I pass on the pizza, having just eaten a feast from the potager: courgette, potato, feta and mint galettes, tomato salad and plum crumble. During lockdown I treated the ailing plum tree with bordelaise and have been rewarded with kilos of delicious fruit. Older son suggests pickling some in vodka for Christmas.
Bathed in evening sun, the golden stone houses of this French village would make a good film set. With a rare talent for gathering people, our host dispenses wine and pizza to a circle of friends and strangers, teachers, immigrant roofers, holiday makers, divorced mothers, a supermarket manager and a psychiatrist specialising in autism.
After adding 70 hours of interviews to Digital Theatre’s archives, Fiona Lindsay writes “Access to the arts isn’t a treat or a luxury. Arts education is a life long lesson, an education in how to be in the world. Thank you to all of the with theatre makers who took part. We bow with appreciation and respect”
More than 400 years ago Ben Jonson wrote “fortune (..) favours fools” and “apes are apes though clothed in scarlet” and “language most shows a man”. What fun Shakespeare’s satirical contemporary would have had with the thrice-wed, scandal-plagued US President and the self-deluding, morally blind bands of evangelicals who steadfastly support him.
I go back into the house and chose a different book. After weeks in the company of refugees from Nazi Germany, first in France then England, I’m reading Isabel Allende’s account of refugees from the Spanish Civil War. It’s harrowing. I pick up an Anna Gavalda instead.
An hour after browsing websites, I’m little the wiser. Who puts these things together? And who translates them?! Instead, I’ll pack a book, lunch and towel and drive towards blobs of blue on an old-fashioned tatty paper fold-out map.
Summers here are insanely hot and I like nothing more than to be in, on or by water. Our neighbours all have pools but have never offered to share, so I’m setting off to find a swimming lake or river. The Tourist Office lists a place where I can canoe. Only all the photos are of people horse jumping…
I’ve lived in this part of France for almost a decade but don’t really know it well. Holidays being out of the question, I decide this weekend to discover what’s on my doorstep and check various websites. Apparently there’s a planetarium. Open only for two months a year. But not at weekends.
Oddly, vertigo isn’t a problem despite this almond tree’s age, fragility and poor state of health. It’s swaying madly as up and up I climb, balancing on thin gnarled branches trying to reach the almonds. Most of the fruit thought remains out of reach, as it does on the plum tree.
I don’t want to die in this house, she said. We laugh. A life of travelling is far from over, countless adventures still lie ahead. One year on, we’re standing in the same kitchen, crying. I hug her, hold her tight. Only the fact that she lives here, where medical care is excellent, gives hope.
I stare, relieved professionalism wins out and I manage to hide my amazement at finding myself looking into the face of a young man whose family were on Franco’s side. Franco who, backed by fascists, Hitler, Mussolini, American bombs, Moors, propaganda and the Catholic Church, won the Spanish Civil War.
I can picture so clearly standing in the tiny courtyard, phone in one hand, fingers of the other stroking the silver-grey leaves of a pot-bound olive tree. 6000 miles away she says “it’s so hard, knowing what you want in life.” I’m surprised. Amazed. Question her statement. And have thought of it every day of the 9 years since she died.
My son phones after another day working in an old people’s home. Monday meant laying out a woman of 101 who’d died, her supply of happiness long since exhausted. Today he leaned over and said to another sad, elderly inmate “I’m just going to change you”. Oh, she said. I hoped you had come to help me die.
Exiled in France, Charlotte Salomon was driven to paint against a family background of secrets, suicides and the Third Reich. In Charlotte, David Foenkinos has written a homage to an artist he adores, an artist murdered, aged 26, newly married and five months pregnant, in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
The concept is brilliant: two bickering actors and their ineffectual director, unable to rehearse a Pirandello play during lockdown, revert to Zoom. Endlessly squabbling, David Tennant and Michael Sheen drag their families and a starry lineup of guests into an absurd piece of small screen meta-theatre, a surprisingly entertaining piece of pandemic TV.
When Edward Enninful turns up to work, a security guard tells him to “use the loading bay” the appalling assumption being, because Enninful is black, he’s here to deliver goods. Enninful, known for his “edgy elegance” does not dress like a delivery van man. Former model, fashion editor at 18 Enninful has, since 2017, been Editor-in-Chief of British Vogue.
Ants have hollowed out an apple tree. Beetles bore the plum. Flies devour olives, starlings figs, slugs lettuces, aphids beans, lizards strawberries. Soaring temperatures shrivel raspberries, something’s rotting the almonds; spider mites, maggots, mildew. Bindweed, a horticultural version of Sars-Cov-2. Dreams of organic self-sufficiency dim.
I made a list of things that make me happy and it was very long. My laptop wasn’t on it, though most of each day is spent staring at its screen. A lifeline, yes but I nostalgically remember times before emails and texts when friendships, like music, were live, books printed on paper, films enjoyed in art house cinemas.
Young and old, most people I know clasp their phones, even when invited out to meals. People watch on their phones, have affairs on their phones, divorce by text, celebrate pandemic birthdays on phones, work and make love on their phone. Now people die on relatives’ phones, are mourned and buried on screens.
The terrible finality of death hits hard. Can it be that he is dust? Will I never see his face again? Never see him smile or hear his laugh? I can’t imagine it. Nor this world without him, his larger-than-life presence, his, wit, his charm. Can someone so alive have ceased to be?