A write-off

France. I find myself at the loosest of ends. I discover that doing nothing is more fun than having nothing to do. It seems rude of me to still be in London, so I go to France again, to Camilla’s beautiful house, amongst the cognac fields of the Charente, for ten days or so, where I can gather my thoughts, read, write and take pictures. Everything I do at the moment feels like someone else is doing it. I feel nervous all the time. There has been no other part of my life that felt like this, not when I was starting college, or moving home. Never.

I wrote off my car on the way down. It could have been so much worse. Twenty minutes out of Calais, the road was damp, I was travelling at 140kph, and I lost concentration for a second. No damage to people, just another small disaster.

I don’t think I’ve ever spent this much time by myself. There are no cafés near Camilla’s house. Just birdsong to keep me company. And Twitter, of course, that other birdsong. The lovely woman in the bakery on my first morning slipped a small pain au chocolate in my bag. I can’t understand a word the pool man says, but put me in a boulangerie and I’m chatting like Laurent.

My things, the stuff not on a ship to Haifa, that is, are strewn over the two long tables in the huge kitchen. One of the jobs I have to do here is pack everything into a large suitcase and a weekend bag. At the moment everything is divided randomly into different carrier bags. It’s like a test on the Generation Game, if you’re old enough to remember that. It’s not just inside my head that’s a mess.

I think the silence has settled me, as has sleeping in a huge, comfortable bed. It would be better if Camilla had been able to come. We could have cooked together, gone shopping, read or chatted, been companionable. I will miss her. I’ll miss it all and everyone, I know it.

At six I close the doors and open the windows to let the flies out. They’re as big and loud as Vespas, and clever enough to find the outside quickly.

I have my last conversation with Moran, my immigration liaison, me in France, her in Finchley. She rattles through stuff. I can’t find a booklet she gave me, which is terrible of me. I should have read it. I should also have decided which medical insurance I’m going to use in Israel. They’ll ask me at Ben Gurion airport in three days. There’s so much to do and I hope someone will nudge me to let me know when I have to do each thing. Moran signs me off.

I end the call with a shabbat shalom and go outside. The mornings have been foggy and cool, but now the mist has cleared, the sky is the colour of a cornflower and it’s growing warmer. I sit at the table, turn my face to the sun. I don’t want to go, I say to myself, in a panic. It is the panic I feel before I do anything, even before going out for a meal. A part of me wants to sit on my sofa and never go anywhere.

I go back to what I was doing before the phone call. I put the Pet Shop Boys on and turn the volume up. I work on some of the photos I’ve taken this week, correcting the balance, the colour and contrast. After a while this pleasant task, repetitive but needing thought, steadies me.

Tonight I’ll pack my bags, more or less for the last time before my move. Tomorrow I drive to Bordeaux in the hire car. I’ll eat a good dinner at that place I found in September, take a drink at that smart bar I like. On Sunday I fly to London. I’ll spend two days saying goodbye to people, including my mother, it may be the last time I ever see her. And on Wednesday I fly to Tel Aviv.

This last, lovely night in Bordeaux feels stolen. I thought I’d said goodbye to this city I love a month ago, yet I’m here again. Leaving France is almost as wrenching as leaving London.

There was dense fog on the way that evaporated when I entered the city. The centre looked at its most beautiful as I emerged from subterranean parking at Les Grands Hommes. The Bordelaise, of course, were wrapped for winter, in woolly hats and scarves, while I trotted around in shirtsleeves. I ate boeuf bourguinon at a place I couldn’t find in September, the tables on the street shaded by old trees. The circus that was setting up a few weeks ago is now open, with a huge Ferris wheel that I take a hundred pictures of.

Tel Aviv is improving, and all the French people who have moved there recently are helping, but, next to Bordeaux, its edges are rough. There are many virtues to Tel Aviv, there are many pleasures to be had, but it will not provide an evening like the one I’m having.

At Bordeaux airport, waiting for my flight back to London, my 82 year old mother calls. When am I coming to see her, because she’s going to the hairdresser on Tuesday morning and a party in the afternoon. I ask if she remembers I’m leaving on Wednesday. She says yes, but she isn’t often invited to parties and she won’t go without her hair being done. She can always find a way to make me feel worse.

Today’s word: levud – alone – לבד

7 thoughts on “A write-off

  1. This is quite a romantic post. You probably didn’t know that there are more French people in Tel Aviv than locals 😄 also “Just birdsong to keep me company. And Twitter, of course, that other birdsong. ” loved this line.


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