Monday, September 15, 2014

Village at Meridian: "Two Days at The Village"

As a young girl, I went through a phase where I wouldn’t answer to my name. Those in my life had to address me as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or Cinderella if they wanted my time. I saw what those girls ended up with, and if someone who cleaned up after seven men, had narcolepsy, or catered to mean girls could do it, so could I. Anyone wanting me to show up, do a chore, or give audience had to acknowledge my royalty.

Not a bad hold out for a six-year-old middle child.

The crown was hidden away over the next few decades, for a treasure chest of reasons. Layers of dust formed atop it, from things like:

“When’s dinner?” “Did you send that report in yet?” “Ma’am, do you know how fast you were driving?”  

Forget crowns. Just getting through the week took precedence.

Princess thoughts crept back while touring a tiny village near Helsinki, Finland. I delighted over the design as street lights dripped with details and benches were draped in fleur de lis, for no other apparent reason than to please the eye. While standing at the center of a footbridge adorned with intricacies, I concluded that the artist must have been hopelessly in love, trying to impress his woman. I imagined what it might be like to be her.

When The Village at Meridian was being built, I curiously peered at its palatial rooftops while driving by the corner of Fairview and Eagle Road. Just before The Village opened, I was asked to write an article about it. The article quoted Ramona Merrill Richardson, Regional Marketing Director for CenterCal, who said, “It’s not an exaggeration to say the public will not be prepared for how truly remarkable the setting will be."

The night before its official Grand Opening, The Village invited a friend and I to its VIP party, wooed us with fire dancers, the finest food, costumed entertainers on stilts, glittering lights, performing fountains, and fantasy-like color and structure. It was pulling out all stops to make that first impression.

We looked, and I admired, sat for fleeting moments by the fountain, and visualized sitting on a cushioned couch by the water with a book, “Someday”. Sadly, I hadn’t allowed myself to languish there.

But… it’s been one doozy of a year.  I’d put in sixty-hour writing/editing weeks.  My home needed attention, the grown kids needed cash, the flower beds called, my dog wanted walks, I wanted/needed exercise, I had a pile of emails and voicemails to answer, friends and family were getting after me about being a stranger, and to top it all off, a few stress-related health scares.

A serious break was in order. Not just for a few hours, or a day. But maybe for…two days. Two days at…The Village. Yeah.
Any doubts The Village could deliver dissipated immediately, as waves of fuschia-purple flowers greeted me on Day One. How had they known purple was so seeped in meaning for me? The color of royalty, said a thought tugging at mind. A tiny, elegant fountain stood in its own tucked away corner near the entrance, greeting me.

“Welcome,” a sign said, “As you explore, prepare to be amazed at the attention to detail, creating the perfect place for friends and family to return to, again and again.”

I stopped at Guest Services to refresh. From behind the desk, “Sierra” asked what I was up to that day. I told her about my two days off. Photojournalist that I am, I asked Sierra and nearby security guard, Nick, to pose for a photo. Nick shot a look that said, “Nick doesn’t do that.”

His gaze challenged, and I almost backed off, until he suddenly struck a pose that was a cross between superhero and Miss America. I choked out a laugh.

Stepping outdoors into Fountain Square, the lilting water glistened, and I finally had the chance to look around, unhurried. Statues of butterflies and books signified imagination, transformation. A little girl on a swing angled out over the water, wearing a look of pure glee.

I used to be that little girl, I thought. I used to sit out in our backyard, swinging and daydreaming for hours in the summer sun. What happened to that girl?

I walked a few steps and stopped cold.

“Do you see her flying above you?” the plaque enquired, “Do you hear her laughing?”

“Listen,” it advised, “Now it’s your turn.”

Near the little girl swinging was another sculpture, an empty swing waiting to be occupied. I self-consciously looked around at the people lunching on the patio, and refrained.

The plan was to do it all on the first day, then relax in the extreme on the second day. I walked to Axiom and rode a stationary bike for an hour to jump start endorphins while using their huge windows for people watching. Cute older couples, hand in hand, a sunglasses man wearing a red flannel shirt on a vintage bike, and shopping friends with multiple bags paraded past.

Refreshed from the workout and quick shower, I intended to shop it out, beginning with the sunglasses man-inspired quest for perfect shades. "AJ" at Oconik pointed me in the right direction, then wisely didn’t hover as I tried on and located the One. I then wandered into Sur la Table, the store friend Chef Brad deemed, “a foodie’s playground”, and rekindled my cooking love. Not every day, not ever meal, and not when it’s expected of me, but weekend, friends coming over cooking. Classical music piping into a clean kitchen. Flowers in a vase. Thoughtfully-seasoned, well plated, artfully garnished food, prepared at my own pace. Anticipating that first taste, aroma, flavor.  
I was so ready for lunch.

