21

Where the author gets a new passport, goes to Brittany and stays at Cousin Henry's.

Since I had been unable to obtain a passport through Alfredo I asked my mother to write a letter saying that I lived with her. She acquitted herself graciously. The passport application had to be handled through the mayor of the village, a good natured farmer who knew my parents well and took us to the doll-house- sized town hall. I had a new passport in a week.

But as I had foreseen Mother tried to make me stay. One of her arguments was that she had bought me the pewter box in the belief that it would adorn my new French living quarters. Because she spent four hundred francs on me I should do what she wants? She really wants me to take a cure of thalassotherapy, a fancy word for seawater bath, and there is a center in Roscoff where Henry and my godfather live.

My mouth can't open to explain that all my medical expenses are covered by the New York City Transit Author- ity's insurance, that all my medical records are in New York, that I'm being followed-up by the surgeon who operated on me, that I have already started a physical therapy regimen there etc. I feel buried alive and the tombstone is too heavy for me to push up and scream the truth. All I say is that I don't feel like staying in France. I don't want to say that I find her and my siblings'company execrable.

The atmosphere is getting oppressive. When Mother doesn't get her way, there's hell to pay. My godfather is still not back from vacation. He's taking his own sweet time coming back, so I call Henry and take him up on his offer of hospitality, and call him again to announce my time of arrival.

That day Mother takes me to a wine merchant to buy Kirsch. It gives me the idea to buy something for Henry and I buy a good quality Calvados, the norman specialty. The next day I take the train to Paris-St. Lazare Terminal, take the subway to the Gare Montparnasse Terminal and the high speed train ("TGV") to Britta- ny. Henry picks me up at the Morlaix train station and drives us to Roscoff. I spend four days there. For once I have a nice room and a good bed. I give him the bottle of Calvados and he accepts it with indifference. It took me a long time to ralize why the lack of enthusiasm: Henry had been a wine and spirits merchant all his active life! So Mother had set me up to bring coal to Newcastle.

The first evening Henry says that he rented a movie for the occasion. I expect to see a recent French movie. There's a glimmer in his eyes as if he had searched hard for something special to please me. It's "Jules and Jim". The film seems dated to me, I can't understand what motivates Jeanne Moreau's character to switch between two lovers who are good friends but have a bad case of spinelessness. Maybe she's just a psychopath but I feel empathy for none of the characters. And in the end she commits suicide and kills one of her lovers by taking a long drive on a short bridge: the bridge has been bombed during the war and doesn't reach the opposite bank. Falling off a bridge. Into the water. I think it's a strange idea to have chosen this movie under the circumstances, with my dad who just died and I who almost did, but all I say is "What a beautiful film!"

Every morning Henry leaves and stays out until early after- noon. He says that he's taking a cure of thalassotherapy for his rheumatism. The food is poor: white rice with a plain slice of ham and such like. Henry and his wife speak about a construction project on the waterfront that, if it is approved by the city, will block their view of the harbor. They're against it, my godfather is for it and it seems that the two men are against each other, which puts me in an uncomfortable position.

Monique, Henry's wife, knits heavy acrylic yarn when the TV is on and she makes me feel like I'm committing a crime against womanhood by not knitting while watching TV. Meanwhile her daughter has three children out of wedlock, but motherhood is unassailable, the ultimate redemption, the waterproofest alibi, and nullipares are fools and fair game.

She takes me to a sewing notions store to buy some miniature needlepoint project and although I spend a good deal of money on threads I don't feel like doing it. I completed one such project in my early adolescence, but now I find that my hands are much too big! Maybe Monique is trying to convey the message that it's ok for a woman to knit or do needlepoint, but not ok to play the guitar.

They have a son who is a guitar builder in Paris. I see a catalogue and press clips about his work and am impressed. Prices start at $2,500. His parents are very proud of him. I ask ques- tions. I think maybe I could buy a guitar from him. "Oh but his guitars are for professionals!" Monique says. I don't even retort that I'm training to become one, I already told them earlier. On the news I learn of the death of Art Blakey, whom I had met in New York when my Cuban boyfriend and I were going together. "I knew him!" I say. No comment.

Another day Monique takes me to visit my grandmother, who is a sister of Henry's mother. My grandmother is in a resting home where she moved after breaking a hip. Now she's wheelchair bound but still neatly dressed and coiffed. Not knowing what to tell her about myself, I say that I'm going to marry a doctor (because I have a crush on the surgeon who operated on me). "But you need to be rich to marry a doctor!" she replies. I want to remind her that my father just died and that I'm going to have money but she seems so convinced that I'm poor and will remain so that I make no reply.

On the fourth day my godfather and his wife Marie-Louise come to pick me up. It was time. I was starting to feel stranded and overstaying my welcome at Henry's. I say to Marie-Louise: "It was time you came, I felt like they were going to throw me out any minute!"


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