31 July 2018

Joël Dicker: La Vérité sur l'Affaire Harry Quebert | The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair (2010)

Joël Dicker's second novel La Vérité sur L'Affaire Harry Quebert (translated quite literally as The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair) reminds me (merely thematically) a great deal of Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, and not a little of Nabokov's Lolita. But then, this 855-page novel is also a detective story, a mystery, whodunnit, a love story, and a kind of hymn in praise of writing. On the back cover of the poche edition, Bernard Pivot says that you're hooked by the twists, red herrings and coups de théâtre as soon as you stick your nose inside it. It also scooped le Prix Goncourt des lycéens for 2012. So, is it so brilliant, worth ploughing through all those pages for?

I had serious doubts, so have avoided the book until it fell into my hands free of charge. Indisputably, this book is written with dollars in mind: OK, France has a long love story with America, and even Sartre loved Hollywood cartoons. But this novel seems to be specifically written with screenplay mode in mind, easy on the language, easy on the violence, only hints of paedophilia to disturb the peace.

And yet there is so much here, as I suppose you'd expect from such a huge book: a fifteen-year-old girl changed from a nymphomaniac into a beaten child, then transmogrified into a schizophrenic mother-killer; the obvious suspect soon released from jail to make way for many other suspects; obvious villains turned into not exactly saints but hugely worthy citizens; everything is turned around, expectations are continually mocked.

There's a left-wing current running throughout this novel, and I'm pleased that the really bad guys in the end are the cops. But great literature? Do me a favour: this is a great book to read in idle moments, but it is definitely not a wonderfully written book: it's a good read, certainly a page-turner, but Joël Dicker's novel is not a book full of wonderful insights and ideas: it's just a beach/airport read. And far too long at that.

My other post on Joël Dicker:
Joël Dicker: Le Livre des Baltimore

29 July 2018

Street signs and Dom Pérignon in Hautvilliers, Marne (51)

Pierre Pérignon, or Dom Pérignon, was born in Sainte-Menehould in 1638 or 1639 and died in the Abbaye Saint-Pierre in Hautvillers in 1715. He was a Benedictine monk best known for (legends about his) involvement in the Champagne wine process. His tomb is in the Abbaye, which now belongs to the Champagne house Moët & Chandon. There is a statue of him in Sainte-Ménehould, and one in front of the Moët & Chandon building in Épernay.

Hautvilliers is a staunch tourist stronghold, in season littered with Brits, Americans, Belgians, etc. But it was the street signs concerning the making of wine that most attracted me, not the obvious tourist traps. Below I show the signs that I considered most attractive, concluding with Dom Pérignon's tomb in front of the altar.

Windmill in Verzenay, Marne (51)

At Verzenay, Marne (58), stands a windmill on a hill in a beautiful setting, surrounded by vines: this is Champagne country, and Verzenay is part of many Champagne tours around the area. The mill was built in 1821 and in its time four millers used it for milling wheat, barley and rye. The last miller, not wishing the windmill to turn after him, finally stopped the sails in 1901, his heirs respecting his wishes. Its prominent position led to it serving as an observation post during World War I. In World War II it was used by the American army. The Maison Mumm acquired the windmill in 1972.

27 July 2018

La Cathédrale de Jean Linard, Neuvy-deux-Clochers, Cher (18)

Jean Linard (1931–2010), who was born in La Marche near La Charité-sur-Loire and died in Bourges, was a ceramic artist, sculptor, painter, engraver and architect. In 1961 he and his future wife Anne Kjaersgaard (whom he later divorced) bought a former flint quarry in the hamlet of Les Poteries, Neuvy-deux-Clochers in Cher, where they set about constructing a house and workshops. In 1981 he added the 'Tour Rocard' to his constructions, using bricks from a former pottery oven belonging to the scientist Yves Rocard. He used different and (over some time) differing materials and styles, such as sandstone, raku, iron, mosaic, etc. A great cat lover, his Moustique was an inspiration, and he also praised other animals such as owls, cows and elephants. He essentially created his art from recycled objects. He began work on his Cathédrale (without a roof) in 1983, and about twenty-six of his final years were devoted to this construction. His influences range from the 'conventional' Picaso and Gaudí's Sagrada Família to the slightly more obscure Facteur Cheval's Palais Idéal and Raymond Isidore's Maison Picassiette. Among his mosaics are the names of the people he loved, including his children and grandchildren, and such figures as Gandhi, Mandela, plus religious icons such as Buddha and Mahomet. His 'Quelle connerie la guerre' ('What bullshit war is') is a line from one of Jacques Prévert's poems in Paroles. In 2012, Frédéric Mitterand, Ministre de la Culture, made the house and cathédrale a Monument Historique. Jean Linard had built his own grave above a path leading from the cathédrale, around which his ashes were scattered.

