Monday, July 11, 2016

"the rich-looking famous and the famous-looking rich"

Excerpt from In the Memorial Room by Janet Frame:

I had been in Menton for two months. It was now March. The winter in its final convulsive display of life had arrested all transport to and from the mountains and through the country. Deep drifts of snow, gales, high seas, floods, once again became the chief actors in the drama outlined, criticised and photographed by the newspapers; once again tenants were forced to leave their immobiliers, threatened by yet another déroulement. Snow, it was said, had never fallen so low on the slopes of the mountains, so near the sea, nor had so many pleasure-boats been lost on the Mediterranean, nor had the Mediterranean been so treacherous in its impulsive apparently changeling storms of no visible origin.

Nor had the citrus crop been so abundant, and faithful in taste and colour. Behind special screens in the city’s garden square, preparations were being made for the annual lemon festival, the artistic display of lemons, oranges and all other fruits of the region; everyone waited anxiously for the counterfeit winter to admit its nature; on the slopes and in the valleys of the mountain, the arrière-pays, the scent of the flowering mimosa hung in the air; the grey lavender buds began to open even from as low as the rock where they grew, to prepare the change in the colour of the sky that in three, four, five weeks would be challenged, rivalled, enhanced in its colour by the blossoming trees and flowers.

Everywhere, every year there is weather described as unusual, not by the visitors but by those who know best, the inhabitants. The old blind man, one hundred and fifteen years old, who lived away up in the mountain village of Sainte-Agnès and spent his day, if the weather were fine, on the stone seat in the sun outside his small house, watching the people, mostly tourists, come and go through the narrow cobbled streets, was reported as saying he had never known the snow so deep. He was not afraid to go out in it, he said; indeed, on the day he was interviewed by the newspaper, on his birthday, he was standing out in the snow, with an old straw hat pulled tightly over his blind eyes, wearing a bright blue nylon raincoat (buttoned), though he nevertheless kept raising his face to the light. The winter had been terrible, he said, authoritatively from his one hundred and fifteen years. And he knew. He might be blind – the bandits had come from the mountains, attacked him and blinded him, his family had descended upon him and carried off all his belles choses – but he knew how to assess the seasons from one year to another. His authority gave the city a sudden sense of pride in the unusual weather. The mayor, on a visit to Paris, remarked about it to a newspaper reporter and his remark appeared in both a morning and an evening Paris newspaper and was reflected back to the local Nice-Matin, like the effortless journey of a satellite swinging – as far as we on earth know – soundlessly through space.

Then, suddenly, for the opening of the lemon festival, the sun shone, the snow melted, and people flocked to the city – very old mountain-people, their mountain gait strangely unbalancing them on the wide, level promenade; guests from the many villas, pensions and hotels; visitors in fast cars from Italy and north and west of Monte Carlo, the rich-looking famous and the famous-looking rich, the unsuntanned and the suntanned; and the crooks, les escrocs, the pick-pockets, malfaiteurs, cambrioleurs.

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