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Diaries
of
PAUL K LYONS

1979

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JOURNAL - 1979 - DECEMBER

Saturday night, Bella Terra, Porticcio, Corsica

Alone in my studio on Saturday night. Michele (is it Michel?, the bald-headed one that lives next door) plays his radio or his television very loud. It really disturbs me when I write - I lose all concentration. It's bad to be so sensitive. If one is not concerned about people, life is quite idyllic here. The only problems I have are minor. In the morning, I wonder if there is going to be enough sunshine to dry clothes, and then I make the decision whether to wash or not. In the supermarket, I must decide whether to treat myself to certain things, like the more expensive biscuits, or lemons, or peppers. Then, in the evening, I never know quite when I should go to sleep. Generally, I have three rounds of tea a day, one with breakfast (with milk), one mid-morning (with lemon), and a pot with dinner about dusk. Before bed, I take hot milk or chocolate. I study one or two French lessons a day. I read quite a lot. I write a letter, and I write 1,000 words or so of a short story. Today I went to Ajaccio for shopping and to look around. The main square was at its busiest. Special treats (it being Saturday) were: 1) the Times; 2) expensive biscuits; 3) a coffee in the Terra-Bella restaurant.

I'm reading a book about Piaf. Two days ago I didn't even know who she was, except that she was probably a French singer. She reminds me of Jean Genet and of Quentin Crisp: they all have a strength of character which leaves them totally unaware of any world apart from their own, thus they can bulldoze through life. M has some of the same traits. Simone Berteaut, the author of the book, appears to be nothing more than a side kick, a walking stick for her sister, almost her maid. It must have been difficult to be so subservient at first, but, once she was famous, it must have become easier to recognise she was special and therefore had to be treated in a special way. The stories of the artists' cafe in Paris make me green; the one, for example, of Jean Cocteau writing a play about the current relationship of Piaf and her man, and the two of them playing it in Paris to packed houses - a night out of their own life. One thing Berteaut said stands out: she talks about them being in a bar and entertaining a group of soldiers or sailors, and says they really felt like somebody, that life was important. This is so similar to Crisp. At the end of his film, when some sailors are admiring him and playing with him, he talks about having been the centre of attraction and how it felt like pure joy. However hard Berteaut tries to bring Piaf's story down to earth, she doesn't succeed. It is romanticised (roman - the French word for novel). She describes the love affairs in detail and then dismisses bad times by saying only 'that's not to say we weren't miserable in this period'. In essence, I think, the main quality that comes across about Piaf is the intensity with which she lived her life. Reading between Berteaut's lines, though, she must have been quite a bore as well, passionately acclaiming every new man or beauty cream or song, and just as soon discarding it days or weeks or months later. I wonder if Berteaut had any idea quite how pathetic she comes across in the book.

Extraordinary sight of the day: two pretty girls, dressed in immaculate white tracksuits, digging with spades in a mud ditch next to the Ajaccio-Porticcio road. I wish I'd been walking (not hitching a ride) for then I could have stopped to talk to them. I spend days without talking to anyone. Tomorrow it is Sunday I shall write to Marielle.

Monday

Two exciting things should happen today. Hopefully, the mail van will come, and then, this afternoon, Vincent will come for our language exchange lessons.

Yesterday, I went walking five-six hours. The sea was in a scalding mood, the air in a retiring shy mood. I went further away this time, walking and climbing many rocks (large boulders of coarse sandstone moulded into shapes). I slipped once or twice and was scared. The maquis comes right down to the rocks. I watched the sun carefully. Some eccentric had built a house only get-attable by boat. I didn't see the house, only the fencing of spikes and the landing stage. I came to a small cove where there were a few houses - there was a man fishing (and catching) small fish. He shouted at me angrily across the inlet. I started back inland, and it took a while to find the road - I had to go through someone's garden, past a snarling great dane. Thus, I realised, I'd been walking across private land. I carried on along the road to a beach. There were plenty of expensive modern villas and only one old attractive house about half way along. An old man with a long grey beard and pipe was walking away from this one house. On the way home, I went to the sunset beach, but it got too cold. There had been a low lying mist all day, and the sun never gathered any of its strength.

I saw the blonde girl in her house wearing light blue - the other person was there sitting too. I could only just see them through the window. I've called her Maria and she is the basis of my radio play. I've called it 'The Brittle Rhapsody of Silence on a Winter Beach'.

It is 10:30. I am so preoccupied with the post that every time I here a car turns my head to look for the yellow citroen. I am so impatient. I should discipline myself by saying I won't go to check the mail, until after Vincent comes. But the post is my one real pleasure.

The air is cold, it's chilly to have the balcony door open. Last night I made a noodle and carrot soup. Hemingway bored me a bit. He shows of his knowledge about macho ways of life in these short stories - 'Men without Women' - but his style is very matter of fact, his descriptions dry.

Monday evening

I have had that empty feeling this evening - the one that wants to fill my lungs with nicotine, my stomach with coffee, my balls with pornography. Just as well I've got nothing here to satisfy those needs - the best thing I can do is eat and eat. I never have been able to suss that feeling out. I wonder if it's a Freudian yearning to be in the womb again, or to be sucking a breast; maybe it's just the body saying it needs more something, vitamins, oxygen, I don't know. It is an amazing hollow unsatisfied feeling. The fact that it is almost always connected with loneliness points to it being psychological and not physiological.

