31 May 2019

Le Ballon captif, Épernay, Marne (41)

'Le Ballon captif', Épernay, Marne. For a tourist attraction, and an advert for the Champagne produced here, I suppose it's not too bad: they could have thought up much worse things! The AC stands for Avenue de Champagne, where the much photographed Moët & Chandon building is, incidentally diagonally opposite L'hôtel de ville, in the park of which is a very fruitful boîte à lire.

25 May 2019

Raymond Queneau: Un rude hiver | A Hard Winter (1939)

Like, for instance, 'Bouville' in Sartre's novel La Nausée (1938), Armand Salacrou's play Boulevard Durand (1960) and many other works, this is a book set in Le Havre. The period is World War I, and Raymond Queneau, born in Le Havre, spent the first seventeen years of his life there until the end of the war. The main character in Un rude hiver is Bernard Lehameau – a lieutenant now recovering from schrapnel wounds – who lost his mother, his wife and his first sister-in-law in a cinema fire in Le Havre on 21 February 1903: the date, it just so happens, is the date Queneau was born.

Lehameau is an ambivalent and contradictory character who enlivens the lives of two children – Annette (aged 14) and Polo (aged 5) – by taking them to the cinema and treating them in other ways, although problems set in when Annette falls in love with him. In fact he's already in love anyway – with the young English woman Helena Weeds from the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), who is temporarily based in Le Havre. But then, how can a person tell he's in love with someone if he hasn't had sex since his wife died thirteen years before?

And then there are his ideas, his (somewhat paradoxical loathing) of the working class, his wishing that Germany were a protectorate of France, etc. In the end he comes together with Annette and Polo's elder sister, the prostitute Madeleine.

There are many other characters in this odd novel, although many years before Zazie dans le métro there is a half-similar evident love of playing with language, not only obscure French words but deforming English as in the words 'un fleurte', 'poudigne' and 'visqui', or whole sentences such as 'Zey lâffe, bicose zey dou notte undèrrstande'.

24 May 2019

Françoise Chandernagor: La Première épouse (1998)

Oddly, it's in a British book that I found a vital reference to Françoise Chandernagor's La Première épouse, which, like most of her novels, hasn't been translated into English. Brian Unwin, in With Respect, Minister: A View from Whitehall (2016) mentions that, as a civil servant, he knew both Philippe Jurgensen and his wife Françoise Chandernagor, who wrote La Première épouse, 'a somewhat bitter and thinly disguised novel' about the marriage breakup.

Yes, I thought this novel was from the heart, although I can't agree with the back cover, which claims she writes this with a lyrisme contenu ('contained lyricism') and a 'style sobre': far from it, as a wonderful, if really wild, rant from a dumped wife. So wild is it that it reminded me very much of Simone de Beauvoir's La Femme rompu, a book which the narrator of this novel mentions in passing.

Not only ranting, but also repetition are the order of the day here, although the writer can obviously be excused: she is merely echoing Catherine's thoughts as she can't help keeping them on permanent playback. A thirty-year-old relationship, twenty-five of them married, four children, only to be given the choice during – of all times – an anniversary meal in a restaurant: 'Divorce ou séparation ?' It's not as if they've not had a 'modern' marriage – from the husband Francis's point of view that is – one of her 'friends' tells her 'Ton mari, il baiserait une chèvre !' ('Your husband would fuck a goat!).

Laura Casale (of Italian origin, of course) is the 'lucky' woman who has partly been living with Francis for some time, although she doesn't of course know anything about his past, meaning all the years of marriage Catherine has known, all the little things that can't be forgotten, that have come back to haunt this broken woman, this woman in mourning as she calls herself. Time of course always heals, in spite of the unsightly scars. I loved the book, although at 255 pages it's a hell of a long rant.

21 May 2019

Art Brut and related posts - latest update

My May 2019 update of my Art Brut and similar posts collection:

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)
La Fabuloserie, Dicy, Yonne (89)
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)
Carine Fol (ed.): Outsider Art in Question
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
La Demeure du Chaos, Saint-Romain-au-Mont-d'Or, Rhône (69)
René Raoul's Jardin de pierre in Pléhédel, Côtes d'Armor

20 May 2019

Pierre Citron: Jean Giono 1875 [sic] –1970 (1990)

Pierre Citron's Giono 1875 [sic-1970 gets off to a bad start because the title page (as opposed to the correct cover title) makes his date of birth twenty years before it in fact was: he was of course born in 1895. That weird proofreading oversight – all the weirder because Seuil is a major publishing house – notwithstanding, this is still a huge contribution to knowledge of Jean Giono, a masterly work, on a great author, written by someone who not only had access to Giono's papers, but who knew him over a large period of time. I hesitate to call this the definitive work on Giono only because I believe Citron's later unpublished 'Les Ordres étranges. Sur les amours de Giono' should adjust the gaping hole in this biography – when the opening of it is allowed in, I think, 2040! But more of that below.

