surprise. I know what I need and know the correct words. Most of the renovation was done by professionals. A wall knocked out, rewiring, new plumbing, new kitchen. The carpet was stripped away to reveal the original hardwood floors. My husband is baffled by my desire to paint the place myself. We can afford to have someone do it.

Paid workers are often careless. A nail sticking out here, a forgotten plug there. We’ve already had problems because of their negligence. Disappointment. I come from a family of obsessive carpenters, and I’ve painted several apartments myself. I want to put my energy into these walls.

After nine solid days of work, I begin to regret my decision. I discover that the ceiling needs a third coat and notice those tiny spots I missed on the French doors. My hands are cramped into claws and my whole body aches. My hair is speckled with paint. Then more mistakes appear. Every little pinprick-sized mistake. I sit on the floor and put my head in my hands.

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Go outside. Feel the streets. There is a festival tonight at the castle, a five-minute walk away. A Celtic rock concert in the square. Scenes from the Apocalypse Tapestry are projected onto the towers. It is a celebration of Anger’s hero – King René of Anjou. The music weaves its spell. My usual aversion to crowds vanishes. A woman makes space for me on a stone bench. I bring my agitated feet to a halt and sit down beside her.

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And then the work is done. Kitchen, hallway, living room, doors. The long shadows of hushed Sunday morning streets are my reward. France is in turmoil, but you would never know it here.

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Floors and windows are washed. Tools are put away. The countryside beckons. A land of waterways, wetlands. Birds, everywhere. The hypnotic swoop of long wings over languid water.

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Confluence. The Mayenne and the Sarthe flow into the Maine, which flows into the regal Loire.

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Gentle paths through villages and vineyards. Smiles and bonjour. La douceur Angevine is what it’s called. The Anjou sweetness. Such is the nature of a placid land. A fresh baguette and some vieux pané cheese in my backpack. Yes, they even sell tiny bottles of wine. The tartness of ripening grapes perfumes the soft breeze. I lie on the grass and seep my spirit into this sweet Earth.

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