Sunday, April 22, 2007

Time flies: I see another week has passed and I am becoming anxious about a number of issues. (I have changed my return flight to Vancouver to May 9th to try and deal with some.) I also feel guilt that I have not written a thoughtful blog for quite some time.

In a sense I've been hibernating - is that the right word? - perhaps better to say that I am on retreat. I wish to think about my life alone for a time. I do not want conversation. I want to leave "the argument and jargon in a room" and sit and think about "the many-lived, unending/ forms in which [I] find [myself]. (Transcendental Etudes)

Silence allows me to follow my thoughts more closely to their conclusion - or to see there is no conclusion. No one else is allowed a word. I want to know that what comes from me is truly mine. Though after writing this, I wonder if I have ever had an original thought. The majority of my ideas comes from books. (Or I only trust my ideas after I have read them by another author. I would like to stop this. I want to trust myself here and now.)

I find it easier to think clearly in France, outside my own culture but, after a week in Northern Ireland, I am reminded that I am a mix of two cultures. I have lived most of my life in Canada but I was raised by two people who still cling to the values of their native land. Although Maxine Hong Kingston comes from a more complicated background than mine, I feel as she does: "I continue to sort out what's just my childhood, just my imagination, just my family, just the village, just movies, just living."

I was a dutiful daughter. (I thought this might be a good first sentence for my novel, inspired by Simone de Beauvoir's first autobiography. She was the first writer to put ideas into my head - in other words, to lead me astray.)

With this idea, I began to research "the beaver" as Sartre called her. I found some disturbing information. She and Sartre were not saints: they were mean-spirited, catty even. They used people. They had love affairs with many and told each other all the juicy details in accord with Sartre's "transparency" requirement for their relationship or "soul marriage" as one reviewer called it. But I am regurgitating his conclusion. He rejects the theory that their relationship was "a post-patriarchal partnership of equals... an open marriage" and insists that "[t]he affairs with other people formed the very basis of their relationship."

For the most part, Sartre went after pretty, insecure women and Beauvoir went after pretty, insecure women and strong men. And, shocking to me, they didn't always tell the whole truth to the other. So much for transparency...

Once upon a time, I knew a French couple who lived in a similar fashion to this famous pair. Perhaps they still do. I have no idea.

How do I feel about Beauvoir now? I'm not sure. She is more human, less an idol. And though I find both couples' meanness to their conquests cruel, part of me still admires all four. They lived their ideas, flaunted social convention, and pushed many - myself included - to think outside the norm.

Before I started this research, I was thinking about love. I quote from my journal: "I had a flash the other night. We don't, at this time in our lives, want someone to mirror us. We want to be magnified and still found beautiful. We want to be found even more beautiful than when we were young and firm. For now, our bodies have softened to a sweet ripeness.

"This is the way I think I should think and though, on rare occasions, I like what I see in the mirror, I am more prone to say not 'how beautiful' but 'not bad.' Now what does that mean? Not bad for a woman of 58 who has had three children? But I want to leave my children out of my thoughts about love. Not because I don't love them. I do. Not because they aren't beautiful. They are. But because they are not me - though the beginning of their lives are written on my body.

"One son, not so long ago, quoted a cowboy poem to me, "The Westerner" by Badger Clark. I was impressed by the words and my son's attitude to his life. Here's the first verse:

'My fathers sleep on the sunrise plains,
And each one sleeps alone.
Their trails may dim to the grass and rains,
For I choose to make my own.
I lay proud claim to their blood and name,
But I lean on no dead kin;
My name is mine, for the praise or scorn,
And the world began when I was born
And the world is mine to win.'

"How did this son become so wise so young?

"But I don't want to talk about my (oops, our) intelligent, talented, beautiful children, I want to speak about me. My favourite subject. (I wince when I write this.) A friend told me that I write well about myself and not so well about others. (I had just written a story about her.) A French friend once gave an article about a French male whose considerable contribution to French literature were his diaries and, I thought, I could do that but would I dare?

"I think I would be a better writer if I allowed my mean thoughts to appear more often. I admire MFK Fisher's writing so much. She does not apologize for her less-than-kind thoughts. She simply states them and moves on with her story. A good lesson."

Enough of my journal. Yesterday I picked up a book of Atwood's poetry and two lines stopped me short. "The desire to be loved is the last illusion:/ Give it up and you will be free."

I spoke to Susan about love. She said that she still has a desire to love as she would like to love. I read her Atwood's two lines. And she said, yes love's all nonsense really.

What I think she meant is that we get caught up in our own fictions and if Hollis is right in "Creating a Life" that's what it's all about. We have to create our own love story. Only problem is that we have to convince another to play their part.

Big smile.

The sun is shining. I'm going for a walk.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

(oops, should have said that the old home is "falling down.")

The "Joseph John Kennedy"s: First Sons

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Auntie Isobel's Children
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.
Just a brief note to say that I'm in Northern Ireland with my large Irish family who are more than welcoming.

