31 May 2018

Champagne mural, Épernay, Marne (51)

Épernay, of course, is in the heart of Champagne country, as shown in the example of this mural near the centre of the town. It is actually an advertisement for Monsard-Baillet Champagne, and was designed in 1994.

Maurice Renard in Épernay, Marne (51)

OK, I sort of cheated here in including the tomb of the Renard family in Épernay, specifically that of Édouard Philippe Renard, who was once mayor of Épernay. But I must say that my interest in Édouard is purely because he happens to be the grandfather of Maurice Renard (1875–1939), born in Chalons-sur-Champagne (then called Chalons-sur-Marne), which is very close to Épernay. Maurice Renard is best known as a writer of science fiction and detective novels, notably for Docteur Lerne (1908) and Les Mains d'Orlac (1920), both of which were filmed. He died in Rochefort-sur-Mer and was buried in the cemetery of Dolus-d'Oléron on l'île d'Oléron: if I'd known of this a few months ago when I spent two weeks in Charente-Maritime I'd have sought out the grave, but this will have to do for now.

Wasted Rock Rangers in Folkestone, Kent

Now, anyone who even considered that Folkestone, Kent, UK, is a dull place deserves a very good talking to. There we were in Folkestone yesterday and suddenly noticed this, er, English Heritage plaque to the 'legendary' Wasted Rock Rangers. 'Who?' I thought, but then I did the Google and discovered (I think) that Wasted Rock Rangers, in a previous incarnation, were known as Hotel Bill and the Incidentals. They also, I should have remembered, released an album called Fuck Christmas. Ah, that Wasted Rock Rangers! For the uninitiated, the plaque reads:

Rock 'n' Roll band
Performed at this venue on 26th April 2013
The first WRR gig to feature
the classsic line-up of
Joe Ranger, Shaun Ranger,
Ken Ranger, River Vegas
& Jim Cassidy'

So now you know.

28 May 2018

Pierre Gascar: Les Bêtes (1953)

Rarely – very rarely  – do I give up on a book, although I had to do this time with Les Bêtes (followed by Le Temps des morts). It won the Goncourt in 1953, and I deliberately sought it out because as a vegetarian and a believer in the equality of many animals to humans I thought that this would prove insightful. Interesting too that Franz-Olivier Giesbart  – who published L'Abbateur in 2003  – should highlight this book, although Giesbert's sympathy for animals stops at winged creatures: Thierry Ardisson's description of Giesbart as a kind of vegetarian is well off the mark because vegetarians eat no meat at all: point final !

Nevertheless, and this isn't in any English sense a novel but a series of short stories, I was initially impressed by the violence inflicted on the horses during the war, by the huge sympathy shown for animals in the depiction of a butcher setting on an apprentice, by the obvious horror of the narrator (and therefore the author) in the suffering of slaughtered animals in the 'abbatoir', but somehow this whole project liquifed into eau de boudin, and I was too bored to continue. But I don't discard any Goncourt winners, and I may return to this and arrive at a different meaning. I hope so.

20 May 2018

Jules Roy: Vézelay ou l'amour fou (1990)

This is a love story to Vézelay, a village of 435 inhabitants (2014) in the Yonne. Jules Roy (1907–2000) spent more than the final twenty years of his life there, and is buried there along with a number of other notable figures: Georges Bataille, Max-Pol Fouchet, Maurice Clavel, Dorothy Thum, and Rosalie Vetch. This is a village reculé, in a cul-de-sac, and it one of the places on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage map.

Roy's concern is with culture, and as might be expected Vézelay is full of it. Roy goes through the village's history, particularly of the Basilique Sainte Marie-Madeleine. He also speaks of the geography and flora surrounding the village, of the many writers associated with it (also Prosper Mérimée, Paul Claudel and Romain Rolland, for instance), the architects Villet-le-Duc and Jean Badovici, etc.

The tourism Vézelay has attracted doesn't seem to impress him though, and he rather sniffily speaks of American tour guides and cars in winter looking like they're fit for the North Pole. Sniffy is also the word to use for his opinion of Jules Renard, whom he describes as being interested in nothing much. Popular culture seems to be anathema to him, and I found this beautifully written book spoiled by Jules Roy's description of Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot as 'princesses of futility'.

16 May 2018

Manfred Flügge: Amer azur : Artistes et écrivains à Sanary (2007)

What can I say about this book? It's Manfred Flügge's first book in French, and it feels so justifiable to be so: Flügge is an expert in certain kinds of French culture, and this book is a tribute to the exiles of any nationality on the Côte d'Azur, especially in Sanary-sur-Mer.

I can't read this book from cover ot cover as it contains so much information about so many people, I have to re-read, go over the multiple stories, treasure them over a time. This is not a book to read in a few hours, or even a few days.

