31 July 2016

Jean-Christophe Rufin: Sept histoires qui reviennent de loin (2011)

Jean-Christophe Rufin is a medical doctor who has done a great deal of humanitarian work overseas. Much of his fictional work, including his Goncourt-winning Rouge Brésil, involves the meeting of different cultures, of which there are several examples in these seven stories from far away, although not necessarily (only) far way geographically, but perhaps far away psychologically, in different concords or conflicts, perhaps of generation or language.

'Passion francophone' is an interesting example of Rufin's multilingual confusions. Here we have a woman from Germany in a hotel in France speaking French, although no one understands her: in fact she is speaking neither French nor German. No, the language she thinks she has been taught as French is Hungarian.

And then there's 'Les Naufragés', set in what seems to be Mauritius or L’île Maurice, but post-colonial Mauritius, where the native population has taken over, where the tourists flock to their tourist hotels where everything is done for them and they don't even have to leave their tourist ghettos and meet the true people who belong to the country, where they believe implicitly in the harmony that the guidebooks suggest exists: in a few words, Rufin demolishes the self-deception, the mindlessness of tourism. Meanwhile the native Indians increasingly express their birthright on the few existing post-colonists, who are ready for physical escape (like the narrator's husband) or suicide (like the narrator herself).

Set in the Dolomites, 'Le Refuge Del Pietro' is a kind of conflict between generations, when the old meet the young in a restaurant in the Alps, where a solitary Englishman (dressed in bizarre Alpine gear) tells the two other (young) diners about (almost) dragging his mainly ailing family through snow to find an inn, even lying to them, until they reach the place and find it in ruins.

'Nuit de garde', set in an unnamed place (mainly a hospital) where there is a hierarchy of staff with a cleaner from Guadeloupe and a junior doctor who makes the decisions about the deaths of patients, seems as if it has come from previous experience of the author.

'Les fiancés de Laurenço Marques' examines a capital city (now called Maputo) which preserves its nineteenth century history in the name of its beer and its colonial and Soviet communist of Marxist past in its street names, as if it wants not to forget its history. The narrator thinks likewise: he originally came to the city with his fiancé forty years before, although they went their individual ways, he as a musician, she as a writer, although now their spouses have died they are re-living the past, coming together in Maputo as if still twenty rather than sixty.

'Garde-Robe' too is about the return of age, with a businessman-turned humanitarian UN worker in war-struck Colombo in Sri Lanka telling the story of the Buchenwald uniform his father (a survivor who later killed himself) once wore that he's kept all the time as a reminder of man's inhumanity to man. Nazi-style inhumanity seems to be returning, though, he learns of the atrocities of civil war.

Finally we have 'Train de vie' in which a young African woman who works as a server in a restaurant in Paris goes off on a train to meet her German fiancé from a very wealthy family. The story is told from a young white French narrator's point of view, who comes to learn all about the woman's problems, her potential mother-in-law's opposition to the marriage, but her son's resolution to marry if she becomes pregnant. Looks that things will fall flat as the train loses hours and Rokaya will miss her connection on the very day of peak ovulation. Unless, of course, narrator Paul becomes (quite casually) a kind of surrogate lover for the night.

Judging by these highly readable stories, I'd say that the principal interest that Jean-Christophe has is difference, in its many varied forms. 

30 July 2016

The Statue Le Froid, Manosque (04)

Paul Bloche sculpted Le Froid (1901), which stands in a central position in Manosque and has done so for generations. Recently, however, the owner Le Musée d'Orsay has claimed it back – to the disgust of many inhabitants of Manosque, who have started a petition to allow the statue to remain in the town where it is.

25 July 2016

Sylvie Giono: Jean Giono à Manosque: Le Paraïs, la maison d'un rêveur (2012)

Jean Giono à Manosque is written by Giono's daughter Sylvie, and is a biography of Le Paraïs the house as much as it is a biography of her father. But perhaps surprisingly, this little book (only just over a hundred pages) is far from being a hagiography: Sylvie says her father was far from perfect, being an egotist, very proud, seeking his own pleasure above all else. This is a man who was a stay-at-home, avoiding going anywhere, far preferring to remain in his family, but even there he was self contained, creating his own reality through his fiction. In 1954 he was nominated as a member of the Académie Goncourt in Colette's place, and when asked what was the best thing about his subsequent trips to Paris, said seeing the clock of Lyon station to take the train back to Provence. And this was in spite of a 'revolution' (for Sylvie) three years before, when Giono actually went to Italy – although it took him two years to plan the journey, and even then he had to find a friend who had a car, as Giono never learned to drive.

