La vida loca
This time, I am sharing a hillside villa overlooking the Pacific.
My fellow travelers are a retired professor and his French wife, newlyweds en route to a stint as house guests in the U.S.; a retired artist, who lives downtown in Soho, age 80; a 70-ish Englishwoman with U.S. citizenship who is a legal assistant in the Connecticut countryside; and a whiz-bang management consultant in her 40s who thinks traveling for a four-month stint to work in Atlanta is a good time.
What we have in common is our absent hostess: my travel companion from Africa and Eastern Europe, who was felled by arythemia last week and forced to stay near her doctor in New York. If she were here, the villa might take on another, friendlier tone.
The French woman has taken charge of the kitchen and is starving us to death under the guise of feeding us healthy food: she is the kind of French housewife who can look in a bare cupboard and a refrigerator containing leftovers I would have thrown out, then produce what she calls a meal.
Last night she used carrots, ginger, and potatoes to make a soup, which she deemed "dinner." Personally, I go for more calories and a protein, a starch, a vegetable, perhaps something chocolate for dessert.
Nutritionally, we don't see eye to eye. She was miffed when I made grilled cheese for lunch in lieu of her salade Nicoise, made of leftover mahi-mahi added to tomatoes, peppers, hard boiled egg, and brown rice. That was her idea of a big, "heavy" meal. Another main meal consisted of two mangy pieces of cooked chicken with reheated spaghetti.
Neither combination fits my definition of a snack, let alone a meal, much less something to replicate an American dinner.
The management consultant and the Englishwoman spent an hour yesterday walking the beach, picking up five bags of trash. I suppose it gives them a goal, a plan. Today, they went to a time-share presentation. (Having already bought a time-share in a fit of middle-aged, menopausal impulse, I didn't care to join them on their excursion.)
Besides, the consultant was here last year: she and I inhabit different worlds, and without our hostess, she barely makes an effort to speak to me. Hey, I'm trying, but our first point of departure is that she wears two- to- three-inch heels as a matter of preference, and I am a flat-shoe person. This in itself separates us in a way I hadn't anticipated.
The whiz-bang consultant has glommed onto the Englishwoman and instead of going out to dinner in town at the two restaurants where she had originally invited us to join her, she has lunched at both with the Englishwoman, leaving me here with French soup. I am growing increasingly less enamored of her presence. Passive-aggressive for $100, anyone?
The entire crew think it odd that I don't drink, even with the explanation that I am on a new medication, and I don't care to experiment. (Finally, tremor-stopping pills that work!) They think it odder, and more ominous, that I smoke cigarettes, no matter how few, and that I am happy to do so.
They get up at 6 am, where as I am content to start the day at 9:30 or so. The only reason I don't consider 9:30 the middle of the night is that we are on Pacific time, 3 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight. (In my real world, this 9:30 would be 12:30.)
Am I stranded on a Mexican version of Gilligan's Island? If so, I am either the ingenue or the movie star. I don't have a WASPy husband at hand, but I do have a different life than the rest of this entourage. I make different demands.
I do not care if we waste electricity my friend the villa owner has already paid for, not when our landscape would be pure desert were it not for an overabundance of water desalination plants to keep terra firma green. Why should we try to save water ore electricity when they are used in such grand excess all about the grounds?
Call me semi-retired, and I see what I have in common with the elders of this tribe. Call me a working woman, and I have a few traits in common with the younger members. Still, I am neither one nor the other.
I am sure they find me as peculiar as I find them. Sarcasm is not appreciated here, which limits my conversational forays, even as commentary to the evening news we view on CNN International.
Irony is another area in which I find this crew deficient. Too, I am puzzled why one would want to see what's on HBO each evening. The conversation lags. Time-share life grows in surreality.
Next year, regardless of my friend's health and love for this mountainside villa, I shall decline her invitation. She has hundreds of friends, gathered over the years, and I don't think it occurred to her how this particular mix would play out, what alliances would form, what would leave me by the wayside.
Again, we are part of an English-speaking compound. Without our town trips, we could be in Any Resort, USA, while we struggle to deal with a staff that speaks a language not our own. I did finally get to use more of my limited Spanish vocabulary while I held up the bed linens to demonstrate. Limpea means "to clean." I do not know the words for "change the sheets."
I managed to convey to the maid which beds needed to be changed, not without feeling victorious that the communication succeeded. Si necessito, por favor, and quisiera (I would like) constitute the other relevant phrases I know. My French is coming back to me in leaps and bounds, not that it is any help aqui.
While I am happy to be away from Wonderland for 10 days, I cannot help thinking that the next time I depart, I want to arrive in a location that is what it is, not an American enclave outside of the U.S.
If Alice leaves Wonderland, she wants to be damn sure she has left the building.