Thursday, June 30, 2005

Picnic in the Park

Picnic in the Park
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.

Yesterday I wrote a long blog about the heat - it had risen as high as 38 degrees - about the artists who came here to paint the illuminated landscape (Cezanne and Van Gogh and even a Canadian, Jack Shadbolt), about the writers who came two years ago, shed every item of superfluous clothing, and wrote steamy tales (myself included), and about me here now struggling to move, do anything, and feeling like I'm accomplishing little. But the whole damn entry disappeared before I could post it. This new computer is more temperamental than my old one.

I told about going for coffee on Tuesday morning, sitting beside the farmers and artisans who were having coffee before setting up their stands, and holding small conversations in French. I bought the pizza man a coffee as I've been trying to talk him into playing his music for the workshop feast on July 5th. He is a wonderful musician as is his son who serenaded Gill on the street outside our house. I spoke to the restaurant owner/chef who will cook the feast and he offered to make something special as the writers will be eating at the restaurant most nights and will know the menu too well.

And I wrote about dusting, sweeping, vacuuming, polishing, waxing in preparation for the workshop and Gill, in the "Light" house, doing the same. I noted that we come from a long line of Irish women, wives of farmers and weavers, who took pride in a clean house; about how I dismiss such activity as menial but, in truth, love the look and smell of sparkling furniture and floors; and how my mother always said that "cleanliness is next to godliness". She was raised a Quaker, went to church twice a week, was not allowed to wear makeup, drink, or dance. But, she once told me, that she would sneak out, put on lipstick when she was out of sight of her father's farm, and attend dances. She said they were a god-fearing people but I think that they were a father and husband fearing clan, based on her sneakiness around her and my father.

I wondered about the voices inside my head - do they stem from generations of housewives who, before my mother and grandmother, could neither read nor write (they signed their marriage certificates with a X), who worked their "fingers to the bone" (my mother's expression), and who believed, like her, that life is not about fun but about responsibility. Am I fighting them when I rouge my cheeks, hold a glass of wine to the heavens, and climb on tables? Or is it their husbands? The whole damn lot of them were too dependent on the good opinion of others. And how did they really feel, deep inside themselves, about all that work and no pleasure? They could not even speak of their bodies without shame.

Well, that was the gist of my lost entry.

Last night, after a hard day's work, Gill made a picnic and we drove down to the lake and set our salad feast on a picnic table and ate from plastic containers. There were hoards of teenagers roaming around the grounds, having a barbeque, celebrating heaven-knows-what and playing music (good music Gill informs me.)

So we, today, will take care of last minute details for the workshop. Tomorrow we go to Gaillac market. As I sit at my small desk looking out over the garden with coral flowers, I feel, with relief, that the day is cooler. From the front of the house, I can hear the garbage tractor ( a tractor with two small trailors that weaves through the streets) driven by a robust Frenchman with one top tooth. (A picturesque detail of French country life.)

I look forward, in just two days time, to the arrival of Marlene and Ursula, and half a dozen women from Canada, the States, and England... and gathering in "the writing room", our salon, and talking and writing, writing, and writing... the third year of a dream.

After posting this blog, I opened a book to the following poem by Judith Duerk. It seems appropriate to this entry and a discussion I have been having with Vaughan:

"If I am so perpetually terrified
of being called a bad girl,
so externally blown about
by the winds of my inner judges,
that I must cling to any authority
that grants me marginal approval,
then I risk that I might never, ever
turn towards that within me
that guides and orders my existence,
that lets the truth of my life emerge.
Oh Grant me courage to become myself!"

Sunday, June 26, 2005

It's Sunday and I just awoke. Last night was so warm that I went out and sat on a small stone wall, across from our house, and talked to Lucette, my neighbour who speaks no English. I am hilarious when I try to hold a conversation in French. I learned the language at university and try too hard to be grammatically correct. I notice that Lucette, like me, talks with her hands, in an attempt to be understood. Thank goodness for hands. (I think of Marlene in Paris unable to resist Rodin's. In a week, she will be here with Ursula, preparing to begin another writing workshop.)

