17 July 2018
16 July 2018
Rolland's roman-fleuve Jean-Christophe (1904–12) is a kind of meditation on life, more particularly a reconciliation between French and Germans.
Far removed from the musée, the figure of Colas Breugnon appears on a notice board, wonderfully with no explanation, and mercifully no pathetic attempt to explain in weird English who the guy is. (I must also mention that this board is not only but a few paces away from Claude Tillier's bust but also within a stone's throw from the secondhand bookshop 'Libraire du marché', where I bought a copy of Christian Gailly's L'Incident and an excellent copy of Mistral's Mireille all for eight euros. This is wonderful survival in an online age.)
Colas Breugnon is a short novel published in 1919 about a fifty-year-old master carpenter in Clamecy in the early sixteenth century. He undergoes many misfortunes: illness, the death of his wife, his house on fire, then impotence. But his humour doesn't leave him, and he gets wiser. He becomes a philosopher. Rolland was influenced by many writers for this book, such as Villon, Rabelais and Montaigne.
15 July 2018
Charles Loupot was born in Nice (Alpes-Maritimes) in 1892 and died in Arcs-sur-Argens (Var) in 1962 aged seventy. He was one of the first, and, with Cassandre, Jean Carlu and Paul Colin, one of the greatest of the interwar poster artists. Most of his life was spent in Paris, although he had a holiday home in the hamlet of Chevroches, in the Nièvre close to Clamecy, where the Musée d'art et d'histoire Romain Rolland devotes a room to him. He was a student of Fine Arts at the École des Beaux-Arts in Lyon from 1911 to 1913. From the 1930s he had a workshop in Montmartre and created posters for such firms as Au Bon Marché, Austin, Citroën, Cointreau, Coty, Dop, les Galeries Barbès, Monsavon, Nicolas, Ocap, Peugeot, St. Raphaël, Twining, Valentine, Vichy, etc. In 2000 film producer Jacques Tréfouël made the fascinating seventeenth-minute film Charles Loupot ou la naissance de l'affiche moderne, which can be seen at Le musée d'Art et d'Histoire Romain Rolland in Clamecy.
14 July 2018
12 July 2018
11 July 2018
Jules Renard (who was born in Châlons-du-Maine (Mayenne) in 1864 and died in Paris in 1910) was a novelist and playwright. His family moved to Chitry-les-Mines, where his father François Renard was born and later bacame mayor. He was the youngest of the Renard's children, and Poil de carotte (translated as Carrot Top in English) is an autobiographical series of non-chronological stories of his childhood and youth. Some have called this children's literature, but this collection resembles no children's literature that I have known, and I'm sure none that I'll ever know: writing can be deceptively simple, but this is far from it.
Poil de Carotte is called by this name throughout the book because of his red hair, and his parents are formally called Mme and M. Lepic, who live with Poil de Carotte, his brother Félix and sister Ernestine in a rural community. Poil de Carotte's siblings are nothing to shout about, his father is cold to him, but his mother is a sadistic monster depriving him of an outlet to toilet facilities at night, distorting things his says, and acting towards him in a tyrannical fashion.
For me, one of the highlights of the book is when Poil de Carotte is in boarding school and, through jealousy, takes his revenge on the mild homosexual behaviour between the maître d'études Violone (a name surely too close to 'rape' ('viol') for comfort) and the student Marceau: he tells the headtecaher that they are 'doing things', and although he doesn't elaborate on this it leads to the dismissal of Violone in a rather bizarre drama.
Renard's most important book is generally considered as his Journal, in which there are some sexist comments. For instance, in February 1888 he wrote: "A quoi bon tant de science dans une cervelle de femme? Que vous jetiez l'Océan ou un verre d'eau sur le trou d'une aiguille, il n'y passera toujours qu'une goutte d'eau." ('What is the point of so much science in the brain of a woman? If you thew the ocean – or a glass of water – through the eye of a needle, still only a drop of water would get through.') Er, what?
6 July 2018
4 July 2018
Well, it was considered really 'hot', but today I have to admit I found it a huge yawn, and – very rarely for me – found it impossible to finish. It may well be that the atmosphere of Provence (where I was at the time), the heat, the wonderful food and drink prevented me from appreciating a gem of literature. Or perhaps not, so I'll keep an open mind and hold it in reserve for a future date. I note that a number of people managed to get through it, and I don't give up so easily.
Louise initially proves to be indispensible, going out of her way to be a super nanny, not caring about the hours she works, being a super cook, being a true carer.
And then. Cracks begin to appear in the apparent armour of Louise, who performs several odd acts, arousing the suspicions of the husband, but there's nothing concrete.
Somehow, Slimani lets the reader get inside the mind of an insane murderer, makes her seem not quite so insane in her attempt in get wholly inside the world of her employers, makes the reader participate in her pain to some extent, see the way she has been abused, the way she is trying to escape from her inescapable condition, to some extent understand the true nature of the situation. Whatever that is, as we'll of course never know.
So, a very successfully achieved novel, a gripping one, but was this honestly the best French-written novel of 2015? Obviously the women protesting outside the Drouet restaurant had a point about the scarcity of Goncourt-winning women writers, but didn't the fact that the writer is a highly intelligent, highly attractive mixed-race woman play any part in the choice? Of course not, what a stupid thought!
