Monthly Archives: April 2011

Paris in the spring

If you follow my blog, you know that last year we tried to go to Paris for the April school vacation, but a pesky volcano in Iceland canceled our trip. This year we made it. I rented an apartment in the Marais, an area with a rich Jewish history and a thriving Jewish community. It turns out that it is also a hub for the gay community of Paris, and a favorite with tourists. The eclectic mix of residents and visitors made it a wonderful neighborhood for people watching, one of my favorite things to do.

Oh, we did all sorts of tourist activities as well. We admired Notre Dame, went to the Louvre, climbed up to Sacré-Cœur and drifted down the Seine in a boat. Everywhere we went we were joined by vast numbers of people. Even so, we were not prepared for the literal crush of tourists we encountered at Versailles. I’d been looking forward to showing Hannah the inside of the palace ever since we watched Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, but once inside all we wanted to do was get out. People were so tightly packed together that my small-in-stature daughter didn’t even realize she’d shuffled through the hall of mirrors. All was not lost, though: the fountains were flowing that day and the grounds were beautiful. There was even a fountain that danced in time to music piped from hidden speakers.

(Let me digress for a moment. In a much earlier post, I explained how my blog got its name. This might be a good time to refresh your memory, but come right back, I wouldn’t want you to miss anything.)

After Versailles, my mother-in-law observed, “You really need to enjoy the other tourists as part of the experience.” A sensible coping mechanism she employs to great effect, and one I usually embrace. For instance, the morning we arrived, we had breakfast in a lovely little boulangerie on the corner of our street. We shared our table with an Israeli woman and her two teenage daughters. They had been in Paris for a week and were on their way home. We chatted away like old friends until a voice behind me said, “I know this will seem odd, but…”

I turned around and looked up at the woman who had spoken. It was Andrew’s cousin’s ex-wife’s sister, whom I had not seen for several years. I jumped up and gave her a hug while exclaiming what an incredible coincidence it was. She was there on vacation with three of her friends, a last hurrah before the arrival of her first baby. When she rejoined her companions, our new Israeli friends said they’d been wondering when they would run into someone they knew, but it hadn’t happened. They were delighted to witness our small world encounter. And I was thrilled to learn that while I see people I know everywhere I go, they are not all ignoring me.

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Where does mulch go?

It’s that time of year; gardeners get itchy to play in dirt, and spouses of gardeners pull out lounge chairs. Planting flowers (or shrubs or exotic grasses) can be a solitary pursuit, one for which the lounging spouse need not suffer any guilt, but there are some gardening-related activities where the absence of a spouse is more notable, and therefore less acceptable. I am, of course, referring to spreading mulch.

When spreading mulch meant buying bags of the stuff from Mahoney’s, it too could be watched from a guilt-free zone on the porch, or in the living room, or even from behind closed eyelids in one’s bed. But when you graduate to having a pile of it dumped at the end of the driveway, it can no longer be ignored by even the most obtuse spouse.

A yard is a unit of measure used for mulch, and likely its companion element dirt and other things that can be dumped from the back of large trucks. Initially I thought a yard of mulch would cover all our grass as well as our flowerbeds, not unlike Steven Wright’s shell collection, which he keeps on all the beaches of the world. I was relieved to find out that was not the case.

For several years now we’ve had three yards of mulch delivered as soon as it’s available. This year, my husband was chomping at the bit to get it even though I insisted that it was still too early. Fortunately, the mulch purveyor agreed and we had to wait another two weeks. I should have had the pleasure of saying I told you so to my husband after we got several inches of snow, but he was in sunny California working at the time.

I like to ponder nature from my kitchen window. I wonder, for instance, where squirrels go in the winter, and where slugs go during the day. But more than anything I wonder, where did last year’s mulch go?

Our backyard has a raised garden bed with quite a slope. If the mulch was sliding off, wouldn’t it end up in the grass? Does it disintegrate and become one with the earth? If so, why is that slope eroding, instead of getting higher? Is there an after-market for mulch, the way there appears to be for anything metal you put out with the garbage? Do mulch scavengers drive around after we’ve gone to bed and take it away a little bit at a time? Or does the crew who delivered it in the first place sneak it away to ensure that we’ll have to buy it again next spring?

For now, I will enjoy the newly-strewn terra cotta-colored mulch. It signals the end of winter and the beginning of life outdoors. And it makes the house look lovely and well cared for. Maybe this fall I will face a webcam out the window to see if I can discover where the mulch goes. Maybe then I’ll also find out where slugs go during the day.

Of course, some people do go both ways

It’s not what you think. The title refers to directions. You’d know that if you were a Wizard of Oz fan. When Dorothy first encounters the scarecrow she is pondering which way to go, and he offers the less-than-definitive advice, “…people do go both ways.” I might as well have been in Oz the other night when I tried to pick my daughter up from a friend’s house.

I looked up the address for Webcowet Street on Google maps. The directions seemed simple enough. I jotted down the main lefts and rights on a piece of paper and set out. I found the street, and then I lost it. It came to an end at a T intersection. The number I was looking for was nowhere to be found. I had my GPS ─ in the glove compartment ─ so I picked up my phone instead.

I could hear my daughter’s friend in the background asking if I was lost. Apparently this was not the first time this had happened. I was advised to keep going and look for a white house. They’d watch for me. At that moment, I noticed a sign tacked to a telephone pole straight ahead, but higher up than a normal street sign. It looked like this: ←Sherborn/Webcowet. I thought that was odd, but I went to the left, the way the arrow told me to. I drove slowly, peering for house numbers, until I ended up back at the main road.

I was starting to feel a little panicky. I hadn’t felt that way since my daughter was a baby and I drove through a snowstorm to retrieve her from daycare. Granted, it wasn’t snowing, and she’s a teenager, but my maternal instincts had leapt into high gear. All I wanted to do was find her. I pulled back onto the main road, turned onto Webcowet, and called again.

“Drive down the street,” I was told. When I got to the T intersection I stopped. My daughter said, “Do you see two girls waving at you?” And there they were, to the right of the intersection. I felt relieved, humiliated and furious, all at the same time. I looked at the sign again. It had no right arrow on it. I’d stupidly assumed that the sign meant turn left if you’re looking for either Sherborn or Webcowet.

Arlington has a lot of streets that don’t go where you expect them to. On the map, what looks like one long stretch may end, only to resurface a few blocks away. Or a street, like mine, can be interrupted by a private way, land not tended to by the town and therefore rutted and a threat to your under-carriage. If you choose not to risk your car, it can be a challenge to find where the town-maintained street picks up again.

I could call the town and complain, but with the lousy economy and dearth of public works employees, I can see where a confusing sign would be a low priority. But for the sake of mothers everywhere, I might just haul a ladder down to that intersection and add a right-pointing arrow myself.