PARIS, SINGLE AGAIN - Page 19
I arrived in Paris in October, autumn leaves already crunching underfoot. My decisiveness in leaving Rome and marriage had morphed into a state of total hesitation about everything. I was staying with my aunt in her small studio on rue de L'Université, convenient but claustrophobic. Her kindness and attentiveness oppressed me - too kind, too attentive - but finding other lodgings would have meant depleting my limited funds so I reluctantly shared her hospitable space.
I had in my baggage a children's book project which needed completing and some vague ideas about getting a job with a puppet company, or designing stage sets, or anything artistic, the more impractical the better.
Paris looked marvellous, fluid and free. I wandered the streets, browsed the bookstalls, opened books at random in case instructions on what to do with my life were hidden there, visited galleries and museums, did some sketching, considered but did not seriously attempt becoming one of the regulars earning their daily baguette by painting tourists in Montmartre.
A sense of excitment and endless possibility was weighed down by guilt, doubt and fear of suddenly being grown up and on my own. My childhood had not really ended with marriage - it had simply extended into a different kind of protected universe, older husband taking the place of protective parents, and life in Paraguay an attempt to return to that Eden where burying a beloved Mickey Mouse was okay because it was inconceivable that I would not be able to find him again. But now here I was, adrift, cut loose from all certainties by my own free but still childish will.
I went to see F, an old family friend, a clairvoyant. My father had met her when he was a young man newly arrived in Paris from the upheavals in Russia. She was a Englishwoman married to an aristocratic Frenchman. They had two sons and when she was in labour with the younger one, there were serious complications and F nearly died. But something happened at that moment between life and death - she said she was transformed, received a gift: clairvoyance.
From then on, F could simply look at someone, or hold an object belonging to a person she'd never met, and she would see them from the inside out: what mattered in their lives, their weaknesses and strengths, their past and inklings about the future, although she avoided precise forecasts. F never made a profession of clairvoyance but some people came to her for guidance, or just to talk. After her husband died and the sons were grown up, she lived alone in a modest but comfortable apartment in a nondescript neighbourhood. To be in Paris and not to visit F was unthinkable.
Why did I never paint her portrait or even sketch her? Perhaps I was intimidated. Even in retrospect I can't produce a credible likeness of F. She was like an anglicized El Greco figure, elongated, extra-terrestrial, and she always wore a turban - not an ethnic-type turban, just a plain scarf wound tightly around her head. She was never ever seen without the turban. A long bony face and limbs, light blue eyes, translucent English-rose complexion and an upper-class English accent which infused her perfect French as jasmine leaves infuse in a teapot. She had extraordinary hands (extraordinary, by the way,was a word she used lavishly) warm and cool at the same time. She would ask you to hold a small crystal ball for a little while and then she would take it and cradle it in her long fingers and quietly begin to talk about you. I hadn't seen her for many years but it wasn't necessary to tell her anything about my life with Reg, the separation, my current floating and flimsy state of mind. She saw, and she told me what she saw. Listening to her was like looking into a mirror from which all cloudiness and scratches had been polished away. You felt you were hearing things you already knew but in an unfamiliar voice, one with more authority than your own. She didn't do therapy or analysis, she simply saw you clearly: clair voyance. Savoir voir clair.
Knowing that I needed some confidence-boosting, F invited me to a gathering of an assortment of voyants, "seers" who gravitated around her - graphologist, astrologist, morphologist, spiritualist etc. - and I was happy to accept even though I didn't take such conceits very seriously.