Author: Douglas Wallis
La vie n’était pas prévue pour être facile.
Tomorrow is April Fool’s Day 2020
Well how times change. I have returned to by bed after breakfast because Claire is using the veranda, which is in effect our daytime living room, as a television studio to join her group for Italian lessons on a internet conference call. The babble of French voices struggling with Italian is all pervasive and here in bed, computer on my knees and the panorama of our springtime garden before me, calm reigns. I must not let this become a habit. Too seductive. Perhaps it will give me a stiff neck that will dissuade me.
Please don’t get bored but instead let me set the scene. I don’t know if I have explained it before and I don’t have the energy to re-read to verify, but we bought this single story house purely for the view from the front, which is uninterrupted over the valley. Almost before the ink was dry on the sale and before we moved house Claire decided that she would be unable to sleep on the ground floor. Being born and having worked all her life in Paris I think she found the idyll of country a touch unsettling when it may be outside the open window at night. Whatever the reason it was decided that an upper floor must be added for a bedroom. This had a complication, the area is a protected zone and we were severely restricted in our options. None the less our plan, that conformed to the 20meter square limit, was approved and here I am looking to the rear of the house out of what is effectively a large glass sliding wall onto a balcony and there after the trees and garden.
All of this explanation is leading to my reason for writing today. How satisfying to see the new colour of the handrail on the balcony, which had been jarring my senses for some time, imposing a horizontal slash of artificial precision across the bucolic view. From the outside it was fine in white matching the overall design of the wooden balcony in front of the natural timber finish of the house, but from the bed it was a barrier, a border, a blot. So two days ago out came the paint pot and colours which, after a minor misjudgement, resulted in a pleasant rural green that blends well with the foliage.
Why am I writing this? Well to demonstrate how times have changed. Here I am self-satisfied with a job well done. It is however a job that in normal times would have been put off in the order of importance in the time available to THINGS. Until two weeks or so ago I ordered THINGS into a mental rank of importance, given the limited time available to do them. At least I thought the time available was limited.
There are times when you have to take stock and you realise you have been wrong. I was wrong. Together with one third of the worlds population I have been ordered to stay at home and after the initial horrified shock wore off I have discovered that I was wrong. Time is only limited by yourself, there is in fact vast amounts of time in the week, probably more than you know what do with it. (To demonstrate my new found freedom I will leave that sentence badly constructed at it’s the end.) For example at 11:28 in the morning I can sit here in the bed writing to myself without a trace of guilt, knowing that there are hours and hours ahead of me to fill with things I need or want to do. I glance at the screen to verify that it is in fact Tuesday, as if that had some significance, Tuesday the 31st March 2020.
Tomorrow will be April fool’s day 2020.
I will resist the obvious temptation to place great philosophical importance on such a date and to make judgements on the fools who comprise mankind. The world and I do not need to add to the myriads of philosophers who have lain undetected in our midst, who not are now oozing forth to tell us we deserve all that fate is now dishing out.
Tomorrow will be April fool’s day 2020.
I will also resist the temptation to propound my, no doubt profound and world shattering, theory of political tomfoolery. There appears to no lack of opinions on such matters.
Tomorrow will be April fool’s day 2020 and I will use it to do another thing I have not had time to do before in my life. Because I realise I have been the fool to think I didn’t have the time.
Life has taken many twists since I last wrote and I have failed to register them, but the last couple of weeks has made me realise that some things must be written because I will, not may, but will forget. It is the nature of age and not a malady to rile against, just accept.
I have witnessed two women of roughly the same age and background react to death in totally different but strikingly similar ways.
One I hardly knew, enough to embrace with kisses on the cheeks, as we do with acquaintances with whom we are on good terms here in the Loire, We had shared drinks with them in the calm of the evening overlooking the valley. Good people, without any real burden to carry. Retired and active, her mother was a bit of a pain, but she was philosophical about that and tended to her foibles with only minor grumbles. Nice country people, nice, good and blameless of any ill as far as we could judge.
One day her husband had back ache fitting their new kitchen, nothing remarkable in that even if he had been fit as a fiddle all his life. A couple of weeks later he died from an aggressive cancer, despite the fantastic treatment given here.
Life in the tight life of the country seems to impose constraints we find strange, but we have come to accept them. Privacy is one of them. I can see why, if you scratch your bum and your neighbour notices, everyone will soon know all about it, so there are things you keep to yourself. Her husbands sudden illness was such a secret and his eventual death was a surprise to everyone except us to whom she entrusted the secret. We can only presume our situation of coming from outside and having no intimate affiliation with families rendered us in someway immune to the wildfire of country gossip. Be that as it may, we were guardians of the fact till his death and after the grandiose funeral, when the dust had settle it was to us she came the escape the endless weeping and tears. She felt able to talk about it all, and I mean all, their life together and his eventual death, with us looking out over nature with a bite to eat and a glass of wine. They seemed to have an ideal life of tranquility and love, this was recounted with the occasional damp eye, but not the tearful wail of loneliness. Just deep sadness. Later she passed half a day with my wife and talked through all that she had not been able to discuss with family and people who she had lived her life with. The more she talked the more she seemed to come to accept what had happened, even though to start with she was distraught with it’s injustice.
