20 September 2019

Le Mémorial de Caen, Caen, Calvados (14)

Le Mémorial de Caen is a museum of history, or a monument to peace. We had no time to visit it, although it is one of the most visited sites in France. Two outside comments attracted me : The Knotted Gun is by Carl Fredrik Reutersward, and Paul Éluard's

'Je suis né pour te connaître
Pour te nommer


Jardin de la Villa Rossa, Caen, Calvados (14)

Le Musée Jardin de la Luna Rossa is slightly removed from the centre of Caen, although within easy walking distance. It contains many works of local art brut artists, but (as the first image below states), it is only open on Sundays. And of course we weren't there on Sunday. After the shot of the gates there was only a weird image on an adjoining garage, and the final three photos are tantalising snippets I took from gaps in the railings. But I'll be back!

François de Malherbe, Caen, Calvados (14)

Poet François de Malherbe (1555-1628|) was born in this building in the centre of Caen. A statue of him is in the centre of Caen a few hundred metres away.

Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly, Caen, Calvados (14)

A plaque stating that Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly lived in this house from 1931 to 1933 when a student of law.

Guillaume Trébutien, Caen, Calvados (14)

Guillaume-Stanislas Trébuctien (1800-70) was a friend of Barbey d'Aurevilly. He was a translator, orientalist and publisher, and was another writer buried in le Cimetière des Quatre-Nations. The medallion is by Leharivel-Durocher.

Amédée Renée, Caen, Calvados (14)

Amédée René (1807-59) – also in the Cimetière des Quatre-Nations – was a writer and historian born in Caen. His wish was to be buried in the town of his birth.

Émile Alliot-Préjardin, Caen, Calvados (14)

Émile Alliot-Préjardin (1831-1914) lies in the wonderful leafy (and slightly spooky) Cimetière des quatre-Nations not far from Caen city centre. He established the paper Le Bonhomme normand.

Windmill, Saint-Germain-des-Vaux, Manche (50)

The old windmill at Saint-Germain-des-Vaux has undergone something of a facelift. You can climb two steep sets of steps to the top and see the northernmost tip of La Hague from it, the rocky plateau of Les Herbeuses, and the bay of Saint-Martin.

Jean-Baptiste Digard de Lousta (1813-79) was a regional writer born in Saint-Germain. He was a librarian in Cherbourg (where he died) and the director of the Société nationale académique de Cherbourg.

19 September 2019

Jacques Prévert and Alexandre Trauner in Omonville-la-Petite graveyard, Manche (50)

Jacques Prévert lies with his wife Simone and daughter Michèle at the back of the graveyard in the church in Omonville-la-Petite (Manche).

I've seen many tributes on graves, but (with the possible exception of Norman Rockwell's, not to mention Jim Morrison's) I think this takes some beating.

Right behind Prévert's grave is that of Alexandre Trauner, who also loved Omonville.

Statue of Jacques Prévert and Alexandre Trauner in Omonville-la-Petite, Manche (50)

This is a superb work of art in bronze by Christine Larivière, although it has come in for huge criticism by the heirs of Jacques Prévert and his close friend the film set designer Alexandre Trauner. The main objection, perhaps, is that it is caricatural. Prévert certainly did call studies of him 'conneries' ('bullshit'), and was amazed that some people knew more about him than he knew about himself, but I somehow doubt that he'd have been so critical: he'd probably have just shrugged his shoulders.

Jacques Prévert at Saint-Germain-des-Vaux, Manche (50)

Jacques Prévert (1900-77) loved the north-west coast of the Cotentin peninsula, La Hague, which he had long known. This garden is a homage to Prévert by his wife and friends, begun in 1981. Trees were planted by such personalities as Barbara, Serge Regganni, Juliette Gréco, etc. Gérard Fusberti is the owner of this garden, and over twenty years was a close friend of Prévert. We didn't have time to visit it though.

Jacques Prévert's house in Omonville-la-Petite, Manche (50)

Jacques Prévert (1900-77) bought a house in Le Val, a hamlet of Omonville-la-Petite, in La Hague, a peninsula of the Cotentin peninsula, in 1971. He died there in 1977 of lung cancer: he smoked three packets of cigarettes a day.

The house is now a museum to Prévert, this room being his atelier.