Amer azur begins with the 'patron saint' of exile,  Hermann Heine, who was an exile from Germany whose statue, after many wanderings, ended up in Toulon. It continues with the various 'generations' of visitors to the coast, beginning with the writers such as Huxley, D.H. Lawrence, Sybille Bedford (born in Germany but married by convenience to conceal her birth), then painters such as André Masson and Walter Bondy. And then the mainly German writers such as Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Lion Feuchtwanger, Franz Werfel and Alma Mahler-Werfel, Franz Hessel of Jules et Jim fame, and on and on.

Amer azur: Artistes et écrivains à Sanary is a book to treasure, to read over and over again in order to discover, to understand,  just a part of France's rich literary history. Wonderful.

15 May 2018

Tuxford Lock-up, Nottinghamshire

The Tuxford lock-up, Nottinghamshire, which screams the date it was built, 1823, before county police forces. An elected police constable would do his duty, temporarily locking up paupers and highwaymen, for instance. Navvies (employed on the local railway) were often locked up for drunken behaviour. The central entrance is where the constable stayed, the two areas at the side (compete with metals chains for violent prisoners) reserved for the 'inmates'.

14 May 2018

Elizabeth Penrose in East Markham, Nottinghamshire

East Markham parish church, Nottinghamshire.

One of the south aisle windows, this one dedicated to the author Elizabeth Penrose.

'This window was rebuilt
Ao. Dni. 1885
To the Honour of GOD
and in memory of Eliza Daughter
of Edmund Cartwright. D.D.'

'For many of her earlier years
resident in this Parish,
and afterwards wife
of the Reverend
John Penrose M.A.'

'She was authoress
of Mrs Markham’s History
of England etc
and was buried in
Lincoln Minster in 1837'

Elizabeth Penrose (1780–1837), née Cartwright, wrote under the pseudonym Mrs Markham, after the village where she spent her youth. Her History of England was published in 1865. Among other books, she also wrote A History of Germany from its Invasion by Marius to the year 1850 (1853), and more than one edition of A History of France.

Telephone Box Library, East Markham, Nottinghamshire

The boites à livres in France are many, and I've mentioned a few of them on my blog here. There's even a website devoted to recording where boîtes à lire can be found. In England, though, this one in a redundant telephone box is the only one I've come across: I was interested to note Kerouac's Dharma Bums. OK, I far prefer these days to drive around France than the UK, and I've discovered that there is one of these places in Banbury. Who knows where else? Tardily, I've also found out that Todd Bol has created Little Free Libraries, and that there are thousands of these places around the USA, and probably the entire world. I don't see it as resistance against new technology, far from it: these places are where people can go and maybe meet like-minded people, people interested in or curious about ideas and the world outside their own lives in general: not a reaction against the internet, but more of an extension of their own reality. That can't be bad in any way.

13 May 2018

Elizabeth Glaister in Southwell, Nottinghamshire

Elizabeth Glaister (1840–1892) was born in Sussex and died in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. She wrote several novels: The Markhams of Ollerton: A Tale of the Civil War 1642–1647 (1873), A Constant Woman (1878), The Perfect Path (1884), the triple-decker Bernard and Marcia: A Story of Middle Age (1888) and Two and Two: A Tale of Four (1890). She also wrote a book on needlework and a guide to Southwell Minster. The grave here is near the south door of Southwell Minster.

11 May 2018

Henri Pierre Roché: Jules et Jim (1953)

I've already written below about Henri Pierre Roché's Deux Anglaises et le continent, but this is his prevous (and first of only two) novel. François Truffaut's film of the novel is far better known, and generally considered to be a major work of the French cinema: Serge Rezvani's (or Cyrus Bassiak's) playing of his song 'Le Tourbillon de la vie', sung by Jeanne Moreau, is  perhaps the most memorable moment, although this isn't in the novel.

The novel also has many others scenes, is a constant sexual coming and going of the main characters Jules (a German based on the writer Franz Hessel), his writer friend the author Henri Pierre Roché, and the femme fatale Kathe here is to some extent a representation of Franz's wife Helen Hessel (née Helen Grund).

Kathe sees life as a constant holiday, although she appears to be a kind of manic depressive, obsessed by suicide, ridden by despair: she sees suicide as an irresistible being, a sort of praying mantis (vide the end of Patrice Leconte's film Le Parfum d'Yvonne).

Trauffaut's film has some beautiful moments, but I couldn't find many in the original novel.

10 May 2018

Henri Pierre Roché: Deux Anglaises et le continent | Two English Girls (1956)

Henri Pierre Roché's two published novels – 'Victor' was to be a third but is unfinished – are Deux Anglaises et le continent (1956) (translated as Two English Girls) and Jules et Jim, both of which were turned into films by François Truffaut. They were of very long gestation, and Jules et Jim was published when Roché was seventy-four: both of them are autobiographical, and in this book Claude is based on Roché himself, Muriel on Margaret Hart and Anne her sister Violet Hart.

