Monday, August 20, 2007

C'est Bon

Earlier this evening, I was flipping channels as Q was nursing and drifting off. There's really almost nothing worth seeing on TV. Really. But wait! What's this? A travelogue on... French Polynesia!! There are the tikis, the temples, the banana trees, the Gauguin museum, the poisson cru.

A certain someone surprised me with a trip to Tahiti for our tenth anniversary. Surprise, indeed. I was so shocked I never did figure out what to say. There were sweet declarations, expressions of gratitude, symbolism galore. He was graduating from med school that weekend and he tied into his amazing gift a thank you for "sticking it out" with him. Our whole life together had been school, I guess. I hadn't thought much about it--it was just really all about us, our family, not about struggles or barriers. Everyone has those, but not everyone has what we had. Anyway, I was just stunned. It was so... huge, really. I had no idea the lengths he'd gone to in arranging all this.

Almost right after his graduation, I had my knee scoped, a lateral release, lots of meds and therapy contraptions. He, meanwhile, packed up most of our stuff for a two day drive to my folks' so they could keep the kids while we went off and made merry. Friends and family knew all about this--he'd had to tell them so he could get babysitting lined up. Fortunately, our passports were current, but I still don't know how he managed to pull it all off. Miraculous. No really--I was practically an invalid, he had four kids to haul, plus all our stuff, plus the meds and ice and everything for my silly knee, plus all the vacation-in-the-tropics equipment. And two days in the car.

I'm afraid I was rather too thumped with meds to have been much of a traveling companion, poor guy. I think I embarrassed him to death by asking our guide the meaning of "vahine." It was printed on my new tank top and I was taking narcotics and my language deciphering skills were temporarily useless. (Look it up for yourself. I'm still blushing at the apparent discomfort I caused him.) Still, it was amazing. And the whole time, through my first experiences snorkeling, trying to actually converse in French (my sixth grade French is horrid), and many other firsts--temple ruins, new camera, watching cavorting schools of tuna from the air--the whole time, I was thinking: How did this happen? What did I ever do to deserve this? Or this man? Perhaps now, three years later, I'm finally almost over having been struck dumb by the magnitude of his effort and his tenderness in provision for me throughout the trip.

Poisson cru, I really should say, is raw fish. Plus some other things, thank goodness. It's done a little differently by each cook, but the idea is this: take some cucumber, tomato, carrot, a little sweet onion. Grate the carrot, chop the rest sort of uniformly. Combine with lime juice, coconut milk, and chopped raw fish. The fish should be fresh, just caught. Salt to taste.

I had three bites. We were guests in a home and the dish had been prepared especially for us and I'd been really curious since reading about it in the travel guides and I'm not so good at saying no and I didn't want to offend our hosts... Ew. I mean, it tasted fine. Actually, it was really good, but it was raw fish. Gak! When we went to a second island, our hostess there made us a vegetarian version with steamed eggplant. I've made it a few times since and never had leftovers.

Since we're on the subject of food, poi is so good--papaya or mango baked with a little taro root (or arrowroot or cornstarch) and served warm, with coconut milk. It's good made with peaches, too. Then there's the ubiquitous long, golden sticks of French bread. Considered a staple, it's subsidized by the government, delivered fresh even to little mini-marts every morning, carried home in bicycle baskets or backpacks. The brie is awesome, but then it would have to be, wouldn't it? The Yoplait is just plain ol' yogurt, fruit, sugar. No xanthan gum, etc. Pastries are cool--all the French influence. I had a caramelized pear something at the big downtown market in Pape'ete. I can still taste it, feel the tart/sweet/creamy coolness on my tongue. Somewhere, there's a funny picture of my moment of hedonism.

Our second hostess told us about how her family had been so poor when she was a child, during WW II, that often all they had for breakfast was a wedge of a massive papaya, piled high with freshly ground coconut meat, and drizzled liberally with the juice of a limon vert (green lemon). They looked like Key limes to me--smallish, round. I thought to myself how ironic it was that she remembered poverty when eating this breakfast when I felt that I could eat the same thing every day for the rest of my life--and I don't even like papaya.

There was a rainbow over the bay as we finished our meal that day and went on to feed baguettes to the beautiful fish off the tiny dock. He caught that rainbow on the compact flash card. He'd also shot fantastic pictures of local traditional canoe teams training for a race, then fishing boats in dock at sunset, and enormous waves forming over the reefs, the water frothing ahead of an incoming storm. He captured the blue, blue, blue bays, surfers on black sand, even underwater shots of the flirting fish. Those pictures are unreal, as if they possess a little magic in them.

Can you imagine getting to snorkel for the very first time ever and you're off a little French Polynesian island? I was treading water in my fins, maneuvering unfamiliar equipment, and he was tickling me. I kept giggling, snorting water, and having to clear the whole thing and start over. It was a blast.

A little gift of serendipity--to run across the travelogue, to see those sights and relive some of the cache of sweet memories while my babe nursed himself to sleep. C'est bon, indeed.


Anonymous said...

I'm so sad that your story didn't have a happpy ending
(big picture). Be strong and you will be able to endure all that life throws at you.

Anonymous said...

This brings tears to my eyes...

Anonymous said...

Tears of joy here that you found your way out of that relationship. Sometimes we see things for what they are in the "moment", and not for what they actually are. Try to use these moments to give you that hope and strength that there is happiness out there waiting for you. Real happiness with honor and commitment that will last forever. Maybe this was a practice run for the "real thing". I know, "what a hell of a practice you say", but God has a plan for you. You will see... I'm keeping my fingers and toes crossed for you.
Taylor W.

TheTutor said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thank you for reminding us that there is joy. There is Grace. There is God. All the time. Everywhere.

I love the song Grace by U2, and I thought of it as I was reading this post and thinking back on what I know of your story. Here is a portion of it:

Grace, she carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips
She carries a pearl in perfect condition

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

Blessings to you!