Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate
August 6, 2009
The other day I was riding my cotton-candy pink cruiser bike down Mill Street just after yoga when I ran into an old friend of mine from high school, Jane.
Jane is the whole reason I am living in Aspen in the first place. When we were in boarding school together back East at Pin Cushion Academy, I came to Aspen with her to visit her family the summer before our senior year.
I have vivid memories of the trip. Of her mom’s art gallery and their cool, funky house with the elevator and her boyfriend’s ranch, where there were horses and guys wearing cowboy hats and boots with spurs riding with lassos. Of all her friends she grew up with whose parents all seemed to be married to each other at one point or another, which I thought cool but strange. I remember the way the sun lit up the dark, stormy sky that cast lightening bolts onto the horizon like a fireworks display and the way we could watch the rain approaching in big sheets that appeared to be hanging from the clouds, ghost-like curtains that would blow over us as fast and turbulent as one of those drive-through car washes.
I have a photo of us on one of those sunny, stormy afternoons, arm-in-arm dressed in matching outfits, just because we all wore khaki shorts and white-collared T-shirts back then. Our young faces are illuminated by the sun, our hair blowing in the wind, our minds empty with the naivete of youth, that assumption that the moment will last forever, that time will never pass, that we will never grow old or come to that point in our lives where our choices define us.
Jane lives in Kentucky with her gorgeous husband and two sons, drives a Porsche and lives in a beautiful house and gets to hang out in the winner’s circle at the Kentucky Derby in a dress and oversized hat. She’s still the beautiful girl, dressed in a strapless black sundress and cowboy boots, her long auburn hair pulled back, her face still young and well manicured. She still looks like the head of the cool clique, the wild and funny one whose good side you want to be on and stay on. I find myself being happy she’s so happy to see me.
I had another friend from the past who popped up last week when I saw her featured in the contributor page of this month’s In Style magazine as the photographer who took the portrait photos of Zooey Deschanel. It read, “Zooey and I know each other, so we got to swap stories on my wedding and her engagement.”
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I first met Suzy when I was working at Transworld Snowboarding magazine and she was writing a book about the history of the sport. We were fast friends and I was always proud of that fact, of the intellectual connection we were able to forge just because she was so damned intellectual. She was what my dad called “a true pedigree,” Manhattan raised and Ivy League educated with effortless looks and endless connections to big-time famous and important people.
She had that bred-in cool so I had to do everything in my power not to squeal with glee and jump up and down and demand she introduce me to every celebrity she knows.
Nothing has changed in that regard. In my e-mail I wrote, “I can’t believe you got married!” when what I really wanted to say was, “I can’t believe you’re friends with Zooey Deschanel!”
She replied with a photo of her husband and her dog at her apartment in Brooklyn, where she is trying to survive the challenges of this economy. “All I want to do is make art, but it costs money for me to make art,” she wrote.
While I won’t be attending my 20-year high school reunion, seeing these girls was almost the same in a way, a then-and-now measure of where we are in our lives. I look at them with their success and their money, their kids and husbands and houses, with some measure of socially prescribed envy. But it only lasts a few moments and then quickly passes.
On Sunday evening I joined Ryan, Heidi and Brad on a mountain bike back in the Four Corners area. We hit the trail around 6:30 p.m. when the sun is low in the sky and comes in at an angle so everything looks like it’s lit up from within. Every flower pedal, every blade of grass, every shivering leaf on every aspen tree is perfectly illuminated so I find myself studying them intently, thinking about how I can describe them later. Like those purple and yellow flowers with the thin pedals that look like pom-poms and the columbines with their delicate little tendrils that remind me of fish more than fauna. On the horizon the mountains are a silhouette, a shade of purple that literally looks like it came from a paintbrush, cast against a canvas of cool steel blue, the exact color of dusk, the brief time between day and the oncoming of night.
After a harrowing, white-knuckle descent on the Lower Plunge, Brad and I come upon a buck with antlers that seem to stretch in every direction like the branches of a tree. It was a real prize, according to Brad, who didn’t stop talking about it for hours the next day. It’s once in a lifetime to see an animal like that, he said.
After reuniting with my old friends, I realized the significance of that moment in terms of defining what my life has become. I might not be wealthy or successful, but seeing that buck wasn’t just once in a lifetime, it was once in my lifetime.
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