Monday, May 17, 2010

The Slipstream of Style

It's a cliché you've heard a million times, but that doesn't make it any less true: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Come, I'll show you what I mean.

On Friday, I finished this spellbinding memoir by English writer Sybille Bedford (1911-2006).
(available here)

It's not a conventional biography, but then Sybille didn't live a conventional life (morphine-addicted mother, eccentric upbringing, love affairs with men and women). Absorbing and quixotic, "Quicksands" reads like a poetic dreamscape of memories from a rich life. She starts in the middle, skips forward, then wades decades backward, alights on certain places and returns to them, again and again.

The village of Sanary-sur-Mer on the French Riviera is one such enchanted place.
(Sanary-sur-Mer, France)

Sybille lived there in the '20's and '30's when it was a secret haven for emigré artists and writers like Aldous and Maria Huxley, Berthold Brecht, Thomas Mann and Jean Cocteau, among others. (Even Edith Wharton, "rotund, corseted, flushed and beautifully dressed", was a Sanary habitué.) I've travelled through the South of France many times; how is it that I have never stopped here?

* * *
From the early 1920's on, here and there on that Mediterranean coast, one would find a handful of people who had chosen to live in places of benevolent climate and great natural beauty ...where one could play and work in the belief that History can have a stop.
~ Sybille Bedford, "Quicksand"

* * *

(photo via here)

Now it's Monday, but try as I might, everything keeps circling back to Sanary. Case in point: I was sent a special digital preview of June's Elle Decor (it's amazing, by the way) and clicking through it today, this beautiful photo of a Connecticut garden sent me speeding back to Sybille's chapter about life at Villa Huxley in the 1930's:
(Elle Decor, June 2010. Photo: Miguel Flores-Vianna)

"Here all is exquisitely lovely," Aldous wrote to Juliette, his sister-in-law...."There is the eucalyptus tree and the stumpy palms from which the hammocks swing. [It is] silence, leaves, the sky."

That description fits Miguel Flores-Vianna's photo beautifully, don't you think?

But it gets better than this. There are no photos in Bedford's book, so I did a Google search for "Sanary" and after some tunnelling, found this image buried deep inside a website. Look familiar? Grove of trees, table on the left, hammock on the right.
(Aldous, Maria and Matthew Huxley,
Sanary-sur-Mer, 1930's. Photo via here)

It's an eerie döppelganger of Miguel Flores-Vianna's wonderful photo, taken from an eighty year vantage point on time.

The more I leafed through the June issue, the more Sybille's memories burrowed insistently into the present:

"At dinner there was a sense of release, of being lightly en fête."
(Elle Decor, June 2010. Photo: Miguel Flores-Vianna)

"The house ran with a civilized simplicity. Breakfast about ten o'clock and everybody came down for it...Aldous still a bit groggy with sleep was comfortably silent. The jam, homemade, was mostly rose or quince."
(Elle Decor, June 2010. Photo: William Waldron)

"Maria [Huxley] would have been up for hours: looking after her artichoke bushes and scented tuberoses in the garden."
(Elle Decor, June 2010. Photo: William Waldron)

There is but a slender membrane that separates us from the past.

* * *

Note: For further Sybille Bedford exploration, "Jigsaw" (shortlisted for the Booker Prize) is a wonderful novelization of her youth which covers Sanary in perhaps even more detail. All the characters in "Quicksands" are there, although the names are disguised. I can recommend it highly.


Mrs. Blandings said...

(1911 - 2006) That's a heck of a run and sounds like a heck of a story as well.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Beautiful synchronicity.

1 Funky Woman said...

Oooh, always up for a good read! I will have to check it out and see if they have it for the Kindle!

I'm a huge fan of your work and I would love for you to stop on over for my 1st giveaway!


madeleine said...

I love the dance from the memoir to rooms.

Sharing memory and beauty.

Thank you.

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

A wonderful book ,that beautiful elle decor image captures the past, he had to have had this photo as inspiration at some point, which makes it all the more fascinating. some things stay with us forever.

Joanna said...

I believe you are a natural born Retronaut.

Dash said...

Oh Lisa, you are a girl after my own heart, I love Sybille Bedford, I have not yet read this book it has been languishing on my wish list for quite a while now, you have given me the push I need to flex my plastic friend and convert the wish list into hard purchases.