In this room is a photo of Prévert outside his house with his wife Simone.

The panelling of the master bedroom.

The guest room is now lined with Prévert's collages, this being an example of one to painter and poet André Virel (1920-2000).

In the garden is giant rhubarb. In the atelier is a photo of Prévert in front of the rhubarb.

7 September 2019

Vincent de Swarte: Pharricide (1998)

This is the first novel by Vincent de Swarte (1963-2006),  who died of cancer at the age of 42, and is probably his most 'noted', although I doubt that many have noticed it. But this obscure book has been translated (as Pharricide: what other possible translation could be given for this neologism?), although I suspect that the copies of the translation sold are very small indeed.

Geoffroy Lefayen, the narrator and protagonist of this slim book, is an outsider to others, even to himself: his mother was interned in a psychiatric hospital, and past the age of fifty he can count the few friends he has ever had on one hand. The Roger twins are among them, although they're either in prison or dead: we later learn that they were imprisoned for killing and embalming five people in a boat on the high seas, but although Geoffroy assisted (and passed with flying colours) in this operation, he was not seen to have any responsibility in the gruesome actions.

The sea is very much seen by Geoffroy as part of his life, and having worked before with Joël at the Pierres Noires lighthouse, he gets a job as lighthouse keeper of Cordouan, the isolated lighthouse to the west of Royan and Verdon. It is very obvious to any reader that Geoffroy is insane, although his main fear is of going mad. Who can stop the insanity?

Geoffroy prides himself in stuffing a conger eel, then feels compelled to kill and stuff two English tourists wishing to get married at the lighthouse, but how long can the insanity prevail? Joël's son is watching him through his ultra-powerful telescope, so Geoffroy's paranoia is based on reality. Does Lise, the insane engineer who eventually kills her (incestuous) husband and daughter really exist as a saviour to Geoffroy and his lighthouse/sea obsession, or is she, along with the wonderful sexual freedom she brings to Geoffroy, merely imaginary? We shall never know, as the heat is so much on Geoffroy's tail that everything has to blow.

The embalming process, and the tools used, are explained in a little detail. This is a disturbing book that would be a cult one if enough people were aware of its existence.

5 September 2019

Fred Vargas: Dans les bois éternels (2006)

I suppose I'd been putting off the moment for as long as possible, reading a novel by the 'queen of the rompol' (roman policier, or crime novel), but after seeing her on La Grande Librairie talking about the ecological disaster we're heading for, she convinced me that I had at least to give her a go. And I was by no means disappointed.

Fred Vargas has a doctorate on the history of the plague in the Middle Ages, is a specialist in archaeozoology, and her pseudonymous surname was taken from the Ava Gardner character Maria Vargas in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's film The Barefoot Contessa (1954). Most of her books star the commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, as does this novel.

And here we enter a whole different world, with a host of characters in Adamsberg's cop entourage, many of whom have presumably appeared in other books in the cycle, and Vargas leaves footnotes for the reader to refer to other incidents in her previous novels. All of the main characters have recognisable character traits, such as Danglard's erudition, Kernorkian's fear of the dark and microbes, the female Froissy's love of food (two breakfasts a day, for instance), Mercadet's sleepiness, etc.

There are realistic descriptions aplenty here, although the novel can hardly be described as in the realist vein: there are way too many coincidences, wild acts, feats beyond imagination, loose ends neatly tied up, and so on.

It would be difficult, nay impossible, to sum up these almost 500 pages in a few paragraphs, but the main plot (and there are a few) concerns a serial killer (of people, and maybe animals too) who has killed two outsider characters for unknown reasons, although it soon appears that this is a female, then a female who has committed numerous murders before being imprisoned, or is it a female at all? Or are we looking at this from the wrong angle, and what has the 'new' lieutenant Veyrenc (from the Béarn area like Adamsberg) to do with this, if anything?

There's a ghost, a magic potion for eternal life, and...did you know cats have a bone in their penis, or stags (representatives of eternal life) a bone in their heart? Nor me, but it's true. And at least we now understand that the picture on the cover (and the 'bois' in the title of the book) refer not to 'woods' but to antlers.

The world of Fred Vargas's novels is a very complex and a very engrossing one, and I shall no doubt be revisiting it.

