Lawrence Durrell: More information

New Information:

Amsterdam, 26-04-2024

Dear reader,

It took me quite some time to solve a piece of mystery that ran throughout  A Bite of Ice-cream. Finally I’ll soon be able to take the necessary steps for publication.

On this website you now can read some fragments from chapter 5 of A Bite of Ice-cream, with accompanying lyrics in French and English. In a few weeks the accompanying music can also be heard.

Until then, dear reader.

Chapter 5: Chanson Flambée

The event which I review in the lyrics of the old-fashioned protest song which ends this chapter mainly concerns my recollections of the forest fires that cropped up time and again in the region. They were often fanned by the exceptional force of the mistral. More than once, such fires were started deliberately, so that the ravaged ground could later be sold cheaply, in order, for example, to build HLMs (blocks of flats) and villas on. The fire which the song concerns raged around our own Sommières in 1990,

Although Sommières itself had not suffered from it, the air had been considerably polluted and specks of ash were drifting about all over the district. But I had experienced the fire at close quarters, since Thierry and I were camping in the garden of my house in Fontanès at the time. And we narrowly escaped having to be evacuated…

For this song, I’ve taken poetic licence, transposing the location of the fire to your garden. The former owner of your home Maison Tartès, a rich tonnelier (cooper), had planted an orgy of exotic trees in that garden, which the inhabitants of Sommières called ‘Le Parc’. Although I was impressed by your friend Ludo’s Paradis des Plantes, the most marvellous memories I have are of your ‘Paradis des Arbres’!
In my song, that garden of yours serves as a symbol of all the gardens in the region that were threatened by the fire. During the blaze, roughly two and a half thousand hectares of land were devastated, and of the five hundred fire-fighters, one was killed and others wounded or overcome by fumes. Damage ran into the billions… Rage and incredulity were expressed in the issue of Le Midi Libre dated 24th August 1990. The article emphasised that police and firemen too were positive that the great majority of such fires were started deliberately. Newsmen referred to: ‘De véritables assassinats.’ A gendarme stated that he had observed suspicious vehicles in the vicinity. Neither was the wind innocent: all day long, speeds of around eighty kilometres an hour had been registered.
‘That old devil the mistral,’ you might have growled…
Early that evening, Thierry and I had been trying to eat a meal in the garden of our former house, but all of a sudden the strings of vermicelli in the soup were joined by half-burned pine needles, and then the entire ridge of the hill on the north side of the village was bathed in a sea of bright orange flames. We went to the spot where the villagers were gathered and, together with them, we peered with difficulty through the darkness of the choking smoke, trying to gauge the seriousness of our situation. Indeed, everyone had to shield their eyes more or less completely from the cutting mistral as it buffeted our faces. Through the roaring of the storm we heard the crack of huge pine-trees splitting apart. Later, the tumult was increased by the engine noises of the Canadairs and ’choppers coming and going, as they ploughed their way through the soot-black sky. Later still, along the burning hill-ridge where you left so many footprints and I loved to cycle, lines of flashing lights were moving, like flaming torches borne along by a long row of processionary caterpillars… In reality, the patients from the psychiatric institution accommodated in the monastery of Notre Dame de Prime Combe were being evacuated in all haste by Red Cross workers and volunteers. That monastery, together with a small chapel and the ‘Road to Calvary’, full of the stations of the cross, was and still is a place of pilgrimage, one which supposedly originated around the year 887. And all this right in the middle of a dense forest of pines, spruces, laurels and – not to forget – the arbutus, with its tasty orange-red-yellow fruits. So the entire place, with all its flora and fauna, was threatening to go up in flames.
A farmer manoeuvred a number of skittish horses past our leaden-grey figures. Everyone flinched backwards. And then the anxious barking of dogs…
In the village, fire brigades were now arriving from other provinces, such as Vaucluse, Isère, Lozère and even the Loire. Swiftly they disappeared again, heading for the seat of the fire. In our spot, there was feverish speculation about the danger that the fire represented for our village. The tourists from the camping-site at Vic-le-Fesq were already being evacuated, as were the residents of Combas, which lay nearly three kilometres away from Fontanès. During the heated discussions, it appeared that the older winegrowers were gambling that the broad strip of vines between the village and the sea of flames would act as a fire-break. The grapes were ripe, so the bushes were full of juice. Worried nonetheless, one after another the men disappeared to their houses to take precautionary measures. Although I wasn’t consciously anxious, still I must have been quite rattled, for I was experiencing steadily stronger heart-rhythm disturbances; in the heat of the moment, I couldn’t afford to pay them any attention. So I just swallowed several tablets and hastily began gathering together our luggage, hauling it as best as I could onto my bicycle and Thierry’s child’s bike. I was determined, in an extremity, to make my way with the lad through the night-time woods to the Hôtel du Nord in Sommières, which was owned by friends. Several villagers had already disappeared in the direction of the town, but in the end we stayed, passing a rather scary, in my case sleepless, night in our small tent, threatened by the danger of a burning pine needle or cinders falling onto the canvas.

