Life lets you fail and try and smell bad and fall and stumble. Life lets you remember that there is time and that the slippery sycamore leaves aren’t just there to make you fall, to clog up the canal, to slip around our feet and bike tires but also to remind you that Napoleon was here. There were men and women and children who labored to shape this space. The three canals and the Garonne and all of the big boulevards host the sycamore. For years I believed that most fatal French car crashes were heads hitting sycamore trees. So much cracking.
In June I wept and the witches dust that is sycamore pollen stung my eyes. It swept through the air, visible prickles, and everyone else sitting outside eating lunch wept with me. Time passes with the trees but not as quickly as you might think. It’s never so fast. We are given gaps and moments of time to develop our own style, to grow in and out of pants. Life lets us flibbertigibbet about and there is still time to buy marmalade, to begin to think a deep thought, to rue a text. These little mistakes, these small miscalculations of the bumps and crevices of our own time.
I took a year off of work, off of my life in the US to explore what I was, who I would be, with so much of my identity stripped away. And now it feels like we are all being catapulted into a very intense version of this experience. No work, no school, no real idea of the concrete future and a lot of time on our own. I like to look at the plane trees, many suffering from their own new malady, a mushroom-like growth, and wonder at their notion of time.
We can only breathe right now, not tomorrow, we only know our bodies right now, not next month. These huge trees give me such comfort. They are, it turns out, a terrible choice for bordering canals because their leaves are so thick and leathery that it can take four years for them to disintegrate in the water. So all of the canals need to be dredged or they will disappear, their bottoms rising in a muddy blanket of bio phyllo. But we love them despite their unsuitable nature.
The sycamore trees in Toulouse are old enough that they saw me once before. Do they remember me in 1997, in a boat, blistered and hot, struggling under their meager midday shade? Did I remember them?
These sycamore trees are my monuments right now, keeping a gray-barked vigil all night long. All life long. Tonight we will ride by a hundred or more of them, in the dark, on our bicycles. Next fall they will be naked again.