I am rereading Colette's My Mother's House. Treasure. It is for me a ferrous, platelet infusion of the meaning to be found in beauty and its mystical intermingling with that which is ugly and coarse.
Yesterday morning, the baby was napping and my eldest was at school. I was suffering from a cold that wasn't going away. I was faltering. I was hungry. So I brought out some food from the night before--cooked vegetables-- and the smell was just of food, once cooked, unctuous. From this smell, my mind transported me to myself as an elderly woman. I knew, in a flashing moment, what despair old people must feel at times: questioning the act of preparing of food for one, the loss of appetite, the smells of decay. The children grown and gone.
Well, what to do? First, have a small house to upkeep, but not so big to overwhelm. Walking back from the post office the other day I met an 89 year- old woman named Barbara who had just painted the exterior of her house by herself--except for one very tippy-top area that her most high ladder wouldn't reach!
Second, one must have a vegetable patch for there is always work to be done in the growing of food.
Okay, I was starting to feel better. I had a plan.
Then, I went to the book shelf and I brought down Colette. She brings me relief and elation in her writing, because beauty and ugliness mash up to make a life alive. Take for one example a description of her older sister, Juliette, a bookish, dreamy recluse with hair so heavy and long it was, in fact, hideous.
Juliette's hair was so abnormal in length, vigour and thickness, that I never knew it to arouse, as it might well have done, either jealousy or admiration. My mother spoke of it as of an incurable misfortune. "Oh dear!" she would murmur with a heavy sigh. "I must go and brush Juliette's hair." On holidays I would see her at ten o'clock coming down exhausted from the upper floor. She would throw down the paraphernalia of brushes and combs, exclaiming: "I'm completely worn out. My left leg hurts me. I've just finished brushing Juliette's hair."
The novel is, of course, about her mother, Sido. (The first chapter called "Where Are the Children?" is aching writing about what it is to be a mother.) But there is truth in the way the family members-- each existing day to day in their own private intelligences, their own private worlds--intwine. Colette gives her female characters in particular the honor of their own private worlds. To breach their walls is to be given access to, each, a private garden.
Not the picture of family as we strive for it in our daily life, in our sunny and amiable togetherness, but alluring in the way that soil suggests the smell of fossils and mineral. Funny enough, when I Googled the writer-- the Parisian style-maven store also named colette, actually came up first! If you--like me--also enjoy this kind of thing, pretend you are in Paris, shopping amongst this amazingly edited collection of preposterously fashionable things and fritter away some time. I subscribed to the pod casts of the eclectic music played by the deejays in the store. I think I shall play them for the girls, on a rainy day, when the sandbox is covered.