PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1984 - JUNE
Wednesday 6 June
So I had a party, a pre-summer holiday party - dress in white or at least aptly or at least! Well it was a bit of a flop. There weren't the necessary numbers and the mass left too early to really fool me into thinking it had been a good one. I also organised it wrongly - having all the food and drink downstairs in a different stratosphere from the real party room. There were, though, a number of saving graces, but first my hit list of friends that didn't come: Annie, Luke, Vonny, Andre, John McG, Jane, Lisette and Iver. I did have apologies from Annie, Jane and John; Luke and Vonny said they would come with a friend, almost everyone else came alone - I couldn't believe it. There were probably 35 in all. But now for the saving graces. Annabel and Julek came up from Brighton early on Saturday and relaxed with me. That was lovely. I hadn't known them so quiet in themselves. I did really enjoy them and in the morning we went walking in The Garden which was looking so magical - its old and ancient shrubs and creepers bursting into flower and leaf with new life. The brooms and honeysuckles, the wisterias and azaleas, the clematis and ceanothus. It had rained in the night and the sun danced among the wet foliage. Other saving graces included the presence of Amanda and Phil, two people I haven't seen for over six months. Both apparently in excellent form.
The first guest to arrive was J and, as it happened, she was the last to leave. I hardly spoke to her the whole evening although I found R flirting with her at one point - she was, after all, the sexiest woman there. At three in the morning, only J, Margaret, Andrez and myself were left. Margaret was expecting a lift from J but J seemed in no hurry to leave. Eventually Margaret took a taxi, and Andrez went home, only to ring me a few minutes later to tell me there were fire engines in his street. Within minutes of being alone J and I were making love. Honestly, the idea of sleeping with J had never occurred to me, not until about an hour earlier. She flustered slightly when I invited her to bed, but was led like a child. The lovemaking was uncomplicated and slow, deliciously slow - two strangers, sexually speaking, allowing their new found desires to mount. With dawn and the morning, just a few hours later, there was nothing in our conversation that went any deeper than normal daily banter. And now, in the office, there's no hint of any past, not even a wry acknowledgement. I have questions - does she think I'm good in bed; will we ever repeat the episode - which I can only speculate on, and which will probably never be answered.
In Antibes again, at Sasha's flat.
A lizard jerks along the red stone wall in the garden below this balcony. There are bird of paradise flowers in bloom too - I've never noticed them before. Geraniums are everywhere, pink and scarlet, adorning every window box and doorstep in town. Birdsong fills the air. How fortunate to have the opportunity to stay here. If money can buy this sort of luxury then it is almost worth the striving for. Bel has gone to the beach.
I glance at a book about the flowers of the Mediterranean. It describes the cycle of vegetation and the concept of a climatic climax which, in the Med area, is an evergreen pine or oak forest. However, man and animal tend to destroy these for their own ends so there is very little climatic climax around. The maquis - best described as thick bush - is one step down from forest, but there's many types. The herby shrubs such as lavender and thyme are more correctly part of garigue according to this book - an area characterised by clumps of bushes, separated by bare rocky areas. But it is the maquis plant leaves that, in the burning heat of day, give off resinous aromatic oils.
During the siesta hours, the heat develops strength but the mornings and evenings remain cool. I think for a moment back to the office. I find it quite easy to praise my boss Jim but it is not creepiness or calculated. I told him he was the first boss who had actually managed to get me involved with my work. He refers to me as his No 2 and follows my advice sometimes. We took lunch together on Friday. I told him about my plans to go to South America.
'The Companion Guide to the South of France' by Archibald Lyall is as informative as its sister title on Ireland by Brendan Lehane. For example, it tells me about mimosa which is cultivated extensively for cut flowers to export to the UK, and that wild mimosa is used by the perfume industry because it has a stronger fragrance than the cultivated plants. Ether or acetone is used to extract the essential essentials from mimosa, but steam or animal fats are used for other perfumes.
We sit in sidewalk cafes with nothing to say; perhaps our silences are punctuated by a remark about food or flowers. And yet what else is there. My spirit is on holiday. Does too much sex serve the same purpose as a lobotomy?
We drove to Grasse yesterday. A fine place for views. The town is famous for its wide terraces, from whence one can see to the coast or beyond, even to Corsica if the sky is clear. And later we walked through Cannes at dusk. We climbed up to a fortress which was quite magical with an almost full moon shining through palm trees, and rich views of Cannes - its hotels and harbour - below.
Cistus - white and yellow, sometimes pink, five petalled flowers, commonly found wild here. Not to be confused with Cystisus, broom, currently in magnificent yellow bloom.
