As of yesterday, it is Fall, and just the tiniest sliver of moon rose last night in the western sky. Abigail’s comment, following a sharp dramatic intake of breath:“It looks just like a movie!” I realized with a tinge of chagrin that she meant the moon from which the little boy sits fishing at the start of Dreamworks productions. An earlier generation knew to be thrilled by each new appearance of the MGM Lion (born, as we now know, in the zoo of Dublin, Ireland.) My children’s generation can’t see a rising moon without being drawn into Spielberg's world.
We all find our enchantments where we can. For me, there's no place like home.
I spent most of the day padding back and forth around the tile and stone second floor of Bastide de la Loge. To say that I am idle these days might suggest a degree of activity somewhat beyond what actually takes place. Instead, I was like an old cat: I found a patch of sunlight and just lounged in it. I left you yesterday on the first floor, and we hadn’t yet mounted the stairs. Today I’ll continue our slow strip tease (still strictly rated R-E for explicit scenes of real-estate.) Those of you who have bought your tickets to come and visit, you can start picking out your bedrooms as you read. If you haven't yet, start trolling the low fares on Expedia and get your keester over to see us. We miss you.
We begin at the end of the house, after the salon with the big long table and about a quadrillion old novels, children's school art projects, and then the Wall of Movies. The films here are mostly for the VCR, almost entirely in English, both original and bootlegged versions. Here someone with amazing taste has collected all the absolute greats, lite version: Rushmore, Prizzi’s Honor, The Apartment, When Harry Met Sally, When We Were Kings. Only The Princess Bride seems to be missing, but I haven't looked hard enough to be sure. Above that room are two sets of stairs. One heads further towards the north, straight up to a library built over the side of the hill.
The library has an enormous square desk and is filled with books that provide an excellent education in The Good Life, British expat version. There is a deep and wide section on gardening: The Concise British Flora in Color, Suttons Encyclopedia of Vegetables and Guide Des Arbres at Abustes. There are four shelves just on cooking: Modern Cookery for Private Families, With Bold Knife and Fork, of course Julia Child's masterpieces, and then the Guide du Fromage. One section fills us in on the history and culture of France: Everyman’s France, The Golden Rivera, and Les Folles Du Music-Hall. Another section is just stacked up maps and books on travel: Venice, Tuscany, Spain, South America, Patagonia. Huge coffee-table size books stand ready to educate any willing reader on interior decorating in Provence and Morocco. There is an enormously large section on art, with extra-large shelves. Another section speaks only of film.
There are five shelves of Children’s books, heavy on the Roald Dahl and Eloise series. Old fashion (As opposed to old-fashioned) magazines. Then novels galore -- again, not the heavy and impressive high-school-curriculum classics, but stuff you would love to read by a beach for the next hundred and fifty years. There is a robust grouping of vinyl records, tending away from the things I like, and more towards Verdi and obscure 70's pop groups. There are also dozens of novels and nonfiction referring to the sailing life, then logbooks, filled with pictures and postcards, from a yacht sailing the Mediterranean in the early 1960’s. The man in the photographs looks exactly like the author of a published memoir, of which several score copies occupy a bottom shelf. I have yet to determine whether the author is the owner’s late father or late husband; it seems impertient to ask. The collection has a depth and specificity that speaks directly to the soul of the house’s owner (as most collections of books are wont to do, whether or not the owner knows how loudly the books – or lack therof – speak of his or her character and proclivities.)
No history. No politics. No theory. No pesky high-toned ideas whatsoever; just high style. There is no pointless collection of books from an abandoned PhD, like the security-blanket ones I keep that clutter up our house back home. Just things that you might read in order better to understand, to improve and to enjoy your garden, your kitchen, your children, your sailing vessel, your immediate surroundings and the more fabulous corners of the wide world. If you need a key to the contents and the form of life embodied in the house, you would only start reading the books in this room.
Why do I love this library so much? Well, in part because of the peculiar way in which it is dated. So much of what is here has since evaporated as culturally significant, and remains so only within the clutch of memory. While the world has moved on and gone digital, this trove of slowly molding paper brings the reader straight back into the years just before I joined the human race and into the time I was busy paying attention to other matters, like The Brady Bunch, David Cassidy, 4-H projects, cute boys and pre-calculus.
