Friday 23 July 2021

Diary, 1964

I started re-reading my diary after I'd read The Beautiful Summer by Cesare Pavese a few weeks ago. I wanted to see what filled my days when I was seventeen and how I wrote about it. And then re-reading the diary became what it has always been, an addiction; and I read a few pages every evening.

1964 is written looseleaf in a hardback file, the front decorated with stick-on mock-tile at two corners, with DIARY slanting down the middle, also in mock-tile. 

I am currently reading FRANCE 1964 (bold headline, underlined). I went to stay with a family in Montpellier, a recent couple with separate children, two grandmothers, Mamies, a town house, a country house, and a rental by the sea. 

The country house, a former silkwormery high up in the Cévennes, among oak and chestnut to the far hills, was the moment. Perhaps for the first time in my life I experienced absolute and complete peace. The house — silkworms in the attic (once), people in the middle, animals on the ground floor (once) — was unlike anywhere I'd ever stayed, and I wanted to be there forever. But I was seventeen and life moved me on. 

I absorbed this messy french family who all seemed so nice with each other (I wondered how long this might last), I described them at length, including their mishaps that betokened deeper things but I didn't go too far down that road even when the deeper things seemed to leave me alone with the ghosts of silkworms and a ten year-old called Olivier, who was good company, knew a lot about nature, while Monsieur et Madame sorted the oldest child who'd been in a car crash. 

I went for a lot of walks and drank a lot of silence. 'When there's no noise at all, and it's very hot, it gives a very odd feeling.' Dizzyingly wonderful. Half the village was for sale, half-derelict. I was already moving into a house my parents would buy, well in advance of their retirement, where I'd go any time I could. 

It was the house and the landscape, the relation of the two, especially when sitting on a stone windowsill listening to Beethoven's Violin Concerto looking out over over the wooded hills, that stayed with me: I had no idea this was in the dictionary of lived experience. ' Music seems twice as beautiful here. I don't know why. It must be the silence that it breaks so beautifully.'

Back in Montpellier I listened to Schubert's Unfinished Symphony in the park at night. That started something too. I have listened to music and looked at landscape most evenings for the last many thousand.

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