Well, the post came. It contained my cheque book, a short letter from Colin and, as I'd asked, 'Thus Spake Zarathustra'. He talks about a new feeling of missing people (having been so used to being alone), and of riding the subway all night to get tired so he can sleep in his van. But Vincent didn't come, so it is now four whole days that I haven't spoken to anybody for more than two minutes. My speaking is my writing. It becomes difficult to justify this solitary existence, when there are those (and me) who say that it is better to get on with living life than to waste it writing about it. There isn't much to say to that - except that life becomes devoid of new experiences after a while, and the repetition becomes wearisome, but they can be artificially freshened by doing without for a while. Any way I'm sure my body needs this rest and my minds needs time to settle. I thought today that it's a pity I don't have this year's journals because then I could think about the things I've done and seen and heard and not let them slip by unremembered.

Michel tries to talk to me but finds it too difficult.

On the sunset beach today, there was no-one but three wild dogs that looked at me savagely. I watched the disc roll down the hill, but it never hits the sea because it always catches the cloud bank that looks like a dyke.

It makes me feel depressed to realise I haven't got the zest and intensity and strength for living that Piaf possessed - her bulldozing through life, never without a man or a woman and half a dozen hangers on. So, when she went to America, she learnt English; when her lover was a boxer, she was passionate about boxing; when she picked up someone from the street, she treated them like a lord. People took advantage of her, found it necessary to lie and cheat, but if she didn't know, what the hell. Harold has a bit of the same. It's people like me that cool people like Harold down; and rightly so for, in the long run, it's necessary for all but those who achieve success and/or fame. But sometimes I feel it's like denying the boy from Equus his rides over the moor at night. But then when I think about it more clearly, I realise that I experience that sort of ecstasy. (Yet I find little ecstasy here. When I pick up a piece of wood, I don't laugh or cry, run or hobble, shout or whisper, feel anger or joy. I'm the placid sea, in a season of windless changes; I am the currents that you don't see from the sand or even from an aeroplane.) It's a lack of awareness, a lack of wisdom that sends these people head-over-heels into every encounter. I would be unchained and loosed as a boar in the pine forests, hunting and hunted, crackling the needles as I go - there I go, the late sun sees me darting through the lengthy shadows; there I go, the night is mine, I am loosed, I am wild.

Wednesday morning

I've breakfasted and read Friday's NYT. I dreamt of Manzi all night long, so it seems. I have strange nights here. I went to bed late last night, after 12, but woke many times, not troubled or anxious just very alert and not tired, and yet each time, I curled up and went back to sleep. Twice, I awoke with the full moon streaming in through the window (the second time it was already dawning). I had strange sensations, that somebody was knocking to get in, or going to arrive.

I feel unclean today. This is because I did nothing yesterday, nothing but talk to Peter, who I call Billy Bunter. He told me about all the English people who meet at the bar La Cave on certain nights of the week: Lady Rose, a Scottish couple who sell chutney in the Saturday market, Madame Bigard who runs the Anglican church and a small library. He told me about the best bookshop in town. And we talked about the Palais Fesch and his work restoring it, the problems of bureaucracy, the centralised power, the difference between England and France, the politics of both countries, the common market, foods, Corsica etc. I learnt that blackbird pate and boar pate are specialities. Peter is lonely, more lonely than me. I can be at peace here because I've specifically chosen this sojourn; but for Peter, this is his life. He's 31, and probably needs a wife. He did most of the talking. I encouraged him. He was somewhat nervous and quite anxious to please. After walking round town together he invited me for dinner. Then we drank tea and night caps with Alan and Monica. And so I just talked with people all day, and now this morning I feel my rhythms upset. I wonder if I should desist from any involvement. I can't really explain - it's like going back to work after a holiday.

Alan has found me a bicycle - but he wouldn't let me ride it without lights. But, because hitchhiking is so good, I've been wondering how much I will use it. We'll see. It will save me time when going for bread, but then I'll lose time going to Ajaccio. It might be good for coming home at night when I can't get lifts hitching.

I want to try and break the four page barrier today, to make up for yesterday, although I suppose an average of two pages a day isn't too bad. I drank two coffees yesterday, that annoyed me.

My room is quite lovely, it's so white with pretty silk scarves hanging. Jose's little metal picture is on one wall; there's a candle, some small lilac flowers that smell sweet, a basket of clementines, and ferns and grasses framing the balcony. And, on the table, there's a homely clutter of pens and books. I like it.

I think again about Peter. When we first met, and Monica was with us, he asked me what I was doing here, I said: in a way, I'm trying to clean myself; and I'm escaping the English winter. He laughed at both and made me feel quite small, like a silly hippy. It was a brief feeling and to do with my insecurity at not having a trade. I'm still too afraid to assert myself as a writer, so I content myself with saying 'I'm trying to write'. But then he caught me again when he said: 'What have you got to say?' I answered negatively, and afterwards I realised the simple answer: 'I write for the sake of writing and not because I've got anything to say'. But despite apparently having a lot more knowledge than me (which seems to come from his public school background), I feel more confident of myself than he. Twice he stopped himself from saying something for/about me when he suddenly remembered he'd only met me that day. Once, for example, he was, I think, about to offer me his flat. It would have been giving too much, too quickly. He plays chess, has a car, and is good to talk to.

