14.08.20

Dame Fiona Kidman - Memories of Menton

2006 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellow, Dame Fiona Kidman, recalls her memories of Menton.

"What can one say of the Menton experience that has not been written or talked about by so many other Fellows who have gone before and since? The arrival, in our case on the train, to be met by William Rubenstein; the astonished wonder of having the Riviera stretching before us and calling it home; the handing over of the keys to Villa Isola Bella at City Hall; the walk along Chemin Fleuri to the writing room, knowing that we were in the footsteps of Mansfield. All of it was like the best kind of dream, yet all of us who have been Katherine Mansfield Fellows have experienced it in one way or another.

All the same, something happened to me which was exceptional. Luc Lanlo, Deputy Mayor in 2006 when we there, who became another special mentor and friend in Menton, rang one afternoon and asked me to come to the town centre vite vite, as he had something to show me. We met at the small museum at Hôtel Adhémar de Lantagnac ; it’s at 24 rue Saint-Michel, not far from the square. A collection of Katherine Mansfield memorabilia had been uncovered in the basement of City Hall. Among these treasures was a box containing one of Katherine Mansfield’s shawls, left behind the last time she had been to Villa Isola Bella and these were now on display. The shawl was made of light red and dark green silk with a tassled fringe. It had been placed in a glass fronted cabinet on the wall. A docent was in charge of the exhibition, a serious person, clearly devoted to her work of guarding the exhibition’s treasures.

This shawl was what Luc had called me to see. It’s worth mentioning here that he was also the Minister for Culture for Alpes Maritimes, an important post.

Suddenly, he decided that he wanted me to actually hold the shawl. Non Monsieur non the woman in charge cried in an anxious voice. Non non non. Luc grinned at her, and pointed out that he was the Minister. The glass case was opened, I had in my hands the silk shawl. It didn’t stop there. I was to wear it too, and not only that, to walk down the main street with it draped around my shoulders.

And so I did. Did I imagine it, or had Mansfield’s perfume really been captured in the folds of the shawl as it lay in its box? I could have sworn I caught the scent of gorse flowers in the soft and drifting fabric.

The shawl was later displayed in Wellington. I said to the person in charge here that I had worn that shawl. She stood upright and moved as if to protect it. She may have thought me a lunatic. But I remember the sensation of the silk on my skin as clearly as yesterday."

- Dame Fiona Kidman

Dame Fiona Kidman image courtesy Penguin Books
Dame Fiona Kidman image courtesy Penguin Books