London Day 5 and 6

Friday March 6

Today was spent at Charleston once the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, now maintained by the Charleston Trust.  I made the same trip that they and their friends often made from Bloomsbury, taking the train from Victoria Station to Lewes, then, for me, a taxi to Charleston.  I almost missed the train: on the one designated for Lewes, people seemed to be getting off rather than getting on.  I left the cabin looking for answers and found the driver of the train.  The platform had been changed at the last minute.  He led me and the other passengers to the correct location and soon after, the one hour trip to Lewes began.

Unknown-2Victorian Station

Train travel, even short journeys such as this, have been a time of contemplation, even revelation, for me.  This morning, I again considered what my son had called the “beautiful struggle,” the attempt to create.  Beautiful would not be the term I would use for my particular battle.

Everything has come into question, especially what I once told my daughter: if I don’t write, if I don’t travel, I’ll shrivel up and die.  Is that what is happening?  I could find outside sources to blame: President Trump, the corona virus, not having a place of my own.  Yet, how can I fault the Irish Cultural Center: a large room, a communal breakfast, invitations to events, a courtyard for writing in good weather?  No.  What about my small hotel room in Bloomsbury?  It too looks out on a courtyard, it too gives me breakfast, and it too has an ideal location.  Why there is even a cinema around the corner showing interesting films and serving drinks at it’s two bars.

The rosy colored lens through which I viewed life seems to have been replaced by clear or even jaundiced ones.

This worm turning in on me began when I read Deirdre Bair’s Parisian Lives, a memoir of writing Samuel Beckett’s and Simone de Beauvoir’s biographies.  Both writers come across as suffering from extreme self-involvement.  Suddenly, I couldn’t read them or admire them.  Now I’m confronted with my own rigidity.  Why should their foibles have anything to do with my own work?  Why has de Beauvoir’s or Beckett’s work become tainted by their mean spirited personalities?   Rubbish me thinks.

12RIDING-COMBO-jumbo                                Simon de Beauvoir                             Samuel Beckett

Might Charleston rescue my interest in writers, in artists?

After a convivial taxi ride, I entered the front garden- restored.  Inside the house, each room filled me with pleasure.  So well arranged to enjoy life: the seemingly casual art, the lamps placed just right for reading, the tables for writing, the studios for painting.

Garden-Room-14-Axel-Hesslenberg-245x360The Garden Room

Maynard_Keynes_Room-_4-540x360  Maynard Keynes’s Bedroom

The gardens filled me with wonder and longing.  Organized beauty that appears natural, not designed, full of grace.  Supposedly, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant wrote to each other frequently about such matters.

IMG_7607A view from the kitchen garde

Beyond the house is a museum, a dining area in a restored barn, and a shop.  I was enthralled.  I imagined living here: it suited me.  I felt at home.  I contemplated buying fabric, a direct duplicate of those used on chairs and beds in the house.  Duncan Grant’s art fits comfortably inside my eyes, my brain.

Charleston-10th-September-17-e1576065700402Pamela by Duncan Grant

My taxi driver brought me back to earth when he dropped me off at the station.  We had had a lively conversation about his travels throughout the states in the late 60’s.  As I was leaving, I told him that, unfortunately, we couldn’t shake hands given the Corona Virus.  He laughed and quickly gathered me in his arms.  I smiled tightly, horrified that he may have given me the dreaded disease.

At Charleston, I had bought the memoir of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant’s daughter Angelica Grant, Deceived With Kindness: A Bloomsbury Childhood which I began reading on the train.  Here I go again.  All the beloved biographies, letters, diaries, novels of Virginia Woolf pale in light of Angelica’s childhood- ignored or worse, treated as an adored object, not a human being.

Again, I say to myself, rubbish!  Might I be a narrow minded prig?.  Or if I’m kinder, one who suffers from too much empathy.  A student in a documentary film course I taught commented on the film selection,  “You seem to favor the underdog.”  Do I want to get submerged by this identification?  Yet that seems to be my subject: my French grandmother, a mixed race woman; my Irish grandmother living when “no dogs or Irish” were allowed; and a Greek grandfather, sometimes, called a dirty Greek.

I once said to someone that to be a writer, one had to be ruthless.  Am I up to the task? Has the air gone out of my red ballon, the book I’m chasing?

