Thursday, July 29, 2004

The days pass so quickly and I feel I am doing little but know this isn't true. This morning I rose early - at four - to have time for my thoughts, correspondance, and writing. This is the only time of the day, I am capable of focusing.

Rob, on the other hand, is writing up a storm and tells me he has 87 pages of his novel written. How I envy his ability to concentrate.

I find moments of delight scattered through my days and nights. A few evenings ago, Rob and I went to a classical concert - two violins and one cello - in a small church in Vieux, a neighbouring village. We ran into our new neighbours and both were apologetic about complaining the night before. Thank goodness. After the concert, we went to Lyn's balcony and drank champagne with these neighbours - though it was late and way past my bed time, I felt I had to make the effort.

Yesterday, Bedding and I worked on the wood room, cleaning (hard work) but are transferring it into another guest room and an office for me. Our house is strange - four floors - but with only two closed bedrooms. Eventually we will convert room to a proper den but, for this summer, swept walls, painted floor, and curtains will make it comfortable and usable.

I also visited Francis Meadows, a woman who lives in Paris, works as a legal translator, and who has lent me her house for writing workshop and wanted to give me a tour and instructions. She hopes that the writing school will replace the art school. She is also the first person I've spoken to who praised Frances Pratt of the Painting School of Montmiral. She came here in the late eighties for an art course and feels, thanks to Pratt, she learned a great deal about drawing. She also respects his art. I liked hearing this because, to me, he appears a pompous fool. It's a shame he comes across this way, especially now knowing that he is not a charleton as an artist and teacher.

Later in the afternoon, Gill and I went to Gaillac to grocery shop. We're trying to catch a moment here and there - just the two of us - as she will fly directly to Toronto to start school at the end of August and it could well be Christmas before we see each other. She is an extraordinary young woman. She has been having disturbing dreams about being inarticulate and not being able to communicate with Rob and me, and so wants to make the time to talk.

Still it suprised me that she wanted to accompany Rob and I in the evening to a barbeque in Lyn's garden - a steep climb down a hll at the foot of the village. It was a lovely evening. Lyn cooked sardines and saucisses on her small Hibachi. There were nine of us - our new neighbours (who I grow fonder of every minute), Francis Meadows, Mureille (a French woman, quite nice who speaks French slowly that we can understand), the three Youngs and Gill's friend, and Lyn.

Today is market day in Gaillac so in a few hours, Rob and I will drive to town to shop for fresh fruit and vegetables.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

I have to teach myself to write anywhere, under any situation. I am not always happy in the laundry room. My favourite spots are a park bench in the Esplanade or at the cafe in town, or any place where there is nobody I know. (I wonder why I am so difficult.)

The days pass quickly here. A few days ago, Rob and I went for a long drive into the country with Susan and David. I have no idea where we ended up - some distance from Saint Antoine, at an old chateau, owned by the Armagnac's (the most wicked potent drink in all of France - my estimation - and one I adore.) Susan had made reservations for lunch and so we were seated in an old world dining room, plates on walls, sunflower yellow tablecloths, elegant candle sticks, cloth napkins, and were served, attentively and abundantly, a five course meal that began with pate, ended with profiteroles, and included all the family wine one wanted to drink, for the price of 21 euros a person. I was so content that I fell asleep on the drive home.

Later that day, I dropped in to see Clare, and Basil offered me a glass of wine. (I was polite and accepted.) I think he did this, not out of generosity, but in order to torment me. He was in a contrary mood, fired questions, and then mocked my answers. I told myself to remain neutral, not to cave in, but, in the end, I failed. Finally I had to leave (in tears.) Clare followed. She told me that Basil only attacks those he loves. Bullshit.

The next evening, we had Stan and Christine for dinner. We - Rob, Christine, Stan, and I - sat in the salon while Gill and Shirin prepared the meal. They were playing their music, happy, singing, chopping, and frying, when our new neighbours - an English couple who bought Colette's house - came over and requested that we turn the music down. I was stunned. In our four years of owning the house, we have never been asked to turn down the volume. (The next day I apologized to my next door neighbour, Madame Rougee, and she laughed and said that it didn't bother her a bit: "the young must play" she told me in French. I told her that we had upset the new owners and she was surprised. "But it was early."