Maybe the above paragraph sounds a little negative towards Jean Giono, but it's not meant to be because Sylvie Giono also displays a tremendous interest in and great knowledge of her father's work and obviously recognises his huge value to French literature in general, that he was of course was not simply a 'regional' writer (whatever that may mean) but of importance not only to France as a whole but to the world.

But to return to Le Paraïs, the house, I discovered much more about it from this book than the guided tour of it we had last month. It's interesting to learn that Jean's friend the poet and artist Lucien Jacques  – who was almost a member of the family and who made a fresco in 1936 which includes the family – alludes to Giono's novel Que ma joie demeure (1935) in the fresco. L'Ange, the two-metre high wooden sculpture that dominates a room in the house, has been attributed to Pierre Puget's atelier. I remember the sculpture in a peasant's barn that Giono wanted to buy and that in the end he had to buy the barn itself, although that this may have been the head of a capitol from a Roman chapel sacked in the revolution and that Giono gave back the barn to the peasant after removing the piece from the lintel on which it stood? No, I don't remember that being mentioned. All these objects in the house fed Giono's imagination, Sylvie makes clear.

Like Lucien Jacques, Jean Giono was the son of a shoemaker and an autodidact. Giono read the Greeks in his teens, read Shakespeare, loved Victor Hugo like his father (who cried on the death of Hugo in 1885) and even read detective stories voraciously, of which Gallimard sent him four a month and he would read them all in one day. Sylvie says that Fabrice de Dongo (from Stendhal's La Chartreuse de Palme) has something of Angelo Pardi (from Le Hussard sur le toit) in him, and later speaks of 'la vengeance par l'écriture' ('revenge by literature') in Giono's famous novel, in which Manosque is struck by the plague. Giono, of course, was imprisoned, as a pacifist, for not taking sides during the Second World War, and some locals hated him for it. A little book, but there's a lot in it.

My Jean Giono posts:
Sylvie Giono: Jean Giono à Manosque
Jean Giono: L' Homme qui plantait des arbres
Jean Giono: Le Hussard sur le toit
Jean Giono: Colline | Hill of Destiny
Jean Giono: Un de Baumugnes | Lovers Are Never Losers
Jean Giono in Manosque
Jean Giono: Notes sur l'affaire Dominici
Jean Giono's grave, Manosque, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence
Pierre Citron: Jean Giono 1895–1970
Jean Giono: Regain | Second Harvest
Jean Giono: Que ma joie demeure
Jean Giono: Pour saluer Melville
Jean Giono et al, Le Contadour

24 July 2016

Jean Giono in Manosque (04)


C'est dans la maison d'en face, au 14 rue grande, Jean Giono vécut toute sa jeunesse, de sa prime enfance jusqu'à son mariage en 1920. Au rez-de-chaussée, se trouvait l'atelier de sa mère, repasseuse et, au 3e étage, l'atelier de cordonnier de son père. Jean Giono décrit avec tendresse sa maison d'enfance dans beaucoup de ses écrits.'

A plaque opposite this house in Manosque, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, states that Jean Giono (1895–1970) was born here, the son of a laundress who worked on the ground floor, and whose father was a shoemaker who worked on the third floor. Giono lived here until his marraige in 1920. The left panel of the plaque gives a quotation from Giono's autobiographical Provence Perdu (1967), in which he describes the house as having more than twenty large rooms with ceilings 'as high as the night'. He describes his family as free as birds, but adds that they lived in poverty, the floorboards were like a ship's deck, and the roof was like a colander, with rain falling on his bed.

1 rue torte also used to be given as Giono's birthplace, but I don't think it is any longer.

Lou Paraïs, Giono's house in Manosque, bought from the sales of his first, and obviously very successful, novel Colline (1929). He lived here from 1930 until his death in 1970, and here he wrote most of his work. His travels from here were very few* and largely mental, and he lived here with his wife Élise and his daughters Aline and Sylvie. Photography is not allowed inside. The town of Manosque now owns the house and envisages that after work it will be ready for the fiftieth anniversary of his death in 2020.