Yesterday morning I saw a man with a rucksack walking down and away from Terra-Bella. I was so curious, I ran out of the studio and right down the hill after him, but, just as I was reaching him, he hitched a lift.

There's a white van that goes round and round Terra-Bella (driven by someone who refurbishes the houses). There is also a small yellow beach jeep that motors around, and wherever it goes, a tiny tiny dog - it's so small and hairy it looks like a toy - follows.

Tour de Capitello. I've watch it all day and every day from my balcony, so today I braved the barbed wire and snuck in. As I drew near, I realised it was larger than I thought, and deserted. I was reminded of Cargill's Castle in Dunedin. The tower itself has three levels. The top level is open and has a lovely panoramic view. On the ground floor level there's also a house and several very military-looking constructions (such as bases for swivel machine guns). I found it a bit scary. I then spent a very wonderful two hours on the beach, exercising, running, lying naked in the sun. December!!!! I even went into the water a bit, but not much.

Wednesday evening

The hot water cistern will not stop filling, it gurgles continuously. I can't think what is wrong with it - just that money is going on electricity to run the pump. It's very distracting.

I'm quite happy when I write four pages of script in a day but what if it's all complete rubbish.

I took possession of a racing bicycle this afternoon - it meant buying a lock and a light, which set me back a bit. The idea of having a bicycle is twofold: one, to go on excursions where cars are not frequent enough for hitching; and, two, as a mode of transport to get me home in the hours of darkness. . .

(The milk, for my night hot chocolate, just boiled over. At first I thought it was the cistern exploding. Milk makes such a mess.)

. . . but coming home this evening on the cycle was sheer terror, a nightmare. I was blinded by car headlights and I couldn't tell where the edge of the road was. I lived in fear and trepidation of a pothole or a brick, and frequently found myself off the tarmac and on the gravel. Phew was I glad to get back to the lights of Porticcio. Then, half way up Terra-Bella, one of the tyres ripped open and the inner tube burst. Possessions are so much trouble.

I went to the English library. A sweet old lady was very interested in me. She sat amid a few hundred paperbacks - mostly Alistair Maclean, Gerald Durrell, soft church stuff, nothing very interesting. I found an Oscar Wilde, and Le Carre's 'Spy Who Came in from the Cold'. The lady let me borrow them for nothing. When I arrived in the small room there were two very tall Americans - apparently professional basketball players with their wives, playing for French teams. They had found out about the library from an English hairdresser, Bill.

I wrote to Manzi today because I dreamt so much about her last night.

Friday morning 7 December

The way I tell the date is by looking at my last supermarket checkout slip.

Old habits die hard. On the beach yesterday I got to thinking about why I was here and what I was doing and why I was alone. After all, I said to myself, I will have plenty of time to be alone, to be silent, to read, to write when I am old, and when my body is not so young and able to race around. And this is very true. Perhaps I should be living life in Piaf style. But, as always, I tried to justify myself. I argued that it was good to keep in the practice of being alone, and, more importantly, this sojourn would help me to keep some perspective on myself. And thus I can learn to take pleasure whatever my circumstances. I'm not sure I convinced myself. I was reading Nietzsche on the beach - 'Thus Spake Zarathustra'. Hollingdale's introduction was enough to have me reeling. I had just been thinking about the strength one attains from solitude and being able to be alone and whether it was really a strength because if you knew how to be alone you would never need people enough to compromise with them and have long relationships etc. When I opened the book, the first thing I read was a quote from a letter Nietzsche wrote to the woman who Hollingdale describes as 'the one wholly sexual involvement' of his Nietzsche's life: 'I don't want to be lonely any more; I want to learn to be human again. Alas, in THIS field I have everything to learn.' You can have the immense wisdom of Nietzsche and still not know how to have a simple relationship with a woman. And then what is your life worth? Only through Hollingdale's introduction do I understand a little of Nietzsche. He brought down the primal forces of man to Power and Fear, but then discovered that Fear was only the lack of Power, and this gave rise to the idea of the sublimated desire in every human for 'the will to power'. Up until this time Nietzsche was an ardent nihilist, and saw no reason to live. Then he had the idea of the superman, with the will to dominate self, and this was the greatest power of all: 'The joy of the superman in being as he is, now and ever, is the ultimate sublimation of the will to power and the final overcoming of an otherwise inexorable and inevitable nihilism.' He is so crammed full of truths, I don't know where he pulled them all from. Such concentrated wisdom, he leaves me breathless.

There was a knock on my door after dark yesterday, the first knock, the first visitor. Alan had come to take me to dinner to try tongue! We had talked about it yesterday or the day before - Monica had said she didn't like it, but Peter and I were all for giving it a try. Over dinner we talked about Corsican corruption and the way of the family - the more brothers the better. There was a moment of tension with Monica when she said it was downright wrong that half of Ajaccio should be on pensions they don't deserve, and I disagreed saying I thought it was OK that people got away with whatever they could. I kept on looking at Peter's face. He has stately oval eye sockets that fall down his over-chubby cheeks. I wasn't quite sure what I was doing there, nor was Peter. He said to me in the car on the way back (how nice of him to give me a lift, and for Alan to have to come to pick me up earlier, and so unexpectedly) that Monica and Alan were not the sort of people he would get to know in England. And I thought the same about him.

I took some photos of the tower - Tour de Capitello. Alan says he develop my B&W for free, which is marvellous.

