Keeping a Grip on Fantasy
My husband Larry and I like to pretend we actually live in the places we visit on vacation. For instance, when in Rome, Larry imagines himself sitting all day outside his apartment in the Piazza Navona. He is sipping cappuccino, reading a book on architecture and smoking. Larry resumes smoking on all of his fantasy vacations. Larry does not have a job in Rome. I don't either. In order to keep our fantasies aloft, we have learned to avoid these little pinpricks of reality.
Paris is our all time favorite place in which to pretend to live. We don't care if the French aren't friendly. When we're French, we won't be friendly either. I love to imagine who I'd be if I were French. Would I dare to slip into the skin of that flamboyantly hennaed woman carrying the baguette? I imagine that she's on her way to the open-air market where she will buy an armload of flowers and, on a whim, a canary in a cage. I do not like bird and have never wished to own one, but in Paris I will.
Larry the lawyer thinks he's that insouciant guy over there, leaning against the archway rolling a Gauloise around between his lips, letting the ash fall. In the summers, he sees himself sailing off the coast of Normandy. Larry doesn't sail and we have lived for 30 years on the coast of Long Island Sound.
After a few days of imagining ourselves French, we find we are speaking French. That is to say, we are using French words when we can remember them, and when we can't, speaking English with a French accent, like Charles Boyer.
But of course.
Thus Frenchified, we are ready to look for our fantasy home. Invariably, we find ourselves in front of a real estate office. We examine the photos on display in the window. Do we want a house or an apartment? Should we louer or acheter? The Left Bank, of course, but quelle arrondisement?
Larry, whose favorite opera is La Boheme, would like something in the way of a garret with a dormer window and chimneypots. And a sink in the corner. I'm not fussy, as long as there's a place for my canary.
How easily we betray our real lives in our dreams! How heedless of the time and energy we put into home, community and friends, never mind love of country. Vacation fantasizing is a lot like a mid-life crisis. You want to dump your old life and marry some place newer.
Larry and I walked out on real life in the 70s. We rented our house for a year and moved from Connecticut to Big Sur, California on the strength of a two-week vacation at the Esalen Institute, where I was convinced that I could actualize my human potential by pounding on a pillow and hugging strangers.
This was before email. Our friends tried to warn us.
For an entire year I was a California mountain woman. I went bra-less. I wore a black leotard and long paisley skirts that could double as tablecloths, tied at the waist. I grew all my hair and made my own granola. But no matter what I did or how hard I pounded, I was still from the Northeast.
Larry, who is better than I am at making the best of a bad deal, smoked a lot and volunteered as a model for the message class. When we finally got home and slipped back into reality, we vowed we'd never, ever again lose our grip on fantasy.
That postcard was sent to us by Mary-Lou Weisman, author of My Middle-Aged Baby Book.
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