Joie de vivre

Talk, talk, talk: the utter and heartbreaking stupidity of words.

William Faulkner, Mosquitoes 

Electronic communities build nothing. You wind up with nothing. We are dancing animals.

How beautiful it is to get up and go out and do something. We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.

Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need one in the physical… We need a refuge to shore up our states of mind, because so much of the world is opposed to our allegiances. We need our rooms to align us to desirable versions of ourselves and to keep alive the important, evanescent sides of us.

Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness

It’s a curious thing, moving – especially moving a long distance with a dysfunctional shipping company that separates you from your stuff for weeks and weeks. It offers you endless opportunities to observe the things you can and cannot live without. Which seems for me to be everything but books and a coffeemaker.

We’ve spent about a month in the new house – well, technically going back-and-forth between this house and the old house, but we are done with that now – and we have yet to unpack a single television. I think the election and the renewed coronavirus hysteria have left me beyond uninterested in what anyone has to say about pretty much anything. “Just fucking quit it already” sums up how I feel about it all. I’m not sure when we are going to get around to setting up a television, but for the moment, no one seems to care. I have watched The Undoing and The Queen’s Gambit on my tablet, but that’s about as much as I can handle for screen time lately. (Both are excellent, by the way, highly recommended.)

It’s amazing how good it feels to have other things to care about.

Like food. We have eaten out entirely too much, and the forecast suggests that isn’t going to stop anytime soon. We’ve found favorite Peruvian, Argentinian, Brazilian, Cuban, and Honduran restaurants. Two wonderful new Thai restaurants. A Palestinian restaurant. A delightfully redneck Southern seafood place right on the water, which is obviously a necessity. We’ve met lots of fun people from all over the world and learned a lot. We’ve also seen some talented musicians. The Caribbean is the crossroads of civilizations, and it shows in the unbelievable variety of foods and music available around here. A lot of it is incredibly inexpensive too, which is remarkable. And the hospitality!

A Peruvian dish of seafood between potato cakes.
Pineapple curry duck.
Ossobuco.
Coffee with dates.

I did break in the new kitchen by making the most unbelievable pot of rabbit stew. Our table is now set up, but we had to eat this fancy meal sitting on the dining room floor with a cardboard box functioning as a table. (Sadly, our living room furniture won’t be done until January.) I am ecstatic to have a Fresh Market in my town again (a gourmet Southern grocery chain, which I understand was founded by a couple in North Carolina who fell in love with Paris). They have the best vegetables, including celery that tasted sweet as candy. The new house is the first one we’ve had that has a gas range, and I have no doubts anymore why these are in most professional kitchens.

Our dog was the most excited about the rabbit stew, however. He spent most of the evening laying at my feet as I hovered over the stove. Occasionally, he’d lick my ankles. Of course we shared it with him.

Like books. I uncharacteristically have not been doing much reading myself, but I have read several novels out loud to our daughter in the past month. We have developed this nightly ritual of taking a novel out to the pool. I sit in the hot tub with a glass of wine and read as she floats in the pool and watches the stars through the palm trees. (Yeah, this is “winter” in South Florida.) Being homeschooled, she doesn’t have to wake up at a certain time, so we can stay up all night if we want. Elise is becoming a very thoughtful and meditative child, so I have started choosing novels about other cultures, about art, about love and loss, that really push her intellectual boundaries. We have also started working philosophy lessons into her homeschooling. Our late-night book club has resulted in many deep conversations. I’m digging it, and these will be some awesome memories for both of us.

Elise has set up much of her homeschool room, including this wall of what she calls her “specimens.” No telling where her microscope landed, however.

Like flowers. I inherited a wonderful tropical garden full of fruit trees, plumeria, and many other plants that I am going to need to learn a lot more about. I have already amassed piles of new plants that I need to get into the ground. Finally, my garden tools have arrived, so I can get busy on that. I also bought a Barbados cherry tree to add to the orange, lime, lychee, and mango trees. Bananas are forthcoming. We have a new groundskeeper, who may not be much of a “keeper” personally (though I like his stories about Costa Rica), and he massacred some of my flowering plants and passion fruit vines. I’m a little sad about that, but hey, it’s Florida, things grow easily here. I am trying to learn about how I might start a rose garden here (yes, in the tropics). After months without gardening, I am looking forward to getting my hands back in the dirt.

Like community. We seem to have landed in the ideal neighborhood for a urban area of this size. It’s full of young (and mostly conservative) professionals with lots of children running around. Even now, they are allowed to play freely, and Elise is having fun getting to know all of them. They go swimming like it’s a full-time job. They climb fruit trees and bring treasures home. They have treehouses and forts in their attics. Most of the houses have a basketball hoop. The adults are almost universally into boating, fishing, and hunting and go on long adventures together. It was not at all difficult finding people to help move heavy furniture. On Thanksgiving, the entire neighborhood gets together for a “community nightcap” down by the water. This is the America that I grew up with, and I am happy to reclaim it. An island of peace and respect in a sea of manufactured hate and despair.

Like sunsets and landscape. Our house is right on the water of the Caloosahatchee River, which connects the Everglades to the Gulf. We can see boats heading out to sea from the backyard and some of the windows. I have taken to keeping a pair of binoculars right by the kitchen sink, and I stop sometimes while doing dishes to watch them darting in and back. At first, it was just a pair of Elise’s kid binoculars, but then we found my astronomy binoculars, and we can actually see people on the other shore (approximately two miles away). It’s also nice to walk down to see the sunset over the water.

3 thoughts on “Joie de vivre

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