I came to a full stop with the play and decided to go for a walk on the beach. Slowly I was able to work out how it was going to end. It was the concentration of thought. It's wonderful. The silence of the beach, the lack of distractions.

I wonder if there will be any post today. As the sun shines through the railings on the stairs, it makes a shadow. I've marked where the shadow should be so I know when it's time to go and check for post. But, when I went to check the shadow this morning, the first day I've done this (I only marked it yesterday), it was too cloudy for a shadow to be cast. And this was the first cloudy day since I've been in Porticcio!

Friday evening

A letter came from Harold. He sends me good cheer and money. The first thing I did when I got the letter was write back, and then the cloud stayed and the air never got warm, the sky never got blue, the sea never twinkled, so I came back in with the clickety clack, and finished off the play just like that. I think it has an interesting plot, that accelerates at a good pace. It's a bit too poetical and too profound at times. It took five days to write. Not bad. It's amazing what you can do when you get down to it. A letter also tonight to Colin. I went to the tower for the sunset. There was a crack in the clouds and I waited for the disc to appear above the rays. It never really came through but I took a few photos and then it started to get cold. The middle level of the tower has a dome roof and it echoes beautifully. I recited Prufrock there, and then, on the roof, I went through Little Gidding. Felt good.

Saturday 8 December

So, there's Lady Rose or Rowly, whose daughter is called Charly; George is her husband; Tony, the window dresser, is her brother; an icelandic beauty who's Tony's woman; Stephen and Gretel who want to grow strawberries in the witch's mountains but still live in a caravan; Charles the Corsican who runs the bar; and Peter of course. All these characters and more in La Cave every Saturday lunch time.

Alan and Monica become my Ajaccio home. I walk in and out. They invite me for meals, I bring cheap wine. One of their children, the eldest, Vincent, knows and accepts me now. It is nice to hold him, to feel human flesh against me again.

I read the play over. It's pretty crummy. I'll send it to Colin, see what he thinks.

Six francs for a bicycle repair kit!!!!; Fr25 for a tyre!!!. And now I need a new wheel.

Sunday morning

That dawn cloud came and brought all its brother and sisters, and its uncle wind and its nephew rain and the granddaddy of them all - cold. The black clouds swirl, the wind howls, the rain slashes wherever it damn well likes. My balcony is wrecked, a flood, a tidal wave, all the ferns are dead.

I go to sleep so early in the evening that I awake fresh as the dew, before the dew, long before dawn. I go back to sleep many times.

Sunday evening

The most abominable headache hit me this evening. The first traces came in the afternoon and my right sinus inflamed. I connected the two, then once back here, it became unbearable. I was sweating and panting, nearly crying and definitely crying out. I went out to look for some aspirins and eventually found someone to give me some. I walked around in the night waiting for the medicine take effect. I couldn't remember being in so much pain since that stomach thing at Paddington Hospital. I just hope the ache doesn't come back when the aspirin's worn off.

Alan and Monica are sweet, always inviting me around to eat. Last night it was duck a la olive care of Alan. He shows me his boats and I talk a bit about my travels and even about my writing. It is very family. We talked critically about Peter and then he arrived unexpectedly and was shocked to find me there. He acted strangely. Oh dear. Alan has offered to take me on a tour of the island. I will go with him to Bonifacio to deliver photos.

I hitched home in the dark but had to walk two miles.

I do not know what to write next. Inspiration denies me. This evening I wrote a one pager about dogs - a lesson in irony.

I smelt the country today. I realised I'd been too wrapped up in the sea and the sand, and that all around were forests, rivers, trees and fields, green and wet and glistening. I promised myself some country walks. It felt like a whole new world to discover, as though I'd never been into the green before, and I'd spent my whole life with the blue and the yellow.

Monday evening 10 December

I've been aware of my sinus all day, and lived in fear of another headache.

I woke early and went to Porticcio post office and stocked up with stamps. I was not as relaxed or peaceful this morning as I have been. I decided on a walk in the country along the river, but when I got to the road, the beach and the tower pulled strongly. I went there and did what I haven't done until now at all, I just lay on the beach and did nothing but feel the sun on my face. The waves were crashing, I spent much time watching and listening to them dance. In some way, I think, I was challenging myself to waste away the day. I spent an hour or two atop the tower, watching the aeroplanes and the waves again, and the clouds move across the mountains. It was strange, one aeroplane took off, kept very low over the sea, flew a triangle and returned to land. Ten minutes later, it did the same thing again. I couldn't work out why.

Tomorrow is the morning I go with Alan on a tour of the island. He leaves at six - and I've been leant an alarm clock so I can be ready. I have the tick tock in my room. It's just after ten now, and my eyes are tired. I stole a pink rosebud today. I wrote a letter Vera Caspary.

Tuesday afternoon 11 December

Saw a bloated drowned frog in the desolate swimming pool. Saw a schoolgirl sitting on a step, with her knees in the air, and her thighs open. Saw Le Lion de Roccapina and his modern companion the elephant. Saw the fishing nets of Bonifacio and the cliffs that have been layered. Saw the most glorious dawn over Sartene with the smooth curves of pink and salmon and rose. Saw the wind again down there in the south. Saw the dusty town of Olmeto wake itself up.

And on this trip with Alan, I thought about Marielle and Greece and how Marielle must have loved me. And I watched the road twist and turn as Alan curved and bent it straight with his hard hands locked to the wheel. And Alan told me his dream was to run a small auberge in the English countryside. I saw him smile, I saw his dream and I saw the long long road to realising such a dream in the hard cold morning. And the clouds won the day.

