Monday, November 28, 2011

Traveling Like a Queen

After filling up four days off for Thanksgiving--the kids were with their father and second mom--with seeing friends and distracting myself with a lot of walking and magazines, I spent my Sunday evening watching a wonderous French film, Queen of Play.

It's about chess, but of course it's a metaphor.  The story is familiar, with a working class woman for whom suddenly the world cracks open and she can't turn back, even though she knows she should.  She's no sweet young thing but a woman with a long marriage and a teenaged daughter, making it more Bridges of Madison County than Pretty Woman.  But it's a French movie so, happily, the viewer doesn't need to be whacked over the head, and the relationship between Helene (Sandrine Bonnaire) and Dr. Kroeger (Kevin Kline), who speaks in French through the whole thing, is more about delicious flirtation than getting down to it.  Bonnaire's character discovers her game through an encounter with a guest at the hotel where she changes beds, and she sees a path she must walk down, the village gossips be damned.

We're all held in by our internal expectations of behaving well.  My recent trip to Asia was sanctioned given work commitments, but I tacked on a couple of days in San Francisco for my own benefit.  There were friends I asked to come along, but they have kids and men and work, and I wondered for a brief moment if I should just do the proper thing and come straight home.  "All by yourself?" my little good girl voice asked.  This was the moment when I realized it is possible to wait forever to find a person to do things with, but if I want to do something it was time to do it myself.  I haven't the patience to get on a tour bus, so solo it was.

After a week in a smoggy Beijing and thirteen hours in coach, I landed at SFO.  It was Chamber of Commerce weather, with such perfect sunshine off the Bay I practically wept.  After a hot shower I hit the Slanted Door in the Ferry Building and ordered lunch and a fine glass. I was so tired and turned upside down it wasn't weird to be there by myself.  The couple who sat beside me struck up a conversation and told me to hit Chaya for sushi later that night.   I hadn't really liked the woman of the team when she came in and started talking, but suddenly I realized being approachable might not be a bad thing and decided to take her advice. 

Chaya's bar was upscale and also fun, even at an early hour.  It was amazing to me how people, men and women, just started chatting me up.  I met a writer, a cool woman from Kansas who'd been educated in the UK, and a couple of crazy chicks.  A man with the warmest voice I've ever heard bought me a glass of wine from the other end of the bar, and when I thanked him and shook his hand, I felt like I'd met someone I'd known forever and had a strong desire to throw my arms around him.  He took a friend to the airport and came back to spend two hours talking to me. The next night we spent several more talking at my birthday dinner. (I'd booked a spot at Frances, where I'd decided I could be on my own, which would have been lovely in any case.  Being with him, however, was much better.) 

A couple of weeks later, I'd head back to the city for a longer visit.  Now we've eaten well several times and have checked out Napa together.  We shall see what follows, but it's been a very nice time indeed, and I am grateful be in a personal place and to live in a time when that's all I must consider.  The only downside is that it gave my Thanksgiving weekend a very hard act to follow.

Helene's journey is also uncertain, and like me a few years ago, she has more to lose and the fear of hurting those she loves. All she knows is that she must forge ahead, and luckily she's got some support, though she is out of her depth and is old enough to know it. Like all wise adventurers, she is thrilled but scared to death.  As she leaves idyllic Corsica by ship in a final scene, the one she loves grows smaller and smaller, and she waves in a futile gesture.  She's on her own now.

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