New life goal

In the late 1980s I lived in Paris and ostensibly went to a Parisian university. Classes were always being cancelled or moved or rescheduled and it seemed like I was the last to know. I lived a little outside of Paris, in Boulogne, and so once I had trekked to the Latin Quarter for what I thought was a seminar but was nothing but a stale empty room with cigarette butts and an incomprehensible schedule printout on the door, I stayed in town. My housemate was Latin American, quite beautiful, ailing and always upset about something, sometimes or often, me. In retrospect I believe she suffered from chronic pain but at the time I just found her unpleasant even though our little house was so cute and so I stayed away.

This little head keeps the shutters open. I love having shutters and the ritual of squeaking them open to greet the day and rattling them shut to go to bed.

As a student I could go to matinees for just a few francs and so I went to see old black and white French films or new ones with colors but no action. I walked or rode my bike all over the city and pondered immensely. Since I was bored, or aimless during those months, I made up projects for myself. I quit eating sugar for six weeks which was silly given all the pastries. Then I bought myself a chocolate croissant, devoured it and went to an art history class. I sat and watched my hands shake, it was kind of amazing to fell the sugar coursing through my veins and I tried to explain in my meager French to the professor. Je viens de manger du sucre, c’est comme les drogues.

Yesterday I was so sad about another month of confinement. If I ever get to see the Garonne again it will be as momentous as a trip to Victoria Falls. I decided it was time for another odd goal. Not running a half marathon, the sidewalks hurt my knees. Not being without internet, just too hard right now. Probably doing handstands and headstands every day and writing here too but I was looking for a different kind of goal, one that might enhance the deepening of my experience.

So my new life goal, until May 11, is to try to only do one thing at a time. This includes eating without reading, talking on the phone without looking up word etymologies that I forgot to investigate (if I ever sounded distracted that’s why), and just accepting that when I am doing homework with my son it is anathema to him for me to pick up a book. I’m not going to count listening to music as a second thing but it seems to me that the only way to make this time go faster is to completely slow it down. One thing and only one thing at a time.

There will come a time when we will look back on these days with nostalgia or regret or a gently poignancy. I am old enough to know this and have heard it from post-communist regime citizens, the parents of children no longer little and even dissertation writers. Our conscious minds know that the Stasi, whining toddlers and the solipsistic stresses of graduate school weren’t great but those times when we really couldn’t do anything else or be anywhere else become polished markers along our memory charts of how we became who we are today.

Someone somewhere is singing

It’s raining in Toulouse tonight and the homeless guy is out in the dark feeding ducks before ducking into his tarp-covered tent. He lives behind the monument to World War I and not far from one of the open pharmacies. Two guys sit at a bus stop but it is late and the buses are few so I think they are just taking shelter.

I don’t know if this is a reference to the Little Prince or just a thought but roses have thorns.

The lights in the empty church were on and so the green and blue glass was illuminated in the rain. I walk and walk on the empty streets, under the drops, in the wet. I am sad for my heartbroken friends, for my writing buddies with no priority if they get sick and a little bit for myself. Four weeks and now four more weeks. No dancing, no canoodling, no sitting out with a drink on a spring evening.

What is a city with no people?

Tonight I have no clever metaphors. I think of the woman whose journey I followed for a long time who set her goal to row across the Pacific Ocean heading west from the US. Winds buffeted her back to her starting point, things broke, currents took her the very longest way. While I was all alone in my little house in Ashland trying to raise a baby and have a job, I read about her adventures to give myself fortitude.

Her journey had to be aborted for all sorts of reasons but it took a long time before it ended. I thought of her sleeping alone in a little shell in her boat and knowing that day after day after day it would be the same thing again. Salt in her cracked hands, sun on her head, small cans of tuna and all the rowed progress gained in a day could be lost, or more, in a night.

The first time I came to Toulouse, 20 some years ago, was to row the Canal du Midi. Rowing is both comforting and exhausting. Quadriceps, back, hands and even feet suffer in the constant bending forward, folding knees. Nonetheless, on all that water, and with the body doing something against which it can fully push itself, something therapeutic happens. Years later when I did EMDR to confront my own traumas I thought of my hours and hours of rowing, of bike riding, of moving my body over and over for comfort.

