19 July 2018

Boîte à Lire, Épineuil-le-Fleuriel, Cher (18)

This one is called a Cabane à livres, which has a sentence not from Alain-Fournier but from Jules Renard: 'Chacune de nos lectures laisse une graine qui germe' ('Every one of our readings leaves a seed which greminates.') Um. I bagged Pierre Lemaitre's Goncourt-winning Au revoir, là-haut, Claudie Gallay's Les Déferlantes, and, er, Joël Dicker's La Verité sur l'affaire Harry Québert. I say 'er' about Dicker's book as I have my doubts: Bernard Pivot appears to have given it a great review (but what has it left out that Pivot said?), but Yann Moix (for what his opinion is worth) said on ONPC that Dicker's follow-up reads like a YA book. I shall find out what I think in the near future.

Boîte à Lire, Dicy, Nièvre (58)

This boîte à lire (which calls itself La Cabine à Lire de Dicy) is quite the most amazing I've stumbled on: literally hundreds of books piled on top of each other, shelves doubled and tripled up. The thirty-something temperature didn't stop me searching, and I added two books to the shelves but left with six: Christine Arnothy's J'ai quinze et je ne veux pas mourir, Fabrice Humbert's La Fortune de Sila, Jean Anglade's Le Roi des fougères, Lola Lafon's La Petite Communiste qui ne souriait jamais, Jean-Louis Fournier's Où on va, papa ?, and (remembering Étretat) Maurice Leblanc's Les Trois Yeux.

18 July 2018

Le Cimetière de Vézelay, Yonne (89) #6 Dorothy Thum

Dorothy Thum (1910–66) is described as a 'femme de lettres', but I can't find anything at all that she's written!

Nevertheless, from her grave there's a wonderful view of the countryside:

Le Cimetière de Vézelay, Yonne (89) #5: Christian Zevros

Christian Zervos (1889–1970) was of Greek origin and founded the periodical Cahiers d'art in 1926. His Fondation Christian-et-Yvonne-Zervos is based in Fondation Christian-et-Yvonne-Zervos is based in Vézelay and designed to finance the professional projects of artists and architects. 

Le Cimetière de Vézelay, Yonne (89) #4: Rosalie Vetch | Rosalia Ścibor-Rylska

Rosalia Ścibor-Rylska, or Rosalie Vetch, is noted for being the mistress of Paul Claudel, and who inspired the characters Ysé in Partage de midi and Prouhèze in Le Soulier de satin. She was a great inspriation to Claudel, whom she met on a boat going from Marseille to China. Her husband Francis Vetch manipulated both of them.

Le Cimetière de Vézelay, Yonne (89) #3: Maurice Clavel

Maurice Clavel (1920–79) was a writer, journalist and philosopher who died in Asquins in the Yonne, close to Vézelay.

Le Cimetière de Vézelay, Yonne (89) #2: Jules Roy


Now a 'Maison des Illustres', the house of Jules Roy (1907–2000), where it is stated that he retired in 1978, is open to the public at a few particular hours. Unfortunately, none of those hours were suitable for our visit.

Le Cimetière de Vézelay, Yonne (89) #1: Georges Bataille

Georges Bataille was born in Billom (Puy-de Dôme) in 1897 and died in Paris in 1962. He first stayed in Vézelay from March to October 1943, where he moved in with his partner Denise Rollin and her sick four-year-old son. He kept a house there for his former partner Sylvia Bataille and Jacques Lacan, who never moved there.

But Diane de Beauharnais Kotchoubey, sticking a pin in the map, came to stay there for a short time. By chance, Kotchoubey read Bataille's L'Expérience intérieure, which staggered her. But it took Denise Rollin's husband (who came to Vézelay to visit his son) to introduce Kotchoubey to Bataille, and the couple returned to Vézelay between 1945 and 1949 and remained in a couple until Bataille's death.

17 July 2018

Romain Rolland in Brèves, Nièvre (58)

I think this is the first time that I've come across a church plaque directing me to a grave: in this case that of Romain Rolland, who had family roots in Brèves, and to whose grave against the church there are precise directions.