I am so pleased that she was not disturbed. Unfortunately, I don't feel so kindly about the new folk. He is a retired professor from an English university. Another one in town! But they seem nice and I will not let this one slip of judgement (on his part) colour the future.

Later in the evening, the man who loves to torment - Basil - and Clare came over and joined the party. The men stayed up stairs and had serious conversations about roofs and such, while the women danced downstairs - not on tables - but we did move into the street for several songs. Sometimes, joy cannot be contained. Even with persnickity neighbours.

Today, although I have every intention to write (as I am doing at the moment), I began my day at Susan's. She hasn't been feeling well - pain in the lower back - and worries that she will never live without pain again but this morning, she said she was feeling better and so I climbed into bed with her and we talked, as we did in the old days, when I was living in the village - about books and relationship, writing and relationship, relationship and relationship - and she said that it would be nice if we could drop the relationship business and get on with the hundreds of other subjects that are far more interesting. Yes, yes, yes, I tell her and we do for a time. She had just finished Rose Tremain's new book "Colour", lent it to me, and I finished it yesterday. It's not great literature but a good story and there is a section that we both enjoyed about a Chinese man and his wife who calls her man "a connoisseur of love." And we found ourselves once again discussing that fearful subject.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Today, early morning, the birds are loudly chirping outside the window, and I await Gill's call. She and Shirin are returning from Amsterdam. I imagine that this trip - the first one that she has taken by herself - has matured her. What must these two young women, so far from home, have felt as they wandered the city where Anne Frank hid, wrote her famous diary, and where one can walk into a cafe and order marijuana?

Rob and I have been alone in the house since Gill left Wednesday night and I find myself growing calm. Yesterday Stan (partner to Christine) came over and replaced forty tiles on the roof and added a bit of mortar here and there. I hope we are now leak free.

In two weeks, less two days, Marlene and Bett will arrive. I have sent out schedules for the two writing sessions and look forward to getting down to the business of writing and learning what body/soul is all about.

After a year away, I am slowly attacking the house and cleaning. I want to take all the curtains down, wash and iron them, shine windows, wash and wax floors, scrub as I imagine servants did in the olden days. Strange that this fills me with pleasure. I am not one of those woman who keeps a perfect house. In fact, I think it a sign of intelligence if one doesn't have one.

Yesterday was so warm that I found it difficult to do much - although the temperature was not near that of last year (or is the heat just an excuse?) Rob says "Relax". We're on holiday. I say "I'm not. I have a lot to do before workshop begins." But I don't really - just small jobs here and there. Still, I could not alight and only cleaned the attic and all its little windows in preparation for Gill's return.

After a run to the large supermarket in Gaillac, I wandered the village, sat under shady trees in the Esplanade, and read an easy novel called "The Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman". I think Dolores must have left it. It's about a woman, in her late forties, whose husband leaves her for a younger woman. And the author has the audacity to have her main character not only lose her husband to this woman, but her job. Amid all the cliches, I found myself liking the main character and sympathizing with her bewilderment. The woman had no idea that her husband was so unhappy and so examines scenes from their life together in an attempt to work out where she failed him. Note the "where she failed him." This is what the majority of women would think, I think. It's pathetic. One person cannot be solely responsible for another's happiness or unhappiness. Intellectually, I know this. Emotionally, I fall into the same trap. "If only I could find the right words, the right actions, my relationship with a particular person would be wonderful."


I stopped here as Gill just called from Gaillac and I jumped in the car and left to pick up two rather tired looking young women who, once in the house, went immediately to bed. On the ride home, I learned that they had fun. The hostel was in the red light district but they liked it immediately because when they walked into the lobby, lots of people were standing around, talking, smoking dope. They went to a marijuana cafe and had "the best meal" they've ever eaten. They saw a live sex show (I've never done this) that was weird. But, best of all, they are home safe. This tells me that I don't have to worry about my daughter away from home. She is responsible.

Today, if Susan is better (she had a kidney cold yesterday?) Rob and I are driving into the country with David and her to some little inn for lunch.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

I wrote this yesterday:

This morning Dolores flew to Dublin – her first time ever flying alone. Last night, we met Clare – another Canadian - at La Vierge (The Virgin) at the point of pilgrimage, overlooking the village and then walked to the gite of Helene, a French woman who will house writers during the writing workshop.