I went rowing once on the Garonne when I first moved to Toulouse but I decided I just wasn’t angry enough to need that kind of workout. Digging in my whole body and grunting against the water wasn’t the kind of healing I was looking for at the time.

Today my child tore apart a cardboard box with his teeth. He wishes we had a boxing bag or some way to build huge bonfires. Our oars aren’t digging into anything but the metaphysical and its such hard work but the boat just won’t move.

Tomorrow I will rise with the sun and be thankful again for the joys of this petite vie but tonight it is sad that we have been rowing so long and made no progress at all. Here we are.

A picture I saw in Seville and wanted to remember.

Boundaries

I recently asked a French person how to say boundaries in French.  And then our discussion turned into one about whether the word is even needed here because there is such a strong social code which is reinforced by family norms (which definitely vary dependent on social class) and a centralized public education system.  I was talking about social boundaries, how to say no to unreasonable requests or how to not find out weird sex things about people we used to know. My impression here is that people are in pretty tight social containers and unless you are very young or living on the margins, you know exactly what is socially acceptable and what isn’t.  I find this comforting but these same codes can be a stultifying prison.

We are in Europe but the borders are closed for the first time in decades.  Our bodies are protected by skin but we debate the boundaries between ourselves, 6 feet, 23 feet.  

A long time ago in Chicago I was at a conference and discovered that a California friend was also at a conference there.  She was an electrical engineer and giving a paper and I had time so I went to watch her. I love seeing people do their thing, especially if it’s a thing I know nothing about.  I think this was in 1998 and I still remember learning two concepts. She told me that she had terrible stomach pains before giving a paper and I have since learned that many people run to the bathroom before public speaking.  I can’t remember the cute name she had for it but she survived and presented her paper very professionally.

The second thing I remember was the topic of her paper. It was delightfully poetic.  It turns out that when one works with electricity, basically energy, there are not linear boundaries.  At some point the charge changes or the current is blocked, electricity can be controlled by mankind. But the place where this happens is more a zone than a line and she called it the boundary of unboundedness.  You are positive, you drift through a zone where things get more intense and then, you are negative. So between two states is another state, the state of unboundedness, extreme potential and not a lot of control.

Codependent trees. No blossom boundaries!

I remember the diagonal line on her graphic and then the little clouds along it, the groupings of things that weren’t on one side or another but still in the in-between maybe becoming state.  I always delight in teaching my high school students the word liminal from the Latin limens or threshold. If I have one foot out the door and one foot in my confined space, where am I? Teenagers are in a liminal state, not yet across some boundary of adulting.  Our hearts can be in a liminal place, connected to the past and unwilling to look at the present. It is uncomfortable to be hanging out in the bardo to be doing the limbo lower and lower in limbo day after day. But when I think of my friend’s paper, and she was very smart, I wonder if maybe we aren’t always somewhere in the unboundedness.

The normally tidy flower beds are unkempt and melding with weeds and somehow more beautiful for their messiness.

Tomorrow the French president will announce the next step, the next amount of time, the spatial limits of our bodies here.  I hear that these might vary by region so our boundaries may be different than boundaries in the north.

What do Americans really mean when they say boundaries?  I am taking a Bhagavad Gita course and hear that the goal of the Vedic world is to create boundaries and spaciousness that allow us to share each other’s company.  The stronger our boundaries, the more we can do, the more space and time we can have to share the world with each other. Knowing where one’s boundaries are takes focus, good will and sometimes brutal honesty.

In trauma and in meditation studies I hear much talk of windows of tolerance.  This window is the boundary of unboundednesss, the spaces where I still feel free, not trapped in lethargy or jolted into uncontrollable and overwhelming emotion.

Happy Easter and Passover.  Times between death and birth.  Times between staying put and leaving.  May your boundaries of unboundedness be as loose or tight as your secret self desires.

I was able to step into the open doorway of this empty church and think a little Easter thought all by myself.

