Marguerite Duras’ bedroom in Neauphle, France, 1960s

Marguerite Duras' bedroom, summer house in Neauphle

There’s something compelling about this photo of the bedroom of novelist Marguerite Duras in the house she bought in Neauphle, outside Paris, in the 1960s. The thin cot bed is so peculiar, like something she might have grown up with during her impoverished colonial childhood in French Indochina. For someone with such a life-long history of renowned lovers, it’s an austere bedroom. Duras loved to decorate, according to this account of her life and loves: Duras’ Paris “apartment at 5 rue Saint-Benoît was Marguerite’s universe, filled with her family photos, her bunches of dried flowers, her beautiful shining furniture, her broken stove, her shawls draped over the backs of shabby armchairs, loose parquet, the smell of rose petals. She was a talented DIY enthusiast and she entertained several times a week.” An entertaining host as well as a radical agitator is a combination worth aspiring to. This photo’s origin is now forgotten, but it is most likely Nest Magazine. What is that wrapped package under the bed?

Oddly, I own a very similar carpet. I only recently discovered it’s an Ushak (or Oushak) carpet from the Anatolia region of Turkey. Mine is almost as trashed as Marguerite’s is; it’s one of the things I like about it. Apparently these carpets appeared in European paintings of the 1600s (some referred to them as “Holbeins”) and were made continuously until the 20th Century. Mine seems to be from about 1900.

I inherited mine from a great aunt. She actually had a lot in common with Duras, being unconventional, artistic, and more independent than was common in her time. She was Austrian and had escaped Vienna for France when the Nazis became unbearable. My uncle, her son, had been in the underground  in Vienna as a mapmaker. Steffi left her husband in Austria and took her son to Paris. I was never totally clear on how they lost everything to the regime but they were not Jewish and it was always implied it was political; I suspect she wanted her son out of there. In Austria she had been an artist and graphic designer, so in Paris she somehow got a job designing and painting handbags for Dior. There she met and married a Canadian captain who had come to liberate France. After the war they moved to Vancouver.

She and Duras had their similarities.

Orange carpet from my great aunt

Orange carpet - detail

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