Sunday, August 19, 2007

Plus ça change…

There’s a guy who appears in all the quotations dictionaries – but he’s there only once. His name is Alphonse Karr, a 19th century French author and journalist, and his famous quote was ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same’.
The phrase comes to mind during the second week of the football season as one listens to the post-match comments of football managers. Some have been relegated, some sacked – but the new guys are saying exactly the same things as the old ones did: ‘the lads showed a lot of character today’; ‘they gave me 120%’; and my favourite: ‘I don’t like to complain about refereeing decisions but…’.
They have a point. As the football world celebrated the retirement of ghastly Graham Poll, little did they know that deputies were waiting to don the mantle. Step up myopic Mike Riley, who managed to get three penalty decisions wrong in one match (I gave him the benefit of the doubt on the fourth.) and optically-challenged Rob Styles, who gave Chelsea a penalty when their man ran into a Liverpool player - when neither had the ball.
Mourinho said he didn't know if it should have been a penalty. And Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez said that Gerard has a sore toe and won’t be able to play for England on Wednesday – but he would be able to play for Liverpool today. Plus ça change indeed.

This summary (extracted from Ted Jones’s The French Riviera: A Literary Guide for Travellers - you may have heard of it) is for my loyal but mysterious reader in Auckland, New Zealand:

The New Zealand author Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) came to the Côte d’Azur in 1915 and stayed first in Bandol, at the western end of the Riviera, where she was grieving the death of her brother on the Western Front. The Villa Pauline, where she wrote Prelude, still stands, overlooking the Renecros beach. She chose Bandol in the misguided belief that the climate would be beneficial for her respiratory complaints. In fact, like her friend D. H. Lawrence a decade later, it was in Bandol that she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and, again like Lawrence, was to travel the entire length of the Côte d’Azur in a futile quest for relief.
She had left Wellington for London at the age of 19 with the ambition of becoming a professional musician, but the nearest she came to achieving her musical goal was a hasty and brief marriage to her cello teacher, George Bowden. It wasn’t so much a love match as a means of avoiding being in a state of unmarried pregnancy when her posh parents arrived from New Zealand. As soon as their ship sailed for home, she left Bowden and sold her cello.
But the bourgeois Mansfields had seen enough. Although the pregnancy miscarried, Mrs M., shocked by what she had seen as her daughter's Bohemian lifestyle, promptly cut Katherine out of her will.
Mansfield’s writing success began with her acceptance by the literary magazine, Rhythm. Her later marriage to its editor, John Middleton Murry, although punctuated by numerous infidelities by both partners, lasted for the rest of her life.
In 1920, she moved to Menton, at the eastern end of the Riviera, where, on the leafy hillside of Garavan, within coughing distance of the Italian border, she discovered the Villa Isola Bella, There, despite her deteriorating health, she enjoyed one of her most productive periods, publishing collections of short stories, book reviews, articles, and translations. She wrote from there that, when she died, ‘you will find ISOLA BELLA in poker work on my heart’.
Two years later, Mansfield went for a course to the pretentiously-titled Institute for the Harmonious Development of the Mind, in an old monastery at Fontainebleau, near Paris, but the northern winter proved less than harmonious with her body and she died there of tuberculosis in January, 1923, aged 34.
Her gravestone in a nearby village bears the quotation from Shakespeare’s Henry IV that she chose as the epigraph for her book of stories that she completed in Menton and dedicated to Murry: ‘Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety’. The village is aptly named Avon.
In Mansfield’s memory, the New Zealand government awards an annual bursary to a young indigenous writer allowing them to spend a year in Isola Bella, in the now renamed avenue Katherine Mansfield, but, with its faded sign and overgrown garden, the Isola is bella no longer.


justin said...

That's brilliant writing, RW, and a lovely photo.

riviera writer said...

Thanks Justin. Don't know about the writing, but do agree about the main pic - I should have credited friend Mike Pearcy of Words & Picures (see link) taken hanging from a tree obove Mansfiend's house.