Who comes?

When my son was little I got a copy of Deborah Chandra’s little book about animals at a Serengeti watering hole.  Each page describes the shadow and attributes of an animal and ends with the question, who comes? A tail swishes, some hoof marks show up in the mud, a few clues.  And then on the next page we can see gazelle, giraffe or elephant. I think I loved that book more than he did. Who comes to the watering hole at night? We all go down to the watering hole when it is safe for us to bend down and graze the murky surface with our velvety muzzles.  We sip at night from the source of our own selves. Wild dreams of falling ladders and fuzzy monkeys and long lost loves drag us down deeper and deeper. We awaken to nothing, nowhere to go, no plans, simply the body’s gentle push: drink, pee.

This guy ran a marathon on his balcony.

We are home now, alone or in pods, as my friend called them, and I want a version of this book to give me the hints.  Who is visiting you?  Who is coming if one doesn’t have an HSP*? Who comes? Is future me already on her way to the watering hole? Who are we really? I recently learned that sattvic comes from the verbal root sat, to be.  Hence being peaceful, at ease, sattvic is being in one’s own true nature being oneself. This last week I encountered so many messages about the self and identity.  One of my sattvic septum sisters recommended a book about how we may get aroused by our supposed worst flaws. We are so kinky that we keep putting ourselves in misery because we kind of like that yummy terribleness.  Who comes? Your own personal dominatrix of shame. Enjoy the lashes, you bad person.

And then in the same few days my cousin sent me a long article about Freud and Hamlet from the London Review of Books whose argument was that we use shame and bad feelings to hide from knowing ourselves.  Some of our value systems may well be protective walls. Who comes? Oh, please tell me you remember the first words of Hamlet the play. That is the real question. Not being or un being but who, who is there?  A play whose very first question, asked in the night, in the dark, on the haunted and frigid ramparts, who is there? Who comes?

Who comes on my yoga mat, head down, timer on, all the voices of all my teachers swooping in to visit like hummingbirds drawing the sutra threads through the window and caressing me with memories of sangha, of community?

Who comes when my son cheerily picks me up and drops me on the couch over and over?  My body is now a small toy for a very large child. Our roughhousing and running into each other, the tumbling of love and growth.  I am a pillow with bones.

Illuminated sidewalk.

Who comes when I write?  Who shows up in the interstices between the word I wrote and the word I read?  The seasons change, a fly, buzzer of summer, on a velvet pillow? Who comes? Jittery nerves and terrible fears of past pain because a word I wanted wasn’t said.  My desires awakened by a silliness, a decades old memory of laughing, in my red boots, at a very forward Frenchman. Femme qui rit moitié dans son lit. Was it me?  The me of now, the me of then. Who is laughing now?

Who are we all going to be?  Who is waiting for us in the wings, oh Hamlet?  My son and I eventually went to the Serengeti and ate popcorn at night around the campfire while lions rumbled.  But it was dry, too dry. The thunderheads never brought their gifts and the watering holes blew away in dust and they said why do you Americans not believe in global warming?  Look, look, all the dead trees.

Neighborhood feet.

*according to The NY Times, HSP = home sexual partner. My new favorite romantic term.

Zoom

I have been video conferencing on a regular basis with people since last May or June, mostly on Zoom. These are people I have never met outside of the screen and I find them delightful, intriguing and inspiring. I was not much of a believer in the whole online thing but now I regularly show up to hang out and write with my friends in the computer. They have made me cry, laugh, blush and rue my hasty speaking, just like friends in the flesh. We have spent hundreds of hours together at this point and have an intimacy that is sacred in its constancy and internationalness.

Nobel Prize winner, he‘s pretty old now, good thing he‘s got a mask and scarf.

In December I joined another online community, a much bigger one, and over the months I have gotten to know these people as well. These spring days I wear shorts for the midday sun and then wrap in a blanket when the sun leaves my balcony. Through Zoon I am seeing so many people, women mostly, on their balconies or lawn chairs and in their blankets. Last night I watched a young woman, muted, slowly and articulately spoon something out of a large white bowl while we attended our course. It was poetic the way she grasped the metal spoon with her long fingernails and settled back on her couch to listen.

