The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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July 26, 2016

Something Light, something sparkling...

As it turned out, both of the books I just finished -- one for Paris in July, one because it was a Margery Sharp -- were perfect for a weekend {a week, really} in the too-high 90s when turning pages was about all the moving around that I wanted to do. :)
Savourer le présent

Imagine a beautiful village of several thousand people, each interesting in his or her own way. You want to meet all of them, and not just meet them, but get to know them a little, spend time with each and every one. Even if you shared every meal of every day with a new friend, though, it would take years. And how would you remember Julie as you sat down with Bob? What if you really liked Lucy and wanted to eat a second meal with her, even if that meant that everybody else had to wait? Consider also that people are always changing, so if you miss someone one year, well, they'll be slightly different by the time you do get around to them. This is the conundrum when it comes to tasting wines — even just from Bordeaux, say, a huge region with thousands of producers. Imagine the task at hand if you wanted to meet all the wines of France, or all the wines of the world. It is impossible.
      Yet it was a task I felt I had to at least attempt in good faith, even while acknowledging its futility. I mentioned this to my uncle on our flight to Chicago. We'd spent one more day in the silver Mustang meeting with clients in San Diego,  a beautiful, relaxed city that felt like Los Angeles without Hollywood, and were on our way to the second leg of Moët's wine shows.
      'No, no,' he said. He leaned back against the headrest and closed his eyes, pursing his lips as he settled in to nap. 'You can't think of all the wines out there, like all the books you never got to read. You'll go mad. Think only about the wine in front of you,' He smiled to himself as he fell asleep, as if he had a particular wine in mind that very moment — possibly one of his own.

Normally, being old and crotchety, a coming-of-age memoir about someone in their 20s is the very, very last thing I would ever want to read, but I was intrigued by the idea of a Frenchwoman's experiences in America (as opposed to all the Americans-in-France memoirs out there). Laure Dugas was born into two families of French winemakers; her mother's family makes champagne and her paternal uncle Alain made Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines in the Rhone valley.

At a family dinner, her uncle asks if she'd like to represent his wine in America for six months, and she jumps at the chance, ending up spending three years in New York before returning to Paris to open her own wine shop. The memoir is a mix of her experiences as a young woman in New York {roommates, friendships, work}, her relationship with her longtime boyfriend {I was so glad that what happens at the end happens}, and her growing knowledge of wines, and of chapter-ends about everything from the different French wine regions to understanding vintages and terroirs.  Her voice is refreshing, a little self-deprecating, and in the end very likeable, and the sections on wine are so approachable and well-written that I found I enjoyed them and learned from them even though I'm not really all that interested in wine.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
      Actually the candles were a bit of a failure; they simply didn't give half enough light to eat by, and Jimmy had to switch a lamp on after the soup. (Cold vichyssoise, from a tin; but with chives chopped into it.) The main course was cold salmon, with mayonnaise not out of a bottle; Camembert cheese preceded the sweet:  glace pralinee ('Because he had the nuts,' thought Louisa affectionately; the little touch of economy-combined-with-chichi went straight to a heart already, despite every resolve, wifely.) -- As though to pull her up, a moth chose that same moment to fly into one of the candles; Louisa somersaulted several images together ... and felt that not for worlds would she see Jimmy fall so singed ...
     'You're not just being kind? You mustn't be too kind,' said Jimmy anxiously. 'You wouldn't let me make a fool of myself?'
      Louisa paused, but only for a moment -- It was still no trap she sprung! On the contrary, from sheer impulsive generosity she threw away a woman's most precious privilege; that of making the man declare himself first.
      'If you asked me, perhaps I would live here...' breathed Louisa.
      'They were words to raise him, in one instant, from the depths of faithful yearning to the topmost peak of fulfillment. Louisa's heart beat faster still, as she watched the changing emotions reflected in his face. Incredulity was, naturally, the first; after which came sudden illumination, followed by -- plain terror.