Morning, however, revealed that the vine shrubs had indeed formed the predicted barrier and, with their expertise, courage and equipment, the firemen, together with the aeroplanes, had largely succeeded in subduing the fire. Around ten or so, Thierry and I climbed on our bikes, which as always stood ready for us to use in Fontanès, and rode past the burned bushes and trees, heading for Prime Combe, because I wanted to offer a helping hand there, should it be needed. A saddening ride it turned out to be. The ridge of the hill had been baked black – not one bush or tree had survived the fire. Only a lonely little branch left, here and there. The mistral had dropped, giving way to a soft, nebulous mist through which an unearthly summer sun was vaguely peeking. The gentle fragrance of thyme and other herbs had been replaced by a penetrating smell of burning. Crickets and birds, silent… Yes, the silence was complete, save for the sound of helicopters still flying to and fro, disturbing the surreal atmosphere from time to time. On the steep road leading up to the institution we were halted by a motorcycle policeman, because it was too dangerous for us to cycle further. However, we, the sole spectators, were invited to stay and watch the firemen, who were busy damping down the flames which time and again still flared up from the few remaining bushes in these lower-lying fields. About thirty metres from our spot, amid the charred vegetation, an enormous rubber reservoir had been placed on the ground. Above, the helicopters continued hovering, dropping gigantic amounts of water into this temporary pool. Firemen, in turn, were using the water to quench the flames. We were very impressed by the courageous behaviour of these exhausted men, who had already been slaving away all night… Later in the day we saw them driving through Sommières. They tooted their horns at us and one of the men shouted out that the job was done. He laughed with relief, while the others waved. We waved back, and I stuck my thumbs up for victory. So at last the fire had been successfully extinguished; I already knew that my garden in Fontanès was safe, but how relieved I felt that your garden in Sommières, Larry, had also remained intact. For that I was very grateful, because right from the start – from the time of my job interview with you – I had felt a special bond with your garden, a bond which so much impressed me at the time (1979) that I had to commit it to paper:
‘So there I stood in the late afternoon, on the pavement in front of a barn of a house with a garden surrounding it. Me nice and smart in my aubergine-coloured wrap-around jumper and new denim jeans. Shortly before, you see, I had found out that jeans have their origin in Nîmes, as it happens. ‘Denim’ means literally ‘de Nîmes’ (from Nîmes), and so quite suddenly I lost my aversion to the uniformity of bleu de travail. (The fashion designer in me had always been a slave to uniqueness…)
Anyway, next to the imposing, moss-green steel entrance gates I eventually discovered a tiny bell. I pressed it: nothing happened. I pressed once more: yet again, no result. So I just walked round to the other gate that I’d already noticed at the side of the complex. No bell there, but the gate stood wide open. A blue Volkswagen camper was parked almost hidden under a tangle of branches at the side of a gravel path, in a garden that closely resembled a jungle. Partly because of the twilight, indeed the garden seemed like a creepy forest, but bravely I decided to face the music, and… and the gravel crunched excruciatingly under my feet. I felt an intruder in this mysterious, gigantic botanical garden. Full of exotic shrubs it was, their wild twigs hanging pertly over pretty little paths, all towered over by majestic chestnuts, walnut trees and waving date palms. A veritable explosion of greenery!
The rather sinister-looking house was hermetically sealed, and all the grey blinds shuttered. Not a sign of life within. Then an owl squawked piercingly. Shivering, I scurried back to the gate and decided to pay a visit to the front again. While a tanker thundered past, full of divine red nectar from the Cave Coöperative, I pressed hesitantly on the small button – one more try. Still nothing happened. Another (desperate) attempt, this time more insistent. (Later, you were to tell me that I’d been pressing the button for the outdoor light, which wasn’t working.) Then I even rattled hard on the gate – this was pushy, by my standards. I did have an appointment… Why didn’t this fellow open up? Just as I was wondering whether or not to simply go inside the gate and knock, one of the house’s two heavy doors opened, and a short, stocky figure appeared on the steps. It was quite a way from where I was standing, and my view was obstructed by low-hanging branches, so I thought it was the writer’s sick, shrunken and evidently quite aged housekeeper that I was looking at.
‘Who’s there?’
Zut! Was this the famous writer himself? Yes, it was definitely a male voice, and that voice spoke English! Golly… Much less impressive than I had pictured this man beforehand… The rumours and warnings I had heard concerning his cocksure behaviour with women had conjured up more of a Hercules in my imagination. Disconcerted, I cast around in my head for my best English, and called out that I had an appointment with Lawrence Durrell.
‘Please come in.’
The gate opened with the most lugubrious creaking, but under my feet the gravel seemed to crunch less frighteningly than before. The cardboard death’s heads on the steps, with their caption ‘Maison Piègiée’ (House Booby-trapped), those I failed to notice at that moment, luckily, and with confidence I traipsed after the writer, who was dressed in baggy trousers and ditto shirt and wearing a small dark-blue woolly hat. He led me into the house…’

