Thursday, June 25, 2009
Since I was born there and because we talked often about the book we'd write one day, Mom gave me a stack of letters, written primarily by her to her parents while she and Dad (and their first five children) were in France. There are also a few from Marnie to Bet and to Mimi and, I believe, even to Namama (written when Marnie, who was visiting them in France, grieving for her recently deceased husband, General William Waters) An amusing and insightful, might I add, comment about Jim, in a letter from Marnie to Mimi. She writes, "Jim is the clown of the family. He has lost four front teeth since I've been here - and I think he fools with his teeth to loosen them so he can collect!" She also noted that "Jane is in the kitchen baking four (underlined in letter) cakes. She decided a rainy day was a good time for baking." Naturally, my favorite part is "Madeleine is a darling and has such a sweet disposition. I think she will look like Jane when she gets some hair." Disappointingly, that didn't happen. Oh yeah, and there was something in there about "The boys are so cute and very affectionate." No mention of good behavior but, then again, why would there be? In one of the letters from Mom to her mother, Mimi, she writes of returning from Monte Carlo and having to pull over on the narrow, winding road (the one on which Princess Grace was killed although that was yet to happen) to let a car pass and the driver turned to look at them and it was Prince Ranier.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
I'm feeling French today (is it too late to get that dual citizenship?) and, as always, thinking of Mom. This picture of her, on the far right, isn't clear but it's an interesting view of the Louvre in 1957. If my orientation is correct, the glass Pyramid now stands where the trees are in the center of the photo. Interestingly, the wording on the museum website, in the history of the building section, states, "With the Revolution, the Louvre entered a phase of intensive transformation. For three years, Louis XVI lived in the Tuileries palace, alongside the Convention Nationale." No mention that he wasn't exactly a willing resident, no mention of the wife and children who were sharing that grand adventure. But, on the upside, there was a whole section of Marie Antoinette stuff in the Gift Shop. Sadly, nothing taken directly from le Petit Trianon but one can pretend. One of my big regrets is that I didn't get interested in M. A. and French history until after Mom was gone. She loved Marie Antoinette and pretty much all things French. She got teary at the Louvre, talking about her, but I didn't really get it, at the time. Now, learning about Marie Antoinette is one of the ways I hang on to her. It would be so fantastic if we could sit on the phone and discuss Axel Ferson (who wouldn't fall in love with that guy?); was Charlotte Corday a heroine or a psycho?; the allegations Louis Charles made and the psychological pressure put on him to do so; poor Madame Royale; the overbearing letters from Maria Therese; what the heck was wrong with poor Louis; who was the better friend - Princesse de Lamballe or Duchesse de Polignac (definitely voting for de Lamballe); was M. A.'s response to comptesse du Barry appropriate?; what a lousy lot women (even, or is it "especially," royal women?) were given; Louis' less than loyal brothers; scheming duc d'Orleans; could her Austrian family have saved them?; Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson in Paris, Jefferson and Sally Hemmings in Paris; John and Abigail Adams in Paris... the possibilities are endless. Basically, history reduced to gossip. But, it would be fun to discuss. And, she knew so much. Yes, I miss my mother. I had more to learn.
Last night, my friends Karen and Jeff (pictured with Astros player) and I were talking about how the most offhand compliment can be remembered and significant, to the recipient, years and years later. Has that happened to you? Of course it has. So, leave a post and tell us about it. For instance, I was about 15, walking down the empty main hall at First Colonial, and a cheerleader, whose name I've forgotten (but whom Kim will remember... she was blond, her mom drove a bus and she lived in that neighborhood across Lynnhaven Rd. from Eastern Park) said "Hi Madeleine." I know it seems especially needy and pathetic but the fact that this girl knew my name made me feel important and, as a result of her greeting, I make it a point to call students by name . It is important that they be called by their correct name bc it works both ways! Also, Mrs. Kirkpatrick, who was, at the time, a counselor at FC, called me in and said she wanted to know why my grades were so low when I had such a high IQ. Apparently this was before counselors had heard of low self-esteem. I can name several of you who've already heard this story and expressed serious doubts that it ever happened! There's a really good chance I imagined it bc that incident is the sole memory I have of Barbara Kirkpatrick being a counselor at FC! Regardless, the imagined comment has sustained me many a time when I felt stupid. (Most recently when I got lost en route to Karen's house - again- last night, even though she is one of my closest friends and I've been to her house many times. Give me a break. First of all, have you driven in The Woodlands? Every intersection is wooded and looks the same and almost every street name is tree-related. And, there are several ways to get to her house and I've tried them all. And, plus, I was on the phone with Mary at the time. Anyone could've gotten turned around, dammit.) One of my other remembered compliments was when a counselor at at Norfolk Catholic told me I was "perceptive." I've believed it ever since. Although, at the time, in his small office, I got the creepy feeling he was hitting on me. Does it seems like I spent a lot of time with counselors? Not true. Actually, these are only two times I remember talking to a school counselor. Counselors are just especially memorable and influential. Apparently, I'm drawn to them. I work for one now. Of course, this phenomenon works both ways. Hurtful comments can be remembered forever, too. Like the time the classmate at St. Joseph's said, in front of the whole class, the day JFK (before you were born, Karen!) died, that he wished it had been me. It still hurts to this day. Actually, I'm totally kidding. Doesn't hurt a bit. But, I am searching for that little punk on the Internet and I'll deal with him when I find him. JK.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The family name "Fontaine" front and center. Thanks to Michael, for providing the photos and The Tale of the Huguenots, Memoirs of a French Refugee Family, translated and compiled from the original manuscripts of James Fontaine. I'm going to learn about the Huguenots this summer. There's too much to learn and not enough time.