Bel has returned to London. Our short time together was far from perfect but we (Bel and I) didn't have a bad time. Today for example we were witness to the breathtaking beauty of the coast between Nice and Monaco: the dramatic scenery of forest-covered mountains falling steeply into an azure sea, yet set with men's constructions on every slope shallow enough to build. There was Eze, a rocky outcrop converted to dwellings when man was still in his medieval days, and now its warren-like core given over entirely to restaurants and tourist shops. And there was the Jardin Exotique of Monte Carlo where every cactus has a backdrop of stunning beauty: the Monaco harbour, the palace, the brilliant blue sea, the multifarious apartment blocks of the city stretching far below. Many of the cacti were flowering. They seem to erupt from the dull landscape of spring green with no rhyme or reason yet bring brilliant colour in complete contrast to the rest of their being. And then on to the Monte Carlo beach which is artificially created from sandy gravel. It's small, clean, tidy, manicured, and surrounded by well-kept gardens. Here is the azure sky, the azure sea and the smell of money among the sunbathers, their pelts darkly tanned from too much leisure and their limbs adorned with sprinklings of precious metals.
Friday 15 June 1984
I read in one of B's botanical books that most plants here in this climatic zone cease growing in the summer and that some grow continually through the winter. It makes sense of course for otherwise the tiny fresh shoots of growth would be frazzled before they had a chance to grow up, out, sideways, or wherever. Indeed, looking at the dense green foliage, it is a wonder the shrubs keep so fresh looking in the face of incessant sun every day and all day.
I stroll through Veilles Antibes, buying onions and lettuce and cheeses in the Provencal market.
Last Monday's 'Time' contained interesting articles. One on how the CIA supports the anti-Soviet guerrillas in Afghanistan. Another about Opus Dei, the highly controversial movement within Catholicism. I did not even know of its existence. Founded in 1928 by a Spanish priest, Escriva, its aim is to spread Catholicism through committed laity in ordinary jobs. 'Time' says the group is growing in stature thanks to the attention of the current pope. There are three categories: numeraries, 30%, who make commitments to lifelong celibacy and obedience and turn over their secular incomes and live in communities; associates, 20%, who are celibate but do not live in communities; supernumeraries who are not celibate and follow modified commitments. There are also 700,000 cooperators who need not be Catholics or even Christian, a radical concept, 'Time' says, when Escriva instituted it in 1950. Interestingly, the Opus Dei organisation is criticised for similar practices to the Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses or Children of God for the way they attract young teenagers and then make it difficult for them to leave, and for the way they demand commitments in terms of celibacy before the adolescents are old enough to know the meaning of such commitments. They have apparently reformed to limit membership to those over 18. Another article is about Britten's opera, 'Gloriana, touring the US as part of ENO's repertoire. 'Time' says it is 'less opera than a ceremony and is probably best appreciated in its country of origin'. Cutting, cutting! Then there's an article on Oyaku-Shinju, the practice of family suicide as a means of avoiding the shame of debt. But, usefully, the article notes that the killing of children by a parent followed by the suicide of the parent is no more common in Japan than in the US or other European nations. Perhaps it is more accepted in Japan. Certainly research shows that very few Japanese consider Oyaku-Shinju as child murder - 'Time' says this is because children in Japan are thought to be much more of an extension to their parents than in the west. Finally, there's an article about the selling of Reuters stock and how the wealth of Reuters is largely based on its provision of up-to-the-minute financial data rather than world news.
Well, I went to the market and the supermarket, bought vegetables. I sat in the bar on the beach during the early hours of the afternoon drinking a beer and reading 'Constance', but the weather was inclement. When the sun came out later I bathed on the beach for an hour. I swam, morning and evening, with exercises, and ate well.
Bel brought half a bottle of Johnny Walker whisky. I gulp it down with half an eye cocked on the Glenlivet in Sasha's bar.
It's astonishing, but every morning after waking, I lay in bed for some time drowsing and waking, perhaps trying to recall dreams, and when I finally stumble out of bed and into the lounge, the clock shows 9:25 every time. There's a programme somewhere I'm living out without knowing it.
I was writing a postcard to Bel when the 'phone rang. It was Bel and so I had my first conversation since she left. I wrote to Vera also. I rang Tully Grig, Tish's great uncle who went to Rada with Olivier etc, and who lives in Biot but no-one answered.
Westbrook's 'Blake' on the tape saddens me. This is my holiday and I am alone. I am saddened by own lack of initiative, by own loneliness. There is nothing in my head, that's what frightens me most. I may be as red as a tomato, but I'm as dull as a potato.
