Happy Bastille Day. Bastille Day is not, actually, why I love France and the French. I love France and the French because of our friends P and M, who I met when I was in my twenties. I spent a lot of time in M’s kitchen, drinking un-English tea (it was fruit scented black tea, and I loved it almost as much as I loved her) out of an old silver teapot that had a bee on its lid. I adored that teapot, the way the lid lifted back on a hinge and the bee seemed to be looking around and approving the whole set up. I spent years trying to find one like it, and I never did. I did find the tea, however, on a trip to Paris. You can buy it in the supermarket, as it turns out.
It was a long time ago, but I can still remember how shocked I was to meet someone my age who owned objects with patina. By the time I was twenty-four, this is what I had left from my childhood: my high school yearbooks, a button from a pink robe my grandmother gave me one year for Christmas, the copy of Wuthering Heights the librarian at Hof Army Base in Bavaria gave me when I was in the fourth grade, and a small tin with a silver lid that was engraved with Rembrandt’s Night Watch, which I found on the window sill of the house we rented in Bavaria when my dad was stationed there.
M had, in addition to the aforementioned tea pot, what seemed like hundreds of family pictures, some in very nice frames. She also had marble obelisks on her coffee table along with big wooden balls, whose only function was to be large and interesting, as far as I could see. She had a little bar cart and nice glasses. She was not afraid to have a large purple couch, which was actually more than a little shabby. The pillows on it were made out of something that looked to me a lot like a rug. I imagine these possessions were the tip of the iceberg, given that most of what she owned was back in Paris. She also had a château and a title, both courtesy of her husband, which was news to me because I hadn’t been aware that titles even existed anymore, not after all the heads were chopped off. So, I loved her, because she was One Hundred Percent Not Me. And she was One Hundred Percent Her French Self.
I also loved the way she looked at things. In her dining room, she hung twenty four botanical prints she’d found in a book at a used book store ($1) and framed with frames from the Big Longs Drug Store, where you could buy anything. Those botanical prints looked as good as everything else in her house.
The funny thing is that they loved us too. In their eyes, we had nothing weighing us down. We were “mellow,” we did not worry, we were spontaneous, we weren’t in a hurry. They liked the way we dressed, particularly my husband in his uniform of levi 501s and t-shirts.
But mostly, we loved each other because we had so much in common. M and I were readers. Serious ones. She, of course, had twice as many books available to her for reading purposes than I did because she could read in both English and French. We were also talkers. We liked to discuss why the French see things the way they do and the Americans, well, the Americans don’t see them that way. We talked about taxes, and child rearing and medicine. We talked about our husbands, who were obviously not ever going to talk about us to each other, being so similar themselves. P and my husband were windsurfers, and skiiers and cyclists. Neither of them liked to delve into the emotional. They mostly just liked conquering water, snow, and roads, which they did together for a long time.
Now they live in Belgium, and we see each other sometimes, but not very often. I miss them. I miss seeing myself through their eyes, and I miss that teapot. Happy Bastille Day, P&M.