"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in Henri IV (3)


Points of Interest



We used to play a game in Berkeley called Points of Interest. You opened old books and magazines and circled with a magic marker little details of whatever caught your eye. Richard and I will approach our past weekend in Honfleur, on the Normandie coast, by playing this game.

We arrive in Le Havre by train from Paris at two on a Friday and find that Avis, the only rental car company in town, is closed from noon to 4 p.m. Seriously? Can you imagine such a lack of entrepreneurial spirit in any major U.S. city?

On the drive to Honfleur, our Moroccan-French cab driver tells us about places to visit in Morocco, and about the anti-terrorist security there, more rigorous than in France. Just what we need to hear to make that trip.

At the top of our building on rue Lucie Delarue Mardus we find our Airbnb apartment:



Green hills rise to the south, the mouth of the Seine to the north.

The Pont de Normandie spanning the Seine with its spider web pattern, mirrored by three delicate spider weavings outside the windows to the south.

What a pleasing sense of color the owner, Beatrice, has!



Celery green, a color I’d never think to use on kitchen walls, echoed in the couch, splashes of red and bright patterns on the throw pillows.

Look at the array of colors in the scissors and knife handles.

A basket of talking sticks, or—what are they?


A meander around town looking for a restaurant open at 5 pm. Snacks, yes, but we’re in France. Most open at 7 p.m. We settle for galettes.

A visit to friends in the country. Donkeys, white horses, fields of long-legged stallions.


A cab driver who slows down, warns of boars crossing the road.  I remember the scene in the film “La Reine Margot” where King Charles IX’s treacherous brother, the Duke of Anjou, lures him on a boar hunt in the forest where he is left to die from a ravaging boar, before his friend, the future Henri IV, comes to his rescue.

A long conversation with Richard about one of the wellsprings of his latest struggle with paralyzing depression: disappointment at not having mastered French in his last course at the Sorbonne, or the one before that at Alliance Française, or the five years of daily attempts at conversation.

How hard on yourself you are! Let’s approach learning French like children, who only want to connect! Let’s approach it like buddhas and laugh at ourselves! Let’s be surrealists and speak French, Spanish and English all at once, as Salvador Dali and our friend Jane Eliot did over dinner! We decide to take an immersion course together.

Reading a memoir that my friend Diane lent me, A Woman in Berlin, about the last months of World War II in Berlin, when German women were raped multiple times a day by Russian soldiers, written anonymously because the shame and repression of returning German soldiers was so profound. An eloquent document about the cost of war.


Richard is reading Swerve; How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt about the effect the poet Lucretius had on the Enlightenment, on Renaissance artists, and on my beloved Montaigne.


Flâneuring around town together and seeing a wedding outside the oldest wooden church in France, l’Église Sainte-Catherine, its bell tower in a separate building so the parishioners wouldn’t perish in case of a fire if it was struck by lightning.



The town reminds me of Bergen from which my maternal ancestors left for America during the mid-nineteenth century.

Small white gulls swooping above the harbor, making me think of my sister, Jane.


Handsome schooners lining the Vieux Bassin—memories of my years living on a schooner, as cook.

A sullen North African-looking man on a motorbike, with boom box blasting hostile rap. I give him a thumb’s up and he flashes a bashful grin.

Picking L’Hippocampe for dinner, and savoring a plate of choucroute with every kind of seafood: salmon, cabillaud, bream, langoustine, mussels, shrimp.

Richard urging me to write about my years on The Flying Cloud, the characters packed in, ten to the schooner, the groupies the single men attracted, the famous rock singers moored nearby in Lido Shipyard and Catalina Island, the stress for an introvert of communal living, dawning feminist awareness.

Struck by the mythical resonance of the seahorse, the hippocampe, one of Poseidon’s emblems, and our talk about a story of the sea. 

The English man and woman at the next table who strike up a conversation with me when Richard leaves the table for a moment after dinner. The Englishman is a weight lifter, who cheers the Brexit decision, says he didn’t like NYC because there were “too many foreigners there.” Code for racism, which Richard catches on his return, and refuses to engage in, walking out of the restaurant to go photograph the port at night.


L’esprit d’escalier: the too-late comeback that occurs to you on the staircase after you leave: You mean a foreigner like you? Everyone in America is a foreigner except Native Americans.

Glimpses of the Seine to our left on the train back to Paris. One white swan. An egret.

