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London Sunday

A quiet Sunday morning, yours truly a bit better, definitely, though shaky.  I’ve just been out to look for the Sunday papers, which I couldn’t find – no news-stand in the tube stop, no newspaper shop open. A sign of the times. Shops here open at noon on Sunday; I’ll try again later.

It’s another lovely day, cooler than yesterday, which was 22 degrees, the hottest day of the year so far. Christopher rode his bike over to get my theatre ticket and we spent the afternoon together. I’ve known him since he was an infant, born in northern France where his parents were running a L’Arche community. From my theatre school in London, I came across to visit. Here was my best friend, married with a baby, and I, about to set off on my life as an actress. Christopher eventually was blessed with four, count them, four younger sisters.

I strolled once more through  Kensington Gardens with him, the park even more marvellously crowded, and invited him to sit in my hotel’s garden and have a glass of wine. Utterly delightful. One of the first babies I’d ever held is now over fifty, a banker with a Spanish partner and a ten-year-old daughter. And of course, he has read Loose Woman, where his family, and even he, figure heavily. He said he enjoyed it very much. I hope it’s true.

A quiet day ahead. If I have the energy, I’m heading for a Marks&Spenser to stock up on underwear, mine getting worn out after my last trip to M&S some years ago. This afternoon a walk on Hampstead Heath with Tony, my London boyfriend in 1972, the year I met Christopher. Usually when I travel my schedule is jam-packed; this is showing me another way. I am certainly getting my money’s worth out of this hotel room. Tomorrow, a new phase of the trip, my ancestral tour – meeting Penny in Northampton. And a guarantee of rain.

By the way, my friend Kathy the nurse confirmed I gave myself a black eye by blowing my nose. Broke blood vessels. Phooey.

Here’s what I wrote on the Eurostar:

So – France and the French. As Lynn says, a people who live in heaven and think they live in hell. The level of attentive care given to its populace is surely unparalleled anywhere, except maybe in Scandinavia. Lynn told me that after Denis had heart surgery, the government paid for a taxi to pick him up every morning to take him to rehab. I’ve long marvelled that after they give birth, French women get free physical therapy to get their bodies back in shape. On top of that, the transit, the medical systems, and of course the food – oh, the food – mostly fabulous.

Yes, there are huge problems. Lynn feels the education system is going to the dogs; the universities are free and anyone can get in, lowering standards. At the same time, French standards at the top end are rigid and critical, leading, she says, to a lack of courage, confidence, and creativity.

BUT – the validation of beauty is everywhere – buildings, people, streetscapes, shops. Not to mention a culture that honours writers, artists, and history. A program called Apostrophes, featuring lengthy in-depth interviews with writers, was one of the most popular programs on French TV – can you imagine? Elle magazine, which I used to love and have finally given up on – the latest shows the new fashion of wearing your underpants as if they’re clothing – always features pages on writers and their books.

But – that rigidity, stuck on tradition – and the fact that the French complain about everything, it’s their default mode. Even when they’re chatting amiably, they sound like they’re complaining. But – careful attention to and great appreciation of the fine things in life.

Lynn gave up Canada, with its openness and casual self-deprecating friendliness, over fifty years ago. She is more comfortable with the formality of France. I am glad to be a Canadian who visits.

It was not an easy week for us with me so sick. And yet our only real disagreement was the usual one: fiction versus nonfiction. She has no time for memoir, and thinks my intention to read my parents’ letters and write about them is invasive and disrespectful. She thinks my work, helping people tell their most important stories, is valuable, but that the subsequent writings should probably not be shared with the wider world. “I don’t want to read them,” she says. She prefers the filter of fiction. I prefer true stories in which a writer is not pretending to be someone else. We are very different in that.

But otherwise, a gem of a friendship. We’ve been laughing together for fifty-seven years. (Photo from twelve years ago or so. I am wearing the same coat today.)

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2 Responses to “London Sunday”

  1. Theresa says:

    It sounds like you’re recovering, Beth. Having had pneumonia several times, I know it’s not a picnic (and I hope you will see your doctor once home; one of my pneumonias was later diagnosed as a pulmonary embolism…). Lucky to have a comfortable hotel, with a garden, and a lovely place to walk nearby. As for fiction versus nonfiction: I’m grateful for both. To have the riches of both to read, to write, to think about. Thanks to the Friends of the Library booksale, I have two bags full of new-to-me books, evenly divided. Just finished Plum Johnson’s marvellous They Left Us Everything. Also an Anne Tyler. And in Porto a few weeks ago, I measured out the last 20 or so pages of Ann Patchett’s new novel, Tom Lake, to make it last, reluctantly putting it aside each night because I didn’t want it to end.

  2. Beth Kaplan says:

    Yes, I am seeing my doctor as soon as I get home, Theresa. This whatever it is – I’m pretty sure pneumonia – has been horrible. And yes, we are very lucky to have such literary riches. It’s just that for me, with a choice between fiction and non, I will almost always choose non, whereas my friend never will. In the end, it’s quite a profound difference in the way we process the world. Interesting!

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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