by Suzanne Trauth
The origin of What Remains of Love is in the South of France…
In 1997, I took a trip to the South of France with five family members to celebrate my mother’s eightieth birthday. The trip was a family present. My mother, who was an artist, had expressed an interest in walking where the “famous French artists had walked.” We set off for Arles, where we stayed in a small hotel and made day trips to towns where painters, such as Van Gogh, Picasso, and Cezanne, had lived and worked. Our travel included Aix-en-Provence, Saint Rémy-de-Provence, and the famous Château de Vauvenargues, where Picasso is buried.
My aunt, who had joined us on the trip, asked if we might stop by a small village on our way to Marseille one night for dinner. An artist, whom she had been corresponding with for over fifty years, lived there, and my aunt was anxious to meet her. My uncle, who had been stationed in Europe during World War II, met the artist at a USO club in Nice when he was on an R&R break and, due to some injury to his hand, was unable to write home to my aunt. The young artist was a volunteer at the USO and obliged my uncle by writing the letter for him. My uncle was also an artist, and I imagine they spoke about their common interest during that brief meeting in 1945. My uncle, of course, was shipped home not long after, but the artist kept up the correspondence with my aunt for the next fifty years. At one point she painted a portrait of my cousin from a photograph, so it was understandable that my aunt would be eager to see her in person after all of those decades.
It was arranged that we would come to the artist’s house outside Marseille one afternoon for a short visit. When we got there, this delightful, charming French woman invited the six of us into her home and offered us something to drink. Coffee, tea, wine etc. We opted for the wine and spent the better part of an hour chatting about this and that, surprisingly easy because the artist’s English was excellent. Then we wandered in her lush, terraced gardens filled with fruit trees and pots of herbs, and took group photos. At one point, my brother-in-law told her that her English was indeed excellent and asked how that came to be.
To this day I will never forget the look on her face which I interpreted as a combination of pleasure at being asked the question and sadness. She paused, looking around our group, and said, “Now that’s a story.” She proceeded to tell us a bit about her life and experiences during WWII while living in Nice, France. Needless to say, my family and I never made it to Marseille for dinner and I asked her that night if I could tell her story. She agreed. We corresponded for five years and I visited her twice more. The result, after a number of fits and starts, revisions and editors, is What Remains of Love.
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