*Giono used to spend his grandes vacances at La Margotte farm between Mane and Forcalquier, only about ten miles from Manosque.

My Jean Giono posts:
Sylvie Giono: Jean Giono à Manosque
Jean Giono: L' Homme qui plantait des arbres
Jean Giono: Le Hussard sur le toit
Jean Giono: Colline | Hill of Destiny
Jean Giono: Un de Baumugnes | Lovers Are Never Losers
Jean Giono in Manosque
Jean Giono: Notes sur l'affaire Dominici
Jean Giono's grave, Manosque, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence
Pierre Citron: Jean Giono 1895–1970
Jean Giono: Regain | Second Harvest
Jean Giono: Que ma joie demeure
Jean Giono: Pour saluer Melville
Jean Giono et al, Le Contadour

Nancy Huston: Lignes de faille | Fault Lines (2006)

Nancy Huston (b. 1953) was born in English-speaking Canada but has lived in France since 1970. The English translation of this novel is written by Huston herself.

This 481-page book is divided into four parts, each told by six-year-old narrators from the same family but of different generations and over a period of some fifty years, beginning in 2004 and working backwards to 1944–45. Their age is perhaps the hardest aspect of the novel to grasp: it takes a very strong suspension of disbelief to imagine people so young having such an extensive vocabulary and being so mature: attempts by the narrators to explain away problems they are too young to understand just don't have a ring of truth. However, this is a very powerful work that is difficult to put down as various unexplained facets of the story become clearer as each narrator speaks.

A rudimentary family tree just before the first part of the book tells us that first narrator, Sol, is the son of Randall and Tessa. Sol lives in the US and tells us about his parents, how his Catholic mother decided that with her husband Randall (born of a Jewish father Aron) that they would be Protestants. Tessa comes over as overbearingly child-centred, excessively concerned about a birthmark of Sol's for which she forces him to have removed by operation, but it goes wrong. (Birthmarks are a theme throughout.) Sol's story was a problem to me, as I found myself asking if he was an unreliable narrator: the almost Godlike belief in himself seemed to chime with Tessa's excessive parental behaviour, but the masturbating to violent sex on the net, the obsessions with extreme torture suggested more psychosis than a normal part of growing up.

Randall's narration (of 1982) reveals a few interesting things apart from the increasing significance of birthmarks and the minor point about the aborted picnic: this is the other side of the parental coin, and whereas Randall's father Aron is very supportive of him, his mother Sadie – who is a researcher and the one who brings in the money while Aron's play-writing doesn't do well – feels neglected. The family's move from the US to Israel (insisted on by Sadie) is a disaster.

Sadie's narration (of 1962) also shows a certain maternal neglect as her mother Kristina, a successful singer who leaves Sadie to her grandparents as she tours the world enjoying fame and many lovers both male and female. But Sadie later joins her mother with her new impresario husband. It's in this year that she learns that her mother was once German, and sees her mother have sex with a man called Luth (French for 'lute'): we know that Kristina (who has a few other names) owes her success to a lute (which has never appeared in any of her performances).

The reader discovers the truth in six-year-old Kristina's narration: her really being Ukrainian, being adopted under the Nazi Lebensborn programme, the full story of Luth, her birthmark, etc.

Sadie's narration, though: Marilyn Monroe's death is certainly spot-on date-wise, but all those Beatles songs from the same year? No, a bit later.

As I said before though, a great read.

21 July 2016

Aymeric Caron: Antispéciste : Réconcilier l'humain, l'animal, la nature (2016)

Until last year Aymeric Caron used to be a notable personality on Laurent Rouquier's Saturday evening TV programme On n'est pas couché (more familiarly known as ONPC), and I vividly remember watching a YouTube clip in which the singer Maxime Le Forestier asked Caron (although I forget the exact reason), in a surprised voice, if he didn't like chickens. Caron replied that he did, and then fiercely added: 'Vivants !' I was aware that Aymeric Caron didn't eat meat, although this brief TV exchange was my only knowledge of the extent of his respect for animals. This almost 500-page defence of Caron's beliefs is not just further proof of his respect, but evidence of very deep-rooted concern for non-human beings. I've been a vegetarian (but not vegan) for all of my adult life, am revolted just by the smell of dead animals being cooked, hate being around meat, walk swiftly past butchers' windows, and yet Caron makes me feel really guilty for not going the whole way, for drinking milk and eating cheese, which is after all a part of the process of exploiting animals.

