PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1980 - JANUARY
Friday 4 January, Bella Terra, Porticcio, Corsica
I remember writing some prophetic words at the end of last year but the end of this one was interrupted. I was settling in to spend new year's eve alone writing and cooking with three glasses of wine waiting, but Ange came a knocking, so I went to watch television with him and Monica, with Taylor and Burton imparting too much farce into the 'Taming of the Shrew'. At teh end of the evening, I said I wanted to go back to Bella Terra, and sweet Ange lent me his car.
When I got there, I thought I could see, from the coast road, a light on in my studio! But, when I walked in, the place was dark. Harold and R were there, though, hiding. He is the exotic called flamboyance, she is the crocus. They'd come by plane!. So right away we went to the madman's tower to drink champagne to the new year. Yet, underlying ALL my joy, ALL my laughter, ALL my pleasure, was an old fear. This IS not all. This IS not all. Somehow, the alcohol made me aware of existing limits to our love and comradeship. How trite I sound. All night my heart beat fast. I could not sleep well after my tranquillity was on holiday.
What is it? Can I define it, give it shape, and then talk about it as an abstract quality of life? Where should I begin? By saying I have absolutely no idea what it is. Perhaps I should start from now. Am I happy now? I am peaceful, thoughtful, a little tired, not content because my writing is not as good as I hoped it might be. I am definitely not angry or jealous at this moment. But I couldn't say if I was happy or not. OK, yesterday, was I happy then? Yes, when the sun was shining and I was climbing on the rocks. But I prefer to measure my existence in terms of satisfaction and ecstasy. They are more vulnerable to pride; happiness like religion is for the masses. Happiness signals to me a state of non-change, of evenness and implies a non-awareness of the concept in the same way as humility. A happy man cannot stop and say he is happy otherwise his contented state is a show not the real thing. On the other hand, it is possible to say yes I was happy in retrospect, in this or that period of my life. But that period may have involved upheavals, uncertain moments, deep depressions; surely the general impression of happiness is only a concept. I for one would not wish happiness. I strive for self-satisfaction, a battle that is never won because each end is a beginning; and, along the way I snatch what moments of ecstasy I can. So, do not ask me if I'm happy for I cannot answer. Do not ask if I had a happy life for I will not be able to say 'yes', and if I were to say 'no' you might wash me with religious sympathy. I'd rather say that it has been good to live. I'd rather say I did or did not achieve my aims. Happiness is for those who ask if you are happy.
Tears flood my eyes when I am not occupied, tears that sum up the negative sides of my world: loneliness, independence, inability, incapacity, lack of knowledge etc. I seem to destroy all I love in order to find more and better. This self-defeating lifestyle, this constant pushing, demanding of me and others, this constant battle to preserve my pride and independence, can only isolate me further from the world. How long will I be able to hold out alone, and then will I ever be able to compromise with anyone.
So they came and they went and time lost its bite whilst they were here. We were children in love again, explorers, intrepid- he the frivolous, me the practical, he the extrovert and me the rational. And, R - somehow she acted as a buffer. I read to them, I talked to them, but I feel I need to step another step. I don't know how long I can hang on in there with Harold, the closest friend I ever had. Tears come to my eyes. I cannot reconcile myself to either fate.
All my hungers ache - that emptiness returns. The unfillable one. I stuff myelf with tea and cakes but it's still there.
But let us remember the special times: the madness of the midnight tower, rages of the sand, and champagne with toasts by a full moon. The glorious moonlit hour. It was too cold for the dance, and words came too fast to be understood or even listened to. There were stories of counts and aeroplanes, and then we were dashing southward for a tour of Corsica. We went first to an ancient penitentiary for forced labour with vast kilns and cellars, and then to Filitosa where the olive trees seemed as old as stones. We zoomed through Propriano, and made Sartene for tea. Even in half light with miserable rain we could see the beauty of Sartene, with its narrow alleys roofed by arches supporting one tenement from falling onto others. We bypassed Tizzana because it was already late, and made Rocapina by twilight. R slept while we played on rocks. At Bonifacio we bargained for a room, and probably disturbed everyone else in the hotel with our screams and laughter. And onwards with the car to mountains where we found snow and pine forests and manmade lakes. At Zonza we found the bust of some general with his nose broken off. And we met Isabel who invited us to dinner . . . and so to dinner we went. Harold swam in mountain streams below the snowline. Over Col de Bavella we went, where it seemed no man had been before; and slowly we descended down to the clementine fields, to dawdle along the coast.
