“A Summer With Sade”
By Evan Tyler
with Jason Cawood
It was an intensely humid day in Toronto as my friend Donny and I jaywalked all the way to the LCBO at Spadina and Baldwin to get some wine for Sade. Sade had recently invited Donny and I to stay at her summer house in beautiful, historic Virginia for the month of August, and I didn’t want to disappoint her with my selection. Inside the liquor store I glanced at the blank expression on the clerk’s face and thought about the events on my horizon: an early afternoon airplane voyage to Virginia, and the company of Sade. I took in a deep breath of sweat and beer scented air and felt an overwhelming sense of anticipation.
The checkout clerk, who’s name was Chris, was a heavyset bald man with highly unfashionable glasses and an almost equally outdated Nokia cellphone strapped to his waist. He seemed like a man unhappy with the cards he’d been dealt in life, and he wanted everyone else to be aware of his misfortune. One thing I knew about Chris was that he was a bit tyrannical about recycling and other green initiatives. Chris took personal offense to plastic shopping bags and pressured customers to put their purchases in any existing bag they might be carrying. He had expressed this vocally to me once, briefly and sternly during a previous visit to the LCBO.
I stood with Donny in the vintage reds, flustered and insecure about my selections. I had a bottle of Liberty School in one hand (a California Cabernet Sauvignon priced at $18.95) and a $23 Australian bottle in the other. I was usually a very decisive shopper but anxiety had superseded my usual confidence. Donny noticed the fear in my eyes.
“Oh my god Donny, what do I buy?” I asked morbidly.
Donny stared at me as if I was a stranger – a stranger unable to understand what kind of wine Sade would enjoy. I felt his scorn and it compromised my confidence at that crucial moment. Donny had a very expressive face and could give a scathing critique of any situation simply by raising an eyebrow. My wrists became weak and I feared the bottles would drop at any moment. I placed both bottles back on the shelf just in time to feel Donny’s warm hand on my shoulder.
“Shane...” he said.
He paused and looked gently into my eyes in a manner that was sincere yet somehow condescending. “Why don’t we just get her a mid-priced Malbec?” he continued. “Our humble gesture will surely win her heart.”
Donny was right and I had no business questioning him. I had been granted the honour and privilege of spending a month with one of the greatest vocal talents on planet earth. Soon, later that day even, one of my childhood idols would be asking me questions about myself. I wanted to be open, funny, and completely engaged in our lighthearted conversation. But mostly I didn't want to show up with an inappropriate wine.
I looked at Donny and said to him, “you’re right. Mid-priced-Malbec, let’s roll.”
Donny walked ahead to make a phone call while I paid for the bottle of Malbec priced at $16.50. My interaction with Chris was confident and effortless. He recognized me, but didn’t engage in a conversation, which I was fine with. He looked up as he put the change in my hand, his hazy blue eyes looking at a point just to the right of my head. I walked away from the liquor store with Donny tagging beside me, still on the phone. The song "Sweetest Taboo" played in my head and I felt like I was moving in slow motion. To this soundtrack, I imagined myself in New York in 1991, in a Bloomingdale's vest and tie. It was an exciting place and time to be young and musical. A black cat watched me with curiosity from a window. A man with a blonde mullet and a white Levis dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves wailed on his saxophone like a romantic banshee harvesting the relentless passion of urban summer heat.
Later on at the airport we moved through security quicker than usual. Donny and I had developed an appetite so we decide to go to "Beaches" and have some upscale airport food. We sat next to a middle-aged blonde women and a gentleman in an olive green tweet coat, both sipping white wine and not speaking. I briefly contemplated the curry chicken but my eyes landed on the meatloaf with gravy and my future became clear.
Our waiter was delightful, and Perrier was the drink of the afternoon. I had recently started using a new face masque, and I caught a glimpse of myself in a reflective surface near the bar. I liked what I saw. The trick, I learned, was to emulsify the cream with water to achieve a deep absorption. I told Donny but he wasn't as tapped-into the world of facial products as I was.
The meatloaf arrived and it became a sort of metaphor for our adventure ahead - warm, fresh and satisfying. We discussed Bill Murray. We discussed ceramic cookware and the downfall of teflon. We even discussed Chris, the clerk at the LCBO, briefly. Eventually we left "Beaches" and headed towards our gate. I felt confident, like a boss. My affairs were in order, I had packed my nice clothes, and I was on my way to see Sade. I said it aloud, "Shar-day". How did I even know Sade? I didn’t want to ruin the moment so I just focused on my feet, gliding down a carpeted ramp in the departures area. I passed a magazine shop where I caught a glimpse of Justin Timberlake yet again on the cover of GQ. I contemplated buying a magazine but then I remembered I had already packed "On Photography" by Susan Sontag in my carry-on. Though most likely I would be too excited to read it.
