Sunday, July 30, 2006

Today my baby girl arrives, though she is more a babe than a baby. An older French man called out to me on the street the other day and asked when she is arriving. "Elle est tres belle. O la la." I agreed. And half the young people in the village are counting the hours, as is this old dame. My daughter is simply and utterly lovely.

I have prepared the house and placed yellow roses - thanks to Clare - in the dining area and her bedroom. I have bought a bottle of vodka, lots of apples and bananas and yoghurt. And though I have loved my time alone, I am content that she will share the house with me. I imagine we will meet up at the strangest hours - both of us horrible sleepers - and will talk and talk and talk...

A week Monday, we leave for London. I was despairing at the cost of a hotel as even the tacky ones were around 70 pounds (150 CAD) a night but then I tried Hotwire, an American company though I wasn't sure that they had rooms in London. They do. Hotwire has the best hotel deals. You have to reserve and pay, knowing only the price and area and assigned number of stars, before you know the hotel name. With trepidation, I did this and found for 79 USD a night, Gill and I will be staying at the Hilton in the Financial District (very central). We are both excited. We would like to see a couple of plays - one at the Globe if possible - and do a little sight-seeing and shopping - and then fly home and fall into the opening ceremonies for Sarah, my niece's wedding on the 19th.

Life is good. I am so fortunate.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Village Women

It is so sultry hot in the south of France. Reminds me of the first year of the writing workshop when some women tied wet scarves around their necks to keep cool. We all wore fewer and fewer clothes and then dispensed with undergarments all together. With each passing day, the writing grew steamier. I remember one plum sitting like a buddah naked in the attic; and the restless sleepless nights, so draining that even the nicest of us cursed to the heavens.

This month, July, is similar - someone said, though I don't quite believe her, that one day the thermostat burst at 50. Each day sweat pours down me and it is difficult to find the energy to do anything. I find myself more frustrated than lonely - although there have been moments of extreme loneliness - one night I was in tears. But, for the most part, I am content albeit restless. What I am trying to do is observe myself without passing judgment, and see when I am most content, happy even.

My journal is full of random notes. I have had four books going at one time, each lying in various corners of the house that I go to at various times of the day. In the morning I am always up in the attic - the only time that it is cool enough. I love it here. The view is so gorgeous and whether it is time or place, my writing flows. In the afternoon, I am down in the writing room or rather, salon, as it's the only place cool enough to think, read, write notes. I am usually content at these times.

On Sunday night, I went down the hill, out of the village, with David to learn how to water his garden. (He and Susan have left for a few days.) I felt as if I had stepped back in time. David showed me how to throw the bucket down the well and then pull it up, hand over hand, by way of a rope and a single pulley. The water is then poured into a jug and, in turn, poured onto rows of squash, zucchini, carrots, beetroots, tomatoes, lettuce, and herbs. I am such a supermarket baby that I squealed when I saw a carrot pushing its way from the ground.

Last night, Clare and I returned and while she watered, I pulled up bucket after bucket of water. It took around an hour of steady work. We both agreed that though it was fun, we would hate to be obliged to go every evening: market vegetables are so fresh and inexpensive here that we hardly see the point in trudging down the hill to do a hour's labour and then trudge back up while the sun bakes us. Tomorrow, she - a true friend - has offered to return with me. We are going to go early morning in hopes that it will be cooler.

After our garden adventure, I was invited to Clare and Basil's for dinner. I think Basil thinks I don't buy groceries, don't eat much at home which isn't really true though I seldom eat a sit-down three course meal. Perhaps it is that I have such a hearty appetite when I'm there. Clare had prepared crudites - assorted cold vegetables - earlier and Basil waited for our return to fry the duck. I supplied a local red wine and it was an easy, perfect meal at the end of a day that was still hot, even with the door and windows open. We sat and talked for another hour or so and I only left as I saw that it was eleven and I wanted to catch Gill before she went to sleep. (This is her last full day of work.)

It was fascinating seeing Basil and Clare relate to each other. In fact, I have been observing many couples here, complementing and colliding, in order to figure out why some marriages appear harmonious and others miserable. (Rob noted once or twice that I have unrealistic expectations for a marriage though I have yet to be convinced.)

I love it when a man or woman is playful or tender with his or her mate. It distresses me when one dictates or lectures the other, as if he or she were a child. It's not that I expect all to be lovey-dovey all the time but I would believe in the institution more if I heard more couples uttering as many kind words as words of condescention to their love.