Here is the text of the last letter of the last queen of France. The original, stained with tears, was never delivered, having been intercepted and later found under Robespierre's mattress. We can go see it - in the Louvre, I believe. ~~~~~ 16th October, 4.30 A.M. It is to you, my sister, that I write for the last time. I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for such is only for criminals, but to go and rejoin your brother. Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments. I am calm, as one is when one's conscience reproaches one with nothing. I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister. You who out of love have sacrificed everything to be with us, in what a position do I leave you! I have learned from the proceedings at my trial that my daughter was separated from you. Alas! poor child; I do not venture to write to her; she would not receive my letter. I do not even know whether this will reach you. Do you receive my blessing for both of them. I hope that one day when they are older they may be able to rejoin you, and to enjoy to the full your tender care. Let them both think of the lesson which I have never ceased to impress upon them, that the principles and the exact performance of their duties are the chief foundation of life; and then mutual affection and confidence in one another will constitute its happiness. Let my daughter feel that at her age she ought always to aid her brother by the advice which her greaterexperience and her affection may inspire her to give him. And let my son in his turn render to his sister all the care and all the services which affection can inspire. Let them, in short, both feel that, in whatever positions they may be placed, they will never be truly happy but through their union. Let them follow our example. In our own misfortunes how much comfort has our affection for one another afforded us! And, in times of happiness, we have enjoyed that doubly from being able to share it with a friend; and where can one find friends more tender and more united than in one's own family? Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I repeat emphatically; let him never seek to avenge our deaths.I have to speak to you of one thing which is very painful to my heart, I know how much pain the child must have caused you. Forgive him, my dear sister; think of his age, and how easy it is to make a child say whatever one wishes, especially when he does not understand it. It will come to pass one day, I hope, that he will better feel the value of your kindness and of your tender affection for both of them. It remains to confide to you my last thoughts. I should have wished to write them at the beginning of my trial; but, besides that they did not leave me any means of writing, events have passed so rapidly that I really have not had time.I die in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion, that of my fathers, that in which I was brought up, and which I have always professed. Having no spiritual consolation to look for, not even knowing whether there are still in this place any priests of that religion (and indeed the place where I am would expose them to too much danger if they were to enter it but once), I sincerely implore pardon of God for all the faults which I may have committed during my life. I trust that, in His goodness, He will mercifully accept my last prayers, as well as those which I have for a long time addressed to Him, to receive my soul into His mercy. I beg pardon of all whom I know, and especially of you, my sister, for all the vexations which, without intending it, I may have caused you. I pardon all my enemies the evils that they have done me. I bid farewell to my aunts and to all my brothers and sisters. I had friends. The idea of being forever separated from them and from all their troubles is one of the greatest sorrows that I suffer in dying. Let them at least know that to my latest moment I thought of them.Farewell, my good and tender sister. May this letter reach you. Think always of me; I embrace you with all my heart, as I do my poor dear children. My God, how heart-rending it is to leave them forever! Farewell! farewell! I must now occupy myself with my spiritual duties, as I am not free in my actions. Perhaps they will bring me a priest; but I here protest that I will not say a word to him, but that I will treat him as a total stranger. (Translation by Charles Duke Yonge)
This Vigee Le Brun portrait of Marie Antoinette was in progress when her baby daughter, Sophie, died. After the death, Sophie's likeness was removed from the painting, leaving an unsettling image of her brother Louis-Joseph pointing at the empty cradle. This portrait hangs in Versailles.