The Misunderstanding


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Opening shutters to let in light, I eventually chose a small room on the top floor with a sweeping view of the countryside as my studio. Unlike Georges, I could never start painting right away. I needed time to feel at home in a new place, time for my roots to take hold in unfamiliar soil. On the first floor was a huge country kitchen with a back door that opened onto steep stone steps leading to the courtyard of the farm. The courtyard was alive with exuberant chickens pecking about, a few closely-knit families of ducks, and a single, self-congratulating turkey.

One morning, soon after we arrived, I stepped into the courtyard and noticed walking alongside me a reddish-brown chicken with a vermillion wattle flapping under its beak.

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The misunderstanding (le malentendu).

Since no one else was around, I struck up a conversation. One sided, perhaps, but she seemed interested. As chickens do, she looked straight ahead, but her eye was watching me from the side of her head. I went on, babbling about this and that. Strangely, she remained at my side, keeping up with me as I strolled around the courtyard. At first I offered no more than fragments of conversation, but gradually our visits lasted longer and longer until by the end of the week, I was telling her everything: the latest news, family gossip, what we were having for dinner, whatever crossed my mind.

Unfailingly, she stayed at my side, eyeing me attentively, nodding her head and flapping her feathers. When I drove off in our camionette to do the marketing in town, I would watch her in the rearview mirror, clucking along the driveway and following me until I had turned out of the driveway and driven out of sight.

On my return, she would be waiting for me at the entrance to the courtyard. She would waddle over to the car like a duck, make a fuss, fluff her feathers and settle down beside me as I unloaded the car. See these raspberry tarts? They smell so good. And these peaches. Do you want a taste? She caught every word and nodded responsively.


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They were convinced I was odd. Georges was working on a powerful new series inspired by the rude, craggy landscape with its arid fields and stunted shrubs.

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Sometimes driving around the countryside, I would come upon hidden farmhouses that seemed cut off from civilization and untouched by changing times. Solemn, old-faced children huddled close to forlorn houses and scurried inside like frightened mice, startled by the unexpected sight of a stranger passing by. How harsh life must have been for these isolated peasants in their struggle to survive with scraps of exhausted farmable land that had been carved up and passed down through centuries by ancestors.

The French often say that people from Auvergne are pessimistic, avare, suspicious of outsiders and cover up their wealth to give the impression they are poorer than they actually are. Warmth and friendliness are not traits generally attributed to the people of Auvergne. We had been in the country for two peaceful and productive months. My chicken remained devoted and never missed a day waiting for me in the courtyard for our morning stroll.

Often in late afternoons, stretched out on the wooden bench under the shimmering, moss-colored leaves of the Linden tree, I would glance down to find her reclining at my feet, her head drawn deep into her auburn feathers, her eyes darting in one direction and then another, as if she were contemplating the world around her. She had a wise and all-knowing air about her, and just having her nearby made me feel at peace.

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Except for these tranquil moments, I was busy marketing, cooking meals, cleaning house, sketching, painting, and had settled contentedly into a daily routine. By now, I had discovered the sharp light and dramatic sunrises and sunsets at Farnier and the surrounding countryside. Vibrant colors reverberated over rocky and unruly landscapes, beguiling me and daring me to put them on paper. Without realizing it, I, too, had been conquered by the savage beauty of Auvergne.

Modern Drama

Moreover, tensions had eased between Georges and me, and we had recaptured the harmony that had eluded us over the past year. Our marriage seemed renewed, and I dared to believe was once again secure. Her name was Pacquita, a simple country girl, not unaware of her charms.


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She was fair-skinned, freckled and surprisingly voluptuous for her age. It was the first time she had been away from her family, and both Georges and I wanted her to feel at ease. We invited her to have meals with us. Little by little, however, I observed that Georges was paying her an inordinate amount of attention.

Increasingly, it occurred to me that I was the one getting up from the table to get bread from the kitchen or clearing the table, as the two of them were engrossed in animated and prolonged conversations. Topics Paperbacks. Reuse this content. Order by newest oldest recommendations.

Show 25 25 50 All. Threads collapsed expanded unthreaded. Then something else must be going on that has nothing to do with modern, naturalistic drama.

The Misunderstanding by Irène Némirovsky – review | Books | The Guardian

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