Friday, January 8, 2010

Dear Nancy

Dear Nancy,

You told me that it didn't matter if my kids were grizzly when I was eating croissants in Paris. I've been thinking about it. Because now the whole family has been sick, and we've spent the last few days apologising: to a maid in Hong Kong for soiling her shoe; to airline stewards for throwing up on a seat; to our hostess in Berlin for the vomit on the pillow and the vomit on the mattress; to our friends, for missing a birthday dinner.

Last night, as I was on my hands and knees throwing up into a bowl - couldn't make the toilet - I started to cry. Hot tears ran down my nose and dripped into the sick. But it wasn't the vomiting, really, or the distance from home which made me cry. It was that this was the night we had planned a babysitter, and dinner and a long conversation with our friends who live here. I miss them so much.

As my husband helped me back to bed, I sobbed like a baby. And watched the snow fall outside the window and wondered, would I prefer to be home?

And guess what, Nancy? You were right of course. Still glad to be here. If one must vomit, it may as well be in a beautiful old apartment in Berlin. The ceilings are fourteen foot high, and I could ride a camel through the double doors between each room.

Round the corner is Stephane, who sells French wine and cheese. He doesn't lock his shop, so I wandered down the precipitous stairs into his basement shop to find something to eat. But the light was so dim and noone was there, so I came back upstairs, puzzled, only to find a guy running across the park, waving both arms in the air and cheerfully calling 'Hallo! Hallo!'. Stephane was running late.

We've been to our favourite boot store, which reminds me of a temple. The walls are white and spare, with boots and shoes tucked into carefully lit niches. The shop is absolutely quiet, except for the hushed voices of the assistants. Our tired baby cried throughout, yet the staff only told us to relax, try on another pair. Babies are supposed to cry, they said. Then they weatherproofed our new boots so we could wear them out into the snow. My new boots have a double layer of leather. They're weird and funky and a gorgeous red. You won't find them in Melbourne!

I threw a snowball at my sister and it exploded in her face. O joy! My children are entranced. It's the first time they've seen snow. They examine the flakes on their sleeves, then turn their faces skywards to catch it on their tongues, on their eyelashes. We went to the playground, climbed the icy steps and rode the flying fox over a soft white world.

We've been stuffing ourselves with bread and cheese, and those little rolls that taste like pretzels. Raspberry jam and French wine cost nothing here; the butter tastes like heaven.

So yesterday I decided, yes, I'm glad to be here - even with my head in a bucket. And today, I'm feeling better.


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