Monday 25th August, 2014: Mas Gatell, Altafulla, Spain (Caroline to Katharine)
How frightened I was when I heard about the heli-skiing accident. It was the strangest thing – for a brief moment, before I’d received your email, I experienced what I can only describe as a tear in the fabric of reality, when it was just as possible it was you in that helicopter, as not. How close you came; so close that the man who died was a fellow Aucklander from just two suburbs away. So sad. I’m so thankful you’re ok. Do these close calls, these sliding door moments, define us? If we’re lucky they pour a resolute glaze over life and have us swinging from the chandeliers shouting “I’m alive!”
But correspondingly, perhaps each of these close calls causes an invisible crack to form in that glaze; and it is not until we get too close, too many times, all the hairline cracks become apparent and shatter the glaze completely, leaving us naked and uncertain. Perhaps this is as worthy a game as any to play one’s life by – getting close enough to feel lucky, but not too close too often to feel powerless. Let’s hope for lashings of that thing your Ariana Huffington calls ‘grace’ to keep us on the right side of the ledger.
We’ve just returned from three unplanned nights at stunning ski town Viehla (pronounced Bee-aye-ah), the Aspen (or more aptly the Wanaka) of the Spanish Pyrenees. We experienced wild-flowers not snow-powder, but it’s lovely to think for a few days, you and I both saw mountain silhouettes out our windows. Viehla acted as a lush foil to the rows of grapevines, terracotta roofs and glistening swimming pool we’d become accustomed to at Mas Gatell.
We took the girls ice-skating at the rink (“why can everyone else do it, Mummy, and not me?”), horse-riding (“giddy up Blanco, giddy up Tinto!”), but our best day was a trip into the mountains to Saut deth Pish. We stood, entranced at the foot of the magnificent waterfall, then laid our rug on the river-bank. We tore off pieces of baguette and stuffed them with brie and cherry tomatoes for lunch and drank lemon beer kept cold in the river. Hazel fished using a stick and bread for bait, one trouser leg rolled up as if it would help her chances. Georgia wasn’t feeling well and lay in the sunshine with her sunhat over her face. She turned to me and murmured: “This is just lovely, Mummy.” Jez and I played rummy and smiled at each other over our sweet little girls.
I have the same feeling you do about failing to capture the vast beauty of the landscape. I tried to photograph the deep chasm of valley that opened up spectacularly below the road as we drove up the mountain to Saut deth Pish, and the sharp mountains rising up into the sky behind it, but my pictures looked like nothing. Isn’t Mother Nature clever to outwit technology? She’d rather we stand on the edge of the cliff and breath in the mountains, the river, the air; use all our senses to be present. I’m getting better at that, but the trick will be to keep it up back home, when I’m rushing about, preparing meals, doing school and kindy drop-offs and squeezing in time to write.
I am so pleased you had a happy birthday, despite a few culinary glitches (the chef, a seizure, what are the chances?!). Francesca’s is where Virginia’s pre-wedding dinner was in May, so I can picture you sitting on the terrace under a rug, trying to find the best in the situation. I hate to think the reaction Hanz got at the suggestion of a burger or a curry. First dinner out back home – the four of us at Coco’s Cantina, with espresso martinis and a taxi, ok? I reserve the right to sing you happy birthday loudly and present you some form of dessert with a candle poked in it.
We had some gorgeous food in Viehla; our favorite way of eating was selecting from platefuls of pinchos laid out on the counter of whatever café we stumbled upon: jambon on bread with brie, juicy anchovies in vinegar, croquettes filled with creamy chicken or mushroom in white sauce, steaming patatas bravas with spicy sauce, tiny crispy mackerel. Each pincho is held together with a toothpick and when you’re ready for the bill the waiter counts the toothpicks and announces your tally. Our best dinner was at a restaurant called Woolloomooloo. It was – as you might have guessed by the name – owned by an Australian, and his Italian wife. The girls loved the beef-cheek and chicken and parmesan empanadas (basically pies, Spanish style). The owner said he could count on one hand the Kiwis he’d met in Viehla in thirteen years. What rare southern birds we are!
I understand exactly what you mean about Coco not quite being at home. We ask our children to live our dream and enjoy it goddam it! I’m so proud, as you are, at how they have adapted – but ultimately this is our dream for them, and after a while they want to be at home in their own beds, see their friends and reach for “The Lion in the Meadow” or “The Gruffalo” on the bookshelf just where they left them. Jez and I found ourselves talking about home this week. We’re keen to see the final bits of the house renovation and to see spring unfolding across Pt. Chevalier. But there are only two short weeks of our two-month trip to go – I daren’t wish it away and know I will miss this slowing down of time and the long summer days spent together relaxing, swimming or exploring.
Speaking of time, I read an excellent essay today, Toleration by Willlie Morris (he became Harper’s youngest ever editor in 1937). He wrote the story at sixty, four years before he died in 1999. Morris writes of becoming more tolerant over time, and more aware of past grievances and his whole existence “as a whole, as a funny integrity, as part of the quintessence of life and death”. Basically, be present and don’t sweat the small stuff. The older he gets the more time slips away and becomes “a difficult and most honored adversity”. He writes: “I have grown more tolerant because I see now I do not have all the time in the world”.
And neither do we have all the time in the world, dear friend. So right now, I give thanks for the blessings I have in this moment: my madcap family being far too rowdy for me to write, your unfailing friendship and letters, David and Margarita’s warmth and heart at the center of our time at Mas Gatell, the sun on my skin, and the peaceful, dramatic view across the vines I see out my window.
And finally, I propose, let’s try hard to be present and to grab time around the neck and shake all the goodness and beauty we can out of it.