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Green Ties and Red Cats

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Today is St. Patrick's Day and on every St. Patrick's Day for as long as I can remember, my husband has worn a green tie. Typically, he wears a rather bold Kelly green tie, but this morning he wore one more of the pastel variety - and I noticed.

"That's not the tie you usually wear," I said.

"But it's still green," he answered. And then he placed his pen in his pocket, tidied up his briefcase and went to see the patient admitted to the emergency room (they called at 5:30 a.m. to alert my husband that he had arrived) whose St. Patrick's Day will be spent quite differently than the poor guy anticipated.

Last weekend, I went away. At 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, I was boarding a train at Penn Station for Providence, R.I. It was pouring rain, a veritable Noreaster which, if not for temperatures in the 40's, would have dumped seven feet of snow on the eastern seaboard according to the reports from the Weather Channel. Instead, it was merely a wet deluge albeit of Biblical proportions. At the last minute, as I boarded the train, I upgraded to Business Class - a good move since Coach was filled to the brim and Business Class was nearly empty. I took the sandwich I'd made at home, bought a coffee at the snack bar, leaned back in the wide leather seat and finished the novel I'd been trying to read for nearly two weeks. I did two crossword puzzles with an ease that assured my brain was still functioning. And I thought - thought deeply and logically as the scenery morphed from urban to suburban and finally to coastal with small houses dotting the landscape on what was clearly the "other side of tracks."

I thought about what it might be like living some place other than New York City where life might be less complicated, or perhaps complicated by different perplexities and at a slower pace. Then again, perhaps we take our complications with us wherever we go. But there is something about the coast, the Atlantic, that seems to untangle the knots with the roll of each tide.

I have always had a penchant for train travel - feeling it is a nearly magical transport from one place to another without the tensions of traffic or the security check points at airports. I was barely ready to get off the train when it pulled into Providence...the three and a half hours not nearly enough time to wallow in that calm, think clearly, write my thoughts on paper, circle words in the novel - Canopy, Puddle, Soffit, Recidivist - just a few words that struck me for whatever reason as the train chugged along through the rain.

Providence was lovely. A visit with an old and dear friend, getting to know her husband and baby. Then a drive with my daughter who handily navigated the wet and foggy highway on Sunday (she'd met me in Providence) back to her home in Massachusetts. Her fiance had cleaned their house from top to bottom so that it smelled like lemons, placed flowers and spicy candles in every room that gleamed with newly painted walls and floors. We went to the food co-op where they sell from local farms and the aroma from the produce is so fragrant it makes one heady. My heart is in so many places what with my sons in Manhattan and my daughter in "the valley." I must admit, I often wish we all lived in "the valley," a wise choice by my daughter: life feels simpler and purer there.

I took my daughter and fiance to dinner before going to the hotel where I spent the night and where they will be married next winter - wanting my daughter and her fiance to have their privacy and needing my own as well. On Monday morning, I met with the wedding planner, took my daughter to lunch and then boarded a bus for a 20-minute ride to the train that would take me home. I started yet another book, did more crossword puzzles, and wished that my husband and my dog could ride the rails with me forever with periodic and unencumbered stops to visit "the kids."

The train changed its route on the way home - I suppose because of the rain. I was slightly lost as I emerged from the tunnel into a part of Penn Station with which I was unfamiliar. A stench of humanity, soot and diesel assaulted my senses. It felt as though I'd walked miles before finding the exit where my husband waited for me with our car. The area of New York City surrounding Penn Station is true culture shock when you return from places that smell even faintly of sea air or are nestled in a valley where mountains cradle a wooden town.

My husband took me to dinner at The Red Cat, a cozy restaurant dimly-lit by oversized lanterns, surprisingly bustling for a rainy Monday night. On Tenth Avenue, the restaurant is in an area of town that once upon a time was hardly a neighborhood - let alone a place where one would even dare to venture at night. As New York City continues its gentrification, it uses up every space available - a glaring juxtaposition to the scenery from my weekend away where, although hardly Montana, the sky and space appeared so open.

Friends of ours are in Europe right now. They have stopped in Lisbon, Bologna, Venice and are now in Vienna. They visited St. Stefan Cathedral and tonight (as I am here boiling corned beef ) they will hear Arabella at the Opera House. I chuckled at myself - to think that my train rides over the weekend gave me a sense of freedom and spiritual tourism.

Back to my husband's green tie: In some ways, it's right up there with riding the rails. It is the kind of security one feels when you finish one another's sentences or say the same thing at the same. A part of me thinks that my husband and I should go out tonight for a green beer simply because we can - because the kids are grown and we have that freedom. Instead, I suppose I'd rather stay at home and eat the traditional meal I've prepared - knowing that he will pat his - and at this juncture, my husband asks me to add the adjective - "rock hard" stomach after dinner as something sounding like Erin Go Bragh rumbles from his throat. That kind of predictability makes for a comforting alchemy in a 29-year-old marriage especially when you throw in a place like The Red Cat and romance on a rainy Monday night.

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