Iris I rise.

I used to think that everyone else was out and busy having joyous lives, secret picnics under spreading oak trees and family gatherings with delicious salty food. I could only see glimpses of the lives of others as I rode my bike down suburban streets or colored in the desiring book of my imagination. But now, thanks to Zoom, I know I belong. We are in the hundreds, ladies in blankets on couches, fomenting the next big thing. From Australia to Panama to the North of England. Why didn‘t anyone tell me that I am just like the others? No cuckoo‘s egg. Even here in France, women are grabbing their duvets and settling into their couches and Zooming the night away.

Before Zoom but in the same spirit, a thoughtful girl, painted on a garage.

We are the cold-legged tribe, plotting the end of patriarchy, sipping our tea. We are but the brief flowerings of humanity’s great mycelium, we are the two-handed mug holders, but there is Gaia and Medea and Medusa and all the water in the world on our side, flowing and shifting and carving new paths.

Goat tango

When I was little I loved writing poems, especially long complicated rhyming ones. I used to run rhymes for words through my head when I felt out of place or was waiting. Now I have a cell phone. I have been exceptionally lucky to have been able to participate in some lovely poetry writing workshops this last year.

My musician friend tells me this new graffiti is a quarter rest. Confinement stencil on a quiet street.

These are the days of not having very much to report and so I am going to stick my neck out tonight and just give you a poem. I really miss animals. And dancing. I hope that in the future I get to have many more tandas. And there will still be pandas.

Hoping for the best.

A white and black goat in the meadow peers intently

At the spring sky with her amber eyes.

The breeze lifts the long hairs along her neck ridge.

She sighs, shakes her head, and I see her round belly fill

And then go gaunt again.

There is no time now.  The sun warms goat and horse and

Half the house and me on the wool carpet from a Pomeranian past.

The little scratchy fibers slowly turn my elbows red as I read and read,

Moving slowly on my belly to follow the rectangle of slanting spring sun.

It is 2 am or maybe 4 am.  No time and I sink into an embrace.

We move as one in this Buenos Aires basement and I sigh.

Two people leaning together and we are all there is.

I close my eyes and hear the sound of leather soles sliding

And hearts swelling as we all circle the room as one.

The goat taught me how to lean into another body.

In the morning, on the old wooden stanchion

She cocked one hip and let her warmth, her weight,

Press into my shoulder as I milked her long brown teats.

And the milk sang a metallic song into the bucket.

We hold each other up.  Breathing together, sighing as one.

No thought. No time.

Le prochain pas

I discovered walking meditation a few years ago with the inspiring Craig and Devon Hase. We were in Ashland in the spring and although it was still cool and damp outside we could walk in the park. I had never walked so slowly in my life. It was enchanting. I remember the moss, the sky, the mountains above as I lifted one foot and then slowly, slowly rolled it to the ground. Here in Toulouse they also have walking meditation at the dojo, or had. But they walk fast, laps and laps along the springy green floor. I can barely creak up, I mean keep up, on my stiff knees after half an hour of sitting meditation.

This made me laugh. Oh California, what have you done to the youth of France?

One time this local group had a meditation day a little out of town in an artist’s rambling old house. We sat upstairs in a warm room and then walked in the yard over lumpy tufts of grass and around bushes. Before we went and put our shoes on for the walking meditation the leader warned us that a large puppy had been acquired and to watch out for dog poop. They walked a little bit slower that day.

I think this brick path is progressing as slowly as confinement time, one day that arrow will reach the cement circle but not today, not tomorrow.

We are currently not allowed to go farther than one kilometer from our homes so I have been walking around and around for miles every day. Sometimes I just go in circles around the pretty and closed parks. Sometimes I pretend to get lost and wander down roads that I don’t remember, I try to trick myself into mystery. All of the green spaces are closed. These walks make no sense. They have become walking simply for the sake of walking. I am going nowhere and then I am going back to this apartment.

