Thursday, January 10, 2013

George Sand's "A Winter in Mallorca" - with Chopin

The French writer, her two children and her lover, Frederick Chopin, decamped to Mallorca in November 1838. Chopin, who had a weak chest, thought a warmer climate would do him good. But from the first day in the island's capital, Palma, everything went wrong. "In a country so close to civilised Europe," she wrote, "we found it difficult to understand why we were unable to find a single inn ... In Palma one has to be recommended and introduced some months ahead to 20 of the more important local personages if one does not want to end up sleeping in the open air."

They eventually found two semi-furnished rooms "in a disreputable area where a stranger is lucky if he can find a trestle-bed with a mattress a little softer and little more yielding than a slate, a rush chair and food dominated by peppers and garlic". Sand's A Winter in Mallorca begins tartly, descends into exasperation and ends in acrimony. "As the winter advanced, the gloom froze all my attempts at gaiety and calm ... We felt like prisoners, far from any enlightened help or productive sympathy."

Sand had failed to prepare for two things. The weather in Mallorca in winter can be foul, despite being in southern Europe. A biting north wind, combined with prolonged periods of rain, is common, especially up in the hills. On top of that, Chopin was diagnosed with TB by a doctor in Palma – falsely, according to Sand – and Mallorcans were superstitious about the illness. Sand, Chopin and her children were turfed out of a house they were renting and treated like lepers by the locals.

Eventually, they found sanctuary of a sort in an empty Carthusian monastery in the hill village of Valldemossa. It had divine views down a valley to the sea. Despite her bad temper with all things Mallorcan, Sand was at least appreciative of the beauty before her. "It is one of those views that completely overwhelm one, for it leaves nothing to be desired and nothing to the imagination. All that a poet or a painter might dream of, Nature has created here."

Deià itself is a charming hill town, once home to the writer Robert Graves. He translated and annotated one edition of A Winter in Mallorca and provides a plausible explanation for why Sand took against Mallorca so violently. Apparently her daughter, Solange, resented Chopin's dalliance with her mother. So, when they were lodging in the monastery, she dressed up as a monk and appeared to him as a ghost. Chopin was so disturbed by the apparition that he went to the sacristan and asked for absolution. This was granted, on condition that he stop having sex with Sand. They never slept together again.

source

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