Thursday, September 15, 2016

In Bed with Claudine

The French are not like you and I – if there was ever any doubt. The French are so much better at so many things – wine, sophistication, the art of love. We have underwear, they have lingerie. If, in fact you needed a specific example by way of proof. It's been a long time since I've read any fiction – and a long time since I've read a French writer. (I've been writing and I haven’t wanted the intrusion – however delightful – of another authorial voice in my head.) But I've been wanting to read – and I'm taking a working vacation by the sea. At night here in my little studio, I wanted something to read and as Providence would have it, The Complete Claudine fell into my hands. I had a copy in Brooklyn – in my storage unit – because my life, like my bookcase, was too full (and not full of pleasure, by way of explanation.)

So now, I am on the north Aegean – on a breezy but marvelous morning, drinking tea in a tea glass shaped even more like a woman's body in a strapless gown than usual. What's all this allusion, Alba? Is it because during the day, you've been trying to settle into a ‘ vacation way of life’ – swimming, tanning, enjoying your absolute freedom from schedules? Yet, all the while, you’re obsessively organizing, cleaning the sand off the floor and the sea out of your swimsuits with the red shower gel whose smell – if you’re to go by the package, is the smell of red diamonds?At night, you’re living in fin de siècle Paris and it's somehow rubbing off?

Ah, yes, the French, the Claudines and mostly, my adored Colette. How I love Colette! Another day I'll write and tell you about how we met and how deeply I love her and why. This morning, though, I'll tell you a bit about the Claudine novels. Written between 1900 and 1907 when Colette was 27 to 34 years old, they form, as a series, one of France's greatest bestsellers. It's not hard to see why – Claudine as a character is marvelous – full of contradictions and desires – so full of life. It's easy to see how scandalous these novels were – heck, they’re scandalous now! Colette's touch is so light – for me who has some familiarity with her work, I can see and sense Colette becoming Colette and this is a delight on par with being in Claudine's head. The series begins with Claudine at School and after graduating, it’s Claudine in Paris, where she meets and falls in love with her (soon-to-be husband) Renaud. The third novel, Claudine Married, details her early married life in Paris and the lesbian affair she has with the irresistible Rézi. All of this happens (please refer to the first line of my post) with the approval (if not outright encouragement) of Renaud.

I've always been a very slow reader, but in the last 10 days, I've inhaled the first three novels. I've only slowed down because I am actually having an aversion to Rézi, even though she's described so sensually, so attractively and so something else that I want to slap her face. I have several weeks left – but only Claudine and Annie left to read. The final Claudine novel, Retreat from Love, isn’t included in my book. How will I fill my nights after Claudine goes off? Where will I find my delight in the sights and smells of Montigny,s countryside? The buttered bread? The corsets and the silks? The colors and the consciousness that is Claudine?

(P. S. A man with Renaud’s moustache lives in my building. He may believe I'm looking at him, but it's that moustache come to life that I'm admiring!)

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