We spoke, for the most part, of relationships and sex. To use Dolores’s words, women are brilliant when they get together. They are not afraid to tell their smallest thoughts. They do not fear being misunderstood. They do not fear being decimated.

I do not want to desire anything. I want to accept what is. (Reminds me of a poem Bett sent me once by Denise Levertov “A Woman Alone.”)

Tonight, soon, Rob and I will drive Gill to the train station in Gaillac where she will travel to Toulouse, catch an overnight train to Paris, and then another to Amsterdam where she will meet her friend, Shirin. These two beautiful young women will spend several days there, doing as they please, before they catch trains back to Castelnau. Yes, I am a little worried but what can I do?


I received an email from Gill. She is safe in Amsterdam with Shirin. Sigh of relief.

I have been doing laundry – sheet after sheet. Cleaning. Sorting.

Not writing.

Reading “The Bride Stripped Bare”, a book Bett recommended. Oh la la. A rather interesting novel by “anonymous”. The author says it is a mix of fiction and non, a tapestry of her life and her friends’, an expose of women’s fantasies. She found the freedom to write by telling herself that she need not put her name on the book. A way to outwit her inner censor. She says it’s really the story about a woman finding her voice.

Tonight, Rob and I will eat a hopefully fine meal in the square with Lyn Gambles and watch a theatrical production.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

I have been writing in my private journal but am having a difficult time deciding what to put in my public one. I remind myself that I want to speak of my life as it is, not some watered down, sugared version.

Last night we had the most magnificent storm. Thunder roared and lightning flashed into our bedroom window and then Gill came in because rain was pouring into the attic room where she sleeps. We ran and gathered pots, bowls, and plastic to catch the water and now must find a roofer to readjust the tiles and cover the holes. This may sound simple but finding any labourer here is a problem.

When Rob and I went to Albi yesterday to buy a sofa and chair (yes, we did it), a man in the store said that nothing is easy in the south of France. Yet when I went to the hotel and spoke to the woman about the movement room for writing workshop, she was more than obliging.

My cousin Ken left Monday for Northern Ireland but Dolores, sweet woman, his wife, was so sick vomiting, she couldn’t return with him. Only today is her colour back. We will drive her to the airport tomorrow morning.

For the last six months, I have not been able to cry so when I started a few nights ago, I felt almost relief.

I have long known that I do not, cannot write with others around no matter who they are – and all that fill the house at the moment are loved and I enjoy spending time with them but I need some hours alone, with door shut, where I know I will not be disturbed and can pour my heart onto the page.

This has been impossible until today. Several days ago, Rob said that he felt he was a visitor in “my house.” I felt such a pang of guilt but when I thought about it, how could it be otherwise? He has only been here for a week - not this Christmas but last. I have spent hours, days, months here the past few summers painting walls and ceiling, varnishing floors and stairs, buying furniture, arranging all to my taste. No wonder he senses that this house is more me than him.

There is more, says the selfish one.

No matter how many visitors I had, the bedroom was always mine. Now I must share it with a man whose physical presence is larger than mine. We move in. He takes part of the shelves, part of the place for hanging clothes. The first night, he climbed into bed on the side where I had slept, shut the shutters when I had left them open, and placed his computer smack in the middle of the desk where mine had sat. I felt displaced. And yet, what was the poor guy supposed to do? It is his place as much as mine. I hated my resentment and felt like the bitch from hell.

And hence his comment that he felt like a visitor in my home. Oh dear. Rob thinks me fierce and strong and doesn’t see that I strangle on my words at times. This reminds me of Margaret Atwood’s story that I described a few weeks ago “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.” This doesn’t work for me any more. Yet still it is difficult.

For the next couple of days, things grew grimmer between us and finally we had a screaming match where I said that I hated him at the moment. (At least, I said "at the moment.") I don’t think I’ve ever said this to him before. He said I didn’t understand his point of view. I said I did but he didn’t understand mine and on we went until I began crying and couldn’t stop. Dolores, bless her, said that, at least, we can talk to each other.

And it did clear the air. And I am happier sharing "my" space. And we bought another desk today and put it in the laundry room where I prefer to be as he sleeps late, and so another conflict is resolved. (Damn it, I miss my little writing house.)