As I sit with my neighbour, Gill leaves the house looking beautiful and Lucette comments on the lowness of her jeans and the shortness of her top. Gill laughs and pulls her sweater higher to expose her belly jewellery that looks and shines like a large diamond. Lucette does not see the beauty of it: she asks if it hurts her. Gill, smiling, striding, leaves us and soon after Lucette wishes me bon nuit.

I go inside wondering what to do with myself. I could paint. I could read or write, take a bath, but nothing appeals. I know restlessness is supposed to be good for the soul but I can't remember why.

The night before, Gill and I went to see the fire of Saint Jean (Joan of Arc?) - a huge teepee of logs, roaring at one edge of the village. Small children ran wild with plastic cups trying to catch the sparks, none of whom, even when they get too close to the flame, are cautioned by parents. Helene wove in and out of the crowd serving the adults plastic glasses of white wine. Rosetta offered a tray of brioche. Tinny music roared from a bad speaker and Gill and I sipped from our glasses, swayed, and tapped our feet. I was not brave enough to start dancing though I wanted to.

I noticed Lucette and our English neighbours a few feet behind us and turned to talk to them. While I flipped back and forth from English to French, Gill disappeared and I eventually spot her with a group of friends, leaning on a tall lanky dark-haired young Frenchman who sets her heart a flutter. Earlier, we had eaten outside at the new restaurant in the central square, laughing and talking, walking away arm in arm. I am so glad to have this time alone with her but I saw that our mother/daughter evening is over, and so I bid all good night and wandered home alone.

Again, a restlessness surged through me. I couldn't alight. I have been puttering, doing a number of small jobs to make the house nicer, to fill my hours, to avoid writing. A few days earlier, I decided to paint one small room. I felt this urge to add colour to the house: all is white, virginal, and I want something strong, vibrant, surrounding me. (Where are you Rob when I need you? But I spoke to Rob last night and he told me that he is working long hours, he nearly fell asleep at a stoplight on Georgia, that he wouldn't have time to spend with me even if I were in Vancouver. And I know that relationship exists not - or should not - to fill a void but to share a fullness. )

I don't feel full. I feel empty. And yet I know this isn't true. I just do not like me when I am full of self-pity, tears, to name a few… and yet when I spoke to a friend the other day, told her that I had been on the verge of tears for several days, she said that I was lucky. She hasn't felt like crying for some time… and I keep thinking of her words and know she is right but still I get confused. (You are too stupid to grasp anything, a voice in my head says. You are wallowing. Snap out of it. Look at where you are. And I look out the window and I see the garden green and lush below and, on eye level, glorious coral blossoms - though I am too ignorant to know what they are - and then there is the sun, the glorious hot sun, illuminating the stone wall that was built over 800 years ago. I smile though I am not cheered. I want to pound my head on the windowsill and knock some sense into myself. )

Why do I think that I must (a warning word) be full of bliss all the time because of all I have? This, in my mind, is very Canadian, though I am Irish, I remind myself. Every Irish woman or man is allowed melancholy. I do not want to be a "happy carrot." (Oh sometimes, I do.) And then I think of Saint Teresa who writes in no uncertain terms that it is hard work to conquer oneself.

I want to ask forgiveness for the smallness of my thoughts on this blog but my self will not allow it. (I even wonder if I sound pretentious when I separate the word “myself.” But since i appear to be unable to distinguish whether I am or am not, bad writing from good, I am going out for a walk in the sunshine. Perhaps I'll leave the village and walk past the sunflower fields. (A miracle happened. When I arrived these signature flowers were short and closed and now many are in full bloom.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Dining in Paris

Dining in Paris
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.

I spent three nights, two full days, in Paris - in my eyes, the most magnificent city in the world - and returned Sunday evening. Marlene and I had intended to sit in cafes, write in our journals, follow in the steps of de Beauvoir, Colette, Nin, Sartre, Miller, Hemingway, Joyce, but we didn't. We walked until we were exhausted, till we could take in no more of the architecture with its fleur-de-lis decorative twists, wrought iron balconies, numerous memorials, churches, museums, and expansive public gardens.

