Standing around gazing at all of the brown cardboard boxes, I was feeling a sense of exhausted accomplishment. Everything from the container seemed to have made it in one piece and all the way from America. It was pretty amazing to think that my great-grandmother’s china had made such a long journey. I hadn’t seen my lovely pots and pans nor 75% of my wardrobe in over two months. I wanted to dig in and get busy putting things in their new places. But, as I was deliberately walking on the bubble wrap, my Frenchman informed me that I needed to freshen up and be ready to leave in thirty minutes. Wha?! Leave and go where, I wondered.
Apparently, there was a business dinner with my Frenchman and some of his work associates that had been arranged prior to our container’s arrival and I was invited. My mid-west Protestant work instinct was thrown into a complete tizzy. But, there’s work to be done, I was screaming from the inside. One doesn’t celebrate or stop working until ALL the work is completed or one’s hands turn so raw from tilling the soil that one just cannot work anymore and collapses onto the ground – a bloody, exhausted mess. Of all the nights to attend a business dinner party, this was not the night I would have pencilled in; however, I quieted the Puritan-bred instincts in me, reluctantly made myself somewhat presentable and pulled myself out the door along with his mother and father.
In fact, many things seem to have zeroed in on this one particular day. Earlier in the day before the container arrived, I had gone into Port Louis to my office and picked up my longed for occupational and residence permits. I was now officially allowed to stay and work in Mauritius for the next two years. I was so excited and felt instantly more worldly. As I was blabbing on to the HR department about how excited I was, they informed me that my first day of work would be August 1st. The 1st was in two days time.
The Frenchman’s parents arrive, the container arrives and I start my new job all within one week’s time. On the 1st, we were also planning to have a 10 person dinner party at our place. My tea-party- in-the-garden state of mind went back to its normal frantic state rather quickly. I kept telling myself that all the events that were happening were good things that I had been yearning for, so there was no need to get all huffy and stuffy. But, trying to stay calm and relaxed during the next few days was almost impossible and chanting my yoga teacher’s mantra for relaxation was just not cutting it.
And so, when there was work to be done, I went to dinner. The dinner that night was at a brand new Chinese restaurant on the island. Apparently, when a new restaurant opens up, it’s big news and everyone wants to check it out. The wine was my favorite part of the meal, but maybe that was because I was so tightly wound and found its ruby redness to be particularly comforting.
The next day had me up early in ripped jeans, hair pulled back in a pony-tail and with a box-cutter in my back pocket. The two summers during college that I worked in the potpourri factory had taught me one thing – how to effectively open and tear down boxes with a blade. During the day, my crew, which consisted of my Frenchman’s mother and our housekeeper, and I frantically opened boxes that were labelled ‘kitchen’. The goal was to get the kitchen up and running for the party on Friday.
Excellent progress was made and by early evening, all boxes for the kitchen had been opened. I was feeling pretty confident that we could get everything done if we continued to work at the pace we were working for the next two days and nights. Then, the phone rang. It was my darling Frenchman telling me that I needed to be ready to leave the house within the hour. Wha?! This impulsive bobbing about without any advanced warning or planning was getting me all in a fluster. And there was still work to be done! Did no one understand this?! At this particular moment, I felt like I was truly the Pilgrim placed right in the middle of a crew of pleasure-seeking French people. Darn them and their incessant need to eat, to drink and to be merry. Where were the other like-minded, miserable mid-westerners?
I was told once I was in the car en route to that evening’s entertainment (but, the boxes, the work!) that we had been invited to attend a concert (so much to do!) in some guy’s house (will it ever get done?!). The concert was going to be classical and what’s that?…in an old, fancy house…Bonn Symphony Orchestra…cocktails…really? The Symphony Orchestra from Bonn, Germany was in Mauritius and was giving a free concert in some guy’s house? This seemed just too cool to be true and I almost stopped worrying about ‘the work’ and started to get just a tad excited; however, I wasn’t letting go of my ‘no fun in the sun’ attitude just yet. Oh, no. The French with all their relaxed and fun-seeking attitudes were going to have to convince me just a little bit more before I lay down my pitchfork.
But, as we drove past the large iron gates onto the property, I started to think that maybe I was being too hasty in my no-way conclusions . The house was not simply a house. It was a plantation-styled mansion that could have come straight out of an epic story set during the time when the British were in India discovering the joys of tea. On both sides of the house and evenly spaced every 5 feet there were large 30-foot windows with light-blue painted shutters that opened as doors out onto the surrounding gardens. Even before we were close to the house, you could see rows of soft, amber light running across the lawn. We drove through the sprawling front yard past beautiful old trees that were illuminated by spot lights. A parking attendant told us where to park the car and we were escorted to the front of the house.
There was a porch that wrapped completely around the entire house and with all of the floor to near-ceiling windows opened, it felt like the garden was just an extension to the great room of the house. I was shown to my cane-backed chair which was just on the inside of one of the doorways. The owner of the house gave a little speech and then the conductor, wearing full-tails, stepped out before us. I had noticed that the members of the orchestra appeared to be quite young and as the first notes filled the air, I realized that the musicians before me where not part of the Bonn Symphony Orchestra.
Having grown up playing the piano and having played the flute in the school band, I could tell that I was listening to a performance that was not on a professional level. But, it wasn’t bad and after the first few shaky moments (woodwinds and brass players remember to keep those instruments warmed up and ready), this group of young musicians began to play some very lovely music. I sat and listened and was very appreciate of the fact that I had studied music when I was younger.
As I surveyed the room, I could see what appeared to be many, older business professionals listening to the music. It’s at moments like this when I always wonder how many people in the audience used to be the jocks in high school that used to make fun of the nerdy kids in band. I suspect some of those jocks would later go on to be the business majors in college, grow older, make oodles and suddenly develop a rather expensive taste for the arts. Do they really enjoy it or are they only participating because that’s what the Vanity Fair set do together? My happy-art side believes that the magnetic power of the arts draws a passionate spirit out of everyone, but my downer-art side thinks these guys were forced to attend by their wives.
I was quietly passed a program which had, ‘Concert Symphonique – par la – Symphonique de la jeunesse de Bonn’ written on the front. The Bonn Youth Orchestra was playing in some guy’s super nice mansion on the island. I had not detected the word ‘jeunesse’ when I was explained in French what the night would include. No bother, another new word added to my French vocabulary. I settled in after the musicians had relaxed and fell into the page-turning pace of the music. Listening to this chamber orchestra even if they were only ‘youth’ (I’m guessing they were near 18 years old) in this amazing home with giant oil-paintings of ancestors on the walls and the comforting smell of old rich wood, I began to enjoy myself. The performance was actually quite good.
They played a short program with pieces from Haydn, Tchaikovsky and Weber. I was sitting quite near to the Cellos and being that close to those gorgeous vibrations in such a beautiful space with the night palms gently blowing outside…oh…I really didn’t care if any of the un-packing work at the house was ever finished. I would just form furniture out of the crates and wear the bubble wrap as clothing. The only bummer of the evening was that the lead trumpet player had fallen ill and so the trumpet solo was not performed.
That night, no solo was performed, no boxes were unpacked and I started to believe that to work without enjoying the spontaneous, magical moments in life was really rather silly. Kudos to the French. And, yes, I think I will have another glass of wine. Thank you very much.