Romain Rolland in Vézelay, Yonne (89)

LE 30 DÉCEMBRE 1944'

Although the plaque doesn't say so, Romain Rolland lived here from 1938 until his death in 1944.

His former home is now essentially an art gallery, called Musée Zervos – Maison Romain-Rolland.

16 July 2018

Claude Tillier in Clamecy, Nièvre (58)

Charles Tillier's bust stands tall in the Place du Grand Marché in Clamecy. It was erected in 1905, with Jules Renard giving a speech. Tillier was born in 1801 in Clamecy in died in Nevers in 1844, and was a pamphleteer and novelist most remembered for his novel Mon oncle Benjamin, which was adapted for the cinema in 1969, directed by Édouard Molinaro and staring Jacques Brel. George Brassens said 'Quiconque n'a pas lu Mon Oncle Benjamin ne peut se dire de mes amis': 'Anyone who hasn't read Mon oncle Benjamin can't be classed among my friends.'  His pamphlets attacked the notable citizens of Nevers, as well as the ruling classes in general. Members of the Resistance hid his bust from the Nazis in 1941 and only returned it after the war. He died of tuberculosis.

15 July 2018

Charles Loupot in Clamecy, Nièvre (58)

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.

Charles Loupot in his student days in Lyon.

I didn't see any signs of who painted Loupot here or in which year.

One of Loupot's posters, this for Sato cigarettes. Of interest is that it's a woman smoker.

Loupot did a great deal of work for St Raphaël.

This road sign, indicating a scenic route, is still used today, although perhaps only in Loupot's area.

14 July 2018

Edme Courot in Clamecy, Nièvre (58)

Romain Rolland's grandfather, Edme Courot (1815–1900, was a solicitor in Clamecy on Rue de l'Hospice, the present Rue Romain Rolland. In 1865 Émile Rolland married Edme's daughter, Marie Courot, and his son-in-law started a solicitor's office adjoining that of his grandfather's at 4 Rue de l'Hospice, which is where Romain Rolland was born in 1866. Edme Courot wrote a substantial book, Annales de Clamecy jusqu'en 1852, and formed the Société Scientifique et Artistique in 1876.

12 July 2018

Record heat wave (canicule), Épernay, Marne (51)

Surely this has to break so many records? 69 degrees centigrade in Épernay today, and that's in the shade, as there was no sun! I took this shot at around 17:45 French time today, and there's no photoshopping been done: this is what the Pharmacie du pressoir, 24 place Auban Moët, Épernay, registered. I looked up this unbelievable temperature, and a casual glance online only made mention of a record temperature in Iran, plus a reference in Australia to the lawn tennis temperature, and in true Australian masculinist fashion referred to a mere 42 degrees as 'testicle stewing'. Of course, boring reality set in, and we realised that the figure must refer to degrees Fahrenheit, but hasn't been changed!

Flodoard de Reims, Épernay, Marne (51)

It's always interesting to come back to Épernay – and this is our third visit so far this year – because it's one of those towns that seem inexhaustible in terms of cultural information. Flodoard, 'Historien 864–966'? According to Wikipédia, Flodoard de Reims was born in Épernay, educated in Reims (where he died), and was a historian, chronicler and poet (all in Latin). One of his noted works is a long poem on Jesus Christ and the saints.

11 July 2018

Jules Renard: Poil de Carotte (1954; repr. 2012)

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

Mirabeau in Pertuis, Vaucluse (84)

This is one I forgot when in Provence. Gabriel Riqueti de Mirabeau, often simply known as Mirabeau (1749–91), was a writer (including erotic wrting), diplomat, journalist and politician who played his part in the French Revolution. Although born in Bignon, Loiret, he came from an aristocratic family in Provence, and studied Law in Aix-en-Provence university. His family lived in the square here in Pertuis, which took Mirabeau's name on his death. His Lettres à Sophie, correspondance with his mistress Sophie de Monner written while imprisoned on Vincennes, are amongst his best known writings. Lamartine was greatly impressed by them, and Albert Thibaudet considered them some of his best work. A similar statue of Mirabeau In Aix has been moved several times, and once the arm pointed to the town hall toilets in Aix. There is also a bust of him in the nearby town of Mirabeau.