Meeting friends at Cacicia’s for my walking library friend SarahPedia’s birthday celebration, I snapped a photo of Sarah and Publisher Yvonne just in time for SocialMediaJen to photobomb it. AIMWendi, and Preschool Melissa walked in soon after. We ordered together, getting the “Au-Oue” (capellina pasta with fresh garlic, parsley, and asiago cheese, pronounced like “I.O.U.”), the three-cheese “Fried Ravioli”, a Twisted Caprese sandwich, and they even had a melted mozzarella and pepperoni on rustic sourdough bread sandwich, named “The Sarah”.  Eating family style, we grinned whenever a certain friend accidentally called the place “Cacciatore’s”, and quickly learned the way to eat authentic Sicilian street food was to dive right in, and not try being pretty about it. I liked the Twisted Caprese a little too much.

When everyone else went back to work, I shopped again, playing a private game called “Favorite Things”, to get back in touch with who I used to be, before the crazy schedule, the responsibilities, the stressors. I discovered vintage footballs at ProImage. ROC had some very cool jeans, a waterfall, and shoes that needed me. Loft had a hot little mustard print skirt. Z Gallerie nearly put me into a creative coma with its peacock-themed table setting, game of jacks-inspired light fixture, and European traveler’s writing desk.

“I’m here to find my favorite thing,” I announced to the two ladies at Brighton, then looked to my right, spotted a crowd of blingy purses, and said, “Found it!” They laughed, I laughed.  

Back at guest services, I came around a well-decorated corner and collided with my restaurant owner friend, Bijaya. She’d been someone I’d spent hours with, talking and learning, before we’d both become so busy. Deciding it was fate, we found a bench by the fountain and talked the afternoon away. Security Guard Nick strolled by, struck a pose, then assumed an all-business demeanor and continued on.

I tried to explain.

When it was time to meet my sister and brother in law for dinner, Bijaya joined us. 

Twigs’ golden, Tuscany-inspired stucco exterior and outdoor, light-strung, wrought-iron-fenced patio was inviting. When Laurel and husband Lloyd appeared, the fun multiplied. Historically, Laurel was a source of celebratory fun, and as she sat down, “Celebration” burst from fountain square, causing me to grin at the timing. My sister introduced us to the deliciously evil world of signature fries with Gorgonzola fondue while I instructed them on how to pronounce Bijaya’s name. Then, Bijaya corrected me. I’d been saying it wrong. A dish of calamari, a couple of truffle pennes, prawn and salmon linguinis, and one dessert pizza later, we were all full of happiness.

Security Guard Nick walked past, stopped, posed, and kept walking.

“Who’s that?” Laurel and Lloyd both asked, amused.

Bijaya turned to me with sincere brown eyes and said, “What if we’d just said ‘Hi’ and ‘Goodbye’ today?”

From the benches to the calming waters to the layout, everything about the Village’s design encouraged people to stay, linger, connect.

Later at Big Al’s, I threw an immediate gutter, just before Laurel mentioned Lloyd’s late mother belonged to a league. Lloyd threw strike after strike. He coached me, “Slow down, relax a little”, and when I did, was the Spare Queen, beating out---by only a few points, but it counts--- my highly competitive sister for the first time at anything, ever.  She was a good sport, congratulating me, but displayed mild surprise.

Outside again, we were met by magic. At night, The Village became even more intimate, with semi-private niches of fireplaces and couches. Lovers cuddled on outdoor sofas watched the flames.

“Let’s take a walk,” Laurel said, and we toured like three little kids, commenting over the lights and splashing Fountain Square.

Heading to my car, I passed what I now called the Princess Fountain, illuminated. I loved its simple elegance, how it stood unapologetically on its own. Taking a nearby bench to absorb the past hours, I realized I no longer wanted to be ‘Queen of The Village’ the next day, as planned. The Queen has to rule the kingdom, do everything. She’s responsible.
I wanted to be a princess again. One that was, say, middle child. All of the privileges, none of the duties.

I looked around at the spires, the purple flowers sprinkled along the footpaths and bursting from planters, the architecture surrounding me. Someone, some Prince Charming, had finally built me a castle.

“He must’ve been in love,” I beamed.

And tomorrow, I’d be the Princess.

~Day Two~

I passed the little fountain, throwing in both penny and wish.
I recalled what a friend had messaged to me just that morning, “Remember you are a light to the world,” she’d written, “A strong, empowered, beautiful woman who deserves forgiveness, love, and is worthy of every blessing this universe has to offer.”

Those words bolstered me when encountering It’Sugar, filled with old-school candy, the kind I snuck into class when I was younger. I touched a wrapped candy necklace, and laughed over Sixlets. The orange ones had been my favorite, and orange was now my current best color. Red is the color of love, yellow the color of friendship. Combined, they create orange, which signifies passion. I’ll focus on orange stuff today, to honor that, I thought. Today, as princess, I’d live with passion.

I sat at Fountain Square for a moment.  A woman walked past me, tripped, recovered, and laughed. I liked her “just roll with it” attitude, and that thinking put me directly in the path of Charming Charlie’s magnetic pull. A wonderland of sparkle, the orange-passion-coral section contained earrings that needed my ears.

