I find myself in a strange scenario, sitting in the rather modern, third floor lounge in someone's 17th century second home I've rented. I'm awake, as I have been for what seems like days, staring out a large stone cutaway window with a rounded edge that just allows me to trace the blackness of the night, distinct from the sloped, ceramic roofs of the block of houses across a narrow road.
I'm in Arles for Scott's 50th birthday experience. It started last Friday in Montreal with good friends and awesome weather, in a great town. It proceeded (just for we two) to a car to a plane to a (n admittedly momentary) shuttle to a regional train to a walk to a home the likes of which I've never stayed. On the way, strangers came out of the ether to save us from unnecessary detours we might have taken in our fatigued delirium. After weeks of near misses, we were guided from the unfamiliar by a truly friendly hand.
Last year, the lesson of my holiday was very gentle - and it preceded a rough year: When you are easy, life is never hard. A world-worn, but cheerful woman in Baie St. Paul told me this. Who knew I'd have so much practice applying this aphorism, not overly successfully, in truth.
This year's lesson, I can see it already: What you expect, will not be met. It may be gleefully circumvented, side-swiped, exceeded. But it will not be what I anticipate. So unnatural for a woman whose hallmark is clearly-defined expectation...
I don't know why I'm surprised. I left my comfort-zone with this trip. I am not staying in a chic, boutique hotel (the cost of which is the GDP of a small nation). I've rented real homes in real places the ages of which are writ large on their gritty yellow bricks and shutters. This ancient house has one or two rooms per floor. The bathroom on the ground, the bedroom perched atop a staircase that one would be wise to treat like a ladder. The kitchen is a love-letter to food and the French art of dining.
There are no screens in the windows - and yet, everyone has warned us about the mosquitoes which travel nightly from the river delta. There is no filter - no manicured courtyard to insulate me from the noise of the people, living their lives in ways you might imagine - so not the ways we are noisy in Toronto - and yet so occupying.
Scott is sleeping. His sleeping means that I am not sleeping. Usually, this torments me and really, given the degree of my fatigue, I should be very worried about tomorrow and the likely persistence of jet lag. But somehow it seems small to begrudge insomnia that shows me a view of the world I've never seen before. How many women have sat in front of this very window, over hundreds of years, listening to greasy drops of rain fall on the cobblestones? What kept them awake?
My goal, this moment, is to expect the unexpected and to find gratitude in what I will not control. Because really, there is so much potential in the unknown.