The Lion, the Wish, and the Wonder

We were in the throes of moving a few weeks ago, from our small apartment to a larger house, so that working and studying from home will be a little easier on all of us. We were unloading our second big haul of the weekend, and I was placing something in the bottom of the hallway closet for the first time. The bottom-most shelf is about 18 inches above the floor, so I had to really get down there to organize things. As I was lowering myself to the floor, I noticed a metal box built into the wall. Just an old alarm system, nothing exciting. Upon closer inspection, though, I found a little package, a box just big enough for a Christmas ornament, wedged between the alarm box and the shelf.

I moved so many times in my childhood that I’ve lost count. I read enough fiction that with every move, I had a secret wish of finding some little treasure in the next house. It wouldn’t have been happenstance either, like in a book, because I would intentionally search every corner, every shelf, and the furthest reaches of cabinets and closets. I never found anything growing up, but in this moment, I felt the culmination of all those searches.

I pulled the box out of the closet and excitedly called everyone over. It was small and white with broken tape across the top, covered in dust. I opened it to find bubble wrap that was stiff with age, which I gently shimmied out of the box. Inside the bubble wrap was a palm sized, amber colored, glass blown winged lion. I held it up to the light, and it reflected the same amber color onto the floor. Francesco (my fiancé), my 18yo son, his girlfriend, and I oohed and ahhed over it. I remembered there was writing on top of the box that I was too excited to read before opening: “glass lion st marks.”

My online query confirmed Francesco’s theory — it’s likely Venetian blown glass (although nothing so fancy as Murano), a souvenir from someone’s visit to St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice. I was immediately reminded of a trip with my daughter to Italy, during her senior year of high school. Part of the itinerary had us all, students and chaperones, crowded into the tiniest studio, up the narrowest stairwell, to watch a detailed and fascinating demonstration of how the glass is blown in Venice.

I placed him on the table in the foyer, on a small pedestal, facing the front door – our guardian. Today (weeks later), I was reminded that my mother, who passed away recently, was a Leo, born August 14, 1958. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to relate this to her because we had a complicated, mostly estranged relationship. It wouldn’t be natural to connect her to something so auspicious. She wasn’t protective or even present. I wonder now, though, if this is perhaps her gift to me. Now that she’s at peace, she finally has some light to offer.

On the Bayou

I am greeted by a small glass vase, set in the center of a rustic kitchen table, holding purple veronica and rosemary, undoubtedly picked from the beds lining the kudzu covered front porch. My little Shih Tzu/Chihuahua mix runs ahead of me to inspect the new digs. A 65° breeze blows through the open windows, and birds can be heard chirping from all directions. This place is even more charming than the photos online promised.

Walls of shiplap and pine are covered in milk paint, and local art surrounds me. Weathered hardwood floors creak beneath me. There’s an antique, roll top writing desk in the corner of the bedroom. I do some rearranging of the furniture. The writing desk won’t get used in the bedroom. There was a time in my life – actually, for most of my life – that I was a borderline hoarder. I got help from a professional organizer. She taught me that bedrooms are for sleeping and sex. There should never be a place to work, such as a desk, in a bedroom, not to mention the desk is just too large for the space. So I move it into the living room, in a corner just below two framed photos of Black Masking Indians, and just to the left of a window that overlooks the bayou. I now have two places for writing: at the desk and on the back porch.

As lovely as the cottage is, the back porch is the jewel at the center of this crown, despite there being absolutely nothing extravagant or elegant about it. It is stunning in its simplicity and deference to nature – unfinished pine planks crawling with kudzu, with red Turk’s caps growing from the ground below and through the wooden slats of the railing, so that hummingbirds, monarchs, and bumblebees fly directly onto the porch to dine. The backyard is a modest swath of green with well placed patches of wildflowers, a hammock, a fire pit, and the Bayou Teche just ten yards from the porch. Its current moves quickly, but the shore is so covered in brush and various swamp trees, that the twinge of worry I feel about Tyrion (my dog) getting carried away and eaten by alligators dissipates. He is ultimately a city dog, getting up there in years, and simply won’t bother with any terrain that isn’t effortless to traipse through. There are two doors leading back inside the house – one into the bedroom and one into the living room. As I head back inside, I hear church bells, coming from a block away.

This little cottage, Les Deux Mondes, is exactly where I need to be.