I hope no-one will judge me solely by the number of reviews I have (not) published these past few weeks! If one were to do that, it would indeed be fairly easy to assume that I have spent the whole summer lazing around, doing nothing. Let me set the record straight: I have and I haven’t. True, I have spent whole hours staring at the fish swimming to and fro and round and round in the pond, or playing endless games of Chinese Checkers with my mother, or collapsed in an armchair in a heat induced half-doze. Some days, I haven’t even had the energy to read. But I haven’t been wholly inactive: I have attended several piano recitals (including one by Nikolaï Lugansky) at various châteaux in the Bordeaux region, done quite a bit of gardening, and been on a trip to Italy.
Nor must it be supposed that I have forgotten my writing projects. Indeed, considering my self-professed indolence, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about writing this summer. My mother has just started work on a new novel, and having another writer in the house is extraordinarily stimulating. In appearance, voice, manner, and interests, my mother and I are very similar, but when it comes to writing – subject matter and style – you’d never swear we were related. Reading her work and mentally comparing it with my own (a silly thing to do, perhaps, but inevitable, I suppose) is a fascinating exercise albeit not always good for my self-esteem. However, seeing her study door firmly shut against intruders while she scribbles away has been a huge incentive to getting down to work myself – for, of course, I packed my manuscript in my suitcase when I travelled down from Paris.
One of the delights of going home to visit my parents after half a year in a cramped Paris flat is being able to wander upstairs and downstairs and set up camp wherever the fancy takes me: over the course of the summer, I have worked in the kitchen, at the huge oak dining-room table, and in the garden – or like today, sprawled on the bed in the guest room, which is cooler than my own room. But suns set, kitchens must be vacated come dinner-time, and guest rooms have plump pillows which invite one to snooze. Finding the ideal work-spot can be something of a challenge.
My parents’ house is one of those quirky old manors which occasionally has a little trouble adapting to modern conveniences and technology: access to the Internet up in the attic is one of those recurring problems which tend to provoke muttered oaths, suppressed shrieks, and much hair-pulling. Any fantasies my sister and I might have entertained of consulting our emails from the warmth and comfort of our beds were speedily dispelled: the walls are quite simply too thick, and the beams too many, to allow it. Over the years, we’ve discovered that we get the strongest signal at the top of the stairs: accordingly, we are to be found there most evenings, perched uncomfortably on the top step. In the long run, the damage to my behind must, I am sure, be severe.
Then, a few weeks ago, I helped my parents install new bookshelves in the art room. The art room is a tiny room just off the main attic, which, when the house was first built, was the dovecote. It is not a tower – there is a door nearby which leads out onto the top of a proper tower, from which I like to gaze at the stars – nor even a turret, but it does have its own roof, a very high, pointed roof with a criss-crossing of rafters where the pigeons used to roost. For long ago, when such things were still the custom, the dovecote was filled with the flutterings and cooings and floating feathers of a colony of pigeons bred for the gastronomical enjoyment of the lords of the manor. Now, it houses our old children’s books, a rocking-horse, a white-painted dolls’ house with pink shutters which used to be my sister’s pride and joy, and all the art supplies.
When we first moved in, my sister instantly claimed the dovecote for her studio. Then she discovered that there really wasn’t enough natural light for that: the single small window is so low to the ground that you have to kneel down to look out of it, and while this may have been amply sufficient for the pigeons, it certainly did not meet the expectations of a budding artist. In any case, my sister dislikes working at a table or an easel, preferring to paint stretched out flat on her stomach on her bedroom floor. So the carefully planned studio remained unused and gathering dust until I realized it would make the ideal study.
There is a wide pine table against one wall, which, once I’d pushed the jam jars of paint brushes to one side, made the perfect desk. And wonder of wonders, the signal for the wireless turned out to be almost as strong as at the top of the stairs! In a trice, I set up my computer, my notebooks, my pencil case, a box of Kleenex (I suffer from hay fever and sawdust falling from the rafters is guaranteed to set me off) and a coaster for my midnight cup of herbal tea. A few hours later, I was wondering why on earth I hadn’t thought of taking over that room before.
There is no risk of being disturbed, for people only rarely venture up there (too many stairs). In fact, none of the everyday sounds of the household reach the attic at all, and I, in turn, can listen to music at night without disturbing anyone sleeping below. Surrounded by honey-coloured wood, and with only the waving treetops visible from the window, I might be in my very own tree house. During the day, I can hear birds, insects, the splash of the fountain in the courtyard below, and the dogs barking at a squirrel (or our unpleasant neighbour). But at night, it is so quiet, so peaceful, that the sound of my fingers tapping on the computer keys seems magnified. The only risk is that of a bat coming in from the door to the tower: I am one of those people who strongly object to anything flapping about their head, so the discovery of one of my winged neighbours in the vicinity is the signal to dash out, with arms protectively stretched above my head, and dive beneath the mosquito netting which hangs over my bed. It is a small price to pay, however, for space, and peace, and the possibility of writing undisturbed…
© Florence Berlioz 2011