La Fabuloserie, Dicy, Yonne (89)

La Fabuloserie is an amazing museum in Dicy in the Yonne that has been open since 1983. It was the brainchild of architect and sculptor Alain Bourbonnais (1925–88) to display a collection of 'art hors-les-normes', or art brut, best translated in English as 'outsider art'. There is a wealth of art here by many artists, and I only have room here to show a few of my favourites. Visits here are in two stages, in no particular order: an open visit to the 'maison-musée', and a guided tour of the 'jardin habité'.

The most amazing exhibit of the whole collection must certainly be Pierre Avezard's Manège, which is not just a mechanical merry-go-round but a whole series of objects moving around when set in motion. Pierre (1909–92) is more commonly called 'Petit Pierre', who was deaf with a serious eye complaint and was seen by some people as stupid. Le Manège shows how wrong people can be, and the objects here are made from recycled materials. Petit Pierre worked on a farm, which not only taught him many things about the mechanical workings of objects, but allowed him to make tools for his environment, even including a washing machine. Le Manège is many things, but also in part an autobiograhy, depicting life on the farm as Petit Pierre saw it. These are just a few of the working parts, and there are clips on Youtube showing Le Manège in motion: an unbelievable sight.

Alain Bourbonneau himself has his collection Les Turbulents here: creatures from nighmares:

Francis Marshall (born 1947), was from a comfortable background, taught younger children from a deprived area in Normandy, and was horrified by the poverty, social rejection and inbreeding he saw around him. He invented Mauricette and constructed different stages in her background. Of particular interest to me are the ropes which entrap the characters, caught up in their own environment from which there is no escape, but also of course – as many other more 'privileged' people – entrapped mentally and physically by their own limitations:

26 July 2018

Marguerite Audoux, Sainte-Montaine, Cher (18)

Marguerite Audoux (née Donquichote) was a working-class novelist who was born in 1863 in Sancoins (Cher) and died in Saint-Raphaël (Var) in 1937. She and her sister Madeleine were in effect orphaned when Marquerite was three, and they were both sent to the Hôpital général de Bourges orphanage, where they spent several years. She was later sent to a farm where she worked as a shepherd in Sainte-Montaine, near Aubigny-sur-Nère. She later moved to Paris, where she became a seamstress. She went on to become the friend of various novelists, and her own autobiogaphical novel Marie-Claire (1910) was a huge success, winning the Prix Femina. A number of the furnishings, including her bed, in the Musée Marguerite Audoux (at the back of the Mairie, the former school) in Sainte-Montaine were her own.

25 July 2018

Colette in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Yonne (89)

(Sidonie Gabrielle) Colette (1873–1954) was born in and grew up in this house in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, which the plaque states is a major 'character' in her books.

The Musée Colette very near Colette's birthplace. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to visit either of them.

Colette's signature is all over Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye.

24 July 2018

Street Art City, Lurcy-Lévis, Allier (03)

The site on which Street Art City now stands near Lurcy-Lévis, Allier (03) was originally used by France télécom from 1982 to 1992, when it was left abandoned until Sylvie, concerned about the waste of the decaying buildings, hit on the idea of a home for the international street art, the graffiti such as she'd seen on and around trains, in streets, etc. Consequently, Street Art City was born on 22 January 2015. The above animal is Bijou, Sylvie's dog, mascot and part of the security staff. I took quite a number of photos here, far more than I can reasonably post, but those I do post here are among my favourites. They are all credited to Street Art City: a truly remarkable place! I notice that in an online comment that someone came from the Vosges especially to see Street Art City: so what? One of the reasons we visited New Zealand was to see Frank Sargeson's bach! Street Art City is worth going a huge distance to see, and we wouldn't even have been aware of it if the curator of the Musée Émile Guillaumin hadn't raved about it. What are you waiting for? Go see this world of wonders!

Cray One, it says in the leaflet (mercifully in French, so no translation blunders), is one of the pioneers of the eighties movement, and this painting is full of the codes, or let's say the symbols, of urban art.

I love this contribution from Damien-Paul Gal, 'Dans quel monde Vuitton', a pun on 'Dans quel monde vit-on ?',  or 'What kind of world are we living in?', and the answer is clearly in consumerist hell: Gal's sentence is full of commercial images, such as Macdonald's, Shell, Nike, etc. And the main 'attack' seems to be on the supermarket chain Atac!

German artist Costwo's painting of Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête) was executed in a week by spray can alone.

A haunting portrait from French artist Ted Nomad, from Mâcon.

Photo-realism from Simpleg.

This mural by Snake is one of the largest.

From Argentina, Caro Pepe's eye work.

Finally, it would just be obscene not to allow Bucky (Buckminster Fuller, of course) to sneak in.