I only wrote as the fast train, the TGV, left Paris to take me back to my small village in the south. My legs ached. I munched on a baguette from a stand at Gare Montparnasse. We had left our hotel early morning, walking down rue Vivienne, past the Palais Royale, crossed the courtyard of the Louve with its glass pyramids and jokingly said that we would say we had passed through the Louve quickly as who would come to Paris and not enter its hallowed halls. We strolled through the Tuileries - a broad avenue scattered with classical sculptures - and crossed the Seine on one of the numerous bridges to the Left Bank. Looking down, M pointed out a lone man, saxophone in mouth, playing for no one in particular.

I stopped at the D'Orsay and Marlene continued on to the Rodin museum. I had only an hour and a half to peer at paintings by Degas, Gauguin, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh - famous images of poppy fields, sunlit cathedrals, naked women, self-portraits, blood and battles - but loved seeing the originals, especially the nudes - no skinny model bodies - all with voluptuous abundant flesh. Head full, I left walking briskly, to meet M at eleven in Rodin's garden that is lined with his sculptures. (We had strolled through it a day earlier, admiring the artist's way of sculpting sturdy bodies with over-sized hands and feets. M felt compelled to place her small hand in the larger one of many of the statues.)

The night before, we met one of Marlene's colleagues from the institute in Zurich, at Cafe de Flore where Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre met most mornings and evenings to write, and then her friend, a vibrant Parisian led us to a "very French, inexpensive" restaurant near the Sorbonne where she used to eat when a student there. We ate and drank hearty French fare (steak, pintade, and frites - the best I've had anywhere in France) as the sweat poured down our brows.

Oh I could go on and on... I haven't even mentioned the Musee National du Moyen Age that houses the famous tapistries of "The Lady and the Unicorn", Shakespeare and Company where we both threw coins in the inner wishing well and... I can't remember all the sights but how I love listing the names of art, sites, and people (past and present) who haunt and have haunted this city... I feel like a hick from the country, childlike, in awe, but M too must have felt this way (though I must not project with a Jungian) as numerous times she would look me in the eye and say "Yvonne, we're in Paris."

I love Paris. (I know writers are supposed to exclude the obvious but I don't give a damn. I love Paris. I love Paris. I love Paris. I love my daughter who will live in this city, who I will visit in this city.

And so I have been back in Castelnau for a day and yet did not have time to update my blog as yesterday afternoon, Ramona and Don, who married ten days ago in Vancouver, arrived for an overnight visit. We (the three of us) drove into the country to a nearby winery, admired its restored Pigeonniere (sp?), tasted a few wines, bought a few bottles, and then returned to thow together a salad, and wrap bread, cheeses, glasses and cutlery for a picnic.

Oh la la - Susan and David who had invited us to picnic were shaking their fists at us: we had kept all waiting. - but they calmed when they saw our basket of food and bubbly. We drove, in three vehicles to the Causse (an elevated stretch of land.) There were eleven of us including baby Sil who, at one year, crawled here and there over the picnic spread making any attempt at civilized dining impossible - but still the food - a collective effort of onion torte, homuus, green salad, cheese, fruit salad, and chocolate cake - was delicious. After eating and drinking, we took a walk through tall grass towards a red setting sun, where we found ourselves a feast for mosquitoes, and so returned, packed the remains, and as a closing ceremony, swung Sil - much to his glee - in the emptied table cloth.

Today, after visiting Castelnau's morning market and eating pizza for lunch, Ramona and Don left to continue their honeymoon travels. Before leaving, Don, a food critic and travel journalist, interviewed Christian - the town's pate man whose penchant for jokes, command of English, and excellent pate made him a worthy subject. (Don needs a show within days of arriving home.)

So there you have it. Life is full of culinary delights. Gill leaves soon for a music festival in Toulouse where she will spend the night with friends so I think I will lay down my head and recuperate.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Our Wedding Day

Our Wedding Day
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.

On June 13, 1970, Yvonne Wetherall married Robert Young in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

"Tempus fuit"... Time flees...