One report (I can't remember where I read it) insists that married men are the happiest people in the world, single women next, followed by single men, and married women alas are the least happy.

I have read Leonard's "On the Way to the Wedding" twice and am still thinking about it. She speaks not only of one's marriage to another but of one's relationship to one's creativity.

I am catching a glimpse of when I flow without fear of reprisal, in pleasure, happiness even; and where I struggle, what frustrates me, stops me cold; and my contribution to either state. Leonard insists its an ongoing battle.

No great conclusions about anything. But my daughter arrives Sunday and I am content.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

happy birthday sweet plum

Writer in the Kitchen

today I went to Toulouse for you* read rilke on the train only remembering halfway there that you love nature* so I put my book down and looked out the window and admired the trees... for you* when I arrived, I stopped in at a Brioche Dore and ate a abricot croissant (calories be damned: it's your birthday)* and proceeded to my favourite shoe store, Arche, that carries the most comfortable shoes in the world but alas I couldn't find any that suited me, let alone you* I stopped in at Habitat (similar to Ikea only better) and bought a little milk jug on sale for 92 euro cents so I will have one when you decide to visit* and on to Gallerie Lafayette where I selfishly bought a rolling knap-sac for me* I ate a healthy lunch at Tarte Julie and thought of you reciting "The Journey" by heart* at the end of the day, I went to an English bookstore and bought the new Sebastian Faulks that I will give you when I see you though I might read it beforehand* and so your birth day went* and the lovely thing about it is though my day is gone, yours is just beginning

happy birthday my friend* hope it is joyous* and the beginning of a wonderful year

Gill sends her love too

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I notice it has been a week since I last wrote an entry and the longer I wait, the harder I find it to talk about what I've been up to. Not much really. Lots of thinking down the same old routes that make me as restless as hell. I need to look at my life from a different angle. Difficult. I was reading Mary Oliver this morning, a poem she wrote about Robert Schumann and she notes "how the mind clings to the road it knows" and though it's fine and dandy to stick to the familiar - feels safe - there is something stultifying about it as well.

I like change. I call myself a nomad. I love new sights, new places, but what I love most is being anonymous, being where no one knows me, no one expects anything from me; but having written this, I think that it is not other's expectations or what they ask of me: it's me who offers to do, to give. For instance, two Danish builders were in town last week, finishing some work on a house. They dropped in because there is some work Rob and I want them to do in our house. They were in frenzy to complete the job and didn't have time for the final clean-up before their flight. Guess who offered?

Part of me likes the part of me that is happy to help another and feel useful. But this is difficult too because often people, myself included, find it difficult to receive, feel an obligation to return the favour.

Besides cleaning a stranger's house and musing about my universe, I have had several social moments that brought me pleasure. One night, Susan and David came over with David's younger brother and his wife, who were visiting from Scotland, for bubbly wine and appetizers. George's wife, Sandy is Peruvian, full of life and mischief, smart too. And I especially liked it when she said she thought her husband "the bee's knees." [Do bees have knees? But how nice to hear one of a partnership praise the other.] And then Ruth, who is a classical viola player, dropped in and I worried the background music - Joaquin Phoenix, John Prine, Leonard Cohen - might not be to her liking but she said that she loved it - "mine is so boring... no words." And I have to believe her because later in the week she invited me to a Rock & Roll concert in Gaillac that unfortunately was cancelled because of a sudden wild storm.

This past Saturday all the town was decorated with paper flowers for an Italian wedding. You'd think you were in Italy, not France, with all the Italian visitors in town - talking loudly with exuberant hand gestures. Early afternoon, a crowd of them - perhaps a hundred, dressed beautifully, stood outside the Mairie's office, and began applauding when the groom walked toward them, looking very classy in his dark suit and cream waistcoat. And then the bride appeared on the arm of her brother. She looked like Cinderella going to the ball in her long cream satin dress, covered in antique lace. Bare shoulders, over-the-elbow gloves, satin ribbon and flower around her neck, and long veil, trailing behind her.

Bride and Brother

After they were married by the mayor, they moved into the church and were married by the priest. [In France, church and state are separated. You cannot just be married in a church though you can just be married by the mayor.]

