For writing there is no doubt that it is Peter Mayle, author of A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence with his cringeworthy truth and absolute hilarity.
I was in the piscine (pool) at a hotel in Provence when I saw her: an elegant lady in an aubergine strappy one piece. The straps were 3″ wide and lovingly fitted across her 85 year old back. Her blondish grey hair was coiffed in a Parisian style and her Jackie O sunglasses certainly were from the city.
Classy. Lovely. Pools are not just for the young bevvies^. I was inspired.
I hope that is me at 80. Wearing a carefully-made swimsuit that fits like a glove, relaxing in a chaise under the shade. Still participating in fashion and in life.
On the opposite end of the life-lived spectrum, was Valentina* -a hauntingly delicate and beautiful waif; a baby spider-like woman of 25 who is fighting for her life. Even the surgeon who, last year, removed her giant, malrorated large intestine that had invaded her lung space remarked “I don’t know how you are alive.” In fact, the other patient of his that day did not survive the same surgery over the night.
Valentina was the last person on earth to speak with her.
The surgery saved and ruined her life at the same time. Her stomach does not work, leaving her a skeletal version of her former university-educated self. Her friends abandoned her and she can no longer work. Words come with much difficulty owing to the vast array of medicines and lack of nutrition. I have been there, I know what it is to have your body as your prison and words failing a quicker mind.
Valentina and I spoke with each other in in the piscine for about 2 hours, the other bathers whirling around us. We both had malrorated colons, a multitude of allergies, the one horrible doctor or nurse who abused us in hospital, checking us over like a cheval (horse), and the inability to eat except at night because of the pain food can cause. Her case, of course, is oceans worse than mine, but it helped us to have another alien-of-this-world to talk to.
I began to accept my body the way it is that day. That it immediately incorporates all fattening food when I’m on holiday. I now proudly wear chocolat fondont on my butt, gallettes on my thighs and stomach, and market-fresh fruit and veg on my Nordic-peasant bosom. I’m some sort of happy round thing, wrapped tightly in a Venus one-piece that sets my “girls” on display when going to the piscine now. I enjoy the cool water, the sun on my shoulders, and rescuing the odd flailing bug or 20.
On days when my propensity for melancholy or body-hatred creeps in, I need to remember these women who embrace fashion and la piscine.
It is life.
I’m including descriptions for my overseas readers when I use slang or English idioms.
*names and ages have been changed to protect privacy.
^Bevvy -a beautiful woman from the 1950’s who might appear in a bikini with a large bust, makeup, and fashionable hair.