Then he took a breath, tossed the fish into the air, caught it, and said, with a smile, "Inviting Gomes to dinner is something Jean-Paul would do. He says that when people sit down to eat together, civilization and the needs of the belly replace anger with peace. At least for the duration of the meal. And that is progress, yes?"
"Sounds like something Jean-Paul would say." I said.
"Good advice, I think. Now if you'll excuse me, I have soup to start," he said. "Dinner then, chez moi, at seven, yes?"
"Oh dear," I said, feigning horror. "Have I done something to rouse the demons of your anger?"
He laughed. "Decidedly not. We will dine as friends. Seven o'clock then?"
"Yes," I said. "I'm looking forward to it."
On his way out, he said, "If the sky clears, we'll eat on the terrace. The apple tree is in bloom."
With that, it was back to the chore of settling myself in. I shuffled some boxes into the ground-floor room, Marian's former office, that was to be my work room. To spare me, Jean-Paul had so thoroughly purged the space of evidence of Marian's occupancy that there wasn't even a bent paper clip wedged into a corner of a desk drawer for me to discover. Purged of detritus or not, it was still Marian's desk, and that bothered me more than I thought it should. The room itself was a bit of challenge to work with. To begin, it was pie-shaped, a corner cut off the even more irregularly-shaped salon, as the living room is called in France.
The house, very modern and quite interesting, was in the form of a giant scalene triangle; it had no equal sides, no equal angles. Two sides of this wedge, the sides visible from the street, were stark, bunkerlike, made of concrete and stone with narrow slits for windows. But the third side, the longest side, the one that faced the walled backyard, was wood-framed glass from floor to soaring ceiling. The design created a very private enclave, secretive even. I thought the house was a strange choice for the very laid back and open Jean-Paul as I had come to know him. On my first visit, with a bit of self-effacing chagrin, he explained to me that the house was not chosen for its avant-garde architecture, but for its location adjoining the Haras de Jardy, a vast public recreation area. Historically a premier breeding farm for thoroughbred horses, the haras still had an equestrian center where Jean-Paul and his son, Dominic, boarded their horses. Horses were an interest we shared, though mine, left behind in Los Angeles, were rescued nags and his were rather more genteel in both behavior and origin.
At noon I made myself a sandwich out of a length of baguette spread with Camembert, fresh basil, and tomato, carried it into my new office, sat down on the floor and tried to decide how to arrange this oddly shaped space to suit my needs.
Though the house might seem stark and a bit formidable from the outside, the furniture inside was clearly chosen for comfort. Easy, casual comfort. Except for this room which with its heavy silk drapes and dark, oversized office furniture was an odd contrast of ponderous pomposity to the other living spaces. Marian was an accountant who worked for a big international corporation. I thought it unlikely she would have brought clients she wanted to impress into her home. What, then, did this weighty room, Marian's private lair, furnished for her I assumed, say about the woman?
In the end, I decided that it didn't much matter, because Marian was no longer there, and I was. First thing, I took down the heavy drapes to bring in light from the big windows facing the backyard. Did I, or maybe could I, fit in here? Here being not only this house, but this country.
My immersion in France began about a year and a half ago when I discovered that the woman who raised me, Mom, was not my biological mother. I was, instead, the by-product of an affair between my father, a physics professor, and a French graduate student named Isabelle. I was raised in California by my father and his sainted wife and knew nothing of Isabelle's existence until recently. Her death in Los Angeles was the catalyst for all that has followed, including meeting Jean-Paul. Sometimes good things do come from bad.
Since the discovery of my origins, I have been trying to sort out my odd new situation and the people who came with the discovery—my ninety-three-year-old grandmother, a half brother named Freddy, a brace of nephews, an uncle, and a confusing collection of cousins, cousins by marriage, cousins by proximity, godmothers, and so on, and so on—and the way I feel about it all, in the best way I know how. That is, through the lens of a camera.
To that end, a year earlier under contract with an American television network, my film partner, Guido Patrini, and I spent several months filming on my newly discovered family's farm estate in Normandy. Last fall, at home again in California, as we edited the unstructured mass of footage we had shot, I could finally bring some order to my thoughts about the very strange circumstance that brought me back into their midst, and where I fit and did not among them.
But before the edit was finished, on the whim of a new network executive the Normandy project was dropped, and Guido and I were sent off to work on something altogether different. That second film was now set for broadcast, but Guido and I would not be in the States when it aired. Our contract with the network had expired, and we were not invited to negotiate a new one, nor did we pursue one. After a few calls to people with the right connections, and some bargaining, a French television network agreed to pick up the unfinished Normandy film, with us attached.