Only towards the nineteenth century was the exploitation of black slaves officially banned in the Southern US states, and today it looks exactly as it was: barbaric, although the legacy of this barbarism will still take time to fully work its way into American society. Women may in theory now have equal pay, but how long will it take for them to be really recognised as the equals of men? And how long will it take for homosexuals to be fully accepted as having the same rights as heteros? More relevant to this book, when will the first labels appear on meat packages, showing animals when they first began the rearing process, coupled with labels of how they looked after being butchered, before being dressed up to appear in supermarkets? Most importantly of all, how long before, as Morrissey sang, will it be officially recognised that 'Meat is Murder'?

Aymeric Caron takes us through it all: the battery farms where hens are de-beaked without anaesthetic to prevent themselves from pecking each other to death out of boredom; the images from L214 of duckings being crushed to death; the animals being tortured in abattoirs and subjected to other illegal treatments, and on and on. There's even a lengthy description of a TV programme saying how well animals are treated, given names like pet cats and dogs, yet in the end there is no death shown, nothing to suggest the fate of sentient creatures who must surely experience a very similar feeling of pain as those pets, or of course humans. Why? No human animal has to eat meat, and there is every evidence not only that we thrive on not eating it but that it is actually good for us.

Caron's highly readable book doesn't just criticize the lies and cruelty of the meat profession but goes way beyond envisioning animals in a Disneyfied way and presents 'antispeciesism' as a new way of life. When he says 'Antispécisme est un nouvel humanisme' he isn't just playing on  L'Existentialsme est un humanisme (lit. 'Existentialism Is a Humanism')  – Sartre's publication of his famous speech created as a more accessible version of L'Être et le néant – but laying the foundations for a new kind of thinking, beyond the less extreme but nevertheless ground-breaking work of the Australian animal rights champion Peter Singer.

The author mentions and clearly respects the work of several anarchists such as Tolstoy, Kropotkin and Élisée Reclus and is obviously sympathetic towards Henry David Thoreau, claims that anti-speciesism is a new approach to Marxism, and that a new form of civil disobedience (as opposed to refusing to pay taxes), such as boycott, is needed. In fact, what is necessary is a more profound kind of ecology à la Arne Næss.

This is not a doctoral thesis, and much of the emotion would be lost if it were, although I'd have all the same appreciated an index, all the exclamation marks towards the end made me feel weary, and in spite of the internet age we live in was the (only one, admittedly) smiley really necessary? Far too many minor criticisms from me here: this is a book not only to change minds, but to change the world: now, what are we gonna do to destroy runaway capitalism/neo-liberalism, apart from by individually respecting animals by not eating them?

20 July 2016

Richard Lerner and Lewis McAdams's What Happened to Kerouac?: The Jack Kerouac Story (1986)

This 96-minute documentary film is another of my chance discoveries, and features a huge number of people connected to Jack Kerouac, among them:

William Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Carolyn Cassady, Ann Charters, Gregory Corso, Robert Creeley, Lawrence Ferlinghetti,  John Clennon Holmes, Herbert Huncke, Jack Kerouac, Jan Kerouac, Michael McClure, Edie Kerouac Parker and Gary Snyder.

Here we see Kerouac reading his work which seems more like poetry, Kerouac drunk on TV, Jan Kerouac talking of the time her father admitted (well, more or less) that she was his daughter, Kerouac's biographer Ann Charters on being at Six Gallery, San Francisco, on the night and on his relationship with his mother, Kerouac – being a Catholic – not being able to directly kill himself so just drinking to great excess and dying before fifty, and much more. There are shots of Lowell so familiar to him, and of course his iconic grave so many people still visit in big numbers. A fascinating film.

My other Kerouac links:
Jack Kerouac's Lowell
Jack Kerouac's Grave

18 July 2016

Le Pavillon de la Reine Jeanne, Les Baux-de-Provence (13)

The beautiful old village Les Baux-de-Provence is, invitably, a tourist trap. But that of course doesn't make it any the less beautiful. Quite a way from the main drag, let's say about half a mile from where the tourists flock, is a delightful oasis of calm, an architectural feature that the great poet Frédéric Mistral (whose main homes are still be be featured on this blog) had a copy of this sixteenth-century temple built as his tomb.





