It’s gotten to that part of the summer where, less than pleasantly, my thighs start rubbing together and I know I’ve gone overboard with the nutella-and-butter baguettes. So this morning, I’ve gotten up earlier than everyone—commendable if bearing in mind the bodily ravages experienced last night—and huffed it up the road to a forest where I’m sitting on a tree stump considering the sunlight that dapples cylindrically down the leafy eaves.
It’s been a long time since I checked in, and life at Annecy is such total vacation that my body whips about blindly for guilt, and settles on the journal I’ve been sorely neglecting.
Summers are always a particularly self-conscious time for me. During the school year we motor on, automatons, daily lives so crammed with minutiae that they require all of our efforts just to keep them straight. But when the end of the year finally saws around, I’m floored by that family reunion feeling you get when you see cousins who last year hadn’t hit puberty but now swagger around with five-octave registers and the consciousness of new hair under their pits. So this is what’s happened to me while I was busy doing all that, I think. Ah-hah! Here’s who I am now. If my last few entries seem particularly reflexive (read: redundant), this is why.
In China I was sitting in the left backseat of a taxi going somewhere dreary in the rain with one hand propping up my chin, elbow resting on my knee. I wasn’t thinking much, but suddenly I had a bizarre flash of wakefulness about my face. I prodded at my forehead and felt the hard curve of my skull. I noticed the connection of my earlobe with my jawbone. I grabbed a fleshy handful of cheek. I realized that the only physical self I ever thought of was the one reflected off the bathroom mirror, a hardly comprehensive view. Perhaps observing myself through a revolving door of bathroom mirrors—if I go through with my plan to move around for a while—might round the picture out some, but imagine being twenty-two and never having taught your fingers your face. Touch your own—does it feel the way it looks in the mirror?
If Care or my mom noticed me exalting in my New Age moment, they didn’t say anything, although I’m sure I looked ridiculous, dabbing moonily at my face. Nevertheless, the Chinese-taxi episode shot off, in grand fashion, the clear beginning of a Nathalie-style summer, in which everything that comes in refracts through a series of internal mirrors until it trickles out, slightly battered and askew.
Since then yes it’s been a heavily cogitative ten weeks, although I promise, much more comes out of it in these writings than does in real life (sorry.). After my nattering on about green leaves turning to brown in the last entry it’s only fitting that I’ve found myself unexpectedly promoted to adulthood in Annecy terms too. Ah yes, there’s a time to grieve the passing of the past, and there’s a time for moving on. Right now seems like the time for both.
The attendance of an unprecedented six adolescent boys means we’ve moved from the mildewy downstairs dormitory that housed us for twenty years to the red-and-gray guest room, which Amélie very rightly points out looks just like our aunt Isabelle did in the eighties. She and I sit with the grown-ups, enter their discussions (politics, anecdotes, food). We read novels in beach chairs by the pool instead of choreographing elaborate water ballets. We (well, I) have inappropriate thoughts about my fifteen-year-old stepcousin, who sports a sweet set of newly sprouted abs. We don’t have to pretend we’re not going out at night, which, though certainly less of a hassle, lacks the fun of the production we used to create, sneaking out silently betwixt snorers. When a wasp bit my finger, I got only the adult amount of sympathy, with which comes none the benefits a kid receives when large doses of POISON ENTER HER BLOODSTREAM. Seriously though, we used to vigorously act older, squeezing lemon juice onto our hair so it blonded in the sun, putting on makeup for dinner, fielding snickers from both the parents and the younger boys. Now we just are older, and have irrevocably lost the desire to do handstands underwater. What will have disappeared next year?
What’s good is how much stays the same. On sunny days the lake is still strewn with what looks like insects crossing a puddle: yellow sails like shivering ladybugs, neon windsurfs fireflies, the passenger ferry a fat old hornet. At six or so the sky explodes with paragliders floating down like psychedelic feathers, raindrops of exaggerated color rolling down the pink-and-orange window of the setting sun. At dusk the shape the mountains make still forms the silhouette of a sleeping Marge Simpson, a repetition that comforts duly. The sky stays as magnificent, as does the eternal preponderance of shooting stars, and we’re as amazed as ever at the enormity of the universe and our personal insignificance to it. (The health benefits of this awe, I’m convinced, and of the fact that we still frequently laugh to the point of incontinence, far outweigh any toxins that happen to be ingested on the way to these apotheoses!) It’s still as much fun to pee outside. And after twenty years, I still can’t control myself in the morning when the pot of nutella gets too close to the fresh baguettes. If one thing surely won’t change, that’s probably it.
Annecy’s the yardstick that wraps up every summer’s self-reflexive season before the oblivious havoc and insurrections that the new year brings. This summer in particular has been insufferably inward-looking, but dropping out of discontinuity into this familiar sunny clearing makes it impossible not to reach for the stick and measure up. But in conclusion. An unexamined life may not be worth living, but a life overexamined is boring and inert. So I’m going to turn this off and seize the sunny minutes and sweet air, and run the fuck away from this bee.