2006 – A picture, a small story and a poem and from one of the most magical years of my life:
Katherine Mansfield’s shawl— My tenure of the KM Fellowship coincided with the rediscovery of Katherine Mansfield’s silk shawl which had been stored in a cardboard carton in the city’s municipal buildings for more than 70 years. Helen McNeish had located it in the mid-1970’s, but it still didn’t see the light of day until last September when local historians decided to include it in an exhibition of the city’s modest collection of Mansfield memorabilia. The shawl was placed in a glass case at Hôtel d’Adhémar de Lanagnac, an historic building with a small exhibition space. One afternoon, Monsiuer Luc Lanlo, Deputy Mayor of Menton, and mentor to visiting Katherine Mansfield Fellows, phoned and asked me to present myself at the exhibition.
There was the shawl, glowing in the filtered light of the room, and there was Monsieur Lanlo with his camera. First he took some pictures of me beside the glass case. Then, on a sudden impulse, he asked the museum attendant to open the case. Non, she said, non, not possible. But might prevailed – Monsieur Lanlo is also the Minister for Culture for Alpes Maritime. To many protests, the case was opened, and the shawl taken and thrown around my shoulders. The poem is my response to this strange and quite wonderful moment.
This piece first appeared in ‘Backstage’, the newsletter of Downstage Theatre:
Wearing Katherine Mansfield’s shawl
It felt like love at the Hôtel
d’Adhémar the moment you placed
the silk skein around my shoulders,
the dim red and rusty green fabric
its fringe gliding like fingertips
over my arm, a draft of bitter
scent, naturally Katherine’s
illness, Virginia’s sarcasm,
and, yes, a trace of wild gorse
flowers and New Zealand, not
to mention the drift of her skin
and yours during the photograph.