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Wystan Curnow


Hotel de la Mediterranee


Henry Hairmattress rose early in Nice and worked all morning, with the light  the same light as every morning  pouring through the windows, other than then when with the wooden shutters shut, apart from a narrow aperture thin strip of beach of blue sea and  fronds of palms and where no sign of human habitation other than the few possessions he had brought with him, here a battered suitcase a bare canvas propped against the wall, there the violin or its empty case lying open upon a chair, at the same time as on the pink floor tiles of the hotel the rococo plasterwork the painted but peeling Italianate ceiling  and reflected off  water below, fluid light flowed.  In his words:  it was fake, absurd,   amazing, delicious. Usually following lunch a second work session brings the black coat-rack back into shot, on the left an armchair with white lace cover on the back, over to the right by  a red table with my suitcase on it, sky and sea blue framed on the backcloth  blue  pomegranates introduced into the highly stylised patterns of the screen onto the rug itself while the pinkish mauve carpet and at least on the canvasses two of the wallpapers the flowers’ effulgent arrangements that were becoming more and more makeshift by the day, by the hour.  Lately languid and sad-eyed models or two in pale summer frocks one lounged then another extra Henry’d enticed off  local lots in a slip at the dressing table  in her filmy tangerine top much as these two girls’ loose scarlet harem pants the lone violin case as cushions heaped on the bedstead one swaggered either side of the others’ inertia as limbs lazily among their own prearranged plaid scenarios and between intermittently  interwoven serial colours and shapes crowding  a single flat-patterned surface contiguous with the canvas itself. This was often followed by a furious bout of violin practice
verging on hysteria sometimes the upshot being banishment to the basement by
management because of complaints from other guests. A  simple supper followed
(vegetable soup, two hard-boiled eggs, salad and a glass of wine) and an early bedtime
most nights he’d be safely tucked up in bed by half-past eight.




Born in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1939, the son of a noted New Zealand poet, Curnow studied English and History at the University of Auckland, and took his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Back in the USA, Cancer Daybook, Castor Bay, and, most recently, Modern Colours.


Copyright ©2006 by Wystan Curnow


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