Chapter Eleven: Fleeing the Scene
Herewith, a new and improved (read: actually complete) version of "Away we go to Le Perche." Sorry to your inbox.
My apologies for the late (and now double-late!) post. I was in transit most of yesterday and half hoping a report from the “animal communicator” would pinch hit for me—we have some kittens pooping outside the box issues and her clairvoyant reports are often hilarious. More importantly, I don’t love revisiting the moment I’m about to recount, but here we go.
It was March 4, 2021. My last day in the divorced dad studio had arrived, and I was expected in Le Perche, where I was going to spend the next three months in a couple of furnished vacation rentals while I closed on the house and did the first really big, unliveably difficult parts of the renovations.
Transporting slightly more than would fit in an economy rental car required 12 trips back and forth from the tiny apartment to the tiny vehicle. I had taken a train to Le Perche to procure it on my American license, from an (also tiny) Avis desk tacked onto a car dealership in the biggest, not-very-big town nearest to my first apartment. What they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them, I desperately hoped.
For the schlepping I enlisted the help of Ralf. That’s not his real name, for consistency’s sake, but we are in the right ethno-national zone. He’s a photographer I’ve worked with on my favorite on-location assignments. A father of two young children, he has seen tragedy in his own life, so he's comforting and adept at gallows humor, and also broad-shouldered and knows how to improvise.
The divorced dad studio owner had leaned into the theme and only provided one set of cutlery, so Ralf and I shared it while we ate very good pizza and salad from some new-look Montreuil place that had signed up with Uber Eats. Despite his attempts to lighten it, the mood was grim. Having just left a relationship with a Virgo I knew that efficient car-packing was not my strong suit, so once the place was emptied, I let Ralf do the trunk Tetris-ing while I fussed over the last of the trash and stared grimly out onto the horizon.
There were clouds there, literally. As often happens in March in Paris, we were expecting a rainstorm. Once all packed, waving goodbye to Ralf (seriously, thank you again, dude), I turned to Fred and Penelope, perched next to me in the passenger seat in a shared carrying case, apologized in advance, and put my foot on the gas.
The rain didn’t start to come down til I got off Paris’s traffic-constipated ring road and onto the autoroute that would take me past Chartres, and eventually into the southern half of Le Perche.
Chartres is a town where I’ve spent some quality moments, starting with a summer trip with my mother and two siblings when I was ten. My mother hired a somewhat famous English guide to take us through the dim interior, its floor lit in kaleidoscope by the ruby and cobalt blue rose windows above. To relieve the boredom of visiting a medieval monument, the man had the foresight to get us kids to act out the load-bearing work of flying buttresses via light shoving. (Mom: do you remember if it was Malcolm Miller?)
I went back to Chartres when I turned 40, purposefully alone, to spend the night in a poky chateau hotel whose restaurant hit below its weight, and the day in the Chartres crypt staring at its Black Madonna. She has since been literally whitewashed—her dark skin was due to soot accumulation, not purposeful depiction. I find this disappointing.
Fans of the Da Vinci Code will recognize the esoteric vibeage of the 12th century cathedral. (I hope you are not numerous among my readers; that book is basic and terrible.) The church’s spires were built on purpose to be asymmetrical—I cannot emphasize enough how unusual this is—to represent the alchemical marriage of sun and moon. The site was said to be a Druidic power spot in the before times. In its medieval heyday, it was a center of esoteric learning until The Man shut it down, which happened a lot back then. Has anything ever “happened” during or after my many pilgrimages to Chartres? Not that I’m aware of, but I have always held out hope. After all, that’s what pilgrimages represent.
This time, as I sped past the town in that tiny, tinny car, the sky opened up and the most violent rainstorm I have still ever experienced in my life kicked into gear. The cats were already howling, and soon I joined them, because I was shit-scared. Trucks and cars were careening past me seemingly without a care, dousing me in their wake. The raindrops were saucer-sized and the squeaky windshield wipers were not up to the task. Highway puddles turned into rushing rivers that the car’s crap threadbare tires struggled to navigate smoothly. I slowed down to 80kph (just under 50mph) and told myself loudly to breathe, the tailgaters behind me could shove it. That’s when Fred, most likely, peed on Penelope. There was furious scratching from inside the case and the smell of adrenaline and fear and salt wafted up. I could relate.I could have just pulled over and waited it out but I was desperate to get to my destination. Enough already of the planning and wondering. We would solider through it, even if soon there was the unmistakable eau de cat turd joining our already stressed out bouquet.
I had just about had it. I liked road trips. I didn’t like escapes or exiles, which this was really starting to resemble. Just chill the fuck out and keep going, I told myself, wiping my eyes, panic-giggling at how my tortured and special life could be so easily encapsulated in that moment by the world’s most ubiquitous coffee mug.
The sky finally cleared when I got to the forest adjacent to my destination. (At least my life will always provide me with obvious metaphors.) I rolled up onto the rain-soaked driveway of the mill house that was to be my home for the next two months and saw that the place was straight out of central casting: my space was a wing off a red-tiled main house. It was built out of stone, plastered in golden sand, abutting a rushing brook. What little I knew of Feng Shui, being near moving water was supposed to be a plus for moving emotional stuff along. Or something. Before you say anything, no, I do not know the orientation of the house or what direction its windows faced. Maybe I was digging myself an energetic grave. I would have to wait and see.
There was a huge magnolia tree about to bloom. Smoke was coming out of the chimney of the main house. I pulled up behind it to a gravel yard outside a massive shed that looked to store a lot of gentleman farmer equipment—nothing heavy duty enough to provide a living but indicating someone unafraid to get their hands dirty. When I finally turned off the engine a fat Jack Russell exploded from the house, followed by its owner, a 40-something woman with bright hennaed hair in a house dress and a state of bemused panic. “Fifi! Fifi!” she yelled at the dog as she chased after her.
I got out of the car feeling 85 years old, to be met first by Fifi, which is only her nickname, you’ll be relieved to know. There I was, surrounded by random stuff and the sediment of a very unhappy recent past. She was illegally cute and jumped straight up to greet me, slamming her front paws against my thighs. All I could register were two enormous muddy prints that streaked down towards my knees. Fred and Penelope wailed from inside their crate. We were going to need some adjusting.
Please join us next week when I may have kitten news, in the hopes that it’s amusing enough to share. If not we’ll keep soldiering on. Things get better.