Unlike some regional novels that tend to sentimentalise the past and the people of the past, this is without such sentiment. There are many recollections of activities of the rural past, but they serve more as descriptions of the way life was, and the way people spoke in the area: there is no equivalent of the Kailyard mentality.
Nor is there any romantic interest: the author is interested in learning about the wider world, not in marriage, and her attitude is a very subtly liberated one with no sexual contacts. I enjoyed it.
1 July 2018
We learn that the narrator's father, following an accident, is now suffering with a serious heart complaint, can no longer drink or drive, gets breathless after only going a few steps, and this at the age of only fifty. Taking the sociological angle, Édouard Louis says his masculinist beliefs have condemned him to live in poverty: school being seen as 'effeminate', his father left as soon as he could to take up work in the factory his forefathers had worked in. Although violence (such as that doled out by his paternal grandfather) hasn't been passed on, and the father takes it out on other things.
Louis in one respect turns Sartre on his head: his father's life proves that he isn't what he's done, but what he's not done, because society has prevented him from doing it. But there are still many criticisms (due to societal pressures and problems, of course) of the things his father's said, such as 'Eddy' wanting the DVD Titanic as a present, which his father sees as a 'girls' film'; such as his father refusing to recognise 'Eddy' (a word not actually mentioned in this book) singing in a girls' voice at 'concert'; his father wishes he worked in a mortuary, where at least the dead can't piss him off.
And yet Louis's father, he discovers, had (at least once) dressed in female clothing, had attracted his wife by his dancing, but has shrugged any tramellings of 'femininity' away to become 'a man'. As a result, by moving straight to work from elementary schooling, he has chosen to live like a child for the rest of his life, succumbing to the slightest desires, drinking to excess, staying out all night if the fancy takes him. After her husband spends a huge amount of the housekeeping on a passing fair, his mother realises that she has not married a man but a child.
Towards the end of this novel Édouard Louis gets seriously political and starts making accusations: Jacques Chirac and his health minister Xavier Bertrand cut down on remimbursements for digestive problems, so they destroyed his father's intestines; Nicholas Sarkozy and his 'accomplice' Martin Hirsch replaced the RMI with the RSA, forcing people into work, and Louis' father with a bad back was harrassed into taking up work; under the government of Holland and Vals, helped by work minister Myriam El Khomri, the notorious 'loi travail' forced Louis' father into working more; and of course, under the new very right wing régime, Macron believes 'that the poor are too rich, that the rich aren't rich enough'.
It's fitting that Édouard Louis mentioned Ken Loach's film I, Daniel Blake a few weeks ago on La Grande Librairie, because the Thatcherite and Blairite privatisation horrors that long ago destroyed Britain are now happening in France, although I don't think very many people are like Édouard Louis, with sufficient knowledge to realise what is happening to them under Macron and Philippe. It is tragic, and this is Édouard Louis's best book by far.
28 June 2018
What the above plaque doesn't say is that he assisted in the founding of La Nouvelle Revue française in 1909 with such people as Charles-Louis Philippe, Jean Schlumberger, Marcel Drouin, André Ruyters, Henri Ghéon and André Gide.
Copeau retired to Pernand-Vergelesses near Beaune in 1941, the same year that he wrote Le Théâtre populaire, which would influence Jean Vilar's idea of the theatre. Born in Beaune, he also died there. He is buried in the small cemetery in Pernand-Vergelesses. Today his house there is a 'laboratoire de la création'. Unfortunately we were heading back to England and didn't have time to visit his grave, not even time to view his house closer to, so this distance shot will just have to be enough for the business.
23 June 2018
22 June 2018
This one defeats me at present, although maybe someone will enlighten me. This is a monument to medical 'Docteur F. Barberin' (1854–1920), who is described as helping the poor in Tarascon. The trouble is that I can find no mention of him anywhere. He even appears to have a street named after him – along wih a certain Victor Barberin – but I can find no reference to either of these people. It could be my Googling, I suppose, but all the same...
Folco de Baroncelli Javon (1869–1943), poet and gardian (herdsman) in the Camargue. From an aristocratic Florentine family, he shared his life between the Languedoc, a huge family house in Avignon, and Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, where his passion for the Camargue led him. He followed Frédéric Mistral, and was a Majoral of the Félibrige. He published many bilingual books – in Provençal and French, and eventually moved to Saintes-Maries to become a gardian. He was the friend of many poets, and deeply concerned with the lives of the oppressed, such as Indians and gypsies.
The Marquis de Baroncelli first lived in the mas L'Amarée, which his financial situation forced him to leave. However, the Santois (people of Saintes-Maries) had such respect for him that they helped him construct Le mas de Simbèu, an exact replica of L'Amarée. But during the Second World War the Germans requisitioned and occupied it. Weak with illness, Folco de Baroncelli was thrown out and sought refuge in Avignon, where he died on 15 December 1943. Before leaving, the Nazis blew up Le Mas de Simbèu. In the 1950s a tomb was erected on the exact site of the mas, and in July of the same year his ashes were transferred here.
In the centre of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Musée Baroncelli is closed, although no reason to my knowledge has been given why. A pity.