07.08.20

Mandy Hager's Memories of Menton

2014 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellow, Mandy Hager, recalls her memories of Menton.

"When I look back on my time in Menton, it is as if remembering a dream. Every day when it was warm enough I would pause in my research and wander down to the beach, into the water for a return swim across the bay. I would always stop midway, lie on my back and look up at the beautiful medieval heart of Menton, searing it into my mind’s eye so I can revisit in my imagination at will, filled with the beauty of it. I swam under a supermoon with my daughter, the water velvety black, the crests of waves glowing silver; took a boat out off the coast and communed with two sperm whales and frolicking pods of dolphins; wandered paths in precipitous hill-top villages, including the ‘witch village’ just across the border in Italy, and travelled 14,000 kms, following the scent of a 12th century French nun, walking in her footsteps nine hundred years on. She, and France, will stay with me always; it’s as if the country worked under my skin and I still feel its pull, calling me back.

Yet, although the stay brought with it joyous new experiences, sights, and people, it was not without its difficulties — my lack of French language, my timidity, my realisation of what a homebody I am and how challenging I found it to be so far from family. I had not expected to be so confronted by my past, the daughter of an Austrian Jew who had flee from Hitler, walking streets where the locals once rounded up their Jewish neighbours and handed them over, bullet holes still visible in the sides of buildings, the daily reminder of my father’s refugee plight seen in the tired, worried faces of young men and women who’d braved people smugglers and high seas to play cat and mouse with border police, the overt racism very confronting. This, against the backdrop of such incredible wealth and beauty along the Côte d'Azur, was a sad and disturbing juxtaposition — but one which I’m glad I experienced, bringing me closer to an understanding of my father and challenges he and his family faced. And a closer understanding of myself.

The kindness of the people we met, and their generous support of us, however, sits as a counterbalance in my mind. I’m truly grateful for this life-changing experience and to the people who made it possible. It will stay with me as one of the defining moments of my life."

- Mandy Hager July 2019