And though I say, quite openly, I do not believe in traditional marriage: it doesn't work, I enjoyed watching this solemn young woman walk proudly into the square on the arm of her handsome brother - her father was killed in a fluke accident several years ago - and felt I was watching a fairytale - especially after reading "On the Way to the Wedding" twice.

Tonight, I am attending another magical event. I am going with Carol of Carolina and David and Susan to see a classical concert on the grounds of Chateau de Mayraques even though I know next to nothing about classical music - I think it Mozart and Britten who will be played. I simply love the scene, the chairs in the huge garden, under the night sky, people-watching and dreaming.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


During my life, I have been madly passionately in love with three French men - at different times, naturally - and none of them live or have ever lived in my village.

Are they the world's best lovers? No! (But of course my experience is limited.)

These days I don't think much of men. Not quite true. I think of one who is far far away, working too hard.

Tuesday is market day in Montmiral and so yesterday, I stepped out of my house, out of my precious solitude, to visit the central square and wander. For some strange reason, I took my camera. Unlike my daughter, I am not much of a picture-taker.


The first French man, I captured is George. He has been working at Le Bar forever - or ever since I arrived in the village sixteen years ago. I don't know if it is my imagination or not, but he hasn't changed a bit. My first dozen years here, he was always stern, abrupt. I thought he didn't like me or, at least, didn't like foreigners in his village. But a few years ago, his attitude changed. Now, he kisses me on both cheeks when I arrive each year: and, on occasion, I'm even given a smile. He posed for this picture.

The Joker

This is Christian, the "pate man" who lives in an old house below the village where he produces various pates including an excellent foie gras. He is the only French man here who speaks almost perfect English and who loves flirting with women - all women. Once, he told an English matron that a particular pate would bring her ecstasy, then an orgasm. She bought the pate. Today, he holds his hand up for the camera and says "Foie Gras for gay-pride" - whatever that means. He gets away with a lot because of his accent, his boyish smile.

The Pizza Man

Denis or the "pizza man" as I called him for years has just had his wild gypsy hair cut. He tells me it is cooler on these stinking hot days (over 38 degrees yesterday) and this handsome devil - father of Harold who worked at the new restaurant until this year and Hugo, Gill's last summer love - not only cooks a mean pizza but is also a musician. He just happened to be playing with his group in the central square, a few years back, when a writing workshop was dining and the music, oh so very French and upbeat, had all the writers dancing for hours, even when it began to drizzle then pour... nothing could dampen our spirits that evening. It was magical. After posing for this picture, Denis told me that his group would be playing in Campagnac this Thursday evening. (I talked Clare and Lysiane, who were ordering a pizza, into going with me.)

Clare told me that she wouldn't have the nerve to go round taking pictures of people. I am surprised. I didn't think it any big deal and Clare does many things that I wouldn't dare to do - but these are her secrets.

After the market, I returned to the house and didn't leave it for the remainder of the day. I was/am restless. I read "Letters to a Young Poet" and spend hours answering questions that Rilke poses. I am aware that this month will pass too quickly and I might have to return home still not knowing what I want to do with the rest of my life.

A few mornings ago, I woke from a dream with the thought "I have to buy a horse." I remember nothing about the rest of my dream. Now why would I need a horse? Horse power? Energy? Yes, I do need more energy to think clearly, write, find a job... For fun, I checked out on the internet what a horse symbolized in dreams. "A Horse - especially a stallion - may symbolize sexuality." I had held, in my mind, the image of a sleek brown stallion...

I know I am in an enviable situation. I am in the south of France, in a thirteen century house, where any day of the week I can find a market and buy the freshest fruits and vegetables and cheeses, or visit a vineyard and buy wine for a few euros a bottle, or drive a short distance to a large air-conditioned supermarket and purchase whatever.... I have enough good friends who I am free to visit when I am need of company. My neighbours across the way, with an extraordinarily beautiful garden even gave me their key - they are away for a week - so I can sit amongst their flowers and wile away the hours.

So why am I so restless? Every day, my mood changes. If one day my writing flows, the next day I sling around not knowing what to think. I want clarity. I flip through books - my poets and psychological texts - and try to make sense of my life and find a new direction. Helen Luke keeps coming to mind. I reflect on her discussion about humility (and Rilke too uses this word) and think how difficult it is to be humble when one is fighting for a different kind of life. If words have the power to "pluck you,/ leave you naked..." will I, naked, be able to defend myself in the larger world - especially if my opponent is clothed?