But now for that garden of yours, Larry, with its enormous variety of trees and plants. Once, sitting at your kitchen table, you confided that the rich former owner had imported trees and seeds from far and wide in an attempt to create an extravagant wood. And how well he had succeeded!
Ah, you knew how much I loved that garden – in which so often I wandered among the trees whose tops reached far into the heavens… in which I carefully peeled off the black, leather-like skin of a fruit that had fallen from a huge tree near the conservatory steps. To my amazement, it turned out to be a walnut. Like a small brain it looked, with its little leather flying helmet…
Oh yes, how I loved that garden, in which from time to time I saw you in your swimming trunks, towel slung loosely over your shoulder, on your way to the well hidden swimming pool…

But back to your garden: that garden of delights in which I went looking for you one day when there was an important telephone call, only to find you nude, half overshadowed by a luxuriance of summer leaves, your bare feet hidden in the periwinkles, reaching out towards a naked woman, daughter of a wealthy man whom I knew quite well. A good thing that the father didn’t see what I saw at that moment…

That garden of costly chores too, because the branches of shrubs and trees overhung the walls of your complex, brushing pedestrians’ hair as they passed by on the narrow pavement outside. Incessantly, the town council kept forcing you to trim these obstacles, and it cost you a tidy sum every time.

That wild garden… even that couldn’t obstruct the villains who once forced their way into your house. So worried you often were about possible intruders. Several times  you’d told me how you’d been robbed one Christmas Eve. You’d gone out, only for a relatively short time, to dine unsuspectingly in L’Auberge du Pont Romain, which nestled in the curve of the quay in Sommières. When you came back, it turned out that half your house had been ransacked. The thieves had even plundered your fridge! They’d stolen several canvasses by painters of repute, but had shown no interest in your paintings. From that you concluded, frowning, that the intruders had been professionals, who even knew you would be absent. But wasn’t it the case that when the police came, they sent their dog into the garden? And then, after a lot of sniffing about, what ‘evidence’ did he come back with, clenched in his jaws? An item of feminine lingerie! Well done, you clever doggy! Was that what really happened, Larry, or was it just wishful thinking? Well, maybe not. I myself once found a lonely off-white bra in the bushes around the pool. But that burglary in particular had given you such a scare that even if you were only away for a few days, you would urge me to stay in the house, with menagerie and all.

That garden, too, in which the son of a French sanitary-ware king – who, according to you, wasn’t quite all there and was in love with you – wandered around wildly from time to time. (Personally, I never saw him.) But several times, even if you and I were present, some urchins’ heads suddenly appeared just above the thick garden wall. Sometimes the curious little punks were even sitting straddled on top of it, and more than once they prowled around the garden. Then you started breathing fire…

