Clark Gable did not look like the Rhett Butler of my imagination. MY Rhett didn’t pomade his hair nor did he sport a silly mustache. Above all, he was not three decades older than Scarlet. And so it goes that “Gone with the Wind”, the movie, was a sore three hour disappointment while “Gone with the Wind”, the book, stirred the imagination of a 15-year-old with seemingly countless Summer afternoons stretching ahead of her.
The novel was read over the course of a few weeks while vacationing in the countryside – my mother and baby sister would take a nap after lunch, leaving me to silently roam around the house, stealing Nutella from the kitchen and propping my legs up the rail of the balcony, tome in my lap, devouring a Southern life that couldn’t have been more remote from my reality. At the time, I underestimated Scarlet’s relationship to Tara, to the earth – it was, understandably, the love story I was interested in although, on a visceral level, I am sure I understood.
I never re-read the book but, as a grown woman with tendencies towards nomadism, always tagged with the “you are never happy where you are” label, I now feel bound to my house and the piece of land it stands on. Maybe because it is the first house I loved as much as my childhood one that was lost in the aftermath of my parents’ divorce – I subsequently moved over 20 times in my scattered life, always carrying dreams of that house. It’s a curse and a blessing – such an un-yogic and materialistic attachment is not something I strive for and sometimes I feel it impedes change as I cannot let go of these four walls.
When I am here, I am at home in the most metaphorical sense. The delusion that nothing can touch me, the feeling of protection and peace that descend when I park the car and walk through the (broken) door that leads to the kitchen have forced me to do what no one and nothing else were ever able to do: put roots. I can spend hours in my kitchen cooking instead of yearning for a mall or I can hide on the couch with a book evening after evening with no desire for other human company. The smell of random food, dogs and pine trees beats any air freshener, the chiming birds the best alarm clock.
There is a bit of land around the house which, if I had more time, I could put to better use in the form of a vegetable garden. But, for now, some citrus and fruit trees that are finally growing to maturity keep me stocked and all the most common herbs are on the patio, filling me, every time I need them, with profound satisfaction in snatching them before dropping them into a pot.
Ottie loves it here, surrounded by all his friends and foes (the coyotes he chases before bedtime) and I can’t picture him roaming anywhere else. Recently I have been toying with the far-fetched idea of moving to Venice, Ottie on a leash along the canals – would he like that? Chasing rats maybe? Could he become a gondolier dog? But then I look outside at the Californian winter and I picture Venice in the fog and the humidity and I already feel for my old bones. What is it with getting older that makes us yearn for the heat (and a condo in Florida?). Just a futile attempt to trick us our mind into thinking our best days are not behind us?
Of all the literary heroines I ever aspired to become, Scarlet O’Hara was never even in the running. And yet, here I am, with my 21st century (much smaller) version of Tara – life is indeed unpredictable.