What if someone yells at me "You're living in a dream world. Life isn't life that. You can't sit in your ivory tower and expect all to agree with you. You can't put a roof over your head and food on the table with dream analysis."

Even thinking these thoughts make my heart sink. Every few pages of my journal I write: "I have got to think of a way to make money."

Saturday, July 08, 2006

"she was feeling her way down in the dark."

 Old Bathroom Sink

Yesterday was a strange heady day. I was sweeping the walk outside when the post woman handed me a parcel from Amazon. Only two days earlier, I had ordered three poetry books and they had arrived - Cohen, Rich, Rilke. I was so happy. I need answers to questions and who better to reference than these three? (But I have to tell you here that poetry puts me in a weird space. I feel as if I am a figure in a Chagall painting, floating above the earth.)

And so I rushed to the attic with my precious books and began with Rich. I read her "the school among the ruins" from cover to cover. I love her honesty. I love her comments on language.

And then I made a leap of thought and began to write in my journal: I must return to virgin land. [I paused here.] Have I ever been a virgin in the ancient sense of the word? At what age was I violated, forced to lie, forced to be something or someone I'm not? For the sake of love.

When you read me, what do you think? Pretentious bitch? Stupid fool? Poor dear? Brave Woman? I do not want to know. I invite no comment on this blog. I want neither praise nor condemnation. The first might push me to manipulate for more, the latter might crush me.

I write for me. [Is this true? I mentioned "blog" above.] I want to write whatever comes to mind, to be, who I am.

Why I wonder is who I am such a frightening thing?

Why at times do I groan at what appears on the page and tell myself to tear it up before anyone sees?

I think of Kate saying I use too many quotes and I'm glad she told me. I wasn't aware that I use so many. I see that at this stage I need back-up. If some famous person agrees with me, I can't be that fucked up.

My father and mother say that I use "bad words". And I do. It's the defiant part of me that wants to weed out the polite, the proper, the holier-than-thou reader. If you don't like my fucking language go read Miss Manners.

Under the surface, I feel such anger - at myself and those who want me to be something I'm not. Or is this a projection? Why should I expect anyone to love every part of me when I don't love every part of another?

But I do love respect adore, turn tender soft sweet with some whose imperfections then appear, in my mind, perfections.

What I want to do this month is let myself go on the page. I want to make writing a lover. I want it to free me, ravish me.

I write these words with my brave pen. Now I feel fear. Why? I don't want to sound a fool. I shall swallow this fear and see what happens.

In one prose piece, Rich writes a "Mission Statement" about an organization whose purpose is to abolish cruelty, destroy despair. Language is a major concern
"because of its known and unknown powers
to bind and dissociate

because of its capacity
to ostracize the speechless nourish self-deception

...for rebirth and subversion

because of the history
of torture
....against human speech

Anyone who writes knows the power of words. In "The Exact Moment I Became a Poet", Paula Meehan writes "Words would pluck you,/ leave you naked,/ Your lovely shiny feathers all gone."

Back of our house

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I am sitting in the attic and the rain is falling so lightly that you have to look closely to see it is there. (So refreshing after the 38 degrees yesterday.) I feel at peach... oops at peace. Funny the difference one letter makes. (The peaches here are like none I've ever tasted - sweet, succulent, perfect.)

Last night I went for dinner at Basil and Clare's and they also invited Jean Francois and Julie Aurel who used to be their neighbours, mine too when I lived in Basil and Clare's house that first year in France. I like the Aurels very much, especially monsieur I must admit, because that first year he took it upon himself to teach me about the French, their customs and philosophies. He is a banker but he had (probably still does) one weekday off and often on those days, when he wasn't caring for his bonsai, he would invite me into his house for coffee and talk and talk and sometimes, I would not want to be there as it takes so much energy to listen to another and more when the conversation is in another language and one must translate each word just to get the gist of it.

And so he would tell me about the proper etiquette to use when eating a tiny tiny bird (one lowers one's head under the tablecloth) or how it is generally accepted in France that husbands and wifes have affairs though neither must talk about it. Discretion is all important. (Though he never ever made a pass at me and so I believe, he enjoyed talking to me.)

