At the sound of others waking up in the house above, I picked up Mavis Gallant's From the Fifteenth District, a collection of short stories I'd owned since at least the 'eighties. The night before, I'd finished Pagnol's My Father's Glory, a charming remembrance of his childhood in the south of France, but didn't feel like starting the nonetheless anticipated pleasure of his second half, My Mother's Castle, so soon. So a hand to the bookshelf brought out the Gallant, also about that part of Europe but in the hard period during and after the war. The contrast between the two couldn't be sharper, but the French film maker Pagnol's views are so artfully witty, that the interior tensions of the Canadian expatriate Gallant's were their own draw.
This is all the review of them I'm going to get into, I promise. I'm just saying that I am in the mood these days to spend a lot of time imagining life, for better or worse, in the south of Europe with large dollops of Paris on the side. (My read before Pagnol has been The Paris Hours, a novel by Alex George, that filled that criterion topically if not as satisfying.) If the world weren't so closed off, I'd probably get on a plane and head there now.
I wonder why, this minute, I feel that pull. There are so many unknown places I have yet to explore. Certainement, I have loved my small trips to Paris and to Aix, to the Luberon and the southern coast, mais oui, absolument. Watching a film last night, which happened to be subtitled in French, I found myself reading those phrases more than hearing the English...it startled me how that language was suddenly gelling after my years of clumsy trial.
I guess that in these days of at least partial isolation the pleasure of those freeing journeys outside oneself rise up not so much out of memory but out of sensual instinct. You can hardly blame me for my wanderings that recall what my spirit seems to need right now. That lovely painted cover of Gallant's book has me placing myself in it, the broad-brimmed-hatted woman at the cafe table, a wine in hand, waiting for nothing in particular. (I could, in fact, be outside on the terrace here among the roses with a glass of wine, my pink hat on the table, waiting for nothing in particular, but I am guessing it would be second best.)
Back in reality, there is still a lot of pleasure in this lovely small place...a kind of substitute, it occurred to me the other day, for that wonderful Aix Airbnb Mary Ellen and I stayed in last summer...
I'm not, I'm sorry to say, any use digging, discovering, rolling and placing boulders, but give me a plant to insert or leaves and ivy to remove or weeds to pull or branches to cut up for the dump, and there I am. Poking around in the garden is one thing I have missed since I've taken up apartment life, so it's nice to have that chance to cultivate earth only a few blocks hence. And also to be a small part of the evolution of that nondescript front slope into something more definite than I could have imagined, though goodness knows I tried to while I lived there.
There's that word again: so much of life nowadays seems lived at once in immediate need (for health, for safety, for supplies, for closeness) and in the imagination.
Reading, for me at least, takes on its own necessity. This time it's not so much a good plot or interesting characters or fine language; it's the sense of a certain place, one I could recognize in a stretch of recollection (to borrow from Wordsworth), or of wish, an other-world that I seek (and no, I don't mean alien life on Mars). I want to travel again to the certain pleasure those former places retain for me.
What a difference from last year, when my imagined itinerary insisted on places I hadn't been before, places that would widen my knowing the world, footfall by footfall exploring. The world still shrinks more and more, even when we can't get to it, but somehow it is the sense of, and the memory of, travel that I want to find between those pages these days.
Reading has after all been, since I was a child and first learned the power of placement words evoked, a kind of traveling out from wherever I was. I could get lost somewhere and still come out again. I could be someone, somewhere else if I wasn't easy with who or where I was. (It's the same story a lot of readers would tell.) Here again, in a closed up world, I'm traveling through pages by necessity. Or call it yearning, if you wish...you wouldn't be far off.
Ah. I see I am rambling a bit. Be well, all.