Saturday March 7

I traveled to Dublin without much difficulty, yet anxiety seeped in as more news of the corona virus emerged.  My doctor had urged me not to take this trip.  Was she right?  I considered abandoning Ireland, going straight home from London.  But not yet.














Paris Day 15 and 16

Saturday, February 29

This morning I woke up exhausted after a good night’s sleep.  Do I have the corona virus or is it the ennui I seem to carry around?  Usually it dissipates after breakfast with the residents.  Today, overwhelmed by fatigue, I spent the day in bed and didn’t join the three women for dinner.

I tell myself there will be days of isolation and loneliness.  But why is it’s happening now?  I have stimulating conversations every morning, gatherings with artists in the evenings.  Although I have dinner alone each night, I’ve been very engaged.

IMG_7479                                                                 The last bouquet

I read my blog on Greece, written five years ago on the verge of a Fulbright.  I describe two days of staying in my Athen’s hotel room emerging only for a meeting one day and and a souvlaki the next.  Ennui is no stranger to me.   My expectations set me up for self-doubt.  I romanticize those that seem to have found their place especially the Bloomsbury group whose work I devoured many years ago, in particular,  Virginia Woolf.   Her country home with her writing shed surrounded by beautiful gardens, long walks along the downs, afternoons with writer’s and painters reading, discussing.  But like Samuel Beckett, she endured days of doubt, of mental anguish and, then, a swing to elation.  Her solution was suicide.  Perhaps, my urge to live on an island is a strategy to force me back on myself, to find my place.

Sunday, March 1

Today I feel alert, confidant, at home in Paris.  God, these extremes are exhausting.  

For my last full day in Paris (I leave for London tomorrow) I plan to have Sunday lunch at La Rotessirie d’Argent.  It faces the Seine two doors away from the famous Tour d’Argent, and next door to it’s bakery, Le Boulanger de la Tour.  I pass by frequently crossing the Pont de la Tournelle over to the right bank.  One day, I stopped to buy mini croissants.  Ils etaient parfaits.  The idea of eating roast chicken on a Sunday afternoon is part of a long tradition of Sunday dinner with Maman in which I long to participate.

UnknownLa Rotisserie d’Argent

On my way to breakfast one of the administrators of the Centre Culturel Irlandais caught up with me and asked if I still planned to attend the book club she had mentioned when I first arrived.  I thought I could  fit it in with my roast chicken.  But this was no intimate group meeting for an hour, this was a formal meeting known as Cercle Litteraire Irlandais (Irish Literary Circle) lasting three hours with drinks, food, a program and over 100 attendees.  There were speakers including Deirdre Farrell, Deputy Head of Mission at the Irish Embassy in Paris, and Lara Marlow, France correspondent for The Irish Times, as well as mediatations, readings, and even a group writing exercise.  It was a celebration of International Women’s Day.

Lara Marlowe in her keynote address discussed three women who inspired her: Iranian Nasrin Sotudeh, French Berthe Morisot, and American Edith Wharton.  All three defied their respective roles: Sotudeh, a lawyer, represented women who refused to wear the hijab, Morisot became a well-respected painter, the only women to exhibit in the first impressionist show in 1874, and Edith Wharton wrote novels becoming the first woman to win the Pultizer Prize for Literature in 1921 instead of being a doyenne in her privileged social circle.  My question to Ms. Marlowe was where are the Irish women of the 19th century without upper class privileges who fought against stereotypes to become artists in their own right.  She and the audience were stumped.

images   Nasrin SotudehUnknown-1Berthe Morisotimages-1Edith Wharton

 Then we were asked to write about a woman we admired.  I chose Molly Daly, my grandmother.  She lived in Ireland for 13 years without her mother.  She returned to the United States only to be teased relentlessly about her brogue.  She married an alcoholic whose family thought she was “shanty Irish.”  When he died leaving her with two children to raise, she often brought in family members who had no where else to go.  When her children married, she moved in with them usually with no room of her own, sleeping on a daybed in the dining room.  And she never complained.  Her solace, reading her prayer book and saying her rosary.