On the airplane I fantasized that Sade and I would realize that we’re kindred spirits. In my fantasy we watched movies, played pool, went shopping for hats and new kinds of tea, all the while staying out of the public eye. Sade confided in me her deepest secrets about past relationships, including her failed marriage to Carlos Scola. I listened, empathized with her and made her laugh. She asked me about my day, like true pals. Maybe in the future we’d do a project together like a graphic novel, something elegant and surreal and critically acclaimed.
All of a sudden my thoughts turn worriedly to Donny. "What if Sade liked Donny more than me?" I thought. After all, he did have a pretty firm stance on the wine. Furthermore, Donny had a Masters in Interdisciplinary Studies and also a very beautiful jaw line. But I thought, "I need to learn to accept myself completely for who I am." These words were thought not in my own voice, but Sade’s.
We arrived in Virginia around at 5:45 PM local time. We rented car at the airport, a black 2006 Honda Civic with a sunroof. I had prepared a Sade playlist on my ipod but I decided that it might be better to play something less obvious on the drive to Sade's summer house. I thought we could listen to Stereolab or maybe a Ninja Tune compilation, something like that. Nothing from the 21st century.
The car smelled of promise and pleasure. I cracked my back, shoulders, neck, knees, and, finally, my fingers, as a kind of ritual before getting into the car.
It was a perfect drive, with the hills gently rising and falling, mile after mile. Apart from a few other vehicles, the highway was empty. I took deep breaths and let the sunroof bring warm summer air into the car. I looked at Donny, who seemed equally as satisfied with the moment. We both smiled at each other. I reached over and gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder as if to say, "we made it, buddy.”
During the hour and twenty minute drive Donny and I had some spontaneous conversations. We discussed the possibility of visiting Natural Bridge, one of the most beautiful sites in North America in my opinion. Natural Bridge had always been a dream destination of mine. I imagined packing a lunch and spending the whole day there, contemplating existential things, and marveling at its scenic beauty. It would be the greatest field trip ever. I pondered what Sade would think of something like that. I wondered if it might be a bit tourist-y for her. Eventually I decided that I was probably something Donny and I should just do together, when Sade wanted some alone time.
Donny and I also talked about ecstasy and how glad he was that he didn’t take it so much anymore. As he was telling me about some of his less pleasant experiences with drugs, I started to fantasize about doing ecstasy with Sade. It would be one wild night, just out of the blue. I dreamed about having a really good time with her, listening to music, swimming, drinking champagne, and so on. We would gaze at the stars while coming down off the high, smoking some brilliant foreign cigarettes that Sade would furnish us with. Our come-down wouldn’t be edgy or uncomfortable at all. We would make plans to have smoothies in the morning and then sauna together.
I snapped out of this fantasy just as we came to the sign for Elden Road, the road that would lead us to Sade's summer house. The road took us through bucolic tableaus of horses and sheep, until we arrived at the understated junction Sade had mentioned in her last text to me the previous evening. The text had said:
"Take the exit after Carlaw and stay true.” I thought that was such a lovely sentence to see on my phone. It went on: “Go 40 or 50 meters down that path until you see my rock garden. You can park your car under the big tree on the left. I might be out in the garden or in the gazebo in the back depending on when you arrive. Just come and find me ;) S"
We turned a corner and the house came into view. It was a light brown, mid-century modern complex – an understated assemblage of various rectangles. The sun was at just the right point on the horizon to reflect off a section of glass brick on the east side, creating an orange starburst that almost made the house look too perfect, like an architect’s pen and ink rendering. This was to be my home for a month.
Donny said, "Holy shit.”
A few seconds later we both saw her. Sade, in her rock garden as promised. She was knelt down, tending to some plants. Black snakeroots, I noticed. I was a big fan of the black snakeroot – the extroverted stem, the gentle white flowers, like some unusual sea creature, always made me smile. Sade looked up as we pulled the Honda Civic into the parking spot. She took off her gardening gloves and waved to us, smiling in a manner that was simultaneously welcoming, sexy and dignified.
I wanted to greet her without awkwardness or hesitation. After Donny and I parked the car we wasted no time and walked briskly over to Sade. We all hugged individually, and then again as a threesome. It was nice and funny. The late afternoon sun was so flattering, not that Sade needed it. We laughed even though nothing was funny. I thought that I might explode with emotion, and without realizing a tear fell down my cheek. Sade saw this and said “ohhh.” She wiped the tear away with her thumb in a maternal fashion.