Yes, that same garden in which one morning I discovered that the fairground showmen who had installed themselves and their caravans in the parking area next to the garden, had run the swimming-pool hosepipes over the wall to tap water without asking your permission, and had thus also been wandering in the garden, something that made you absolutely furious after the burglary.

And that garden in which, several times, I’d emptied the contents of my stomach among the bushes, because you’d served me a much-too-strong English tea. (Just about black, it was…)

That garden in which my bike stood waiting calmly for me, leaning against a tall date palm.

And definitely not to be forgotten… that garden in which you later parked your very small ‘Olivetti-blue’ car, successor to the faithful old VW camper, the “Escargot”.

Yes, Larry, I still blush when I remember you asking – in a provocative tone and smiling a malicious little smile – whether I had the energy, and more importantly, beyond that, the desire, to wash your “Clitoris”? You’d recently seen fit thus to baptise that new Fiat Panda, on account of the easy penetrability of this – to use your own words – “cardboard car”. At the time I was too flabbergasted to react quickly to those provocative words, but these days, that’s known as a sexist joke! Well, sexist or not, clearly thrilled with the effect it had on me, after that you even asked a car-mechanic to have a look at your “Clitoris” … Tsss… Dirty Larry! Indeed, ‘a dirty mind is a joy for ever’, eh? But in the course of time it became rather normal to refer to the car as such – even for me. And frankly I always had to laugh when you joked around like this: partly because of the way you used hands and feet – your whole body, in fact – to get the punch line across to your ‘Dutch Priest’, as you had baptised me. You were particularly prone to needling me with this name when I made efforts to restrain your enthusiasm for “Mother’s Ruin”, your own favoured red or white poison (appellation non-controlée.)

That garden in which – for fear of me being bitten by a snake – you’d had that very expensive natural flagstone path laid. (A bit over the top, in my humble opinion). And at your request, I planted garlic and onions which, according to you, must have come up on the other side of the world, since we never saw any more of them…

That garden in which, on a tall plinth in the bend of a little path and surrounded by wild shoots, there stood a bust of a young woman, a nymph in stone who became a ‘friend’ of mine…

That garden in which lizards, snakes, little hedgehogs, butterflies and birds found lodgings, and in which the nightingale, with total dedication, demonstrated its high-fidelity singing technique…

That scary night-time garden:

in which the crunching gravel sounded so suspicously like strange footsteps,

in which I mistook the dark swaying branches for threatening human forms,

in which the owls hooted so mysteriously and the huge chestnuts falling on that same gravel scared me silly if I was alone in the dark in the enormous house…

That garden in which, one glorious day, I first met your brother Gerry and his wife Lee during that small party to celebrate their wedding.

Your garden which I cherish as no other, Larry: you understand that I have to sing the praises of that garden!

