Frehel Diary: Beyond the Sea
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Now playing: Django Reinhardt, Quintet of the Hot Club of France & St├ęphane Grappelli - Beyond the Sea (La Mer)
via FoxyTunes

After lunch the Sauvage informs me that we are going to take a "petite promenade." In the car, he begins to sing. It takes me a minute to recognize the song. I heard it first on an episode of the X-files starring Brad Dourif. It played while I posed in a basement in NJ for a photographer who wanted a romantic relationship. When I turned him down, he didn't speak to me for 8 years. But the lyrics the Sauvage sang were in French, so I began to sing the words in English.

"Somewhere...beyond the sea

somewhere waiting for me
my lover stands on golden sands
and watches the ships that go sailin"

"It's a song by Bobby Darrin," I say. " No, no" he corrects me "Charles Trenet. His song has nothing to do with Bobby Darrin." Legend, or more accurately Wikipedia, claims Trenet composed the song while riding on a train in 1943; while travelling along the French Mediterrean coast, returning from Paris to Narbonne, he allegedly wrote the song in 10 minutes on toilet paper. Jack Lawrence would write the English lyrics, which are unrelated to the French lyrics, although set to the same music. In 1960, Darrin made the American version a hit, just one more thing to irk the French about us. ** But in this moment, I found one of those strange connections, a shared moment-him in French and me in English, both in harmony. And of course, the lyrics of the song are about waiting to be rejoined with your lover who awaits you on the beach.

People often question the reality of my blog posts. The truth is I abandoned fiction when I realized reality did a much better job most of the time than I ever could. More imaginative symbolism, great dramatic arches. Sure, I clean up the details here and there, but I couldn't have imagined this moment. All the elements that came together in the song, the lyrics, the harmony arising from differences acting in perfect concert together. My talent is in what Flannery O'Connor would call the "habit of art" or more accurately seeing art in reality, not in the act of creation itself.

But these moments of harmony were growing fewer and farther between, as was the seeming connection between the Sauvage and I. We hadn't made love in two days going on three. And time was running out.

Our first stop was at a small "chateau" complete with moat and metal water dragon with threatening jaws. We walked slowly around. Or more accurately they walked ahead of me hand in hand, and I walked behind taking pictures. I figured if they weren't going to walk with me, then I was free to do exactly as I liked, namely wander slowly, look carefully, and take pictures of both the chateau and them. This was my most common view of them. I took pictures of them because I was both touched, fascinated, and enraged by their relationship. I felt not only rejected as a companion, but further remembering my father's attitude towards me I was led to wonder what the hell had I been doing wrong all my life that men felt fine leaving me to walk behind? All I had ever done was turn myself into knots, fly over oceans, push my body to the physical limits, recreate myself in the image of their desires. And after this I trail behind them like a discarded concubine, a poorly limping toy.

But if I thought my strength had been tested at the unnamed chateau, I wasn't prepared for Fort La Lotte. Fort La Lotte is a fortress built overlooking the sea in the 13th century. It has survived multiple sieges before being abandoned in the 19th century. It is perhaps best known now for the view it affords visitors. For someone like me, it will always be memorable for the difficult walk to the Fort, which I undertook far behind the Sauvage and his Daughter. Fort La Lotte is surrounded by poppies, so I picked one and put in my hair. If I was going to trail behind, I was going to do it in my own style. Once I got to the Fort, I stood on the high rampart walls and looked down at the blue ocean. "Somewhere beyond the sea" as if trying to call that love to me. But the Sauvage was just concerned about Nana, despite the physical strain these walks cost me. He had absolutely no appreciation of how hard this was for me, and I had no way to explain to him. If he had looked, the sweating and limping might have tipped him off. Unfortunately being a man he was genetically incapable of taking any hint unless it is applied with a diamond drill and blowtorch and I left my tool kit at home. He only paid attention to me to ask me to take their picture. More fuel to the fire. After the photo, I go back to looking at the ocean. This was not the love promised in the song. This was not the love promised any song. So, with this revelation, what to do now? After walking back to the car, I wrote the following in my Bible:

I don't think I can take another week of this. On the other hand, what are the real options? It would be difficult at best to return to Paris. And then to do what? Go back to visiting museums alone? As I walk with him, I'm already writing my break up email 'It's very clear that there is only room for one woman in your life and I am not that woman.'

