11.06.20

Maurice Gee - Memories of Menton

1992 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellow, Maurice Gee, recalls his memories of Menton.

"I'm in the time of fading memories but some things about my time as Mansfield Fellow in Menton stand out clearly. I've written about the difficulties Margareta and I had when we got there: adjusting to the apartment in the Palais Lutetia (not realising just how lucky we were to have it), my protracted fight with the local police to get my carte de sejour (it very nearly made us upsticks and go home), but these things now seem like minor irritations and our six months on the Cote d'Azure exist in a kind of golden haze. How lucky we were. How lucky for my writing it was.

I wrote most of a novel called Crime Story in the little Mansfield room by Garavan station, transporting myself daily back to a cold and murky Wellington, but stepping out after my morning's work into a world of sunshine (mostly), of relaxation, walking, exploring, talking and friendly people. We didn't go to the sea, not even when summer began. The famous beaches of the Riviera remained unexplored. We turned instead to the foothills of the Alpes Maritime at the back of Menton and learned the hiking trails from Mont Agel behind Monaco to Grammondo on the Italian border. We took the local buses to the hill villages that dot the area, climbed to the highest points, saw Menton lying at our feet, the French coast spreading out one way and the Italian the other, and walked down at the end of the day on the wonderfully maintained and marked randonnes. So, climbing, walking, villages, little cafes, Spring weather, and back in Menton people.

Above all there was William Rubinstein, the Fellowship's man in Menton. William was our saviour several times. He got me my carte de sejour (Margareta didn't need one as she had a European passport) by the simple means of phoning the mayor of Menton, who phoned the Chief of Police, and that afternoon the official who had given me so much trouble could barely conceal his anger as he handed me my license to stay in France. The lesson we learned was, if anything goes wrong call William. I know it was the same for other Fellows. Has he ever had the thanks he deserves? There were others, equally friendly and hospitable: Gordon Stewart, Jacqueline Bardolph from Nice University, Jean Franc de Ferriere, and William Waterfield, who welcomed us to lunch in his garden, one of the great gardens of the Riviera we discovered later. And then of course there were the visitors, expected and unexpected, eager to see the room where Katherine Mansfield had worked. The Fellow must be prepared for them. I had to explain that in her day the writing room had been a garden shed and she had lived and worked in the house, which was locked. I never saw inside it.

That's most of what I remember thirty years later - writing, hill walking, friendly people, and a worry-free working time. And I mustn’t forget the free trip to Paris and the four days in the visitors' flat in the New Zealand Embassy. Does that still happen. As I mentioned, things are blurry at the edges, but I/we remember enough to be hugely grateful for the gifts of time, place and friendship we received.

I hope the Menton Fellowship goes on and on for lucky NZ writers."

- Maurice Gee