And… oh, nostalgia… During one of the times my parents stayed there, my father, who was already busy with that museum plan of yours, made a cassette recording of the beautiful voice of the nightingale coming from the back of your garden, on which you can hear him singing his nocturnal song while the ‘Tour de l’horloge’ in the distance sounded twelve night-time peals! Especially for you, this duet has been transferred to the CD as the intro to Chanson Flambée. As an ‘outro’, the shepherd of Fontanès walks past, with his flock. If you brought me home in the “Escargot”, the sheep and goats, bleating and baa-ing in many different keys, sometimes walked all around the blue camper on the little lane ‘Chemin de la Clotte’, which you, of course, sometimes rendered as‘Chemin de la Crotte’, (‘Droppings Way’).

Oh well, here come the lyrics, then.

Chanson Flambée

La pluie nordique, je l’avais échangée
Je préférais le soleil chaud de la Méditerranée
Pays rustique et nostalgique, endroit unique, endroit magique
Et les jardins de mes amis, surtout le tien, mon cher Larry

Notre Sommières je le traverse à pied
Je passe par le Pont Romain bourré de monde, c’est l’été
Pour aller à ta ‘Maison Tartès’, si isolée, presque sacrée
Et puis voilà, je me trouve ici dans ton jardin du paradis

De toutes couleurs on voit des fleurs
Sauvagement elles embrassent une statuette qui se grise de leurs odeurs
Les arbres immenses, qui grimpent jusqu’au ciel
Que la nature est belle; tiens regarde:
Des papillons, des bourdons et des sau.. sau.. sauterelles

Et ta piscine entourée de plein de buissons
Le gazouilis des oiseaux dans le bosquet et sur le gazon
Je prends un bain dans le vieux bassin
Oh, que je suis bien dans ton merveilleux jardin… Oui, je suis bien…
Je suis bien? Regarde: des cendres… la colline… partout des flammes…

Ah, mes jardins qu’est-ce qui arrive… Le ciel si bleu, maintenant si noir
Une fumée dense nous enveloppe.
J’ai peur je me sens perdue dans cette histoire…
Des cendres chaudes tombent par terre… On voit des flammes tout alentour
Et plus vite qu’on ne pouvait penser, le feu meurtrier suit son parcours…

Les Canadairs font va-et-vient. Sur la colline ils lancent l’eau
Mais ça a l’air de ne servir à rien, l’atmosphère devient plus chaude que chaude
Puis j’entends des pins craquer en deux, des siècles entiers sacrifiés au feu
Et toutes ces bêtes qui trouvent leur mort.
Mon Dieu, mon Dieu quel atroce décor…

Et on chuchote dans le Midi, que souvent on met le feu ici
Volontaire… Qui peut le croire
Car, quand la terre est détruite, on peut très bien s’enrichir
Existent-il donc de ces barbares?

Finalement on a gagné
Tous les jardins ils sont sauvés grâce aux grands efforts des pompiers
Qu’on laisse la nature en paix… Qu’on puisse vivre sans regret
Dans les jardins du paradis et dans tout le beau pays

Mais la pluie nordique, je l’ai retrouvée
Avec remords, je vis avec des souvenirs qui me sont restés
Du pays rustique et nostalgique, endroit unique, endroit magique
Et les jardins de mes amis, surtout le tien, mon cher Larry.

Chanson Flambée (translation by Bob Biddiscombe)

The rains of the North I had traded in,
Preferred the hot Mediterranean sun,
A rustic and nostalgic land, a place unique and magical,
And the gardens of my friends; but yours above all, my dear Larry…

Our Sommières I cross on foot,
I pass across the Roman bridge, so packed with people – summertime –
On my way to your ‘Maison Tartès’, so solitary, near-sacred,
And then, there I am, in your garden of paradise.

