I was living in the Middle East (I’m leaving the exact location vague, for narrative reasons) as a pit stop on an around-the-world trip I never finished (having started in Ireland, with a one-way ticket from New York, six months previously). I’d packed a set of watercolor paints (see photo) and a sketch book, thinking that people who go around the world must pass by a lot of things that inspire painting. My painting plans fell as short as my travel plans — I never painted a single landscape while I was on the road.
But this is a picture I took of me trying to paint a pretty little flower that grows wild in The Levant, AND a WILD pomegranate! I still have that sketch book: I never painted the pomegranate, but I still have the watercolor dabs of that flower.
[Consider this a footnote: Those are the paints that I'd had with me in Paris in 1978-79, when I was a mopey au pair,painting a lot of manuscript-illumination-type decorations; and, when I picked up painting again, 15 years later, I still had those paints! (I'm on my third or fourth set now, now that I'm, like, a semi-professional illustrator; and I still use the same paints -- Grumbacher all the way. The olive green always is the first to go.).]
This is me in 1985 (taken in that Middle Eastern country):
I bring this up because I got a call from someone I’d met there, in the M. E., as it happens just a few steps from where the pomegranates grew wild. After all these years, Facebook has brought us back together. When I knew him he hadn’t even been to university yet — now he’s a corporate executive and travels all over the world. So he asked me to meet him in Paris.
And I said no. And I told him the honest reason why: Because I’m writing a book about France that has a very specific time line, and I have to protect the integrity of that time line. I’m afraid that if I go to France now, I’ll get all new impressions and observations that will contaminate the memories and narrative that I’ve been working on.
In other words, I’ll go to France and realize that all my old ideas of France suck and I’ll want to re-write a whole new book about it that won’t be true to the France that I’m currently writing about. For better or worse, I am committed to the France that I experienced within the parameters of my Damn France Book, and until it’s done I have to stay away from France, Paris, and old boyfriends. Yes: I’m that dedicated to my vision.
Also, I don’t have naturally auburn hair anymore. Or bangs. (And I wonder, about every other week, if I’m too old for bangs. )
By the way, Top Cat would have been happy to take me to France, too; and I told him the same thing: I don’t trust myself enough as a writer to go and not add some new layer of expereince to my previous story (especially if it makes me look smarter, better informed, cooler, or more soigne). When you write memoir-ish stories (and I do), it’s hard to stay true to the limits of your memories, hard to be honest about what you really did or did not know in the past. In my small way, I’m trying to be as least dishonest as I can be, and that’s about as good as memoir gets.
Here’s another photo from 1985, the wierdest thing I saw in the whole Middle East:
Yes, friends, those are telephone covers, from the Arab market in Jerusalem. I think this about velour telephone covers: That’s everything you need to know about the esthetics of home decor in the Middle East.
And I wonder; is there any other good reason besides writer’s ethics to stop me from going to meet an old boyfriend in Paris? Anyone want to advise me on this?