We’re on Air Tahiti Nui, flying east, Los Angeles to Paris. I catch a glimpse of Gérard Depardieu on the screen of the Frenchman in front of me. Depardieu is heavier now, but just as enchanting as ever. Even without sound, it’s clear. In the flight pamphlet I read the film's title, La Tête en Friche, and this description:
“Lorsqu’une vielle petite dame rencontre un analphabète de 50 ans dans un jardin public, elle commence à lui lire des extraits de romans, alimentant ainsi son imagination et lui permettant de découvrir toute la magie des livres.”
(When a little old lady encounters an illiterate man of 50 years old in a public garden, she begins to read to him passages from novels, nourishing his imagination and allowing him to discover the magic of books.)
This I must see.
I marvel at the synchronicity.
For two months, since we received the offer on our house, R. and I have been in action mode, packing up our belongings to move to Paris. The first month, I gave up writing, but still had time to read. When I’m not writing, I’m not in my heaven, and all is not right with the world. But I accepted this in order to leap into a life we’d long dreamed of living.
By the second month, I realized we couldn’t pull this off unless I gave up reading too. Now the suffering began. Some of us are happier in action. Some in contemplation. I’m with the latter camp. The mind-boggling complexity of the move was clear by the second month. We saw that we couldn’t do it without help. Jim, the man who had once cleaned our house--better than anyone before or since--had now retired and taken up photography. But he was willing to help us oversee the staging of the move.
He suggested clearing out three rooms as staging areas—the guest bedroom was where we would store art, rugs and boxes of mostly books to be shipped to Paris. In the sunroom, we’d stack boxes that would go into storage in L.A. The dining room--after we’d sent tables and chairs to family in Phoenix--would be the place we’d corral things to sell, give away to family and friends or to Goodwill. The furniture that the buyers of our house had bought we left in place, color-coded with yellow circles, for Hestia, goddess of hearth and home.
I asked for help on Facebook in finding an expert at organizing and packing. A poet friend recommended a friend of hers, Robi. We e-mailed, spoke once on the phone. She arrived one morning, looking alert, friendly and ready to roll.
I remembered talking to my psychotherapist about certain things I wanted to do, but never got around to doing. Such things as organizing my office, and putting file folders in order. Pam said, “What I’ve learned to do is hire someone who is good at what’s difficult for you.” So I’d hired two helpers at various times to organize my office and computer files.
But how to pack up journals from every decade of my life from the time I was in my teens? How to tackle the two closets that--though organized in neat boxes--were stacked to the ceiling? I’d have to go through every box and decide what to throw away, give away, store in L.A., take with us by fast flight or slow ship to Paris.
Oh, the dread, going through such personal stuff with someone I’d just met. Not just personal objects, but journals in which I’d recorded the long, slow, tortuous process of healing and finding my vision. The earlier the journal, the more embarrassing the content. Without going through all of them, I wouldn’t know what to bring with me as notes I might need for writing. Some needed labeling on the covers with their beginning and end dates. And to finish this in one month required trusting Robi.
The moment I’d voice a need: for a new box, scissors, more packing tape, she was already on her way out of the room to find it. Such readiness for action! Such a sympathetic spirit! I couldn’t believe my luck.
We packed one closet, two, the clothes closet. As soon as we filled a box, she was on her way downstairs to leave it in the proper room.
A few times, I looked around in despair. “Is it possible to finish this by January 14?"
“Of course!” she said, and we did--two minutes before the new owners of the house arrived with Alice, our mutual real estate agent and friend.
Robi was out the door. We’d settle accounts the following week, she said, when we met at the motel where we’d stay another week to wrap up business.
The owners came in with a bag of gifts for us. I opened it in the kitchen. A beautiful patterned silk scarf I might have chosen myself! A datebook with photos of Paris for R., whose passion is photography! We were startled by how simpatico we were with this couple. They loved the house the way we did. They weren’t interested in ripping out walls or changing its classic 1927 Spanish-style design and nautilus shape.
He was a lawyer, though not, in my experience, a typical one. Soulful and emotionally generous, tall and lean, with sandy-colored hair, he reminded me of my brother. She was an interior designer, with long lush dark hair and a lovely open face. When we talked about our joy in making each other’s dreams come true, Mae and I fought back tears.
We served champagne, strawberries, camembert and crackers in the living room, and sat across from each other on the two white couches that now were theirs. We told stories. R. and Steve discovered that their environmental work had brought them into contact with many of the same people. Alice sat on the other side of R., beaming. She’d told us we would love each other, and she was right, we did. She reluctantly left to meet another client.
Soon, Steve’s son arrived. He was straight out of that rambunctious period in our twenties, might have lived in the same commune in Berkeley as I did. Levis, a goatee, longish hair, with a keen intellect (he was studying to be a psychiatrist) and a guitar on which he played songs he’d written. He sounded a bit like Bob Dylan, with subtle instrumentals and phrasing, and personal lyrics of love.
As I stood up to clear the table, Mae said, “No, no, we do the dishes in our house!” R. and I laughed. We said goodbye, and the two of them stood in the doorway, waving to us, the departing guests. Surreal. Ecstatic. We stood between our cars across the street, and saw that it was over: our life in this beautiful house, our years in sunny L.A. On our way to Paris. We jumped up and down in joy, and embraced. “Before we go to the motel,” I said, “I’d love to stop for a pizza.”
“Anything you want,” said R. “You deserve it.”
“Let’s go to Berri’s. We can watch our cars from there.”
It was perfect, like a Paris bistro, with leather booths and mirrored walls above. We ordered our favorite pizza, the goat cheese, shrimp and Portobello. We held hands and exulted. We did it! No debts, and free, free, free! We felt as close as honeymoon lovers. And in one more week, there’d be time to write and read again. Love, Paris, literature. What else could we possibly need? (Money and health of course.)
After the film was over, I asked the flight attendant the meaning of “en friche--la tête en friche.” He looked like a Polynesian Jimmy Smits, tall, suave, with brown skin. “Uncultivated, wasted,” he said. “A wasted mind.”
The power and magic of literature. A life without books? What a wasteland that would be.
La Tête en Friche indeed.