Here's a song.mantra from my South America days that I was singing today.

THE DANCE OF THE EVENING

The dance of the evening
The dance of the evening
The dance of the evening star

When you don't want a woman
And you don't want a man
And all you've ever seen is the stars
Look above and you fill find what you do seek
That they abound

The dance of the evening
The dance of the evening
The dance of the evening star

Spent all afternoon writing 'The Woman of Innocence'

THE WOMAN OF INNOCENCE

Betrayed long ago by sight, smell and sound
As if it were the end, the end of sense and more
I felt within her touch, a touch never felt before
The touch to faint, and then by touch brought round
Her smiling face, the freckles all smiling
My kiss like acid to that skin revealing
How sharp and acrid of me, I felt, both now and then
The passion I taught, she taught back to smooth me down

Her love within I felt a love never felt before
Believe her eyes that swallow you whole
Accept the lips, so refined, so soft
Recall that no woman is so untouched as her
Belittle yourself by one so humble and subtle as her
Attribute all tributes of woman through her
Rhapsody the story of man around her
All pure, all innocent, all heart, and my love all hers

But poets are liars. I cannot claim this poem to be true. Damn the romantics, they're all liars. They work themselves to a pitch of fervour to write such trash. They take a truth, add a pinch of drama, a dabbling of romance, a touch of mystery, and present something completely transformed.

She is no fool, in fact, this woman of innocence. I have three words for every one of hers, and yet I have none. There is more wisdom in her silence than in my phrase. I find the loss of words, my sickness truly diagnosed; and she is the doctor, knowing how to soothe, knowing which pressure of touch for which time of day, knowing which intensity of smile for which guarded moment and never, but never having the slightest confusion over some trifle she might not know. 'Take sex,' she says in her quiet voice, humble but not unsure, 'it's just like a cup of tea . . .'. My lower jaw falls beneath her smile. How simple the earth. The plants respond to her care. I would that I could respond to care. And how, when touched with care, has quickly shed a reservation and said 'I am ready to know everything you can show me'. . . 'teach me all those things you have said are important.' I am no fool. I know I have to leave. I haven't the strength to carry weight like that. Oh would that she were light. How light she is, I see her fly. The weight is that which I create; my eyes add lead to her soul.

I went walking in the maquis. First I found a little stone house fit for a fairy tale, and then, as a complete surprise, for there is maquis everywhere, I found a small wood along a stream valley. It's an enchanted place where lovers first fall into each other's arms, where elves and goblins meet. It made me so happy to discover this. There is great joy in discovery. From this fairyland there are three tracks in three different directions. I will explore them one by one.

Thursday 13 December

A busy morning - doing the necessaries, washing cloths, mending the bicycle (which involved a short trip to Ajaccio). Now I sit outside with my cup of chocolate and preparing to get down to work again. After the wind and the clouds and rain, the constant sun and unmoving air have returned. I feel filled with hope and joy, immensely content. I think of the sea lapping, licking itself. I smile. I think of the elves wood in the hills. I smile. I have to smile, I am so far away from troubles - all is simple again. Even my sexless existence doesn't trouble. I think I am aware of how a relationship would complicate the simplicity of this existence. If my penis gets hard in the night, so I take it to the toilet . . .

In Bonifacio all the houses have strange-looking crosses planted on the hillside. Each one is connected by a wire that is strung across the road from the hillside to the tops of the houses. Some of the crosses are balanced in the most precarious of positions. They are, of course, not religious crosses but TV aerials.

I get angry in the municipal library. There are always four employees in there, but they never do any work. I asked to see what English books they had and they wouldn't let me. And then I put on some anger, and asked why (from what I could see) they had Michener in English but not Shakespeare. No wonder nobody ever uses the library, it's a complete disgrace. And at the British Council library, I was only expecting to take out another Le Carre or something similar, but, to my amazement, I discovered a hidden cupboard of classics - Plato, Shakespeare, Darwin, Milton. I was so happy - if the sun goes I've got some of the greatest literature in the world to study. I did, though, also borrowed a Le Carre and Frederick Forsyth's 'The Odessa File'.

Friday 14 December

Feel lonely this morning - it's grey and drizzly outside. Last night was a struggle not to go to sleep and not to eat. I wasn't tired yet I wanted to sleep, I wasn't hungry yet I wanted to eat, and so I escaped into the fiction of the day. I could cry now, I feel close to it, perhaps I should eat instead, but I haven't got any bread, and it's after 12. Perhaps I will have a cup of tea.

I don't like the way my new story 'The Dancer' has started. When I finished the second page, it fell on the candle and started burning, I blew it out. But there was a big hole in the middle. I realised I would have to rewrite the hole - perhaps I should have let the whole lot burn. I'm not on tip-toes today.

Saturday 15 December

I was studious all day today. I wrote six pages of 'The Dancer' and two letters, worked on a fair amount of French, read the start of Goethe's play 'Faust', and finished Forsyth's 'The Odessa File'. And very compelling the latter was too. The style was informative and fast. Forsyth has taken a fascinating subject, researched it completely, and pulled together an exciting book. I imagined him driving to all the places he writes about and making notes. Goethe takes more concentration to read, probably because of the translation. How impossible it must be to translate rhyme. He's not as exciting either.

