Plight of the Middle-Class Artist

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes

This is inspired by a spot inventory of the contents of the small pad of paper I carry in my left hip pocket. I have used them for years now (the first of the current series starts January 27 2002; they have 80 leaves that measure 4.1 x 5.8 inches [the odd dimensions derive from the fact that I effect the use of specific brand of “carnet,” French for notebook: it’s a Rhodia Bloc #13, with a bright orange cover, scored to allow folding the front cover over the binding; each leaf is covered with a grid of ruled squares, five to the inch horizontally and vertically]). I write, usually on only one side of each leaf, and each is perforated, so the pad serves the purpose as well of a repository of any needed scrap notes. I record everything here: bits of conversations, ideas large and small, drafts of essays and stories, shopping lists, to-do items, and, for three years, the names of all the oncology specialists treating my wife, her medications, appointments, etc. At the time of the account that follows, I had just started my tenth of these notebooks. This method has outlasted every system (e.g. Filofax, Day-Runner), gadget (PDA), device (Apple Newton computer), on which I have spent thousands of dollars over a 30 year professional career. The notes from which the following is copied says "Transcribed 2005 February 6." I leave the significance, never mind the meaning, of this, if any, to my future literary executors and scholars. Of which I have no doubt there will be an army.

[There are] chores, monthly house payments, auto maintenance, and the workplace
[the] the classic representation of the artist as monomaniacal with disorderly studio, paint-spattered clothes, unwashed, [eating] makeshift meals, etc.

Just below this entry is the self-stick tracking number ID from the Express Mail pack I sent to Fleet Bank Repetitive Funds Transfer Unit.

This is a typical chore for me. We have to send money, in euros, to our French checking account with the bank that holds the mortgage on our maison de village in Provence, so that our mortgage and mortgage insurance can be automatically paid on the tenth of each month. There are also the usual utility bills, which in France are paid bi-monthly, except for water and sewer, which, as here, are semi-annual.

Woe betide however if you miss a payment, especially if you have arranged, as we have for most of these bills, automatic payment. Miss one payment and the service is cut off. It’s happened with the phone and the water. Once is enough to teach you never to have it happen again. And even an anguished artist will be sufficiently bestirred not to allow this daily need to be interrupted.
Of course, the French are masters at circumventing the system, even in the eventuality of a service cut-off. For example, when I told a French acquaintance about the temporary water shortage chez nous (once we discovered it after a hiatus of several months) he told me that, if needed, he has the special square-headed socket wrench used by the Water Service both to turn on and off your supply (under a cover in the pavement, in our case, in the alley just next to the maison).

Perhaps characteristically, I am somehow more inspired in France, and even in the absence of my usual inspirational mood-altering nostrums, am capable of prodigious amounts of work, including a great deal of the content of bertha magazine. This was true of visits to St.John USVI where, alas, I have no property, but where a very good friend, indeed, resides and where I have been a not quite frequent enough guest. My duties in France are not unlike those at home, as I must still track the course of household expenses and pay the bills. The car is a rental, but needs, perhaps even more than at home, the ministrations that all automobiles require to keep running (or at least a steady eye on its condition and the level of fluids, especially its most precious, the petrol) because the maison is in the middle of nowhere, with about seven or eight kilometers (4½-5 miles) to the nearest gas station. Naturally, it’s open on its own schedule as well.

Further, there are the usual standard responsibilities to assume, preparing every meal not eaten out, with the accompanying kitchen cleanup. The never-ending chores, few and far between it is true, but always, somehow disruptive. There are, as well, the chores that fall into the category of feathering-one’s-nest. These include the delicate task of furnishing and decorating a house from the bare walls—the condition in which we received it from the previous owner.

The latter set of tasks is particularly tricky in France as it is the custom to strip one’s former house as one vacates it of all property, save what is “permanently” attached to the wall, floor, or ceiling. This does not include light fixtures (there were but two, a wall sconce on the third floor, and a storm fixture on the outside wall of the house overlooking the roof terrace enclosing a yellow “insect-repelling” bulb). Even mirrors were stripped from bathroom walls. It was our good fortune to have all the appliances bestowed upon us by the previous owner: an upper-middle-class matron, wife of a successful Marseille lawyer, who was abandoning the house for one they were building closer to the coast and which, presumably, the old appliances did not suit.

It satisfied this would-be artist’s sensibility (and pocketbook) that the left appliances included a Godin range, the cream of the French crop. Our model (with two electric burner, two gas, and an electric grill top, plus two ovens, with built-in rotisserie motors) is a little long in the tooth, though the latest versions of it, little altered in terms of convenience, and in some sense even of design, sells in the United States at “select” outlets for as much as $8,000, depending on the configuration. I’d have to sell a lot of photographs to pay for that.

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