I have read Jigsaw, which I love especially as my Belle Mere lives in Sanary and we are regular visitors. Sanary is probably one of the nicest towns on the Cote d'Azur, It has hardly changed since Sybille was there and all the cafes and pharmacies that she wrote about in Jigsaw are still there, you must go, I assure you, you will love it. I did a series of photographic posts about it over at my blog, you may like to see, just to get you in the mood!

Hannah Stoneham said...

Thank you for the book recommendation - I have a bit of a collector of life writing in all different forms - so this sounds highly satisfactory!

thanks for sharing


pve design said...

....and when will your book be out? Truly, I want to be thrust into a book by you. I can just imagine reading it in my hammock perched above the garden, under the moon-lit sky.
I am off to get this wonderful read.

mary said...

Have you read A Visit to Don Otavio? I think you would love it.

Jane Kilpatrick Schott said...

High anticipation for the June 10 ELLE DECOR!

Terrific post...just ordered from Amazon.

A Super Dilettante said...

I've never read any books by this writer before. Now you mentioned it, I'm going to put it on my reading list. As you know, we do have a similar taste. I'm sure I would love it! Thanks.

Jodi said...

I absolutely loved this piece.

Thank You For Asking said...

You have such varied and intriguing interests! From Sybille Bedford to early Mick Jagger. My list of things to read, listen to and see is growing!

Karena said...

Love the post, all of the refence points, and am very excited to read the book!!


Art by Karena

24 Corners said...

So thankful for you Lisa...with the loss of are one of the treasured few that can satisfy our craving for history, drama, beauty and the love of the written word.
Looking forward to both Quicksands and Elle D....

"There is but a slender membrane that separates us from the past" of the most beautiful sentences of all time! xo J~

P. M. Doolan said...

Fascinating and creative post. I am always intrigued by literary communities in exile and places like Sanary, but I must admit to having never read Sybille Bedford. I certianly mean to change that now. Thank you.

Unknown said...

YES! I agree! And in our minds there are no borders!
Lovely written!
And this book goes on my summer reading list! Thank you!

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Mrs. Blandings: She seriously was one amazing woman.

1 Funky Woman: Thank you for the lovely words. xx

In New York Paris Tomorrow: xx

Joanna: That is a HUGE compliment as I love Chris' site.

Dash: I left you a comment on your blog. Your photos of Sanary are amazing and were laden with such meaning after just having finished that book. I must must must go to Sanary now and may well look you up when I'm there! xx

PVE: You are so sweet. My book will come out the same time the monograph featuring all your wonderful illustrations does. (There are wheels turning, btw...)

24 Corners: Comparing me to Aesthete is high praise indeed. Such a loss that was. I'm still reeling.

P.M. Doolan: There were some wonderful obits written when she died by The Telegraph, Guardian, Observer, Times of London, et. al. Definitely worth reading! xx

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Lisa-

The circling and coincidence and synchronicity theme is wonderful.

Your book recommendations are always inspired, original, and deeply important.

bravo to you, DIANE

Dash said...

Lisa thank you for the lovely comment you left over at my blog, the pictures you saw were all taken in Sanary.

The Mairie in Sanary frequently holds photographic exhibitions of all the famous people that lived in Sanary, including Sybille and her Mother, Aldous and Maria Huxley and all the German exiled writers. The tourist office gives you a list of where their houses are, most of which have plaques.

Whenever I visit Sanary, I am strangely drawn to the estate day....

Let me know if you have any plans to come to France.

Dash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lucindaville said...

Bedford's bio of Aldous Huxley is still one of my favorite biographies!

Here, There, Elsewhere... and more said...

Fascinating post !
What a small world we live in - I used to live up in the hills behind Sanary, on the way to Bandol, in the S of France...stunning area of natural beauty !

thebubbreport said...

Too funny, I was just going through a stack of magazines last night and I ripped out this very picture of the garden from Elle Decor. It's such a charming spot!

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Anonymous said...
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Edward Kellow said...

Hello, I was delighted to find your blog when I was doing some research for a blog of my own about here novel 'Jigsaw'. 'Jigsaw' refers to some of the characters in 'Quicksands', including the Desmirails, and, of course, her mother. If you can be bothered my blog is here

It's a bit off beat!

Best Wishes, Edward


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