Princess Sara

I am an avid reader and there is no way I can stay away from a bookstore. Even now.

Ever since I started to suffer from Wet MD, bad enough to bar me from reading most paper books, I have used intensively the Amazon Kindle - the first one and then the Kindle touch... Then I started using the iPad 2 because it is so comfortable and it hosts so many nice apps like Kindle, iBooks, Kobo and now Play Books... all there in one spot.

The catalogs are huge. It is really interesting for me to read the latest books or essays either in English or French. And it is fascinating to rediscover very old books, classics that I would have the hardest time to find in a bookstore...

The other night, I was going through the Kobo catalog, my latest app. I usually start browsing through the free ebooks.

And there it was, right from my past, one of my beloved books when I was very young and even later on. One of those books offered by Magnard’s publishing house after completing one of those “cahiers de vacances” I already wrote about.

A book I still have on my bookshelves in Brussels... but in French of course.

I wonder how many of you have read “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett? She wrote the book in 1905. It still was a classic book in the 1950s, even in France. Are girls still reading it nowadays?

©Google Images

I loved Sara Crewe. The “Little Princess” was so perfect but the kind of perfect that could be so lovable... No continuous moralizing there... More like a fairy tale since a lot of fairy tales can be quite sad... and most of them don't even have a happy ending.

At the time, we were still living in Normandy. As I’ve mentioned it so many times, our family life was very dysfunctional. We could have had a nice normal life but due to events I don’t even want to write about, we were raised in a very violent environment and we were very poor indeed.

Being poor was not really a problem. I had a very vivid imagination and this was one of the reasons why Sara Crewe became my instant heroine and stayed close to my heart for such a long time.

I won’t tell you the whole story. But just in case you’ve never read the book and don't feel like reading it after all, there is a nice summary in Wikipedia... 

One click and “A Little Princess” was mine again on my iPad - and in English, this time and free of charge. This time no “cahier de vacances” either!

I settled down on the couch and started reading. I was a little bit worried because I really had a bad experience with Prince Valiant, two years ago along with rather serious books and novels that I used to love when growing up - French, etc. classical literature and ended up deleting from my iPad... with a sigh!

But all in all, “A Little Princess” was well written, delightfully old-fashioned and lovely. Very lovely... even so many years later.

And suddenly, there it was... the name “Princess Sara”!!! Something that I had buried for so long in my memory...

Now I knew why I had chosen this name for the kitten my friend gave me in 1997 because she had a broken leg and was supposed to be put to sleep since she no longer was of marketable quality.

She was a pure breed blue eyed Birman Orange Point. So pretty. One look at her and I fell in love with her. We all did except our cat Byerly, at least for a few days.

Then I had to choose her name. Since she was a pure breed kitten, my friend was insisting on giving her the right name starting with N, that year.

But when her blue eyes came to rest on me with so much trust and love,  I could only think about one name and only one - Sara, Princess Sara.

I was totally adamant that her name had to be Sara and nothing else. My friend who was a vet at the time was a little bit upset. She gave in though after telling me that I was being completely childish - not a compliment when you realize that I was very close to turning 50... Actually we both gave in, sort of.

Sara became Sara except that her official name was N’Sara!

We never called her N’Sara of course. She became Sara and most of the time, she was “Princess Sara”, being so beautiful and priceless and lovely.

She died a few years ago and we still miss her. She was so unique, one very small and fluffy bundle of love.

During all those years, I had always been wondering why this name “Princess Sara”... I even tried to find a Biblical meaning to it. Of course, “Sara” is a hebrew name and means “Princess”  but then why would I make it so redundant... “Princess Princess”?

There it was... at last... in my childhood beloved book by Frances Hodgson Burnett - “A Little Princess” - the story of “Princess Sara”. Well, notwithstanding the fact that Burnett's Sara's eyes are green and her hair is dark and curly. Memory is a tricky friend after all!

Crazy, isn’t it?

A name coming up from childhood. A name long forgotten. A name that had such an influence on me that when I was given this kitten to love, there was no other name more priceless than “Sara”.

