Louise Bourgeois, Welcoming Hands, Jardins des Tuileries

Friday, 24 September

My birthday is in April, but I got my present late this year. Daughter Georgina and son Christopher, born on the 19th and 15th of September respectively, decided that they wanted to spend theirs together and chez nous. With brother William, plus partners, plus newly minted grand-daughter Mira thrown into the mix, it seemed I was the real beneficiary.

Partly due to Covid, it was the first time since Christmas 2018 (which included stepsons Nick and Alex, plus Maike, Victor and Fanny) that this configuration of our sprawling family had congregated in France, the country of their birth.

Christopher and Kerry, who recently moved from London to Bangor, Northern Ireland (one of those Covid-inspired moves you read about), arrived first. They were eager to see how things were going in the Perche. Touched by their interest, we agreed to a couple of days out there, even if that week the windows on one side of the house were boarded up while the masons deafeningly drilled off the old plaster...

No mufflers for our ears

...and if the other side was under assault by the landscapers with their diggers. It was like having Godzilla right outside our door...

To round out the noise, the carpenters were sawing window sills in the old part of the house.

Kerry, an architect, sketched our neglected boulangerie...

...and will help us figure out what to do with it, though I already know it will not be a pizza oven for rave parties, as William has suggested. Both C and K like to swim and made good use of the pool that I still have trouble believing is ours. We did a tour with Claire of the garden in progress.  

Haven't we talked enough about the garden?

Back in Paris, the others arrived. First Georgina, Amal and Mira from London. Mira met Tasha.

William, sadly sans Margaux, came up from Arles, where he moved a year ago from Paris (another one of those Covid-inspired moves you read about).

And we settled into four days of togetherness. I cooked a lot, doing my best to accommodate ever more diverging diets (vegan to vegetarian to pescatarian to omnivore).

I greedily babysat six-month old Mira so Georgina could work. Last time I saw my grand-child was in June, and though she was more sentient then than the post-partum first encounter in March, she was still a bit of a blob, albeit a smiling one.  

But a blob no more. She is now constantly moving, riveted by everything and everyone around her. On the verge of crawling, she gets up on all fours and rocks, moves one knee forward, before falling back down and rolling to her destination.

There was of course competition for her time. Christopher and Kerry gave her her first French lesson.

Her musical mother was keen to get instruction underway.

And David wanted to introduce her to the streets of Paris.

Les flâneurs

Our pantry sink came in handy after a messy dégustation of my purée de carottes.

As you can see, much of the long weekend revolved around the new member of the family, even if that was not to everyone's liking.

Grandpa Charles will protect me

It's now Saturday morning. I went to bed last night and got up today at 5, still unable to find the thread, any fabric of meaning to our happy family weekend, the every-day's-an-adventure world of my grand-daughter.

A couple of increasingly desperate hours later I set off with Tasha for our Saturday morning jog in the Tuileries and still nothing more than a few amorphous, disjointed thoughts sloshed around in my head.

Running up the ramp on the Jeu de Paume side, I made the detour I always make around Louise Bourgeois' series of bronze hands on granite plinths. I put my own hand on each of them, as I always do, but stopped midway.  

Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), a French sculptor who settled in New York and an artist I much admire, had three sons. Motherhood was an obsessive theme; many of her works depict woman and child still linked by the umbilical cord because, she would say, the cord is never cut, between you and your mother, between you and your children. The hands are joined, superimposed, intermingled, down the generations. For better or for worse: the arms, after all, are stumps, cut off below the elbow, even at the wrist.

When Georgina and Christopher said they wanted to come 'home' for their birthdays, it was expressed with a certain hesitancy. All three of my grown children are perfectly aware that they have moved on to other 'homes', even if they continue to move house. But the stuff of childhood sticks. What they wanted, I think, was a return to the place of memory, the common history that is family. And that now, with Mira, includes handing some of it down to her, the next generation.

As she was leaving, Georgina pronounced this the best birthday ever. I'm inclined to agree.  

Kerry's vegan bit of birthday crumble (photo by Christopher)