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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention


Chasing Matisse: The Book

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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention

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January 31, 2003

Striking Gold

It is dark at 8:00 A.M. Not pitch black, but the lights of the village are still on, which makes it so hard to get up from this luxurious bed. Man, have we slept in some nice ones-mattresses with just the right firmness and padding, crisp linens that make crawling underneath them an instant of bliss-usually between midnight and 1:00 A.M. for me. We leave the French door cracked to hear the surf lapping the beach. I usually work late at night after dinner, writing and trying to catch up with email which is our source of communication-that and the phone. We haven't sent one post card or letter. I bought stamps in Paris, but there has been no time to correspond in an old-fashioned note. It's an indulgence that I still look forward to with delicious anticipation. I force myself up and run a hot bath, wishing it was infused with bubbles that I don't have. I submerge my body in clear water instead.

Jim sketched on the cliff, and we drove to the village for a lunch of ham and cheese galettes (crÍpes of buckwheat) and cidre-which is alcoholic cider-I think lighter than beer, more refreshing to me with its effervescence. Cidre is served in a tea cup, this one without handle. We drove up into the hillside of …tretat to look at the mansions dotted through the winding roads. It's a pretty village, no doubt more so in Spring with pots of flowers and greenery. Most of …tretat is shut up for the season. That's okay, we don't have to see the "scene" to get the picture. Jim and I like to be in places in winter, when no one else is there, when the leaves have fallen from the trees, and the sky is clear and cold. Here the sun and clouds and rain take turns. Within minutes the weather changes, blowing in and out across the ocean.

In the last couple of days, Jim and I were having a conversation, and I said, "Each step I take is a step I've never taken before." He loved that. It popped out of my mouth before I really thought about it. But now that I have, I find it an accurate (and erudite) description. And if my heart could sing to express its response, I think it would be an opera with elaborate costumes. Although it could be a hit Broadway show (including Nathan Lane), or depending on my mood, it might be rock and roll (and then I choose U2). I'm not even going to get into the singer-songwriters.

What I'm realizing is that this act, spirit, consciousness, vision-whatever it is-is critical for my sense of well-being. I'm not sure I knew this about myself when I was younger, or maybe I've grown this way with age. I did understand from the first time I landed in Europe that I wanted to live on this continent someday. I liked how I felt here, although I'm not sure I knew what that meant. When I was a child, my parents took my brothers and me on long car trips-from Arkansas to New York, out west. We drove to Mexico City one year, and if my father hadn't died in 1969, we were going to spend the next summer on a road trip to Alaska. This was an incredible gift my parents gave me and us. There is no doubt that these experiences enlarged my world and whetted my wanderlust. (Was it also in my genes? I think so. Or maybe it's embedded in archetypal memories of living in tribes.)

I feel more fulfilled and engaged than I did at home. I've given up the frustration and pain of my novel not being published yet-which drove me insane. I'm proud of it. It tells a good story with well-chosen words. It's rich in texture and spirit and characters that kick up the dust in the world that I invented for them. They have their own journeys-like and unlike my own.

I wrote emails to Blair and Bret, giving my opinion about issues in their lives. I hope they pay attention, but they're adults, and I can't make their decisions for them. This is one thing I am learning better here. I can also tell I'm processing griefs that were deeply embedded in my psyche. They're working through my dreams, and I'm feeling less burdened by them. Part of the difference, I think, gets back to my intense sensitivity, and space and distance don't allow as much input here. I emailed friends I hadn't had time to before-trying to keep contact with people we care about and who care about us.

We had dinner in a big, lit auberge. I liked the look of the meals the couple sitting behind me ordered. The waiter didn't speak English, and I was trying to ask him, subtly, what they were eating, which I did in my broken French and by jerking my head in their direction. (Madame Bubbette making an attempt at becoming Miss Nonchalent.) He slyly turned and stared. A couple sitting in Jim's eyesight was breaking up. He could tell by their body language and rhythm of conversation. The woman wanted out, and the man began crying. Jim remembered the situation. Some things are the same no matter what country you're in or what language you speak.

I've had a couple of breakdowns about the choices we've made, where we'll end up. I crashed the next day, crushed and defeated. Second-guessing and questioning how we'd gotten ourselves to the point where we are (and I don't mean in France). Isn't there some song lyric that says, "When it feels so right, how can it be wrong?" That sums it up.

I arrived in picturesque Honfleur feeling like a wreck. We'd been here before with Blair and Bret, savoring a lunch of fish under an awning by the harbor, while it drizzled rain. The waiter flirted with Blair. Today the sun was out, and the streets were semi-crowded with people. We looked for a hotel. We finally stopped at the L'Ecrin. We'd been by several times, and again, it called to me. We walked in, and a jovial French woman, whose name is Danielle, warmly greeted us and invited us to sit down. We explained what we are doing-chasing Matisse-and she excitedly told us she had a friend who'd been one of Matisse's models. She lived not far away. What luck! This was striking gold! Danielle immediately picked up the telephone and called Madame Mickels, handed the phone to Jim, and they made an appointment to meet the next day. The L'Ecrin is lovely, the kind of place I'm drawn to anyway, but of course, I now believe our finding it was meant to be.

We were shown to an exquisite room with wallpaper of blue and yellow flowers, gold drapes and bedspread. Silk and lace curtains were pulled to the bedposts-no canopy, and the marbles in the bathroom matched the blue and gold details-our loveliest room yet. Jim went to sketch, and I went to sleep.

I believe it's true that you create your own reality. Oh, Fairy Godmother, this golden bedroom is how I picture mine.

posted by Beth on January 31, 2003 | View All Diary Entries

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