Fernand Benoit (1892–1969) was a historian and archeologist born in Avignon. His written works are many, he became curator of the (still closed!) Museon Artalen, and is recognised as the master of Provençal archaeology.

1830 – 1914'

And in Les Baux itself, it's good to know that Frédéric Mistral's name is still remembered.

My Frédéric Mistral posts:
Frédéric Mistral at Le Mas du Juge, Maillane
Frédéric Mistral: Mireille
Frédéric Mistral in Maillane
Le Pavillon de la Reine Jeanne, Les Baux-de-Provence
Frédéric Mistral in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Bouches-du-Rhône
Frédéric Mistral in Saint-Giniez, Marseille
Frédéric Mistral, Marseille
Frédéric Mistral in Avignon
Frédéric Mistral in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Frédéric Mistral in Grambois

16 July 2016

Agricol Perdiguier in Morières-lès-Avignon (84)

At the roundabout at the entrance to the village of  Morières-lès-Avignon is this monument to its son, the writer Agricol Perdiguier (1805–75), who is also honoured in Avignon with a square named after him.

Links to my other Agricol Periguier posts:

Agricol Perdiguier in Avignon
Agricol Perdiguier in cimetière du Père-Lachaise

Alphonse Daudet in Fontvieille (13) again

'Le Mas de l'Arlésienne', with attached restaurant. Well...  Mas is a local word for a farm and house, and' L'Arlésienne' is a fictional character  in Daudet's Lettres de mon moulin (Lettres from my Windmill) based on a true story Frédéric Mistral told him about a nephew of his. A different theatrical version of the story exists.

Daudet is so big in little Fontvieille that even the church milks his work, and a plaque mentions the fact that the first version of his 'Le secret de Maître Cornille' (also in Lettres de mon moulin) speaks of the revolutionary and anti-clerical Jean Coste, but that in the 'definitive text' the church is the centre of social life.

My other Alphonse Daudet posts:

Alphonse Daudet in Fontvieille (13)
Alphonse Daudet and Tartarin de Tarascon in Tarascon (13)
Alphonse Daudet: Tartarin de Tarascon (1872)

Léo Lelée in Fontvieille (13)

1872 . 1947
DE 1919 À 1939'

This is Léo Lelée's workshop, where he is also said to have lived between 1937 and 1939.

Louis Renard in Tarascon (13)

Historien local 1915– 2006 '

It's excellent that a town should recognise the work of its local historians, and hats off to a person who has researched the history of shoemakers in the small town of Tarascon over five hundred years. Among Louis Renard's works are Les Cordeliers de Tarascon : du XIIIe siècle à la Révolution française (1984); Tarascon : le temps retrouvé (1991), La Tarasque (1991), and Tarasacon - Sa vie municipale, quotidienne, religieuse et artistique (1999). Here is a representation of the town's legendary amphibian La Tarasque outside his 'den':

Patrick Modiano: La Petite Bijou (2001)

Patrick Modiano's La Petite Bijou is, it probably goes without saying, a kind of existential detective story, imbued with a somnambulistic ambiance, in which the nineteen-year-old female first-person narrator seems to drift through life, lost in the labyrinthine underground corridors of Châtelet, lost in a temporal confusion, not knowing how to distinguish truth from fiction. Her mother used to call her La Petite Bijou, 'The Little Jewel', but then she wasn't much of a mother to her, and her uncle Jean Borand, who used to look after her, may have been her father. But her mother died years ago in Morocco, or so she was told.

Until, that is, she sees a woman in a well-worn yellow coat she thinks is her mother, follows her to a phone booth, a café where she has a few kirs, follows her to her home, obsesses about her, but never actually comes into contact with her. Her mother's real name is Suzanne Cardère (she thinks), although she changed it to Countess Sonia Dauyé, which is not the same name on the door of her the woman's home: that is Boré. It becomes obvious that the identity of her resurrected mother is as nebulous as the thoughts of the protagonist, whose real name (again, she thinks) is Thérèse.

In a bookshop Thérèse meets a man called Moreau, well let's say Moreau-Badmaev, who doesn't do forenames, and there develops a platonic relationship in which she eventually comes to talk about herself, even about the scraps of memory of her past which she keeps in a box. Moreau-Badmaev works as a translator, translating many languages from radio programmes, although it's not known who he works for. Translation is understanding, clarifying things, as this novel often clarifies times of day, and gives exact addresses and telephone numbers: it's as if the book is making a definite stand against itself, against the uncertain nature of the plot.

