Jim Haynes newsletters

Newsletter No. 713
A Quick Trip to the South of France
November 2010

A few days ago I decided to take the train South to see friends Sabine and Rainer Kolmel and Barbara and Scott Griffith. But only if it was convenient for them. So email messages went flying and soon it was planned that I would take the night train from the Gare d'Austerlitz to Toulouse. Have breakfast in the Hotel de Bristol and get the train to Mazamet. Rainer would collect me in Mazamet and we would drive to St. Pons, do some shopping in the market, then drive up in the hills to his and Sabine's mountain retreat. Sabine would prepare lunch and Scott and Barbara would join us. Later Barbara and Scott would drive me to Beziers (on their way to the ballet in Narbonne.) And it all came to pass like clockwork.

Monday, 22nd: We had a great Thanksgiving dinner last night. Seventy-five happy people all stuffed themselves. Today we have left-overs, which we (Michael Boone, Galina Prokhorova, Natalie Shkola and yours truly) devour. Peter Cyrus comes to collect his glasses which he lost here last night. Jesper calls from Brooklyn to say that he is going to Catherine Hilliard's for Thanksgiving and then he and Takae will fly to Bangkok next Monday. Jesper also says that Takae wants to translate one of my books into Japanese. That's nice! Mary Folliet calls and we make a date to have lunch tomorrow. In the evening watch a DVD of Busby Berkeley's Gold Diggers of 1933 with Natalie. Not sure how many times I have seen it but it is always a delight. Then we have more turkey left-overs. And pecan pie. Thank you, Mary Bartlett! And thank you, Cathy Monnet!

Tuesday, 23rd: Call Nicholas Clifford at Blue Marble Travel and he tells me to pass about 4 this afternoon and he will have my sleeper and return TGV reservations. Email Scott and Rainer that all plans are fixed and that I will see them tomorrow. The morning passes in a blur. Metro to the Village Voice Bookshop where I am to meet Mary Folliet at 13h30. Purchase the new New Yorker and gossip with Odile Hellier. Mary soon arrives and we head for Le Canton, Mary's favorite Chinese restaurant where she has been dining for years. She has even had an exhibition of her collages there. We do not get her favorite table, but nevertheless have a great meal and news catch-up. I tell her that I have made a reservation for the Terminus Nord for the 9th of December for John Calder, Sheila Colvin, herself and me. We discuss friends and projects. I tell her about the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Edinburgh Festival, the Wigtown Book Festival, my crazy plans to travel tonight to the South of France and so much more. There are two people sitting next to us chatting in English. The fellow is speaking in American but the attractive blonde does not say a lot. Later we learn that she is the daughter of an English singer. After our lunch, we ride in the metro to Etienne Marcel together. Mary wishes to explore the Les Halles area. I walk the short distance to Blue Marble. Nicholas' lovely wife, Laura, is present and he arrives minutes later. Collect the reservations and thank him. Metro home.
Quiet evening. Shower, shave, and shampoo. Nothing to pack. Katy makes a pasta dinner for us. Natalie and I watch Gold Diggers of 1935. And it is as silly and as sweet as the one we watched last night. Soon it is time for me to head to the Gare d'Austerlitz and I begin to moan and groan. Why am I going South to the French countryside? I am a madman. I should crawl into bed, stay home, watch DVDs and forget this mad trip. Nevertheless call a taxi, say goodbye to Natalie and Katy and am soon on my way.
Quickly find my sleeping compartment. Sit quietly, alone, and read an essay in Jenny Diski's delightful A View from the Bed. A knock on the door interrupts. It is the conductor, asking if I would be willing to move next door, that I would have the compartment all to myself, that the compartment where I am now installed would be invaded in the middle of the night by five fellows. If I were next door, I would not be disturbed. Yes, I will be pleased to move. And do so immediately. Continue to read Jenny Diski and at some point, the train departs and I cut off the light, curl up and try to sleep.

Wednesday, 24th: An announcement that in ten minutes we will arrive, I think, in Montauban, gets me up. The train stops. I gather my few things and head for the exit. Once I am down on the platform, I begin to suspect that something is wrong. An SNCF official approaches and tells me to get back on the train, that we have another 25 minutes to travel to Toulouse. Thank goodness he saw me because I might have remained in the middle of nowhere. We arrive in Toulouse-Matabiau at 06h43. This time I follow lots of people out of the train, out of the station and cross the street to the Hotel Bristol where Rainer suggested I would get an excellent coffee and croissant. And he is right. Amazing to see so many people up and about at this hour. Pay the five euros, cross back to the station and report as instructed to platform 11 and the train to Mazamet. Lots of people are going on this train. Then an announcement. We are all told to report to platform 3. We trudge the short distance. Then are told to move again. Finally we are on our way at 07h46. This regional-express train is a delight. It looks brand new. Share a place with a young lad who tells me he has been taking this train for two years to his job. He is an ecological engineer. He tells me that he has read hundreds of books thanks to his two-hour daily commute. He is currently reading an American novelest. Cormac McCarthy.

