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I feel a sense of dread about this year. There are various reasons for that that aren’t easy for me to verbalize.

I generally think of myself as a positive person, and I think most people I know would describe me that way, but when I think back to years ago and then move forward to more recent years, there were periods where I struggled to find something positive and some beauty in life. As is the case with everyone. Life ebbs and flows. If we’re lucky, we have more happy times than sad ones. I know in the grand scheme of things, I’ve been lucky. And #blessed, if I was someone who used hashtags.

During hard times, where I turn to find that momentary relief has changed over the years. Within the past decade one source has been nature. Looking up in a quiet space outside. Witnessing the trees that are bound to change next week.

And there’s music. Writing. People. Turning outward when it’s tempting to turn inward and stay there.

For a few weeks now certain things that I thought I had almost become desensitized to have reasserted themselves and stayed wedged in my mind past the moment. They span the levels from personal—what’s happening in my circle—to global—what’s in the news.

A small example: every time I see a homeless person in the subway now, the sadness I feel lingers longer than it used to. It seems inhuman to hear someone beg and then go about one’s day. There is a man I see sitting in the corner of the subway entrance every morning. What would help? I’m not going to give money every day. Would a smile be better than ignoring him?

I think in most cases, the feeling of malaise in difficult situations comes from feeling powerless or not knowing what to do or believing that one’s actions or words won’t make a difference.

If someone told me all this, I would probably tell them to think about what they can do, and try to do it. Sittin’ and sulkin’ ain’t gonna do anything. Well, I wouldn’t tell anyone the latter—tough love isn’t really my thing—but it’s what I tell myself after a night spent worrying or when a cloud descends on my mind.

More thoughts to come.

 

Note: I wrote this two and a half weeks ago. It’s representative of a moment in time, and good and hopeful things, as well as bad and worrisome things, have happened since then. Everything evolves (though I still wouldn’t say I’m feeling particularly cheery).

This Provincial Life

In the dead of winter a couple of years ago, a friend and I took a day trip to Provins, a medieval village about an hour and a half from Paris by train. It was very cold, and there were no other tourists in town.

It was charming.

There were stone buildings on the quiet roads that sometimes ascended and descended.

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Doors about five feet high were everywhere. Why?

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We walked to the northern edge of the town, where the ramparts are. After passing under an archway to the other side, I was amazed. Before us were fields. Vast fields. The landscape was like a beautiful painting.

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It was very cold. But I said that already. We climbed a staircase up the ramparts and walked along the edge.

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Through another gate of the fort, we found a path leading to the tourist office. An odd location I thought, rather than near the train station or the main square Place du Chatel, which was our next stop.

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On a covered heated terrace of a resto, we ordered galettes (buckwheat crepes) and were given red blankets to warm our laps. The cream to accompany my smoked salmon and spinach galette perched on a curved spoon.

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Provins is a walking town. We reached the Tour César easily from the square. Atop a hill, it reminded me of the tower in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” I pretended to ride an invisible horse with coconuts knocking for the hooves. I suppose saying ‘pretend’ is redundant since the horse was invisible.

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We climbed the twelfth century tower and paused for a view of the village.

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For the rest of the afternoon, we wandered and visited a park and a couple of churches, including the Eglise Saint-Ayoul, which had beautiful stained glass windows in a low ceilinged wing of white arches. There was one window of yellow stained glass, and others with red or orange or purple glass.

The stained glass I love is light. It creates light, filters it, plays with it through color. A photo never captures it but makes me remember how it felt to stand in its light.

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By a quarter to five, we were back to the train to Paris’s Gare de L’Est. It was not the first day trip I had taken to medieval times, though it was probably more authentic than the dinner theatre of the same name in New Jersey.