The big-bellied train conductor, to whom we offer some Algerian Deglet Nour dates and two kinds of cheese. He turns up his nose. “I only eat fresh Medjool dates,” he says. “That cheese,” he says, pointing to Richard’s, “is industrial cheese. But the Camembert looks good.” Ah, these wonderful discerning French, experts in all matters of taste.



Paris: Vision


The following poem is included in a book of photos my sister, Suki, created after a trip to Paris in May 2008. My mother gave her children the gift of a lifetime, a trip to Paris for my four siblings, Jane, Jon, Ann and Suki. I was already here. She arrived needing an eye operation which was scheduled for after she returned home to Arizona. But she is a stoic Norwegian-American Viking, and explored Paris with the five of us, ignoring the pain. By the end of the ten days, she was walking down steep steps, in spite of also needing a hip replacement, which she's since had.

Richard traveled, while my mother stayed in our apartment with me. It was wonderful to be able to market and cook for her, after the thousands of meals she made for the five of us throughout our childhood.


Betty Heimark Kitchell and Kaaren


While my father was alive, he and my mother traveled around the world. After my father died in 2006, my mother was in a stunned state for two years, and said she would never travel again. This was the first trip she made after his death. We all felt his presence with us in Paris.



                  For my mother, Betty Heimark Kitchell


Two eyes

gaze out from the Seine:

the eye of judgment,

the eye of dream.


We cross into the left eye:

Here is where Camille Claudel

wrestled lost love

into faithful stone,


where Baudelaire wove

his poems out of smoke,

where Breton planted

Les Champs Magnétiques.


(Here is the place

on her left eye

that teared up,

preventing her from seeing.)


Here is the Pont St.-Louis where police

tortured a gypsy for a crime--

her mother cursed the bridge

and it crumbled seven times.


We cross into the right eye

where tulips bend their heads

over smaller blooms

in the park named for a pope,



past pink cherry blossoms,

through the Portal of Last Judgment,

and enter Notre-Dame.

(Here is where he and I


lit a votive

beneath the painting of mother and child

and prayed to pagan Demeter

for the health of her eye.)


Here is the Hôtel Dieu,

the first hospital in Paris,

where a drag queen stands in the quadrangle

dressed like Snow White.


Here is the Conciergerie

where Marie Antoinette was locked

before losing her head. (Her judges,

Danton and Robespierre, lost theirs too.)


Here is Sainte-Chapelle, the king's chapel

where 15 windows blaze with blue,

green, gold, red, mauve light,

and stars spangle the ceiling.


Here is where we remember our father's

Four Seasons (blossoms opening, bees

buzzing, horses galloping, snow falling).

Tears spangle our cheeks.



And here is the Square du Vert-Galant,

the old charmer, Henri IV,

most beloved king of France

astride his bronze horse.


Willows hang heavy as lashes

in the corner of the eye

where the bateaux mouches1



Where she descends

hundreds of steps

and we embark, exultant,

under the bridges of ghostly faces



carved in stone,

our boat sliding

toward the tower of lace

flooded with light.



We have passed

through death, passed

through suffering,



[1] Open excursion boats that provide visitors to Paris with a view of the city from along the river Seine.



Queen Margot

Henri IV and Margot de Valois, adapted from Wikipedia

I spent the weekend editing the memoir/novel of a friend named Margo, then met her Tuesday night for dinner to discuss the book. It’s called Vagrant, and it will be published soon. It’s the lusty version of Eat, Pray, Love. Do not buy it—I repeat—do not buy it, if you are a puritan. But if you are drawn to Paris, Hawaii, the quest for love and the quest for God, loneliness, beauty, poetry, sex, this is the book for you.

The sun and moon are in Taurus and that made me think of the goddess Aphrodite and lusty women. I’ve heard comments about how decadent the royal wedding of William and Kate was last week, but perhaps these commentators don’t know about the Renaissance Queen Margot, a truly lusty woman. (Again, you puritans can stop reading right now.)

Marguerite de Valois was born May 14, 1553. At the age of 19, she had an affair with Henri de Lorraine, Duc de Guise and wanted to marry him. But her mother, Catherine of Medici, had other plans for Margot.

This was an era of violent wars between Catholics and Protestants, and Catherine thought her daughter’s marriage ought to serve some practical political purpose, such as uniting the two warring religious factions.



On August 18, 1572, Margot was married off to Henri de Navarre, a Protestant Huguenot in Notre Dame Cathedral. Because Henri was not Catholic, he was kept out of the cathedral for most of the ceremony. (And so was his mother, Jeanne, who had just died, probably from putting on a pair of poisoned gloves that Catherine of Medici had given her as a wedding gift.)

