My Journey to The Maquis
My earliest and most intensive research before embarking upon composing THE DAWN took place from 2005-2008. Those years were very busy for me, home-schooling Dear Daughter through her (our) high school curriculum, assisting Dear Son with his university experience (an alienating time for him as well as for me!), and working with Dear Husband to attempt to rope in the fractious water-users at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, “The Bureau”, the Federal Agency that provided him with not only employment but plenty of worries and conference calls.
During 2007, he was roped into flying to Washington, D.C. to take part in Congressional briefings about the drought that would, as it always does, endure for about 7 years in California. I was thus roped into helping my spouse with travel preps and communication links between my home in California and the city that I’d once upon a time lived in — though never called “home”.
There were several trips in all, starting in 2007 and ending in early 2008. His engineering expertise thereafter got trotted out in various State of California agency hearings — Inquisitions — in Sacramento, and in, to paraphrase my villain in NORTHSTAR, the F-ing Fish Trials at the Federal Courthouse in Fresno. The Trust-Fund-Baby Environmentalists were going to sue their way to Farmer-Extinction, particularly over the fate of the Delta smelt, a tiny fish that looks like the minnow-types routinely fried by Jacques Pepin as delicacies.
By late 2007, water politics in California had become a free-for-all at The Bureau. There were more than enough staff pukes attempting to scale the wall of Senior Executive Service and thus be named as Chief-of-This or Head-of-That. The Under-Secretary to the Assistant Secretary to the Acting Secretary was up for grabs.
I found the entire situation malodorous. In fact, I said it stunk to high heaven. The Farmers were getting “f-ed” on all sides, and they’d been stupid enough to fork over pay-to-play money to all sides who then turned around and did the “f-ing” on all sides of the Farmers. In some ways, they were getting what they deserved.
Dear Husband has always been able to make use of me, or my nose, as a sounding board for arenas he must avoid like the plague. Unbeknownst to me, during his journeys of stress and strain to keep the water pumps flowing amidst Congressional Hearings and Lawsuits, I was becoming primed to inexorably venture into my journey to the Maquis, albeit minus the water pumps and the lawyers. Farm water in Provence is a more a matter of “you take my water, you die.”
During the winter of 2007-2008, I became emotionally torn as to whether or not to fly to D.C. with Dear Husband so that he could engage in what would be his final command performances at Briefings-before-the-Briefing, the Pre-Meetings where lowly paid, technically superior government employees had to discuss with dullard bureaucrats the lawyered and least offensive sound bites to proffer to the Political Class under the Dome in D.C. My sense of indignation grew with each Conference Call that became the farcical equivalent of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. I finally decided to ask Dear Husband to take photos (pre-i-Phone days) and those pix would suffice for helping me to retrieve —- or reclaim — many of those years wherein I survived life in D.C. You might say that the Bureau of Reclamation (most unintentionally) helped me to reclaim my bureau of memory files from the Mecca of dossiers not on file.
The experience was cathartic in many ways. On the phone, I walked with him to the Interior Building as he walked past the places I’d known so well, even the last apartment building in which I’d lived. Don’t ask how many; there were too many to count. Even the most spirited among my many older sisters gave up trying; she told me that she usually had a 3-line entry for each person within the alphabetized letter section of the Phone Directory. For me, she’d been forced to devote the entire Letter D to me, Debra!
Dear Husband visited Quigley’s where I worked as a cashier and was known as The Quigley Queen. And I guided Dear Husband to the Old Ebbitt Grill for a delicious dinner, complete with apple pie and ice cream for dessert. Not that I could ever afford to eat at that place, but I applied for waitress work there, more than once, and never got the job. The interior is the stuff of interior decorating kudos and cuisine and cultural legend.
During that week, I more-or-less lived through the present experiences of Dear Husband to confront the past experiences of Dear Wife when she was a very young woman, single and on-her-own in a town without pity. I do not prefer vicarious to real-first-hand experience, but I was willing to work with it! My escape from D.C. had been a true flight, not on gossamer wings, but on a lug of a plane that I boarded with a one-way ticket, paid for in-cash that was largely accrued from the sale of university school-books.
The Federal Government helicopters flying non-stop over my steam-heat apartment in late 1978 because of the Shah-of-Iran-inspired Hostage Crisis — they formed just about the last straw for me in terms of living in D.C. During the first week of January 1979, I was OUTTA there, for good, because, frankly, life in a metropolitan city, even in the 1970s/1980s was un-livable for the non-rich.
When Dear Husband journeyed to that Disneyland-East on the Potomac, I knew that the city had altered drastically, and for the worse, from the days before the fetid Swamp intruded, from that smelly Tidal Basin, into the stinking hallowed halls of Congress. A part of me knew that I was sorting through those memories for creative reasons, although exactly why is rarely clear to me at the time that the archiving work is going on. My Muse, however, knows exactly where those retrieved memories are going.
And so, I went with the flow of that river, back to the world I’d known, good, bad, beautiful and ugly. I learned with specificity how those places were no longer the places of my past, that reservoir of detailed souvenirs from which I draw fiction. I quite unknowingly, and subconsciously, began to accept the passage of time, of times past, of my time, of my past, from life into . . . art. It is the acceptance of that time, having flowed, that forms, and informs, my art.
Sometime during the spring of 2008, I tenderly placed those photographs in a photo album all their own, thinking those images were part of a personal record of history that I had begun to put behind me. I always work this way, not really realizing that I am compiling psychological and emotional materials from which to create. Those photographs, and that photo album, which had been stored in a favorite bookcase, would be shredded as part of the post-writing purge of 2012. In between late 2007 and that summer of 2012, when THE DAWN was e-published, I had journeyed through the world of the Maquis.
A book written by George Millar, entitled Maquis, became, for me, one enormous building block in my understanding of the world of the French Resistance of World War II. (The Dark Years by Julian Jackson comprised the other massive building block.) This paper-back book was quietly stunning, with anecdotes that I cherish to this day. One story told of the ghastly dinner, greasy and horrid-smelling, that a humble wife in a northeastern province of France fed to the members of the Maquis group that Millar, an Englishman, had joined. His description fairly well matched a dinner I’d had to, in all politesse, eat at a neighbor’s house after my first moving into the Peach House in Newcastle! The woman-of-the-house, la femme, had cooked and served her very best! Trying not to retch the ingested stuff came next!
Another touching tale from this book involves a lemon tree by the side of a road that was the secret meeting place between Millar and a Maquis leader, his point of contact in rural France. The ending of the book signals the end of the war, and, consequently, the ending of their time together. Millar is surprised to find that his bond with this Frenchman had become eternal. To this day, I cannot look at my own Meyer lemon tree and not experience some of my own poignant elegiac moments taking place alongside what the French call « un agrume ».
Somewhere in my heart, or at least in my mind, I owe a debt of dubious thanks to the wretched Bureau of Reclamation, the place that kept us all, especially the Hounds, in dog biscuits. Whenever I hear of the latest Executive Order to keep the pumps flowing in the Central Valley of California, I solemnly and silently recall the heroic work of Dear Husband, an unsung hero who prefers to remain unsung. Not all of his wishes can come true . . .