Let me share a few pictures of my “Princesse Sara” with you. While I was sorting them last night, I realized that they really did not do her justice mainly because they are silent. She used to be so talkative and a mere glance from one of us would send her into a frenzy of purring.

She was not at all adventurous and a little bit featherbrained but she was always there whenever you needed her affection and a friendly lick from a very rosy and rough tongue as if to say: “Don’t worry, I am here and I love you so much.”

The way she was when we got her - with her splint... So enduring.

In love with Byerly... She was a winner.

Our turn came as soon as she was finished with her grooming.
She hated being outside...

except with Byerly around...
She did know that "Blue" was her color!
One of her last pictures... Matted hair.  Blind blue eyes. But still so lovely.

Byerly was a grand cat but Sara was pure love and so outstandingly beautiful.

Well, she was Sara, our “Princess Sara.”

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


"Mending Wall"

Some days are wonderful, filled with fun with friends, days at sea, dolphins... Others start well and end poorly... Others start very poorly and end up quite well... That’s what life is all about, isn’t it?

This story will be long and filled with 'rambling' before getting to the point of mending-my-wall. I do have a very complicated and dysfunctional life... Imagine, not being able to grab a phone and have a calm conversation about an old wall! Because this is all about mending a wall, after all!

My mother and I undoubtedly do not get along. Actually it’s been years since we have stopped communicating. My sister tells me how our mother is doing but she keeps 'mum' (funny word) about me though.

How did that happen? Well, she’s always been a very difficult woman. Very nice to “outsiders” and quite toxic for her children. It is a long and complicated story which I am not sure I want to share.

Let's say that it’s still taking me an awful amount of time with my shrink to get over the fact that one day, while I was more or less dying, more than less by the way, my mother denied me the right to survive or to die peacefully. One phone call and I almost gave up.

I am still alive though because I am tougher than I thought but I no longer communicate with my mother... Huge wall erected there. Period.

Last Thursday I got a frantic phone call from my sister. It was all about my garden in Arfons.

 When my brother died in 1991, I inherited the family garden in Arfons. He had bought it from our mother a few years before because he wanted to have a house built there. (But he never got a chance to achieve his dream.)

By then our parents had moved down to Saissac after selling my Bonne-Maman’s home.

I was lucky enough to buy the other half of the  garden from my great-aunt Aline in order to re-create the garden of old times which Bon-Papa Mathieu had surrounded with a dry stone wall to protect the raspberry and the red currant bushes and the bay-trees from the village cattle. It is older than one whole century. The wall, that is! And it is the only genuine one left in the village, as far as I know.

It’s been fixed over and over... but I have to admit that last year, during my birthday trip,  I was shocked when I went to pay a visit to my garden. One part of the wall was sorely crumbling away due to neglect, ever since my mother and I quit communicating.

So last week, my sister called me. She had heard that the neighbour from one side of the wall was threatening to have it pulled down once and for all.

He had gotten in touch with our mother who had agreed with him. This wall had to be pulled down. Too bad for our Bonne-Maman’s fruit bushes which would be destroyed in the process.

Hello, people!
Legally, it is a big “no” unless I get certified mail from the man who wants to pull the wall down mainly to enlarge his own garden on the sly. First of all to tell me the wall is crumbling. Then to ask me to fix it, etc. And then I have to agree through certified mail.

Hello, people again!
Who is the rightful owner there? Someone obviously forgot I own the title deeds to the garden even if I let my mother pick my Bonne-Maman’s raspberries and red currant to make jam, summer after summer. Which always seemed a sensible thing to do...

This someone may have decided she had to hurt me again... She knows that we have always cared about the garden and its walls...

She also knows how much I love this garden which is the only roots I’ve left in my village.

Last year, we evaluated the damage but we were dumb enough not to go ahead and try to find a stone mason. Actually we were in a hurry and we were planning on coming back this summer.

So there I am. One call from my sister. A threat on my garden of Eden. What could I do? I could not and would not call my mother because I knew that it would be impossible to have a sensible conversation with her.

Popeye suggested I’d call the “town” clerk in Arfons since I didn’t even  know my neighbor’s name... Then I’d get in touch with the man and I’d tell him that I would have the wall fixed as soon as possible, hoping he’d understand he had no other choice left.

