it’s saturday in los angeles (09:42 am, precisely, as the Speaking Clock used to say in England).
we’re meant to be somewhere but we decided to stay here.
it’s already hot and sunny outside – but cool in here by the vintage-looking fan (not shown).
too hot to wear pearls or even earrings – the sun catches on the metal and singes slightly and why wear a watch? are you catching a Train? not today, no.
we could stay in bed and read.
we have lots of books.
we could pick up email and find out what everyone else is doing on a saturday.
we could look through the moleskine (#152 if you’ve been keeping count) and see what Happened the month-just-gone.
we could spend some time with Isherwood, Loos or Ms. Didion (she’s good for a languid saturday morning)
nancy mitford is an excellent companion when the tea is ready-to-pour and the blinds are closed against the infernal bright sun (who knew we’d Ever Complain about the sun?!)
Sybille is always delicious – but only if one has food in the house because she writes so gloriously about Meals Abroad (we do, so we Might).
or one could browse a 1928 Harper’s Bazaar – because we own one (thank you dear JC in Manhattan for that Gem).
or we could Write – but it’s so hot.
so we decided to read something we’d written a while ago and got Thoroughly engrossed (which only goes to prove that one doesn’t really Write – it is Written through one or it wouldn’t be so New each time one Reads it).
oh, we’d love to share it with you…….
do you have a cool glass of something potent or sweet?
then we’ll begin.
perhaps three extracts?
thank you ever so much for stopping by.
we were a Tiny bit Lonely before you came.
(lovely tartan blanket – was it your Great Aunt’s? They always have the Best blankets).
Violet Ryan and the Placing Of Angels.
She pulled onto the freeway going north and the faster she drove, the more her worries dissipated into the air like soap bubbles, gathered and rocked on the wind until, finally, bursting into a rainbow-tinged nothingness.
A retreat. That was what was ahead of her in Montecito. She had never been on a retreat before yet everyone she knew seemed to spend one weekend in seven hurtling up the coast road towards Santa Barbara to rest, rejuvenate and commune with nature. Since moving to Los Angeles, she was willing to try anything to attain that peaceful vibe so many there possessed. Sometimes she felt it was like they vibrated to a higher frequency.
She looked out of the window to change lanes into the fast-track and smiled as the car purred into obedience and approval at the merest touch of her sexy punk-pink painted toes. Violet drove barefoot, most people in Southern California did as soon as spring arrived, it felt truly delicious to have the coastal air stroking your feet with the sunroof open and windows down.
Apparently, according to the literature strewn all over the passenger seat, the retreat was a no-sugar zone. Violet was terribly nervous about being without sugar for seventy-two hours. In Los Angeles you mention you might, just might mind you, have a teeny problem with sugar and everyone whips out their Hindu-themed notebooks to give you the name of their guru of the month and their favorite chiropractor/acupuncturist genius that changed their life.
This close to Santa Barbara, every third car was a vintage beauty. Violet giggled in amazement as one well-known face after another pulled up beside her at each stop light and then trundled ahead, Louis Vuitton weekend leather bags thrown casually in the back of each convertible on their way to chic enlightenment workshops, nestled in the foot of the Montecito mountains.
The lanes were lush, verdant: a cathedral of trees meeting in a soft, blowsy arch overhead. In a land hallowed by the Native American Chumash tribe for several centuries, it was a place of eternal reflection and faith-filled recuperation. Violet drove past the last coffee shop for miles and then turned left into a long driveway. Right at the end, past winding lanes twirling up into the mountains, there was a small sign. This must be it, she thought. Huge, intricately woven ironwork gates opened very, very slowly, almost majestically.
It was just too beautiful for words; Violet was struck by the utter stillness of the retreat grounds. A large house at the top of the driveway, the old convent, now converted into the retreat’s main building. Stone statues from diverse religious and spiritual traditions heralded different pathways to dormitory buildings, chapels and meditation rooms. Vast oak trees, like living prayers, swayed gently over the surrounding buildings. A place of rest, recuperation, investigation and renewal.
