Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Colette in the Palais Royal

Ok this is all Colette, born Gabrielle Sidonie Colette.
Well, mostly.
First we see her looking from her window.

Now she's feeding stray cats, one of her obsessions, under the arcades of the Palais
Royal which looks like it's outside le Grand Vefour, the restaurant she called her 'canteen'. Now wouldn't you or I like a 3 Michelin starred canteen?

She wrote a book called Paris from my window during the war, I think in 1942.
And I can picture her, behind this window overlooking the Palais Royal, writing in bed which she did daily on blue paper.

My friend Elke and I ate a late dinner at one of the Palais Royal outdoor cafe's still open in late September. From my vantage point over the trees, I could see a bit of Colette's former apartment, the lighted ceiling with carvings, a bit of mural, all lit, voices trailing out of the open windows. Jacques Grange, a leading decorator, at the urging of Colette's step-daughter bought this apartment years ago. I thanked him, the party he must have been hosting, the light illuminating Colette's old world, now of course re-done, Grange has noted in Architectural Digest, twice, for this glimpse.

Had it not been for Colette's first husband, Willy, who locked her in a room to write books he took the credit for, she might have written nothing but letters.
Locking me in a room and disrupting wi-fi I can see but not giving my husband credit. In fact Colette always insisted on her lack of vocation for writing, she saw no difference between a well-written page and a well-made pair of shoes.
I don't know about that but I'm not Colette. Yet it's of sublime importance to have both the incredibly written page and fabulous shoes.

Michele Sarde in her biography of Colette, Free and Unfettered, posits that Colette's life was a journey of liberation, quoting Sartre that genius isn't a gift but rather the way out one invents in desperate situations. Who can't relate to that?

Colette comes alive as a modern woman, a revolutionary, ahead of her time. But who was she? As a child she grew up the second daughter of a provincial family in a Burgundian village, moved to the dance halls of belle epoque Paris managed by the credit-stealer Willy, later a drama critic, journalist, playwright, founder of her own Institut de Beauté with her own make-up line, through three husbands to become the first female member of the Academie Goncourt, a grand officer of the Legion of Honor.

There's a good biography of Colette by Judith Thurman written several years ago. My favorite is Michele Sarde's Colette Free and Unfettered (1980) because it draws on Sarde's relationship with Colette's descendents, those who knew her for research and interviews.
Even better to read Colette's work; Gigi, Cheri the Claudine books and more than a hundred novels, numerous magazine and newspaper articles she wrote in her lifetime, I'd suggest the library.

For me, every so often it's necessary to re-read Paris through my Window, stroll in the Palais Royal under her window, feed the pigeons (the cats run away), eye the shoe shop window in the Palais Royal arcade and then Colette's there at that window. One of the women who was Colette.

Let's let Colette have the last word..."I was unable to conceal from him the jealous discouragement, the excessive hostility that overcame me when I find someone is seeking the living me in the pages of my novels. Allow me the right to conceal myself in those pages, even if only after the fashion of the 'purloined letter.'" Colette

Cara - Tuesday


  1. Collette is one of the best short story writers of any genre. Thanks so much for sharing your spin on her life, loves, and work.

  2. So welcome LM.
    Every so often I re-read her short stories...you're so right!