There is something deeply mysterious about exploring things from the decade before you were born. Or maybe it is just so for me, born five days into the (generally superlame) 1970’s. I missed the 1960’s, time when Every Single Cool Thing Happened, by just five days. So when I get to a place that is resonant of all the storied things that happened back then it brings out a certain romantic and wistful longing. Back at my grandparents' houses I would pore over the yearbooks with pictures of my mother’s P.E. classes, black and white snapshots of my Aunt’s trip to Japan, photos of a pool party with all the women in long Pucci-inspired print dresses, or old color prints of my Dad’s Corvette. Here at Bastide de la Loge, I am visiting someone else’s romantic family history – someone else’s grandmother’s wild times way back when.
On with the tour. Next we’ll walk back down the library steps, then immediately up to the floor of bedrooms and bathrooms un and deux. Off to the left of the stairs is a bathroom with a big green bathtub. It has lots of Victorian-era futsy stuff, including a pink china plate reminding anyone who reads it to “Prepare to Meet Thy Maker.” Apparently that is how one should think about the whole nightly tooth-brushing, flossing and going pee ritual. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord finds me adequately groomed.
The rest of floor two consists of two big bedrooms flanking what is possibly the world’s most awesome bathroom. Abigail is sleeping in the first bedroom, with its big circular mirror, a table holding her American Girls representing various times in history, and a desk already strewn with her art supplies and tiny bits of cut up paper. It is hung with a remarkably dark and arresting painting of a woman, naked to the waist, with a red bow in her hair. In many ways, the room is too old for her, but since it is the one closest to me, she won't get lost making her way to find me in the dark during those nights when she can't let herself go back to sleep.
And then you walk through yet another not-quite 90 degree doorway into the room I would most like to take back home with me, if it weren’t so darn enormous. It’s about triple the size of my old office at work, and serves as a bathroom/sitting room/ dressing room with a big old tub between two western-facing windows, a heavy square tub, and a bidet (poetically described by Bill as “the ass bath,”) and a big tiled shower with white filigreed carved wood on each side. There is an enormous walk-in closet, as well as tons of built in shelves. Sorry folks, I’ve already claimed this bathroom for myself for the time being, although when you visit I’ll let you take a quick peek.
The art is what makes it so special. There are gracefully posed women and their beautiful breasts everywhere on the walls of the room. A woman and a bowl of goldfish. A woman lying on her back, dreaming. A woman burying her face in the shoulder of someone who looks a lot like John Lennon, but with square glasses instead of round. A Joseph-Cornell inspired box with a young girl in the background and sacred objects placed in the foreground. Hanging on the wall behind the sink there is a mirror the size of a foursquare court, ringed with iron vines lit up by lightbulbs. It's as though one of those backstage mirrors with all the lights grew to six times its original size and then sprouted metal greenery. Big painted Moroccan-themed doors on the plain old shelves where I stacked up my t-shirts and socks. It is a room that makes me feel that I should be a lot grander than I really am. Perhaps I'll just keep practicing.
And then, just past the bathroom, our bedroom. Big bed with square pillows and yellow sheets. Stone mantel over the fireplace. Huge armoire on the wall, and a University-library sized oak table at the foot of the bed. Our storied decorator has used a crazy-quilt theme in selecting the art here, and it includes a puffy quilted sculpture of a man sailing a boat. A twelve-pointed metal star covers the light in the ceiling. But my favorite element is the puffy soft loveseat, covered in a heavy orange Moroccan blanket. Yesterday, when Grace was having a particularly wicked bout of homesickness, she stayed home from school and she and I sat on the loveseat most of the afternoon, reading Harry Potter back and forth to each other.
One more step through the oddly-angled door and I'm back in the hallway overlooking the entryway with all the art. At the top of the stairs is a lady's writing desk. I say lady even though I never really use that word to describe real women. But this desk is all lady all the time. It is here that I have stacked my own books full of your addresses, your phone numbers, your emails, my tethers back to home. There is a telephone where you can call me, and I can look out over the mountains while you tell me about your trip to Connecticut Muffin, your walk in Prospect Park, your afternoon in the blueberry patch, your trials and irritations at work. Without these sacred texts an their scribbled letters and numbers to connect me to earth, I might float away like an errant hot-air-balloon. And as much as I am enjoying this time away from the world I know, I very much like to keep at least one line firmly attached to the ground.