Knole

“One had a sense of links fished up into the light which are usually submerged.”
— Virginia Woolf, after visiting Knole, 23 January 1927

"A detailed close up of the great chimneypiece and overmantel in the Ballroom at Knole." (c) NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel. No copyright infringement intended. Image found in the National Trust's Works In Print Catalogue: https://worksinprint.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/030-001-19-knole-sevenoaks-kent.jpg

“A detailed close up of the great chimneypiece and overmantel in the Ballroom at Knole. ” (c) NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel. Image found at the National Trust’s Works In Print Web site: http://catalogue.worksinprint.com/p195927125/h5726b1f4#h5726b1f4

Preview

There is a window at Knole, a house with three hundred and sixty-five rooms: a room for every day of the year, they say, so many it’s rumoured that some remain unmapped.

This window is not grand. It does not glow with gold-tinted light. Nor does it command a prospect high above gallery or dining hall, presiding over brightly painted rams and leopards, pale gentle-faced courtiers and caryatid Medusæ, all the guardians of this noble house. No, this window nestles in the angle made by the join of landing and wall of a lesser member of Knole’s complement of fifty-two staircases.

I found it behind a door I’m not sure I was supposed to open. Its dove-grey walls came as a relief after the vibrant explosion of colour and texture in the public rooms. Through the window clear sunlight fell so softly that it did not carry any distance, but rather halted just past the frame. In this still place, where even the dust motes fell quietly, as if conscious of making too much noise, I sensed grace waiting for me, patiently but without fanfare, as is its nature. Unsure how much time I had before the inevitable arrival of guard or beadle, I stopped to rest my cheek on the stone sill of the casement.

“Casement.” Here is a word out of Tennyson, belonging to storybook princesses or one of Mrs. Radcliffe’s beleaguered heroines. As is tradition, my casement was narrow, mullioned, the glass within the frame bubbled and puckering. Together we gazed imperfectly out onto an interior courtyard, a view shared by similar casements scattered almost at random across a triangle of walls. Far below me, at the heart of this secret, an ashen figure crouched atop a knotty pedestal. The distorted buckle of the glass kept the image from coalescing into a nameable whole. Fountain, statue, remnants of both, collapsing into each other or propped together for storage, it was impossible to say. What is certain is that the arrangement had been forgotten. Or rather, that it existed out of time.

In my memory there are no doors onto the courtyard. The rational part of my mind lazily insists that there must have been a door somewhere down there, beneath the very window at which I was standing and occluded from my sight being the most logical solution…

Ten years later, stretching out my pen, I flick this thought away, listening instead to the distant sound of a clock ticking, for there is always a clock ticking somewhere, in the rooms at Knole, and I roll my head onto my other cheek on that deep cool sill, continue to wonder when the decaying form in the courtyard below last felt the touch of a human hand.

— amrh / June 2006, Sevenoaks, Kent, and September 2015, Mougins

 

The Painted Staircase at Knole, photo by Nathaniel Lloyd (1867-1933) (viewfinder.english-heritage.org.uk) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org

The Painted Staircase at Knole, photo by Nathaniel Lloyd (1867-1933) (viewfinder.english-heritage.org.uk) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AKnole%2C_Sevenoaks%2C_Kent_(interior_view).jpg

 

At this writing, the photos of my visit to Knole are lost: either somewhere in that impossible mound I call “storage” or on a stolen cell phone. A journal entry from 2006 notes that “hardly any of the pictures I took either came out or reflect anything of what I perceived when taking them.” So perhaps their absence is for the best.

 One can happily go blind looking at photos of Knole on the Internet. In the interest of preserving your eyesight, I recommend starting with:

 the WikiMedia Commons photo set of Knole, several of which, by Nathaniel Lloyd, date to the time of Woolf’s visits in the 1920s;

the beautiful Pinhole camera series from Knole by John Sims from 2012, which comes closest to capturing the light as I remember it, albeit on a more renowned staircase:

 and finally, backstage with the Knole Conservation Team, July 2013

 

La Cave de Mougins

…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.