He gave me so many words of wisdom. Once, when I said my house was dirty and I must go and clean it, he asked me "what is more important? A clean house or a good conversation?" Another time, he wanted to show me a bull flight. He loved the fight between man and beast and made it sound so noble, I was almost convinced. Still I told him that I didn't want to see it. I could not bear seeing either animal gorged. "How can you renounce something that you have never experienced," he questioned.

Jean Francois appears to love life and when I mentioned this to him, he smiled and said that when he was a young boy, he had an illness that almost took his life. Ever since, he is thankful for every day.

But what I like most about this man (shallow me) is that he always shows his joy at seeing me. No matter who is around, he picks me up and swings me and tells me that I am fair and that I haven't changed a bit since we first met (and that was sixteen years ago.) How could one not like such a person? And our joke is always that the year of both our births, 1949, was a very good year indeed. Last night he said that it was a dry year and the grapes aged to perfection and were turned into the finest of wines.

And so last night, we sat round Basil and Clare's table (me between the two men - Clare's choice) and we ate a multi course meal slowly and with each course, a different wine was served.

We began with olives and cashews and a sparkling wine from the region.

Next, we had an excellent foie gras, served with a sweeter wine as its complement though I wasn't fond of it.

Then a gazpacho with red wine. (Basil has been buying wines from the region for years and tells me that at long last some are now ready for drinking.)

Basil then served a roast beef that had been rolled in such a way that each slice was a perfect circle, perfectly cooked (for me) with some red but not dripping; a half head of roasted garlic (the whole head had been sliced in half and so appeared as a flower on the plate); and baby roasted potatoes. Another decanted red wine was poured into each glass.

This main dish was followed by a salad, cheeses, and yet another red wine.

We finished with a fresh cream and apricot cake, prepared by the town's Patisserie, and a very bubbly champagne.

You'd think that we'd have all been rolling under the table with so much food and drink but this was not the case. The meal lasted three hours and though there were many wines, only a small quantity of each was poured in each glass, and a copious amount of water was also drunk. It was a feast that need I say, I enjoyed immensely.

Today, as the rain pours - it has become bolder and bounces off the sky light in the attic where I sit at Gill's cafe table - I am still content. I dream of ways to live this month that will benefit me. I have decided to follow David's example and create a schedule for myself that will include times for thought, journal, dream analysis, writing to see what it feels like, to see if routine will help me find a direction, keep me content.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to a friend, a writer, who was born on Canada Day in Vancouver, quite a number of years ago though not as many as me.

The Writer's Table

And since I don't know her birth name, I will not name her.

Too often, I measure my words as I measure ingredients for a recipe - to the exact quarter teaspoon - though everyone knows the best cooks are those who experiment.

And so for your birthday, my friend, I am letting myself go. I haven't dressed yet and it is after noon here. I began celebrating your birthday at 8 a.m. this morning, though it is not quite your day in Canada. At first, I thought that I should just send an email but it didn't feel enough... there is a voice in my head that is always saying why make public, what should be kept private? But if I listened to this voice, I would write nothing and you are the one who is always urging me on... write, write, write and so I have been writing writing writing trying to think of something original to say, something beyond "have a great day. I'm thinking of you. Hope this year is your best yet". These words would be sincere enough but groan, I've said them too many times and I would like to be more creative (though tired words and repetition are effective from time to time.)

For two hours, I have been searching poetry books, reading them from cover to cover, trying to find the perfect poem for you as you love poetry as much as me. And you, unlike me, are a poet. (What difference this makes I don't know. One can love something and not be its creator.)

Have you heard of Paula Meehan, a Northern Irish poet? I especially like her lines:
"O somewhere there is a beautiful myth of sorting,
of sifting through a mountain of dross to find the one seed
whose eventual blossom is such would make a god cry."

And D.H. Lawrence. In "Moral Clothing" he writes:
"Offer me nothing but that which you are, stark and strange.
Let there be no accommodation at this issue."
(I think this is what we both aim for in our writing.)

And Mary Oliver who Marlene introduced me to so many years ago. The first quote I wrote from in her classroom was "You do not have to be good... "
(Why does some of the best writing come from socially unacceptable thoughts? I dare you to do something "bad" today.)
And since it is stinking hot here today - I have changed from my clothes back to my night gown - I will give you some lines from "The Summer Day", that make me feel good about wiling away my hours...

"I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass...
how to be idle and blessed...
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"

It is now after 5 in the afternoon and you are probably just rising. Happy Birthday. Have a great day. Hope this year is your best yet. With love, yy