The Unquiet Grave

I love the absolute clarity of this description by Cyril Connolly of life (or at least his life) in the Med in the late 30s:

‘Early morning on the Mediterranean: bright air resinous with Aleppo pine, water spraying over the gleaming tarmac of the Route Nationale and darkly reflecting the spring-summer green of the planes; swifts wheeling round the oleander, waiters unpiling the wicker chairs and scrubbing the cafe tables; armfuls of carnation on the flower-stall, pyramids of lemon and aubergine, rascasses on the fishmonger’s slab goggling among the wine-dark urchins; smell of brioches from the bakers, sound of reed curtains jingling in the barber shop, clang of the tin kiosk opening for Le Petit Var. Our rope-soles warm up on the cobbles by the harbour where the Jean d’Agreve prepares for a trip to the Islands and the Annamese boy scrubs her brass. Now cooks from many yachts step ashore with their market-baskets, one-eyed cats scrounge among the fish-heads, while the hot sun refracts the dancing sea-glitter on the cafe awning, until the sea becomes a green gin-fizz of stillness in whose depth a quiver of sprats charges and counter-charges in the pleasure of fishes.Dead leaves, coffee grounds, grenadine, tabac Maryland, mental expectation, – perfumes of the Nord-Sud; autumn arrival at Pigalle or the sortie from Notre-Dame-des-Champs into the lights of Montparnasse where the chestnuts, glowing red by the Metro entrance live in a warmer climate than their fellows… Our memories are card-indexes consulted and then returned in disorder by authorities whom we do not control.Back-streets of Cannes; tuberoses in the window, the book-shop over the railway bridge which we comb for memoirs and detective stories while the cushions of the car deflate in the afternoon sun. Petit Marseillais. Eclaireur de Nice: head-lines about the Spanish war soaked in sun-bathing oil, torn maps, the wet bathing-dress wrapped in a towel, – and now we bring home memoirs, detective stories, tuberoses, round the dangerous corner of the Rue d’Antibes and along the road by the milky evening sea.’–

Palinurus, The Unquiet Grave – 1944

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