I arrived in Fontainebleau two weeks ago for summer nanny duty at the rockstar's countryhouse. The home is surrounded by stone walls that guard a silent road and dark forest looms in the distance. Down the way is Barbizon, famous for its painters, its minute streets, the lack of sound laid like a veil over a blushing bride. Stone sidewalks frame boutiques and ateliers and visitors meander the streets licking icecream from lush cones. Life is slow and comforting.
In moments and times and places like these, I feel in tune with the soul of France. At each bend in the road I discover more about France and its culture, and certainly, my time in Fontainebleau, round 1 for this summer, has added to my deepening knowledge of this country and its customs. My fondness and attachment grows stronger, binds me with loving chains and makes me afraid of leaving. France is where I have become a woman, might possibly be where I am meant to be, where I am meant to lead my life. Only time will tell. Regardless, I have always believed in the sly, coy smile of fate, that what is happening in one's life is in some way meant to be. I have included the people I meet--even randomly--in this belief. This summer is no different.
Next door to the rockstar's home, situated on the hidden portion of the property, is the guardian's home. There Manola tends to her garden, the chickens, the geese, and the ironing. Her husband, Thierry, rises early, drinks his coffee, and leaves for the day, much in the same way that the paysans hundreds of years before rose to tend to the fields and animals, to harvest fruits and to work in the rhythm of life. Not much has changed it seems to me. This summer, Manola has invited her nephew, Geoffrey, to stay with her.
Geoffrey and I are the same age, the ripe old age of 24, the age I am beginning to learn where worries condense like rain drops and pelt you with anxiety about the future. One evening he invited me to go out after I was done with work. We hopped in his car and sipped mojitos over three rounds of bowling and talked about the present and the future. He's a kind, gentle person, but had a rough childhood, so he's not yet passed his baccalaureat, floating from job to job, the memory of old nights of weed and alcohol imprinted in his past, unsettled and drifting.
"I'd leave right now with just my backpack," he said on the way back in the car. It was just after 1230 am and we were headed back to the countryhouse, me to my room upstairs on the second floor, him to his little chalet on his aunt Manola's property. The thought of uprooting with no money and no thought of where to go or what to do terrified me.
When we got back, instead of sleeping, he busted out a bottle of white Alsacian wine and opened a pack of Fortunas. He poured me a generous glass of the rich, sweet elixir and pulled a cigarette from the white box and lit it viciously, eating the tobacco with strong pulls that pushed the smoke into his ribcage. Then we got to talking.
About jobs, the future. About love. About everything. About worry. About superstitions. French ones. Like the one where if you break a glass of white wine, it's a good sign. Please jesus please, a second Frenchy has confirmed this. About the superstition that you never eat with 13 people at a table, because someone will disappear right after if you do...which Manola experienced and confirmed the next morning. Superstitions seem to me just ways to combat worry, real human worry, to make them controllable and containable and surmountable.
All I know is that Geoffrey and I ended up talking for two hours which really seemed like two minutes and that by the end of it all, I know I had entered the age of worry....the intimidating precipice of a life beginning with all the unknown stretched out before me like a blank and endless road and no gas station in sight. The only thing to do is drive, drive, drive onward. Geoffrey was my mirror that night, throwing into sharp relief everything I think I knew and what I know I do not know about the precipice I stand upon, the route ahead, my fear of the journey. Drive, drive, onward, onward, onward I must go.
So I do, hoping to turn the age of worry into the age of.......everything else.