Kenneth, the fellow to the left, is like a brother. (He teases horribly and yet listens to my problems and takes me anywhere I want to go.) We have been driving around the last few days dropping in on our relatives. I've drunk more tea and eaten more oatmeal biscuits in the last few days than I've done in several years.

Ken lives a short distance from my grandparents old farm - now a derelict building - where my mother spent her childhood. I imagine sometimes that I am walking on the ground that she walked on, that I am seeing scenes that she once eyed. Except for one brother, all her family still live in the neighbourhood and so I wonder what I would be like if my parents hadn't emigrated. Most of my cousins live a short distance from their parents' home. Some even live next door.

How would my life be different if I was surrounded by family? Perhaps not all - Ken tells me that he's probably seen more of me in the last five years than he has any other cousin.

Friday, April 06, 2007


In Olden Days, A Glimpse of Stocking

In a moment of self-indugence - on my birthday evening - I took this picture of my new shoes and shawl. I had a wonderful day, thanks in large part to my daughter. In the evening, I went to Puycelsi with Susan, David, and Bedding to the new hotel and enjoyed the elegant setting, delicious lamb, creme brulee (don't be too jealous, Gill), an excellent vintage from a local chateau, and my friends indulged me with poetry.

Since then I have been writing and cleaning - such a wholesome combination. My house is rented as of this evening and I am going to Northern Ireland to be coddled by my wonderfully warm, generous Irish cousins, aunts, and uncles. (There are now direct flights from Toulouse to Belfast with Jet2, a low cost airline. I'll report back later on the quality of service but for 119 euros return, I can hardly complain.)

This past week, I have also experienced a number of frustrations. At one point, I actually thought "fuck France, I don't want to be here any more." Oh yes, it is still breathtakingly beautiful. The food and wine are still superb. I still have friends who love me and I am still reminded daily of the kindness of strangers.

But to get anything done, when one doesn't speak the language fluently, doesn't understand the rules and legal ramifications of property ownership, is difficult and more - very expensive.

Although I had to go to Toulouse twice to sort out problems that could have been solved on the telephone but couldn't by me because I could not understand the list of instructions in the opening message of France Telecom's helpline, we now have hi-speed internet. I have not quite worked out how to go wireless but I will when I return from N.I. I will. Hopefully.

My major frustration has to do with the house, this house, with its beautiful new space.

We were offered another house on the edge of the village with a balcony and terrace and a salon (that is ideal for writing workshops) that is completely and beautifully finished at a good price. We - Rob and I have been discussing this by telephone and email - decided to go for it. Rob went to our bank in Vancouver and it is more than willing to lend us the money until our present house sells. We thought since the other house is smaller, we might have an even trade. We did not take into account the French capital gains tax.

I will not go into the amount of work that it has taken to understand our situation. I did find a French notaire (lawyer) who speaks English through a series of inquires and she told me that as our house is owned by our company (the worst possible scenario) that we have to pay 33.33% of the profit to capital gains tax. It gets worse. Because it is company owned, the house is depreciated by 2% a year so every year we own it, we pay more tax. And unlike personal owners, we cannot deduct the cost of improvements. As a company, we also have to appoint a tax representative who charges 1% of the profit. Or is the selling price?

I asked if the company could sell us the house and then we could sell it. No. We would still have to pay capital gains as we would have to charge ourselves the going price. I spoke to our accountant in Vancouver who had owned property in France. He said, "You have got yourself into a pickle. Sell now." He advised me to see an accountant and named the firm "KPMG" who he had dealt with before.

I found this accounting firm on the internet. It is international, offered a choice of languages, and looked highly respectable if one can judge by a website. I noted that they have a branch in Toulouse but the Toulouse website is in French. As I was going to see France Telecom in the city anyway, I decided I would drop into this office, compare it to its website, and hopefully be able to have a few words with an English-speaking accountant or make an appointment.

After walking miles to find it, I reached an impressive looking building, entered one stately wood and glass door, through a second, to face the receptionist who looked intelligent and efficient enough, sitting behind a long counter and who turned out to be one of the rudest people I have ever met. (If I were in charge of this firm, I'd fire her.)

She looked inquiringly as I approached. No smile. I apologized, in French, for arriving without an appointment but I wondered if it was possible to speak briefly with an English-speaking accountant. She did not respond. She took a white piece of paper, stamped it with the company address and phone number and told me, in French, to call for an appointment. I looked at the piece of paper - the address and phone number were blurred - and I explained to her that it was difficult for me to telephone as I didn't speak the language well. "English," she said. "Canadian. Could I not make an appointment now as I'm here?" "Non, telephone."

So I left, feeling insulted and thought I do not want to use that firm. I also wondered if I should contact the main branch of KPMG in Paris and then wondered if such a small matter as a rude secretary would matter to them.

I do not want to leave France without answers to many questions re the buying and selling of property, without making a decision one way or the other (with Rob, of course.) I had a real estate agent in yesterday so we will know better what to do.

I apologize for going on at length about this but it has been a major concern keeping me away from more important matters.

So wish me well. I will probably not blog again until I return to France.

(some friends are not getting my latest posts so I will try here to republish)