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Life on the Rails: In praise of the road well traveled

In my last post before we left for a stint living in Berlin, I made a list of all the things I still wanted to do in the Cotswolds. Now that we would be less than a two-hour flight away, I thought I would finally get around to marking some things off this Cotswold bucket list.Our first visit back to the Cotswolds was last weekend, and I managed do exactly none of them. Part of the problem is that we like the things we usually do so much that we lack the motivation to do anything else. With walks through scenery like this just outside our front door, who could argue?

We even like the things we don’t like, or more precisely, we love to hate the same things over and over again. Case in point: we went to dinner with our old chums, Rupert and Ralph, at our local inn, the Wheatsheaf, on the Friday night of our visit. The menu featured a battered brill with petite pois and potatoes that sounded suspiciously like fish and chips for £25. Still, two of our party chose to order it, making a point of telling the waiter they would have the “£25 fish and chips.” It was delicious if ridiculously priced, and for the remainder of the weekend we revelled in repeatedly sharing our outrage. Undoubtedly we’ll eat there again next time we’re in town.

My husband’s and my travel predilections are so strong that our Facebook posts look like they’re on an annual repeat cycle, and our friend Rupert likes to poke fun at our predictability. “Back on the rails,” he’ll note every time he recognizes one of our check-ins at favorite restaurant. “Choo choo” is another shorthand favorite.

He is perhaps to blame for why I am feeling a bit defensive about taking the road well traveled. It is not a fashionable choice as anyone who knows the last three lines from Robert Frost’s famous poem will tell you.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

And everyone knows these lines of the poem because they are ubiquitous. Just yesterday I saw them artfully scrawled on a chalkboard in a Scandinavian clothing store in Berlin. This ubiquity, of course, defeats the whole purpose. If everyone takes the road less traveled, then it’s no longer the road less traveled. The road less traveled becomes nothing more than a formula, the irony of which found expression last year in the normcore movement, an equally self-aware propensity to be anti-fashion (think mom jeans, polo shirts). But I digress from my point, which is the first three lines of the poem. They’re less well known (the road less traveled, if you will), and I take my inspiration there:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood

Of our beloved homes in California and the Cotswolds, my husband has often said how he wants to live in both at once. We long to “travel both and be one traveler,” but, in the absence of the science to enable that, we have settled on trying to craft a nomadic life so that we may spend time in both. The same applies to visiting other places we love and repeating the experiences from previous visits. In doing so, we create a routine that is nothing less than a sense of home. We are carving out a way to “be one traveler” however infrequently we visit.

One such beloved spot is Paris. We have a visit planned in May, but I can tell you now how the weekend will go. We will stay in a charming but microscopic hotel room on the Île Saint-Louis from where each morning we will jog a loop around the islands before breakfasting at the bar at le Louis IX, which seems to be a favorite of Parisian garbage collectors. Then we will rent bikes and ride to the Eiffel Tower before lunching on the terraces of Tribeca on the pedestrianized market street, Rue Cler. There we will admire the manners of small French children out for lunch with their families and envy the achingly chic French teenagers smoking Gauloises between bites of steak tartare.

Picture of Au Petit Fer A Cheval from 2011. Look on Facebook for another one just like it next month.

In the early evening we will head over to Le Marais, where we will drink a glass of wine at La Belle Hortense, a combination bookshop and wine bar. I will wander around the shop caressing the books and wishing I could read French. I may buy one anyway. Once we spy a free table outside at the bar across the street, Au Petit Fer à Cheval, we will rush over and grab it and drink more wine than we meant to before heading to the establishment next door, Les Philosophes, for dinner. The only Parisians in the place will be the waiters, who will accept my husband’s request for his steak to be “bien cuit” with a surprising lack of fuss; I will have the honeyed duck confit. After dinner we’ll stumble back across Pont Louis Philippe and collapse into bed before getting up the next day and doing most of it all over again.

And this road well traveled is how every few years we get to “be one traveler” who lives in Paris, too.

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