Since I am waiting very patiently for the library's vintage copies of The Eye of Love and Martha, Eric and George {instead of pushing the dangerous buy-with-one-click button for those two and all the others}, my virtue was rewarded by finding Something Light on the library's ebook site, and by finding it so much fun to read. Our heroine, Louisa Datchett, is thirty, and 'dashing' rather than pretty {'if her fox-colored hair was turning like an autumn leaf -- here a streak of cinnamon, there a dash of pepper -- she had nonetheless only to stand still in any public place, at a bus stop or outside a telephone booth, and as to Red Riding Hood up came a wolf.}. She reminds the milkman that 'My Auntie was a suffragette,' and tells herself that she is happily unmarried; she lives in a tiny flat {'She now turned on a tap, filled a kettle, lit a gas ring, laid the table and reached down the coffee tin, all without moving her feet. Such are the advantages, to the long-armed, of a kitchenette-dinette.'} and ekes out a living as a photographer of dogs ('She always had breakfast. With a really good dinner in prospect, Louisa frequently skipped lunch, as after a really good lunch sh could carry over, on cups of tea, till next morning, but she never went without breakfast.'} But she is also very, platonically, fond of men, enjoying the looks she gets from bus drivers and finding herself willingly at the mercy of bachelor friends, impoverished neighbors, and total strangers who need a favor or someone to listen to their troubles, with all the trouble and expense this brings.

      ... For once, rarely, contemplating an abstract conception:  the position of the independent woman in modern society. Better their lot by far, Louisa was sure of it, than that of the timid Victorian wife trembling at a husband's frown. (On the other hand, not all Victorian wives were timid; Mrs. Proudie, for instance, browbeating her bishop, couldn't have been wholly fictional?)'}. ... Louisa had a higher opinion of women than might be expectd; for those committed to any vocation. a genuine, wistful regard. If it was they who'd inherited the world the suffragettes fought for, that was fine with Louisa. But considering the average run of independent self-supporting modern women --
      Here Louisa broke off to consider the case she knew best:  her own. ... A nation of dog-lovers hadn't let her starve; but she noticed Number Ten's yoghurt on her milk bill. She was certainly independent, she hoped intelligent; and possessed only five pairs of stockings, two laddered.
      -- Considering the average run of independent self-supporting  modern women, Louisa honestly believed they'd all be better off with rich husbands.

Just at this moment, Louisa receives an unexpected letter from F. Pennon, a well-to do middle-aged Englishman she vaguely remembers meeting in Cannes, and before she arrives at his elegant bachelor apartment for tea, she has already told friends and acquaintances that she's engaged to be married.

It's not especially surprising that things don't work out as she expects, and then we're off on a rather conventional but still very funny set of romantic efforts. (I read on the Margery Sharp blog that Something Light was serialized, in 1960, in The Saturday Evening Post, so that fits.}  As always, Margery Sharp is just wonderful at drawing characters, and if Louisa has a little less depth, possibly, than some of her others, she's wonderful to spend time with.

And since we love them, here's the vintage cover, found on the Margery Sharp blog...

Champagne Baby:  how one Parisian learned to love wine — and life — the American way,
by Laure Dugas

Ballantine Books, 2016
Source:  borrowed, Minuteman Library Network

Something Light, by Margery Sharp
Kindle edition, Open Road Media, 2016 
Source:  borrowed, Boston Public Library/OverDrive


Lisa said...

I loved Something Light! I had no idea of the story when I started it, but I took to Louisa straight away. The lightness is one of the things that I keep coming back to, with Margery Sharp's books. They aren't fluffy, and things get almost desperate especially for her heroines sometimes, but they generally work out in the end (if not quite how *I* think they should).

JoAnn said...

Coming-of-age memoirs about someone in their 20s generally have me running in the opposite direction, too. Champagne Baby sounds very good though... maybe you're (we're) not as old and crochet as we think! ;-)

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