Penelope Fitzgerald, and Old Memories of My Mémé from Paris
Penelope Fitzgerald: her image called me in mind sweet memories: an acquaintance from times that are bygones. I was a toddler, and my mother was leaving me during the summers to a family in the outskirts of Paris. What could one remember from that age? Not too much. There were the bunnies, in a small cage. I was trying to pet them. There was a boy maybe five or six years older than me, Jean Pierre by name. He was the son of a neighboring family. There were two girls. Simone was 12, Yvonne (or Yvette) was 18. Of course, some of these details were reminded me much later, by my mother. But I didn't forget ever the old lady of the house, the grandma of the girls, Mme. Thomas. I was calling her Mémé. What I didn't forget of all this were Mémé, the bunnies, vaguely Jean Pierre, vaguely Simone.
When I was three years old, we moved to Romania. All my mother's family was here. I met here my Grandma. I said to her about Mémé. She told me, well, there is a Mémé from Paris, I am Mémé from Bucharest. I called her Mémé for many years. I had in my house a photo of Mémé from Paris, and a photo of me together with all of them.
After many, many years, my mother went to Paris, and met there Yvonne (Yvette), Simone's sister. When I went there, in 1999, I was not able to find her anymore. I had her phone number, I called her, without any success. I tried to find the family on the web. Impossible.
And looking at the old photo of Mémé, I realized once that I knew very little of her. I once asked my mother, she told me that Mémé had been a teacher in her youth. Then she got married and devoted herself to the family and the household.
It's incredibly little information for someone that had such an importance in my first two or three years of life.
Now, looking at the photo of Penelope Fitzgerald, that looks strangely like the photo of Mémé, I'm trying to imagine a biography for her. Penelope Fitzgerald was also a teacher for a while (in a London school with a perfect Italian name), and ran a bookshop for some years, in a town not far from London. Actually anything in her life was extraordinary and wonderful. Beginning with her three uncles and one aunt: one was a theologian and crime writer (wonderful mix, isn't it), a second was a cryptographer, a third was a Bible scholar, the aunt was a novelist. They all are the heroes of one of her books (The Knox Brothers). For a while she lived in a seaside town, in a houseboat that sank twice. She began to write at the age of 58. The Blue Flower seems to be her best book.
Tomorrow I will go the the English Bookshop here in Bucharest to buy two of her novels: The Bookshop and Innocence.
(A Life in Books)
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