Thursday, May 1, 2008

Introducing Rumer Godden -- She would be at home in Mexico

I've finally got "Blogger" up, just as I hear the six in the morning clang clang clang of the bell at the fishing village across the estero. It's taken almost thirty minutes to get through all the "updates" and assorted obstacles (in Spanish and in English, mind you) that impede the booting up process. Rumer Godden never had problems like this. She's my favorite British author and I've been reading her memoirs -- again. The volume I'm reading now, A House With Four Rooms, covers 1945 - 1977. She talks of getting handwritten manuscripts to competent secretaries who type them up on sturdy manual machines, not even electric. Maybe that's what my creative process needs -- less technology.

My mother-in-law Chloe and I shared a passion for Rumer Godden's books. (I can't just use her last name, as her sister Jon also wrote. Jon's books are terrifying, psychologically scary fiction that makes Stephen King look like a bumbling over-obvious oaf. I can't say I love Jon's novels, but they have stayed with me for years after reading them.) Like Chloe, Rumer left the earthly scene before email really caught on. It's hard to imagine either of them using it. Both were more sit-at-a-desk-in-a-morning-room-loved-fountain-pen-in-hand type ladies. I could never miss by giving Chloe pretty stationary for whatever occasion. She used it constantly, and some of my best mementos of her are notes she wrote, to me and to others. My favorite: "I just love Susan, Son. You're right. This is the one." It's been a bookmark of mine for years.

I've been re-making Rumer's acquaintance during these hot in the light, cool at night days as we slow down and come into summer. Do you know her? She died in 1998 at the age of 90, after having written around 60 books, the last published in 1996. Many of them were made into films -- Black Narcissus, The Battle of the Villa Fiorita, In This House of Brede, Greengage Summer, and the classic Jean Renoir-directed The River. Her novels all have a strong sense of place, no matter where the setting. There are many: a Greek Island, a small country French hotel, a monastery in the Himalayas, a villa on Lake Garda, a mews house in the middle of London.

But the ones I've been most entranced with are the ones set in India where she spent so much of her youth and young married life. She writes of hot sun, tiled floors, brilliant flora, dangerous fauna, polluted rivers and sparkling sea, market smells, dust, tropical health hazards, indigenous religious practices. Long quiet afternoons when no one stirs. It could be Mexico. Here. Now.

Because the vacancy signs are out now in gaudy little Guayabitos. There's a suspension of activity that coincides with the retreat of shadows. The beaches are deserted. Doorways are open but empty. Even the pelicans are quiet in midday, standing impervious to the sun on the tiny little sand-islet in the estero behind our house.

The sand bar beyond is still intact and blocks the river's exit to the bay. It will take a raging summer storm -- or man's machine -- to make the breach. PROFEPA, the Mexican equivalent of the EPA, is not eager for this to happen. While the water of the estero looks beautiful, no one in their right mind would venture to swim there. The sewage treatment plant upstream is for all practical purposes, non-functioning. That water -- green, silent, inviting -- is deadly.

But for now the beach and the bay are safe, pollutants held captive by a strip of sand a few meters wide. Early morning, depending on the tide, the fishermen launch from the village, gun their boats and make it almost across. Scraping hull. Scrunchy stop. Shouts, shouts, shouts as all jump out and push, push, push into the salt water waves beyond. Once more the engine revs, the craft escapes. The pelicans, wheeling and squealing encouragement from above, settle once more on the round patch of sand they abandoned in an upward rush moments before. They stand now, circled like awkward feathered sentries caught off guard, shifting webbed foot to foot in the heavy hot air, barely a ripple breaking around them.

The evenings are more animated. White egrets bank around the river curve, skim the surface in flights of three, six, then ten, twenty, thirty, more, settling with great flapping of wings and noisy negotiations in the tree on the large island in the river behind us. We listen to them from the verandah. "You're on my branch! No mine, mine!" Their immense number is doubled by reflection in the water. They'll stay through the night if something doesn't disturb them. Last week at almost midnight, I lay floating on my back in the swimming pool, eyes closed, breathing and listening in the dark. A sudden noise and I looked upwards. Great white stars swirled madly overhead. Had the earth sped its orbit??!! The stars were so stable, stuck like jewels on black velvet when I'd first closed my eyes. No. It was egrets, startled from their perches revolving round and around, upward and outward in great circles, their great white wings reflecting light from the street lamps below. If they were squawking the wind carried their protests above and beyond my hearing. All was eerily silent. Except for .... laughter. Snickers floated across the dark water. Young men. Rocks. I pulled a towel around me and headed back upstairs.

This week we've been lighting candles on the verandah after the sun goes down, turning on the fans, and feasting on the results of a cooking binge I went through last weekend. We've been grazing in good company. Monday it was old friends Victor and Linda (there's a link to her blog on this site) meeting new friends Agnetha and Ezra -- the mother and son who will be renting our house for three months this summer while Larry and I wander around the States. My instincts were right. Victor and Agnetha share the same metaphysical wave length. The rest of us bobbed and drifted in their wake. Tuesday it was new friend Ann and her ex-husband but still good friend Elias, a giant cherub of a man who makes films about his native Mexico. There was also Juan, another film maker who is making a television series about the coast of Nayarit. And Roberto and Eddie, new friends I've known forever, ready to take the summer off and plan for next year's events at Xaltemba. Shades of the last ten years! I'm going to be curating a month of women's history events for them in March! Last night there was talk of movies and art and books. Elias, to his surprise, was a Rumer Godden fan, though he didn't know it. He knew the films. So did Juan. And Roberto had just been introduced through the short book, The River.

But Lucy is gone -- off for a week in Mexico City with her departing-back-to-England friend Selena. Selena looks like a twenty-something Iman, and for the past two and half months she brought a welcome bit of exotic glamour to our neck of the jungle. Half Sri-Lankan, she could easily have stepped out of a Godden novel. Besides that, she was sweet and genuine -- exactly what you'd expect Lucy's best friend to be. Lucy, when she returns, may be moving into the bedroom/study upstairs on the roof. We are, after all, her "official" address in Mexico. It will be nice to have her close -- watching the birds, swinging in the hammock, gazing at the stars. I'll bet she knows who Rumer Godden is. If not, I'll introduce her.

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