Mon dieu, France is a small country. I flew practically from one end to the other in less than two hours. And then, quelle joie, to walk off the plane into the arms of one of my oldest friends, Lynn, and her husband Denis, whom I’ve known nearly as long. They met in 1970, married in 1971 and are still married – a record among my friends.
Their family home is in the gorgeous Provencal hill town of Gordes, but Lynn is teaching linguistics at the University of Montpellier, so they rent an apartment here, in what has become one of my favourite small cities of the world – walkable, ancient, beautiful, with the most vibrant street life. We walked and talked, and then we drank an aperitif and had dinner, magret de canard with roast potatoes, salad, and then this, one of the best sights in the world:
Be still my beating heart.
As we ate, we discussed intensely many things – especially the short stories of Alice Munro, Lynn’s specialty – the incredible complexity and subtlety of her language, which is impossible to translate into French – and why Denis thinks gay marriage is not a good idea. He is not against people declaring their love, but he thinks the concept of marriage should be preserved as it traditionally is, because otherwise, the moral code of society which protects children and women and families will begin to loosen. Perhaps he has a point – he is a very intelligent man who comes from a thousand years of tradition, is a fervent Catholic, eats his after-dinner piece of fruit with a knife and fork – but I do not agree. So we argued for a good hour. It was wonderful. That’s what you do here – you sit at the table, eating wonderful food and talking and arguing for hours.
It was 9 or so by the time we finished, and I was still standing. For some reason – my prone position on the plane? – jet lag has hardly affected me this time. I went to bed, took a sleeping pill, slept till 8 a.m, and all is well.
Cool and grey today in Montpellier, after weeks of sun – but no matter, there’s no snow. Lynn and I headed off to – be still etc. – Galeries Lafayette, where was a sale. A sale! So much fun. Until I was trying on sunglasses, and the saleslady told me angrily that I should not hold more than one pair because I would damage them, and then she ended up grabbing the ones I was trying and shouting at me. So I left. Unbelievable what salespeople get away with here. Anyway, we had fun though bought little. Went to a lingerie store which sells delicious French underwear at a huge discount. Heaven. Walked, talked, ate lunch – saucisson – dried sausage – and cooked artichokes – not your usual Toronto lunch.
When Lynn and Denis had to see their insurance agent – they were broken into recently and Lynn’s jewellery was stolen – I went to the local art gallery to see the Linda McCartney photography exhibit.
It’s a huge retrospective of her work begun in 1965, photos of musicians and artists, then the Beatles and Paul – much much Paul, the kids, the farm, the horses and sheep and dogs, more Paul. But other stuff, things she saw travelling. She had a fine sensibility and a great eye; there are some beautiful and moving shots, intimate, charming. Paul and his wife Nancy came to the opening last month. It must have been thrilling for him to see her work curated this way, treated with such respect. A high school group was there this afternoon, and I asked the teacher about them. They were a group from Beziers, a small town south of here; they saw an orchestra rehearsal in the morning and this exhibit and then home. They were watching a film of the Grateful Dead, and I asked her if they knew who they were. “They have no idea,” she said. “Do they know who Paul is?” I asked and she said they did because their music teacher, who was with them, had taught them. There they were, neat French teenagers in clothes that actually fit, watching a film Paul made from Linda’s shots of the Grateful Dead falling about stoned out of their minds. An interesting moment.
And then more walking and more talking. Tonight I read Alice Munro’s story “The Progress of Love,” which Lynn is giving a seminar on, so she and I could talk about it. It’s one of the most brilliant short stories ever written, of that I’m sure. So full of nuance and danger, horrifying. Our Canadian Nobel. Being taught by a woman I’ve known and loved since September 1967.
As I might have said before, quelle joie.