A Cottage and a Photo Essay

Few words needed to be spoken as they drove to the cottage late Friday night, not because they were so intuned to each other that they didn’t require words to communicate, but because the music that he’d chosen to play the entire car ride was too loud to speak over.  That is, until he had something to say.

Beast:  I watched the bonus features of the Days of Heaven Criterion Collection DVD you got me for my birthday.  Sam Shepherd said something that really hit home.  He said, “You can’t intellectualize Terrence Malick’s films.  They’re like poems: they just affect you, or they don’t.  Sometimes it’s better not knowing why or why not.”

Foodie:  I like that.  You know that Terroni dinner I went to, with the wine producer Ciro Biondi?  He said something like that too.  He said that he doesn’t like it when he goes to an art gallery and there are notes on the wall explaining the art to him, explaining what he’s supposed to see and how he should feel.  That’s why he doesn’t tell people what they should taste in his wines.  He said that when there are two different bottles of wine on a table, you know the better bottle is the one that’s finished first.  The rest is just talk, talk talk.

This conversation would set the mood for the rest of their weekend.

The sound of bull frogs singing in the marshes and the familiar smell of cedar greeted them when they arrived.  Once they carried all their supplies down the steep pine-needle covered steps, they each knew exactly what to do:  He activated some sort of pump, switched on the power, and got a fire going to take away the chill…

while she put away the groceries and got dinner on the go.

That simply meant unwrapping cheese, slicing some cacciatore, dicing up tomato with garlic, basil and olive oil, and mashing an avocado.  Oh, and toasting some slices of baguette.

Without talk, he opened up a bottle of red and poured them both a glass.  He pulled the little coffee table to the middle of the room, closer to the fire. Without talk, they reached for their favourite magazines–the ones they’d been waiting all month to read–and nibbled on their perfect meal.  And without talk they cleaned up, and settled in with their books.  For a brief moment, she felt a twinge of guilt, or rather a feeling of being too fortunate to be here, enjoying this time, this place.

Sleep came too easy, and so too did morning.  Day-old cinnamon buns from Rahier and a hot, French-press pot of coffee made it easier to face the cold. Neither of them could find the electric coffee grinder that had been at the cottage since electric coffee grinders came into existence, but he did manage to find an antique grinder that she assumed was only for decoration (cottages are often filled with such knick-knacks.)

Somehow, the fact that this antique coffee grinder looked like a grinder used in the movie Dances with Wolves, made the coffee taste better than usual. More authentic.

After a quick trip into town to buy firewood (God was it cold!) they were back at the cottage just in time for a lunch of barbecued hot dogs.  She’s made fun of him for picking these up at the grocery store before they left but after biting into one of the Frank’s Red Hots, she thought she’d never doubt his culinary decisions again. (She would.)

After lunch, they returned to their books.  And then, accidently, they napped for four hours.  Maybe it was the cold, but neither of them could remember the last time they’d napped for that long.  And neither of them could remember a nap that felt this good. She immediately felt guilty about the time lost.  He reminded her that they’d both been working hard and had earned such a glorious sleep.

Finally, a crack appeared in the clouds allowing in a sliver of sun.  It was just the sign they needed to rouse them from their hibernation.  Without talk, they poured themselves a little drink, wrapped themselves up in sweaters, and went down to the dock.

They didn’t linger for long: dinner had to be made. They’d purchased his and hers rib eye steaks to grill for their Saturday night dinner.

He’s never cooked a more picture-perfect piece of meat.

Some grilled Ontario asparagus, red peppers, zucchini, assorted mushrooms and potatoes would round out their feast.

They ate dinner in the screened-in porch, where it was too cold to eat, but neither of them seemed to care.  They both agreed it was the most wonderful meal they’d ever prepared together. There’s no proof to validate this last statement, as there rarely is in such circumstances, but at that moment, I believe they both believed it to be true.

More fire, more couch, more books and too much wine.  And some lovely music.  “It’s David Darling and Ketil Bjornstadt,” he told her.  “Every time I play it you ask who it is.”  She thought, “Oh how could I forget David Darling and Ketil Bjornstadt?  And then there, on the couch, in this perfect moment, she had a bit of a “Guido” moment (you know, the part in the Fellini film 8 1/2 when Guido is surrounded by all the characters that have come into his life.) She thought of all the people she’d ever loved, and all the people, even if she didn’t know them very well, who’d illuminated her days in some way or another,  and how she wanted them there with her in that room, with the fire, and the smell of cedar and the bull frogs singing and the stars shining. She’d tell them, one by one, how much they meant to her: And there would be hugging and tears and laughing.

