I am sitting on the patio of The Cottage Bise in the tiny town of Talloires on Lake Annecy, having finished my breakfast of yogurt and fruit while watching my son eat two large pain au chocolates and sip from his bucket of cocoa. The mountains jut, the lake shimmers, the little boats bob, sparrows flit, the jasmine wafts, lovely people speak lovely French and I am perfectly happy. Last night we ate crepes in Annecy and wandered around, my son snapping pictures, me trying to memorize everything, since when we are on these trips, I have an acute sense of this time being exceptional, that we will probably never be back, although we like to say, when we come back, we will stay here, eat there, rent a kayak, or ride a bike, but, really, I know it won’t happen. There will be some other part of France we will want to go to. Or, there will be no funds to travel. Or or or. And so, I memorize. Or try to.
Today, we head to Geneva to see what Mary Shelley saw during the famous summer when there was no summer (thanks to a volcano), the summer she wrote Frankenstein. We will be arriving very near the anniversary of the week when she began writing — the week when it would not stop raining and a bored Byron challenged everyone to write a ghost story. I never try to plan this sort of thing; it takes too much organization, too much planning. This year, for example, the only time we could fit in a long European expedition was right now. But often, uncannily, these coincidences seem to happen, which, of course, I find gratifying, deeply so, like I am meant to be here, like fate is steering me. Or better yet, the dead hand of Mary. Glorification of the project and of self, perhaps. But it is how I make meaning out of these adventures. And meanwhile, there are plenty of parallels and plenty of experiences that will inform the book. The sense of being far far away from Anglophilia, from domestic restraints, from our home language, from chores, the cat, the garden, and from anyone who might possibly know us. Here, we can be anyone, do anything. I know this is true, because I have rented a car, a tiny Peugot with a dancing lion on the grill, and have dashed madly from Annecy to Talloires and back at top speed – my son and I listening to radio “Nostalgie” and singing at the top of our lungs. Well, I was. He was laughing. At me. And at the sheer break neck quality of the steep mountain passes and the craziness of his mother and the drivers who thought she was driving too slowly and who went roaring, sailing, soaring past.