I used to make up errands or think of things to see to have an excuse for my long city walks. Every day someone from the US asks me what my plan is. The borders are closed. They want to know when I am coming back, when we get to leave. I am stuck here. Not in France! In this writing. The problem is that right now all I have are questions and I always tell my students not to write questions but to take the time and find what they really want to say.

I do not know what the next step is but I am getting really good at walking aimlessly. Walking meditation is so cool because all of a sudden the act of moving is just that, all process, no goal. Welcome to confinement. One of my favorite poems in French is Passionément by the Romanian Ghérasim Luca. If you speak French you should look it up and listen to the recording. Pas in French is a negation. J’aime pas. I don’t like, as opposed to j’aime. Pas in French also means a step. Un pas à gauche, un pas en avant (I think they said something like that during the lunar landing). You’ve all heard of a faux pas, a misstep. So here we are, all going nowhere, pas pas. Enjoy!

pas pas paspaspas pas 
pasppas ppas pas paspas 
le pas pas le faux pas le pas 
paspaspas le pas le mau 
le mauve le mauvais pas 
paspas pas le pas le papa 
le mauvais papa le mauve le pas 
paspas passe paspaspasse 
passe passe il passe il pas pas 
il passe le pas du pas du pape 
du pape sur le pape du pas du passe 
passepasse passi le sur le 
le pas le passi passi passi pissez sur 
le pape sur papa sur le sur la sur 
la pipe du papa du pape pissez en masse 
passe passe passi passepassi la passe 
la basse passi passepassi la 
passio passiobasson le bas 
le pas passion le basson et 
et pas le basso do pas 

Bless/er

And now for a little etymology because I am feeling hurt and blessed at the same time so thank goodness I speak more than one language. In English we talk about our blessings, which comes from the old English blod or bled, blood. Something that is consecrated with blood is blessed. As a woman, I’ve thus been blessed a good 446 times in my life. Consecrated with blood. What a blessing. Bless you.

I bought a passion fruit and it was the same weird color as the kitchen towels in this apartment which also contains 39 teaspoons and two oyster openers.

But in French blesser means to injure or harm. My son’s French worksheet said: Il y avait quatre ____________ dans l’accident, mais heureusement pas de __________. He wrote morts for the first and blessés for the second because he hates being normal but what an odd phrase. So his sentence read, there were four deaths in the accident but luckily no injuries. I’ve always liked the French word, it carries a tenderness in sound, blessure, whereas the English injure is just rougher. Injure is also a word in French but much more on the metaphysical plane, and frankly sometimes those injuries to the soul hurt as much as the gaping wounds inflicted by dull knives.

The above image is the illustration for blesser from a French dictionary. Ow my heart, it hurts as she leaves. From what I can gather the French word comes from an old Provençal word which means to bruise, to tenderize, to soften, like for meats or fruits. When the French talk about blessing, the word is bénir which still very much retains its religious sense, like benediction. Its etymology is so simple, saying bien, good, putting the bien on something as opposed to malédiction, saying the bad, the mal.

So, my friends, we are all debating whether there is a silver lining, a new reality, a blessing in the blessure as it were. I do not know the answer. What did you learn from all your pain and suffering? I had over 400 periods in this lifetime. Some were tragedies, some were blessings, some were annoyances, some were forgettable and some were frightening. I do not know if this time of confinement and panic and fear has silver linings. It seems like too much and it seems easy for someone in a quiet sunny apartment who just ate three delicious blood oranges to think good will come.

Sanguin oranges.

My life has just not made that much sense and I don’t always know where I can separate the hurt from the wisdom, or the great gift from the blood required to get it, or screws in my knee from friends for over thirty years. So I go back to my books of comfort, dictionaries, and I think that yes, this time is a blessing for some, for the air and the birds, for those who survive and yet it is a terrible terrible blessure for society, for the isolated and underserved, and for so many that we do not yet know. And maybe the French peasants had it right, maybe most of all this is a time of meurtrir, bruising or wounding, like they did to the olives and the fruits to hasten their ripening, or maturing as one says in French. The softest fruits are the sweetest, some wounds are a blessing, any good blessing carries the mark of blood, if only in its linguistic past. Bless you.