She had not known how tired she was, how frustrated with her life and how much in need of a rest. She pulled the car over into a small outdoor parking area and gently placed her head on the steering wheel to steady her feelings.
There was a light tapping sound on her window, like a small bird was trying to get in. Violet looked up and saw a friendly face peering at her. She rolled down the window. The face smiled. Violet blinked several times, her eyes felt full, her mascara was full of tears. She took her forefingers and brushed her eyelashes carefully, droplets of Chanel’s finest brown-black mascara lay in little pools on her fingertips. The face spoke.
“Hello, I’m Catherine.”
Violet took a deep breath. “Violet Ryan.” The face smiled.
“Why don’t you bring in your bags and I’ll settle you in.” Violet opened her mouth but nothing came out so she closed it again. Catherine looked at her kindly. She was one of the very healthy women in a yoga-at-dawn sort of way.
Another car pulled in and parked next to Violet. Catherine smiled encouragingly again at Violet who obediently got out of the car. Catherine then walked purposefully over to the black Jaguar. The driver had a short crop of expensively dyed blonde hair and as soon as she turned off the ignition, Violet saw her sink her head onto the steering wheel.
Violet giggled. Ah. That must be what everyone did as soon as they reached this paradise. Sink into tearful resignation that it had come to this. They were at a retreat and they were exhausted. Exhausted from trying to be fabulous in Los Angeles for far too long.
a little further on (everyone’s arrived at the Retreat now and unpacked in the Dormitory)
Violet took out the black leather notebook she carried everywhere. She pulled her huge, warm pashmina around her shoulders as the sun dipped behind the oak trees outside giving a deep amber glow, like a benign fire snaking through the leaves. A very tall woman with a face wreathed in smiles was suddenly standing next to her bunk, looking directly at Violet.
“Writing a book?” she asked. Violet gulped, hoping the woman had not seen what she was writing about the blond in the other bunk.
“I’m not sure” said Violet, stammering, “I’m trying to make sense of being thirty-five.” Damn. Why did she have to say that? How stupid was that? What was she thinking? Why did she always say exactly what was on her mind?
“Thirty-five is an interesting time. Dante and all that,” said the smiley woman.
“Yes. The opening lines of Dante’s Inferno are all about making sense of being thirty-five. Thirty-five is midway from birth to death. Three score years and ten and all that: Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself/In dark woods, the right road lost.”
“Oh.” Violet suddenly felt incredibly smart and in some way mystical. Dante. Good lord. Then she remembered her manners. Sticking out her hand, awkwardly, trying not to fall off the bunk and directly into the tall woman as she shook hands, she said “Violet Ryan, pleased to meet you.” The woman detected her accent.
“English? Which part? My family is from England.”
Violet repressed a sigh. The only thing more irritating than looking so Irish and being clasped to people’s bosoms as they joyfully surrendered themselves to memories of the Emerald Isle in years gone by was when people’s families were from England. Nobody seemed to have traced roots back to Thaxmead where she was from. They were always from somewhere posh and feudal and generally at the top of the society ladder in Gloucestershire or Wiltshire or some Shire or other.
“I’m from Thaxmead,” said Violet, briskly, knowing what was next.
“My family are from somewhere beginning with W, or, what is the name?” she laughed and scratched her glossy brown bobbed hair, tousling it and yet it felt perfectly back into place. She was born to wear a Twenties bob, thought Violet in admiration.
“Wiltshire?” said Violet, with a just a stab in the dark mind you air.
“No. Oh yes, oh yes, I remember. Weston-Super-Mare! I’m Elizabeth, by the way.”
Violet liked her already. Weston-Super-Mare with a sandy beach that turned to mud as autumn rolled in with dark clouds, an old Pier stretching out to sea and tea-shops full of old ladies gossiping something terrible with crocheted hats. Marvelous. Now that was a camp place to come from, almost camper than Thaxmead, thought Violet.
and this is when she meets the character known as the Rock God (think Leonard Cohen in blue jeans):
Violet was really warming up to the rock god. “So what’s on your mind, famous man?” She hoped he did not mind her admitting she knew who he was. It was too exhausting to pretend otherwise. She had read every interview he had ever given.