Thérèse hasn't got her bac and just drifts from casual job to casual job, such as the one she has of child-minder to the Valadiers, parents whose names (forenames Michel and Véra) may well be false, who don't seem concerned for their unnamed child (a psychological projection of La Petite Bijou herself?), seem constantly on the move, never settled, and even ready to abandon their daughter.

And then there's the woman pharmacist who takes so much care of Thérèse, wants to take her away for a few days to take her out of herself, and again seems (like Moreau-Badmaev) to be doing this for no motive other than altruism. And she gives Thérèse some tablets, with which she (intentionally or as if in a haze?) takes an overdose.

My Patrick Modiano posts:

Patrick Modiano: Rue des boutiques obscures | Missing Person
Patrick Modiano: Les Boulevards de ceinture | Ring Roads
Patrick Modiano: L'Horizon
Patrick Modiano: Chien de printemps | Afterimage
Patrick Modiano: La Petite Bijou

14 July 2016

Francisco Pérez Navarro: Galería de moribundos: introducción a las novelas y al teatro de Samuel Beckett (1976)

I was unaware of the existence of this book until a few months ago: ah, the endless power of the internet! I was a friend of Francisco Pérez Navarro's eldest son for some years, although his joke that he thought his father was writing the complete works of Samuel Beckett in Latin now (a little at least) makes more sense: the back cover of this book states that Pérez Navarro had (by 1976 anyway) also (among other things) written a translation of Beckett's Comment c'est (or How It Is in the English edition) into Castilian. (The book also describes him as preparing a work on Peter Weiss called 'Carlota Corday compra un cuchillo' ('Charlotte Corday Buys a Knife'): unfortunately I can discover no reference to this book, or indeed any references to later works by Francisco Pérez Navarro).

Interestingly, the book I own not only has the author's signature but his address in Mapperley, Nottingham: I remember visiting that home as an intellectually naive working-class teenager, terrified yet thrilled to be surrounded by books in French and Spanish in the television-free living-room-cum-library. The back cover of this book also tells me that he moved to England in 1955. It doesn't state that, after living in Great Malvern and marrying the Franco-Swiss teacher Françoise, he moved permanently to Nottingham some time in the 1960s.

For a relatively short time in the eighties the author taught me Spanish at Clarendon College, Nottingham, and his lessons were far removed from the norm. He used to come in, take a large number of books and papers from his bag and line them on his desk, and on one occasion gave me a news item (or fait divers) in French for me to translate aloud (slowly) into English for the class (including myself) to translate back into Spanish. This was, of course, long before Ofsted was created to dumb down the level of education and manufacture robotic students through teachers' lesson plans and exam targets, etc. No, these were the days when education was still fun, not a careers-oriented conveyor belt designed to produce uniform government-worshipping, economically-minded zombies whatever the interchangeable political party.   I don't remember the name of the magazine, but I treasure the moment when, other students out for a break, Francisco quietly slipped me (as if it were an illicit drug) a Spanish anarchist paper and just whispered that I should throw it away if I didn't like it. I'm sorry to say I never kept it through the years.

This is a venerable work now in the fortieth year of its life, and in its day it was ground-breaking not only in that it introduced the Spanish-speaking peoples to works which hadn't been translated, but also addressed issues of poor translation: how about Watt being translated into Spanish with its four parts in chronological order, but not in the order in which they were originally written and published? That's quite a howler.

The title Galería de moribundos comes from 'galerie de moribonds', from Beckett's original French Molloy, and translates literally into English as 'gallery of moribunds', which Malone uses of Murphy, Watt, Yerk, Mercier et al.

So what are the themes throughout Beckett's work? Pérez Navarro uses the lovely expression 'podredumbre ontologíca',  or 'ontological putrefaction', which certainly serves as a general catch-all term, but then within this of course there's meaninglessness, thoughts of suicide, death, the loss or non-existence of God but the ever-clinging religious vocabulary, tramps, clowns, even bicycles (which makes me think of Alfred Jarry). Pérez Navarro reckons that the early More Pricks than Kicks (which he can't seem to decide is a novel or a collection of short stories) contains most of the themes of Beckett's future work.