Still, even though I'm expecting him to send me home before I can leave him, I keep trying to imagine exposing him to life in NYC. What would he think og such a place? What would he think of the Doberman and Size Queen and Big Bad? How would he react to being the one on the outside looking in? To not be able to converse? What do we have in common other than our knowledge of crap 80s TV?


** Recently one of my students asked me why the French hate us so much. I countered that there was an awful lot of anti-French sentiment in America, but if for no other reason because we brought them Eurodisney, Starbucks, and MacDonalds.

Frehel Diaries: The Speigelman Bible and the Elvis Diet
"Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they'll never get away." excerpted from the "The Joy of Writing" by Wislawa Szymborska

He returns to pick me up and take me to lunch at his parents house. His daughter is in the car, fresh from horseback riding. We pass by a church on the way to his parents house. He remarks that we have been rather bad, having not been to church since we have arrived in Brittany. I say "Je suis une Juive" with rather more emphasis than even I expected. There is a moment of silence, when I realize what I may, or may not have done. After all the Sauvage knew I was a Jew, but his daughter didn't. An American girl who can barely speak French is one thing, but an American JEW who can barely speak French is another. Luckily, we all start laughing, and it was one of those odds moment of strange connection when language didn't seem to be a barrier. The only other times those connections seem to occur lately were when the Sauvage asked about American TV shows. Did I know Starsky and Hutch? Dallas? The Dukes of Hazzard? CHiPs? And all I could think was "You hate Americans, but you like CHiPs? CHIPS? Have you no decency, sir? At long last, have you no decency?"

We get to his parents house, and I settle down with my journal, as I usually do now as no one will speak to me nor would I be able to understand them even if they did. His parents regard silently but with palpable disapproval, and I can see that this yet another nail in my coffin. The Sauvage calls it my Bible, as I carry it everywhere, and I realize he isn't too far off. If there is anything close to a religion I have, it's writing. This insane faith that the scribbling in this journal will mean, something, anything, to some invisible someone that will justify the lost relationships, the late nights, the experiences missed just to jot down that last thought, sentence, paragraph. And while I don't believe in God, my faith in the written word is near epic, and I will sacrifice everything, including the generosity of this family, to it.

And maybe that is what makes them nervous about the Bible, not only that I am writing something they can't understand, but something I can not even explain. That it is some sort of silent trap. But how much about them can I give away without understanding the language? Most likely more than they are comfortable with, and more than even I expect.

But for now, it is a fairly standard lunch in Brittany which involves:

The First Course: A salad of some kind in a vinaigrette and vegetables-usually three dishes all coming from the back garden
The Second/Main Course: Fish, usually, or possibly meat accompanied by potatoes
Third Course: A variety of cheeses-usually if an American is present, there is a great show about the fact these are UNpasteurized cheeses
Fourth/Final Course: Dessert, which usually involves fresh fruit with yogurt, but can also involve freshly made crepes or tarte tatin, accompanied with coffee

If you think the French like butter, the Bretons absolutely WORSHIP it. While the French will butter their bread or put a pat on veggies, the Bretons drown everything in huge Titanic iceberg sized hunks of it. Had Elvis lived long enough, he would have bought a house in Brittany and built a new church to worship at the high altar of fat. Not only would he have discovered a whole new milieau of fattening foods, but he would also could have revolutionized their cuisine. Thus, in such a universe,when a true gourmande traveled to Brittany, he would eat moules, coquilles St Jacques , caramels sale, and fried peanut butter sandwiches.

I eat, for me, quite a bit, but the Bretons are hardy and the Sauvage always heaps my plate with food, which I barely manage to finish(but finish it I must lest I insult his parents even more). The Sauvage punctuates the end of each meal with claims that I eat "like a bird." If I eat "like a bird" here, I think in NYC he would think that I eat like the shadow of ant. I eat more in one meal here than I would eat in a day and a half in NYC.

After such a butter slathered meal, the Sauvage lights up a cigarette while his mother brews a pot of decaf coffee "for his heart" she explains. Right, because what is going to keep him from having another stroke before he's 50 is the decaf coffee. It is a diet, I think, fit only for The King.



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