Thursday, August 30, 2007

Like a Bird on the Wire

Yesterday I flew from London to Toronto. As we were approaching TO, the captain came over the loudspeaker and said it was a special flight for him - his last. He had lived his dream of flying a large plane for 35 years and he was retiring.

When the wheels touched the runway, the co-pilot's voice told us not to be alarmed by the fire engines on each side of the plane. They were there to salute the captain bid him farewell. Firemen aimed their hoses at the windows and sprayed water beginning at the front and working their way down to the rear of the plane. As each section was sprayed, the passengers applauded.

I thought it a fine send-off and was happier still that once again I had landed safely. (Will I ever get over my fear of flying?)

I stayed in London one night at an airport hotel so didn't get a taste of this fancy city but I did have a few days in my beloved Paris with my beloved daughter. This has to be the most extravagant, luscious, beautiful city in all the world. And I oh so love to hear French spoken with a Parisian accent and watch the smart Parisiennes with their stylish scarves and fancy heels kiss cheek to cheek by the Seine or the Sorbonne or Cafe Flore or anywhere that my favourite authors - Beauvoir and Colette and Nin - lived and wrote.

In the evening of my only full day in Paris, Gill and I were to dine at "The Hidden Kitchen" that has had rave revues. It is in a private apartment where two young chefs create and serve a ten course meal. Unfortunately the man of the couple mistook the day or was it the month and we were out of luck. But the woman was very apologetic and directed us to a Moroccan restaurant on a small street that we would never have happened on without direction.

They were full but Gill with a big smile and sweet words got us in. The owner, his staff, and the chef (who kept sending his big smiles my way... yet it's Gilly who has a thing for chefs) were great but the food was superlative and we were content - so content we danced down side streets on our way home and forgave the hidden kitchen.

Tomorrow, Gill and I leave for a horse ranch in Vermont. My nephew is getting married.

I feel light and happy... and in a week or near enough, I will be home in Vancouver. And the only thing I dread is the plane ride.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Birthday Celebrations



IMG_3265 IMG_3271

Susan's 80th birthday was celebrated August 24th at Chateau Couanac. As usual David created a crown for her - this one very beautiful with flowers.

Birthday of first son

Brendan's 29th birthday is being celebrated - perhaps even at this very minute - somewhere in Los Angeles.

I love these two people.

No time for many words as Gill and I leave for Paris in a few hours and I must finish cleaning and clearing the house. Rob will arrive sometime in October and November 1st a massive restoration and renovation will take place. I will return sometime in the spring to paint.

And so I leave - sadly - as I am always sad when I leave this ancient village: I will miss everything and everybody but mostly Susan. And after Paris, I will spend a night in London and then on to Toronto, Port Hope, Middlesex Vermont, and finally back to Vancouver September 8th because I miss others there. Always this tug of war within my heart.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mother and Daughter Travels

Gill at Narbonne Plage Yvonne at Beach

Traveling with Gill is a delight. She too loves adventure and does not turn sour when things do not work out as planned.

We decided to take a little trip to the Mediterranean. Narbonne Beach is only a 2 1/2 hour trip so we set off early, planned to find a hotel for one night and bath in the sand and sun. Although we did the same trip with Shirley and Rowan, without reservations, all went well even though the first night's hotel was a touch sleazy. This trip there were no empty hotel rooms in the seaside towns.

No matter. We rented comfortable beach lounges and an umbrella, I read, Gill walked, and we both enjoyed the sights - a lot of beautiful people (many bare-breasted women) cavorting and relaxing. Around six, we headed into the nearest city, Narbonne, and walked for two hours looking for a hotel - still no luck - even at the less desirable hotels. We drove to Nissan, found a quaint inn, where we were lectured about dropping in at 7:30 at night and not making reservations six months in advance. We drove to the next large centre - Beziers - and tried more inns - again no luck finding a bed for the night. (At this point, we were not fussy.)

So we laughed and decided to take care of another need - our stomachs - found a good outdoor restaurant, shared a salmon salad, ate a good meal of fish and steak, had one glass of wine, and hit the autoroute planning to drive home. But it was dark and I was tired. We pulled off at a rest stop that had a hotel (but again full), parked our car in a dark spot, put down the seats. And laughed some more. (This was definitely Gill's influence. Without her, I would have been in tears.) Gill used a towel for a blanket. Me, a shawl. We wiggled around, trying to get comfortable, thought sleep impossible. We woke at 3:30 in the morning and headed into the restaurant for breakfast that was surprising good - fresh coffee and tea and a plate with croissant, roll, butter and a small jar of gourmet jam.