Adrien Bosc: Constellation (2009)

The word 'Constellation' doesn't only refer a group of neighbouring stars, but (particularly in Adrien Bosc's book) also to the Lockheed Constellation aircraft, one of which crashed on a mountainside on the island of São Miguel in the Azores on a Paris-New York Air France flight on 28 October 1949, and which killed 37 passengers and 11 crew members. Among the dead (who might be called 'stars') were middleweight boxing champion Marcel Cerdan (the lover of Édith Piaf) and the brilliant violinist Ginette Neveu.

Obsessively, Adrien Bosc 'revisits' the scene of the crash, the Redondo mountain, and the lives of those killed in the tragedy, all of whom he lists and tries to obtain as much information as possible about: for instance, he reproduces the words of Dr Robert Aaron Lowenstein, whose father Robert Lowenstein was in the plane on his way to attempt a reconciliation with his wife.

But then, this is a 'roman', and parts are imaginary reconstructions. All the same, I was fascinated to learn about early flight registers. Now, we have black boxes, although formerly there were Hussenographs, named after François Hussenot (1912-51), the French engineer who invented the precursor to the black boxes. In this case though, the Hussenograph (which could only photograph and not take recordings of sounds) was not used. This is a very interesting read.

31 August 2019

Album: Gauvain Sers's Pourvu (2017)

Pourvu is the title of Gauvain Sers's first album, released in late 2017 and commented on on On n'est pas couché. Christine Angot hated it because it seemed to be pure Renaud, and as for the track 'Mon fils est parti au Djhiad'... Yann Moix was kinder and said that after Gauvain Sers had shrugged off the obviously strong influence of Renaud then he'd find his own voice: after all, what do you expect at the age of 28? Laurent Ruquier argued that Renaud was influenced by Brassens, etc, everyone is influenced by someone, but anyway the public had found Sers very appealing.

And there we have it. Admittedly Sers looks more than a little like the younger Renaud in his casquette, sounds a little like him, is obviously influenced by him, uses (on this album) slang like Renaud uses, and even stood as first act before Renaud on tour, but.

It is clear to me that neither Christine Angot nor Yann Moix took this album seriously, didn't examine it properly. 'Mon fils est parti au Djhiad' is in fact one of Sers's stronger tracks, one of those which distinguish him from Renaud, although not particularly because of the content, but because of the voice. Gauvain Sers isn't (and certainly in a first album can't be expected to be) as daring as Randy Newman using the first person but expressing ideas that are contrary to his, but Sers does speak in 'foreign' voices: in 'Mon fils...' he takes on the voice of a woman whose son's been radicalised and left for Syria; in 'Hénin-Beaumont' he's a postman sick of his town voting for a Front National mayor and getting out; in 'Sur mon tracteur' he's an agricultural worker carrying on the family tradition; in 'Un clodo sur la ligne' he's a tramp; and (with Clio) in 'Le Rameau' he's the statue of Marianne in Paris, holding the olive branch. Renaud has no place in any of these songs.

There's definitely a wink to Renaud in 'Dans la bagnole de mon père' when he says of the old cassettes 'Société, tu les auras pas', recalling Renaud's statement that society wouldn't suck him in in the same way as it had Antoine and Dylan, but much of this is pure Gauvin Sers with his own way of singing: I particularly liked the reference to the 'jeu des plaques' in 'Le Bagnole de mon père', where the children discover the départements of cars from the last two numbers on the number plate. A sheer joy to listen to. Almost.

There is a bum track, and Jesus what a bummer: 'Le Poulet du dimanche'. Sorry, Gauvain Sers, but this is 2019, and by no means everyone appreciates chicken on Sunday! Especially vegetarians. Your songs speak of the love of different people, your hatred for fascists, of empathy for the downtrodden, the disinherited, but not of the love of animals, who you seem to treat as objects to be enjoyed to eat. There, as was obliquely suggested on ONPC, you have a lot to learn! Don't alienate your demographic.

Pie Tshibanda: André Baillon : Le Belge de Marly (2009)

The life of André Baillon (1875-1932) was cut short by his fifth (and obviously successful) suicide attempt. An orphan at the age of six (his father having died when he was only four months old), his life was fraught by his own frustrations, his guilt, and his inability to resolve his love life: at one time he was living with two of his women (Marie and Germaine) on different floors.