Molly Daly on the right


Paris Day 13 and 14

Thursday February 27

At breakfast, we (the three female artists in residence and I) discussed Freudian and Jungian theory.  Each woman artist found Jung insightful.  I have my doubts: I’m skeptical of theories that have little basis in data but seem to be fabrications of the theorists’ world view.  Considering that Freud and Jung believed women were the lesser sex and lived in a world that supported that notion, how can I subscribe to their ideas?

My breakfast companions observed that many artists find Jung of value.  I know Samuel Beckett who once lived around the corner at Rue d’Ulm found him useful in the writing of his novel Murphy.  As Deirdre Bair, Beckett’s biographer explains,

The patient sinks into the unconscious altogether and becomes completely victimized by it.  He is the victim of a new autonomous activity that does not start from his ego but starts from the dark sphere.  

Beckett found a way to explore the protagonist’s, Murphy’s mind.

I posed the question why there wasn’t a woman analyst with the same recognition as Freud and Jung.  Interesting as men were raised by women.  How does that affect their theories and practices?

One of the artists mentioned the book, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by the Nobel Prize winner, Olga Tokarczuk.   Her description excited me perhaps because the main character is a reclusive- a life that appeals to me.  I wanted to read it immediately.  The closest bookstore with English language books is Shakespeare and Company which I usually avoid as it’s a tourist trap.  To get there I had to walk down Rue Galande a charming street once an old Roman road, then, inhabited in the 15th Century.

IMG_7443Rue Galande

After I returned to the Irish Cultural Center, I got ready to go out again, this time, to the Bibliotheque Historique de la Ville de Paris located in the Marias.  It has a beautiful reading room where I hoped to spend the afternoon writing.  On my way out, one of the artists asked if I’d like to go to the kitchen and finish off the pastries from the night before.  Mais oui!

While we were feasting, we met a filmmaker, Norah Dineen, who had been living on the third floor for over a month but never seen by any of us.  She can no longer afford to stay and would be couch surfing until some monies “turned up” to finish her film.  It’s subject is love in three cities: Berlin, Athens, and Los Angelos.  Whenever, she makes a film, she lives in the country for a month, immersing herself before writing, casting, and filming.  That’s the way to do it.  I’m just getting settled and I have to leave.  Why do I think I can just drop down in Paris and begin?

The rest of the afternoon was spent in libraries.  At the Bibliotheque Historique de la Ville de Paris,  I had to get a library card in order to use the facilities which entitled me to all the public libraries in Paris.  Magnifique!  However, the woman assisting me decided to go beyond issuing a card: she would help me with my research.  What was I looking for?  What names did I have?  I was unprepared as we went from French to English to French.  All very confusing.  She assured me there was nothing there for me as she quickly went through databases, none of which I understood.

UnknownReading Room  Bibliotheque Historique de la Ville de Paris

Back to the mediatheque (a library with digital access) at the Irish Cultural Center.  As my great grandfather was a physician, it might mean he had attended a medical school in Paris.  I told the librarian I now had a library card and asked if there were records of 19th century medical students studying in Paris.   He found that the National Archives did have such a list which could only be accessed at the Archives themselves.  A plan for tomorrow.  I moved on to my Irish side and took out Social Change and Everyday Life in Ireland, 1850-1922.  It provided some interesting information on clothing, education, farming.

I ended the day with another writer from the center.  We met for coffee at Numero 220 on Rue Saint Jacques.  Her local.  Delicious coffee and a friendly owner.  She thinks someone should write a novel about women of a certain age- their struggle to be independent, that is, from familial demands.  Saying no to requests poses problems.

Unknown-1Numero 220

Friday February 28

Several of the artists have come to the end of their residency, so we arranged for a farewell dinner Saturday night.

I needed a pair of jeans, and, on my way to the National Archives, went to Cos, a clothing store in the Marais.  Success.   Since it was Fashion Week, the narrow streets were crowded.  Before people entered the shows, they were given an electronic temperature reading to exclude those who might have the coronavirus.  Many Italians were there although there had been were rumors that a travel ban on trains from Italy might be forthcoming.

I saw a small elderly woman and her companion making their way towards me.  I pushed myself against the building to give them room.  As they passed, this “frail” woman elbowed me- hard.  I turned towards her as she walked away, dumbfounded.  Then she cursed me.  I replied “Vous n’etes pas tres gentile Madame.” You are not very nice, Madame.