Funny, when we were furious at the other, we both said that we hated marriage and all the damn compromises it entails. But what is the answer to disharmony within a couple or do we need it and the passion of hurling insults and truths to find out what we really want and need?

Anyway, one can even be out of sorts in the south of France. How dare I? Think I’ll open a bottle of wine.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

I am in my village in France. It has taken several days and much effort to re-establish internet connection but, at last, I can communicate with the world beyond this ancient town. I am still weary from travelling half way round the world but, as I sat on my bench this morning, overlooking the valley of softly flowing hills that I have compared to a woman's body, I am content.

My neighbour, Colette has moved so there was no bouquet of lavender on my door to welcome me nor no lush garden to look out on from my front window. (Oh dear, I am always using the possessive adjective "my" and Rob says he feels a visitor in "my" house. I will try to remember "our".)

It is hot, almost as hot as it was last year - around 33 degrees - and I have bought three fans - one for each bedroom - and all can be moved to workshop room, if needed. Last night I was so comfortable, I slept eight hours straight - a miracle for me.

My cousins, Ken and Dolores, from Northern Ireland were here to greet us when we arrived. It was a pleasure to get caught up on news from that fair island where Gill and I lived a year ago. They are lovely, easy people to be around. Yesterday, Ken bought two sets of boules so he and Rob can play in the Esplanade with the other men of the village. (Note, I did not use "old" in front of men and will refrain from stupid jokes about men and their balls.)

The sun became hotter as I sat on my bench that overlooks buildings that have been standing so long - many from the thirteen century. I feel so blessed that I can lead this other life.

I have not managed yet, though I will today, to sweep my front walk, or portion of the street. My neighbour, Lucette, an old-fashioned woman in her seventies or eighties, will disown me if I don't. Last year, she gave me an old broom as a reminder of my duties as a resident of the village. I can do anything I please as a foreigner but this one chore is considered obligatory if I wish her good graces.

Today, Dolores and I are driving to Toulouse to shop. The sales end July 25th and I want to buy a few odds and ends for the house - like a second set of sheets for the beds - and a sofa for the workshop room if I can find one, I can afford. It isn't compulsory but would be nice.

Ken and Dolores leave early Monday and I have decided to enjoy my time with them and then get down to work cleaning and preparing for workshop.

Gill is happy to be here and often I forget she is around. She is enjoying her solitude in attic and her friends in the village though I should tell that she has made several amazing dinners for us all - fresh salads, vegetables, meats, and cheese - while the roughest work I've done is open a bottle or two of wine (oops, another obligatory duty.) My taste buds are dancing.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

I feel so guilty when I don't write that I will scribble a few lines. I am almost ready to leave on a jet plane this evening. I'm excited, even about the travel as Rob and I are going business class for the first time, thanks to points. I have yet to pack but as we don't leave till this evening, I have time. At the moment, I am doing laundry - changing the sheets on beds. Am I crazy? I think it's a family habit. My Auntie Isobel told me that when she and her family went on vacation, she would scrub the house, change the sheets the day before and then not put the pillow cases on till the morning so all would be fresh when they arrived home. (Her husband thought her "away" in the head.)

I have been a whirlwind this week. All the fall and holiday orders are finished and I even managed to put together picture books for each month so the staff will know what is coming. I have organized French writing workshop, as far as I can via email. Another woman registered on Friday. I expect she won't be the last one but now, at least, we have minimal people for first week and more for the second week. It's strange. At UBC, Marlene's classes are always full and most often there is a waiting list but travel is costly and I imagine that's the deterrent.

On Friday evening, Rob, Bren, Mike, and I went out for Japanese food and then Mike showed us his new place. I think it perfect for him. It's on Cordova in the old "Roach Clothing" building. The first floor has huge silk-screening presses, and the second floor is let by Mike's landlord, a musician, and film maker, and the third by another individual. The flat was advertised as "a New York style loft" and, to my mind, it's what the artist's apartments in Greenwich village must have been like. It's huge - 4000 square feet - and Mike's room is large enough to hold his bookcases, easel, bed, desk, and sofa. The only thing I didn't like is the bedrooms, to the back of living space, don't have windows. But the living room looks out to the street and has huge windows, three sofas, an enormous television, three guitars, large paintings, an enormous wheel (?). It's casual and artsy and Mike is pleased. We met his landlord - a fellow slightly younger than me - but not the other tenants, one of whom is a dominatrix (sp?) and is planning to make one of the back rooms into a dungeon. Mike is a little tired of the jokes around this room mate but I told him to shrug them off. I hope he's happy there. The rent is a lot less than his former apartment and he says now he has enough money to have some fun. (Once, when he was in high school, Mike had to write an essay on something he valued, and he wrote about "fun". I like his attitude.)