It took me a few hours to get all the information I needed to call, mainly because I went through every page making mention of the village... I had not been far from the truth when I wrote about the slow death of my village.

I found a couple of phone numbers and got the list of the town council! Surprise, surprise. I knew 90 per cent of the names, one of them being my brother’s ex-fiancée. Most of them, including the mayor, had grown up with me... Friends I talked about in one of my posts!

I started feeling better.

The town clerk was a very nice young woman. She had the hardest time comprehending I really was from Arfons... until I mentioned that I may have been a very old friend of the mayor. She then asked me to call back next afternoon since “Monsieur le Maire” would be at “la Mairie”.

I was very nervous when it was time to call “Monsieur le Maire”... It had been well over 35 years since we had met. But never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.

“Allô? This is Ms Olive calling again.”
“Just a sec. I’ll put you through.”
“Good afternoon, Monsieur le Maire... or may I call you ‘Alain’ for old times sake?”
And there was such a hearty laugh on the other end of the line.
“Kitty!” (Well, yes, dear readers, this was my delicious nickname until I grew up and became Olive Oyl.)

“I knew it had to be you. When my secretary told me that a lady had called about the ‘Jardin de Lespinasse’, I was hoping it’d be you. How are you?”
And we were old friends again as if so many years had not gone by.

We had a long talk about our lives, of course but also about the village and the people there. It really was amazing.

He said that my mother had asked him to tell the neighbor he could run my wall down.

“There is no extra love between the two of you, is there?” I was so grateful he never added: “What a shame.” And then I realized that there had never been this much love nor understanding while I was growing up either. He had a better memory than mine.

We ended up exchanging our mobile phone numbers because - “I do not want you to disappear for another forty years.
Can you come over in September when you get back from Brittany? Let me know when and we’ll throw a big welcome-back-party for you. Promise!”

Wow, wow and wow!

I had called Monsieur le Maire in the throes of a big crisis and when I hang up, I was overjoyed!

I would be going back to “my family” where I knew Popeye would fit perfectly...

Actually Popeye and I, we spent the evening talking about Arfons and what we could do to help the village come alive again.

We were brimming with ideas! Some were really stupid and rather wild. Others can be very interesting. We’ll come up with a plan before the end of September when we’ll go take care of the wall and mingle with my old friends.

You see, when we arrived in Brittany, in the 1980s, lots of villages had reached the stage where they were dying. I am not talking about the sea resorts. I am talking about small rural places not very different from Arfons and most of them without all the plus factors Arfons can offer.
All those villages have survived, rather well, I'd say. Bretons did have a lot of resourcefulness. 

Forty years ago, Arfons used to be a very touristy spot. All we need is some good ideas and good will too! And there are quite a few young retired people who sound very resourceful over there and who are bent on fighting this slow death I talked about! (Hard to go back to your village some forty years later!)

All this about mending a wall and some very bad mother/daughter relationships.

“Mending Wall” is an allusion to Robert Frost’s poem which I have always loved. “Good fences make good neighbours,” says his neighbour while the poet tries to convince him that they do not need to fix a wall between pine trees and an apple orchard...

“... here there are no cows. 

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know 

What I was walling in or walling out, 

And to whom I was like to give offence...
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours."

Well, there are no cows left around my garden but this is my great-grandfather’s wall... Hard choice I know.


*Good Luck, and Good Night*


My Travel Book - CHAUSEY - Part Two - Playing with Dolphins

What were we all thinking about while we were leaving Chausey around 7:00 p.m.? Well, the day had truly been one of those enchanting times hard to forget... in a lifetime! In a lifetime of boating, that is.

Chausey was still very close but we were intent on getting back as fast as possible. Evenings can get really nippy in Brittany, especially at sea.

We turned around to get one last look at the island. Something really strange was going on about 500 meters away. The sea looked like some sorcerer’s cauldron... It really was churning over there while it was so calm where we were.

Dolphins,” Walter cried out. “Dolphins! So many of them! Unbelievable!”

We had two choices. We could keep going straight back to Saint-Cast or we could turn slightly around back to Chausey towards the cauldron.

