Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Live in the Moment

Imagine a woman writing out installments of the story of her life for others to read, complete with aliases for real people.

I know, I know. Unlikely as it sounds, there's a surprisingly eager audience for those kinds of stories. So when I saw that "Colette" was playing at the Criterion tonight, I messaged a fellow literary fan for company, hearing back, "Ooh, that sounds right up my alley."

Nearly 20 years ago, I'd read all 500 pages of Judith Thurman's "Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette" and closed it still wanting to know more. And, to this day, I've never read any of Colette's writing, a glaring omission I could begin to address by seeing this film.

Total absence of humor renders life impossible. ~Colette

Judging by the decent-sized crowd for an early Monday evening show, lots of Baby Boomers were curious about the bisexual writer who'd ghostwritten the "Claudine" books about her life for her husband's publishing company and become the toast of France with her openness and unorthodox attitudes.

But I was just as taken with her need to write, a point driven home when Colette acknowledges that she didn't write because he told her to but because she couldn't stop herself. Putting one's life down on paper allows memories to be forever recalled because no matter what you're certain you'll remember, it won't be as much as you think.

Most of my life I've kept diaries or journals, and now, this blog. As hard as it would be to recall all the times I've had to verify a date or place (or band or person) on my blog, there are nearly as many times someone else settled their own question by searching the blog.

Can't recall when you saw me at the Elvis Costello show at the National? Looking it up on the blog tells me it was April 24, 2010. Last time I was at Lakeside Tavern? September 23, 2014. Look it up.

Colette's novelization of her years at school, or introduction to Paris or menage-a-trois interlude provided fodder for the reading public and perhaps incited more than a little envy, but they also gave voice to a different kind of woman. That she's such an astute observer of the people around her only make her writing more compelling for those who enjoy a good observation or opinion. After all, you don't get nominated for the Nobel prize in literature for nothing.

You can do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.~Colette

Pru and I both loved everything about the film, from costumes to dialog to performances, and that's not the popcorn talking, either. But we're also those nerds who got back to my apartment and promptly began poring over my copy of "Secrets of the Flesh" for the dozens of old black and white photos of the people the movie's characters were based on.

There was Colette at 15 in a hammock, or in drag in 1910.

Our curiosity rewarded us with several images that had become entire scenes in the movie: Colette being carried in on a palanquin supported by men in the barest of black briefs at a theater party, Colette and her transgender partner working out on their backyard gym.

This is what nerds do after seeing a satisfying costume biopic.

What a wonderful life I've had! I only wished I'd realized it sooner.~Colette

Flashing back to a conversation Pru and I had had yesterday about her new cookbooks - one by Frida Kahlo, another by Monet - I pulled out my own piece-de-resistance, Toulouse-Lautrec's "The Art of Cusine," a book I bought in the '70s, as much for its Lautrec illustrations as for the straightforward recipes.

Ever the chef, once the book was in Pru's hands, she made me the audience as she read preparations that either caught her eye or made her sick at the prospect of executing. Things such as, "In order to make the chickens immediately edible, take them out of the hen run, pursue them into the open country, and when you have made them run, kill them with a gun loaded with very small shot."

Not a snowball's chance in hell either of us would have managed that, but it's eminently entertaining reading.

For galantine of preserved goose, she read, "Take the bones out of a goose fat enough to die of it." I'm not even sure what that means.

For squirrels, the instructions read, "One must use no spice of any kind which might entail the risk of taking away from the animal its exquisite nutty flavor." This, I suppose, explains its inclusion in Brunswick stew.

Of English Channel Bouillabaisse, the author wrote, "This bouillabaisse is only a pale reflection of the bouillabaisse of Marseilles since it lacks rascasse and the Mediteranean rock fish which makes both its basis and its savor." So why, Pru and I wonder, include this recipe at all?

And don't get us started on Quails in Ashes: "At the end of September, beginning of October, after you have killed some fat quail, pluck and empty them." For the record, "emptying" birds is part of every recipe that involves them, perhaps because "disembowel" is such an unpleasant word.

We couldn't stop laughing. The cookbook's era overlaps with Colette's, but she and Willy had a housemaid, so it's doubtful she ever had to worry about stewing eels or skinning a rabbit. And let's face it, writing about your life is way more interesting than cooking calf's liver with three slabs anyway.

And if it's not, I suppose I'll never know. That's enthusiasm talking.

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