Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A week in the country, Part 2: La Famille

There are three Madam Mayfreys in the village with a population of 31. The elder Madam Mayfrey had a son, Marcel who married Colette and so Colette became Madam Mayfrey. Marcel and Colette had one son, Eric who married Corrine, so Corrine became Madam Mayfrey; they have a daughter, Aileen. Four generations in one village my father repeats wistfully when describing his second home.

Aileen who is twelve believes me to be her best friend and has taken to hugging me whenever she sees me, instead of the compulsory two kisses that little children who pop up from under tables and from behind chairs, plant on one's cheeks en politesse. It is meaningless, but it is form. I am now twenty years older than Aileen. Of course I have always been that much older than her. When she was 5, I was 25 and I was a young woman fawning on a sweet child. The sweet child now has a mono brow and little breasts and, I noted in excitement, almost hips. She's too old for toys and so am I, and I grow fatter and lazier with each summer in France, so that my three main areas of activity have been reduced to: eating Delice soft cheese, drinking full-bodied wine and sleeping till midday.

There are no children Aileen's age in the village and she often pops round to see if I want to play. I devised a new game that could be played from the sofa - I styled her hair and applied bronzer and lip gloss to her face before sending her home. She is the most determinedly cheerful and optimistic girl I know, and yet her mother, Corrine, is quite mean to her, and sometimes I think she hates her. Corrine - the younger Madam Mayfrey looks genuinely miserable and is absolutely stuck in that village. And a village really is a stranger place that I at first understood. It isn't just the grim facts of depression, suicide and alcohol abuse so parodied in the media and arts; it is that in a tiny space with a scattering of house on one central axis, people can go weeks without talking to each other. The only communal activity is quatorze juillet - Bastille day - when they roast a pig on a spit and everyone takes part in the egg and spoon race.

There is no old wealth in that village and only a little noveaux wealth as evidenced by the two new yellow brick houses on the road to Bussy Las Pesle. The eldest generation - those that are on their way to dying - in their eighties and nineties have an air of calm about them and I cycle past them tending to their gardens every day. They were les jeunes through the second world war, and recount working in the sodden fields with no money for shoes and waiting only for the party after bringing in the harvest; they remember le mauvaise resistance as well as the good. The next generation in their sixties are a restless bunch, stuck and afflicted by ressentiment. Marcel Mayfrey was one of my objects of pity, having suffered a stroke a few years ago. It was the reliable village gossip, Annie, who told me this time that he used to drink a lot, and that Madam Mayfrey who I adore in her housecoat, wellington boats and with her toothless grin, had a hard life with Marcel; she worked on the farm and then when they had to sell the last of their cows she was left only with looking after her family - husband, mother-in-law, son, daughter-in-law, granddaughter.

Family can truly become everything and it is suffocating. I lose sight of myself in my family's company. I become a lack; I am each of them, minus this and that, and plus instances and traits of madness, which they may yet disavow. I love my family and I have to keep trying to draw close to them whilst remembering to leave them alone and to get away from them. A contemporary village is family apart in the same place.

1 comment:

Persephone said...

These last two posts are heaven. They make me feel more in France than actually BEING in France.