He pulled his knees up to his chin. Violet noticed he had the most beautiful hands, strong hands, a simple silver band on alternate fingers. Surprisingly elegant for a rock star. Sighing but not looking directly at her, he said, “I am in pretty much the same situation as you.”
“Ah.” said Violet. Violet felt huge compassion welling up inside her. She was hurting, badly, she missed her ex with her whole being but he, the rock god, had to go through this pain in public. With every single journalist, friend, roadie, person who bumps into him on the street asking him about Her, making the pain more intense, searing.
“How do you know when love is healthy?” Violet said, feeling like she was on a late-night intellectual PBS special about love and its discontents through the poetry of Baudelaire.
He laughed, ruefully. “You know, I’m not sure love is meant to be healthy.”
“Ok, not healthy, but real. How do you know it is real? Not fake, not an addiction, not surface or just-because-we-are-both-lonely – but real?”
The rock god reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper on which was written a scrawled quote. He spoke so softly. “And we are put on earth a little space/That we may learn to bear the beams of love.”
“Isn’t that William Blake?” she asked. “from Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience? ” Violet was in heaven discussing William Blake with a rock god from New York City’s lower east side. This, my friend, was what living in America was about.
Reaching into her bag, she pulled out her book and flicked through until she found Henry’s speech from The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard.
Clearing her throat she started to read. “Our lovers share us with the passing trade. But in pairs we insist that we give ourselves to each other. What selves? What’s left? What else is there that hasn’t been dealt out like a pack of cards? Carnal knowledge. Personal, final, uncompromised. Knowing, being known. I revere that. Having that is being rich, you can be generous about what’s shared – she walks, she talks, she laughs, she lends a sympathetic ear, she kicks off her shoes and dances on the tables, she’s everybody’s and it don’t mean a thing, let them eat cake; knowledge is something else, the undealt card, and while it’s held it makes you free-and-easy and nice to know, and when it’s gone everything is pain. Every single thing. Every object that meets the eye, a pencil, a tangerine, a travel poster. As if the physical world has been wired up to pass a current back to the brain where imagination glows like a filament in a lobe no bigger than a torch bulb. Pain.”
“That’s a brilliant description of love.” he said, “But I don’t think I have those feelings after it ends.”
“You don’t?” said Violet, wondering if men and women really were so different. She could not remember ever having a conversation like this with a straight man before. It was intriguing. “Is that what fuels your music?”
“The pain. Do you channel it away from everyday life and into your music?”
He looked thoughtful. “Yeah, maybe. It seems to hurt less if you share it with a stadium. At least it has less of a hold on me then. So, Violet Ryan, how do you process the pain?”
Violet looked around her at the field, the trees, the setting sun, the peace and quiet. “I have never been able to do so. When a friend suggested this retreat, I came willingly, almost desperately. I wanted to try something different. I am no longer willing to sit in the pain. I have come to the point where – at thirty-five – I need a different way to live. The old ways came to the end of their usefulness. They stopped working.”
“Yeah. Yesterday, I was thirty-five yesterday.”
The rock god looked carefully at the English woman’s face, it was the face of a little girl, all big eyes, soft wavy hair past her shoulders and an open, frank, honest expression. In the fading light she could have been nine years old with that intense, yet wistful, gaze. Then he looked away, he was tired of looking into beautiful women’s faces, women who retained their younger girl-selves locked away inside like honey to a bee. Enticing. And this one was gay so no chance of soulless sex to take away the longing by destroying what might have been through a wordless night.
He had walked over the field because Lemon told him Violet might be good to talk to. He doubted that but he came anyway. His god spoke through other people; it might be worth a try. She had shaken him with the reading. No woman had ever read such nakedness to him before, such power in those words. He knew they were written by another man but the way she delivered them made him brutally aware of Violet’s utter confidence in words to deliver emotion that cut right through the bullshit.
that brought it all back.
and the feelings.
but Leonard Cohen wasn’t there.
it just felt like he might have been.
the rest is true.
or as true as one needs to be, darlings.
you know – on a hot saturday in Hollywood.