February 2, 2017
Tin House put my essay on Graham Greene’s The Comedians, from a recent print issue, online. Here are some photos of the Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince today. In the book, Greene called the hotel Le Trianon.
February 2, 2017
I never thought I’d contribute to the vast canon of writers-on-writing essays, but here is one, called ‘There is No Handbook for This’ that I wrote about second-career writers (like me) for The Millions.
At eighteen, I was aware that such a woman existed. I had seen pictures, hair loose and swingy or clipped in a hasty chignon. And the shoes—strappy slides, with a heel. But I met her in the flesh one July afternoon at her hillside villa in Nice. She was a Persian beauty in her 40’s named Shirin, and in the summer of 1979 she was my hostess on the Cote d’Azur.
When I get ready for a trip, I put different parts my life inside of a container. Toothpaste, a bathing suit, a raincoat, trousers for day and night, too many shoes. Never enough tank tops (which I wear under the sweaters I usually forget). What ends up in my suitcase is always an accident and depends more on my mood when I’m packing than what I will need when I get there. I stack my belongings with lots of haste and very little good sense. Last time I was in Italy, I began to feel bruised by the winds off the Grand Canal so I found a parka on sale on the Frezzeria. It was mauvy-gray, dead last on the store rack and on my list of wearable colors, but it kept me warm as I lurched across the Piazza San Marco.
What you need, who you are, who you want to be and who you might become. These are questions that may be either asked or answered inside of your luggage, even on a short jaunt. I remember my first visit to the Cote d’Azur when I was 18. I wrote an essay for Vogue about that summer, how my sad little duffle bag contained nothing appropriate for nights out in Monte Carlo. So I bought a drapey white halter dress and high-heeled sandals that were perfect for the casino. When I balled up the dress and wedged the shoes into my bag as I was leaving Nice, both were well-worn and I was somewhat changed. From that time on, although I have forgotten everything from underwear to hiking shoes even for a hiking trip, I always pack evening clothes, down to the footwear. So in honor of that memory, I tiptoed in black suede heels down the Promenade des Anglais, past the apartment I lived in that summer, to dinner and a tour of the great Hotel Negresco – stately and unchanging.
Sneakers, though, were tied sensibly on my feet for a stroll around Old Nice to smell the pissaladière and socca and tubs of olives at the market. I emerged from the elevator up at the Chateau de Nice and got a full-frontal panorama of the Baie des Anges. Lunch was a dreamy, rosé-soaked respite at La Reserve, on the cliffs near Nice’s port. By the time I got to the magic village of Villefranche, I yearned for a rest and a spot of contemplation time. Returning to places can have this effect. I see things both through the lens of all my years, and that of the person I once was. I had stood on this shore for the first time when I was all of 18, the age of my oldest child. I untied my shoes to settle into Cocteau’s room (22) – starry, blue, serene – at the Hotel Welcome, threw open the French windows. I unzipped my suitcase to search for something that suited the woman I was right then. I had stacks of cargo pants, a pair of skinny jeans, leather trousers, a couple of unworn dresses, including the one I wore to my 50th birthday dinner. High heels, flat heels, flip flops. My favorite navy blue fitted blouse. There was my pleather skirt, the full dark brown one, folded into quarters. Why had I packed that? Because you never know. I zipped the bag back up and turned around to look at the sea.