And although Pérez Navarro's book was written some time before Beckett had finished his publications – the final work mentioned being Not I (1976) certainly  he'd long since achieved his greatest works, most of them written (although not actually published) from 1947 to 1950: the novel trilogy Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and of course the play Waiting for Godot.

Galería de moribundos is essentially a book describing the skeleton of the 'plots' followed by an interpretation of them, and I loved it. My only quibbles are that there isn't a conclusion (although I wonder at the same time how there could be one), but most of all that the author sees Beckett's work as a dramatization of Sartre's L'Étre et le néant. No, I just don't see it: Sartre's work is much more optimistic: there's much more being beyond the nothingness.

Francisco Pérez Navarro's obituary is here.

My Samuel Beckett posts:
Anthony Cronin: Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist
Samuel Beckett: En Attendant Godot | Waiting for Godot
Francisco Pérez Navarro: Galería de moribundos
Deirdre Bair: Samuel Beckett: A Biography
Samuel Beckett, 14e arrondissement

9 July 2016

Le Facteur Cheval's Palais Idéal, Hauterives, Drôme (26)

Le Facteur Cheval (1836–1924), who collected stones during his 32-kilometre daily postal round and spent thirty-two years building a unique, fantastic palace which I rate as one of the few really must-see places in the world. OK, I've not visited Ayers Rock in Australia or the pyramids of Egypt, etc, but then I've never had the faintest interest in visiting either country. In fact I've been to Paris far more times than I can hazard to guess and never had the least desire to ascend the Tour Eiffel or the Arc de Triomphe, but then regular tourism just isn't me.

One of the streets leading to the palace is dedicated to André Malraux, the Ministre de la Culture who classified the monument as of important significance. His detractors had argued that the Palais Idéal is the hideous work of an insane yokel, but mercifully Malraux had the intelligence and the knowledge to say that it would be infantile not to list the Palais: France had the privilege of possessing such a unique example of outsider art. It makes me depressed to think that France's recent former Ministre de Culture Fleur Pellerin (who, to my joy, was sacked) had a wonderful lunch with Patrick Modiano, the winner of the Nobel prize for Literature, and couldn't name a single novel of his, hadn't read any of his work: is that willful ignorance, or what? I think Modiano is far from being the best living French writer to receive such a prize, but all the same...

The bizarre pierre d'achoppement, or stumbling block, which Cheval encountered on his round one day and which reminded him of a dream he'd had of a palace and which he set about creating from that moment. This object has pride of place in his Terrasse, which is up the steps inside the Palais.

The Belvedere was created to view the east elevation of the Palais.

On the Belvedere is one of the many inscriptions that Cheval included in his masterpiece, this one commenting on the passing of time.


And from the top of the Belvedere, a terrific view of the east side of the Palais.

The three giants: César, Vercingétorix, and Archimède.

A close-up shot shows an otter and a leopard between the giants.

La Source de vie, in the middle of the façade, is the point at which Cheval began building.

The superb Temple de la Nature, providing access to the Terrasse at the side.

A little niche inside a tiny passageway accessible via the east side shows where Cheval tucked his trusty wheelbarrow which gathered all the stones.

'Nul n'échappe a sa destinée pas plus que son corps appartient a la terre et l'âme a l'éternitée' [sic]. There are indications that some missing accents have been added, and l'éternité given a redundant 'e', but I've just transcribed it as it reads. Translation: 'No one escapes his destiny any more that his body escapes the earth and his soul eternity.'

Cheval's original intention was for he and his wife to be buried in the Palais, hence the two sarcophagi: local authorities smelt a health hazard though.


And a detail from it.

'Ce que Dieu écrivit sur ton front arivera' [sic]. Another rare example of Cheval misspelling. Lit: 'What God has written on your forehead will happen', presumably meaning that your future's mapped out for you in the eternal plan.


The mosque, with another entrance into the Palais itself.

Château au Moyen-Âge.

Maison Carrée d'Alger.

Maison Blanche.

Chalet Swisse.

Temple hindou.

Cheval inscribed his date of birth here: 12 April 1836.


There are a number of  interpretations attached to the upper part of this side, with its Adam and Eve, its sinuous snake-like shapes, and its many phallic symbols.

There are also several animals in the lower part, such as this doe.

A stag.

