HAMPAGNE WAS IN THE AIR!
(Remark: How many times is she going to talk about champagne? I almost wish she’d go back to talking about driving.)
ON TO BRIGHTER CHAMPAGNE PASTURES
One afternoon a man rang the bell that he had installed and walked through the back garden to our house in Suresnes, France. How did I know it was M Ludovic? Well, I didn’t really. The man before me was dressed in a brown suit, a white dress shirt, and a tie. He explained that his work was finished, and he was off to help his girlfriend who managed a champagne vineyard, including sales, upon the death of her husband. We’ll call her Mme Bernard, not her real name, and neither is M Ludovic his real name, for reasons you will soon see.
Well, we oohed and aahed over M Ludovic’s dashing appearance, and off he went with all of our good wishes, but not before he handed us a brochure for orders of champagne. Along with a handful of neighbors, we ordered, say, 2 bottles of the expensive, 4 bottles of the less expensive, or a case of pink, or 3 cases, one of each, or many variations in between. Free delivery! So delicious! How many invitations we passed back and forth among us, “Come on over for some champagne.”
May I remind you of M Ludovic? He was a contractor who ran his own business, something with three letters, like many businesses in France, which I think shows a lack of imagination, but may be somebody’s initials, or a secret code, for all I know.
One year became two; two years became three. During this time M Ludovic and his men carried out a huge tank from the basement, previously filled with what in French is called fioul, or fuel oil. Apparently, it was a tricky operation. Four minutes of exciting tank removal can be watched here.
Central heating was installed! Now, do not mistake this for modern heating. The pilot light was iffy, and many levers had to be moved this way and that. The instructions (in French naturally) were taped to a nearby pipe.
M Ludovic cheered me on when I sanded floors; he made a me patio as a surprise; he told us that a huge flood at my then husband’s office all came from a clogged drain. There we were bailing out the basement with pots—even the five-year old, only to be told that we could have been spared all this commotion by unclogging a drain just outside the basement door? Rather anti-climactic. But M Ludovic was the calm, pragmatic, friendly voice of reason and competence, usually covered in dust and always wearing his overalls.
Buzzers were installed on both houses, with a tiny camera that made the poor person’s face an exaggerated fun-house version of itself. The second house on the property, fondly called the little house, was a disaster, from pipes having burst and other instances of neglect. Under M Ludovic’s care, it became an orderly Dutch house with a gas fireplace and a large sunroom that looked out towards our house, the big house. By now M Ludovic had become like a distant cousin, his friendly face and stocky build familiar to us and welcome. Remember, he watched the literary program on TV, a true test of a man’s character.
Fast forward a few years, when I no longer lived on the street there in Suresnes. And I thought, I wonder if they still deliver champagne in the Paris region. I called, naturally. First things first, the champagne: No, actually they didn’t deliver any more, Mme Bernard told me. Her son, actually, had taken on the business.
“How is M Ludovic?” I asked.
« Il a mené une double vie. »
He led a double life.
“M Ludovic?” I asked, incredulous.
And then Mme Bernard, the mistress of the small champagne empire, told me the story.
Apparently, M Ludovic spent time in Normandie, which is in the north of France, and home to les plages du d’ébarquement, the landing beaches from WWII. He happened to say, “Don’t surprise me if you are ever up this way, because I would like to have time to prepare to receive you properly.”
Naturally, human beings being what they are, voilà, she arrived at his home unannounced.
Il y avait une deuxième famille.
There was a second family.
My heart just sank on her behalf and on his, for that matter.
Although they had not married, M Ludovic stood, handsomely dressed, in the Confirmation photos with her children and all the other family occasions.
Their last contact consisted of him texting her, Bonne année, Happy New Year, to which she didn’t respond.
I wonder what she did or said upon discovering this second life in Normandie, but I didn’t ask. I was struck that she would confide in me, a person she had never met. To this day I ask, How can that be?
BACK STORY OF THE TRAMPS
Not many of our dear readers have sent me what they imagine might be the previous lives of these vagabonds, but I like to imagine at least one of them was the victim of a double life. There are lots of doubles in the play: the two tramps; then later the master and slave; plus the missing Godot and the boy, his emissary.
The theatre of the absurd is often maligned. People say about it, “Oh, life is meaningless.” But that’s not right. It’s maybe plotless, but that’s different, isn’t it?
Here is some champagne for thought.
Conrad’s short novella, The Secret Sharer, is a quirky story where an isolated captain secretly hides and befriends a sailor accused of murder. The captain feels as if he is looking in a mirror when he beholds this stranger. And he feels as if he were in two places at once. We’re in a liminal state where one mind is in two places at once. Is it madness? Is it a trick of the psyche which recognizes its double? The captain even refers to the sailor as his double. Conrad gives us lots of scenes at sea and at night. Not especially intense on the plot level, (except at the end), but we have gone beyond plot now, right? The descriptions are exquisite and create an atmosphere that’s very rich. We also see that the sailor is almost the captain’s imaginary friend. That way madness lies, perhaps? This is a question that is raised in the text. (My students asked, What is a text, Miss?) Or do we see in the story a double we may each carry in ourselves? Here’s a link to the text, er, novella.