…is the only game in town, on this late winter Saturday morning. La Fontenoy, my usual haunt when up in the vieux village, has remained resolutely closed for almost a week now. Not even a handwritten sign on the door indicates when Madame might return. Mick is down on the Route Napoléon, getting his hair cut. At my suggestion that I sit and wait for him at the bar two doors down from the barber shop, his eyebrows shoot up in horror: “That’s not a place for ladies.” (How lovely, after all this time, to still be considered one.) And so here I am, huddled over a cup of coffee admittedly superior to what might be had in the mancave on the avenue, grateful for the steady beat of rain drowning out the generic pop music on the radio. I am in sole possession of the terrace, of a view which has grown necessary to me over the last two years. I let my eye be drawn, first to the splash of purple irises bordering the road below, then out and across the valley to where the hills should be. Their incised slopes, so dramatic beneath a surprise blanket of snow last week, have disappeared behind veils of mist and grey rain. Exposed houses dot the hillside; the headlamps of cars flash as they wind their way towards Grasse, Chateauneuf, Opio: villages whose names once seemed alien to me but which now trace the boundaries of my day to day.
A moment of suspension. Unaware of any hook or snag of consciousness, no doubts plague me; my ever-attendant sense of exile stands mercifully apart. There is only the rain, the pen, its movement across the page, and I care little if what spins out is cliché, or even if, on some other page, at a café across some other ocean, I have recorded the sensation before. It is not that there is no past, no future, but rather that both are held in gentle check. My gaze is clear, unimpeded. It delights in the fall of icy water from a drain spout, the artful way in which a copper air vent is framed by bare vine curving against a stone wall. I do dip into the past, for a moment, find Mr. Barnes hanging farm implements with precise care next to a Matisse, a Sisley, a Signac. But the thought simply rises, without the spur of regret. For once there is only pleasure in the fact that these memories go with me, make me who I am.
“Never mind. Arrange whatever pieces come your way. Never be unseated by the shying of that undependable brute, life…”
— Virginia Woolf, in a diary entry for Saturday 5 September 1925.
— amrh / February 2014, Mougins