Henri and Margot were both passionate people, just not about each other. Soon after their wedding, they took other lovers. But Margot protected Henri from being murdered six days later when Catherine of Medici called on her Catholic supporters to massacre the Huguenots gathered in Paris from all over France for the wedding. This is now known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Mothers-in-law can be difficult.



The two royals continued to protect and support each other, while enjoying busy love lives. But after some years, they grew apart, and Henri wanted to marry Marie de Medici. Queen Margot refused to divorce him, until the king gave her some money and allowed her to keep the title of Queen.

Reconciled to her former husband and his second wife, Marie de Medici, Queen Margaret became a patron of the arts and benefactress of the poor. She often helped plan events at court and nurtured the children of Henry IV and Marie. Rather like Bruce Willis and Demi Moore after their divorce.

Margot was known for her dazzling sense of style and fashion, and was a gifted poet and writer. Her memoir was published after her death in 1615. It was considered absolutely scandalous, and that is no easy thing to do, to scandalize the French.

Since I love outrageous people and lusty women (though you could say that Margot took it too far), some years ago, I wrote this persona poem, in her voice:


L'Hôtel de Sens, in the Marais




The French call me Chère Margot.

The doors of L'Hôtel de Sens


had grown too narrow

by the time they released me from prison.


Doorway, L'Hôtel de Sens

At 52, I’d grown stout

and bald, though it hardly mattered,


the declining power of skin balanced

by shapelier soul.


I had blond wigs fashioned

from the locks of my valets’ hair,


had the doors of the palace widened.

Though 18 years, it wasn’t so bad at Usson.


The jailer in my bed each night;

by day my memoir


about my lovers,

and prayers to Saint Jacob for release.         


I’d never had illusions about                        

fairness between women and men.


I “knew love” at age 11,

courtesy of my brother,


the very one who incited the king

to imprison me for “insatiable desire,”


my husband, Henri IV—that’s right,

the one with 52 mistresses.


Life was full again. I built

a little chateau,


Henri remarried, left me alone

with my 20-year-old Count—


but then the 18-year-old carpenter’s son        

arrived from Usson.


I returned from church one day,

my head full of songs for Saint Jacob,


when the Count shot my carpenter                 

before my very eyes.               


Strangle him with my garters! I cried.

They removed his head. He’s the only dead lover          


whose bit of heart is missing from the girdle

strung with lockets round my waist.



I moved to the chateau, finished

the garden convent I’d promised Jacob,


hired 14 Augustine fathers to sing

his praises round the clock.                                        


I wrote all the lyrics and music myself. Jacob

was the only one who stayed with me to the end. 



Richard and I began spending time in Paris every spring after our honeymoon here in 1997. We usually stayed in the apartment of friends, an apartment we now own. From here, we often walked across the Pont des Tournelles to the Marais. And just as you emerge from the Île St. Louis onto the Right Bank, there was a little chateau that intrigued me. I didn’t know why, but I slowed down and lingered in front of it each time we passed it.

A few years later, I finally stopped to read the plaque in front of it. L'Hôtel de Sens, it said. This was the chateau that Henri had provided for Margot when she was released from prison in Usson. Isn’t that strange? A place has a fascination for you and you later discover its connection to someone you’ve written about.

Even later, I was doing research on family names. My father’s middle name was Farrand. I traced it back to the Auvergne region in southern France, Ferrand, which later became the town of Clermont-Ferrand. In the volcanic mountains close by was the chateau Usson, where Margot spent 18 years writing her memoir. Is it possible that places and historical figures have resonance for us because the thread has come down in our DNA from our own ancestors? I think I read that a Ferrand lived in this castle, but I’m not sure. I’ve been looking for this genealogical information today and cannot find it. It may not be much of a link at all.

But the connection keeps coming up. I’ve just read that my new literary paramour, essayist Michel de Montaigne, was friends with Henri IV and Queen Margot. What an intricate web connects us all to one another, all of us, through all time, through books, imagination, DNA, kindred spirits.

(You can learn more about Queen Margot by reading Alexandre Dumas, pere’s 1845 novel, La Reine Margot, or see the 1994 French film La Reine Margot. And Shakespeare’s comedy, Love’s Labour’s Lost (1594-5) dramatizes an attempt at reconciliation in 1578 between Margaret and Henri. And Margot is played by Constance Talmadge in D. W. Griffiths’ 1916 film, Intolerance.

 But you'll have to wait until 2012 to read Margo Berdeshevsky's Vagrant.)