I stumbled to the electric kettle and brewed some of that oddly delicious instant coffee that’s so popular here in France. Doesn’t make sense. It should taste like garbage, but it doesn’t. It tastes better than most coffees. Let me know in the comments if you know why.
Draped in a robe, I took my coffee to the balcony and watched the city come to life, trying my best not to be melancholy. How could I be depressed in such a beautiful place and surrounded by such comfort? But it was my last full day in the south of France. In about twenty-four hours, I’d be heading back to my hometown, Paris, for my last hurrah before flying home to America and the doldrums that fill my life there. I don’t mind working, really I don’t. My concern is for the college courses I’m taking. They start before my plane touches down in Chicago. They’ll take up most of my free time. I’ll be saying goodbye to books, movies, exercise, cooking, and basic hygiene until December. I’m taking a full course load again, which is a dumb idea, but I want to be done. I don’t want to go through my life as that person without a degree that should have one. I really should have one. I stupidly fought the system, but I failed to understand that the system was there for a reason. Sometimes you have to let the Man win, you know? And there’s nothing wrong with that. It took me far too long to learn that lesson, but I would never change a thing I’ve ever done. I don’t believe in having regrets.
I had a late checkout, which was a blessing, so when two o’clock rolled by, the Palais was a memory and I was sadly strolling down the Promenade des Anglais toward my apartment. The day was overcast and a bit gloomy. Maybe that was just me, but the blues of the sky and sea persevered and were still too intense to seem real.
Back in my hovel of a room, I did a bit of laundry and decided that I would forever kick myself in the ass if I didn’t spend a few hours on the beach. So I gathered my gossip magazines, my bamboo mat, and a towel and headed across the street.
Destiny made me go outside at that moment, reader. You probably won’t understand how exciting the discovery I made in my courtyard was, but I let out such a squeal that passersby gave me a worried look. THERE WAS A SPHYNX CAT! These are my obsession. I want to have a house full of them. My next cat will be a sphinx; there’s no doubt in my mind. I have a hard time not getting a needy pet from the farm or from a rescue facility, but these cats have stolen my heart for decades. I have to have one. Look at this one for sale for $1300:
I’ll give it some silly Egyptian name and take a million pictures of him or her sitting next to Edwin and then I’ll die happy. This one was limping around, so I clearly needed to help it, but Amenhotep — the name I’d already given him — was having none of that, and he scurried away. I watched him go with tears in my eyes, and turned back to the beach.
The water was rough and the clouds were incessant, but I read all about Kylie Jenner’s plastic surgeries, and worked on my tan, so I had no reason to complain. It was mid-afternoon when I’d finished going through my stack of magazines, and I had to get going to Villefranche before it got much later. I had to tell Madame Betty goodbye. The thought made me ill. I didn’t want to go home and not be able to spend the afternoons in her café, but life is not everything it should be.
On my way to the train station, I popped into an antique shop that I had been eyeing all month. I don’t know why I hadn’t gone in before. It’s stuffed to bursting with vintage and antique objects from the early 20th Century. I was drawn immediately to a marble bust of a woman with beautifully carved hair.
It was only €45, but when I picked it up I knew that I couldn’t take her across the ocean with me. The bust was so much heavier than I had anticipated, and I couldn’t justify paying twice the price to mail her to the States. And I couldn’t carry her through Paris, Chicago, various airports, and on a bus ride. I regret this decision every day. I should have bought her. And I should have inquired about the Cocteau sketch in another shop. It might have cost a bit, but I would have loved it with all my heart.
With sadness in my heart, I carried on through the shop and found something else that I have been looking for: a cameo. Cameos are ovals about an inch or two high with a portrait carved in relief and then set into a necklace or brooch or whatever. I want to have a female one and a male one for the cover of my novella that I want to rerelease in paperback, but the ones I’ve found in the past have been hundreds of dollars. I don’t know what makes them cost so much, but they seem to be incredibly collectable.
This one wasn’t cast in stone, but resin, and was commercially produced in the 20s. I didn’t care. I snapped it right up. I also picked up a set of Oriental-inspired espresso cups. Here’s my Edwin protecting them:
Out of the four, I have three left. Thank Beysus there was more than one. I still weep that I didn’t buy more than two espresso cups on the Queen Mary. I only have one left and now I’m terrified of losing it, so I don’t use it.
I carefully carried my antiques through the backroads that are perfectly familiar to me now — I could find my way around Nice easier than Perry at this point — and threw a bunch of a change into the ticket machine at the train station. My pockets much lighter, I sat down on the train and was soon chugging through the tunnel to Villefranche.