I woke this morning, thinking of Rob. Thirty-five years ago, in a long white dress, empire waist, puffy sleeves, with rows of blue flowers running down the length of the swiss cotton (to show I wasn't traditional) with a matching white Victorian cap tied under my chin, I met Rob, in his borrowed suit and orange shirt (to show he wasn't traditional) at the altar of a Unitarian church, where we swore to love and honour the other "till death do us part."

Afterwards, we celebrated in the garden of my parents' Toronto house with family, relatives, and school friends (we had just finished our first year at Ryerson.) We left our guests happily mingling and drinking and caught an overnight train to Montreal where, in a restaurant, Rob said, for the first time "my wife will have...." And we smiled broadly at the other.

I swore I would never marry and there I was, at twenty-one years, marrying a man (a herring-choker no less) I'd known just over two years.

Over the years, there have been times when we've both, individually or together, despaired about our marriage. We separated once. We missed each other. (I suppose I should speak for myself.) I missed his calmness, his solidness, his tenderness. I missed the ease of being with someone whom I trusted, with whom I did not have to play guessing games. I missed his down-to-earthness, what I call his Maritime-ness.

And since... well, sometimes still, I despair and want to shake him... and sometimes I do, demanding that he talk to me, tell me what he feels in his heart and his soul... and he apologies for not being able to express himself. And I say that's not good enough, he should push himself as I have to push myself; and then he'll send me a poem. How can I not adore a man who sends me poems? Earlier this year, he sent me "A Dedication to my Wife" By T.S. Eliot:

"To whom I owe the leaping delight
That quickens my senses in our wakingtime
And the rhythm that governs the repose of our sleepingtime,
     The breathing in unison

Of lovers whose bodies smell of each other
Who think the same thoughts without the need of speech
And babble the same speech without need of meaning.

No peevish winter wind shall chill
No sullen tropic sun shall wither
The roses in the rose-garden which is ours and ours only"

So yesterday, I sent Rob a dozen roses and today I received a heart-felt email and another poem. Yes... after thirty-five years, he still knows how to move me. And come what may, I love him.

Tonight Gill and I will go out and celebrate her father, my husband. (Those of you who know me, know that I hate the word "husband" because, in my mind, it connotates ownership and dreariness - and this I do not feel about Rob. I prefer spouse or partner - a person I choose to be with for practical purposes - and then lover - a person I choose to love, to reveal myself to. But I use it today for Rob - to make him laugh.)

And my days at Castelnau are quiet and lovely. Our daughter, my precious daughter, makes the meals and cleans up afterwards. I think and read and do everything but write. The other day I decided I did not want to be a writer out of sheer laziness. I just want to be quiet without pressure. And I think that this is all right for me at the moment. I have been too busy. And so I play in the house, rearranging and sewing, reading several novels.

On Saturday, Gill and I drove to Toulouse and explored our favourite haunts (Galleries Lafayette and Habitat to name two) and yesterday, I went to Saint Antonine with Susan and David. The market was, as always, overflowing with people, and overwhelming to the senses - the produce is freshly picked and tastes heavenly - exactly as you dream a peach should taste or a strawberry, and even a common potato or tomato tastes better than you could imagine. And the long spice table - each one displayed in a brown paper bag - overpowers me as I walk by. And the olive table - so many varietes... And the pates and wines and... oh how I love this market.

Afterwards, Susan and David leave me at the side of a country road - secluded, overgrown with wild roses and other greenery - and the only sounds I hear are birds and bees (I'm serious) - and my friends take off together to walk and I sit quietly on the ground on their sleeping bag and write in my journal. I am breathing easy.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The days slip away but as I know you, who are not here, like to hear of my comings and goings, I feel that I should try to write more often.

We have spent the last few days with Gill's guests, who left this morning and were fun, appreciative, helpful: they made a meal for us, washed dishes, and even sanded a paravente for me. (A paravente is a screen, a room divider - this one has six panels - and each panel has a length of fabric down the middle that I have yet to sew.) I bought it at a Broquante or antique fair in Albi with Bedding on Sunday.