Take good care of yourselves says this homemade sign on a quiet street.

Oyster memories

Today someone asked me if I liked oysters. I love France at moments like this. I was standing in a long line in the sun outside the butcher shop, all meters away from each other, listening to music and texting about oysters. The sky, an incredible heavenly blue today, may be falling but let’s talk about eating oysters. I have so many stories: Oregon oysters in creamy soup with my mother at Christmas, eating oysters in a fancy restaurant in Brittany when I was so broke but we splurged for one meal and it was utterly delightful, paper plates of oysters with my family and we just couldn’t stop in Marin County, swampy sexy Cajun oysters in New Orleans in an old dark restaurant, free oysters at El Rio in the 1990s in San Francisco when I drank all those tiny martinis with G. and we danced and played pool, the bizarre Christmas when a hostile woman gave me an electric oyster knife, probably so I would hurt myself and go away, and oh yes Francis Ponge’s beautiful prose poem!

Blood oranges, strawberries, flowery artichokes, spring delights.

At the very beginning of this millennium my cousin got married near Point Reyes. It was the first wedding of our little generation and we all came to laugh, to toast, to embrace her because we love her so much and who was this dashing and very entertaining man she was going to make a new life and a new family with? So I’m standing in line far from home during a pandemic, as one does, and oysters, and cousins, and memories of January in Marin County and family and I miss everything so much and yet what an amazing life I got to lead so far. I don’t remember a lot about the wedding ceremony except some frantic hemming and a lot of milling around but the next morning we all gathered for breakfast outside the small B and B. Barbecued oysters. And coffee. And sun slowly warming our cold fingers, and family. My boy cousins had gone down to the oyster farm early to get boxes of mollusks and we stood around the fire as they slowly opened in the heat and then we slurped them down. My Italian uncle was there making us laugh and everyone was relaxed after the fancy night and it was so beautiful. Oysters.

Spotted yesterday. A polite smoker? An extra arm?

Another memory. Many years ago I moved to France as a college student. I was bound and determined to learn French so I eschewed the company of all of the other American students, didn’t read Newsweek and only hung out with people who would speak French with me, a Basque student on my exchange and a Scottish student also coming from California. There was no internet and the telephone was mighty expensive so I managed to not speak English for weeks and weeks. It was so hard. I got terrible grades on my French written assignments and spent hours in some kind of elocution class giggling as we repeated “il est minuscule, il est minuscule.” That u – so challenging for Americans. For the first few weeks I collapsed into bed before dark, my head pounding with the effort of so, so much concentration. It doesn’t matter how much French you study. This language that is spoken here is so much faster and so different than any language course. We came in August and then one evening in November my Scottish friend’s host family invited some of us over for a party. A seafood party which is a nice fancy thing in France.

Another little list on the ground, mostly cleaning products.

We had dark bread, white whine, shrimps in their shells and raw oysters. I had never eaten a raw oyster out of the shell before but I wasn’t going to be a squeamish American and wince. I took it and tipped it up and down the gullet it went. The sea, the glorious sea! I ate the sea and I was hooked. More white wine, more oysters, more hanging out on the balcony looking at the town at night. We laughed and mingled with their French friends until very late. That night, at about 11 pm, I suddenly realized that I had been speaking French for hours and I hadn’t been thinking about it, not at all. The veil between my communicative self and my scholarly self had lifted and I was riding a bike, no hands, whee! That November night, my first raw oyster in the shell, my first French conversation without effort. Such bliss. My son turned to me a few days ago and said “at least you got to do a lot of good stuff first [before Covid].” He’s right. I really did get to do a lot of good stuff.

Hiking above Marseille last fall.