Flowers there are in every shade and hue,
Run wild, they hug the statuette that drinks in their heady scents,
Enormous the trees, reaching heaven-high,
How lovely nature is. Just look:
Butterflies, bumblebees and grasshop… hop… hoppers…

And your swimming-pool, fringed around with every sort of shrub,
The twitter of birds in the thickets and on the lawn.
I plunge into that old pool. How splendid I feel in your fairy-tale garden…
Yes, splendid I feel… Do I feel splendid? Well, look!
Specks of ash… the hillcrest… everywhere, flames…

Oh my gardens, what’s happening here? The sky – so blue it was – now suddenly so black,
Thick clouds of smoke that hem us in,
I’m frightened, feeling lost in this calamity,
Hot ashes falling to the ground. Everywhere, you see flames,
And quicker even than you can think, the murderous fire pursues its course.

The Canadairs fly back and forth. On the hillcrest they let drop water by the ton,
To no avail, it seems. The very air becoming hotter than hot,
I hear the crack of pine-trees splitting. Centuries being sacrificed to fire,
And all these beasts who are meeting their deaths…
My God, my God, what an awful scene…

And it’s whispered in the Midi that fires are often lit
With mischief in mind… Who can believe it…?
For once the land’s laid waste, there’s a pretty penny to be turned…
Do such barbarians exist, then?

Finally: a victory won.
All gardens have been spared, unscathed,
Thanks to great endeavours of the fire-brigade.
Give nature leave to live in peace… So we can live without regret
In the paradisiac gardens, and in all the lovely land.

But the rains of the North, I have found them again.
Touched with remorse, I live on with the memories that with me remain:
Of the rustic and nostalgic land, that place unique and magical,
And the gardens of my friends; but yours above all, my dear Larry…

Amsterdam, 30 August 2017.

ELENI ON TOUR WITH:

‘A LONELY TYPEWRITER HANGING ON THE WILLOWS!

At the time it was Larry’s great wish that after his departure I would arrange his house in Sommières in a Durrell museum, in which there would also be a place for his brother Gerald – and for myself to perform. Due to a very disagreeable intrusion that project did not go through and the house was sold soon after his passing away – totally against his wishes. I was untimately able to comply with his wish that I should write about him: ‘A Bite of Ice-cream’.  But recently I became aware that I could do more to add to his ‘immortality’ as a writer – as he yestingly used to say to me. During his Centenary Conference in London in 2012 I was also able to show a large number of slides of his house and garden. Furthermore I possess unique photo’s and other material concerning Larry. I have decided to turn my souvenirs into a kind of very small travelling museum on behalf of Larry. Besides a small exposition as well as the slide show I’ll recount in the course of a fictional conversation with him anecdotes from our shared history. In addition I’ll perform a number of my own songs, in which Larry figures as the central character. I hope that’ll turn out to be a nice way to add – even if it’s in a modest way –  to that ‘immortality’ he so wished for.

From the start of 2018 I’ll be able to stage this performance and I’ll keep you posted on this project via this website. And, of course, I can also perform abroad if I’m invited to.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Now I can almost ‘hear’ Larry use some of his favourite expressions: ‘Why not!’, ‘Wonderful news’ and ‘Marvellous!’

Greetings to you all,

Eleni

As several nice people asked me in their e-mails for more information about Larry, voilà: Some pictures of Sommières and Larry’s house and garden.

Foto Le Glacier

Photo: Eleni Sevin

Accompanying this picture I took of Le Glacier on the quai of the ‘Vidourle river’, with the Roman bridge, the following: During my first visit to Larry, while sitting at his kitchen table, before a warming open fire redolent of thyme and pine trees, he immediately told me a lot about his own life. Quite surprising, and to tell the truth, never yet had I experienced a more fascinating introduction into somebody’s life! For hours he entertained me and I could indeed never have guessed that a person like Larry, whose work was so appreciated world wide, would act in such a friendly, open, humorous and broad-minded way, even during our first meeting… And while at the start, it seemed that he was carrying the world on his shoulders, quickly he revealed himself to be a compelling story-teller, his blue eyes sparkling more and more as he got into his stride. From time to time his whole body rose up from his chair to give more power to his words, which were also emphasized with arm gestures; yes, his whole body was talking to me. ‘A Bite of Ice-cream’ contains a large section of anecdotes.

