Taking the plunge My wife and I have separated. The logic behind the annual return to UK in early July is that in July and August, England’s weather is at its (unreliable) best. Bah humbug - last month was the wettest June on record, and since in one day - yesterday, July 20 - we had more than twice the average monthly precipitation, July looks like doing the same. So we are separated - by water. I came to Wiltshire earlier this week to do some work, the plan being for the DG to join me on Friday. I even prepared my speciality, a Chicken Cacciatore (it is also the only thing I can cook) and put a bottle of something fizzy in the fridge. But she is still in Windsor because the Thames Valley is awash. If she doesn’t arrive soon I too will be awash – with Chicken Cacciatore and fizzy.
Taking another plunge A strange epidemic is affecting the nation, the most worrying aspect of which is that it seems to afflict only women, with teenagers and the post-menopausal being especially susceptible.
It is called ME - mammaritis exhibitus. Its early symptom is an uncontrollable desire to expose portions of the mammary glands formerly concealed. The phenomenon was first observed in Roman times, when St. Agatha was reputed to have displayed her attributes on a silver platter. It was last prevalent in this country following the Napoleonic wars, but was completely eradicated during the Victorian era. Psychologists cleave to the view that the disease is delusional, since those with the least desirable appendages seem to be the most eager to flaunt them.
So far our new Home Secretary holds the booby prize: when making her inaugural appearance in the House of Commons as a Cabinet Minister, she decided to make a clean breast of the matter - which is more than her predecessor ever did.
It is feared that the disease has already infected the USA: Victoria Beckham, arriving in LA, stressed two points: that her appearance owed much to sartorial engineering, and that WYS was definitely not WYG. But whether or not the disease could flourish on the beaches of Florida is contentious: a scan of American women has revealed a divided front on the matter.
Riviera Writer's cramp Watching the shots in London last night of people who’ve been queuing three days for the privilege of buying the latest – I don’t believe it’s the last – Harry Potter book, I had to smile ruefully . The ‘rue’ is because I’ve finally got a date for my paperback. You’ll be excited to learn that it’s due out on September 26. Applause! To date, Harry Potter has sold 325 million copies. It’s an indication of my publisher’s confidence that they are printing 2,000. If you intend to queue don't bother with the umbrella - it won't take that long.
As a special treat for faithful readers and those too poor - or chintzy - to pay £11.99 ($24), I’m going to drop in brief excerpts from the book from time to time. Here’s a bit on D. H. Lawrence:
Vence is a small cathedral town - that is, a town with a small cathedral. Its eleventh-century church is among the smallest in France. The old town is a vaguely concentric maze of narrow streets protected on one side by monumental gates and on the other by medieval ramparts. Elegant, urn-shaped fountains play in sheltered squares, of which one served as the Romans' forum, and another housed the town guillotine in Revolutionary times. The beauty of the old town is now the traveller's reward for having negotiated the suppuration of hotels and ugly apartment blocks that surround it.
Vence stands almost a thousand feet up in the hills, about ten miles inland: two features that, in January 1930, caused the English novelist and travel and short-story writer David Herbert (D.H.) Lawrence to move there. In coastal Bandol, he had been examined by Dr Moreland, an English chest specialist on holiday in the area, who had told him that he should move to a higher altitude, away from the coast.
Lawrence finally, and belatedly, accepted Dr Morland's diagnosis: that he had had tuberculosis for many years. As Katherine Mansfield had done 13 years earlier, he left coastal Bandol for the last time.
He had hoped that his ranch in Taos, New Mexico, might better meet the doctor's requirements, but, apart from his visa problems, the doctor was sure that Lawrence was in no condition for such a long journey.
So he moved into what he called 'a sort of sanatorium' in Vence. When he got there he weighed just six stone - 84 pounds - and was close to death. The building had formerly been the home of a local astronomer, and both its name, Ad Astra (To the Stars), and its location - just across the road from the cemetery - now took on a grisly significance. Lawrence’s wife Frieda checked into the nearby Hôtel Nouvel.
It was not really a sanatorium. As Lawrence wrote on a postcard to Aldoux Huxley's wife Maria, it was just 'an hotel where a nurse takes your temperature and two doctors look after you once a week'. H.G. Wells, who was living near Grasse at the time, came to see him there, as did the Aga Khan. On 27 February, 1930, after only two weeks, he wrote to the Huxleys again; this time with a P.S. 'This place no good.'