Perched! Perched above the Rhone, the evening sun darting across the water to my face, two stone lions passively sitting out the centuries guarding the approaches to a bridge that is no more. In the distance, virtually silhouetted, stand two others equally redundant. Two struts remain, solid against the slow flow, supporting nothing but grass. Now, sitting here - and the cool breeze of evening blows along the river - is the first moment since my arrival that I've felt this place, Arles, has any charm at all. The stone monuments lie at the dead end of town. Nearby is the railway and its many sidings. On a piece of wasteland between here and the fortifications, some gypsies cook their supper. The focus is all within the old town and around its tourists attractions. Gone are the days when Arles stood on the route from Gaul to Spain, and gone are the days when the Rhone was the main communications artery inland: all I can see downstream and upstream are five pleasurecraft. One ugly bridge links the west bank with the old town, but I sense zilch commerce. All the way along the stonewalled west bank there are steps leading down to the water's edge, they are all overgrown, one concrete platform helps the pleasurecraft, the rest of the edge is greenery. Man may not make use of the Rhone, but the river retains its majesty - a king among tributaries - it flows on regardless of history and builders of bridges - see Kipling's short story which personifies the river as a revengeful wrathful being intent on destroying the dam builders, and see Elliot - the river is a strong brown god.
But what of Arles itself and its 2000 year history. Most of all, I was looking forward to the Alyscamps but also to the Museum Arletem, a collection of folklore and customs. 2000 years ago a glorious civilisation built a stadium here to a house 25,000 people. It still stands having been used for a variety of purposes - gladiators and wild animal fights - but its fate today is to be a tourist site. The same is true, for the Roman theatre, the baths, the necropolis. Around these tourist traps, Arles is scruffy. Nothing from the 20th century bears any resemblance to the design or scope of the Romans and nothing, bar a few churches, is likely to last half a century, let alone 20. The town hardly seems to acknowledge its pearls except to take its ransom for glimpses. The most inflated entrance fee is for the so-called necropolis, the Alyscamps - an avenue of tombstones (and poplars) used as a burial ground for 2000 years. Now, you pay five francs to enter. It should be open for all at any time. Let lovers and poets walk at dusk there, let old men rest their feet at noon and children play after school. That's why, later in the day, finding these stone lions, outside of the ramparts and away from the greedy women with their different coloured tickets, I can at last appreciate the glory that was Arles.
The Arlesian museum, though, is a pearl. Dozens and dozens of ill-lit, ill-arranged rooms housing treasures peculiar to Provence: costume, cribs, pressed flowers, pottery, tiles, trinkets, maps, manuscripts, engravings, etchings, photographs, busts, utensils, stones, jewellery , tapestries, toys. A veritable treasure house that transported me to a nostalgic Provence before mass communications and mass power supplies. I would have spent £20 on a catalogue in English - so much of the often faded information written - was in Provencal because this was Mistral's work - to reinstigate the Provencal language. I suppose there are museums in England similar in purpose but this one is magnificent. It does not smell of worthiness, but of musty herbs that incite curiosity.
Adventurous me! As I sat among the LIONS yester evening extolling my wrath upon Arles, a lone woman dressed in gay colours came and sat on the wall some distance away and appeared to be idle. I thought she might come to LYONS, but alas. (This story is now already taking up more LINES that it's worth.) Eventually, I strolled along the wall towards her but she moved away, to sit somewhere else. I raced back to my hotel, nearby, to collect my camera, and some picnic items. She was still idling in the same place, so I approached her across offering to share my bread and cheese, and speaking English of course. She laughed - in French. I insist on a chat, but it's difficult to sound remotely confident in a language you don't speak. It did not take long to find out she was waiting for 'un ami'. The encounter was not wasted for she directed me to a restaurant where I went next. Every outside table was full which was a good sign. At one table, a simply attired attractive girl sat finishing a glass of rose and reading an English book. I imposed myself on her table. She turned out to be American, from Chicago, and she was delighted to have company.
Avignon. Of course it is Lawrence Durrell who has drawn me here. There is a bustle and a gaiety here that was lacking in Arles. So far I have found lodging (one star) which is austere but has a little charm; and I've walked the length of the main shopping arcade which leads into the forecourt of the famous Palace of Popes. I lay on a grassy bank of the Rhone, in a shaded place, and consumed the simple edibles I'd bought for lunch. What a calm scene, verdant rolling hills of Provence and the fortified Villeneuve-les-Avignon just across the water.
Back to work. Quite why I booked at the Intercontinental when the European Petrochemical Luncheon is at the Hilton and the two hotels are a good distance from each other. This one may be good at the trappings, the swimming pool, the hair dryer, the dozen different television channels, but it's let me down on the essentials. I arrived after 1:00pm but had to wait an hour for my room and then at night there was no way of cooling the room. I didn't even use the bedclothes.