And I'm hoping, I'll find some of the riotous kind in France. I love the countryside, the people - many who have become friends - the language, the food, the wine. It shouldn't be too hard.

I suppose I should pack though I'm not taking much. I left all my summer clothes there last year, though I'll need a few for the days, we spend in Paris (where we'll meet up with our amazing daughter. It hasn't even been a week and I miss her.)

I will probably not get back online until mid-week and hopefully then, this traveler will have a revelation or two.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Beautiful morning in my city. Sky is blue. Birds are singing. I should be doing a hundred things in preparation for leaving but I thought I'd write a few lines here so those who have patience with me and return each day to see if I have been diligent, will find some new words.

Yesterday, I had my hair clipped and highlit. I feel lighter. Afterwards, Marlene and I met and sat down by the water and talked and then found our way to Maureen's fancy townhouse for an elegant dinner with Shirley and Bett. They are all wild women, especially that trouble-rouser Marlene. You can see in her eyes that she's up to no good - or lots of good (depending on how you think about body and soul.) All these women inspire me with their openness and rauchiness and love of the sensual. Leslie used to say that I overuse the word "sensual" but it slips out so easily and feels like a kiss. Aren't the tongue and the lips lovely parts of ourselves?

I mentioned the book "Nine Parts of Desire" during one conversation and have just searched my book shelves and can't find it. I wanted to find the passage that says woman is the sexier sex, that if man weren't so insecure, he would request, beg even, to be taught the art of pleasure by woman.

One of the pleasures of growing older, for women, in my mind, is that we become clearer, bolder, more verbal about our needs. And we want to express ourselves not only with our tongues but with our bodies. I love a book by Jamake Highwater called "Myth and Sexuality," love when he writes of the "body as an organ of expression - perhaps the most vivid facility for the expression of strongly and immediately felt ideas, needs, and feelings."

"Our bodies live through motion. And thus motion is one of the most important and pervasive means by which we can celebrate living. Our sexuality is part of the life we celebrate."

Highwater studied the ritual dancers of Asia, Africa, South America, and Indian America and concludes that the body has its own "secret language." He notes that "What dance achieves, what play and sex achieve are the same things that poetry achieves. They transform the ordinary into the extraordinary."

More and more these days, I find myself wanting to dance, to feel myself alive. I discovered last year that people in Europe - Northern Ireland and France - make the time to dance, and I'm not just speaking of the young.

In five days, I will be in France. In around a month, my trouble-rousing friends who love to dance and even joined me on a table last year, will arrive. I am hoping we will get into even more trouble this year.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

I haven't been doing a lot of anything, moving slow and carefully as I've been feeling queasy and uneasy for three days. I haven't touched wine nor coffee. A small lie. I had one cup of coffee yesterday but it didn't sit well. I've been to the store
and have nearly finished the orders. Hallelujah. And I did manage to make Shirley's Canada Celebration although I wasn't great company. (I promised though to introduce her to Rob and a promise is a promise.)

Funny thing about being sick is that it keeps you in the moment. Impossible to think beyond the thought you're thinking.

Gill leaves for Northern Ireland today. She is feeling a little queasy too but blames it on stress. Over the past few days, she's packed her bags and completed her course registration for Ryerson (with help from Brendan) as well as say good-bye to her friends. She won't be home till Christmas. The house will feel lonely without her. I doubt she knows how much her dashing presence means to all of us.

Mike dropped in last night for dinner and to say farewell to his sister. He's just moved to a new place that sounds like a movie set but I'll tell more later when I've seen it with my own eyes - sometime this week before Rob and I take off next Sunday. But he's happy. What more could one want? He says he'd like to come to France. If this desire was fulfilled would he be happier?

Desire. I should ask Vaughan to appear here as a guest writer and speak of desire - a subject we've discussed much lately.

I have only one desire at the moment. To feel well. I will. Soon.