Isabel's place was a set of huts storing boats, mattresses and candles. The cooker worked, we ate and wined, with Maggie too. She's English, but based in Paris and into perfumes. She talks non-stop, like a living radio. Isabel (who had a double bed) retired far too early, and, when she did, there was nothing left for me, except to walk on the moonlit beach. In the morning, it was difficult to leave. There was breakfast on the beach; and Isabel's quiet but attractive eyes. Ah Isabel, she was so cool and proud. As we left, accompanied by Maggie, she walked around the trees in circles, hands sunk in pockets, head turned away, deep in thought. And then, as our car pulled away, she unhooked the hammock with an air of woman I hadn't seen for so long. At that moment, I fell in love with the idea of falling in love with her.
We sped up the coast, the inhabited coast. Maggie talked and talked and, when we got out to look at the views from the pass, she got dizzy watching a lake through one eye and the sea through the other. We drank, in the most unlikely bar, liquor de cedrat - a cedrat is bigger and sweeter than a lemon. Maggie talked and talked of the Templars and such things until finally we could leave her where she needed to be. And then we sped up to the snow again, to cross the mountains, towards home.
8 January 1980
I'm a bit light-headed on the mulled wine I make for myself every night. My senses become a bit disoriented; tiredness comes prematurely in the form of black thoughts and heavy eyelids. But still this evening I have things to do: French practice, reading, and writing, and important facts to record here as well.
There is excitement up at Bastelica. Apparently three men of the 'Parallel Police' were making their way to the town in order to torture one of the autonomistas, presumably from the FLNC. However, the UPC stopped them and searched their car. They found guns, explosives and torture devices. The three have now been taken to a stronghold in the town protected by the autonomistas and the people, none of whom want to give them up to the police, for fear that they will just disappear, released by the government that employs them. According to some sources, these parallel police cause damage in order to file evidence against the FLNC. So now, after four days, the police have blocked Bastelica as they were laying a siege; but the people remain adamant. One of the three is a high-level commander in the Corsican administration; Raymond Barr is known to have visited him last year, thus proving a link with the government. This is all very embarrassing for the French.
This is turning into a political page since I should also recount a story about Rosy and Andrew. They were in Leicester Square around midnight, emerging from the cinema after the opening of the film 'The Alternative Miss World', in which Rosy starred as 'Miss Piss', when they were accosted by the police. Andrew was mauled, and thrust into a van. A photographer was taking pictures, but his film was destroyed, and he was thrown into the van also. And, on the way to the police station a woman put herself in the way of the van and she was arrested too. At the police station, they were searched thoroughly, and Andrew was assaulted and invited to fight back. His rib was broken. Later the police mentioned the possibility of charges of public indecency and resisting arrest, but, after two appearances in court, he was never charged. Immediately on release, Andrew had gone to a doctor to get medical evidence, and to a lawyer, and he and the others intend to sue. They have at least one independent witness who appeared at the court and said he was appalled at the police treatment. But now R & A are afraid of the police, of a raid on their home, or an investigation of his business. And Rosy no longer busks.
The sky turns blue again - placidity returns. I am full of things to do. I have only three weeks left, there are people to meet, places to go, things to read, stories to write.
Behind Ajaccio I discover the market gardens: the irrigation schemes, the rows of strawberries and asparaguses. Gardens are full of the orange trees and red pepper plants.
Saturday 12 January
Time has sped by.
Many many police arrived from the continent, the CRS riot police. They sieged Bastelica, but, nevertheless, the autonomistas managed to get one hostage out and down to Ajaccio where he was held hostage in the Rue Fesh Hotel along with the ten hotel guests. The police then got heavy in Ajaccio. The autonomistas handed out tracts asking the people of the town to keep vigil during the night so that the police wouldn't shoot their way in. One night, when the whole town was barricaded three people were killed, one by a seventeen year old cadet of the CNS who shouldn't even have had a gun - apparently a car went through a barrier by mistake and reversed back only to be shot at. The cadet will be charged but what about the general of the division who put him there. Other killings were equally ludicrous. An archbishop intervened and asked for the show of strength to be slackened, instead it was toughened. Yesterday, the autonomistas gave themselves up to the prefecture, the local police, not the CRS, as soldiers not as criminals. All the hostages in the hotel agreed they were impeccably treated and said they hoped the autonomistas got what they wanted. In fact, it appears (and this despite considerable censorship) that the autonomistas behaved liked gentlemen and the government behaved like fascist pigs - will it be enough to bring the government down? Apparently, the prime minister denied on television the existence of a parallel police. Even now, after a lot of talking to local people, I'm still not sure what happened to the three original parallel police stopped in the car. It's been very hard to get any concrete information. It seems two of them might have been taken out into the maquis and shot, but that the commander, the one who was pals with Barr, disappeared. One of them certainly confessed to the whole business. But how could the commander disappear? Why don't the autonomistas know where he is?