Popeye is basically coming from old country stock just like me, after all but don’t tell him... He chose to keep heading for Saint-Cast.

Luckily for all of us, Walter was on board. “You know, you should change course and head for the dolphins. They are going to love it. You’ll see!”

Popeye payed heed to the only real sailor on board. He headed for the dolphins. We could feel he was worried though but he did it anyway. It took us a few minutes to get there.

The boiling sea turned into a good one hundred dolphins who were obviously fishing.

As soon as we got close to them, about half of them decided that something interesting was about to happen in what had probably been a boring fishing day!

A boat big enough to offer them a very nice wake to play with. A boat with friendly humans aboard. A boat!

Come on, you guys, let’s have some fun!

On board, we were mesmerized... at first. Then we started moving around too, trying to follow them from starboard to port and back and back again.

Popeye was the only one to keep cool because he was the pilot and so worried one of them would get hit by the propellers...

“Don’t worry,” said Walter. “Don’t worry. They are very bright and besides your propellers are far below the boat and reversed. So don’t worry!”

Dolphin-friendly propellers!

It didn’t take long for the dolphins to grasp where the propellers were because they came very close to the boat and started swimming below it too. 
Some even squashing up against the boat side in order to travel effortless remora like! Others even came to rest their heads on the stern which is quite flat and close to the sea surface... grinning all the while.

I know that they were not grinning at all because that’s the way they look. When it gets to dolphins, anthropomorphism is very strong!

So yes, dolphins do grin.

And they speak, sort of. I would rather say that they were sort of singing while swimming along. The sounds were very strange, anyway and I am pretty sure we did not make them up.

It had been a lot of fun being around the seals in the afternoon but our encounter with the dolphins was totally different.

We were in the middle of nowhere, the only boat around and we were surrounded by tens of wonderful, beautiful, prodigious aquatic animals who were willingly sharing a few moments of their life with us. They wanted to be close to us. They wanted to have fun with us.

Some of them were so close that we could have petted them. They were this friendly.

And they were having fun, so much fun and asking for some more all the time. We did play with them and they played with us.

I don’t know why but they were so magical that we felt like we were sort of regressing, from adulthood to childhood and it was so enjoyable. Actually, we had no idea we were regressing. We were children. We were delighted children right in the middle of an incredible dream. And we did not want to wake up.

I have a few memories about running around all over the deck along with Walter and Sophia while trying to check on the dolphins who were playing remoras with our boat... I remember looking at one another with so blissfully happy faces...

There were no words to express our feelings. There was no time to express them all the while the dolphins were playing around. It was all about “Carpe Diem” - “Seize the Day”!

Popeye was delighted but rather unruffled.

You see, he had to deal with a boat which was going quite fast in order to offer a good wake to the dolphins. 
He had to deal with dolphins and it was hard for him to grasp that they were a lot brighter than humans, especially wakeboarders - No offence... 
Above all he had to deal with crazy kids running around all over the boat!

Then came the moment when the dolphins started to opt out... They probably needed to go back to their fishing... They left us almost reluctantly. But they left.

We were exhausted.

They were the ones who had swam at such an amazing speed. They were the ones who had jumped all over the wake, over and over, below the boat and back on the wake.

We were exhausted... We had been on such an emotional high that now that we were back to reality i.e. getting back to Saint-Cast, almost two hours away, we were very close to tears. We were going back to adulthood by then so we did not cry! But we did feel very emotional.

Popeye looked at his watch. “Do you guys realize that we have been playing for almost two hours with the dolphins?”

Walter started laughing. “Do you remember what I said when we left Chausey?”

“What else can we dream of?” Three voices answered loud and clear.
Such a perfect day. 
Probably one of the most enjoyable days at sea in our life if not the most perfect day at sea ever.

All pictures ©The Storyteller 2012

*Good Luck, and Good Night*


My Travel Book - CHAUSEY - Part One - Birds, Old Sailing Ships and Seals

©Daniel Denis

When you are lucky enough to buy a boat, a brand new boat, a boat that will fulfill your wildest dreams (I am getting Popeyish there, I know), you end up feeling quite elated - once the payment has been carefully thought over, that is!!!

Many months go by before the day finally comes when your boat is launched and there it is... time to put out to sea.