When White House/Black Market drew me in, I was toast. Before me stood a mannequin wearing The Dress, one my very cells were already attached to. Classic vintage cut, black and white houndstooth, gorgeous enough to inspire poetry.

“What size are you?” said Barb, who I hadn’t seen approach. Without even saying I wanted to try it on, she had my size, plus shoes and a belt, and led me to an elegant dressing room.

Going from active wear to the dress meant for you changes you. Gazing into the long, gilded mirror, I posed, something I rarely do.  I didn’t want to change back into my street clothes, ever. I felt beautiful.

“I’m like Nick!” I thought, laughing and posing some more.

At Grimaldi’s, my publisher gushed over my new earrings, and I gushed over the dress I’d soon buy as we lunched over pizza with pesto, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes while discussing future book ideas.

Afterwards, I played The Village tour guide. Walking past the Shiver Shack, manager Max called out, “Hey, do you girls want samples?”

Max recommended the peach. That was my favorite, so I got that. My publisher chose red raspberry, and we clinked sample cups together in the sunshine before happily crunching the finely shaved ice.

 “See you soon,” I told her, and headed off to my massage appointment at Axiom.

I’ve had plenty of massages, but none that put me to sleep on the table.  Robyn put me into a trance-like state, and I slumbered…thrice. My muscles and skin hummed afterward, the ultimate way to approach a couple of whatever-I-want hours at Fountain Square.

Melting into the living room couch near Cacicia’s was a good/ not so good thing, since I was fighting the desire for another Twisted Caprese. (I didn't leave that night without another one.)

Security Guard Nick was standing near the restaurant entrance, and I waved, hoping he’d pose when I had my camera ready. He didn’t.

Inhaling the dancing water, Caccicia’s, and someone cooking up what smelled like bacon, I did some long overdue personal writing into a simple notebook as friends greeted each other, music played, forks clinked with plates, and couples walked past, hand in hand. No one was in any particular hurry.

“Are you having fun?” Peggy Davis at Guest Services asked me when I stopped back in. I told her I was on my way to The Village Cinema. She said to check out the murals there, since they were hand painted. I’d had no idea.

“Which movie should I see?” I asked “Emily” at the cinema. She knew most from start to finish, having ready many of the books.  

Tip: if you’re nice to the concessions people, they’ll let you get the kids’ pack of popcorn, candy, and soda. Ticket guy Chris tipped us off that there was a VIP section with extra-large, comfy seats. My friends MicronJanet, and PreschoolTeacher/FashionistaLeslie liked the VIP section, too.

At dinner that night on Backstage Bistro’s balcony with Janet, Janet’s mom Addie, and Leslie the phrase, “Life: with color” appeared on my writer-stage mind. The Village was the best of life, condensed. As if Leslie had read my thoughts when she told Addie, who’d never been to The Village, of the concerts, the choreographed fountain, the ice skating in the winter, and of what a great place it was to meet up.

“We should make this our go-to place for Girls’ Night,” she told us, and we nodded as our server, Ali, brought onion straws, which led into a question about rings vs. straws.

“You’ll see!” Leslie promised. The four of us discussed the atmosphere, pleased over what wasn’t present. No offensive music, no teenagers cruising for dates, no one showing too much skin, no cursing, and no food courts making us feel more like cattle than customers.

For entrees, I got the Fish and Chips, Leslie, the Risotto, Addie the salmon burger, and Janet the Bistro Burger. My Parmesan-sprinkled chips were hand-cut, and the fresh cucumber-yogurt tartar sauce was delicious. Stealing the show was the dessert Ali suggested, a raspberry tart laden with gelato, which led a short life.

After parting with the girls, I spent my last moments at Fountain Square, where children and adults were fascinated by the “pretty water”, and kids called, “You’re it!” at the nearby playground. I walked over the bridge, feeling lighter and more content than I had in months, after two full days of play.  On that bridge, the little girl on the swing and the adult I now was finally merged, so they could play together. I walked to the empty swing sculpture and sat, without reservation.

Before leaving, I stopped at the Princess Fountain. What had I learned from my Village adventure? That it was okay to shop it out every once in a while, that being surrounded by beauty helped me comprehend my own, that humor (like the posing Nick) enhanced my days, and that I needed more of that, that you’re never too old to play dress up, have lunch with friends, or spend a day by the water, and, at long last, that time out reconnected me with the artistic, shy, magical, singing, dreamer of a little princess I used to be.

Can you see her flying above you?

Do you hear her laughing?

Now it’s your turn.


  *View the "Two Days at the Village" video by VSquared Creative 


*This post was sponsored by The Village at Meridian. Thank you for the terrific hospitality!

For more "Appetite for Idaho", click here.


*Bio: Amy Larson is a writer, editor, and ghostwriter, and the author and creator of the "Appetite for Idaho" book series. She joins Randy & Alana on WOW104.3 FM each Friday morning as entertainment editor, talking about family-friendly events in the Treasure Valley. She writes for IDAHO Magazine, Edible Idaho South, Sun Valley Magazine, Eagle and Greenbelt Magazines, and Idaho Family Magazine.