Mougins, Vieux Village, Late Winter 2012

Mougins, Vieux Village, Late Winter 2012

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.

Mr. Barnes' copper grille, Mougins, Vieux Village, 4 April 2014

Mr. Barnes’ copper grille, Mougins, Vieux Village, 4 April 2014

— amrh / February 2014, Mougins

Fall

She was all I could hold onto, in that moment. Her black button eye, always turned towards me; her grey feathers laid in neat scallops against her slender form. At the base of her throat a sudden flash of white: intricate, honeycombed, like an old-fashioned collar framing a pretty girl’s face. Back and forth she paraded across the terrace, her steps precise on well-formed toes, pausing only to search for crumbs between the cracks of the travertine slabs. Over and over, the same three steps, the same sharp stab of the delicate head. Behind her serried ranks of treetops melted into one another, their dying leaves gorging on the unaccustomed moisture in the chill air. Mist and wood smoke in tendrils fine as silk threaded their way through the fracturing branches. The sun, struggling with misshapen clouds, burned the back of my neck, failed to reach my bare shivering legs. At a table nearby, a man on his cell phone quietly threatened his girlfriend with a beating, his Northern Irish accent hideous, surreal.

Words drifted onto the blank page before me: sluggishly, then not at all.

This is how it starts, I thought. One minute you’re admiring the ruff on a bird’s neck, and the next she’s singing to you in Greek. The realisation, the relief at the ease with which it could be accomplished, left me almost giddy.

Rarely have I strayed so close to it, that fork in the road through the obscure wood.

I left that place, pausing only to toss towards the dove the crusts of my sandwich. Whether as a gesture to ward off evil, or in simple gratitude, I cannot say.

Trees near the Pré des Arts, Valbonne, Autumn 2012

amrh / Valbonne, October 2012

Some Modest Publicatory News

(with apologies for cross-posting)

My short piece Proserpine appeared last week in the latest volume of the Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies. It’s an electronic journal focusing on contemporary interpretations of nineteenth century culture, and this special issue revolves around children and creativity.

Julia, Leslie, and Virginia Stephen (Woolf), 1892; image via http://woolfonline.com/?q=image/tid/93&page=3, Copyright © 2006 Smith College Libraries

Proserpine is a short piece of speculative fiction about a meeting between Jane Morris, wife of William Morris and muse of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the young Virginia Stephen, who would later become Virginia Woolf. The story imaginatively engages with how a child of the late Victorian period might observe her world. It investigates the idea of Woolf as a “neo-Victorian,” tracing her Modernist sensibilities to the deep roots of her Victorian childhood. It can also be enjoyed, more simply, as a story about an unusual child who meets an equally unusual woman on a warm spring day.

Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (oil, 1874); image via http://www.rossettiarchive.org

To access Proserpine, please click here: http://www.neovictorianstudies.com/; and on the left-hand side of the page, click the heading that reads “Past Issues.” Then click on the heading for “5:1  – 2012” for the Special Issue entitled The Child in Neo-Victorian Arts and Discourse: Renegotiating 19th Century Concepts of Childhood. You’ll find Proserpine about half-way down the page. There is also, to my simultaneous horror and delight, the first critical analysis of my work in the guest editors’ introductory piece (the first essay in the table of contents).

amrh / Mougins, October 2012

A Postcard from the Shelbourne

(for Jim Murphy)

“No, it wouldn’t do living in Ireland, in spite of the rocks & the desolate bays.  It would lower the pulse of the heart: & all one’s mind wd. run out in talk.”
— Virginia Woolf, Sunday 6 May 1934, from
The Diary of Virginia Woolf:  Volume 4 1931-1935. (Ed. Anne Olivier Bell.  HBJ, 1982, p216.)

