Freedom and the Road
The Beachside Resident - September 2007
Those were days of the whimsy and freedom that come only at the very end of one’s youth. The winds blew from the north for seven days straight. They blew against us on the way up to Châteauneuf-du-Pape so that we had to pedal down the steep bridges, and on the climb the gusts threatened to throw her over the edge and into the river below.
But the wine was heavenly. The reds were light, fragrant, and left no aftertaste on the tongue. After a long day of riding, we could share a bottle out on the terrace, in the courtyard, wherever, and it would fill our bodies with that warm love, that slow and deepening love which sprouted like vines from us in the dusklight, reaching out to touch the stone streets, to play in the cypress, grow wild upon the winds, refract the crimson light of the setting sun, and fill up the sky.
Yes, there was much glory in the Châteuneuf-du-Pape reds, but they held nothing against the rosés. In fact, there is no wine, none in this world so far as I know, that comes close to a Provence rosé, if it is enjoyed properly, on a bright, dry day in early summertime, shared with someone you love wholly and completely.
I suppose the Provence rosé tastes of the whimsy and freedom that comes at the very end of one’s youth. There is a light berry in all the variations, perhaps a hint of strawberry. Some are sweeter, some are tart, with the faintest tinge of raspberry. Some have tiny bubbles which collect at the bottom of the glass and float up slowly, as in a sparkling champagne rosewater, while some are smoother, peach-colored, and taste of the wind and the sunlight and of the stone streets themselves.
Some taste faintly of lemons, some like a familiar woman who you cannot remember, perhaps a friend of your mother’s or a schoolteacher from grade school. But the best of them taste like nothing at all, not like water, not like air… when you drink the best wines, you transcend the realm of touch and taste, on to some higher place.
The wind blew at our backs on the way down to Saint-Rémy. We felt invincible, immortal, flying through the fields, pedaling once every hundred yards, leaning back, speaking in soft voices. The cherry trees grew alongside the path, and we stopped to taste them. They were white, cool, and impossibly sweet.
It was our grand farewell to childhood, a three-month voyage which began in Cocoa Beach and took us up the East Coast to New York. We walked in Central Park, shopped Midtown, and stopped to relax at the cafés of Gramercy. Our nights in Manhattan were dedicated to the Village, Arturo’s Pizzeria, Sway Lounge or rooftop parties, where old friends came out of their underground hiding spots to play with us.
New York was always pleasant, but we had grand plans. I had arranged for a bicycle trip in the south of France, and after a week in the city we took the long flight across the Atlantic, stopping over in Berlin, then spending a few days in Rome before embarking upon our week-long tour de vélo of Provence, where we discovered the finest wines on earth.
After the trip, tanned and relaxed, we took the train to Paris, where we rented a low-ceilinged apartment without air conditioning in the sixth arrondisement. Paris was all the requisites — the Luxembourg Gardens, the great plane trees along the banks of the Seine, the smoke-filled magnificence of the Closerie de Lilas, the marble and pastels of the Musée D’Orsay, the cafés with white-shirted waiters serving sandwiches mixtes and bottles of wine. Paris was as beautiful and perfect as I remembered it, and probably even more so for my wife, who was seeing it for the first time.
Looking back, I realize we left something behind in Paris, something we could never retrieve again. We were under the spell of motion, giddy with adventure, and we did not know that we were coming into something new, something bright and sad and wonderful in its own way.
The second half of our trip took us west, across the cool, sunny countryside of the Great Lakes. We tasted the ice wines of Niagara-by-the-Lake, drank beer in a bar outside Wrigley Field, made love at the Talbott Hotel, then again in a La Quinta somewhere in Wisconsin, and then again in Keystone, South Dakota, with the yellow-lit profile of George Washington watching over us from the nearby mountaintop. We made love almost every night on the American road, and most nights it was twice or even three times.
We did not make love in the mountains of Wyoming. It was her first time camping in a real pine forest, and she was worried about the bears smelling us inside the tent. I showed her how to collect the wood for the fire and we cooked buffalo burgers and beans, stayed up late to watch the stars, shared a bottle of red wine from Provence, and mused about the telepathy of birds and dolphins as the dusklight turned the mountains into impressionist paintings.
Once the fire had gone out, I swaddled her in the tent and we drifted off to sleep. A coyote howled in the distance. I squeezed her, felt her shivering. She laughed and kissed me, and I knew that this was making love too, and that it was perfect.
There is no better place to fall in love than the road. Love on the road gains momentum, builds in speed and intensity as the miles run beneath the wheels. Our conversations taught us new and surprising things about each other as the Rockies swept by in a blurred tapestry of pine and silver. We sat side-by-side, but we were dancing with the countryside, dancing with the wind, with the music of the road.
As we crossed over the Canadian border into Vancouver, our love ripened, our song crescendoed… and something happened that had never happened before.
It happened in a room in the Hotel Opus. That day we had strolled through the fairyland trails of Stanley Park, kissing on benches overlooking the sea. After a fine dinner we had returned to the hotel, drunk and euphoric, and had fallen together onto the bed.
It was the last time we would make love as young and naïve children, clumsy, happy, careless, and completely free. It was the best it ever was that night in the Hotel Opus, something different and altogether new.
Afterwards she sat up against the headboard. “Couldn’t you have stopped?” she asked me.
“I don’t know what happened.”
“What are we going to do?”
I did not know what to say. My mind was a clean blue canvas, my thoughts high above the cloud-line. Something else was controlling the forces of time and place at that moment, leading us somewhere unknown.
“There’s only one way to be sure,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
I looked her hard in the eyes. “We should do it again.”
Now her heart was beating across the bed, just as it had on that day I had asked her to marry me, standing atop Mount Royal with the city below us.
Again we lay down, and now there was nothing to hold us back. Now it was better, even better than before, more heavenly, more surreal, more shining, more divine.
Author’s note: Aubrey Lynn Reiter was born thirty-eight weeks later, at the Cape Canaveral Hospital. It was just after sunrise, and a few high pink clouds reflected in the river outside. It was the first day of spring.