Friday, May 30, 2008

In a Good place Part 2.

Story contd.

Derek, Sally’s husband was an excellent if slightly eccentric driver. He prepared for each excursion as if were rallying at Monte Carlo. First the driving gloves would be smoothed on and then the wheel would be gently but firmly gripped and at the same time he would clench his jaw a few times. Sitting right behind him I would see his silhouette change so that his jowls bulged like Popeye’s. By now Sally would be frothing at the bit and I would have to work really hard to staunch the giggles. Eventually he would start the car. He also had an abhorrence of buying petrol in France and a couple of times we had to push the car on and off the boat in order to avoid this.

Sally assured me that they always stopped for a break every hundred miles – it was only safe she said. This was actually a fabrication and to get them to stop – ever - before we reached our destination was impossible, and there were many heated debates. Once we drove for hours in a heat wave – no air- con then - until I protested, vigorously. When we finally reached the house Derek was incapacitated for a couple of days with heat stroke.

Before they bought the house in the Languedoc we were driving round Provence sizing up the housing situation but it was clearly too expensive. It was so hot it sizzled, everything shimmered in the heat haze especially vivid blue scarabs and the cicadas were deafening. We stopped and bought baguettes, pate, cheeses, fruit and wine for our picnic, crushing the wild herbs beneath our feet and releasing scents of lavender and thyme. We got back in the car to find the perfect spot for our delicious picnic – just round the corner. Probably. Spirits were high.

More to practice my French than for any other reason I said:

‘Ce sera tres bon si nous trouverons une place pres d’une riviere parce que puis nous pouverons leve nos mains.’

As you see I needed little practice.

Every time Sally pointed out a likely spot Derek didn’t seem to hear and drove on. Derek was a gentle soul with an iron streak of stubbornness. The ejaculations from Sally were getting louder, the cheeses were getting smellier and all our bonhomie had dissipated.

‘Stop the b----y car Derek or I’ll jump out.’

Derek stopped and shocked us senseless with his answer. I had never heard him swear before.

‘I’m looking for a f-----g river so that Pat can wash her ‘f-----g hands!’

Their latest acquisition was a terraced cottage in a village – so very different to the farmhouse but of course it was much further south so the weather was better. There was lots of dirty work to be done – scraping, scrubbing and making good before we could start painting. Sally had talked a lot about Byron; a painter (art not walls) who divided his time between the village and Paris, he also had an apartment at La Grande Motte. They had talked so much about him and what a ball of fire he was that I was looking forward to meeting him, but after a few days we realised he must be in Paris.

After a week of gruelling work I decided that, come what, I was going to get out in the fresh air in the time we had left and Sally agreed we all needed a break. I was just about to get a shower and remove some of the cottage grime when there was a great claxon sound and Sally rushed to the door. I could hear animated chatter as I cowered in the kitchen and then Sally said.

‘I suppose you had better meet our guest.’

Reluctantly I went to the door and said I couldn’t shake hands as I was dirty.

Byron’s eyes gleamed and he roared with laughter and grasped my hand and kissed my cheeks – just three times. He was not tall but powerfully built with a large head a great torso and then tapering away. Rather like a Minotaur. Sally invited him to dinner and he agreed provided he could bring the wine – he had an impressive cellar.

We had a riotous evening and after Sally told him I was longing to explore the countryside Byron said he would take us on a walk tomorrow and we should have tea at his house.

Somehow Sally managed to strain a muscle in her leg and cried off. Derek came but wanted to get back to Sally so Byron and I had tea and then he showed me his wonderful house. There was a balcony on the first floor with stunning open views of the hills which were quite biblical and Byron said you could imagine Jesus toting his cross amongst them. In the sitting room he opened a sort of trap door and there was a large staircase leading to his vast studio. I was fascinated by his work which seemed to cover all aspects of art. Reluctantly I dragged myself away and could readily see the attraction he had for my friends. There was something of Hemingway about him except he was a painter rather than a writer.

