It’s Friday night and friends just left. They called about dropping by, and I was out shopping but quickly got in the car to come back home so that we could visit. This is what retirement is about — making the time to visit with good friends. Whether I’m in Lake Charles or elsewhere, it’s important to me to spend time with friends. That’s is crucial.
And tonight was such fun. They brought one bottle of wine, and after that bottle and two more, plus two pizzas, they left to go home. I am sitting here smiling, thinking of the joys of having and taking time to spend with friends, as well as family.
My original plan was to be at the family farm tonight but I was too tired to contemplate another three and a half hours on the road today and three and a half on Sunday. I mean, I love to travel; I love to drive or fly or whatever. But since I got home on July 18, I’ve done a lot of road time. I needed time to stay in place, to stay home, at ground central. And thus I had the time to say “yes” when my friends Barney and Molly called about dropping in.
When I’m in Greece, it takes a bit more work. I can email or text or call friends to meet me for coffee at a particular coffee shop. I can drop by the Athens Centre to visit friends there. But dropping over isn’t the done thing there. It requires calling and scheduling, though scheduling a dinner party is interesting. In Greece, scheduling too far in advance isn’t possible — people need to think, to plan, to fit it in. But I persist. And many though not all my friends are part-time and full-time ex-pat Americans. I can make arrangements for a dinner party the week prior to the actual dinner. Sometimes, though, it’s tricky to manage.
As the visiting Cajun American, I try to offer a bit of Cajun cuisine and hospitality. The Southern girl that I am at heart also requires that I set this up with some care. I make sure to have sufficient if not plentiful food. I plan for, say, 10, when 5 or 6 might show up. Or 4 or 5. I can always freeze food for later. Certainly I will cook something with crawfish, probably crawfish étouffée. Additionally I offer a salad and some bread. Wine flows in abundance. And dessert is simple — ice cream or fruit.
At home in Cajun territory, we sit at the table for hours. Long after the mean has ended, we sit and talk, lingering over wine and listening to music. While the food is important, the friendship and community are more central. Without that connection, there would be no point (other than a superficial one) to be together.
So here in South Louisiana, I have friends over. I play music on the CD player. Perhaps they bring music. I cook, and we eat. But more importantly, we talk about anything and everything. It’s all about the connections, about the friendship and love.
It’s the same in Greece. really. Meals there are social events, and the gathering is for the human connections, not just the food. Food is really the catalyst, the excuse, but not the central event per se.
From my first visit until now, I have always found Greece strikingly similar to South Louisiana. There is a very Southern feel about the country, its culture, and how people connect. There too, meals are social events. Even if the group is family and does not expand beyond family, the meals are merely settings for the talk, the conversation, the long lingering over food and dessert and drinks.
And that’s the way it is in Greece. When I have friends over, we stay at the table for hours. Certainly, there isn’t much room beyond the table, but more than that — it’s the enjoyment of being together. My friends are from such a range of places and experiences, and our conversations range far and wide. This past summer, a friend from home here in the U.S. was visiting, and he was there when I had friends over for étouffée. It was fun to watch him interact with my Greek and American friends as our topics of conversation came from any and every possible topic and angle. I loved watching him react, and gratifying to see my friends get along.
Tonight as I sit in the office, typing here, I am smiling ( and yes, it’s in part the wine, but more the warmth of the evening spent with friends) at the sheer pleasure of friendship.
Here at home, or in Egan, or at the beach, or in Greece, or elsewhere — the time spent with friends and family is something that cannot be duplicated. Neither can it be bettered or improved upon.
Real conversations allow us to bring up almost anything. It’s safe and comforting and a wonderful experience. That we keep refilling our wine glasses is a secondary event.
Tonight I have gone nowhere outside of Lake Charles. Yet in memory and in thought I have been to Greece and back. I have time-traveled in memory as well. And I never left my own living room, my own rocking chair.
Travel certainly implies physical space, dimension. And I’ve traveled out of state, out of the country, out of Lake Charles. This year alone, I’ve been to Texas and Louisiana, London and Istanbul, Athens and elsewhere. Additionally, I’ve traveled vicariously with friends who’ve gone elsewhere. Finally, I’ve traveled in time, in memory.
Now, though I sit in my home in Lake Charles, in the present time, smiling at the kind of friends and culture where it’s okay to call and/or just drop in. We’re short on formality, long on real connections.
Right now, though, I need to wrap up the evening, clean the plate(s), throw out the trash, and be grateful.
Travel tonight? Yes, thank you. Not in space or place, but in memory.
Instead of being here in Lake Charles, I meant to be at the family farm. I wanted to be there. But only yesterday as I sat here at the desktop computer, I knew I was tired, that today I would be even more tired. So I decided to stay, not to hit the road. After all, I’l do that on the first weekend in October, when we gather for the Richards family reunion.
For now, I want and need to stay in place, to drive no more than 4 or 5 miles, to be at home.
From time to time, I need a respite even from travel, from driving, from road trips. Being able to travel doesn’t mean that you must travel. Otherwise, that gets just as routine and ordinary and boring as anything so repetitive.
Next week is full for me. I’ve got meetings and Leisure learning classes and an 8-hour precious metal clay class.
And I need to get started on a book project for a client. There’s a book to proofread for my cousin.
Plus I am ready for some sleep.
Indeed, I think it’s time for that even as I type.
Tonight, as I think about travel, I think about how many ways it’s possible to travel. That can be from one country to another, surely, but it can also be from one place to another, from one time to another, from one culture to another.
I’ll think about that as I crawl into bed in a few minutes. Maybe I’ll dream about driving. I did that last night, or this morning.
My traveling tonight will be, as in some magical realism, in dreams and memory, on a garden of forking paths. You know, where people who never knew each other suddenly do know each other, who are part of a life that is as real as anything yet not your own reality.
Friday night lights illuminate not football in my mind (other than in memories about high school and college). Instead they illuminate places in memory. So it’s time for some light shining on the past, on places and people.
Only with solid examination of our past can we hope to see who and what we are, and to have any sense of what we’ll become.
Traveling offers us such growth, such joy, such pleasure. If you haven’t lately, take some time to travel.
Even if you stay in your own living room.