Spending three weeks at a writer’s retreat in France — a country known for its dedication to the art de vivre — leads me to ponder the good life. What is the “good life” exactly? To me, it can be just about everything that happens beyond adequate food, shelter, and sound health. Living the good life doesn’t have to be expensive. The key is to pay attention and to take risks. As Auntie Mame, my guide in all matters spiritual, says, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.”
Rather than pontificate, I offer some concrete examples on the good life I’ve experienced over the past few weeks:
Try new things. Oh, I know what an effort it is to get up an hour earlier or attempt a cartwheel twenty years after your last one or extract a saddle of rabbit when armed with nothing but a carving knife and instructions from the internet. It’s a pain. But it snaps you out of your groove and lets you tune in to the good life when it’s actually happening so you don’t miss it. Sure, negotiating public transportation from the Nice airport to my hotel was a challenge, especially when laid on top of jet leg, but it led to my meeting a terrific woman and having dinner at her house prepared by a sous chef from the Hotel Negresco. When life offers you this kind of challenge, see it as an and opportunity and take it. You never know where it will lead.
Take risks. Yesterday, the retreat’s dog and I wandered nearly an hour too far on a trail. I didn’t bring hiking shoes, and a storm had clouded over the distant, snow-capped Pyrenees. Soon wind whipped the scub oaks and roared over the limestone-ridged hills. Lightening made vicious streaks from sky to earth. Wow! I returned home drenched, with blistered feet, but so happy from all the wildness. I even rubbed down the dog with a dry cotton tablecloth and watched him do a happy dance then nestle in a pile of leaves in the art studio for a nap. Definitely worth the risk.
Slow down. I’ve gone to happy hours for years, but I like apéro time at the retreat much better. Rather than down cheap hamburgers and dollar-off well drinks at a noisy bar, why not linger over a glass of rosé and steamed artichokes at home with a friend? (Add homemade mayonnaise for the cost of an egg, some oil, and five minutes.) Similarly, it’s o.k. to nap and read for a while rather than stress about vacuuming the car or checking twitter. I’m only writing a couple thousand words a day tops, but I feel recharged and re-inspired.
Eat well. Not expensively, but well. Last night we had a potato-cabbage-lardons-leftover cheese gratin with stale bread crumbled over it. Fabulous and ultra cheap. (The charlotte with strawberries for dessert was pretty danged amazing, too.) If you’re having bread and butter for breakfast, make it good bread with ultra-creamy butter. Don’t waste your time with lousy coffee if you can help it. Choose local, seasonal food whenever possible, even if you have to grow it (or buy it from Monsieur Garcia down the street).
Recognize that perfection does not equal beauty. It’s so easy to think a face must be free of lines and a floor swept of dust bunnies to be beautiful. Not so. For proof of the lines bit, I offer Charlotte Rampling. A knock out. As for floors, the floor my feet touch right now lays in a clever pattern of cracked, uneven thick stone tiles. I love it.
Finally, use all your senses. The sound of traffic in the city, an aria escaping from an apartment’s open window, frogs at night in the country, bird song, roosters crowing in the valley — this is found music. The taste of your mouth after eating a piece of brebis cheese, after brushing your teeth, after putting a cut finger to your lips — pay attention. The choices you make with the texture of your sheets, the silkiness of your bath water, and the warm but heavy bronze ring you wear all add to the good life.
Of course, this is where perfume comes in. We’re lucky we’ve discovered the marvel of fragrance. Sure, it would be wonderful to have a shelf bulging with expensive perfumes (the new Aedes de Venustas Signature and L’Artisan Parfumeur Séville à l’aube when it comes out are high on my list), but as long as we appreciate the fragrances we have and even the ambient scents of creek water, wet dog, stormy winds, fire, burnt toast, or a hearty Côtes du Rhône, we’re living the good life for sure. Auntie Mame would be proud.
Note: both images [cropped] via La Muse, where Angie is staying.