07 August 2008

Summer: Industry and Indolence

All work and no play makes Bill’s a dull blog.

Now come the dog days of summer, or as they’re known in French, the canicule. This charming word is derived from the Latin for “dog’s asshole” — gee, thanks. Next please tell me who had the honor of taking the dog’s temperature. (Caligula, probably. That guy was freaky.)

Posters in the Métro, recalling the fatal heat wave a few years ago, encourage us to remember our elderly neighbors and to bring them glasses of ice water: the gesture may prove as unnecessary as the reminder. The inconvenient truths of global warming being what they are, temperatures in northern France are persistently cool, for the third summer in a row; we can no longer say that the chill and damp are seasonally abnormal, because they fit the newly established pattern. The garden in Beynes hardly knows how to respond: we have no plums this year, neither mirabelles nor prunes, and the grapevines and hazelnut trees are starting to shed their leaves already. The grass is unsure whether to grow anymore, and I’ve given up any hope of ever raising another tomato.

My own mood reflects that of the garden, and I’m torn between industry and indolence. The past several days, I’ve found little to write about in this space, yet I’ve been busily at work on the next novel: I can’t complain, and you shouldn’t.

It’s a curious fact of the writing life that one keeps working even in August, when every sensible Frenchman is on state-authorized vacation. The entire notion of vacation is foreign to writers: we can’t escape and must instead await and embrace the possibility that a brilliant phrase or scene will come to us even when we’re asleep.

The summertime pleasures of Paris — the deserto poppoloso, as Violetta calls it — are largely denied me this year, because the removal in July of prefabricated buildings from the schoolyard across the street turned out to be a mere preliminary for the phenomenally noisy construction of new classrooms. It’s difficult to sleep and impossible to work in such circumstances, so I have retreated to Beynes, where the birds make a racket in the trees and have already eaten the best grapes, where the shops are closed and my allergies act up every evening, and where peace is a relative concept.

I find it difficult to motivate myself toward the day-to-day chores that nag me. The bathroom sink is clogged and the kitchen floor wants mopping: too bad. From lack of exercise, and not from any athletic or dietary discipline, my weight has dropped to 62 kilos, which is, I think, an adult record for me. My arms are beginning to resemble those of a native Frenchman, which is to say that they look very much like pencils. Yet I can’t be bothered to go into the city to work out. Very little inspires me, except the principal thing I ought to be doing. And so I keep writing, or thinking about my writing, which is almost as good.

But the days are growing shorter — soon the skies will be dark before 10 P.M. Change is fluttering in the lazy air, and who knows what autumn will bring?

How does a ballet dancer do the belly flop? Now you know.
This is Roberto Bolle, who is not French.