Again it is grey - I look forward to going to Ajaccio, chatting to people, Christmas is only ten days away.

Evening

Reading 'The Odessa File' has made me acutely aware of how little I know about anything, that I don't really have anything to talk about, to write about. I can't just be a writer I realised. What a great realisation that is. I can write as a hobby but I have to do something else. I need a basis from which to work. I need to discover things, research things, explore areas of life - that's what I need to do. How unbelievably naive I still am. It's funny how you don't believe the truths you know - like knowledge isn't the same as the experience.

Sunday morning

The wind blows this morning, I see clouds race over my little house, the sea is a dark almost navy blue, and full of white porpoises again. I have no bread for breakfast. I have no thoughts for my typewriter. Yesterday I forced myself to continue 'The Dancer', and I just went around in circles, and didn't even know what I was trying to say.

I write to Harold: 'How important it is that you listen to me! You are my only ear. I made a very important discovery - a truth I've known all along and finally I listened to it, finally let it settle in my head. One can't be a writer without something to write about. We are living out adolescences, I, at any rate, am doing this and farting around - haven't I said this all before - one needs a profession. Even Durrell had 20 years as a diplomat, and Henry Miller was a freak, and Nin had rich parents, and Elliot was born a long time before be wrote anything, and he didn't write much at that. We're playing, don't you see - it's fun - it's make-believe, but we shun the truths that stun our senses if we really stood alone and looked around. We can spin our words our marks, our B&W, but really truly our lives are Lego and Meccano, not brick and mortar (I do not deny more exciting shapes can be made more quickly). In brick and mortar all can play; underneath the Lego arch only children play. Listen please! I've said it many times before, but know not what to do. And the dancer has found he's drowned in words.'

Today I realised the strangest thing: Here in Corsica I am trying to do two things: to write and to learn French; and it was those very two subjects that I cried over at school!

Monday afternoon

I just continue with the same thoughts, racking my brains for something to write about. Whoever I read I want to emulate, but I haven't got the skill. I don't know enough about anything. This is not your typical artist's crisis, I'm very serene about the whole matter. I am an empty cushion, a doormat without bristles, a tree-less forest. I have two major drawbacks: a the lack of passion for living, far too much rationalisation; and a bad or untrained memory for detail.

16 December

There is no water - the dishes and my body are dirty (my hands especially are filthy from the bicycle). The office is closed, so I can't check for mail. This place is getting on my wick.

Yes, I went on a bicycle ride - quite a short one - through the back roads to Bastelicaccia and then along the Sartene road for a couple of miles. It's not an exciting place. You don't turn a bend and see a 16th century farmhouse or some cute little cottage church. It's all modern villas and disgruntled scowls. I don't know what I imagined to find but it all seemed dull. I asked a woman who had too much to carry if she would like a hand 'voulez-vous un main?'. She declined. Then I went walking in the hills. I did find a small farm high up in a wooded brook valley. There were animal sounds but I didn't see any legs, human or otherwise. I followed some horse's tracks, but never found the horse. From near the farm was a tremendous view of Ajaccio and Porticcio and even Isolella. The wooded valleys are far nicer than the maquis.

Monday evening 17 December

Thud, something hit my window. A small yellow-breasted bird hung, more by chance than strength, on the wall. He tried to recover the blow to his head, I suppose. Another bird (his mate?) came to cling to the same wall. They chatted and the fit bird pecked the foot of the other, but he (she?) nearly fell off and reacted hysterically. The other drew back, moved around a bit, and then, with an 'oh well' shake of the head, flew off. The injured bird didn't seem to care. He hung there panting. I drew close to take a photograph and then, as a reward, I offered him some bread. But this frightened him, so he hopped away on to the top of the wall.

I also watched three fishes from above. I noticed how, like sail yachts use the wind, they use the current, moving downstream in zig-zag fashion, searching for food, they need only a rudder, and that's exactly what their bodies become. They were three rudders undulating between the bright yellow green mosses. I thought about Ophelia lying among the reeds of the Avon and I tried to think of a word for a colour between yellow and green but couldn't find one, and then the fishes disappeared.

I collected lots of pine cones for Monica, and put them in my haversack, but then I found my haversack full of spiders.

Tuesday 18 December

No water again. I am crying this morning. My body is dirty. My skin is parched and dirt is crammed beneath the fingernails. There is snot in my nose, dust clouds in my eye; my feet and scalp itch. I received a card from mother - Happy Christmas. There are tea leaves in the sink, and every plate and cup is dirty, sticky with jam and butter, rotting pate, dried milk. I am angry, kicking doors, needing to shout, to scream, to dance. I am angry about a letter from Dominique, and about the lack of letters from other friends. I know I shouldn't expect to be thought about. I'm out of sight. I'm angry at myself. The toilet now contains five urinations and one crap. My spots cry out to be scrubbed. Fucking anger and tears. I wanna be loved, famous and rich. Right now. Right now. But just a little water will do for now.

I took some sugar and that seemed to calm my nerves. The anger melted in about half an hour, not much longer than it took to write it all down on the previous page. And the water came back - and that helped of course to dilute the anger. The rain softened the rock edge.

Then I tried to write some more of 'The Dancer' but it was such trash that I scribbled 'crap' all across and almost got angry again.

Thursday 20 December

Christmas fever strikes here as everywhere.