Her eyes welled up because there wasn’t enough time for all of these relationships.  Or maybe there was time and she just wasn’t making room for everybody.  Or maybe she was just drunk.  She was also asleep now.  He picked the book up off her chest and helped her to bed that night.  She dreamed of the frittata she’d make in the morning with the left-over grilled vegetables.

They woke to a cloudless day.

But before she could realize that dreamy frittata, he insisted that they go for a canoe ride around the lake.

He did the steering.  He kept asking, “You paddling up there kiddo?” And she’d say, “Oh yeah, paddle, right.”  And then she’d say, “You know I didn’t grow up upper-middle class.  We didn’t have cottages.  We had a cornfield in the backyard and made mud pies occasionally. So canoeing doesn’t come easy to me.”  He’d heard the joke before but still laughed.

Some of the cottages on the lake looked quite different from his family’s classic (and perfect) tongue and groove cedar charmer.  “Oh look,” he said as they canoed past one, “That one was recently featured in the magazine, House and Asshole.

“That’s what I love about cottage country,” she said.  “You poor rich people can make fun of the really rich people. And the people who live here all year long must make fun of everybody.”

After the frittata (see documentation above), they spent their afternoon sunbathing on the dock with their books.  They even managed to dunk their entire bodies under the water, but only once, and only for about three seconds, because it was most definitely too cold to be swimming.  But it felt like heaven drying off under the sun.

After several hours of lounging, they both knew it was time to prepare one last meal before heading home.  It would be a mish-mash meal of grilled bread and whatever left-overs they could find.

Highlights included the prosciutto-wrapped bundles of asparagus and the fig, parmigiano and arugola salad topped with a drizzling of honey.

With full stomachs and in good spirits, they tidied up, packed their things and loaded up the rental Suzuki that was no bigger than a matchbox.  They were only away from the city for 48 hours but it felt like an eternity.  He wondered if it would feel like an eternity getting home, considering how rotten she smelled.  To make matters worse, she was intoxicated by her own rotten scent and kept making him smell her rotten underarms which had been free of deodorant for two days.  When he’d refuse, she’d smell them herself, and her eyes tilted to the heavens in ecstasy and she went on about how  the rotten smell was “so wild and free”.

They took one last look around for dirty socks, phone chargers and camera cases.  And then, for a moment, they stood in front of the bay window.

Neither of them wanted to leave.  They knew they’d be back sooner or later, but this visit, this time, was especially sweet.

Without words or fuss, they walked up the steep pine-needle covered steps, climbed into that tiny car, and drove home.

Foodie:  ****

Beast:  ****

10 responses to “A Cottage and a Photo Essay

  1. On the interweb, no one knows you are weeping tears of laughter, and tears of joy for halcyon days so beautifully recalled it no longer matters they were not the reader’s, just that they were yours, and thereby transformed into the universal.

    Why are some of the hot dogs regular-looking and some gigantic?

    • Good eye !TM (I don’t know how to make the TM little.)

      The Beast thinks bigger is better when it comes to hot dogs so he bought a pack of novelty-size wieners just for him. I prefer a classic wiener and will therefore only eat Frank’s Red Hots.

  2. I can smell the pine needles, really sweet piece, but not saccharine. ah well, wish I was more middle class.

  3. what a beautiful post! You have really made me miss my old home in Manitoba and the cottage life. You have captured it perfectly.

  4. Oh but Foodie we *were* in that room, with the fire, and the smell of cedar and the bull frogs singing and the stars shining!

  5. I know exactly what you mean with the paddeling, I totally agree with you, somehow Beasts brother are the exact same 😛
    The cottage is a place you can’t leave, cause it’s sooo wonderful!
    It seems like you two had a great small vacation!
    xo

  6. Admirable Canadian initiative finding that ancient analog coffee grinder! Yes, coffee does taste better ground by hand; you can taste the work that went into it.

  7. beast, that steak looks mouth watering! I should know not to read foodie and the beast before 11:00 am- you need to post a flashing warning sign!

  8. Love this article, I have read every one of the archived articles. I am coming to T.O. with a GF in July and have made notes of your picks, discovered new areas and am sooo excited to explore, see Black Eyed Peas and eat our way around your fair city. We are from Thunder Bay and are bona fide “Foodies”.

  9. I miss that place all the time.

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