Today is Pi Day (3.14) which always reminds me of when my daughter was at Wonderland Elementary in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, and she'd come home with a whopping pumpkin pie (my absolute favorite). As we're not in the canyon, I've fashioned a pretty good approximation of a La Scala Leon Chop, using little gems instead of iceberg. These are without fail the best salads in the world and remind me both of my daughter, who would beg me to pick up chopped salads from La Scala after she'd returned home from school on the east coast, and my niece, Fliss, who announced after her first: "Now I want all my salads chopped." It's something about the dressing that works so well. I'm sure they don't use olive oil, and the red wine vinegar isn't great quality, but the combination takes your breath away.
Los Angeles is far, far away, but the check-ins are what I live for: the emails from friends "It's book club tonight so I'm thinking of you?" "Bum, when are you coming BACK???" The Instagram pictures from Din Tai Fung. The views from Runyon. The missed middle of the night Skype call. The recipe for green Thai curry with cod and eggplant, from my darling son.
I live for maps. Two new ones have been delivered through my door: bridleways of Chartridge & Cholesbury, footpaths of Wendover. Maps help you discover where you are in the world. They also help you discover where you are in the world -- the triumph of discovering a new, unseen route, and the satisfaction of realizing that you no longer need to refer to them, that you're walking on familiar paths. I am thinking a lot of the notion of being lost and being found and what that means. And why we place so much importance on knowing where we are. When I lose it, and I wish I could say it happens rarely, but there have been a couple of decidedly challenging moment this week, and the basis of it is feeling displaced, not literally, but on a soul level. I struggle with it all the time - I wasn't really American in American and I'm not really British in Britain. Now, this isn't the worst thing. For example, when my mother, who is Norwegian, first came to England and she would accompany my father to Perthshire in August for grouse shooting, she found it enormously hard with the glamorous, grand English women, who lived in Chelsea and Kensington, and knew all the right people, and spoke endlessly of the cocktail parties and grand dinners they'd been to. My mother felt left out, and her self-worth plummeted when she heard one of them say "well, you never know with foreigners." (This is just a jaw-dropper of a statement, as narrow-minded as you can imagine, of course.) But that is a phrase she adopted for her own, and said if often, dripping with irony, and with a big grin on her face, because, actually, it gave her license to behave as she wished. Her behavior was of course impeccable, and all the silly women who didn't give her the time of day, well, that was their loss.
I've thought of adapting it. We went to a very jolly quiz at the village hall a few nights ago, at the suggestion of our lovely neighbor who came round in the morning to see if we were free because a couple had dropped out. It was brilliant. Cottage pie and raspberry and cream pavlova roulade and wonderful people and very challenging questions. I hope, I believe we were good contributors. But back to my point. I realized that Charlie and I were high-fiving each other like high schoolers when we got a question right, and I wondered, later on, whether I look a little, um, exotic. Americanisms have dropped seamlessly into my lexicon, not just in language, but behavior as well. Of course, everyone was completely lovely, and didn't say a word, but I worry about these things...
While the car was being MOT'd we walked to Ashridge Monument at 9am for a Bacon Breakfast Bap with Brown sauce, a cup of tea, and a lovely conversation with a man called John, who'd recently lost his dog, and seemed to adore mine. He bought them a breakfast sausage, with my permission, and proceeded to feed them, while talking about Andy Goldsworthy and the wild parakeets of London. Strangers are awfully kind here.
Sunday's challenge was being lost in a dense pine wood with a map and zero bars on my phone on a brand new, perfectly lovely, but unknown horse at five o'clock (translation: it was getting dark and I was miles from home). I think about this incident a lot. I am brave. I have a brave horse. I do not fear being lost. But what do I fear? Nightfall. This is interesting. The morning, and I'm talking 5.40am is elating - the birds are singing and there is a cold, grey light. It's my favorite time. It reminds me of my father, of dreams of my father, of weird fever dreams where there may or may not be pink light, and sheep grazing, and a mist over the grass, and dew. Where there may be the sound of pigeons, or cock pheasants alighting. This is the time of day when everything is new, when everything is possible, where the whole world is open.
I suffer from insomnia. Profoundly. This piece in the NYT was more than inspiring to me. It put me on a different level of track:
Dr. Francesco Benedetti, a psychiatrist in Milan, and colleagues noticed that hospitalized bipolar patients who were assigned to rooms with views of the east were discharged earlier than those with rooms facing the west — presumably because the early morning light had an antidepressant effect. -- from Richard E Friedman in The New York Times.
This is one of the most hopeful things I've read. I now wake up facing east. The sun rises and the sky fills my room. At 5.30am I am buoyant. This is the thing that makes me know I am in the right place.