Like Jules et Jim, the story involves a threesome – here largely over a ten-year period –although in Deux Anglaises (which begins in 1899 and is told in the form of letters and diaries) there are two females instead of two males. Claude is the Frenchman who at first visits the sisters' family, and he decides to ask Muriel to marry him, which she refuses, saying that she'd prefer them to have a brother-sister relationship.

It's actually far more complicated than this, as Muriel is the puritanical, religiously obsessed sibling, and she's very confused about love, fluctuating between loving Claude and not loving him. She sees the Maître-moi of Claude coming to the fore, as opposed to his Vrai-Moi: a simple analysis of the terms would be that Maître-moi is the Freudian superego, Vrai-Moi the id.

Parental guidance decides on a year of the couple not seeing each other, although before the end of this period Claude has decided that he will not marry, although this distresses Muriel, who remains 'faithful'to him, or to her idea of who she is. She also remains faithful to her religion, although she has harboured feelings of guilt about sexual impurity over a number of years: owing to lack of sufficient space one holiday, as an eight-year-old she once spent every night for a week sleeping with a girl of the same age and they had naked cuddles, fondly exploring each others' bodies; and guiltily, Muriel has often masturbated as it helps her to sleep, although she knows that it's, er, harmful.

To cut a long story short, Claude beds both Anne and Muriel, although they both marry someone else, and Claude seems to be left on his own. A novel exploration of the nature of love, whatever that is.

7 May 2018

Marguerite Duras: L'Après-midi de Monsieur Andesmas | The Afternoon of Mr Andesmas (1962)

This is a fascinating experimental novel with an invented surname Andesmas borrowed from the first syllable of the  names of three men who complained that Marguerite published too much: Robert ANtelme, Louis-René DES Forêts, and Dionys MAScolo. No doubt there are a number of other playful things here, and I note that one scholarly article has been written about the significance of the number eight in this and Duras's novel Moderato cantabile. I did notice that the song heard from the village square is Juliette Gréco's 'The Square', which is of course also the name of another of Duras's novels.

This is minimalism, and indeed the novel reminds of something from Beckett, and it would make an interesting (if very undramatic) play. Rich and obese Andesmas, aged seventy-eight and a former businessman, spends the final part of his life creaking in a wicker chair on the platform of a hillside house in the forest: he's bought it for his daughter Valérie and is waiting for the architect Michel Arc to come and give him an estimate for the elaborate terrace he wants Valérie to enjoy. But Arc doesn't arrive on time and Andesmas is very concerned about this, dwelling on the past, present and future, while sounds of a celebration in the village below – in which Arc is enjoying the company of the young Valérie – drift up to him.

The book is largely static in terms of action: a yellow dog, a little put out by a human presence, walks by; a girl the same age as Valérie, who is actually Arc's eldest daughter and has a mental problem,visits Andesmas on two occasions, the first to tell him that her father will be late; and Arc's wife announces that Arc will turn up and stays with him until the novel ends, having a kind of soothing effect on him. There's something about Duras that makes me want to continue reading her work.

6 May 2018

Marguerite Duras: Les Petits Chevaux de Tarquinia | The Little Horses of Tarquinia (1953)

It doesn't matter whose round it is: it's too hot to do or think anything: first person at the bar just order the bitter Camparis, they'll do the job for a short time: forget problems, forget the monotony of life, including the holiday we're on, let's just get numb. In a sense, that's the main thrust of this novel coming immediately after Le Marin de Gibraltar: the emphasis is still on absurdity and futility.

Marguerite Duras is strongly influenced by Elio Vittorini here, the Italian writer whose representation is Ludi, as his wife Ginetta's is Gina. Duras, as usual, had Robert Antelme and Dionys Masolo read the manuscript first, and they both considered it unpublishable, too close to reality and obscene in the light that it casts on the Vittorinis. True to form, Duras had it published in its initial state and even dedicated it to Ginetta and Elio. Interestingly, like Le Marin de Gibraltar, Les Petits Chevaux de Tarquinia only mentions but doesn't introduce its title subject: it's as though the heart is missing, although I won't dwell on missing hearts.

Yes, conversations here are both absurd and futile, although it could be argued that Duras does them really well, even does drunken conversations as well as Patrick Hamilton does drunken conversations. The main interest, though, I reckon, is in how the characters perform in these situations. Gina can't understand why Ludi (and how many games are going on here?) won't accept that people change, and she no longer likes climbing in the mountains; Ludi can't relate to the fact that Gina gives his beloved pâtes alla vongole away to the elderly couple who've lost their son in a landmine disaster. But I digress. Or do I? Isn't digression one of the major themes here, talk filling in non-existent gaps, mindless gabble for the sake of mindless gabble. Or is this the flipside of Le Marin de Gibraltar, where the words 'Je t'aime' (or something much more inconsequential, therefore much more meaningful) would have changed everything? (For how long we don't know, but is that of importance?)