Unknown-3                                                           Rue des Rosiers

Although I had success buying a pair of jeans, my luck didn’t hold at the Archives. The receptionist informed me that I was at the wrong library.  This library only had records from before the revolution, that is, before 1789.  I asked if the correct library was open tomorrow, Saturday.  Yes, she said but the request for records had to be put in before 3:00 P.M. today.  It was 2:58.  I had forgotten the rules which I had once known by heart when I used the Archives d’outre Mer in Aix en Provence.  A bust.

But not completely.  I got the best fallafel in Paris.  No room at the inn, so I leaned against a building and chowed down.  Delicieux.

Unknown-4L’As du Fallafel








Paris Day 11 and 12

February 25 Tuesday

Equipped with sunglasses to cover my still badly bruised eye, I visited the Henri Cartier Bresson Foundation in the Marais.  This gallery or museum is exactly my cup of tea- just a few rooms to explore.  The two exhibits of women photographers, Bresson’s wife, Martine Franck and Marie Bovo who lives in Marseille were stunning.  Martine Franck photographed older artists believing the images might change ageism, that these faces would be seen as interesting, perhaps beautiful.


Nathalie Sarraute

Marie Bovo used extended time exposure to film Marseille and it’s refuge camp at night: she finds beauty in the ordinary.  I want the images to stay with me, to live inside me.


Perhaps, trying to recapture the past, I walked a few blocks to Camille’s.  An old haunt of my daughter’s when she lived in Paris.  On cold rainy days, we would find ourselves there in the late afternoon ordering snails, pate, a glass of wine.



Seated by the window, I enjoyed potage crème de celeriac and watched pedestrians along Rue Elzevir.  Paris is home.

Like last year, I wrote during the quiet of late afternoon.  Satisfying- today at least.


February 26 Wednesday.

Spent the morning researching my Irish grandmother.  I jump from country to country.  Why am I looking at her information while I’m in Paris?  Overwhelmed by the subject, I jump back and forth: double consciousness of W.E.B. Dubois, the famine in Ireland.

I discovered some new information from the materials I brought with me about Nana, that is, Molly Daly.  The County Roscommon 1901 Census indicated she lived with her grandmother, two uncles, and an older sister in a house that had just two windows and an outbuilding, probably an outhouse.  Also, they didn’t own the land, as I thought, but rented it.  I’ve asked the artists in residence here at the center if they knew of any books or journals that depict the lives of Irish women on small farms during the late 19th and early 20th century.  No luck.  They attribute this deficiency to the lack of education  for the poor who, therefore, may have been illiterate.  Yet, my grandmother went to the eighth grade in Ireland.  Also, the census listed her grandmother and uncles as able to read and write.

Decided to have lunch around the corner at Au Port du Salut on Rue Saint-Jacques.     There weren’t many customers, just two older white French men and a younger black man.  At the end of the room was a piano.  From the bit of eavesdropping I understood, it seems the younger man is a musician and they were discussing a gig, maybe at this restaurant.


Au Port du Salut

The room is partially underground, the windows looking out on the feet of passersbys.  It reminded me of a jazz club or cave as they were once known on Rue de la Huchette that I visited when I was 21.  The colors are the same, red, black, dark wooden beams.  As I drank my coffee, I looked more closely at the photos on the walls: Serge Gainsbourg, Francoise Hardy, Barbara, French singers of another era.

I asked the waiter if they had visited?  He answered yes, they had performed in this very room.  Formidable!

Later, I saw Bela Tarr’s Satantango (Part 2), a Hungarian film in three parts, each two hours long, shot in black and white, and focusing on life in a poor village.  The opening scene is close to 15 minutes long as the camera follows cows wandering around a muddy field.  Although tedious, another long take, this of an older, overweight doctor watching and chronicling the movement of his neighbors, captivated me.  Did I picture myself, writing, drinking, looking out the window?


From Bela Tarr’s film Satantango

Tonight another artists’ gathering, this time in the painter’s studio.  Much of her work is located in the forests of Sweden where she feels more attuned to the landscape than Galway where she’s lived for 16 years.  Another interesting discussion about place, it’s effect and the position from which it is observed.  Satantango is also about a place “that has such people in it.”

