Kate Camp: From Menton
Kate Camp · 01 November 2017
As the 2017 recipient of the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship, Kate Camp travelled to Menton in the south of France in April to spend seven months writing at Villa Isola Bella.
Kate’s latest collection of poems is The Internet of Things (VUP). She will be part of the New Zealand Festival’s Writers & Readers in March.
My day starts with the soft light coming in through the shutters. Most of the time I’ve been here it’s been sleep-with-the-windows-open weather, the best kind. It’s not quiet by New Zealand standards, too many passing sirens and motorbikes revving up the steep street for that, but it’s quiet enough to hear the cool morning sound of pigeons, and the occasional seagull cackling away.
When I first arrived, it seemed like a caricature of France: monumentally old women fingering tomatoes at the market; impossibly small dogs pissing all over the footpath; every second person carrying a baguette.
When I first arrived, [Menton] seemed like a caricature of France: monumentally old women fingering tomatoes at the market; impossibly small dogs pissing all over the footpath; every second person carrying a baguette.
Some of the things I like most about Menton: The way the sea and the sky sometimes get the same pastel colour and there’s no horizon. The Winter-Palace, a stately building overlooking my balcony, with its name in gold lettering and its inexplicable hyphen. The proper summer, so that whatever time of day or night, the air and your skin and the peach you’re eating are all roughly the same temperature.
The bread, of course. Pain quotidian, daily bread. I enjoy my French lessons. My teacher, in her 80s, has lived here all her life. Her Jewish father was interred in World War II but eventually returned. She still lives in the house he came back to, its gardens now in-filled with apartment blocks. It’s okay – Katherine Mansfield complained about how built up Menton was. Probably Augustus did too, when he passed by on the Roman road.
When you walk into the sea on the plum-sized and apple-sized stones, you stagger, like you’re ancient, or drunk, or in terrible pain. You’re not, of course, you’re just a New Zealander who wants to get into the water. Everyone else just lies there, in the sun. Behind them the white letters read CASINO.