May 6, 2007

Monet girls

Late afternoon at the beach. Sun off the water, the light hits you like skipping, shimmering stones, it's blinding. And yet, at the same time, the scene is gauzed, blued, impressionist. Framed are five women on a blanket. Middle age, all beautiful in their way. Facing the ocean in dark glasses and hats, like Captains Courageous, faces like prows, you think of those Marines putting up the flag on Iwo Jima. Five women, some of whom barely know each other, drawn together for a birthday party, all writers but one, the German, she is the most beautiful of all, a woman in her late 40s, a little uneasy in the company of writers (her father was also a Nazi which makes her uneasy around these people) Two of the women are Jewesses. Their families destroyed in the Holocaust. They from Berkeley, intellectuals, writers, high achievers, former hippies, one lives with a partner, the other is married outright, all have lived outrageous lives and share it like matza.

The father of one committed suicide, at 49, when the girl was 19. She was there when he did it. With a gun. And then her brother died. She didn't say, but between the lines you got the sense died from HIV. Another woman's brother died of HIV as well. These five women are all linked in strange ways. Through dead fathers or mothers, or bad men, or the writing life, or depression, or middle-aged women-dreams and wants, and desires. They're talking. You see them only from the knees down. Calves reminiscent of bullfighters. Later, they all dance in the little kitchen, oblivious to the Chinese families sleeping on either side. To soul music because one of them had a long affair with an African American playwright and this was 'their' music.

The most fun they've all had in years, they will say later. But just now, for this moment, before dinner and dancing, with the sun running like new yellow lead onto the horizon, these women, in a scene out of Checkov or DH Lawrence, or I'm thinking of Visconti's Death in Venice, like women in some other slower more cultured century, all facing the sunset, with hats and glasses, perfectly placed to suggest a heroic pose, Washingtonetttes crossing the Delaware. And it's a wonderful representation. A stirring rendition of old times.

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