“So nice to see both of you,” said Sade. “This is so lovely. We’re going to spend the evening drinking spritzers and gazing into the Virginia sunset. And when the sun sets we will continue to drink spritzers. And if you get too drunk, do not worry because we are safe here at the summer house and I accept both of you completely for you who are.”
She paused, lingering on that last, serious sentiment, which she then defused with a quiet giggle. This caused Donny and I do laugh as well. I felt as though the air was different around Sade. It was Sade Air. It was somehow more pure, and I felt like I was discovering oxygen for the first time.
Sade said that she should show us around the property while there was still light, and that the spritzers would follow. She took us first around the garden and then to her glorious gazebo, which was dark stained cedar but with tasteful accents in hunter green. Truly it was a place for serenity. Sade gestured towards the gazebo and invited us to go inside. It was at that point that I took notice of her charmingly simple gardening outfit, which she had dressed up with a rather opulent turquoise and gold cocktail ring. It caught the sun now and then and sparkled like a tiny planet on her hand. This fashion detail made me smile, and I anticipated more of Sade's idiosyncrasies to follow.
The evening played out marvelously. Comfortably seated in Sade's gazebo, the flow of topics took a natural course, allowing each of us to engage effortlessly in conversation. Sade asked us questions all night - she seemed endlessly inquisitive. We told her about Toronto- the hardships, the romance and the pleasures of the city. I was hesitant to ask her about her life in the eighties and early ninties because I didn't want to come off like some sort of shallow fan who was only concerned with her period of commercial and cultural popularity. But to be honest I was really curious about Sade's early nineties. What, I wondered frequently, went on during those years between Stronger Than Pride and Love Delux? But Instead I asked her about her present day, her day-to-day, and her reflections on the now. I could sense both the wisdom and the youth in her replies. Her tone would gradually grow enthusiastic, only to be rendered instantly mellow again by a carefully considered pause. The odd silences that passed between us were not awkward at all, because we knew that we had a month to spend together, and that there was more than enough time for words. At that point we were all just happy to be alive, together.
The mid-priced Malbec was a tasty counterpoint to the crab cakes Sade had prepared for us. She had no maid or staff at the summer house - Sade did it all. I sensed that she enjoyed food prepration - she made the whole operation performative. Her movements were precise and fluid, and she executed every gesture with a kind of languid exactitude. Out in the gazebo, as we continued to sip wine and eat seafood, we talked about letters and how romantic it is to write a letter or a postcard these days. Sade and I discovered that we shared a love of hand-written letters. She spoke for a long time about letters she had exchanged with former lovers, now lost in the past. Or perhaps just misplaced. She wondered if they perhaps still existed in a desk drawer or in a box somewhere.
"My soul in a box", she mused.
At the end of the evening Sade hugged us both and promised us a spectacular summer. She expressed how happy she was to have us at her home as she lead the way down to the guest house. I fell in love with the guest house immediately - It was a stand-alone structure, separated from the main house by the pool, and it was somehow both spare and luxurious. Much, in some ways, like Sade herself. She gave us the keys and a heartfelt goodnight before she glided away across the pool tarmac. She was half-lit by the shimmering blue light from the pool before disappearing into the darkness, fading out of the scene like the end of one of her songs. Perhaps it was the spritzers and Malbec, but at that point I wondered if Sade had even been here at all. Had Donny and I just imagined her?
Inside I noticed some chrome accents (hand rails, light fixtures) that spoke of the home's early 1970s lineage, and I smiled with approval. The overall scheme was definitely more Aspen than Virginia, though I could also sense a British sensibility in some of the accent pieces. There is a subtle aroma of cedar which, mixed with the lingering effects of the Malbec, cause me to fall onto one of the beds in ecstasy. I sensed memory foam, and this pleased me. But before I drifted off to sleep and I realized that I needed some water. I was at that age where I was beginning to understand the importance of water in one’s own body.
So I went into the small kitchen and opened the fridge. Inside I saw a pitcher of water with some ice and cucumber slices. Leaning against the pitcher was a hand-written note, address to Donny and myself:
"The wisdom of water will be with you this summer.
There was a heart after Sade's name.
I get some water and return to the bedroom, where I succumb to the comfort of the mattress. Minutes later the sounds of Donny showering rouses me from my rest and I sit up in bed. I walked over to the mahogany writing desk and switched on the Verner Panton desk lamp. "Only the best for Sade," I thought. I found a piece of blank stationary and began writing my letter to her:
I want to know your thoughts about Natural Bridge . . . "