Although the sun rises late in this part of the world - around 7 - we returned to the autoroute where I pretended I was part of the convoy of trucks, moving at around 80 kph, and watching cars whizz by at 130. We arrived home before 8 in the morning.

Gill laughed as I climbed into bed, groaning with pleasure, kissing my pillow, and thanking the heavens for a good bed... and a lively, fun-loving travel companion who kept the mood light, at no time complaining about my haphazard take-what-comes approach to travel.

When I described our adventure to Frances and Carole - two friends in our village, Frances groaned and said she'd never travel in August in the south of France, without a reservation. Perhaps we will plan better in the future - but I love spontaneity too much to organize too much - but even my daughter agreed that it would have been more comfortable with blankets and pillows. Next time, we will bring some... just in case.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Village Life

I am thick into Tête-à-Tête, loving the play by play of Sartre and Beauvoir’s lives.

And so I read and read and then write and from time to time, devour a cheap mystery that somehow does not seem such a sin as Sartre and Beauvoir loved mysteries. And my novel sometimes appears a joke but I persevere and am allowing myself all kind of liberties. Somehow the discussion with Susan about this being only a draft and lazy writing has made a difference. It has slowed me down but I think the text richer...

Several nights ago, Gill and I went to the village fete that was rather corny as it was a band with an accordion lead. How the villagers loved it - especially the older folk who danced and twirled - often women with women. And how I wanted a dancing partner so Gill and I got up and danced a few numbers and then a very tall lean man asked me to dance and I did and I loved the movement. We danced well together though he was much too tall and I had to stay on my toes so it wasn't altogether agreeable.

Last night Gill and I went to the village feast that takes place every August 15.
See her blog for an account and pictures: “join me at the table".

I'm feeling like a fat slug I sit so much so I agreed to water David’s garden, as he and Susan wanted to escape the five days of music. Their garden is outside the village, down a steep road that isn’t much fun walking back up but I do it stoically. Once there, we follow David's regime of checking out the zucchini and cutting the big ones and putting them in a basket, and then picking up the yellow plums and apples that have fallen - so many and though yummy, I am growing a little tired of them. And as Susan so eloquently says "They make you shit but it's worth it." At this point, I have to pull the cover off the well and toss the bucket down - wiggle it around until it is full and then pull it up hand over hand, pour the water into a watering can and water the zucchini, tomatoes, and cabbage. The rest - onions and beets and lettuce and herbs, he says do just fine without water.

Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre and Loves

University Days Olga-Algren-SimoneSartre and Beauvoir

For those who are interested in Beauvoir and Sartre (if you are not as fascinated as I am by their lives, don't read this long rambling account): I just finished Tête-à-Tête and then immediately sat myself down and wrote about it to assimilate the information. I am not checking details so don't quote me.

I have always admired the relationship between Sartre and Beauvoir - never marrying or living together (even when they spent their annual holiday in Rome, they had separate hotel rooms.) Still their relationship has been called a "marriage" but, after reading Rowley's biography of the couple, I would not call it one. Marriage, in my mind, includes sharing a bedroom and having sex but early in their relationship, Beauvoir and Sartre stopped fornicating. And what surprised me is that Sartre didn't even like sex. He admitted never being able to let go. It wasn't a problem getting an erection and ejaculating but he didn't like it much (or only for a second.) He said that he liked the touching and caressing of another body but the rest left him cold. He would complain to Beauvoir that his young women were too demanding. They exhausted him.

On his 74th birthday, he began a flirtation with Francoise Sagan. At that time, he boasted that he had nine women in his life. He loved the seduction of sweet young women of promise. He did not love them and leave them - true to his existential thought that freedom includes taking responsibility for one's actions - he took care of the women, giving them his time (carefully scheduled into time blocks of a hour or two; once, twice, or three times a week) and his money and sometimes even his talent - he wrote plays for several of his conquests.

