Three places I would live for at least a little while:
A long white cottage on a quiet, narrow lane up the hill from the eastern edge of Loch Lomond. The garden was still and full of trees, flowers blooming in drifts where pools of sunlight fell through the branches. My guide said a pair of women had bought it and fixed up the garden, which had gone bedraggled before they got it. The house was long and narrow and white, with the sort of roof that once was thatched, and had many thick-silled windows. A church once stood there, and monks, and somehow St. Cuthbert was connected to the spot. Perhaps it was a place he slept, like George Washington. Down the lane is the banks of the loch, with small islands in the distance, and larger ones further out, and the Highlands rising to the north in their soft and forbidding way. Icy blue water laps at the sandy bank. I could write there, despite the midges (though someone told me that day that you develop immunity). In the afternoons, I would walk down to visit my neighbors and have good strong tea in a ceramic pot, served with fresh scones made to the exacting standards of the village ladies. Perhaps I would write about them. My dog would come with me, of course, and chase magpies.
A leaning Elizabethan house in Cranbrook, right on the High Street, with shops just down the way and a tiny garden in front, with yellow roses tumbling over a trellis and pots of purple viola and a stand of pale pink frecked foxglove standing against the wall. The ceilings would annoy me and make me claustrophobic and I’d worry about the listing north wall falling completely into the ditch alongside, but at night, with a candle in an iron sconce, I’d write about another age and channel the medieval world when wagons pulled crops into the market and thieves lurked in the woods and there was a fiddler in the pub, and a girl waited for a youth to meet her in the churchyard under cover of night….
A house backing up to a field in Hawkhurst, modern enough with two floors and a leaded windows, far enough away from the main roads to be quiet. It backs up to a footpath that lines an open field planted with some kind of grassy grain, and a tree growing right in the middle of it, like the doorway between worlds. Perhaps the Love Talker would seduce a maiden there, drawing her down from the village with his beautiful flute. I would walk out from my back door, through the garden gate, to the path running alongside the dense, cool, dappled forest. Hares would rush away into a thicket of soft lavender rhodedendrons, spilling in drifts through the shadows. In the distance rises the church steeple, ancient and tawny in the long, long evening. A man and his two lean dogs amble toward me and we nod at each other politely.
Three glimpses of other lives
–The ladies room outside the London eye. Three Muslim girls, about sixteen or seventeen washed their hands and unwound their gossamer black head scarves, revealing beautifully twisted thick black hair. They wore black slacks with sparkly t-shirts (properly layered over another white shirt so the undershirt hangs out in properly up-to-the-moment girrrl fashion) and mini skirts over the slacks. I watched one girl, a beauty with lavish features and alluring eyes, apply shiny peach lipgloss to her mouth. Then she carefully rewound her scarf, minutely adjusting the edge to be just so over her eyebrow and the trio went giggling out, all fragrance and moistness and eager awareness.
–Dazed and tired after the (first) long flight, I stood in the cool, humid air at Heathrow, queuing up in the long, long snaking line at customs. A pair of young Indians stood nearby, heads entwining, as they shared observations. She wore a pink and green sari, her hair a thick shiny braid, a long glittery scarf around her neck. Her carryon was very tiny and I thought that it would be an advantage to travel with saris. Her husband wore a turban over his head, his clothes as plain as hers were colorful. I thought of the wonderful scene in The English Patient when the Indian soldier is caught washing his hair, and wondered what weight of hair was hidden beneath that plain man’s plain turban.
–A Muslim family inched along ahead of me. Old man, young man, young mother, and little girl about four. The mother wore a lightweight black burka, her face covered in a way I don’t often see, her eyes looking out of a rectangular cut. The men weredressed traditionally, too, in simply cut tunics and trousers and sandals, their faces hidden behind beards. In contrast, the little girl had a short, curly hair cut, and she wore bell-bottom jeans embroidered with colorful thread up to the knee. Her pink t-shirt had princesses on it. She found me utterly fascinating, and even when nudged around, she kept turning back to look at me. Not rudely. Only curious. Maybe my hair, long and blonde, or my sweater, all covered with sparkles. I found her equally interesting—at what age does tradition begin? When she is seven, will she dress differently? Or twelve? Or perhaps the family is immigrating, leaving behind some land where they are not thriving, and the little girl is the first one to take on the culture they’re entering, like the children who came home to teach their parents English.