Whilst all this was happening I was in Bonifacio. On Wednesday, I'd received a letter from Margaret inviting me there because she and Isabel were staying in a house with hot showers etc. I was slightly reticent, but decided I should take any chance to stay in another part of the island. I packed a bag and left immediately. I wish, though, I'd stayed to watch the action. Home in Bonifacio was a boatyard. Isabel was well and truly entwined with her Corsican bar-owning Francois, and was not interested in me at all. I did, however, lose some of my synthetic attraction to her, finding her both stiff and naive. And Margaret was near impossible to be with. I simply could not respond to her enthusiasm about everything. I could not, I would not compete in her conversation, and eventually I stopped talking to her. She never listened. She always seemed confused. And I found it really odd that everyone we met let her get away with an unrepentant superficiality. I tried to tell myself that a lot of her effervescence was as a result of nervousness. Isabel, meanwhile, talked of meeting 300 people in six months, only 20 of whom were really interesting. It rankled me a bit that both of them, at different times, said how much they had liked Harold. I have to get rid of this petty jealousy
Sunday 13 January
Bonifacio is a model, it has no substance, no cement between the bricks, nobody seems to be producing anything. Firstly, there is Francois who cannot live without his car and contacts. He flutters around, but all he does is serve coffee. Then there are the friends of Francois: one hires cars and the other is a clerk in the town hall. There are two Belgians restoring old Italian paintings; and a plump English woman with a plump Swiss husband who polish stones to sell to the tourists in summer. There is a couple who live in a boat by night and repair boats by day. But nobody is producing anything, all the work is dependant on tourism. It all appears so artificial.
Back in Terra-Bella letters wait me. Harold reassures me that I am important to him, but, he says, he will wrap my knuckles in Paris - evidently I told him off too much when he was here.
Apparently there are 39 autonomistas in the hotel, 36 have been flown to Paris. Today in Ajaccio and Bastia there are demonstrations demanding their release.
From along a darkened beach you choose a wave - one that will serve you up to the dunes with truth. You wait, you examine, and then you choose - the biggest, the quickest, that tallest, the darkest, the one that might drown you. But you don't know how to ride it, you can't see the direction of the swirl. Fortune has to be yours, for unfortune won't do. You're glad it's not cold. You might not have chosen, but you did, and you're all washed up. Words lie around, a bed of seaweed. It'll all smell soon but it just looks ugly now. You have the feel, the ooze, the slime, but you're wishing you'd chosen different. How will you ever disentangle yourself. You know you'll have to wait till dawn. You wish you didn't have so many limbs, especially that right hand that holds a pen and thinks of stops and commas. How you wish you'd stayed in bed and lived your life by swimming pools.
Monday 14 January
Tonight I have shuttered myself in because the rains have returned. I find my brain slow and unwilling.
About 6,000 people turned up for the demonstration in Ajaccio - the rest had gone as usual on their Sunday morning drive. I wrote a short story called 'The Overcoat', based on what happened to me: being stopped as a suspect, and being shearched.
I broke an empty bottle of wine and there were a few drops of red on the floor. This sparked off a train of thought about an incredibly fussy and tidy housewife with a white-tiled kitchen. I shall write a story about her.
Tuesday 15 January
He whispers urgently: 'Where am I going and why am I going there?' The thunder crackles, the rain hisses, already his shoes and socks are wet. He repeats: 'Where am I going and why am I going there?' His hair drips, his head startles to the lightning. And again: 'Where am I going and why am I going there?' Both trousers and coat are now wet. He stops walking. In the same urgent whisper: 'Where did I come from and why did I leave?' He remembers a small room, so small in fact that one could only stand in three places: in front of the sink which was next to the hotplate, in front of the wardrobe, or in between the two, all three places being along side a bed. One couldn't stand on the bed because the roof sloped over it. He had remembered where he came from, but was it his recent or distant past? Alternately, he delighted in and detested his wetness. He forgot which way he was walking. He continued to stand still, his thoughts would not be yolked any more. Finally, he screamed: 'Why am I here?'
Sunday 20 January
What did I do on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday?
This morning the sun shone brilliantly, I lay in bed forever tossing my dreams and revolving my eyes, never tired but always returning to sleep. I turned over again and again, rethreading my dreams. It is towards midday now, the greyness and cold have completely taken over. I am happy to stay in.
I have been rolling down the hill the last few days. The discipline has slipped, at the same time I have started taking odd cigarettes, having boring conversations, knocking things over, having to shit in the middle of breakfast, losing all inspiration to write and all determination to work. It is Sunday. On Thursday it seems I shall leave. Panic. I am planning to leave with Monica's brother, although, in fact, it would be better to send luggage with him and go myself at the end of the month. But I don't know what to do with myself any more. It seems I've run out of the steam that kept me stoked up and sane here in solitary confinement.