When he traveled, he often seduced his interpreter - the best way to learn a language. All this action by a man who doesn't like sex surprises me. As does his lie-telling to his young women (that he admitted to, in an interview.) He'd say he was working in one place with someone - usually Beauvoir - and he'd be with another of his loves, somewhere completely different. He was often found out because his picture would appear in a newspaper with his traveling companion.

Sartre has been described as short, ugly, fat, poorly dressed, and smelly and yet women vied for his attention. On the positive side, he has been described as an extraordinary listener, sensitive, and giving - especially with his money. He was paid a bundle in royalties from his books and for his lecture tours and newspaper and magazine articles and most of it, he gave away. He was often broke. Money never swayed him. When he was won the Nobel Prize - which he refused for ethical reasons - he gave up a grand sum that he could have used.

And what of the "Beaver" which is what Sartre and her friends called Beauvoir? She too loved young women of promise - several of whom were her students - though for years, she denied their relationship was sexual. She also loved men. Her greatest love affair, in my mind, was one with the American writer and journalist, Nelson Algren. He wanted marriage. She refused. And when she published stories - one fiction, one not - about their relationship, he was furious and denounced, mocked, and criticized her person and her work. And still she wore his ring until death. Unlike Sartre, Beauvoir had a voracious sexual appetite that often drove her to despair. She would have liked to have been less passionate. As she grew older, she hated desiring and being, in her mind, undesirable.

Throughout her life, she adored, respected, clung to her genius Sartre. I see them as intellectual equals. They edited each other work, discussed ideas for hours on end, and wrote alone in the morning and together in the afternoon when in the same city. When apart, they wrote each other long letters telling everything about their work and love life. I now see their relationship as more of a rich friendship than a "marriage" - or perhaps one could say that they were like a close sister/brother duet. One of the things that I like most about their partnership is that they gave each other courage to be free and responsible. ("Screw up your courage," Sartre said to Beauvoir when she hesitated about writing her autobiography.) Each was like a mirror for the other. And when one was in despair about his or her love life, there was always the knowledge that someone cared deeply and understood.

I am shocked by some of their "antics" - both his and hers - but I am also impressed? touched? (I don't know the right word) by both their courage to deal with emotional upheaval and ostracization. Sartre might be a scoundrel as far as his love life - or should I say, sex life was concerned, but as far as his work went, he was fanatically true to his beliefs. I don't think it was easy for either Beauvoir or Sartre to share their personal lives with the public but they did. But here, Beauvoir ranks higher. She has been more than generous about sharing the facts of her life - even after death via her adopted daughter, Sophie Le Bon de Beauvoir; whereas Sartre and his adopted daughter have been less than generous. It is a shame. We have only Beauvoir's truths about their relationship. It would be good to read Sartre's to know if they truly were in agreement.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Gilly is here

and it's early Sunday morning. She sleeps upstairs. Bedding sleeps down. The village fete is happening and the band - Rock & Roll last night - plays until around five in the morning for five days straight. As Bedding lives on the Esplanade, directly above the music, she comes to our house late evening to sleep each night. As well as the music, there's a mini-carnival with several kiddie rides and a play-the-ducks for a prize and several other slightly more sophisticated games where it's easy to lose some euros though Gill and I have little interest in these. Last night, we checked out the music and as we were not overwhelmed came home for an early night. When she wakes, we will go to St. Antonin for Sunday market.

Gillian 's First Year in France

Time moves quickly. Gill arrived Thursday evening. We drive home from the airport and she tells me that some of the happiest moments in her life were spent in Castelnau. We have been coming to the village for seventeen years. This picture was taken our first year here when the villagers called her a "mignon" meaning adorable. (She was/is.) Many still recognize her and yell out "bonjour Gigi" when they spot her. My daughter makes me smile. We live easily together no matter where. It's easy to love someone who loves you.

Yesterday, Gill walked down to the lake, while I wrote. I have moved on from "A Dutiful Daughter" to "Tete-a-Tete: The Tumultuous Lives & Loves of Simone de Beauvoir & Jean-Paul Sartre." I like the biographer's - Hazel Rowley - style. She intersperses story with quotes. She too was greatly influenced by Beauvoir. She clarifies the Sartre/Beauvoir relationship, taking it from an ideal realm to a less-than-ideal one that weighed them both down, depressing one or the other - sometimes at the same time, sometimes at different times. From Beauvoir's memoirs, Rowley tells the underlying existential philosopy of Beauvoir's life and "marriage" to Sartre: We cannot expect another person to save us. "As individuals we are free, and we act in 'bad faith' when we try to avoid our feedom. It is not easy, freedom. It brings with it the anguish of choice. It comes with the burden of responsibility."