I’m always looking for “place.”  The place to write?  The place to…?  Is my longing to live on an island a desire for a place from which I can’t escape.   A dilemma.  A fantasy.



Paris Day Nine and Ten

Sunday  February 23

I found the marche!  It was Marche Monge.  I had confabulated several markets and lost my way.  Here were the familiar stalls: the excellent cheese monger, the flower seller, the cous cous stand (not great as I remembered) and the Italian stall.  I had plans for most of the day, so I bought a slice of vegetable lasagna for dinner in my room and two bunches of tiny daffodils.

Marche Monge

I gave myself an hour to get to Gare de L’Est where I was meeting Christiane.  We were to visit Cimetière de Montmartre in search of a de Jorna grave.  Usually, I walk around Place Tour Saint Jacques.  But today, walking through a park on an overcast day appealed to me.  These small green oases in Paris restore.  As I was exiting on to Blvd. de Sebastopol, I felt myself falling and could see there was no escape.  Flat on my face, bruising my left eye while hitting my right side.

            Place La Tour Saint Jacques

First, had I ripped my jeans?  No.  Second was there a pharmacist close by, open on a Sunday?  I was in luck.  French pharmacists are excellent sources of advice, almost like going to Emergency Care.  He gave me a cold pack, medication to help oxygen move to the bruise, and a salve.  He told me that every day someone comes in with the same condition as if the street had caused the injuries.  That soothed me somewhat, but this wasn’t the first time I had literally fallen on my face in France.  Last time, I lost four front teeth.

I returned to Place Tour Saint Jacques, found a bench, applied the cold pack, and cancelled my plans.  No one looked at me except by accident and, then, the onlooker’s eyes widened in shock.  I took a selfie and understood their surprise. I had a real shimmer.

I spent the rest of the day in my room: reading, resting, applying cold packs.

Monday February 24

When I woke up, felt the bruises on my face, and got a look at my black eye, I wanted to go home.  Like a child who needs it’s mother, the comfort and familiarity after being hurt, I wanted my house with it’s beautiful light, my cat who loves me, sort of, my garden, my, my.  But this desire to bolt isn’t unique.  The last two times I stayed in Paris, I left early, just a few days, but why?

   Milo, the man in my life

What am I looking for?  I always thought I should have stayed in Paris when I was 21 and not come home to do the expected, that is, get a degree.  I felt free, accepted, in control, unburdened.  Well, I can’t get that back.  And what burdens am I looking to unload?  A state of mind unencumbered by expectations, by obligations?  Yet, when I want to leap across the Atlantic, the ties to loved ones, to landscape pull at me.  Aren’t they encumbrances of a sort?  Whether writing or traveling, essentially the same question rears it’s unwanted head.  What the hell am I doing?  Part of the process of making a life, of trying to create something?

After spending part of the day writing, I decided to hide myself in the movies.  Armed with sunglasses, I walked to Reflet Médicis to see Visconti’s White Nights.  I passed the Champo: a line extended along Rue des Écoles, people of all ages waiting to buy tickets to Fellini’s La Notti de Cabiria, Nights of Cabiria.  The scene heartened me: you’ve got to applaud the French love of cinema.

At the ticket booth, I had to remove my sunglasses and felt the need to explain my appearance: Je suis tombe dans la rue ( I fell in the street).  Immediately the clerk asked if I was all right.  Did it hurt?  Scratch the surface and the French can be tres gentils.

I came to see Visconti’s 1957 adaptation of Dostoevsky’s short story “White Nights” (La notti bianche): the cinematography seemed strangely real and unreal.  The black and white photography reminded me of his La Terra Tréma.  Whereas that film was shot on location in Sicily, this film takes place on a set, a carefully reconstructed section of Livorna.  Disconcerting.  Like the characters, I was thrown off guard.

                     La Notti Bianche

Visconti explained,

”It must look as if it is false but when you start to think it’s fake, it must look as if it were real.”

On my way home, adorned with sunglasses, I decided on a pastis at  Cafe de la Nouvelle Mairie.  Again, I felt compelled to explain my shiner to the barman.  Again concern.

          Cafe de la Nouvelle Mairie