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What a piece of work …

11/07/2010

Nice, port by Chris Bontemps

Weekends are wonderful – if you can relax and enjoy them, that is. Feeling especially relieved after a few fraught weeks, I sauntered out damply to celebrate this one to the full – despite sunshine, as the French say, de plomb; air quality that made the atmosphere well-nigh chewable, and jostling, barging crowds of tourists. The latter, of course, we need.  Desperately.  They bring in €10 billion a year, 11.4 percent of our regional GDP, and these are hard times (as if you needed reminding of that). Besides which, it’s thoroughly heartening to stroll along the Prom’ and see people of all ages, shapes and sizes simply enjoying that simplest of pleasures, the beach.
Went the day well? Well, yes. First, at the bakery the daily bread was doled out with kisses as it was

Musée Masséna, facing Prom', by Cayambe

Amandine’s name-day. Next at the Cours the greengrocer’s daughter had troubles to confide (and, no, I’m not telling). I dispensed sympathy and lavender honey (du pays, bien sûr). What else could one do? Aside from being grateful one didn’t have to spend all day working in this heat before packing up and driving home to do the housework and feed the kids before falling exhausted into bed for … a sleepless night. “It’s too hot to sleep,” she explained. “And if we open the window, the traffic noise …”  Yes, I know about that one – although at least I am spared the tyranny of set working hours. Thankfully (been there, done that. For decades).

Place Masséna by Magali M

Later, on la piétonne I bumped into a friend I’ve not seen for months. Hardly surprising, given her forty-hour (plus) working week and her other responsibilities (including two children, a disabled husband and a seriously ill mother hundreds of miles away). Cheerful and friendly as ever, she was quick to ask how things were. She always has a kind word to say, and is a reliable source of practical answers to the most vexed questions.
All three of them reminded me of Don Marquis’s wry remark: ‘When a man tells you he got rich through hard work, ask him: whose?’ For there are surely many rich  or even merely comfortable men – and women – behind these three. As there were for me, too. But what, short of revolution, could one do?

One could turn back to Don Marquis for a start. Don Marquis,  now there’s a man with a life

Don Marquis (1878-1937), 1933, Commons Wiki

regularly riven by tragedy. Yet he lived and worked to the utmost, producing laughter and enlightenment for millions, then as now. Hooray for him! Considering him, his life and his work made me wish I could return as a descendant of Don Marquis’s irrepressible and repeatedly-reincarnated feline, Mehitabel.  Reincarnation is one of the underpinning notions of Marquis’s beguiling Archy and Mehitabel series: there is an almost inexhaustible sense of possibilities, however grim things may be (or so may some hope). The series is a strikingly original account of the friendship between a stray cat with a wildly – not always plausibly – exotic past and Archy, a cockroach dismayed by the state of the world. The latter is a frustrated poet-philosopher who types using his head – which obviously rules out hitting the shift key at the same time as another, making upper-case letters impossible. His unflinching gaze fixes on the wider picture while simultaneously penetrating beneath the surface of things. Here is Archy reporting to ‘the boss’ other insects’ views on ‘what man calls civilisation/always results in deserts’:

‘what the ants are saying
… men talk of money and industry
of hard times and recoveries
of finance and economics
but the ants wait, and the scorpions wait
for while men talk they are making deserts all the time
getting the world ready for the conquering ant.’

from ‘archy does his part’ © Don Marquis, 1935 (poem in full here)

Ah, so little change in so many years – and in view of Archy’s warnings I suspect rebirth as a cockroach might be the wiser option.  In the meantime, Mehitabel’s tenacious commitment to invention and joy sounds increasingly sound and sensible.  So join me in a toast to Don Marquis, together with that trio of lovely women workers I admire so much and any others dear to your hearts – tchin!

All pix sourced from Commons Wiki (click to enlarge).

Thanks to John Batteiger for his excellent site.

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