Mapping the Road Not Taken: My Cousin Vinny’s House in Arles

When I used to drive my car, I would look into the windows of houses or first floor apartments. If the curtains were open, you could see a whole lifetime that wasn’t yours. I’d pick an interesting place and make up a fantasy about who lived there, what their life was like.

But I never imagined going inside. Too risky—they’re a family of serial killers; or worse, they might recognize me and invite me in. I have no idea who they are or who they think I am. I just stared at windows and kept driving.

The same voyeurism is with me when I look at paintings. Scenes of bedrooms, cafes, pool rooms, and dance halls really pique my curiosity. This has always been especially true of a certain painter from the Netherlands with one and a half ears, and a bedroom in rural France.

It didn’t surprise me when I was writing The Road Not Taken that my character climbed into a painting of a bedroom in Arles, France by Vincent Van Gogh. It wasn’t shocking that she could just step onto the canvas and enter the painting, walking through the bedroom and into the kitchen. I wrote her into that scene for a reason.

The painter and the fictional woman immediately began to drink what she thought was white wine. She gulped down a big glass, and then he asked her if she had brought more. As the absinthe hit her, and the colors in the kitchen turned bright yellow, she realized her mistake. She had no more absinthe. And no, she hadn’t just gulped down a nice Chardonnay.

Her friend was irate. Their visit seemed like it might be short lived, but he pointed his paint-stained finger out his back door. Like any smart protagonist, she followed his finger—and outside, in the darkness, saw a store filled with bottles of absinthe. The proprietor gave her a bottle, and then the store disappeared, but the bottle was firmly in her grip as she re-entered the kitchen.

He was dishing out onion soup. They ate and drank. He asked her if she knew he was a painter? In her absinthe state of mind, she blurted out the whole story of what happened to his paintings after he left the present (which was the past) and moved into the Time/Space continuum.

He began to cry. Then he shrieked that he had been silenced: If his paintings had been sold to private owners, they were not seen by people, and his “words” were never heard. He asked her to leave. Reluctantly with permission to return, my character crawled back out of his canvas, and landed on the museum floor.

This visit, across time and space and, indeed, artistic mediums, is at the core of The Road Not Taken. It’s the single place she must go to begin her journey, to begin her life.

Which brings me to today’s magical question:

Have you ever wished you could go to another time and space—a different century, country, someplace unknown, maybe unreal?

I have. If you have, too, please tell me about it so we can compare notes on what was seductive about that particular alternate reality.

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