Our time was running out and Sally was reluctant to walk unnecessarily but Byron called round and said he wanted to do some landscapes – it was very windy and could he borrow Pat to hold the easel steady. This seemed to suit everybody and we roared off in his powerful car. His driving was quite breathtaking and when we reached the coast he drove round the town as if it were a race track. I was half terrified and half elated. He said it was too windy to paint so he would show me around. We went to a museum and I saw a painting I have always loved of man raising his top hat in a debonair way to the ocean. We went to a restaurant to book lunch and I was surprised to see him slip a note to the head waiter. Later when we arrived in the restaurant full of beautiful people the head waiter shook his hand and bowed and everybody took note.

I tackled him about this as it seemed so phoney. Byron said his father, who was English, used to hire a Rolls Royce when he took him back to school. His mother was French and came from peasant stock. The silly thing was he was impressive in his own right. Maybe it was a question of height? I saw his apartment and all too soon it was time to get back for dinner.

It was sad saying goodbye to Byron. He had given me such a great time and I came back home feeling really empowered and on top of my game. Just as well as Julia, my mentor had a desperate request. Bring it on!

19 comments:

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

What a great character Byron is. Sally and Derek, too. You've met so many amazing people, and had so many wonderful experiences; it all makes very good reading. And another cliff-hanger... how will I last until next Friday?

sablonneuse said...

Wow, what a larger than life character he sounds. Your description was so good I was sorry to hear you left him behind!

R. Sherman said...

Nothing like an endless supply of interesting people to keep your story moving, eh?

Great stuff, dear.

Cheers.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Byron sounds like a fascinating man...And a breath of fresh air from all the "work" you were doing. Do you have any pictures of his 'art'? It would be interesting to see....!

john.g. said...

Good stuff, Mum2!

PI said...

Zinnia: They were great to be around - in small doses - all a bit mad:)

Sandy: I know what you mean but I had enough problems:)

Randall: indeed! Where would I be without them?

PI said...

Naomi: sadly no. I did have two of his paintings and when MTL and I got together we decided to jettison many articles from the past including lots of jewelry. I gave the paintings to two old friends both of whom are much older that me so they also may have jettisoned them by now. One was a nude and one a village landscape. I gave him a pseudonym as I do with many of my characters to guard their privacy.

Dandelion said...

Was his real name Pablo?

I can't help but read between the lines...

kenju said...

I DO hope taht he found an effing river for you!

Eryl Shields said...

'His driving was quite breathtaking', I know a few men like that!

Byron sounds a hoot. Actually they all do!

PI said...

Johng: thanks hon:)

Dandelion: it hadn't occurred to me
what similarities there were. but no. He was nearer to my age. Pablo would have been in his nineties then I think Nice try:)

Judy: sadly not. I think if we had found the head of the Nile it would have been an anticlimax- the mood was broken and heavy sulks were the order of the day.

Eryl: I fear they don't make 'em like that anymore.

rosneath said...

... and what about the painting of the man raising his hat to the ocean, have you ever seen that again?

your writing evokes that smell of Provence so clearly!

belle

zoe said...

What a beautiful story - but this line had me in stitches:

"couple of times we had to push the car on and off the boat in order to avoid this."

Lovely!

PI said...

Belle: now I'm going to be obsessed all week-end. If only I could remember the artist. I'm thinking someone like Corot but googling didn't help. I think it was a museun in Montpellier but that's no help either. Art lovers come on now! I first saw it in an art magazine and was surprised to see the original was only the size of my computer screen. The period was Impressionist like.

PI said...

Zoe: yeah - it had us in stitches too - literally - and cramp and muscle strain. Parsimonious old devil!

problemchildbride said...

"Byron sounds a hoot"

Byron sounds hot.

PI said...

Sam: he was. Mad as hatter - but hot.

Guyana-Gyal said...

Life is just so full when you meet characters like Byron. I quite like people who are 'mad as a hatter.' I'm drawn to them :-D

PI said...

GG ; a lot of people were drawn to Byron and didn't he just love it:)