I couldn’t bring myself to go to Chez Betty, yet, so I wandered the streets, staring at the views, thinking about the book I’m working on, reflecting on my trip, and coming to terms with the fact that I’ll never be over Villefranche. When I have the money, I’ll get an apartment here before one in Paris. They are much more affordable, and it is just a wonderful place to be. (And Paris is only a short train trip away.) The villagers are beyond friendly, and it feels like home to me. So, my future real estate listings will include: a villa in Luxor (You wouldn’t believe how affordable that is — I could probably have staff, plural!), an apartment in Villefranche, and a brick Victorian somewhere overlooking the Mississippi River. That’s all I really want.
On my walk, I stumbled upon a way that I’ve never gone and found a beautiful square next to the church where I watched some elderly gentleman play pétanque. They were more interested in a bottle of rosé than the game, which I can’t fault them for. Wine is delicious and sport is dull. The game is only an excuse to drink, after all.
As I carried on, I stumbled upon an old public washing basin. It was in operation from 1907 until 1990 and people would come to wash their laundry.
It fell into disrepair as the villagers began to acquire washing machines, but there is a society in town that is working on the preservation and conservation of the basin. It’s really quite beautiful. I don’t know what they’ll do with it, but I adore it when people honor and respect the past and traditions. That doesn’t mean they can’t utilize the advances of the present, but it’s nice not to forget the way things used to be. I met a kid the other day who didn’t know what a CD was.
It was time to go to Chez Betty, so with my heart beating a tragic rhythm, I went in and ordered my customary white wine. She doesn’t even ask anymore, just starts pouring. I love her. We chatted a bit, but there more customers than usual, so I excused myself to my table where I’ve sat for more hours that I can say in perfect contentment. I have never been to a place before in my life where I stopped caring about the present and the future and thinking a million different things, but here at Chez Betty I found the most remarkable solace. I could sit there all day, sipping wine without a care in the world. Worries were for outside the café, not for the hours you spent there.
Staring off at the ocean, Madame Betty and a friend approached. She wanted to take some pictures of us together with her new iPad that neither of them could figure out. I was so touched that I had to pull myself together. It would look rather silly to be weeping in our photo. We took several and then I had some done with my iPhone.
I cherish that picture.
She is one of the most remarkable people I know, one of those extraordinary characters in my life that I’ve met and adored on my travels. Remember Leslie, the Queen of the Train going to Los Angeles, Lady M the reincarnated Atlantean priestess in Cairo, and my English friends Anne and Sue that I met in Paris? These marvelous people are always in my thoughts. I adore them. But Madame Betty is special. She’s a bit of a kindred spirit. So I didn’t cry. But I wanted to.
After a few glasses of wine, it was time to get going. I had one more stop in Villefranche.
At the bar, we said a few more nice things, gave a few bisous, and then under the threat of tears, she held my hands together and made me swear that I would come back. Of course I would, I told her, and then with broad smiles on both our faces, I went out into the twilight. I will return many times.
It was late, but the little side door to the cemetery was still open, so I slipped inside. It was after hours, but that door is never locked. I made my way to the grave where Grandma Betty’s ashes were interred and I sat on the rocky ground and stared up at the obsidian-black tomb. I knew that she was happy now that she was here where she belonged. Even though she had a miserable life with children who loathed her and a husband who didn’t care, I’m kind of glad she went through that. I wouldn’t be the person I’ve become without her. She was a bitch, but she taught me well about living your life in any way that makes you happy. I honestly don’t think she knew how much she meant to me, and I didn’t either until I saw her dead body, lit by ghostly light in a crematorium. I’ve made my amends for not letting her know, I think. She should have been with Roger from 1956 until his death in 2000, not for a few blissful years. But I’d never have known her if that had been her life.
“See ya later, alligator,” I whispered with a catch in my throat and hurried to the train.
I was absolutely starving, and I realized that the only meal I’d had that day was wine — not the most satisfying meal. (That’s a lie.) I happily took a table at the Auberge St. Antoine and smiled as my waitress brought out a Kir Pêche without asking. She’s taken good care of me through more meals than I can count. I wonder what her name is? I never asked. I had my usual caprese salad, but I treated myself to fries and chocolate mousse, too. I was living my best life. I loved that little café with all my heart.
Stuffed to bursting, I crossed the street, made my way up to my apartment, and tried to sleep. I couldn’t. I had too many memories to file away, and I’ll never be a fully-functioning adult anyway. Why would you want to be?