On the rare occasions when we visit Ireland, time to myself is at a premium.  Rounds of enforced sociability dissolve into great welters of talk, endless bouts of old stories and half-stale gossip.  Surely it has been observed elsewhere, by finer minds than my own, that for all their vaunted skill with words, the Irish, craftily, cannily, often say very little.  During my time as a post-graduate student, I would no doubt have “situated this strategy in a post-colonialist framework,” bloviating gleefully about “tactics of defiance” and “sub/liminal resistance to the oppressor.”  Thankfully, I no longer toil in those trenches, and so I can at last confess that, after all these years, the Irish and their blather leave me exhausted.

So I said, “I need to get out and walk in my city.”  This statement sounded odd to my ears.  After all, Galway has traditionally held that honour: a haven of turbulent waters and forgiving stone, a place whose streets I walk in my mind when I cannot sleep.  Dublin was “the big smoke,” dirty, provincial and small-minded, resistant to my advances.  On my first night there more than twenty years ago, I had wet socks thrown at me by a group of teenagers as I walked past a piece of public sculpture popularly known as “The Hoor in the Sewer.”  But via some slow-moving alchemy of time and deeper acquaintance, it appears that Dublin has waited to me for grow into it, like a coat waiting patiently in a wardrobe for the end of childish days.

Much of my pleasure in the city rests in its agreeable tangle of streets.  Resisting the relentless urban sprawl to its west and south, the heart of Dublin remains essentially intact, a tightly packed warren of medieval alleys and odd byways.  Their names, ranging from the matter-of-fact to the happily ridiculous, are never less than evocative: Lamb Alley and Mutton Lane, Little Ship Street, Carman’s Hall, Fishamble, Fumbally, Fade.  Whenever I wander in Dublin, I am convinced that history is uniquely close here, that the ghosts of its people and of the city itself can be glimpsed as if through shaded glass.  Stand long enough in the narrow curve of Grafton Street and you will see Yeats and Maud Gonne talking to each other animatedly, oblivious to the stares of those passing by; an enormous hound, his brindled fur the same colour as Gonne’s leonine eyes, crouches at her feet. Wait a little longer and Mr. LeFanu might hurry past, on his way home from work to his house in nearby Merrion Square, turning a phrase from Swedenborg in his mind as he watches the bleeding edge of twilight above St. Stephens Green.

Today, however, there would be no stroll for me through the grounds of Trinity College, no quiet orbit round the ambulatory of Christ Church to halt at the casketed heart of St. Laurence O’Toole.  On this particular afternoon at the fag-end of the year 2011, many of my familiar haunts were closed.  Caught between Mammon and the last gasp of Catholicism, the city seemed in uneasy truce with itself.  Grafton Street alone was on the offensive.  Those who could were spending, and those who couldn’t were doing it anyway, with an air of brittle defiance.  Small groups of Asian tourists braced themselves against waves of Northside brassers, dressed unseasonably but predictably in jean shorts, fishnets, and knockoff Converse low tops, overwhelmed by shopping bags and legging it for the bus.  I threaded my way towards the Green, stubbornly wearing my sunglasses at five o’clock in the afternoon in the hopes of dulling the harsh edges of the insistent Christmas lights.   And then my salvation was at hand, in the form of the Shelbourne Hotel. Here, at least, I could keep one of my holiday promises to myself: bourbon rocks and a bit of a scribble, whilst seated at one of the hotel’s excellent bars.

Not unexpectedly, the place was leppin’, as the locals might say.  Unable to secure my usual quiet seat around the back corner, I ended up dead centre on a high stool, staring into the massive silver tap in front of me.  If the image there was to be trusted, I hadn’t changed much since my last visit:  black tee, black jeans, black leather jacket, black ink stains on the fingers holding one of the establishment’s superbly weighty tumblers.  Inside it was Maker’s Mark, poured over precisely two ice cubes, and as always I was privately amused by the fact that my “usual,” a fairly rarified tipple in this land of famous whiskeys, is the same price in Dublin as a pint of Guinness.  Behind my little black rain cloud reflection flowed the usual tide of Shelbourne habitués: rich tourists; people I should know from the telly; yummy mummies on a cocktail break from the rigours of shopping; ancient civil servants who’ve been drinking here since the 1950s and see no reason to change the habit of a lifetime simply because the place has been tarted up by a bunch of Yank investors.