Lying in my bed this morning, I didn't really want to get up. I knew that I would have to get down to thinking or writing today - it was a feeling akin to having to go to work. Then I thought about some writing and I saw each line turn into spaghetti and I was rolling them all in my hand until I realised that I had mixed all the lines up beyond recognition.

It is cold and grey. I know it is 9:15 because the passenger aeroplane - which I can see - took off 10 minutes ago. Claude Robin, the Air France representative with whom I exchange language practice, gave me the times and details of all five planes coming to Ajaccio every day. He leaves tomorrow on holiday. His wife and children can fly anywhere in the world for 10% of the normal fare.

Yesterday, my day off, I made fruit cake for the Alan and Monica, and stocked up with books from the library (ten including H G Wells, a short history of the world and Milton's complete poems). My feet are socked and still cold. Also, I found the book by Dorothy Carrington (aka Frederica aka Lady Rose) - 'The Granite Island'. Lady Rose is initiating something called avant-garde Corse. I laughed and it was very rude - arrogant. When at Ange's house, I talk mostly with Monica, but I wonder if Alan feels left out. He brought me home last night - it was late when we finished eating. Poor sod he gets up at 4:30 - and the children scream all night.

So so cold today - frostbite of the fingers. But I stole some lemons. Isn't it called scrumpying, stealing from other people's gardens. The fresh-picked lemons tang with that real citrus smell which they loose wrapped or sitting around in a supermarket. And I discovered there are huge bushes of lavender everywhere - in flower, and now I have some lovely flower arrangements in the studio.

Friday 21 December

How strange, how surreal the wind turned warm today and stranger. It must have arrived from the African continent, while the others were just local winds blowing down off the mountains. This wind was so strange - not surreal but unreal, giving the impression of silence and not silence. I am drugged into an all-pervading sense of windness, and not me-ness - I am slightly euphoric and walking in circles.

The snow is creeping upon us - every time the cloud clears, the white peaks are fresher, longer and nearer, threatening, invading, chilling all plans for tomorrow or some other day. Who knows how these winds may affect us, warm one day, biting the next. Today walking I experienced tracts of cold air carried by the warm. This reminded me of swimming in warm sea and feeling the current of a cold river outlet.

Saturday 22 December

I drank too much today. My head is retaliating wanting to fall to the ground and remain motionless for an hour or two. And I rummaged around too much in Peter's social life. I challenged him with a harsh voice, but his face turned to look out of the window. I could well imagine his baby fingers coming together in nervous entanglement. What am I to him? A hippy, a sponger, a dropout - not a writer, not an interesting fellow. His cheeks rumble with his drunk laughter, the public school humour taught by prefects. I cannot be bothered to make the effort, you have said your own farewell, Peter.

The wind blew the sea white and black, and moorings came untied and the big ship Napoleon hastened out to sea, the port is not well sheltered here from these odd winds when they come.

'Kiss her,' says Arnauti 'and you are aware that her eyes do not close but open more widely, with an increasing doubt and madness . . .' This from Durrell's Justine, of course, but it reminds me of Emanuella, the little fire we shared.

Sunday 23 December

Last night I put two pieces of information together that I'd learned in the previous 24 hours: about olive mills, and about the Mezzeri; and I wrote a short story - how ravenous I am for good material.

Christmas Eve

Tonight is the night that the signadores can pass on their very secret and very magical spells.

The air has turned distinctly cold. There is snow on the foothills not just on the distant glazed peaks. There is sun and blue today, it's good to be alive. No mail - I am so weary of expecting mail, and I'm still angry about Dom's letter. I don't think about life or death, I have even stopped looking over the neighbour's wall to see the texture of his lawn. My lot is writing, reading, walking, and visiting Monica. I bought them all little presents - it is Christmas. I will spend tomorrow with them, eating and drinking. Every time I go I take something. Today flowers, yesterday fruits, and before that I made the cake - such simple things. I think I get more pleasure out of giving than out of receiving.

I don't think my life began till 74, I haven't the vaguest recollection of any Christmas before then. Christmas is a most impressive anti-climax - weeks and months of preparations, commercialisation, spending of money, all of which is dropped in less than 24 hours. It seems hard to balance the time, the money, the energy, that goes into a few hours of meaningless celebration, which, in any case, is little more than an everyday family reunion wrapped up in pretty paper and tied with slightly more expensive plonk. However, I will go to midnight mass tonight and hope to be deeply moved.

Because Monica needed a place for a Christmas crib, the book case was brought in from the balcony and used to arrange the books in a more efficient manner leaving room on the table for the crib. However, the bookcase also served as a barrier between one part of the balcony and the other. In its place, a skewy deckchair was used. However, this proved insufficient to stop Jeremy, and the little blighter crawled through to the other side, and, in a very short space of time, he had thrown, from the neighbour's balcony, a large saw and an iron hatchet - five floors down. Furthermore, he spilled a complete litre of milk all over the table and floor and somehow put the tablecloth in it all. And that's not all - oh no. He then took the tablecloth and shook it violently, splattering the entire kitchen with milk drops. He's an unmanageable child, quite destructive.

