August 9, 2010

Ghostly re-collections

I have relished Robert Harris’ novel, The Ghost, (and the movie that followed) about a man sent out to help a former British Prime Minister to complete his memoirs after the disappearance of the previous ‘ghost’. The ghost’s various adventures include being caught in the vigorous embrace of the former Prime Minister’s wife, a phrase I feel sure he enjoyed creating. (Viewers and readers have all had fun spotting likenesses, too…which the author modestly denies).

I too have been involved in ghostly exercises and re-collections, none of which led to vigorous embraces of any kind (at least none I will disclose here), or publications.

To wit. In 2004 I was invited by an old family friend, let me call her Sabine, to share a summer together and enjoy her ‘life’s recollections’.

“I have decided to impose my presence upon you”.

We stayed at a beach house in Malibu, California. Sabine would greet me in the morning with a giant Bloody Mary, followed by a delicious breakfast during which she re-collected. After supper we sat and admired the sunset over the Pacific and by sunrise Sabine had managed reams of ‘re-collecting’. This continued until September.



Sabine’s life was extraordinary by any yardstick. Short of money when young, her aristocratic background assured her a fine marriage.

“As far as marriage was concerned I had made a grave mistake. When I married, I was in love with another man. I had agreed to marry in order to have somebody with me. Now I did have him with me–all the time. What could be done? I could not just kill him. There were no other women, nor men in his life. I thought, and thought”…

After which, she slipped into the good life like a quail into aspic. Her world had revolved around lunches and dinners at the Connaught, Claridge’s, Mark’s Club and Harry’s Bar, and their counterparts in New York, Paris, and Monte Carlo. She was an exacting diner. Pity the waiter who asked ‘Is everything all right, Madame?’

“There are just no standards today. Society does not vanish for any mysterious reasons; it crumbles because of lack of standards.” She mused and critically surveyed a dining room.

"The love of money is an accursed thing, but our entire civilization derives from a moral concept based on evil. Without original sin, there would be no religion. Because of that, money should be squandered. I judge people according to the way they spend".

"I am, people frequently remark, unconventional". (Glory be.)

"A publisher asks me, some time ago, to write my memoirs. I started writing, but I got bored with myself".

"I think the greatest gift life gave me, is not to love those who do not love me, and a complete lack of jealousy. The only two men I have loved will remember me, on earth and in heaven, for men always remember a woman who has caused them many anxieties".

"I provide contrasts that interest me alone. I am the shyest and the boldest person, the gayest and the saddest. Opposites fascinate me".

"Boring people are poisonous and boredom has a paralyzing effect on me". (Amen)

"I will make a very bad dead person, because once I am disassembled, I will grow restless and think only of returning to earth to start all over". (Ditto)

"Anyway, that is the person I am. I am also the opposite of all that.”

Naturally, I enjoyed her company just as I enjoy all unconventional people, they amuse me more than others. They have wit, tact, a charming disloyalty, a well-bred nonchalance, and an arrogance that is very specific, very caustic, always on the alert; they know how to arrive at the right time, and to leave when necessary.

My friend Charles commented at Sabine’s memorial service; “I loved her very much; she was a great courtesan, four centuries behind her time”.

Alas, the kings have gone, and the courtesans with them.









…“don’t forget, pepper your strawberries”.

I am reading...

  • scribble, scribble, scribble, Simon Schama
  • Julia's Cats, Patricia Barey and Therese Burson
  • London, Edward Rutherfurd
  • I'll Drink to That, Betty Halbreich