Last week saw cold winds and tree branches whipped by rain and wind: the tail end of November and autumn’s austere, graceless decline into winter.
And so, I invited myself and The Girlfriend to The Librarian’s for a steambath.
This friend of almost twenty years is a renaissance woman, really. Painter, animator, community organizer, holder of wildly contrasting degrees (Fine Arts, Library Science), currently studying art therapy – only begins to describe this quirky, effusively creative soul. Her house is an art piece – hallways lined with paintings, stained glass in the bathroom, handmade ceramic knobs in the kitchen, ceramic portrait vases everywhere, an outdoor terrace and garden designed with modest yet elegant materials. She created a steam bath in her basement – her stepfather was Scandinavian, and this is something she recalls from his short-lived but affectionate presence. A warm moment in a complicated childhood: she pays it forward by inviting friends (or in this case humouring those who invite themselves!) for a luxurious, healing spa experience.
Like I said, the weather’s been crap. It’s that liminal time, between the brilliant colours of fall, and winter’s soft snowy illumination. My knees, at middle age, ached from the damp. I’d had a week-long headache, searing behind my temples. And The Girlfriend – layers of stress from family illness and life’s transitions were showing in a strained voice and wary, bleary eyes. I invited us to The Librarian’s for a steambath.
She responded with her usual mix of generosity and madness. The email heading read Steam ‘n Eats! and the email itself offered an extravagant post-steam bath menu of Mexican food. (The Librarian, it must be said, was no less maxed out than The Girlfriend and I. Classes, practicums, a day job, painting late at night….). I got all bossy-boots and said I’d bring takeout. Offered a dessert contribution. To no avail.
But oh, how lovely to sit in the compact, tile-and-glass steam room, our pores releasing the toxic elements of overwork, anger, grief, frustration. It’s. Like. London. Fog. sighed The Girlfriend sounding a little surprised at how much she was enjoying herself (she’s never done a steam before). The Librarian fussed over us, supplying essential oils and loofahs, a little hyper, but having fun.
I really wanted The Girlfriend and The Librarian to like each other. The Librarian and her partner The Hair Dude – they’re the closest thing I have to family in this town. Except for the distant family members I never see.
We all slowly loosened up. Burritos with chicken perfumed with smoked serrano papers and tomatillo salsa enrobed in a creamy green avocado sauce; bean burrito with homemade enchilada sauce and roasted sesame seeds. The Baco Noir I brought, from Sandbanks Winery in Prince Edward County. Conversation flowing in and across memories and How Did You Two Meet and the story of our first date, each of us with our own unique version, turning it into a funny, sweet story. Narrativising a relationship, making it public: it’s important, it’s about having witnesses when too much of how we live is hidden, still.
I didn’t bring my camera. The evening and the food is archived only in our memories (and now, here). A new combination of flavours. Stories that make it possible to live through the everyday. Food made with love, that fills your belly and strengthens your spirit. The rain, lashing at The Librarian’s small house. Queer ways of making sense of the world, making family, making home.