But next to me at the bar was something slightly unusual.  A young man, aged nineteen at the outside, stood there, surrounded by an unruly pile of suitcases and shopping bags.  From one of these bags issued an odd crinkly noise, indicating a spray of cellophane-wrapped flowers.  Little by little, he had divested himself of the standard winter layers of the Irish student (cheap anorak, two jumpers, long-sleeved thermal tee rather in need of a wash), all of which were now hanging at various angles amongst the suitcase mountain.  Nothing but a thin ring of cream-coloured foam remained of the pint he had ordered long ago, in that nationless mid-Atlantic twang affected by so many Irish teenagers.  I looked at him, perched uneasily amongst his cases with his back to the bar, and thought, he is too young, too broke, to be drinking in here.

The explanation soon arrived, in the form of a young woman.  Slim and tidy in her generic hotel uniform of black shirt and skirt, she stopped to talk to Suitcase Boy.  A negotiation of some kind began. She said she could stay for a minute, have a glass of water, but he replied, no, just hurry up.  Then he leaned over and said something quietly in her ear which made her giggle.  They could not stop touching each other.  Once she left the bar, he looked at no-one else:  just kept his eyes fixed on the service door at the far end of the room, waiting for her return.

As I watched this scene unfold, I instinctively thought of James and Nora Joyce.  Did he ever venture inside Finn’s Hotel, having arranged to meet her there…perhaps in the hallway, behind the curve of the stairs?  Did they dare hold hands, or even smile at each other?  From what I knew of early twentieth-century Dublin, and the speed with which young women could “lose their situation” at the merest hint of sexual misconduct, it seemed improbable.  It was more likely that he waited on the street just across from the hotel, walking back and forth with his gaze fixed patiently on its façade, hoping she might pass by the ground-floor windows.  Against the flickering gaslight, she would have appeared as only a shadow, her silhouette halting briefly against the translucent curtain pulled across the glass.  Tucking my knees against the bar, I closed my eyes and listened to the echoes of my city, its palimpsest of history and experience laid like fine pages on top of each other, their edges gently lifting in the faintest of winds.

Back in 2011, our young lovers left the bar together, sharing the bags, eager to be away.  Then my husband loped in, all long legs topped with a fleecy red hat, and gently but firmly extricated me from a conversation with one of the aforementioned civil servants.  On my way down the front steps of the hotel, I resisted the urge to put my fingers in the bullet holes in its columns, left there by Constance Markievicz in the decade following Joyce’s flight from the same nets which ensnared her.  On this occasion, there was no need to enact my personal rendition of doubting Thomas.  I was content; I had my vision.

amrh / Dublin, December 2011 and Mougins, January 2012

* For more about the Shelbourne Hotel, try Elizabeth Bowen’s 1951 memoir of the same name.

** I was not the first to glimpse Yeats and Maud Gonne standing in the narrow curve of Grafton Street.  That honour goes to the sadly neglected Ella Young.  An artist, mystic, and dreamer, also a poet and a writer of fairy tales, an extraordinary woman once sniffily characterized by Yeats as “flimsy-minded,” Young left Ireland in the mid-twenties and spent the rest of her life in the States, primarily in California.  Her lyrical memoir, Flowering Dusk, is one of my literary touchstones, long out-of-print and difficult to find.  The following excerpt is Young’s early description of Gonne, her great friend. (Left click on the *pdf to display options for rotating the image clockwise.)  An Excerpt from Flowering Dusk, by Ella Young (Longmans Green, 1945)

“This is the kind of day…”

Update from Muggins
No, we are not yet completely ensconced.  But given that the writerly dictum for the 21st century is “Post or Perish,” I am compelled to get something new up here.  My apologies for the longer than intended silence.  At the moment, I feel as if I do nothing but unpack boxes and get shouted at by various aspects of officialdom.  I mentioned this to the young Czech woman who looks after our storage space, and she replied, in her lovely growling English, “But Meesus Hanafin, this is France.  If you are not shouting, you are not living.”  So I beg your indulgence during a further delay in new posts, as I must go on “living” for a week or two longer.

