Thursday, October 01, 2020

In Memory of Happier Days

Watercolor of the kitchen garden behind our apartment in France

 First of all, I (Donis) want to say "Welcome, welcome, Douglas!"

Second,  I was going to write about writing today, but after watching last night's "debate", I am in a mood. We don't want to go into what kind of mood that is. I remember an incident from 1968, when I was a fiery young thing; my grandmother, who lived through 2 world wars, the 1918 epidemic, death, divorce, and the Great Depression, said to me, "I've seen some hard times in this country, but I've never seen anything like this." I wonder what she'd say now? I'm not a young thing any more. I've been through my own crap. This is not the atmosphere I wanted to spend my Golden Years in.

I find myself thinking about better times, when the United States was looked upon with admiration by many in the rest of the world. In July 1969, a girlfriend and I were in Italy when the first men landed on the moon. For the next few weeks, Italians and other random Europeans would stop us on the street as soon as they realized we were Americans and offer their congratulations.

On one trip to Yorkshire, my husband and were followed around by a bunch of kids who were fascinated to meet actual Americans.

A few years after the moon landing, my husband and I lived for a brief time in a beautiful little town in southern France called Cagnes-sur-Mer. Cagnes sits on the Mediterranean coast almost exactly between Nice and Cannes, and was at one time the home of Auguste Renoir. Which may tell you something about its portrait-worthiness.

We rented a little apartment on the second floor of a building about one block from the beach. I say “beach”, which technically I suppose it is, but do not envision sunny stretches of golden sand. The beach was made up of rocks. Perfectly polished round or ovoid black rocks just big enough to fit in the palm of your hand, smoothed by the sea and tide. Pretty in their own way, but after sitting on them for a while, one ended up with an interesting pocky pattern on one's behind. The beach also seemed to be clothing-optional, but that's another story.

We had no television in our little two room apartment - a living/sleeping area and a well-stocked kitchen. Very French. Don and I spent delightful days cooking, painting, and wandering. The little market down the street is the first place I ever saw Yoplait and Nutella. Don spoke fair French but at the time I did not. After a few weeks, though, I could get around fairly well, especially at the market where I could ask for une otre chau with the best of them.

Often we went down to the beach and watched people harvest mussels from the rocks while we read or drew. Some days we would walk up the long hill to the Haute de Cagnes, where a gold-colored 14th Century Grimaldi castle dominates the town. Once a week, we would hop on the train and make the 20 minute ride into Nice to spend the day. My husband is an art lover, with an art history degree and several years experience running an art library. So we saw every art show that came through, and there were plenty. I got quite an education in French art of all eras, but especially Post-Impressionism. The day in Nice always ended with a stroll down the Promenade des Anglaise and a visit to the English-American Library near the Anglican Church on the Rue de France, where we would check out as many books as we were allowed. I loved that library. We developed a relationship with the volunteer librarian, an Englishwoman whose name I unfortunately cannot remember. She told me that the library had been in business continuously since the 1820s, except for a few years during World War II, when the local Nazi commander ordered it closed since it was a meeting place for the resistance. In response, patrons began to spirit books out of the building, and after the war the library reopened with what they had saved. The librarian also told me that the official who had ordered the library closed made away with a boxcar-load of books for his own personal collection. They thought those books were lost forever until the rail car, books and all, was located on a siding outside of Lyon after the Germans left France.

Nostalgia may not be useful in correcting our current difficulties, but sometimes I find myself escaping back to happier times just to give myself a break!


Anna said...

Donis, what a lovely respite! (Well written, too, but that goes with the territory.) Thanks!

Linda Landis Olson said...

Lovely memories. I could “see” what you wrote about. Thank you for posting.

Thomas Kies said...

What a nice break from everything that's going on right now.

Tanya said...

Donis, thanks so much for the beautiful account of your time in the French village. Many of us are trying to find beauty and kindness to focus on in these crazy times, and your post transports us and accomplishes that. Thank you.

Donis Casey said...

Thank you, all! Sometimes I get homesick for the past like it was a place... At least you can go back to the past in your daydreams.