Can Gina escape? She probably doesn't want to, and her outbursts – in tandem with her husband calling her an espèce de connasse in public (and remember this is 1953) – no doubt just represent a damp squib of discontent rather than a real cry of help. Even Sara's dalliance with the man with the boat seems to be just that, so she returns to Jaques, their young son and their insolent maid. Is the insanity of love just the need for exotic sex, a cry for help in the bottomless chaos of life?

Marguerite Duras: Le Marin de Gibraltar | The Sailor from Gibraltar (1952)

What can a person think of Le Marin de Gibraltar? Four hundred and thirty pages of what exactly? Certainly Duras was mulling over love and its triumphs and disasters, probably in its relation to sex, although there's much more in this book than that. In some ways it's a study in absurdity and futility, particularly perhaps in the absurdity and the futility not only of life itself, but in all the institutions that surround a supposedly conventional and, er, respectable existence: this also comes from 1952, which was in so many ways a different country, but Duras's novel seems to come from, or is a precursor to, a kind of anarchist future.

So we have the narrator who travels from Pisa to Florence with his girlfriend of two years, Jacqueline, in a van in which the driver – a builder – can't understand how the narrator can have held down a job in the Public Record Office for a whole eight years, just recording births and deaths: how can anyone live like that? Jacqueline can't hear anything of the conversation, so can't understand why the driver's words have such an impression on the narrator. So she learns nothing of the apparently paradisiacal village of Rocca, and Anna, the rich American temporarily anchored in her yacht in Rocca, is a long way off mentally.

The narrator's experience of Florence is very different from his girlfriend's, as he spends most of his time in one nearby bar – not drinking alcohol like many Duras characters, but mainly coffee and mint drinks – while Jacqueline tours the sights and can't understand what's gotten into her guy.

Until, that is, he takes her to Rocca, where he more or less dumps both her and his job for he knows not what, although the rich American woman soon teaches him why, or does she? She's incidentally only American (and rich, rich, rich) by marriage to a man who killed himself after learning that she chose this sailor guy – who is, incidentally, a killer, but we'll forget about that detail – picked up in Gibraltar. After that, she's led the life of a rich widow, screwing those she's chosen to take on board for as long as she wishes.

This is one long drink after another, piss-up after piss-up until that becomes the norm. She's searching after this sailor, this lost love cardsharp who disappeared in Shanghai. Is he in Sète, as seems to be suggested? But then, is it him, or someone else, does she in fact not want to meet him again, which of course is absurd, but then so is life, and anyway hasn't she in fact discovered her real love in the narrator – who in spite of all the alcohol he takes to forget whatever, or maybe to just keep his mind in gear – seems mentally to be in on the whole shebang? Or is he? Let's carry on cruising.

(On his way back from a car trail in Sète, the narrator stops his car and meets a young kid pushing a younger kid, and having a cigarette he picks up a nettle, which stings him, although he's forgotten that nettles do this. Duras takes this from L'Ortie brisée, a previously unpublished short story only revealed in 1985 in La Douleur, and I'm thinking 'Uh?'.)

Marguerite Duras: La Douleur | The War: A Memoir (1985)

Although first published in 1985, most of this book was probably written around 1944. Duras calls the first part, 'La Douleur', a Journal, and it is certainly written impressionistically, in the form of a diary, with 'Robert L.' used for her husband Robert Antelme, and 'D.' for Dionys Mascolo, her lover at the time and later her second husband. But here she has, as it were, returned to her husband now that he is missing, taken to camps by the Nazis. The account records her anguish and her and her friends' attempts to find him. He is eventually found alive, but only just, and recovery will take some time.

'Monsieur X. dit ici Pierre Rabier' is a detailed account of Duras's dealings with Georges Delval (here fictionalised to 'Pierre Rabier'), who no doubt pretended to know more about the capture of Antelme than is true, and gave the appearance of being a member of the Gestapo but was most probably just an informer whom the Nazis found useful. He may have had a sexual relationship with Duras, but certainly Dionys Mascolo had a child by his 'beautiful' wife Paulette Delval, which Duras died knowing nothing of. Here, 'François Morland' is of course François Mitterand, Duras's friend and Resistance fighter.

'Albert des capitales' is a painful account of the torturing of an informer who is stripped naked and savagely beaten. The beating is led by 'Thérèse', about whom Duras says 'c'est moi'. The truth of this remains unknown.

'L'Ortie brisée' is a fictional, rewritten short story interesting to me in that it doesn't so much present an alternative version of an event, but a recycling of it, as if Duras were throwing out her trash, but retaining any possibly useful elements.