For several years now, a big black cloud seems to follow us wherever we go on holiday.
We've had April snow in Texas, a week of torrential rain in Italy at the tail-end of a summer of baking heat, and a soggy July in Ireland (although, granted, that particular weather pattern might not be atypical).
The last time we were in the south of France, it rained most of the week. Our swimming pool grew cold and went unused. We got soaked in a downpour in Grasse. We slipped on the steep
cobblestones in the ancient town of Eze. We huddled in a tiny appartement, playing cards and reading, hour after dank, gloomy hour.
Therefore, you will understand why day after day of the clearest blue skies leaves me feeling rather stunned . . . and sundazed.
In the first few days, we couldn't get enough of the sun. We were either swimming, or playing ping pong or tennis, or walking, or just lying by the pool -- soaking it up. I felt like an animal, or a child, or an aristocrat from prewar Europe. My day was devoted to feeding and watering and exercising my body.
On one particularly memorable day, I walked the two winding miles into Vence and back for the morning croissant run, I swam and sunbathed all afternoon, and I wound up the day with an hour or two of tennis doubles. As the sun waned, I drank a strong gin and tonic and nibbled olives on the stone porch -- feeling rather Great Gatsbyish. (As I want to keep on the truthful side of whimsy and romance, I will admit that the doubles tennis game was a round robin with six children . . . and that the gin and tonic knocked me out. I doubt that F. Scott and Zelda were ever felled by a single G&T, but then it requires more stamina than you might think to "play hard.")
Have you ever noticed that when you first relax you just feel tired? We've been to bed by 10 pm some nights, drugged by the great draughts of fresh air we've breathed all day. The outside is inside here because the windows and doors are always flung open. At night, a cool breeze drifts up-hill from the nearby sea.
A fair bit of novel-reading has been mixed in with all of this mindless physical bliss, and since most of it has occurred poolside I have given some consideration to the question of what makes a good holiday read. I have decided that being able to match the subject of the book to the physical and emotional landscape is a bonus, but not strictly necessary. What is really required is a book that is so engrossing that you can tune out the shrieking of six children in the pool, not to mention an occasional blasting from a water pistol. Language must be simple, but elegant.
So far, I have read three books . . . and they represent the entirety of my scattershot approach to holiday reading. I brought one of the books from my to-read bookshelf: Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates. I found one book here, on the villa bookshelf: Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer. And my favorite of the three, The Road Home, by Rose Tremain, was a last-minute purchase from Heathrow.
I had heard good things about The Road Home, not least from my blogging friend Just a Plane Ride Away, and Tremain's writing is just the sort of reading terrain that I like best. It has substance, and style, but she lets those qualities serve the story -- and not the other way around. This is a really topical book, too, as it explores the experience of a Polish immigrant who has come to England to find new economic and emotional opportunities. Lev, the protagonist of the story, was totally real to me and I was positively gripped by the various learning curves thrown at him. I suppose that books always aim to reveal life from the perspective of another person, but rarely do they do it so thoroughly and believably. Some books are "hard to get into," but my attention was caught at the first page of this one and it really didn't flag until I, with some sad regret, finished the last page.
A couple of days ago, I received a charming email from one of the regular visitors to Storyvilla. She is coming here for her wedding in September, (!), and she happened upon my little blog while she was googling. We had an interesting back-and-forth about the contents of the villa bookshelves -- from the preponderance of Graham Greene, which the owner favors, to the presence of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, which my Irish correspondent left behind on her last visit. I have decided to leave behind The Road Home, and hopefully this Storyvilla visitor -- and others, too -- will enjoy the book as much as I have. Blogging often feels like a message in a bottle that you send out, with the hope that some likeminded person will read it. There is a particularly serendipitous pleasure when one's scribbled messages drift upon unexpected shores, and I like to think of holiday books as leaving a similar trace.
The light is starting to fade from the upstairs study window, which means that it is gin and tonic time. This is the light that has inspired artists, from Renoir to Matisse to Picasso to Chagall, but so far I've mostly just kept my sunglasses on. Perhaps next week, as we tire of the swimming pool, we will begin to visit the many museums in the area. In the meantime, most mental pursuits have been suspended . . . and I remain just a bit sundazed.