Vacationing at home gets lots of lip service from money mavens, but who really wants to do it? Not me. If I had my druthers, my family and I would be on a plane this summer to Tuscany, where we went once in less-busy, more-solvent times. But a “staycation” it will be, except for a couple of weeks in the woods—and though I love those familiar woods, they don’t give me what I crave most about leaving my hometown: feeling completely awake. When I visit a new place, I notice everything—beautiful, ugly, joyous, miserable. Even if I’m shivering in a leaky tent while my mother groans because she has recently been knocked down by a llama (true story), at least I’m 100 percent alive and in the moment.
At home? Not so much. Without novelty to nudge my senses, I become so oblivious that I may, for instance, fail to realize I am pouring orange juice on my Grape-Nuts (also a true story).
My husband, Bill, tries to console me. Although we’re not going to Italy, he says, our house has things in common with it. Take the custom of releasing black smoke from the Sistine Chapel to show that cardinals have yet to pick a new pope. “Black smoke,” Bill points out, “has often come out of our kitchen.” Also, if we squint, the stains on some of our ceilings might pass for frescoes.
This gives me an idea. What if, through sheer willpower and caffeine, I try to notice the same sorts of things during our staycation as I would in a new city or country? Could I achieve that coveted state of super-awareness—and the resulting high—for a lot less dough? Clearly, I decide, a trial run is in order this very morning when I should be working! The only catch is the weather (sleet, 28 degrees—spring in Rochester, N.Y.), which kills my interest in venturing outside.
So I begin my test staycation by checking out the local music scene. Normally I would breeze right past the shower where Bill can be heard belting out “The Stoutest Man in the Forty Twa” in his best Scottish accent. Today I linger. And I note that as his tenor echoes within the tiled stall, it has a surprisingly rich timbre, like that of a monk chanting in a cathedral in a monsoon. Also, I discover I have no idea what “forty twa” means.
As I move from room to room, the concert continues, courtesy of dishes clanking in the dishwasher (cymbals), water simmering in the kettle (brushes on a snare drum) and traffic outside (the cowbell solo of a dragging muffler). Beneath all those sounds is a mysterious, orchestra-tuning-up hum that I fervently hope isn’t a sign of a problem with our basement freezer.
Next: an exhibit by two up-and-coming Rochester artists, in the prestigious gallery space known as the wall next to our kitchen table. On display are works from my 8-year-old’s Fairy Period and Ballet Period, as well as her ballpoint-and-pencil portrait of our family. I gaze at the portrait, appreciating how she has rendered the four of us, no detail of our clothing forgotten, our heights as neatly gradated as those of storage canisters, and how she has thoughtfully edited out the gray in my hair. From her 14-year-old brother are drawings with such evocative titles as Table Apocalypse and The Vanquishment of Evil. As I thoroughly study Vanquishment for the first time, I begin to understand—very little. But I do admire its interlaced squiggles of blue, orange, black and purple, a subway map fed through a meat grinder.
On to native fauna. Dash, our orange tabby, follows me to the family room and vaults into my lap. I pet him, detecting faint electrostatic shocks to my palm. I listen closely to his purr, which sounds like a distant chainsaw crossed with a hookah. I kiss the top of his head and inhale its distinct aroma of toast, honey and (we won’t dwell on this) kitty litter.
Speaking of toast, I have breakfast reservations at the zero-star establishment down the hall. Today’s menu: freshly defrosted multigrain bread with an icy surprise at the center (our toaster oven has seen better days); plastic-Baggie-aged smoked salmon that smells like a campfire; and a slice of sharp cheddar with a smattering of white, acne-like bumps that may or may not be normal.
All this is paired with a mug of English breakfast tea whose ghosts of steam remind me of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. Even more supernatural, though, is that unlike most mornings, I don’t have much need for the tea. I feel—yes!—fully awake for the first time all week, luckier than ever to live where I live, with these particular musicians, artists and wild animals.
Would I still love a trip to Tuscany? Of course. But the thought of a full-length staycation seems much less grim than it did a few hours ago.
Especially if we get a new toaster oven.