4 July 2018

Pauline Réage: Histoire d'O (1954; repr. 2012)

The writer of Histoire d'O was a mystery. Jean Paulan (who wrote this Preface, and was certain that the writer was a woman) was himself suggested as the author, along with Henry de Montherlant, André Malraux and André Pieyre de Mandiargues. Dominique Aury, the secretary of the Nouvelle Revue française, was in fact the author, who 'confessed' to this in 1994 at the age of eighty-six. She described it as a 'love letter' to Jean Paulhan, and the book was at the time considered scandalalous due to its sexual content.

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.

Leïla Slimani: Chanson douce (2016)

This is really a kind of murder mystery, but in which the murderer, and her actions, are known from the beginning. The question is not 'What?' or 'Who?' or 'How?', but 'Why? So Myriam, the mother of two children who has chosen to re-start her professional legal career, decides after many interviews to employ Louise as a nanny.

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!

Monique Chainet: La Folie-Bâton (1984; repr. 2015)

Monique Chainet was in fact born in Le Havre, although this fictionalised novel is set in the Berry area, where she spent a great deal of time with her grandparents, and this – as the back cover mentions – is a homage to them. It covers a number of years, through World War II, to the time she left for the United States to learn there of the death of her grandmother.

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

Édouard Louis: Qui a tué mon père (2018)

After the devastating En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule (2014) and Historie de la violence (2016), Édouard Louis continues his autobiographical (mixed with his sociological, and this time more polictical) writings. In his first novel his father is severely criticised, although in this third autobiographical novel his father is far more humanised, as opposed to his half-brother Vincent. The title of the new book is deliberately ambiguous: Qui a tué mon père ('Who Killed My Father') is without a question mark: this is not a question asked by the author, but a fact.

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

Jacques Copeau in Pernand-Vergelesses, Côte-d'Or (21)

Jacques Copeau (1879–1949), 'Homme de théâtre, metteur en scène, pédagogue, créateur du Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier, il est artisan d'une refondation de l'art dramatique.' That's quite an impressive list of things: essentially a man of the theatre, Jacques Copeau was a producer, teacher, the creator of the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier (see elsewhere on this blog for that), and the architect of a rebirth in the dramatic art. In fact Albert Camus said there are two kinds of theatre: pre-Copeau, and post-Copeau.

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

Robert Laurent-Vibert, Lourmarin, Vaucluse (84)

Rich heir, former industrialist and historian Robert Laurent-Vibert (1884–1925) settled in Lourmarin in 1920, where he acquired its delapidated castle and set about having it restored. Years before, after his studies at the ENS, he visited Rome and, impressed by the Villa Médicis, was inspired enough to think of the existence of a 'Petite Villa Médicis de Provence' which would welcome creative boarders in the summer. In 1923 he willed the Château de Lourmarin and his collections to the Académie des Sciences, Agriculture, Art et Belles Lettres d’Aix-en-Provence. He died in a car crash in 1925, and the Fondation de Lourmarin Robert Laurent-Vibert was created. Laurent-Vibert's publications include Les Affaires et la pensée (1921); Le sophisme de la compétence (1922); Voyages, routiers, pèlerins et corsaires aux Échelles du Levant (1923); L'Orient en mai 1923 (1923); Ce que j'ai vu en Orient : Mésopotamie, Palestine, Syrie, Égypte, Turquie, notes de voyage, 1923-1924 (1924).

22 June 2018

Brémonde de Tarascon, Tarascon, Bouches-du-Rhône (13)

Elisabeth 'Alexandrine' Brémond (1858–98) was a félibresse born in Tarascon, who died in Fontvieille and is better known as Brémonde de Tarascon. She came from an old family of paysans from Provence, published her first work in 1883 and married the poet and lawyer Joseph Gautier in 1886. The back of the monument lists her works: Li Blavet de Mount-Majour (1883), Velo Blanco (1887), Brut de canèu (1892), Lou debanaire flouri (published posthumously in 1908 by Joseph Roumanille), and the unpublished play 'Anen aganta la luno'. The monument was erected in 1965.

F. Barberin, Tarascon, Bouches-du-Rhône (13)

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...