One thing stood out was her resistance to all the advise she was being given by all the widows and know alls, to clear out the house and throw away all her husbands clothes. She had taken the decision to keep everything as it was, even using one of his t-shirt as a night dress. She seems to have gained strength from this, she has decided to let him go one day, but at a time of her choosing. Until then she will live with him in her life in the form of all that was him. One day she will let him go, but when they are at peace and she refuses to throw him away. She seems stronger now.
The other woman I have known much longer and have passed many a riotous time with her and her husband. We have visited them when they have been working away and we have even been next door neighbours at one time. A strong business woman, onetime local official and mother of two. Not someone you would describe as feminine, definitely a woman but not feminine. I imagine she was a tomboy and had certainly had her share of adventures. She never suffered fools and could control a bar with no trouble.
We called into see her when she came back to town a couple of days ago. Her husband had died. She calmly recounted how they were on their way to a family wedding in Greece and had stopped off at her sisters down south on the way. They had been to the beach and unpacking the car her husband fell to the ground. Her sister found him and being trained in survival tried to revive him whilst waiting for the paramedics. They obtained heart beat and he was put in an induced comma but as he was slowly taken out of the treatment it was evident he was brain dead. The children were there and pleaded hopelessly to keep trying, but she explained that she had know from the moment she had held him that he was dead. Treatment was stopped and his heartbeat stopped with it.
We had some wine and she continued to explain how she had attended to his cremation and returned with the ashes to spread them in the river where he had always said he would like to go. They had discussed it because he had had serious health problems and there had always been the possibility of sudden death. All this was recounted calmly with perhaps the occasional sniff or damp eye. On returning home she explained she had done here best to avoid the whining of mourning family and acquaintances. And here is the most striking difference between the two women. She started by ridding the house of all his clothes, and possessions without selection. She want’s nothing to rest. I have to admit I found it strange, because it was almost as if she was glad to rid of him as she wiped the house clean of all that reminded her of him. I found it strange because they were a couple very close, not openly luvy-dovey but close.
Then as we were leaving I had to say I hoped she had not been hurt by the last SMS I has sent her asking here to say hello to him, because I wouldn’t be able to.
At this she cracked. She flung herself at me, clinging like a drowning child. She didn’t just cry, she shook with heartrending tears, babbling with an almost incomprehensible torrent of all the pain and hurt of her loss. Sobbing all that she had been hiding since his death and stupidly apologising but she couldn’t hold it back anymore. Choking out explinations that she had been hiding her grief from everyone, especially her children. She repeated the mantra that she had to be strong for her children and couldn’t show her dreadful loneliness to them. I held her for a long time as she just let the words and tears role. Eventually she quietened and just clung in my arms.
I said ‘ Just like him, he has to leave us too soon for me to get you in an embrace !’ This brought a small laugh from her and she was able to smile, gradually returning to he normal controlled self. But was obvious that something had flooded out and we left a more serene widow that evening.
The difference between the two widows if quite remarkable I find. The similarity however is also just as remarkable, between two characters completely different but both lost faced with the realisation of loss. They are both strong ladies and will get through it.
Well one or two days of warm sunshine has woken up the world around here. Cloudy today so I cannot use the garden as an excuse….back to the painting.
There has been an extensive expo of cubism in Paris and I have to say it covered the whole movement comprehensively and gave a good explication of the thinking behind it, such as there was. I must say much of it I didn’t find completely convincing, but there you go, that’s just me.
Anyway I decided to give it a go and had my own cubist period, over a couple of day this weekend, to see if it would give me some ideas. I can see it is a good way to break down the structure of what you wish to convey on the canvas and I found it quite good fun. But more than that I was left asking myself ‘what next’? I may use it’s devises to loosen up my rather tight constructions and for that I think it has been a good experiment, so here are the the varying subjects I tried, which I count as a form of homage to cubism.
One the other hand my usual but developing style still seems to please people and the latest is a commission (which I must add is the first time I have tried such a thing) to give my interpretation of the last few line of the play Electra by the French playwright Jean Giraudoux. I had to read the entire play to begin to get a grip of what it was all about and I must say he is not the easiest of writers. It was a very troubling process and I am not sure I will ever try it again, being a difficult dichotomy between what developed on the canvas and what I understood by the play added to my worry about what the client had in his mind. In the end all turned out well and we were both pleased with the result.
Update after some time away. Quite an eventful year and not bad on most fronts, many of my paintings are now hanging in various houses around Europe for which I am most flattered. Thank you all who are kind enough to like my works. I am still painting as well as planning the alterations to our new house, so life is somewhat busy.
Well the last exhibition went off quite well and the red sold stickers have reduced my stock somewhat. Now the real test…….an expo in my home town! I have been painting at all hours, mainly because sheer panic has reduced my sleeping habits to a shredded mess. Opening night is 7th August 2017 and the vernisage is 9th August 18hr. See you there.
Moment of truth.
After filling up the house with my paintings the moment I have been secretly dreading has arrived. I am going to have an exhibition.Perros-guirec A4 invite
So now all those nice words of praise from people I know will have to compare with the harsh reality of what the world in general think of my efforts. I am taking my own stock of wine to help me through it. Wish me luck.