The next day Frieda took him away from the home to a villa she had rented: the Villa Rochermond (later the Villa Aurelia) near the great 2,400-foot cylindrical rock of St. Jeannet.
Optimistically, she took a six- month lease starting on 1 March, and moved her bed into his room because he wanted to be able to see her. He was writing a book review when the Huxleys arrived, and he grasped Maria Huxley's hands and said, 'Maria, don't let me die.'
At 9 pm the next day, a doctor came from the 'sanatorium' and gave Lawrence morphine for his pain. He said, 'I am better now', and fell asleep. He died at 10.15 pm.
Lawrence was buried beside a south-facing wall in the Vence cemetery. In addition to Frieda and Barby, her daughter by her previous marriage, the small group of mourners included the Huxleys and their friend Robert Nichols, and English poet living in Villefranche.
At the time, no one thought that, exactly five years later, another small group would gather in carré 7 of Vence cemetery to witness Lawrence's exhumation.
In the time between burial and disinterment, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, on their way home from a holiday in Italy, had made a side trip to Vence to visit the grave - and, it being 1933, had found him in. In the meantime, the grief-stricken Frieda had been comforted by a number of lovers, at least two of whom had shared her with Lawrence while he was still alive.
One was John Middleton Murry, with whom she had had a passionate affair immediately following the death of his wife Katherine Mansfield in 1923. By the time Lawrence died, Murry had acquired another consumptive wife, whom he left with their children in his haste to fulfil his urgent mission to Vence to fill the void left by Lawrence's death.
It is uncertain who comforted whom: Frieda at 50 was still alluring enough for him to write later, 'You don't know what you did for me in Vence … you recreated me.'
The next to console her was Angelo Ravagli, the Fascist Italian army officer who had served as her occasional extra-curricular lover during her marriage, and was the reason for her late arrival at Port Cros some years earlier. By 1935, he and Frieda had moved to Taos. He had built a small mausoleum chapel there - a friend called it a 'station toilet' - in Lawrence's memory, and had been charged with exhuming Lawrence's remains in Vence and shipping them to Taos to complete the shrine.
Deterred by French bureaucracy from exporting a long-dead body, Ravagli had the remains burned and urned in preparation for their 5,000-mile journey. At the docks in New York, the ashes suffered - just as the living Lawrence had done - immigration difficulties, but they were finally accepted as unlikely to have subversive intent or communist sympathies, and were permitted to board the train to New Mexico.
The anarchic Lawrence would probably have enjoyed the rest of the story, as researched by his biographer Brenda Maddox. Distracted by the enthusiasm of Frieda's welcome, Ravagli left the urn and its incinerated contents on the train, after which their fate becomes confused. Either Ravagli went back to the railway station and collected them, or he was unable to find them at the station and bought another urn, which he filled with similar substance.
The disposal of the ashes has raised even more conspiracy theories. Some, including Maria Huxley, believe that the anti-Ravagli school suspected that he had built the Lawrence mausoleum in Taos with a view to charging admission to tourists, and they planned to thwart him by stealing the ashes and casting them to the desert winds. Frieda, hearing of this plan, tipped them into the mixer that was making the concrete altar stone for the chapel.
Twenty years later, a drunken Ravagli revealed that, immediately after the cremation of Lawrence's body in 1935, afraid of hassles with the French authorities over the export of the remains, he had tipped the original ashes out in Vence and replaced them with cindered wood.
Although this contradicted his earlier, already conflicting, statements, it seems to leave only three possible fates for the true ashes: they are either somewhere in Vence, or in a block of concrete in Taos, or in a left luggage office somewhere in New Mexico. And the one true tomb of David Herbert Lawrence is the one in Carré 7 in Vence cemetery, over which a plaque reads, 'David Herbert Lawrence reposed here from March 1930 to March 1935'.
Murry (without mentioning his relationship to Frieda) swore on oath that he had seen a will in which Lawrence bequeathed all his rights in his works to her, and none to his family, (which included a destitute sister) and Frieda and Angelo lived on in New Mexico, getting ever richer on Lawrence’s royalties. They married there in 1950, his Italian wife having given her consent for them to marry.
It was convenient that Italian law had not recognized Angelo's American divorce and marriage, because after Frieda died in New Mexico, Ravagli's wife was able to accept him back as her legal husband without further ceremony.