Every few years, I pick up my copy of “A Compass Error” by Sybille Bedford (first published in 1968) and read it again for the writer’s evocation of life between the two great wars in the small fishing port St.-Jean-le-Saveur (a fictional version of Sanary near Bandol) on the Côte d’Azur in Provence. Born in Germany, she had an aristocratic father, a wandering German-Jewish mother and an unconventional education. She grew up, essentially in France where she knew Aldous Huxley (and later wrote a fine biography). “Quicksands: A Memoir,” is really the back-story behind her several novels and the time it took to find her writer’s voice.
She was always a great lover of wine and I don’t think many people have explained why better than in these lines from “A Compass Error” regarding her character Flavia’s relationship to wine:
“[She] had loved wine from childhood on. She loved the shapes of bottles, and of course the romantic names and the pictures of the pretty manor houses on the labels, and she loved the link with rivers and hillsides and climates and hot years, and the range of learning and experiment afforded by wine’s infinite variety; but what she loved more than these was the taste -- of peach and earth and honeysuckle and raspberries and spice and cedarwood and pebbles and truffles and tobacco leaf; and the happiness, the quiet ecstasy that spread through heart and limbs and mind.”
-- S. Irene Virbila