A few weeks ago, I ventured back to Biarritz. If you've read MISS D & ME: Life with the Invincible Bette Davis, you will know the significance of the location. Like a setting in one of her films, Miss D and I stayed at the Hotel du Palais in 1985 to write This 'n That. Not only did we finish her book - she undertook some needed healing after the publication of her daughter's book.
Now, nearly 30 years later, I went back to the very place we sat and wrote and healed together. The concierge remembered me and told me that the staff still tell stories of Miss D staying at the hotel, her swimming in the pool, how she had this appearance of being larger than life. The hotel has undergone some modern changes, but her spirit is still there - as it is everywhere. She was and is larger than life. We used to sit outside to write in the beautiful ocean air. When work was done we would drink wine spritzers and talk. Talking is always what we did best - talking about life and about living it.
So, I went back to the Hotel du Palais. I ordered a wine spritzer. And I toasted our newest book. I always feel her around me - but in that moment, I could hear her saying, "We made it, Kath. Well done."
Cheers, Miss D. We did make it.
The below is an excerpt from MISS D & ME: Life with the Invincible Bette Davis, available for purchase here.
Hotel du Palais, 1985.
Her battle to recover after the stroke had been fueled by pride, a test of her will, and she had not been defeated. This time the enemy was attacking her heart directly and she was weakened by the stroke.
As angry as she had made me when she arrived, alone in my room I desperately wanted to help her. I had experienced betrayal by a lover, but never by a child. Her daughter's treason was being played out for the whole world to see. With all the skills I had acquired over the years to help her with the difficulties life presented, this time I was fresh out of ideas.
When I rose the next morning I decided to try a new tack to pull her up from the darkness. She was a Yankee, New England born and bred, who had always found those who wallowed in their defeats distasteful. "The cure for any ailment is hard work," she'd often told me. I needed to resurrect that Yankee. I would be efficient, decisive, and make plans for the day to rekindle her habit of looking to the future and moving swiftly to set each crisis behind her. When I entered her room and moved the curtains open, she no longer seemed angry with me. I was not angry with her either, so the silence between us had a different quality. I knew it was best to leave her alone. I retired to my suite to review the galleys of her book, ready to try again the next day.
On the morning of the second day, I saw a glimmer of Miss D returning when she agreed we would have lunch on the terrace. With a wine spritzer in one hand and her cigarette in the other, she took a short step back to the living. She was suddenly somewhat chatty.
"Kath, look at this gorgeous view of the ocean. Do you know Napoleon III built this hotel for his stunning wife, Eugenie? This was their villa. A love nest. Beware of a woman's wiles. Look at Wallis Simpson. Yes, and she and King Edward lived in Biarritz for a while after he resigned the throne and was exiled from England. They even came to this hotel. If the villa could talk, what stories lay inside the Palais."
She ate well and after lunch agreed to take a walk. We stood on the balcony that swept around the back of the hotel, facing the sea. She turned her face up to take in the sun and pulled in deep breaths of the sea air. Seeing her this way gave me hope that I was not the only one trying to breathe life into her, that my prayers for her strength to return might have been heard.
'Kath, look at that table," she said, pointing to a place where the curve of the balcony jutted out the furthest to the sea. "That's where we should work on the book tomorrow."
The Yankee was back.