Chere Julie, dear Jules. (Part 21)
Jules Lablagues xx
Ma tres chere Julie,
Thank you so much for your letter. You write in such vivid detail that I can picture your world through your eyes. I feel I know the people you know and would consider myself at home in the places you frequent. Your letters are a joy to receive, a pleasure to read and a treasure to possess.
Today is the saddest day of the year for us. As you are aware, July 14th is Bastille Day and a National day of celebration in France. But not for us, dear Julie; there is nothing for us to celebrate. It is the blackest day in the history of France and we remember it only with anger, frustration and discontent. On this day we do not roll in the morning dew and we sit without eating at a bare kitchen table in remembrance of all the martyrs. We wear black and keep speech to a minimum. My father does not drive to the city and my mother does no shopping. The lack of these daily activities compounds the misery we feel. We do not leave the house and, first thing in the morning, the gardener locks all the doors from the outside. We spend the day incarcerated in sympathy with the innocent people who were wrongfully imprisoned in the Bastille.
At six o' clock in the evening the gardener ceremoniously unlocks all the doors and we all go out onto the lawn where we kiss the ground once for every year that has passed since that infamous day. As it is more than 200 years, it takes some time to complete this tradition and my grandmother may take more than an hour over the task as she keeps forgetting how many she has counted. Eventually we help her and when she is finished my father makes a small speech celebrating our release from false imprisonment and threatening vengeance on the descendents of the perpetrators of the Revolution. Then we eat a meal in praise of our freedom.
It is eleven o' clock in the morning now and I am already very hungry. This evening seems a long time away. I can hear my father pacing up and down the corridor outside his room. It is very difficult for him to go without eating as he usually starts the day with a very substantial meal and, by this time, he would usually be on his way to the directors' dining room or the restaurant for lunch. I know it must be a great temptation for him to know there are cold joints of meat in the refrigerator but his will-power is quite amazing. He refuses to eat but it is not wise to try to speak to him or even pass by him as his mood is black and thunderous. We all avoid him as much as possible.
Yesterday I prepared an array of dishes that need only to be warmed up and presented at table. The larder is quite full with the most delicious selection of cold meats, salads and desserts and, in my mind, I can picture the scene vividly and even savour the aromas. It is very hard for me to think of anything other than food. I envy my sister, Odile, who is able to go for the longest time without eating and show no sign of discomfort. I have known her to live for a week eating no more than a handful of plain boiled rice a day and yet complaining of having over-eaten. I think that right now I would derive much pleasure from a portion of plain boiled rice with a knob of butter in it and maybe a little saffron.
My grandmother, at the empty breakfast table this morning, accused us of trying to starve her to death and said we were trying to get rid of her. We reminded her of the significance of the day and our normal routine. In a rare burst of coherent speech she claimed allegiance with the revolutionaries. It is true that she was born a peasant in a local village but she was brought into the house as a scullery girl at the age of eight and by the time she was twelve had become a trusted chambermaid. At fourteen she married my grandfather, who was much older than her, and so she has hardly known any life outside the Chateau. The only family she knew before she came here died during the outbreak of Venezualan Flu at the beginning of the century. It is scandalous that on this day, of all days, she disowns us and decries our cause.
Thinking of you helps to keep my mind off food and I think about you a lot. I imagine visiting you in Brineham and walking with you to the local fish and chip shop. I remember well visiting a fish and chip shop in Kent when I was a boy and was travelling with my father to Buckinghamshire. A simple portion of battered cod, lightly seasoned with malt vinegar, and a bag of golden chips, wrapped in newpaper and eaten in the street as we strolled along the cobbles of a quaint fishing port. What a memory. I can taste it even now.
It is now twelve o' clock and I must go to the dining room where we will once more sit at a bare table for one hour, avoiding speech whenever possible, musing on what could have been. I feel quite faint with hunger but this just strengthens my understanding of the suffering endured by the martyrs of 1789.
It is now mid-afternoon and my hunger has abated somewhat. I am able to go for several minutes without once thinking of meals I have eaten, feasts I have attended, menus I have prepared or planning imaginary banquets for the very near future.
Lunch, without food, was a very sombre affair but was cut short after 35 minutes when my father started sobbing quietly to himself. I imagined he was picturing the brave martyrs who knew not when their enforced fast would be ended and must have wondered if they had already eaten their last meal. My mother thought differently and accused my father of feeling sorry for himself for having to miss a meal and told him that if he loved her just a tenth as much as he loved his food she would have been a happy woman. My father, obviously, was outraged by this unjustified attack and quietly left the table. We silently agreed to end the non-meal but my grandmother insisted on completing the traditional sixty minutes. She is a very contrary woman.
In just over two hours the gardener will unlock the doors and we will regain our freedom. This day is interminable.
Now I must lay down and rest. I feel a great weakness and my head beomes empty of ideas. Soon this day of suffering will be over and we will be able to lead our normal lives. During all the sorrow I have experienced throughout this day of remembrance it has been good to have the thought of you for sustenance. In your company I would be able to live on thin air but until we meet I must gain nourishment from food.
