In this time of foreclosure – and, for many, an unimaginable loss – there is nevertheless a strange and rewarding ray of light. In the cocoon of the small French village where I take refuge, I interact with a larger number of long-lost friends than in decades.
I was very young when I left America, just out of adolescence, and I never thought it would take three decades before I go back there to live. I remember so well the day before I left for London. I was with my very young first husband in New York. At dawn, we were taking one of those inexpensive charter flights that no longer exist; I think it was People Express. I had two large suitcases, one of clothes, one of books. We were starting a new life; the one who twisted and turned and finally took different paths.
In 2017, after almost 30 years, I made the reverse journey. I moved to Manhattan from my house in Paris with three large suitcases, one for summer clothes, one for winter and one for books. In my hand luggage, I took some treasures: a photo album, a Russian lithograph that I had bought on the road to Portobello 20 years ago, my grandmother’s teacups in Limoges.
But I was traveling light. I was starting another new life.
As a foreign correspondent for many years, I have traveled the earth and made many places my home. My closest friends are in Paris and London, the Berkshires, Maine, Monaco, Boston, New Jersey, Vienna, Sarajevo, Africa. Wherever I lived, I tried to make a kind of nest and a new circle of friends. I gathered a lot of friends, a lot of adventures.
But there are a lot of other people that I love and that I love and that I have lost track of. Life does that. You can’t keep in touch with everyone, even in the era of WhatsApp and FaceTime. You change your friends life in the way Marie Kondo publishes his underwear drawer.
But the crown, the evil pandemic, which is as peripatetic as me, has changed all that.
This “virus era”, as I call it, brought back lost friends and acquaintances. In the rural village where I take shelter, in the Vercors of France, far from everything (with an ex-husband, our son and an extended family), I reconnected with people I haven’t heard from since years. At night, after pouring water on the fire and retiring to my unheated room, I WhatsApp a friend in London. In normal life, we meet once a year in August with friends in Greece for vacations.
Now we talk every night. We are talking about mundane things. Whatever. It’s human contact that counts at times like these. “Tonight I ate spaghetti with deer meatballs,” he tells me. “Waitrose had a package in the frozen meats section. “
“I wonder what the recipe is for a perfect tuna fusion,” I reply. “Mustard or relish?” “
I am sending messages to other friends whom I have lost track of. Some take refuge in the English countryside. Some stayed in the cities. Some, like me, share spaces with their exes. Some are alone. Corona has sort of gone beyond deadlines, social strata and years; the people I let slip from my memory are now next to me, virtually.
A woman I barely knew wrote to me because she saw an article I wrote for Vanity Fair. We exchanged a few emails. On the fourth, we said things we never said to anyone else.
In a way, this is part of a fatalistic mindset that recognizes human mortality and impermanence: the pandemic has frightened us all, so we have broken down social barriers. It reminds me of that old Tracy Chapman song: “If not now, then when?” What is the point of still waiting to get in touch, to unload your worries, to reveal secrets?