… so it would be ridiculous of me to extol the glories of a European vacation to one as travelled as you; ridiculous and perhaps cruel. I could swim in a sea of perfectly executed espressos, flakey pastries, seemingly endless hours of café time, liquid peacock blue and green waters and decent two liter bottles of village wine as you stand on the shore and watch, but it is not as much fun if you can’t dive in too- so I will refrain. Let me lightly touch upon my favorite moments, though: a daily prescription of two sea-washed and sun-dried figs, a shot of herbal grappa and the cold sting of an early morning plunge into the Adriatic (the figs and grappa courtesy of Niven, a young man whose laundry we ducked under so we could sample his homemade spirits; the prescription courtesy of his father, an octogenarian who has followed this morning ritual every day of his adult life and swears by it.); the experience of having the best mussels of my life as an octopus struggled over the dry bleached-out stones of the esplanade trying to find the sea but finding only a sea of people; bettering the best mussels of my life the very next evening; the butcher’s house we stayed in for three haunted nights and what the ghosts left behind (a story for another time).

But now I’m back and already so many changes. I was going to resist firing the literary gun I planted in an earlier paragraph until much deeper in the letter, but seeing how similar our professional circumstances are, and that I had planned on starting off with the latest drama of my own anyway– bang! On my second day back, my first back to work, I resigned my position as Pastry Chef. It took no more than fifteen minutes on the clock for me to realize I could not go on. What was the final straw? The tartlet citron of course! I discovered them before I had time to tie my apron strings. If the off-colored paste was not enough to dishearten me then the soggy bendable biscuit of meringue certainly was. A cruel joke drawn from straight from my own fiction! Remember “Henry”? The Chef, noticing my expression of disgust, rushed over to explain that “we” were changing the recipe from a lemon curd to the gluey pudding before me.

An hour later I found myself sitting at a table in Fountain Square sipping a Campari soda with a book in my lap feeling as if the ship had finally righted itself after a three month storm. Though this wasn’t the way I had planned my exit I was relieved; all the pressure, dread, and negativity evaporated. At a linen covered table with a black umbrella above my head, the flitting birds around my feet and the sound of children filling the spaces between, it wasn’t difficult for me to imagine myself in one of the cafés I left behind not so many days before. And though the fountain’s pedestal was fabricated from a composite material and not from marble, the blue-grey veins designed into it seemed almost authentic as the water cascaded over. And though the sculpture was cast not from a model that was chiseled by an artist‘s hand, but one designed by keystrokes and software, the faux patina was believable (the “Association” allowed for anatomical correctness, exposing the artsy side of Reston). The birds even seemed to endorse the production as evidenced by the collective bath taking place in one of the placid corners of the pool.

The Association contrived a marvelous set that need only a little imagination to come alive. I commend their attempt to satisfy the universal longing we have for a gathering space, a place to sacrifice our selfish pursuits for communal ones, even if the whole act is rather clumsily done in America. For most who have never seen a piazza I am sure they are convinced, for those of us who have, well, we can at least blur our eyes a little, forgive the bitterness of the coffee, listen to the sound of laughter which is the same anywhere in the world, and dream.

It was basking in this holiday afterglow that I chose to forgive Reston for its sins. At least while living here. So what if its turn of the century street signs are a mere five years old? Reston has given me a make-believe piazza, and now, I discover, it has also given me the glorious “Jardin du Savoy”. For nearly a year I searched for a sanctuary and all along it was as close as my back yard.

Reston, officially designated a “New Urban Development”, is a place formulated in board rooms and fabricated on assembly lines. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon something genuine, a French garden, and on the very property that I lived. You may wonder how I could live in a building for a year and not have taken a full measure of its courtyard. In my defense the garden was hidden from view in a large recessed area of the building, back around the corner of what was a much larger courtyard than I thought. The Savoy is immense, taking up a full city block, but the shape of the courtyard was not the “L” I supposed, it was instead a “U”. To confirm I had not walked by it a dozen times like a blind fool, I retraced my steps leading through the yard to the street and found that from every angle a quick glance in its direction would suggest, because of the illusion of roof lines and edifices aligning, that nothing existed beyond what my eye could see.

It wasn’t until a realtor showed us an apartment in the furthest reaches of the building that I looked out the window and wondered what I was looking at. There was a minor garden positioned before a long formal path which was lined on both sides by a series of wood slat benches and conical trees. This then led into a much larger main garden with an elevated round-about. Off the raised garden were two small clearings each just big enough for a picnic table, and each somewhat secluded from the other. The whole was filled with a vast array of trees and plants and the center island is so burgeoning with foliage that it is impossible to see through from one side to the other. I’ve counted no less than 28 plant species in the garden; Proust could fill the hours of a day identifying them all. It is so out of place in Reston, so different from everything else in the area I wonder if the architect wasn’t driven back to France by an unappreciative, furious and financially broken contractor.

The garden is always deserted except for one other occupant: a black and white cat. On the day of our first encounter he was so lost in thought, so unaccustomed to encountering anyone in his garden that he nearly jumped out of his fur at the sight of me. Now I see him peering around corners, surmising my intentions and my trustworthiness, I’m sure. I wonder how long it will be before he is sitting beside my feet as I read?

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