I am struggling with this novel of mine. But I am determined to write it. I remind myself over and over that what I am doing is still a draft and I can take any liberty I want - and I am. I have also slowed down a bit in an attempt not to be a lazy writer or a glib one. Beauvoir keeps me on track.

On Monday, I will receive the quote for the work that we want done on the house. Finally. And then there will be other choices to be made.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


Clare et Jean-Francois Sunday lunch

Today is a little too hot for comfort and still, I drove in the heat, past field after field of grape vines (apparently they are suffering this year) to the small town of Cestayrols to enjoy a meal with friends. (Jean-Francois in the foreground of the first picture was my neighbour many years ago and he is one of the most joyful men I have ever met. And the kindest - though he insists I speak French in France. It's good for me although I have to simplify all my thoughts and sometimes feel like a child.)

I look happy in the picture. And lunch was a pleasure but as soon as it was over, I returned to feeling anxious, restless, frustrated. And unfortunately, I am unsure of the reason. Or perhaps I'm simplifying things too much and it's more than one thing that's bothering me. Last night I tossed and turned and got very little sleep.

I was able to find my last guests a hotel in the next town for the night that they wanted to stay chez moi and thankfully, they did not seem upset. I told them the truth - that this is the only stretch of time I have alone and I need it. Good lesson for me. Makes me wonder why I was in such angst about disappointing them - though 2 women I know said that they would not have had the courage to say no after they had said yes.

I have been working on my novel and lately am so discouraged that I want to throw it in the garbage. I was talking to Susan about it last night, saying something to the effect that the story I want to write has many levels and it's coming out too simple and worse, I'm using cliches.

She reminded me of three things: 1. This is only my second shitty draft. 2. Cliches can be effective. 3. Writing is hard work. She told me about walking with Lyn, a fellow writer in this town, and saying almost the same thing to Lyn as I had just said to her - that she felt she was simplifying her story too much. And Lyn asked, "Are you a lazy writer?" This helped Susan and, in turn, me. As much as I would like my muse to take my hand and guide the pen, it ain't going to happen: I have to do the work.

At present, I'm reading "A Dutiful Daughter," which is a delight partially because it fell into my hands by accident when I was sixteen or seventeen and is the first book that I am aware of that changed my world-view. I read it now from that perspective, trying to understand why it made such a deep impact on me. I am impressed that from an early age, Beauvoir believed in her own intelligence and uniqueness and was willing to defy her parents, or lie to them, to do as she pleased - whether it was reading forbidden books or strolling in the evening with a male companion though at the same time, she tried to keep the peace. I envy her industriousness and her curiosity. She never stopped working - reading and writing - and never felt less or inferior to fellow male students - more often, she felt superior. But what appeals to me the most now - and perhaps did in my youth - that she refused to be stifled or repressed, that she was working toward that moment when she would be free of restrictions of her original home.

In the foreward of my 2005 edition, Hazel Rowley discusses the difficulty Beauvoir had in writing this memoir. She feared the reaction of her family and friends. Sartre encouraged her, "Screw up your courage." And several weeks before it was to be published, Beauvoir wrote in her journal: "I do feel uneasy - almost remorseful - when I think of all the people I brought into it and who'll be furious." (According to Rowley, Beauvoir's mother was "hurt and mortified" by this telling of the family secrets.)

Sartre and Beauvoir spent a great deal of time discussing their friends, dissecting them, noting their moments of rebelliousness and compliance - "They saw these as defining moments, which reflected fundamental choices." According to Beauvoir and Sartre, choice necessitates action. (As an example, Rowley says "it is not interesting to want to write a book: you have to actually write one."

I like this idea of action - have believed in its necessity for a long time. And yet I am often too afraid to act. Sometimes I conquer this fear. At other times, I make excuses for myself. But I'm getting better at it - often with a little help from my friends. (I wonder if Beauvoir would have written her autobiographies without Sartre's encouragement.)

Enough. I'm tired. Or perhaps it's the heat.