I declared it to be the finest place I have ever visited. No, more than that. The finest property I have ever seen. The finest of everything at any time in all ways. The quiet pastels of olive trees in late September, when the Mistral winds have started to blow but they haven’t blown so much that the trees are bare. I imagine that looking delightful, as well. The bare trees against the deep sea, the grasses gone dull and the flowers in hiding. What a place this was, is, and would be. In the morning, the men polish the door frames and the women hurry about with ironed sheets. If you cut open a croissant, as I did daily, you’ll see little but the space where the butter was, connected barely by the thinnest strands of accommodating gluten. This is a place. The place. There is nothing else, nothing better, nothing more. Where do we go from here, a friend asked me. I didn’t know the answer. No where, I’d assume.
But that sea. The colors and the breeze. The sun filtering through those wind tussled pines and the way it dabbled and swayed as I walked the pebbles from hotel to sea. How could I recover from this? How could I see this and feel that and know that it all exists and then ask the chauffeur for a ride to the airport where the stillness of this place would be replaced by a jostled bus ride that wove through an active taxi-way at JFK? How can I adjust to a life that is lived where I must live it? How can my eyes ever find anything else worth their attention? Why go anywhere at all, I wondered from the part of the plane that was once only visible to me through a glimpse behind a heavy and usually closed, curtain.
I decided then and there that things couldn’t be the same. Not now. Not after this. My life will be lived in pure misery, I nodded and clenched my jaw with humiliated resignation. I hung my head and wondered if I’d bother eating a croissant in Lake Geneva ever again. No, I decided. I will not. It’ll be a hunger strike of sorts. I refuse to eat the croissants that are sold in Lake Geneva because they resemble small pieces of bread and that’s not what these croissants were like. Did you know I’m a world class croissant connoisseur? Did you think my soft middle was the result of hops and distilled grains? No, no, no, my poison is flour and butter baked and then painted with thick butter with fine strawberry jellies. I’ve traveled the world to find all of the croissants, and at the age of forty-four I finally discovered nirvana. Hotel Du Cap, that’s where this is. That’s where it is. Everything else is miserable and terrible and I cannot eat a croissant again and I will not enjoy a moment of my life until I return. The pilot from JFK, fresh off of watching Top Gun: Maverick for the sixteenth time, pitched and dipped and violently lurched his way into ORD and this is what I was thinking. If this plane lands with my life intact, what does it matter? I’m going to hate everything, anyway. I closed my eyes and prayed for the worst.
My espresso this morning wasn’t bad, I guess. My wife busied herself with making sure our dogs knew how much we missed them. My hydrangeas, kissed by the cold air of late September, glowed deep and lusty pink, their leaves a delightful pitch of dull green that, dare I think it, reminded me of the green in those olive leaves. In our absence, the golden rod turned from showy to calm, from insisting to relaxed. No one was polishing the hardware on my doors and my table cloth wasn’t ironed, but were they any less than the ones that were polished and ironed? It’s really not so bad, my wife said. It’s pretty nice, we both agreed. I readied myself for my day and drove the farm fields that lead from my house to the lake, where it was shrouded in fog. What a beautiful thing, I decided, seeing it new today even as I’ve seen it millions of times. What an absolutely stunning place, I figured. I forgave myself for thinking otherwise and my spirits improved as I drove from one lakeside village to the next, where the fog from one gave way to sunshine at the next. I wondered if I should grab a croissant just in case my take on the croissant was wrong as well, but I thought better of it. Other places can be better than this place in certain ways, and I’m content to leave the croissants to the French.