things you can tell just by looking at her {fiji, day 2}

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Are you happy? Muhammad asks. It’s funny you should ask me that because another man posed that very question to me this time last year, I said. The waves are the color of coins when he says, And you were not happy, then? I nod and collect shells off the shoreline, the grit from which leaves a pool of sand in my pocket. The clouds are heavy and under a copse of trees we contemplate the afternoon rain. You are not yet where you want to be, yes? Muhammad says, cradling a small cellular phone in his hand. I turn to him and ask him how could he know the whole of my year after knowing me for seven hours? You didn’t talk for the first hour, he laughs, so I had to find you in your face. Part of me wants to tell Muhammad that I’d made it my life’s work to build a fortress around me — I was that impenetrable; I had much to protect — and can you imagine what it’s like to undo everything that you created? To tear down the walls, brick by brick? Do you know what it’s like to walk with stones in your hands?

The sky opens up and the rain comes down in sheets. On the drive back, Muhammad doesn’t use his windshield wipers as much as I’d like, so I find myself squinting at the road ahead, wondering if he could see, if he’d think it rude of me to remind him to buckle his seatbelt. I had a rough year, the worst I’ve known, but I’m closer to fine, I say. He tells me that he can see this too.

Today I spent the day on a remote beach, Bounty Island. One can only reach it by boat (45 minutes from Denarau), and the sand is bleached white and the water is a cool actinic blue. The kind of water where you can see all the way down to the ocean floor. The kind of waves you want to cleave your way through. The fish remind me of a jazz riff in the way they cymbals clash collide and disperse, at random. They were striped and golden, and glinted in a way that reminds me of the sun.

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Off the top of a boat I dive into the water and feel something resembling a cocoon, swathed by the sea and all that beautiful blue. Come closer, fine. Right here.

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On the island, we feast on grilled fish, lamb and eggplant. The rice noodles are cold and tossed with papaya, and the bread is amazing in ways I can’t describe. Pillows, really. Normally, I keep to myself as I’m wretched with new people, all fumbling words and long stretches of quiet, but I meet an Aussie woman, Tracy, who is traveling alone and we bond over the fact that we’re consultants who are able to take holidays in Fiji. We talk about the Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn, Bali, Indonesian politics, and the fact that men in Australia are no different than the men in the U.S. We laugh as we talk about men with rings on their fingers who casually flirt and how we scatter like mice in the other direction. Tracy says that her mother taps her watch, saying, Soon they’ll be a new crop of divorced men your age. A widening ocean of sorts, and we laugh about this too.

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I wander off for a bit and take silly “selfies,” with my hair all a tangle of curls and my face still pale and flush from sunscreen. I spend an hour on the other part of the island, feet digging in the sand, a blanket of leaves over my head, and I feel good. The best I’ve felt in quite some time, and in this reverie, Muhammad returns.

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I will build what I need to build. I will lie in hammocks and breathe underwater. I will open my eyes in the ocean so I can see, even if the water makes me red in all the wrong places. Open your eyes. Are you happy? You’re not quite there yet… Here is my axel and saw. Here are my two hands, skin rubbed off and burning. Here is my heart the color of a bruise. Bruising. Here is me, both eyes open.

I’ve had my success, and something tells me that this grace will continue. Now it’s time to find that monstrous love.

You’re wrong, Muhammad. I’m already there. I’m already happy.

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love.life.eat of the week

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love.: It’s no secret that I’m mad for the color blue. In blue we believe, in blue we trust. When I organized my closet this year I was shocked to find that nearly every item I owned was in some shade of this magnificent hue. So it’s no surprise that my covets this week (as I’m on a deep shopping hiatus) are beautifully blue. From Erikson Beamon’s Duchess Earrings, which are rather grand and made for royalty (too bad my ears aren’t pierced) to Shop Terrain’s Textured Burlap Tray (imagine biscuits piled high!) to this rustic soapstone Cheese Slate Board, to this darling homemade Natural Linen Napkin set I discovered on Etsy (not blue, but certainly in the dreamy aquatic territory), part of me can mentally transport myself to the sleepy shores of Biarritz even while I’m bundled up for a New York winter.

Artists + bloggers I’m loving right. this. moment.: Not*Otherwise (she preaches the truth), Nicole Franzen (her photographs are transformative) and Elephantine (her prose is quite lovely).

life.: I promise you (and myself) that this is the year where I will break ranks. And although that sounds cryptic, intentionally so, I’ve been surprised by just how much I love my French classes at the French Institute Alliance Française. Every Saturday, myself and 12 other hopefuls watch movies, play games and learn how to think in a new language. For those three hours I joke with new friends, get dramatic with vowel pronunciations, while proclaiming, Oh, we’re so French, while we’re clearly not. But for that small pocket of time I can immerse in a world that is so far removed from the one I knew and closer to the one I will inevitably know. And I also have access to the FIFA library, cultural programs and a whole new suite of possibilities, gratis! In grade school I switched out of French class because it was all too complicated, it wasn’t the language we spoke in the streets, and I’m glad to have returned to new ways to think of words. Change doesn’t happen until you leap out of your comfort zone, so here’s me, reaching for sky.

eat.: This week I’m craving a mix of the very virtuous and the very naughty. Last night I read a feature of the designer Kelly Wearstler in Bon Appetit magazine, and I was shocked that my favorite mag would publish a piece about a woman who basically starves herself during the day and has one meal at night. PSA, PEOPLE: JUICING IS SOCIALLY-ACCEPTABLE STARVATION, AND IT’S NOT OKAY. It’s okay to eat, folks — everything in moderation. So if you’re feeling the need to feast on kale check out this yummy Crunchy Kale Salad made with nuts, avocado and tahini. Surprise your taste buds with the melange of flavor in this protein-packed Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Harissa recipe. And find morning comfort in this Barley Porridge with Maple-Glazed Almonds and Blood Orange.

Or perhaps you want to indulge in flights of almond fancy with this etherial Almond Bread Pudding or these Salted Caramel Banoffee Éclairs, or these Lemon Seed Poppy Rolls by one of my favorite foodies.

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