Psychologist Pie Tshibanda's critical biography was a rare find: this book is completely unavailable via the internet, there's not even a copy held at BNF, and his own publisher's site doesn't recognise it! Oddly though, I've found a link to Tshibanda advertising the book (in 2009) here. This is its tenth anniversary.

As Tshibanda says, as a 'man of colour' (he comes from the Congo), he wanted to write a book about another 'man of colour' (Baillon was red-haired as well as full of complexes), and wanted to show that he wasn't mad as is normally perceived by critics. This is a very well researched book which details Baillon's books in the light of the people and the events in his life, his living with a prostitute, his stays in psychiatric hospitals, etc. Baillon comes through all this as not exactly normal (there is of course no normal, and we are all neurotic in some way) but as someone who is writing about the problems of his life out of therapy, necessity, or mere (partly changed) autobiography. Fascinating stuff.

30 August 2019

Pascal Quignard: Tous les matins du monde (1991)

Pascal Quignard's Tous les matins du monde is set in the 17th century and its main character is Monsieur de Sainte Colombe, an essentially reclusive and gifted but austere composer and player of music for the viola da gamba ('la viole de gambe' in French). He rarely performs in concert, and although the king is very interested in his presence in his court he refuses. In time he teaches his daughters Madelaine and Toinette his art, although since the death of his wife when his daughters were young he has largely given up social contact, apart from with the odd friend such as the (obscure artist) Lubin Baugin: (Jean de) Sainte Colombe actually existed, and although little is known of him and Quignard obviously invents things between the spaces, it's clear that the author is something of a cultural medieval archaeologist.

I don't know if Sainte Colombe's daughters existed, but certainly Marin Marais, the shoemaker's son, did. And he was dissatisfied with his lowly existence, became a choirboy in L'Église-Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois in the centre of Paris, but had to withdraw when his voice broke. Then he chose to play the viola da gamba and sought out Sainte Colombe as a teacher, which he was for a brief period.

Sainte Colombe is preoccupied by his dead wife, Marin Marais is preoccupied by music (and briefly sexually by Sainte Colombe's two daughter's), although Marais is eager to join the king's court as a musician, but also to know Sainte Colombe's music which he refuses to publish. It's easy to see why Allain Corneau made a film of this book in the same year of publication, and why it is rooted so firmly in many people's minds.

29 August 2019

Yann Moix: Orléans (2019)

Yann Moix is hardly a stranger to controversy: to give four examples, he lost a court case for calling extreme right-wing writer and politician Renaud Camus 'anti-Semitic'; he's said that he could never fancy a woman over fifty; he's said that Michael Jackson wasn't a paedophile but a child himself; and now (just a short time after after the publication of this book) his brother Alexandre wrote a letter published in Le Parisien claiming that he was the person who was violently abused by Yann, and that it wasn't their parents who violently treated and humiliated Yann, as this book describes.* I note that several people (not all of whom have even read the book) on Amazon reviews have lashed out against it, it seems to me, because, among other things, they call Yann Moix narcissistic. I can find nothing narcissistic in the this book.

In this month's Le Grand entretien in Lire with Yann Moix, Claire Chazal says that some of the excessive violence described as being meted out to him by his parents (who seem out to destroy him mentally if not quite physically), and asks him what is true in the book. Moix says, rather cryptically, that 'exactness' is more important than 'the truth', and goes on to say that he may have mistaken one of the years in the book for the year before! And anyway, calling the book 'a novel' acts as a 'tiny filter between reality and the author, who can protect himself behind this word'. So that's all right then: we can treat the work how we please and ignore what is truth and what is fiction? The best way, for a number of reasons, is to treat the book is as a work of fiction.

The novel is divided into two equal parts: 'Dedans' and 'Dehors', the first of which deals with the savage and mindless treatment of the first person narrator by his parents, who pick on any opportunity to attack him; the second part explains activities outside the home (mainly at school). Both parts of the novel are divided into a number of sections corresponding to each year the narrator went to school, from maternelle to terminale.