Mireille is much on my mind this morning. I must have fallen a little in love, perhaps even since the first smile exchanged in front of a bandstand. It was a simple and natural exchange of smiles which made my first approach to speak easy. She seemed most sensual and beautiful, with eyes wide open, and was completely unafraid and accepting of me. Like the girl in Arles, she was waiting for her man, but this did not hinder our conversation. And when he came, I was invited to eat with them. We stayed a long time in the restaurant talking. I think I was better entertainment than the film they had been going to see. I didn't know the girl's name until halfway through the evening, but when she told me - Mireille - I exploded with joy and explained how, only days earlier, I had discovered Charles Gounod's opera of the same name. Her boyfriend, Gilles, was a proud of his intellect but, like me, burdened with self-consciousness. I connected easily with him on an intellectual plane, but underneath his shy eyes and self-conscious manner, I saw a tight jealous lover. Consequently, although I always wanted to turn to Mireille's eyes, I made an effort to share to look at him often too. We talked about the cultures of UK, US and Switzerland, and held one of the world's longest conversations on the state of Swiss cinema. Gilles and I enthused over Turner, and when they took me back to their flat Gilles showed me his books of Turner's pictures. Their flat was simple and very tidy - he was the tidy one for I saw him pressing books into line on the bookshelf. I invited them strongly to London, but in the hope that she might come alone.
Geneva is a civilised place but where the cost of everything appears extortionate. The hotel tried to charge me nearly £3 for a single cup of coffee, while an orange in a grocer near the centre cost 30p. But then I also ate an excellent plat de jour in a small backstreet restaurant for less than £3. Tourists take pictures of the highest fountain jet in the world, of the flower clock, and of the cathedral in the small remaining old town area. No buildings are taller than 5-6 stories, so the old town is set attractively against the mountains behind.
Saturday 25 June, London
The journey back was tolerable enough, and once home I chatted to Rob more or less until Bel came round at about 11. It's now teatime - she has just left. We had quite a marvellous day doing the same old things - the garden, the junk shops, an afternoon in bed with an old movie. It all seemed rather fun and joyous since we haven't spent a Saturday together in London for months now.
The passion flower in my yard has gone mad. It is shooting tendrils up, down and in, regardless of other shrubs and flowers; and it is replete with buds too.
I have a book token from Melanie for my birthday. I buy a Golding paperback because I like the cover design, a 'Britten Companion' as a treat, and Dorothy Carrington's 'Granite Isle' book which I've been searching for for years and must have just been issued in paperback.
How many days have I lived? How many stand out from the rest? I remember one day last year when the Ficus benjamina, that perched above the shower unit in my bedroom, came in for a right whipping. I was convinced the plant had scales and took to its stem and branches with a wire brush. The weeping fig wept and died.
I tuck into a book about the Templars. The idea of a fighting monk appealed to just about everybody in those heady days of the early 12th century. It appealed to religious converts with energy for action, it appealed to the papacy simply because it liked all monks, and it appealed to monarchies because they needed armies.
My head hurts. I woke at 8:55, but I don't know why I woke so late when usually I turn conscious between 7 and 8. Something in my body went wrong. I was due to meet John for squash at the YMCA, Tottenham Court Road, at 9am. Within 2 minutes I was out of the house, and by 9:16 or 9:17 I was at the YMCA - then squash, then swimming, it was all too fast, too much, and my head has been aching all day.
Tuesday evening the weather was sultry like mid-summer, I endeavoured to swim in the pond at South Hampstead but it was not to be. Each year when the warm weather arrives I go as often as I can to the pond around 7:30 after the traffic has quietened. Some years the fences around the pond boast new sign boards prohibiting swimming when there is no attendant, but I ignore them. Then, some years, they put grease on the fence posts to hinder me climbing in; and other years they put up new fences. Usually, there are one or two others who've managed to get inside to catch the peace of an evening swim in the green arena. Sometimes, I even fantasise of a romantic or a sexual meeting - on the grass after the swim. I remember N took me to a place in Santiago [Chile], not far from the centre, where amazingly we could bathe naked in a river and make love on the grassy bank. This Tuesday, however, even my lowly dreams of a quiet and peaceful swim were shattered by the incessant screams and cries of gypsy children filling the pond and the area around. I'd passed caravans in the car park, but, apart from that and until I arrived at the pond, I hadn't noticed the presence of any travellers.
Paul K. Lyons
Copyright © PiKLe PuBLiSHiNG