Chasing Matisse: The Book
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Chasing Matisse Newsletter
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March 11, 2003
You'd think we were having wild nights in Paris as late as we're staying up-12:30 or 1:00 A.M. is normal, 2:00 happens (but is bad), and 3:00 A.M. is a killer the next day. We're not having wild parties or going out. We're working late, cooking dinner later, eating dinner after that, watching a little TV-more since we have period pieces from the BBC and "Sex and the City," which we never saw when it was hot, new, and blowing up everyone's skirts. Then we read-Jim about art and Matisse, me about Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, who was a political and social power in her day, and Liane de Pougy, who was a famous courtesan and dancer at the Folies Bergere.
Our late nights are nothing compared to theirs! The English aristocracy in the 1700's would stay up till 5:00 A.M. chatting, gambling, drinking, carrying on with their lovers, and then breakfast would be delivered to their rooms at noon. The ladies wrote notes to each other back and forth and planned their political and romantic intrigues as easily as they did their hats and costumes for the day. They were not powerless. They wielded a great deal of might, though much of their financial security was determined by the generosity or hard-heartedness of men. Georgiana gambled a fortune away in her youth, which tormented her endlessly and caused her problems for the rest of her life with family, friends, and creditors. When it was discovered that she was pregnant with her lover's child, her husband kept her away from her other children for two years. No matter that he had several illegitimate children of his own-including two with her (and their) best friend, who continued to live with them. (The author does not commit to the defining characteristics of this relationship except to say it went on for years and was an intense friendship, whatever kind of ménage a trios).
Unlike Georgiana, Liane grew up without money but was determined to get it and have a more exciting existence. She was beautiful and pleasing to both men and women and possessed amazing charisma. Gaining acclaim as a dancer and courtesan, she was given a fortune in money, jewels, and furs by her lovers and minded her money and created a fortune herself. She also had many well-heeled and important friends and led a glamorous night life, a life of frivolity and parties, which in the end didn't mean much to her. She also had strong opinions about everything, including politics, and was well-informed but not influential-as Georgiana was-in the highest ranks of government. She lived long and well but with regret about her wild, younger days. In some ways, so did Georgiana.
I think of these women often when I am up late reading, having quiet moments with myself. We all have highs and lows, though maybe not as much public drama as Georgiana and Liane. (There are those who have to have a constant crisis or attention in order to feel okay about themselves. They want people to notice and feel sorry for them, but that wasn't the case with these two. They were extraordinary women, or at least made themselves so.)
Our late nights are not at glamorous parties, but the work of writing a book is intense, and we have shut ourselves off to get our jobs done. We're cooking delicious dinners with good French food for an end-of-the-day treat. The huge chicken we bought in Rennes was roasted, as were more fresh vegetables. We added a fresh whole wheat baguette and butter. We're learning the French products and markets, though we don't have a French cookbook. We're cooking by feel.
But we've also found it's important to get out occasionally, or we don't even know where we are. A couple of days before Valentine's, we found the printer in Auray that Alice suggested and got our business cards done. They look great! White cards with blue lettering-perfect for Chasing Matisse! Valentine's Day is big here too. We didn't make a reservation, because we were ambivalent about going out. When we decided it was exactly what we needed, we drove to St-Goustan and the more elegant restaurant was reserved. We went next door and had a dinner of oysters and tuna. A movie crew has been in town shooting, but they weren't in evidence this night. They've been all over the place, with actors in period costumes. We haven't asked anyone who the director is or about the story, but I would love to see the result. It's been amusing to see these women and men in centuries-old dress with down coats and cigarettes hanging out of their mouths.
Valentine's is one of my favorite holidays, and I usually have a festive soirée-dinner with champagne, lots of wine, and kitschy decorations. Last year we topped them all by putting a head on my grandmother's dress form and wrapping her in a red silk night gown. We all had our picture made with her. Blair carried on the tradition for us this year. She had a small dinner with rose petals and Hershey kisses sprinkled across her table. She has taken the banner, and I am proud of her.
Our best Valentine was being mentioned on the Office of French Tourism's website. That was exciting, though somewhat strange seeing our names mentioned in the same phrases as "some would say foolhardy" and "chaos." But we couldn't be more thrilled! (And the French love our project, which pleases us also.)
We're in the Breton countryside living a quiet life while we charge ahead in work. In writing as in other art forms, you must first take information in-whatever it is-then spend some time processing it before words on paper are produced.
Our late nights are not glitzy. Our thoughts are churning. Our minds are full.
posted by Beth on March 11, 2003 | View All Diary Entries
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