At no time in either section is there a mention of a brother, and I don't believe the names of the parents are ever mentioned. But in the first part, the slightest error the narrator makes, the punishment is harsh: his incontinence, his listening to music under the bedclothes late into the night, coming home smelling of smoke, even his obsession with André Gide is seen as negative because he was a pédé: the punishment is violent and often humiliating.

In the second part there is still humiliation for Moix, particularly on the part of girls, who make fun of him, torment him, even mentally torture this testosterone-fuelled (but painfully shy) young creature. But Moix comes to love literature through Gide, then Francis Ponge, Sartre, and there are many more writers to come. In fact, he states, intellectual enlightenment can be as rewarding as the sex act.

Yann Moix is a much reviled personality, but that notwithstanding, Orléans is an extremely well written book and should not been condemned for reasons unrelated to its contents.

*Since writing this, new information has emerged about Yann Moix's anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial thirty years ago, specifically concerning cartoons he drew, as well as writings. He appeared on On n'est pas couché yesterday and vociferously condemned the person he was as opposed to the person he is now. Somehow, I think he's probably dug himself more and more into the ground.

22 August 2019

Johan-Barthold Jongkind, Nevers, Nièvre (58)

The Dutch painter Johan-Barthold Jongkind (1819-91) was a precursor of Impressionism and stayed in the building to which this plaque is affixed, then L'Hôtel Saint Louis', for several months each year between 1871 and 1875. He was very interested in the area which he had discovered in 1861, and painted a large number of views of Nevers – its streets, monuments and the banks of the Loire, creating wonderful watercolours.

Le Pont de la Loire, Nevers, Nièvre (58)

This is not supposed to be a pretty tourist shot, although I have to admit it gives that impression, with the Pont de la Loire in the foreground, middle ground and background, and Nevers cathedral in the background on the left. But what pleased me about it is that it reminds me so much of Éric Rohmer's film Conte d'hiver, part of his Contes des quatre saisons tetralogy.

Jeanne Cressanges, Noyant d'Allier, Allier (03)

Place Jeanne Mouchonnier-Cressanges in Noyant d'Allier, where she was born. Jeanne Cressanges (the name she writes under) continues to produce novels and short stories. She was born Jeanne Mouchonnier into a working-class family, her mother a peasant from Noyant, her father a plasterer-cum-painter from Dompierre-sur-Besbre. I can't say that I understand this apparently recent street sign, which declares that she has written just two novels, whereas Wikipédia lists fourteen. However, it's fitting that this sign stands opposite the Buddhist pagoda: it says that her (second) novel La Feuille de Bétel (1962) was inspired by Noyant's Vietnamese community, and that a film of the same name was made from the novel and released in 1972. (Cressanges, incidentally, is the name of the neighbouring village.)

Boîte à Lire, Noyant d'Allier, Allier (03)

A well-stocked, in fact cram-packed Boîte à lire in Noyant d'Allier, although they've chosen to call it La Ruche aux livres because, I suppose, it does rather look like a beehive.

21 August 2019

The Pagoda, Noyant d'Allier, Allier (03)

Noyant d'Allier was an important mining village from the middle of the 19th century until the closure of the mine in 1943. From 1955 France repatriated a number of Francophone refugees from Indochina, one of the major receiving villages being Noyant d'Allier, which housed the immigrants in the former miners' dwellings. Some clips on YouTube reveal that some Vietnamese felt unease, perhaps particularly the now grown children who felt deracinated because their childhood and their culture had been removed from them. However, newcomers in time adapted themselves to their new country. In 1983 the Buddhist community in Noyant built a pagoda.

A Buddha is not a divinity because a person can become enlightened and a become a Buddha too. There are a number of statues in the park, one of which represents a reclining Buddha, head to the east and feet towards the west, symbolising reaching nirvana.

Two lines of statues lead to the columbarium, with at the beginning the lord of hell, while further on is the feminine representation of Buddha, an awakening destroying gender constructs, constructs good and evil... and then there is a monumental statue, in gold, of Buddha Sakyamuni in meditation. Buddha was originally a marine turtle.

Between this statue and the pagoda are four representations of Buddha: in meditation, protected by cobras; alone; with five adepts; young, with a monkey and elephant, recalling the stories received during youth.

Any errors made here are entirely due to me, and I welcome any corrections to a subject of which I know very little!