I noticed that upon the arrival of our “household goods” from Ireland, the first boxes I searched for were those marked “108 BOOKS VSW” and “109 BOOKS VSWx2.” Before the Waterford, the financial records, even my beloved blue and white china (to which I also find it hard to live up to), Mrs. Woolf’s diaries were the treasure I rushed to secure.  I sat on top of these two boxes, happily proprietary, and directed moving-man traffic from there for the remainder of the afternoon.

In honour of these volumes, and to tide you over somewhat, here is a piece from 2008.  It originally appeared as part of a collaborative multi-media installation entitled “Four Faces of Virginia Woolf,” conceptualized and executed by the print and digital media artist Marina Jurjevic.

******

In 1995 I brought my first copy of a volume of Virginia Woolf’s diary.  Having somehow survived the upheaval of my twenties, including an extended period of storage in a friend’s father’s barn, it is sitting beside me as I write.  Spread across the front and back covers of this delicately battered paperback are keepsakes from a writer’s life.  A volume of Keats.  A mirror encrusted in shells.  A photograph, a necklace, a story written by a beloved nephew.  Plain whitewashed walls curl around the spine of the book.  They point towards a wooden door held open by a bowl of fruit, and a brick staircase leading up and out into sunlight.

On the inside of the front cover is pencilled the phrase “BT/2.0,” which means I paid two Irish pounds for it at a used book shop.  In terms of my precarious income at the time, it was an exorbitant amount.  But the cover of the book had fascinated me, and I obviously went without something that week so that I could purchase it.  The image looked uncannily like my own back steps:  four narrow treads hidden under a broad lintel, leading the way to a slate patio which always caught and retained, however briefly, the rare moments of afternoon sun.

There any resemblance to a rural idyll abruptly ended.  I was broke, isolated and afraid, having fled to this tiny town after a series of disasters elsewhere.  My one-room cottage, with its concrete floor and wooden sleeping platform, was heated by a gas cylinder.  That device also powered the camp-stove and its perpetually sticky grill. The sink drained through the rudimentary shower into an open channel in the yard.

At first I adored sleeping in the loft, perched high in the decaying rafters under a skylight that often framed the moon and pinpricks of stars.  I ranged my books around the perimeter of its walls, circling them like a fortress to ward off evil.  But as colder weather arrived, I discovered two things:  that contrary to the laws of physics, the warmth from the spluttering gas heater refused to rise; and that there was a slow leak in my borrowed air mattress.  These harsh facts guaranteed that every morning I awoke cold, stiff, and on the floor, greeted by the ever-present smell of last night’s fried food and the buzz from a spawn of bluebottles that found the loft quite congenial winter quarters.

I took to putting off the climb up to the loft as long as I could.  I sat up late, drinking endless cups of tea and rolling tinier and tinier cigarettes to make the tobacco packet last.  With my feet carefully propped up on the heating grille, I listened to BBC radio far into the night. And I read Virginia Woolf.  “Saturday 2 January 1915. This is the kind of day which if it were possible to choose an altogether average sample of our life, I should select.”   At the edge of my frozen abyss, I found the voice of a friend, a fellow traveller who despite her own disasters was still defiantly in love with her life.

One morning, on my blinking sleepy way to the outhouse, I looked up to find the horse chestnut tree magnificently in bloom.  Somehow, the spring had arrived.  I took to reading my book on a broad rock by the herb garden, where nasturtiums and savoury struggled to grow.  The sparrows became so used to my presence that they ate the crumbs I saved for them right at my feet.  Eventually they would scatter, to be replaced by my landlady’s placid blond Labrador, who would calmly settle her head on my ankles, and drift off to sleep.

“This is the kind of day…”

When I re-read these words, I am there again, my hands resting in Sophie’s warm fur.   Something clenched tightly in my heart gratefully begins to open.

I read on.

amrh / Mougins, October 2011 and Dublin, April 2008
“This is the kind of day…” is taken from The Diary of Virginia Woolf:  Volume 1 1915-1919, (ed. Anne Olivier Bell.  Penguin, 1981: p4.)