Then another announcement. We are running behind schedule because there has been an accident on the line. I try to reach Rainer, but am able only to leave a message on his mobile phone. Later he calls me back. He tells me he is also running a bit late. We are supposed to arrive at 09h24, but it is after 10 when the train pulls into Mazamet. Rainer is on the platform, waiting for me. After our exchange of greetings and warm embraces, we are on our way to St. Pons. He is a bit shocked that I am making this one-day trip to have lunch with him and Sabine. And with Barbara and Scott. We drive through the beautiful autumnal countryside and he tells me about how he and Sabine happen to find themseles living in this part of the world. And how happy they are to be here. We talk about Barbara and Scott and I relate how they decided to settle here after his retirement from heading the English department of an Edinburgh school.

 
Jim and Scott
Soon we are rolling into St.Pons. We find a parking place and head for the market. We are lucky because every Wednesday is market day. We join a queue at the fish stand. And Rainer says to me that he thinks my friend, Scott, is standing at the cheese stand just some ten meters from us. I walk up to Scott, stand next to him and give his coat sleeve a tug. He turns, surprised to see me, and breaks into a big welcoming smile. He and Barbara will come up to Ranier's for lunch in a few hours.Rainer and I complete our shopping: fish, cheese, bread, green and black olives. Then we return to the car and drive up the side of a mountain to their fabulous place. Rainer tells me how he and Sabine came to acquire it. And all the energy they have put into it. I can see how it was love at first sight because it is truly a 100% delight. It is a well known fact that I am not a fan of the countryside. But this place is superb. Inside the lovely Sabine and I embrace. She is in her glorious kitchen and starts right away to prepare our lunch. Rainer makes us all tea. He asks if I would like to explore the grounds.

I suggest we save this to my next trip in warmer weather, say in June or July. Outside the kitchen, a young man is doing something in the garden. It is Johann, Sabine's nephew. He is studying to be a landscape gardner and spending one year here as part of his studies. Barbara and Scott arrive. We made a quick visit to feed logs into the log-burning central heating system. There is also a gas system. And a solar system. And two wind mills are planned for near future.
Lunch is ready. A delicious soup is served. I think pumkin. Then a mache salad followed by fish in a sauce. We have a chocolate mousse that Johann has prepared. Then coffee and three different cheeses. Lots of gossip about the village of St. Pons. Rainer shows us around the place. And gives us a brief history of the building. We visit the small cinema. He puts a DVD of Ghost Writer into the machine and we watch the first 20 minutes of the film.

 
Rainer, Scott, Jim, Barbara and Sabine
It is time for us to head to Beziers. More warm embraces and then we are off. Scott is an excellent driver. Still it is a scary drive, lots of curves and deep ravines below. We stop once to allow me to pee. And then we pull into the central station. I get out and they continue on their way to Narbonne and the theatre. They are seeing Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, and the company is from Perm, somewhere in the middle of Russia near the Urals.
The TGV arrives on time at 18h34. I settle into my place and we are on our way. The train stops a few times and the compartment fills up, but I manage to have two seats to myself. Read and nap. Four hours later, about 11 pm, we pull into the Gare de Lyon. Quickly the taxi queue moves. And I am home in my atelier about 23h30 - just over 24 hours from my departure. Get a warm welcome from Natalia and Katy and am soon in my bed. It has been a crazy trip. But it has been a wonderful trip. So good to break bread with friends. Thank you, Rainer. Thank you, Sabine. Thank you, Scott and Barbara. And thank you, Johann.

Thursday, 25th: Dental appointment this morning. I miss my old dentist, Sylvie Daniel, who has retired and now living in the South in a town called Condom. But Arnaud Letellier is a joy. This evening Angela Bartie is expected to arrive from Glasgow for a wee visit. And tonight Peter Cyrus will host his annual Thanksgiving feast. I go with Natalia and Katy. Angela joins us. Peter is a superb party-giver and the evening is a great success.

Friday, 26th: I am dining tonight with friends from New York City, Barbara and Michael Gross. (And am writing this today just after shopping for the upcoming Sunday dinner.) Today is John Flattau's birthday. Yesterday was Sheila Colvin's and Aleksandra Stefanovic's birthdays. (Call John and we gossip. Call Sheila ad get her answering machine. Will try to reach Sasa in Milano after I have a wee nap.)

Saturday, 27th: Cathy and Yves Monnet will host their annual Thanksgiving dinner. And Karen Moller is hosting a birthday party this same evening (for herself; her birthday was the 25th) which I hope to also attend. Life is my favorite soap-opera. One never knows what will unfold next. There is always plenty of drama. Pain and joy. I would hate to miss one single moment... The telephone rings. It is Maria Rankov, calling to check on me. I tell her my favorite soap opera is Life. She replies because it always has a happy ending!

 

 

Jim Haynes
November, 2010

Atelier A-2,
83 rue de la tombe Issoire,
75014 Paris France

 

 

 

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