Please forgive me any embarrassment I might have caused you by writing of love, or even marriage, (how foolish a thought). My only excuse is youthful impetuosity and I will try to curtail this in future correspondence. I will write no more of love but my every moment will be illuminated by the thought of you.
With great brotherly affection,
13 Beach Street
My darling Jules,
Thank you really much for your letter and I really enjoyed reading it. I was really sorry to hear how hungry you was on July 14th. It must have been terrible. I went on a sponsored fast once to raise money for starving people in Africa or somewhere. We all did it except for my dad and he ate much more than usual and said he was making up for all we wasnt eating. He's really a spoilsport sometimes. I managed to go all day until nine in the evening without eating nothing and I was really desperate and thought I was going to faint. Then I stuffed myself with sandwiches while I waited for my mum to make a fry up. It was really good to eat and everything tasted really delicious but I was so hungry by then I could have eaten sprouts what I hates usually. So I knows how you felt. I started my diet again a couple days ago but it is too late to lose any weight before I sees you. Dont worry because I'm not like really fat and gross but I'd look better if I lost a few pounds. I'm still like in the photo I sent you but a little bit bigger but not much.
Keith bumped into Sharon in the street and he saw that she wasnt wearing his ring and he got really ratty and said he wanted it back. She pretended she was really hurt and said she only had it in her pocket because she had been doing some cleaning and didnt want to damage it but she was glad really because she dont want to marry him anyway. He came round later and said she could have it back if she promised to wear it all the time like your supposed to do with an engagement ring but Sharon said that it was too late and now he'd took it back he could keep it and she wouldnt wear it if it was the last ring on earth. Keith said he could find someone to wear it if she didnt. Then they went for fish and chips and when Sharon came back she said they was going to have a trial engagement which is when your engaged but you dont wear no rings or plan for a wedding and then later when your really sure you wants to do it you gives each other rings and wears them all the time. I dont really see the point of that but I think its Sharons way of getting unengaged without hurting Keiths feelings.
When us girls was younger we used to play a game where we pretended we was engaged and we had a ring that came out of a Xmas cracker and we'd take turns wearing it and the other two pretended they was seeing it for the first time and they used to really admire it and say things like whats your fiance like. When it was my turn I'd say that his name was David and he worked in a bank. Then I used to make up things about what he looks like and what kind of clothes he wears and I knew when his birthday was and what kind of things he likes eating and what his parents was like. I said that as soon as he became an assistant manager we was going to get married. Sharon had a pretend fiance called Richard who owned a shop and Kirsty had one called Jonathon who didnt like being called John and had his own business. Sometimes we pretended that our fiances knew each other and used to go out drinking together. We used to play that a lot. We used to dream of having houses next to each other when we was married and we could look after each others children and stuff but that dont look like its going to come true. Now I'm starting to get really sad and I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I'm only 23 but I feels like 53.
Sometimes I thinks that if I was born in another family things would be really different and when I was younger I used to imagine living in a different family where I was an only child and my dad was a bank manager and we lives in a nice house with a garden and a garage. I used to dream of going to boarding school and my friends was called Annabel and Jacinta and I'd visit them in the holidays and they had horses we could ride and we used to go on picnics by the river and we told each other everything. At boarding school we used to have midnight feasts and there was a French teacher called Mamselle. If I had really gone to boarding school I'd have probably learned French and that would be a great help when I meets your family.
Dont get me wrong because I'm not complaining about my family because theyre really nice and I should be grateful. Theres lots got it worse than me but I feels that I might have been a happier person in another family. That makes it look like I dont like my family but I do really and its only that I wasnt very happy when I was growing up because of some of the things that happened to me that I'll tell you about one day but it wasnt just that. Most nights I fell asleep wishing I lived somewhere else and imagining what it would be like to live in a family where they had dinner parties and everyone talks about interesting things and they drinks wine with their meals. Now I'm going to see what that feels like but if they all speaks French then it dont matter how interesting it is I wont know what theyre talking about. It dont matter though because as long as you are sitting beside me I'll have someone to talk to and you can tell me what all the others are talking about. I'm really excited.
You wrote about the fish and chips you got as a boy well I can tell you that you wont get better fish and chips anywhere than in our local chippy. He uses real lard and he's the only one who does that in the whole town. All the others uses vegetable oil or something like that what dont have no smell and no taste neither. He's really handy as well because he's only over in the next street and it only takes two minutes to get there. When the winds blowing towards us you can smell the dripping and we all gets really hungry.
I asked my old history teacher who I sees sometimes about Bastille Day and she told me that it was when the really poor people in France got fed up with being treated like rubbish and being hungry all the time and they took all the land away from the really rich people. She said something about the Queen saying that if the poor people didnt have no bread then they should eat cake. I dont see why if they had cake they was moaning about not having any bread because I'd rather eat cake than bread anyday but it really depends on what kind of cake it was. I dont really understand what it was all about and your going to have to tell me a bit better when we meets.
It wont be long now and I can hardly wait. I'm all fidgety and I walks around in a bit of a daze and I'm not really here if you knows what I means. I cant believe this is happening to me.
I am really really really looking forward to seeing you.
Lots and lots of love,
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