Two days ago, to entertain our guests, we drove into the countryside and stopped at two wineries. The first was near Cahuzac and the proprieter, who greated us warmly, told us that the wine is "bioloque" or organic and will not cause hangovers. The family cut the grapes from the vine by hand. He tells us that his house - unbelievably beautiful - a long, stone structure with olive-coloured shutters and doors and an outside table in the same colour under an arbour of grape vines - was built by his own hands over a period of twenty years. He poured us all a portion of each of his three red wines and I bought a dozen bottles. Six of a table variety that at 3.20 euros a bottle is a steal. The other is finer at 7 euros and will age to perfection in ten years. The next winery, recommended by the first, specializes in white wine which is Gill's preference. The woman was as friendly as the other owner, though her house was not as pretty as his, and we bought a few bottles of white, rose, and red that are also delicious.

I, at first, hesitated to mention wine in my blog because a friend last year "criticized" me for drinking too much of this glorious libation. But Susan said, "Bloody hell, don't let this kill your pleasure" so I won't. And, as a writer, I fear being silenced more than I fear repercussion. (There is a much longer and more hurtful story here but I still do not feel objective enough to write it.)

Yesterday we took our guests to Cordes, another hilltop town, that is a little too touristy for me and at this time of year, a little too quiet - no fanfare, street musicians or mime artists, but still it is lovely and the view from the top, spectacular.

Now I must return to Teresa. A few nights ago, I described what I have written so far to Susan and David and both appeared to like my approach. Susan has even borrowed "Spiritual Pilgrims" so she can offer suggestions. David, who seemed well-informed on Saint Teresa but not on Carl Jung, thought I should denounce both in the final act (or at least, their paths to God and individuation.) Even though I don't know, at this time, how the play will end, I know I will not take David's suggestion (though I do respect his scholarship.)

Monday, June 06, 2005

Kate and Family on "Play" Train in Frankfurt

Kate and Family on "Play" Train
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.

I like this picture of Kate. She looks, to me, like a Jane Austen heroine.

Memories of Kate

With Kate in Germany
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.

Last week, at this time, (was it only a week ago? No, it was two weeks) I was preparing to leave Vancouver and fly to Frankfurt.

I keep thinking back on the few days I spent with Kate and her family. Here's Kate, Brian, and me on a bridge in downtown Frankfurt. It was a glorious day and Kate and I stole away to eat bratwursts (?) and talk.
I wish I'd been less jetlagged and more awake for my visit. Still, it was lovely and now, when I think of this feisty friend, I can imagine her in her grand apartment in Langen, sitting at her computer in her office, composing; or rewinding and playing one of Brian's DVDs at his command. I wonder if "Bob the Builder" or "Thomas" are still keeping his attention.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

This morning I stopped in at Susan's and she gave me a bowl of perfect cherries (a luxury at home) for Gill and "her young men." Two of Gill's high school friends from Vancouver arrived last night or rather early morning for a rest on their six-month European adventure and so Gill's attention shifts from her mama to her friends. I am content to let them catch up and to close the doors to my room and begin the paperwork for the writing workshop.

Yesterday, I shifted furniture and cleaned the writing-room/salon and fell in love again with the white stucco and natural brick walls (without pictures), the soft wood floor that I sanded and stained last year, the natural-coloured cushions on wood sofa and chair - elegant, to my eye, yet simple and tranquil. I rubbed toned-wax into the surface of the small desk and then buffed it to a shine. For some reason, I love these simple chores.

The door, leading to the outside, is often open now and from its frame, Bedding's beaded curtains hang, providing some privacy. This morning, I swept the outside walk, not because I felt like it, but to please Lucette, my next door neighbour. She likes it "propre" (that translates not as one would expect to "proper" in English; but to "clean." ) When Lucette handed me a broom - can't remember if it was last summer or the summer before - I was pleased, not annoyed, and felt that it was a symbol of her acceptance. And though she is nosy - her head pops out the window at the slightest noise - I don't mind. If anyone tried to enter into our house when we were away, Lucette would demand an explanation.