Anyway, I took this picture of café Le Glacier because Larry told me that the American author, Henry Miller – as is well-known, a very dear friend of his – came to visit Larry in Sommières too. That was long after the two of them met in Paris. But at the time Henry came to Sommières the whole town, and even more people, had been standing on the Roman bridge to welcome Miller. But they all had thought that it was the other famous Miller who was going to set foot in Sommières. They were more than eager to see Arthur Miller arriving and above all, of course, his legendary wife, Marilyn Monroe… Great was the deception when it was Henry who appeared on the scene. But not for long, because he proved himself to be a not to be neglected ping-pong player at Le Glacier! Yes: Where Paris had of course been a winner to Henry, and Larry and he frequented café’s as Le Select, Le Dome, and ‘The American bar’ La Coupole – places which played a role in Henry’s Tropic of Cancer – it was at Le Glacier in Sommières that Henry proved time and again to be a winner himself during games of table tennis. But in connection with that Parisian episode of the two of them, I had arranged a talk with the eldest ‘garçon’ at La Coupole, years ago already, to try to get some information about Larry, Henry, Anaïs Nin and Alfred Perlès – who together enjoyed themselves beyond measure at the place. To obtain this information I’d written a letter to the ‘établisement’ and later it was on a drizzling Parisian afternoon that I sat together with my son sipping a very expensive glass of red wine in the ‘Limonade Bar’ near the window of La Coupole. I showed this old ‘garçon’ some pictures of Larry, while I saw other ‘garçons’ carrying huge étagères with oysters and lobsters on the spread fingers of one hand and with the other emptying almost at the same time bottles of sparkling champagne at the tables of the guests… The old man looked at me with a certain embarrassment and nodded his head. ‘No, so sorry…’ I could almost see him racking his brain and then, after a pause, he said: ‘Eugène Ionesco… Yes… he came here quite often! I do remember him very well…’ And then he added something like: ‘Ah, ma chèrie… I’m just a waiter, and to tell you the truth, we are not supposed to know too much about the clièntèle… You know, there are very rich people who come here, but also… very poor men and women and we are indeed absolutely not supposed to know anything about their private conditions of life…’ I nodded. Yes, of course I could understand that – even if I felt a little bit disappointed. After another moment of silence he quite lovingly looked at me again and said (while a huge frown had appeared between his eyebrows): ‘But now that I’m thinking about it a bit more… There… in the front row… Oui, oui, oui… there used to sit there a company of quite noisy people… Yes, definitely… Now that I look again at your pictures… Amongst them I’m sure it was him (Larry)… Yes… and the whole company was drinking bottles of champagne here and enjoying themselves enormously… Yes!!!’ And then, nodding in affirmation, he bowed and, softly smiling contentedly, the elderly man silently took his leave… Of course he must have been right! As Larry told me himself Henry, Anaïs, Alfred and he were inseparable, and even played checkers at the place. And for Perlès La Coupole was really of great importance. A well-known remark of Larry’s about Anaïs appeared to be something like: ‘And Anaïs? She sat at the bar, picking quarrels with her lovers and publishers. She adored men, but she had a penchant for men who wept and for psychiatrists, so ideally she fancied weeping psychiatrists…’ And how well I recognize Larry in those words! However from La Coupole, the champagne and the oysters in Paris, to Le Glacier with the ‘vin de pays’, pastis and ice-creams in Sommières, had been no problem at all. I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Henry at the time I was at Larry’s place, as Henry was already an invalid chained to his wheelchair, but they were still often in touch through letters and phone calls. And Larry was very, very sad the day he received the news about Henry’s death in 1980. And in the buckets of mail Larry received almost dayly, he was often asked for information about Henry as well as Anaïs. Anyway, through the years I quite often had to take Larry’s suitcase from the cupboard in the bedroom and pack his good clothes in it – the ones he never wore in Sommières – because he was going for a few days to Paris and in particular also to La Coupole where he often was planning to talk (amongst other things) business too.

