WALKING THROUGH CLOUDS France, Part 1: Anticipation: For Suzan, Who Changed My Life — and How Triviality Makes me Happy!


France, Part I:  Anticipation

For Suzan, Who Changed My Life — and How Triviality Makes Me Happy!

Suzan, of our Atlanta Zona Rosa group, sits on my lemon yellow thrift shop couch in Savannah, and says, in her quiet, ladylike voice, “You need to hold writing retreats – and I’ll plan them.” Petite and blonde, she is nothing if not persevering (she researched her impeccably accurate historical novel, Rosamond, for elevenyears before we met); soon we are gathering beside a lake in Kentucky, then at a bed and breakfast in Savannah, an annual event that becomes our famous beach retreats near Savannah. And when Suzan achieves her lifelong goal of moving to France permanently, she also puts her skills as an international travel agent – her job back in Atlanta – to work, planning divine writing retreats for us in Tuscany, the South of France, and one special year, Killarney, Ireland. (Also, because of Suzan, I end up that year at an international writing festival in Listowel, where I meet Irish poets and writers and, reading from my poems at the Last Kingdom Bar, learn first-hand how much the Irish adore poetry!)

Flash forward a dozen years: Before I leave my home in Savannah for our retreat the South of France in 2011 — first, seven days in Aix-en-Provence, where we will hold workshops, then the treat of three days in Paris – I itch. For seven days, I itch all over my body for reasons unknown to me or my doctor. At the same time, I’m seeking to catch up with e-mail, and get packed in plenty of time. I also somehow know that the moment I arrive in France, the itching will disappear, and it does. A Sagittarius, I’m a born traveler, and it’s life at home, with its complications — not being on airplanes, in hotel rooms and foreign places – that brings on the psychosomatic.

I also know that during the week in Aix-en-Provence, the darling, ancient town where Suzan now lives, and which we have visited twice, I’ll be caught up in a excitement of reading manuscripts, leading workshops and meeting with the participants to talk about their writing. But this trip, I vow, will not be like others in which I arrived in Tuscany or the South of France exhausted, even ill, after last minute preparations to be sure that everyone for whom I was responsible at home were taken care of (when you read my memoir in progress, tentatively titled My Anarchist Heart, you’ll know what I mean.)

But now, with my life on a more even keel — and after reading Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project, I determine that this time I’ll be ready in plenty of time, and that I’ll even give myself time to anticipate, which Gretchen pointed outis a major part of the pleasure of anything.  I contemplate at length what clothes to take (after all, I’ll be in France!) and check out T.J.Maxx for inexpensive little extras and a new, just-right-size pink roll on.

One of my other goals this year is to travel lighter, though as my sister Anne points out, packing light means to me at least five pairs of shoes. “Don’t go to France with the wrong shoes,” a woman in Talbot’s counsels, suggesting shoes by Meryl. But when I check the Meryl’s out at Macy’s I see that they’re ugly, ugly, ugly — not even jolie laide, or so ugly they’re pretty, as the French say.

I also get out my copy of French For Dummies, read it a bit, as well as from my friend and Francophile Jamie Cat Callan’s new book, Bonjour, Happiness! about what we can learn about that state from French women. It’s frothy and light – like the café crème I’ll soon be sipping, and it goes into the suitcase, though in order to keep to the weight limit, as I’ve determined to do, I jettison French for Dummies, telling myself that by next year I’ll have studied it and will be fluent, a promise I’ve made for years (check with me in a few months to see if I’m really doing this!).

I don’t let myself think about the recent New York Times Magazine article about the strange crash into the ocean of an Air France jet a while back – or even to get too irritated when my husband Zane deposits me at the Savannah airport with barely a moment to spare – and certainly no time for a Starbuck’s – before boarding my first flight.

The week of the retreat is book ended by readings. On the Friday evening of our arrival, my sister Anne and I pull ourselves out of jet lag long enough to read poetry to a group of expats at the adorable English language bookshop, Book‘N Bar. Since I’ve been here before, I’m beginning to think of some of the ex-pats as friends, especially red-haired Sheighle (pronounced “Sheila”), who’s Irish and tells me she was just in Listowel at the Last Kingdom Bar, where she read poetry as well, and Shelley, a fashion writer from New York and London, whose great chunky necklaces and trendy dresses I admire.

On the last Fri evening of our retreat, again at the bookshop, Anne reads poetry again, and I read from My Anarchist Heart to an even larger crowd. As I stand before our audience, I’m wearing the new navy ballet flats strewn with sparkly blue flowers along with my new navy cotton sheaf dress, both bought for pennies at T.J.’s. Because of my busy-ness here, I knew I wouldn’t have time to shop as the others are doing. And after reading Jamie’s book, Bonjour, Happiness!, I know I’m on the right track. Thank the goddess that I bought them, I think, as I see Shelley’s eyes light up at – even amid my book’s scenes of despair – at my references to my obsession with color coordination, and having packed the right clothes!

And I’m grateful once again when two French women compliment me on my choices – one on my lipstick (bought in a drugstore in the U.S. for five dollars, I tell her) and another on my red, fake alligator purse with the bow on the side, another el cheapo item I’ve brought from the States.

Unbelievably, because of my love of the trivial — and thanks to my relentless, if penny pinching, shopping —  I’ve been able to pass, even in super chic France!

When have you made anticipation work for you?

And when has something trivial, like a cute new pair of shoes bought at bargain price, made you happy?

© Rosemary Daniell 2011


2 Responses

  1. Rosemary, Darling!

    I am so glad your site is up and running. Reading all about how our retreats got started made me nostalgic for Aix. This blog is beautiful, and before you know it, you will have many followers. Since my blog is on Blogger, I am not familiar with the settings for WordPress, but I will look around and call or email you about getting your followers and blog lists.


  2. I love your new blog, Rosemary. And this entry on triviality is especially nice. It reminds me of a quote from Emerson in which he’s discussing a well-lived life. He wrote that to have a successful life, you must “be interested in big things, but happy in small ways.”. Those little things are the stuff of life. To find the exact shade of color, to enjoy a flavor or scent, to notice a flower blossom or listen to the birds sing, to see a friend smile, or feel the touch of your mate – these are the joys in life. It’s not just that we shouldn’t “sweat the small,” we shouldn’t take it for granted, either. Thanks for the reminder!

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