I should be able to describe, being a writer, how and why this village calms me, pleases me, but I don't understand it completely myself. I sat in the Esplanade, after a salad lunch by Gill, and looked over the low stone wall to an expanse of green - irregularly shaped fields, an occasional cluster of trees, rows of hedges - and perhaps half a dozen stone farmhouses or chateaux, and feel no need to move or do anything. I feel alone but it is not a bad "alone". My thoughts wander. I hold a pen and scribble into my neglected journal. I feel like a child who has been given permission to do anything that pleases her.

Whenever I have a moment, I return to Anais Nin's biography. The biographer, Deirdre Bair tells, in the introduction, that after writing the life story of Simone de Beauvoir and Samuel Beckett, she was criticized for choosing Nin as a subject because Nin is not a literary genius and what's worse, she lied constantly. But Bair calls Nin a major in the minor author league - and Bair appears, to me, to be mesmerized by the lies, the extravagances of Nin, the ways in which she manipulated her lovers including her psychoanalyst. I find myself revolted yet mesmerized too. Nin lived in her journals. They informed her life rather than her life informing her journals.

So here I am reading Nin rather than Saint Theresa. It's partially Vaughan's fault for she insisted that I bring this thick, hardcovered volume, and partially mine, because I did as I was told - a rarity. (Though Vaughan suggests that perhaps the sinner will inform the saint.) Who knows where my mind will drift in this ancient village that some say in haunted by ancient ghosts. When Leslie visited a number of years ago, she said she was frightened. She dreamt of battles and blood.

Tonight, Gill, her friends, and I shall treat ourselves to dinner in La Place.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I am in France in my tiny village and still adjusting to the time difference though every day I feel calmer. I am not surprised now when I arrive in Castelnau to feel as if I have come home. There is something so easy and calming about French village life though, I think, it is easier for a foreigner, a person from a different culture, to relax, to feel free.

And I am with my Gill. I hated her being here all alone even though I know she is tough and independent, more than capable of looking after herself. But she was alone in Toronto, alone in Paris, and alone here for nearly three weeks. Too much "alone" wears thin. We need others to talk to, to mirror us, to hug us, to take us outside ourselves. Should I be writing "I need others to talk to, to mirror me...?" Yet Gill has told me that she feels this way too.

How I adore this daughter of ours - though I know I've said it before - she is downright wonderful. She runs to greet me, throws her arms around me, tells me she loves me, then prepares my meals. Am I in heaven? (Kate did the same thing in Germany.)

Yesterday, my first day in the village, I went to the town square for fresh fruits and vegetables as Tuesday is market day in town when the local farmers and artisans set up long tables and sell their goods. I sat down at "Le Bar" to have my usual - a cafe creme - and to watch the locals, and stoic George (who has worked in this cafe as long as I've been coming to the village) surprised me by coming over and kissing me on both cheeks. The owner of the Patisserie was more nonchalent. He greeted me, as if I had not been gone for a year, and slipped my croissant into a paper bag.

In the afternoon, Susan and Gill and I drove into Gaillac and shopped at LeClerc - a super sized supermarket - where we filled our cart with yoghurt and cheeses, fresh ham and chicken, water and wine - and then returned to the village. Bedding and Susan (and Maarten who arrived late) joined us for my welcome feast. Gill laid out our most beautiful tablecloth with napkins folded like flowers. The food - chicken and rice by Gill, salad by Susan, fruit salad by Bedding - was delicious, and the conversation - that Maarten noted was more feminist than he expected - was about love, marriage, and children. Susan instigated it because she had just spent two hours on the phone with her second son who is desolate: his wife has left with their two young sons. Although we were analytical last night, today I feel such sadness for them. I like them both. They are both gentle, considerate, intelligent people who seemed so in sync with each other.

Today, Gill and I borrowed Susan's car again and went into to Gaillac to bank, to get car insurance, and toiletries - most important, suntan lotion. The weather is already hot and we have been told that the temperature will continue to rise (I hope not as much as two summers ago when the women attending the workshop could hardly bear to wear clothes - though the writing was deliciously steamy and Marlene forced us into Gaillac every evening to the air-conditioned LeClerc for ice-cream.)