Luxe, Calme, e Volupte

This line from the French poet Baudelaire (1857) is one of my favorite resorts to describe wafting on warmth and joy. All is ease–luxe, calme. All is indulgence–volupte.

It’s rare to feel such untroubled ease in the midst of a Minnesota winter. Yes, the black and white cat caught in a sunbeam expresses sparky charm in her brilliantly lit spray of eyebrow whiskers and the warmth of her sun-drenched fur. But outside though sun reigns, we know from experience, the wind is brutally cold, and the car might not start.

Yesterday there was reprieve, the second of two warmer days. The sun was high in the sky which was blue as forget-me-nots. Bundled up visitors to the Como Conservatory soon shed their wraps. My friend Nordis had come from St. Louis Park to pick me up. More luxe. I hate driving, but especially in winter. Yet our destination was close. We found a parking space outside the wildly eccentric new, glass-roofed wing of the Como Conservatory, and soon were swaddled in rain forest moisture and warmth.

There was a bench just inside the entrance to Tropical Encounters. A pleasant-faced woman sat at one end, scanning the high trees and apparently listening. Bird song surrounded us. I sat down. Nordis sat down. Soon the three of us spied a plump yellow finch, so identified by the most charming young docent, with wide blue eyes and cascades of rich brown hair. “Oh, I saw something blue.” She identified a blue tananger. Soon she handed us a thick-paged flip chart of rainforest birds brought to spend time in this crystal palace..

I had been so sick. Off and on since mid-December, with sinus infection, heavy cough, stomach flu. Trying to revive roller skating at a grandson’s roller rink birghday part, I was blindsided by a faltering kid. Splat. On the right hip injured years ago when Fran and I spent 12 hours scarping paint off stucco to ready my little house for sale, I had traipsed around for five days, from class to class of a writing residency, training the cord for a heating pad. Now, I lay in the warmth of electric blanket. After a two weeks, each step on the hurt hip still led to a wince.

Oh, the joy of forgetfulness, immersion in beauty, green and warmth. We sat and sat, talking about rain forest adventures, theirs, not mine. Spying more birds in the many storied glass palace. Warm, at ease, voluptuous.

The first year I moved to Minnesota, my then husband and I went to see the sled-dog races on lake Como. The right thing to do, we thought–try and fit in with the natives. I wore my New York wool coat and silk-lined, knee-high boots. Yes, there were socks, probably two layers of socks. And heavy mittens. No doubt I wore jeans and a sweater under the coat–good for New York winters.

Within twenty minutes, the cold wracked my fingers and toes with such pain we had to leave. Frostbite, which would recur for years until I learned to layer, to buy heavy, rubber-soled waffle-stompers, a down coat well below my knees, two hats, three sweathers, three socks, several long scarves up to my eyes, and a wool hat under a down hood.

I could walk from the car to Como Conservatory in minus-20 windchill and survive without excruciating ache in fingers and toes. But that first year, I also discovered the surcease from pain available with deep draughts of moist green air. The antidote is still the next best thing to waking up to breakfast on a lanai in Kauai.

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