Escargot

Photo: Eleni Sevin

Parked in the garden, waiting patiently, the old bue VW camper, lovingly baptised by Larry as the ‘Escargot’ who travelled at its slow speed enormous distances, sometimes with the grey rubber boat ‘The Zodiac’ on its roof…

Soomières

Photo: Eleni Sevin

View on Sommières.

Foto dadalpalm

Photo: Eleni Sevin

Larry’s garden in which my bike often stood waiting calmly for me, leaning against this tall date palm.

Tuinhek

Photo: Eleni Sevin

The entrance gate on which I had rattled so hard on my first vitit to Larry and to which journalists referred in their interviews, because its creaking deepened the mystery surrounding Larry’s existence….

foto balkon+deur

Photo: Eleni Sevin

A balcony left from the front door of Maison Tartès.

Tuin met zwembad

Photo: Eleni Sevin

That wild, jungle of a garden in which the old, almost decadent (and anyway very complicated to maintain) swimming-pool was well hidden amongst the trees and bushes.

Brug Sommières

Photo: Eleni Sevin

The Roman bridge and the ‘Tour de l’horloge’.

stieren in Sommières

Photo: Eleni Sevin

During ‘La fête votive’ bulls are running around in Sommières…

Durrell 5 b

Photo: Eleni Sevin

Gerald Durrell talking with my little son in ‘Mas Michel’ during one of the parties. During such a party the Swedish movie actress, Mai Zetterling – among other roles, she played Helga, the grandmother, in ‘The Witches’ (1990) directed by Nicolas Roeg – sauntered round among the olive trees, which were worthy of a Van Gogh, a glass of wine in one hand and a much younger lover in the other.

Scan 7

Photo: Eleni Sevin

But also Ugnė Karvelis, who worked at the time as an editor for the French publishing house ‘Gallimard’ and who had been formerly the second wife of Julio Cortázar was – just like Mai – more than once one of the guests at the parties of Gerry and Lee. On this photo I’d taken of Larry and her, Larry looked quite vulnerable; so much so that a shudder had passed through me when I took the print out of the folder in the photographic shop… A reason the more for me to try to cheer him up.

Scan 6

Photo: Eleni Sevin

The castle ruin of Sommières. Larry used to say: ‘We’re all right here, because nothing ever happens in Sommières…’ but he surely forgot at such a moment the grazy so-called ’Vidourlades’, when the wild, meandering Vidourle river flooded the whole town, the forest fires, and the actual murder that was committed near the castle ruin one evening in 1980, during a village party…

Pagnol

Photo: Yves Mouret

And of course, not to be forgotten that same Sommières was the scene of intense commotion again when it was decided to do some filming there for the remake of two famous films: ‘Jean de Florette’ and ‘Manon des Sources’, based on the books of Marcel Pagnol. This took place in 1985 under the direction of Claude Berri. The whole town was besides itself with excitement because such actors as Yves Montand, Daniel Auteuil, Gérard Dépardieu and Emmanuelle Béart were to be looked over and seen in action. My little son and me were asked as extras and during the sweltering ‘canicule’ of those shooting days Daniel Auteuil time and again disappeared briefly and then returned with a soft drink or a piece of fruit for my child, who was by far the youngest on the set. Montand as ‘Le Papet’ was charming too, but it was Larry who afterwards served a very tasty, chilled white wine of a good year…

Ludo

Photo: Eleni Sevin

Ludo Chardenon – ‘The Plant Magic Man’ as Larry called this dear friend of his, with his stall at the entrance gate of Sommières full of numbered sachets with many different mixtures of medicinal herbs, as well as herbes de provence for kitchen use – all picked in the region.

Geef een reactie

Het e-mailadres wordt niet gepubliceerd. Vereiste velden zijn gemarkeerd met *