an elderly sexton

22Apr10

I could use a day like this:

I was sick as a dog. No, that’s wrong; there were several dogs in the street below my window, and all of them were healthier than I. My head was huge and tight; my throat was small and red. I took Fuogrip, a charming French antihistamine that made my ears float. I plumped up the pillows in the rose room and gazed mournfully at the far wall. There was a framed tinted photograph of a young girl in Edwardian dress. On the wall to the right, a watercolor of a vase of scarlet flowers. In between, a window overlooking the valley.

Much of the Dordogne looks like the cover of a book of fairy tales; castles above precipices, turrets and ramparts, neat squares of farmland yellow and brown in autumn, curling rivers through narrow valleys, picturesque cottages surmounted by wispy pillars of smoke. That was the view out my window. I had to stand up and go over to the window to see it, however; that struck me as unfair. Having given me a vile continental disease, France could at least provide me with bedside entertainment.

I drifted.

The bell of the church in Domme was rung both sporadically and irregularly. It would sudddnely chime at 11:17 or 4:50; one never knew. Just two notes, ding-dong, ding-dong, pause, ding, pause, dong, ding-dong, ding-dong, repeat until weary. And then ding, ding, ding, ding — I thought that might be the hours, but when it reached 28 I stopped counting. The dings continued long past reason. I pictured an elderly sexton with limited duties and an affection for the great valley-echoing sound of his ancient gong. A church bell in a medieval city on top of a cliff in the waning days of October was almost comically appropriate. Only the dogs disliked it.

I drifted.

Tracy came back from exploring and shopping. She brought quiches, tarts, ham, a baguette. I was sick in the head but not sick in the stomach. I managed to struggle up and eat a tart in three messy mouthfuls. Then I fell back into the pink pillows, exhausted from the effort.

Tracy left for more exploring. I drifted.

I read another chapter of “Speak, Memory,” the Nabokov memoir about being young and aristocratic and almost excessively Russian. All the rooms he described seemed much like my rose room, now softer in the afternoon light. The girl in the tinted photograph could have been Tamara, his first great love, with whom he made hopeless damp passionate love at dusk in a shuttered manor in the thick forests near St. Petersburg, an encounter now almost a century old and 600 years younger than Domme, founded in 1283 by Philip the Bold, as bold as Vlad the Impaler in the smoldering wreck of a huge amber sunset.

I drifted.

I like being sick, always have. I like the excuse for sloth; I like the huge pillows and the solitude and the dreamy way the days pass. Give me a good head cold and a comfortable place to have it in; paradise enough. I struggled out of bed to see the sunset. I wrapped the pink blanket around me. The sky was gray and liquid, the sun a thin yellow line at the horizon. Tracy came in behind me. “How are you?” she asked.

“About the same,” I said, lying.””

From “Hazy Days in Golden Domme” by Jon Carroll — my favorite newspaper columnist in the SF Chronicle

Portrait of Romana de la Salle, 1928, by Tamara de Lempicka, Nabokov's "first great love"

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3 Responses to “an elderly sexton”

  1. I am not commenting, but am following. The thing insists I make a comment in order to follow. So.

  2. my plan all along! tricked you!

  3. 3 Nicolette

    Love this…maybe I should start reading the chronicle


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