In Tours

(Not about language, except incidentally. Otherwise, this is a first report from Benita Bendon (Campbell) about Ann Daingerfield (Zwicky). This one comes from 1957; photo here.)

I first met Ann at the dining table on the Mauretania where she terrified me — but everything and everyone terrified me in those days. When we were studying in Tours for six weeks (where the Purest French is spoken), preparing us for the transition to Paris, we became friends while putting on a play. I don’t remember the play very clearly — it may have been La Farce du Maître Patelin. I had been billeted in a Balzacian heap of a glacially cold and crumbling mansion, owned by Madame Cozette. She was the mother of a prosperous City Father highly influential in the Sweet Briar organization. To please Monsieur Cozette, Sweet Briar annually sacrificed a couple of girls on the altar of Madame’s unspeakably dreadful boarding house. No running water beyond a sporadic trickle from one robinet (I was given money for three baths a week at the bains publiques) — and a starvation diet. Ann, on the other hand, lived chez les Bourin — a comfortable and warm-hearted family — dans de bonnes conditions. Madame Bourin was the daughter of a vintner — (“only three thousand or so bottles left in the cave” said Monsieur – in melancholy tones) — and had run a restaurant in previous years. A superb cook who loved to surround herself with as many hungry young folks as possible, she asked Ann if she had any friends to invite to dinner. “Oh, yes please, madame,” said Ann. “J’ai une grande amie qui crève de faim.” “Ah, la pauvre petite,” said Madame Bourin. “Elle doit être logée chez Madame Cozette.” All the host families, it seemed, knew of Madame Cozette’s miserable boarders. And so I was invited to two or three dinners chez Bourin — those three meals sustained me for six weeks.

Madame Bourin was an ailurophile who had at least five cats in residence. I remember a pretty gray one called Grisbi, an affectionate purrer called Musique, and a one-eyed bully named Bébé Chou. So one day after class, I set off into the winding streets of la vieille ville, looking for catnip to take as a gift on my next visit. After many false starts, I did find a wonderful medieval herboristorie run by a stout Dickensian chap in a frock coat who pulled out dozens of jars and boxes until we found “valérienne” — catnip, indeed. When I presented the paper cornet to Madame B. she was mystified but gratified – we trotted out into the back courtyard and sprinkled the herbs on the ground where the cats ignored it. Just ignored it. Hunh. But at a moment somewhat later in the afternoon as we sat in sated, vinified stupor around the groaning board, we heard a symphony of caterwauling from the back yard, where the cats had finally succumbed to the catnip in loud choruses of happiness. Back at William and Mary the following year, Ann wrote a short story about that occasion.

[More to come.]


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