On the newly paved area near where Monica and Alan live, where the palm trees are planted, a young and aspiring street entertainer touched us with some magic. A sign saying 'Fingers' adorned the front of a van, while he worked from the back, his assistant handing him things from behind a drape. The tricks were good, you didn't know how they were done - but he was not confident. His smile lacked reassurance, he didn't demand applause. There was not nearly enough of the showman in him, and he relied on his skill with the tricks. I wasn't sure if he really wanted to be there. It wasn't nerves, just sheer lack of experience. He played with scarves, doves, ropes, egg in the bag, rings - and performed the lady in the box trick. There was a large crowd and with the right patter he would have won enormous applause. Further down the road were some marionette players. Their equipment was a little complicated for pure street work - they needed time to set up, unlike the magician. Neither of the performers asked for money, so I suppose the council must have paid them.

Drinking a celebratory pastis with myself in the Cave, I watched the regulars. The pacing owl, the munching hippopotamus, the black sparrow, the singing zebra.

The yellow flowers that look like tiny fluffs of lemon are mimosa.

'An artist does not live a life as we do, he hides it, forcing us to go to his books if we wish to touch the true source of his feelings' - Clea's letter at the end of Justine.

26 December

Christmas passed over without too much thought.

My hands trembled as I fingered a letter from B this morning. It was a card and a smile and information. What did I expect on opening the envelope - some outpouring of emotion? I forget.

Work on a second radio play slacks off. It sucks, like one huge cliche, full of dialogue that no-one else would ever use. The characters don't even possess one dimensional characters, they have less depth than nursery rhyme personages. But it was only an attempt, I must remember that. A first trial to find the difficulties. Must finish it. Three pages of trash a day is not good enough. And yesterday I didn't write a thing.

What the hell was going on yesterday anyway. Ham, caviar, crevettes, mixed veg in mayonnaise, champagne, artichokes, palm hearts, lamb etc all with Monica and Alan. Over lunch they got religious which was a bit strange. I could not believe that these people were really talking about Jesus as I had done when I was 18, i.e. talking about the hypocrisy of most church-goers, the dressing up, and all that. It was like some ghastly flash-back. What could I do?

I am now engrossed in 'The day of the jackal'. I've been here for four weeks now. I am fantasising a lot about the arrival of H and Roser, but I mustn't.

Thursday 27 December

Today I am impatient for the first time with Milton. 'Paradise Lost' (I cannot speak for Milton's other works) is monotonous, repetitious, inconsistent and lacking in imagination. I am only reading it because I feel I should. Gems are few and far apart. I think I'll give it a miss. What I remember of Dante, he is more exciting and inspiring.

Momentous events today: 1) Received FFr1,205 from the bank; 2) a talk with John Langothito who just happens to be the subject of a large article in today's Corse-Matin. He talked of writing for 'Dr Who', 'Treasure Island' and Patrick McGoohan. I suppose I was agog. I hadn't really got much to say to interest him. 3) a French lesson with Christian. His face is tight, only the lips smile, the ends curl up. His coffee-coloured eyes tint green in the centre. His glasses are heavy. He listens so I tell of my adventures. We got to see Mike, who lends me his flat for the w/e. 4) a magnetic chess set posted from Paris by Roser arrives. She says they are arriving on the 31st. But I am confused because there is no boat due to arrives that day. I fear she has been looking at the Corse-Continent schedule not the Continent-Corse. Could I have sent the wrong one? Nevertheless I am excited.

Greyness continues, weatherlessness. 'The day of the jackal' finished - ubputdownable - pure entertainment - magnificent.

I think I've gotta find a career in writing, somehow, do a course, start again, pretend I'm only three. Something right now makes me very determined to be a writer. I can work in my own time, in my own place, in my own way. I've gotta make it as a writer - my fate is sealed - I've found my niche.

Friday 28 December

Yesterday John pointed out a sleeping grandfather figure in La Cave. He, that's John, said that ten years ago La Cave was full of such old men, all lining the tables, but Mario was the only one left. He recalled a fierce discussion in which the arguments were strong and loud and passionate: it was about whether the new cemetery or the old was more comfortable.

It is greyer today than yesterday. Every few minutes Ajaccio and Gulf disappears into cloud. My balcony floods. Nothing would drag me out of this coziness tonight into that dark and dank world full of miserable faces repugnant with lost history.

Today, I stole lemons and oranges and mimosa and lavender and other shrubs too.

Sunday 30 December

Just like the intricate plans of spies from the intelligence services of books I've been reading, I set myself up to meet the boat Napoleon at 6:30 this morning. I borrowed Mike's flat for the night and Ange's car in the morning. I'd arranged everything so well but Harold and Roser were just not on the boat. Now, there's no damn boat to Ajaccio until Tuesday. They are such jackasses. We'll miss the New Year's Eve ritual. They're not going to come by plane, and they'd be damn stupid to catch the Nice-Bastia boat. Jackasses. And the bike buckled and became unridable, and it's got greyer and greyer.

I chatted to Lady Rose, commonly called Frederica. She is neither as eccentric nor as old as I had imagined. She has the capacity to listen well, withdraw and think about what has been said, causing pensive silences. Her eyes are a faded blue; are the curls in her hair natural? The lipstick along her lips strays. She possesses a certain intensity that comes, I think, from the confidence of being upper class. She talks intricately of minor plans for new year. She tells me she is a writer. The window-dresser and the Icelandic doll (who washes her hands ever so carefully after going to the toilet) are completely uninspiring. They show no signs of interest in me whatsoever. John likes talking about his work so that's OK. Only Lady Rose and John interest me, the others can go drown in their ice-cold stares mixed with Muscat.

Paul K Lyons

1980

 

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INTRO to diaries:
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