Love stories

French garlic. French frog. Abandoned on the sidewalk.

This last week I had the immense privilege of hearing two stories about falling in love and I realized that I miss hearing these stories. I have spent far too much time in the last year dissecting the troubles of relationships, mourning the ends, and analyzing all the bits and pieces. The two raconteurs each told their story in a language that was not their own and, in that way, the love part of the story became intensified and simple and true. I turned to a teacher friend and said, what a great pedagogical exercise! Because it uses the past tense, it is engaging to teller and listener, and often requires good metaphors. She told me to be quiet and I wanted to add, what a great humanity exercise!

A man who I think is between 50 and 60 told me that he fell in love at first sight once in his life, four years ago. We were both speaking in a language we are learning, so my questions were very simple and his answers were straight, stripped to the core, direct. He had to rely on a lot of gestures and facial expressions but I understood and I was happy for him. It was a complicated story but we made it simple and we smiled. Love stories are good. I am happy that he got to experience love at first sight and that he is still with the person. I barely know my fellow student, but now, after hearing his story in a stilted foreign language, I feel great tenderness for him and his verb conjugations.

A young woman who I have known since she was just a kid sat and told us, in a language she has learned over the years, about meeting a lovely young man. She told us how she felt, how they sat together, how they talked, and how easy and sweet it all was. We aren’t her parents so we didn’t ask very many questions but just listened and smiled for her. I was awed at her openness and good humor and re-enactment of exactly how their arms rested near each other when they sat together. Do you remember that? When one centimeter more or less of proximity made you flush?

I remember. The sun was setting over the harbor in Heraklion. I had already walked out along the stone pier and looked at the little waves and thought about being on an island, miles and miles of boat riding away from the continent. I was hungry and wistful and walking along the promenade. He was walking the other way, our eyes met for a moment. It was almost dark and I was traveling in Crete all alone, barely 18. We passed each other with all the other evening walkers. And then he turned around and came back and talked to me, in his minimal English. And I responded in my slow high school French. We ate a cheap dinner together and stared into each other’s eyes, using our gestures and smiles to say what our language was too basic to put into metaphors. I went back to my little hotel room. When I opened the blinds in the morning and looked out into the street, I saw him sitting on the steps of the hotel, waiting to see me again. It was a beautiful love story with Greek beaches and laughter and discovery and not a lot of words.

Falling in love at first sight, or at first encounter, first conversation pulls us out of our own lives, our own conceptions. The first time I fell in love, at first sight, was with a beautiful Frenchman and here I sit, in the land of love stories. I am so lucky, or so cursed, to have fallen in love quite a few times in my life. Just thinking of those stories, those encounters, makes me happy, makes my heart pound a little on this wintry Monday morning.

And just around the corner, waiting behind a fence, is garlic’s soulmate. A little wrinkly and dried-up but just waiting to make sweet sizzle together.

Food-spotting thanks to my son who has been helping me take pictures of abandoned food on the ground for years. In Ashland we found bacon, a marshmallow, a burrito, gluten-free chocolate cake mix and a doughnut. Here in France a potato, beet greens, cheese puffs, candy and these…

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