L’huître

      L’huître, de la grosseur d’un galet moyen, est d’une apparence plus rugueuse, d’une couleur moins unie, brillamment blanchâtre. C’est un monde opiniâtrement clos. Pourtant on peut l’ouvrir : il faut alors la tenir au creux d’un torchon, se servir d’un couteau ébréché et peu franc, s’y reprendre à plusieurs fois. Les doigts curieux s’y coupent, s’y cassent les ongles : c’est un travail grossier. Les coups qu’on lui porte marquent son enveloppe de ronds blancs, d’une sorte de halos.
      A l’intérieur l’on trouve tout un monde, à boire et à manger : sous un firmament (à proprement parler) de nacre, les cieux d’en dessus s’affaissent sur les cieux d’en dessous, pour ne plus former qu’une mare, un sachet visqueux et verdâtre, qui flue et reflue à l’odeur et à la vue, frangé d’une dentelle noirâtre sur les bords.
      Parfois très rare une formule perle à leur gosier de nacre, d’où l’on trouve aussitôt à s’orner. 

Francis Ponge – Le parti pris des choses (1942)

Skin

A long time ago I wrote a dissertation and then a book on the French traveler Victor Segalen. He was one of those who just up and went without much of a plan and then returned home to die mysteriously in the forest with one shoe off. His prose is lapidary as they say in French, which means it takes a fair amount of reflection and interpretation to get anywhere with it. Which is also the kind of writing I enjoy. One of my favorite ideas from Segalen is about skin. It is the only organ that can know another of its own kind of organ. Our liver can never know liverness and even our eyes cannot feel gazing and gazed upon at the same time. Except maybe in some orgasmic drug-induced cabeceo at 2 am in Buenos Aires with a live bandoneon player, a squeaking wood floor and that one waltz playing, you know the one. Uh huh.

This is the color of a Toulouse sidewalk, reddish brown.

But I digress and how can you blame me because I haven’t gotten any skin on skin contact from another adult in 19 days. No bises, no high fives, no capoeira kicks, no tango chests, no sweaty Lindy hop hands, no yoga adjustments, no hugs, not even the briefest marketplace touch as I get my pumpkin change, and so forth and so on because my mother reads this blog.

Here is the original French because it’s just so much better:  la peau est un admirable organe étendu, mince et subtil ; et le seul qui puisse, pour ainsi dire, jouir de son organe jumeau : d’autres peaux, d’un grain égal ou différent, d’une tactilité, d’un dépoli sensible…Victor Segalen, Équipée.

The skin, only organ to know its twin. Subject and object meld and become one with touch, who is the agent, who is the recipient? Hard to know. What is our species going to become with so much less skin on skin touch? Here in France cheeks get bumped or even kissed a lot. [But not at all any more since March 17 2020 which was exactly 17 years after I got married at NY City Hall]. People exchange/d microdroplets of sweat, cologne, love, spit, desire day in and day out. I recently read in a tantra book that maybe we are like mushrooms, all connected in some big network and each of us is but one flower, one jutting out of fungus that only represents a node of the entire being.

I want a big hard hug like this wisteria hugs this fence.

But now we are all staying so far away from each other’s skin. When we first moved here and my son was feeling a little overwhelmed at all of the newness, he often said he just wanted one of my arms. As in a detachable arm that he could carry around for comfort, to the first week of school, or on his first solo shopping trip. We all need an extra arm these days. Whose would you choose?

This almost incomprehensible shopping list is so beautiful on the ground just moments before 8 pm when all the people came out on their balconies to applaud and cheer the workers who are keeping us fed and safe.

I never understood couples who didn’t want skin on skin as often as possible but I have friends for whom other people’s skin is just too much, an intrusion, an overwhelm. Indiscriminate touch, thoughtless touch, can be a violation, an insult, a matter of total disrespect. I was talking to someone on the phone yesterday who said that when this confinement is lifted people are going to be out in the streets kissing and hugging everyone, like at the end of WWII. Wouldn’t that be exciting but I fear we are going to be wary of other people’s skin for some time to come.

As my grandmother grew older, she craved touch and we would walk around Bad Krozingen, arm in arm, squeezing close across the cobblestones. She told me to always hug and kiss and squeeze anyone older or anyone I knew who lived alone because missing touch is so hard on a person. I have taken her advice over the years, always asking permission first, and I hope that when I’m 90 someone will come around and squeeze me too.

Love and hearts from Toulouse to you.