VARIATIONS ON A THEME
Fowles has fucked me up. Every page, every line I read makes me aware of the enormous gulf between writing that is elegant and commercial and mine. I realise a hundred truths in the same breath: I don't have the memory for detail a novelist needs; I am impatient and unable to concentrate on one thing at a time; my seemingly erudite references sound contrived; and I haven't the ability or imagination to create characters. I feel lost. I am born into a generation that gives unqualified, untalented brains like mine the chance to hope and dream, that has created a great class of pseudo-artists. It was a huge jump for me to escape the clutches of middle-class suburban monotony but how much greater a leap must I take to rid me of that monstrous pseudo prefix.
Beyond the Gulf of Sagone, the tourist influence lessens, and by the time you reach Porto there are only isolated hotels and villages, no mass of terraced apartments. The coast is more wild, the mountains more rugged and deserted save for the occasional ruined stone huts used by shepherds. Between Porto and Fango (which is rugged, beautiful and the most genuine 'outback' in all of Corsica) lie three villages on the mountainside, each of which you glimpse first through the old eucalyptus trees that line the narrow road (how young the aging eucalyptus looks). Beyond Le Fango, you feel as though a border has been crossed. One valley contains a huge ruined house standing majestic and alone on the hillside. Nearby there was an old silver mine. I crossed this 'undiscovered' territory cramped into a car with three women: a mother and daughter from New Caledonia, and, in the back, swaying against me, another woman, fur-coated, over-dressed and over-made up. She seemed so out of place. Calvi is more jolly and less pretentious than Bonifacio. There is a citadel, and a small housing estate on the plains behind the supermarket. Two modern shops 'Nature' and 'Habitat' give it some fashionable status. I shall go to Monte Maggiore tomorrow.
The Foreign Legion are a tough bunch. I walked into a bar in Calvi and was accosted by a bunch of them. They stole my cap and tried it on. Two women behind the bar encouraged their games. One of the soldiers spoke good English, and tried pretending to be American. He had hard eyes and twisted lips. He looked like a character that had emerged from a hybrid Western-gangster movie. He told me that he had had an English friend once, but that one day they'd had a fight and he (the English one) had gone to the hospital. He told the story without shame or guilt, just as a matter of fact. These foreign legionaires sign on for five years. In the first year, they get ten days holiday, then, each year, they get an additional ten days.
I slept on the ground floor balcony of an empty hotel. Although I was never cold I woke up many times hoping the sky would be blue and not black.
The next day, I went to Calenzara and saw that they burnt their rubbish in the main square to the side of the church. I walked through olive groves listening to gentle bird songs. I noticed very ostentatious tombs along the roadside. I got to Monte Maggiore thanks to a newspaper delivery van. As we stopped in one village, the driver pointed out some English people. They seemed very friendly, but I wasn't quick enough to suggest I go with them wherever they were going. Monte Maggiore is where the Anfriani family -direct descendants of Don Juan - live. From there, I walked and walked up and down hills with the citadel of Calvi always in sight. Finally, my friends, the three women, came trundling along the deserted road and picked me up again. At Ilha de Rousso, the car got stuck, and I had to drive it out of the mud. Later I stood for two hours in drizzle reading Fowles, before I finally got a ride to the main road. And then it was a race to the col. The snow was coming down fast, and my driver wasn't sure he'd make it. We slipped and skidded for three kilometres up and slipped and skidded for three kilometres down - but I was back in Ajaccio before dark.
Tuesday 22 January
A letter arrives from Luke. It is full of news that disturbs my tranquillity. He tells me that the Phantom Captain's computer programme season at the ICA is postponed indefinitely - I was hoping to be deeply involved in that. Joel must be disappointed, after all he put a long time and energy into it. He also sends me a clippint, or my first ever review published in Performance Magazine. It's considerably hacked around, but my name appears in print for the very first time. It only serves to show me how incompetent I really am with words. He says Joel is getting into films, and Terry is following through with his music. Why the fuck can't I do anything well?
After meeting David and Stephanie, I work for a few hours in their olive mill. I am entranced. I offer to come again tomorrow. David is a landscape gardener, a would-be artist and failed businessman. He's about 40. Stephanie is at least ten years older, she has an upper class air, and has been married once or twice. They fell in love, came to Corsica, bought a stone house and mill and set about restoring them.
Thursday 24 January 1980
I worked a full day at the mill, and fell a little in love with David and Stephanie (I sent them a silk scarf this morning). She's been married three times! He was a dealer in Greek and Roman coins for 12 years, until it became too popular. He plays chess and scrabble. I am impressed by the mill, their determination, their partnership.
I am leaving Corsica and heading back to Paris.
Paul K Lyons
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