 

 

Pentecost

Words are an impure medium;
better far to have been born into the silent kingdom of paint.

Virginia Woolf, from “Walter Sickert: A Conversation” (1934)

Early on Pentecost morning, a little girl trotted past Les Arcades and turned into Rue Eugène Giraud.  She was carrying the morning’s bread, and a pug puppy, and was still wearing her pajamas.  As she struggled to manage her burdens, she put the dog on the ground, and gave him the cuff of the lead to carry in his mouth.  As small feisty dogs will do, he willfully misinterpreted this directive to be useful, deciding instead that it was an invitation to play.  A loud tussle ensued.  Everyone in the café stopped to look; it was impossible to resist doing so: this tiny person, in bright pink pajamas and matching plastic clogs, firmly remonstrating with a dancing ball of fluff, the wrinkled fur at the base of his neck the same soft brown as her hair.

Abruptly, reinforcements arrived. The girl’s little sister, also clad in pink pajamas, pelted up from their house at the end of the street.  Their mother (youngish, blond, not quite awake) stood near their front steps, wearing a loose blue plaid housedress and cradling a cup in her hands.  She walked out into the street, away from the front door and into the shade of the tree opposite, and called to them.

Pawlonia tree outside Le Cadran Solaire, Valbonne Aug 2011As the girls and their dog ran down the street, towards their mother and breakfast, towards home, the sun chose that exact moment to lance through the boughs of the tree across from the family’s front door.  I am staring at a picture by Renoir, by Monet, I thought, and instantly wished for some more profound revelation.  But that hackneyed referent was, for the moment, all that was granted me.  I could not find the words to describe the quality of that light: the exalted condition it brought to everything it touched as it descended through the tree’s green leaves, glazing the warm stone wall at the end of the street, gilding the edges of the girls’ hair.

Rue Eugène Giraud, towards Les Arcades, Valbonne Aug 2011The big tree outside the restaurant Le Cadran Solaire is a local landmark…or, at least I like to think that it is.  I am notoriously bad at identifying types of trees.  Everything that’s not an oak, which is the only shape of leaf I can remember, I call a sycamore, and have done with it.   As a child, I would have dubbed it an “elephant ear tree”: stout trunk and sinewy branches crowned with waving oval leaves, substantial and fleshy, but fragile at the edges to the point of transparency.  At Le Cadran, Monsieur le Patron informed me that it is a paulownia tree, at least fifty years old, and he can remember embracing its trunk with his two hands when he was a boy. Now it towers over Rue Eugène Giraud and the houses below it at all times, a presence even in winter when its branches are stripped bare, its bark leached of all colour and fading into that of the restaurant walls.  On his first trip past this tree, Mick remarked that he could just imagine how pleased the neighbours were to have that monstrosity lurching over their roofs.  I confessed that I hadn’t thought of it in those terms. I had imagined it companionably bending to embrace tables of mid-day diners, lingering over their digestifs and prolonging a moment of calm beneath its cool shadows.

Rue Eugène Giraud, towards Rue Saint-Bernadin, Valbonne Aug 2011I sat in the Arcades for a long time that morning, trying to run to earth, to these pages, words describing what I saw that did not seem overused, inappropriate, trite.  I do not think I was successful, although I can, it appears, find many words to describe my own failure to do so.  I ran my spoon around the inside of my coffee cup, watching the froth from my café crème draw itself slowly inwards and be absorbed into the whole.  As the froth in my cup continued to turn, I reached the conclusion that I am not a painter, and that perhaps light such as that in the big tree outside Le Cadran Solaire cannot be described, only replicated.  And immediately I thought of Lily Briscoe on the lawn in Cornwall, and that I should go home, take down To The Lighthouse, and read that passage, because if there was ever anyone who struggled with the difference between painting and writing, and won, it was Mrs. Woolf…

With that, the baker arrived, spread his arms wide and made a rude joke, and the entire café dissolved into laughter.

amrh / Valbonne, June 2011