With justification, the pride burns: 'Travail d'un seul homme': 'Work of one man'.

A pelican.


A number of Cheval's inscriptions are in the Galerie.

In this one he speaks of all the hard work he has done, even at the risk of his life. He tells of working through the night while others slept.

'En créant ce rocher j'ai voulu prouver ce que peut la volonté: 'By creating this rock I wanted to prove what will is capable of.'

But this is surely by far the most interesting piece of literature. In 1904, after visiting the Palais, Émile Roux Parassac, the poet from Grenoble, wrote a poem in great praise of Cheval's selfless task. Cheval had intended to call the Palais 'Le Temple de la nature', but on reading this he changed it to its present name. He incorporated the poem into the Palais itself, forbidding anyone to write on it.

Ton Palais

C'est de l'art, c'est du rêve et c'est de l'énergie
L'extase d'un beau songe et le prix de l'effort.
Dans la réalité, tu gravas la magie,
Et tu montras comment seul on peut être fort,
Les siècles béniront ce Temple de ta vie
Et ton geste vainqueur saura braver la mort
Tu laisses bien heureux ta noble âme assouvie
Loin de la basse faim de la gloire et de l'or
Lorsque nous reviendrons dans ce palais étrange
Bercé par le passé, nous lirons ta louange,
Sur chacun des cailloux que cisela ta main
Et, devant ton labeur à l'idéal superbe
Tous, en te bénissant, t'offriront une gerbe
Oú vivra la beauté de ton rirant chemin.
                     Le barde alpin. E. Roux


Villa Alicius a few paces from the Palais, and which Cheval also built.


At the side of the villa is a museum dedicated to the Palais Idéal, which of course gives information on its history and the history of the remarkable man responsible for it. This is a small replica in the musée, the photo showing the west side.


Perhaps it's needless to say that Ferdinand Cheval built the Cheval family grave in Hautesrives's cemetery about a mile from his Palais, the style of which is is in keeping with his Palais. I've visited many cemeteries, and the graves I've been looking for have frequently come into view a few seconds before I entered, but this is the only grave that I was looking for which I actually noticed before the cemetery itself!

Hauterives is Le Facteur Cheval and Le Palais Idéal. What few shops there are in the village tend to milk interest in the place to the full, with all kinds of related tourist tat. However, the local hypermarket sells a very useful item: a shopping bag used by the local clientele which is not actually a tourist souvenir. And a snip at 1 euro 50 centimes.

Art brut (Outsider Art) and associated:
Rémy Callot, Carvin (Nord)
Carine Fol (ed.): L'Art brut en question | Outsider Art in Question
Kevin Duffy, Ashton-in-Makerfield
The Art Brut of Léopold Truc, Cabrières d'Avignon (34)
Le Musée Extraordinaire de Georges Mazoyer, Ansouis (34)
Le Facteur Cheval's Palais Idéal, Hauterives (26)
The Little Chapel, Guernsey
Museum of Appalachia, Norris, Clinton, Tennessee
Ed Leedskalnin in Homestead, Florida
La Fabuloserie, Dicy, Yonne (89)
Street Art City, Lurcy-Lévis, Allier (03)
The Outsider Art of Jean Linard, Neuvy-deux-Clochers (18)
Jean Bertholle, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jean-Pierre Schetz, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Jules Damloup, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Camille Vidal, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
Pascal Verbena, La Fabuloserie, Yonne (89)
The Art of Theodore Major
Edward Gorey's Yarmouth Port, Cape Cod, MA
Marcel Vinsard in Pontcharra, Isère (38)
Vincent Capt: Écrivainer : La langue morcelée de Samuel Daiber
The Amazing World of Danielle Jacqui, Roquevaire (13)
Alphonse Gurlie, Maisonneuve (07)
Univers du poète ferrailleur, Lizio, Morbihan
Les Rochers sculptés de L'Abbé Fouré, Rothéneuf, Saint-Malo
Robert Tatin in Cossé-le-Vivien, Mayenne
René Raoul's Jardin de pierre in Pléhédel, Côtes d'Armor
La Demeure du Chaos, Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d'Or, Rhône (69)
Emmanuel Arredondo in Varennes Vauzelles, Nièvre (58)
Musée de la Luna Rossa (revisited), Caen, Calvados (14)
La Fontaine de Château-Chinon, Nièvre (58)