Mavis Gallant

A weeklong electronic journal.
Aug. 16 1997 3:30 AM

Mavis Gallant

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       It bothers people--friends, I mean--that I spend every August in Paris. They think it is unhealthy, surely lonely, probably eccentric. The truth is that I prefer being in a city, all the time, more and more, and "city" means Paris. I am frequently offered an airy room in a country house, in Normandy, in Brittany, and sometimes the house itself. I am assured that I would be able to work in peace, that no one would ever bother me, that I could just turn up for meals. Thank you, no. If I were to exchange my August life for another, it would be for more of the same, an urban center, a city I like, such as Rome, Vienna. It would be every bit as polluted and just as empty. The bakery and grocery down the street would be closed, as in Paris, and I would not be able to arrange things as I want them, chez moi. Chez moi: Is that the key? I'm not sure. I used to live half the year in the South of France, but I always came up to Paris for August. I was sometimes the only person in my apartment house, the same house, and I would take the plastic dust covers off the furniture and go straight out and find a florist still open, so that I could get that dead look, that abandoned look, out of rooms where no one had played music, cooked, taken a book off a shelf for a few months. Paris, quiet, gave one a sense of anonymity and freedom. It still does.

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       The Palais Royal garden is a fine green place on a hot afternoon. There are no cars, of course, just lawns and flowers and a breeze from end to end that is almost like a draft. Colette's windows still have their striped awnings. I don't know who lives there now. Her daughter is dead and so is the stepfather with whom her daughter quarreled--Colette's third husband, the one who shared the rooms and the view. There was a big stone fountain then and untidy pink roses that were dug up when the garden was landscaped and made neat--was subdued, in a sense. The flower beds, which are quite splendid, are boxed inside fences. So are visitors. To sit on a bench now is like being in the compartment of an old-fashioned French train. One is better off outside the cafés, at right angles to Colette's windows. They are shady and quiet, a good place for meeting August friends from abroad, particularly when they have spent part of their day standing in line at the Eiffel Tower, in the sun, so they can show their children the view. Children will show astonishing patience when they wait for something they think they are going to like. It is the grown-ups who wilt. When I say "wait," I mean two hours.

Mavis Gallant is a writer who lives in Paris. Her most recent book is Collected Stories.

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