Let’s quit rambling and get to the point.

It is probably quite frustrating for someone who sells boats and loves them and can’t afford to buy one (yet) to check the launching of a brand new boat and never get to have fun at sea on it!

We like Walter*. We’ve known him for quite a while, ever since he sold us our very old second-hand boat, Altariel, a few years ago. He’s a bright and very nice young man, always smiling, helpful and very efficient.

We talked about it and we invited him and his wife to join us for one whole day at sea... as soon as the weather would be nice... April and May were cold and rainy. We did put out to sea almost every week-end though... Popeye couldn’t stand the idea of having a brand new boat and leaving it tied to the pontoon!

And then a miracle happened - On May 26, the shipping forecast turned out to be very nice, indeed!

On May 27, around 10:00 a.m., the four of us met at the harbor. We were quite overjoyed. I had fixed some lunch because we’d really be spending one whole day at sea.

We had set our mind on Chausey because Walter had been there many times while delivering boats to customers.

Chausey is about one hour and a half away from Saint-Cast. There is one rather small main island where a few people live all year long and then a cluster of smallish islands, some of them mere rocks... 365 of them all in all!

It is very close to Granville in Normandy and it is the only French island among other very famous British Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernesey, etc.)

When the weather is nice, people come up from Granville in Normandy and the Chausey Sound is filled with boats... Quite amazing... Rows and rows of boats all tied together. Such a lack of privacy...

Had we been on our own, I think we would have turned around and left Chausey forever but we had an extraordinary tour guide on board!

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I know quite a few isolated places around here. Let’s go!”

We moved around from one islet to another one until we found the right place! We were less than a quarter of a mile from The Sound and yet we were totally cut off from the rest of the world.

We cast anchor. The sun was shining. The sky was so incredibly blue after so many weeks of rain and fog. It was even warm enough to worry about getting sunburns.

The meal was delicious, of course because while eating and drinking champagne to celebrate, we were watching all kinds of sea birds, sea-gulls, shags, terns, gannets which were flying over our heads, floating around the boat and being quite noisy on a nearby islet... while the tide was ebbing and new islets and golden beaches were rising out. It really was an incredible place.

A fantastic old sailing ship appeared on the horizon. What a beauty. She sailed very close to our spot. 

And then another one sailed by, even more beautiful than the first one. At the very moment she was gliding along behind a small island a mere 100 meters from us, Sophia*, Walter’s wife, said very quietly: “I think there is a sea cow over there.”

She was right. A sea cow was resting on her back on a rock quite close from us! The sea was ebbing and the rock was getting higher and higher until it emerged as an islet... and we spotted two sea calves very intent on having fun at their mother’s expense!

We got really excited... It is one thing having a good laugh from the boat and another to get closer to the fun spot! The seals seemed perfectly at ease... Popeye and Walter put the dinghy at sea and off they went... the three of them because I was supposed to keep watch over our boat!!! Never ever leave a boat alone, said Walter. Except that leaving me on the boat was pretty much like leaving the boat on its own...

Well, anyway... the dinghy is small and Walter promised he would come back to take me around too!

So I stayed put... I was watching them getting close the seals who were obviously enjoying having new friends around...

Seal pictures by courtesy of Popeye!
Meanwhile I was getting rid of some old popcorn, the best bait ever to have fun with seagulls!

They eventually did come back and it was my turn... By then, the mother had decided to go fishing and I only got to see the calves. They were so beautiful and so much fun that I kind of forgot to take pictures... But that is totally allright. Sometimes happy memories are much better than pictures...

It was getting late and it was time to go back home... amidst a completely different and enchanting scenery which is such a distinctive feature of Chausey - its landscape variations from tide to tide... which obviously some people don't know anything about!

Oh what a day!

“You were so good to us today. I am so happy that in return, we offered you such a summery weather, beautiful old sailing ships, lots of birds, a wonderful scenery and seals. What else could we dream of?” Walter sighed contentedly with a twinkle in his eyes.

Yes. He was so right. What else could we ask for? Such a perfect day!

*The names have been changed.

Copyright ©The Storyteller 2012

*Good Luck, and Good Night*