This biography is a work by an academic, a considerable 670-page book with copious textual apparatus. It's also a critical biography, including Giono's many works: his novels, plays, non-fiction, newspaper articles, film work, etc. And Citron often gives his opinion of the value of these works in Giono's oeuvre as a whole. I found Citron's brief mention of Giono's earlier substantivising of adjectives fascinating: 'le sensible des cuisses', 'le gluant du courant', 'le profond de sa pipe', etc –  this is part of his description of how Giono's writing develops between the years before and after World War II.

Citron's book isn't a eulogy of the man, either: it includes his faults, although that is at the same time a way of fleshing the man out, humanising him more. And of course in so doing it adds humour to the text: it's interesting to learn, for instance, of Giono's clumsiness, of how he tried to learn to drive earlier in his life when he was working in a bank in Manosque but failed to get the hang of a work colleague's Citroën. So it may appear odd that Giono, in his correspondence home during World War I, should mention apparent physical feats: Citron realises that Giono is merely trying to put his worried family's mind at rest, knowing from his experiences of playing darts and boules with him that Giono really was incorrigibly clumsy, that he had great problems with objects. He even mentions the time that Giono, in his Le Paraïs home, called out an electrician to mend his broken radio: he'd just forgotten to plug it in.

In Giono's work untruths have an importance, and as a story-teller – in other words a kind of professional liar – he often had a cavalier attitude to the truth: he couldn't, for instance, understand why Readers' Digest didn't like the work he had, as asked, sent them ('L'Homme qui plantait des arbres') but invented (which wasn't asked for) the man who planted trees: why bother to commission a story-teller if he wasn't allowed to tell stories? Pure and simply, Giono was often economical with the truth, treated it not so much perhaps with contempt but with indifference: any numbers he mentioned might well be exaggerated, certainly they changed frequently during different tellings.

This, in a roundabout way, brings us to how Pierre Citron, in writing this book, entered into a 'moral contract' with Giono's daughter Sylvie not to make any mention of Giono's extra-marital affairs, and this contract was also included in the Pléiadisation of his work. This means that there is only a fleeting mention of Simone Téry, only a few mentions of Hélène Laguerre (as a pacifist friend), but no mention at all of the woman who influenced a number of aspects of Giono's work (including the bizarre second half of the biography on Herman Melville – Pour Saluer Melville (1974)), a woman who appears in Giono's work under different guises, with whom Giono had a passionate love affair, and to whom he wrote well over a thousand letters between 1939 and the year of his death in 1970 : Blanche Meyer, who first came to Manosque with her solicitor husband, and first came to Giono's attention when she wanted a copy of Joyce's Ulysses from a local bookseller.

The vast majority of Giono's letters went to Yale University in Connecticut, and from these Patricia A. Le Page wrote her university thesis 'Space of Passion: The Love Letters of Jean Giono to Blanche Meyer' in 2004. The truth was at last out. Annick Stevenson's book Jean Giono et Blanche Meyer reached a larger public in 2007. In 2013 Pierre Citron's widow Suzanne wrote an article in Histoires Littéraires revealing the existence of the 232-page typescript 'Les Ordres étranges. Sur les amours de Jean Giono', which her husband had deposited at the Bibliothèque nationale. The half-title refers to an expression which appears in Giono's novel Le Chant du monde: 'Dessous campait cette partie de sa chair d'où jaillissaient les ordres étranges', which is obviously a reference to an erection. The following year (2014) the novelist and singer Taos Amrouche's Cahiers Intimes were published posthumously; this is a 476-page collection of her writings in her diaries, and it was quite evident that she was very much in love with Giono, although their liaison was brief. She mentions one sentence that a number of writers have repeated: 'Il m’a prise par trois fois et pour la première fois, il a osé me retourner et entrer par-derrière' ('He took me on three occasions, on the first of which he dared to turn me round and enter me from behind'): oddly, the title of the short chapter in Citron's typescript (revealed by Suzanne) is called 'Taos ou la tentation refusée' – an instance of Giono lying again?

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

14 May 2019

André Blavier #7: Alexandre-Vincent-Charles Berbiguier

Alexandre-Vincent-Charles Berbiguier de Terre-Neuve du Thym (1764 or 1776) was a fou littéraire who appears, among other collections of outsider writers, in Pierre-Gustave Brunet's Les Fous littéraires : essai bibliographique sur la littérature (1880) and André Blavier's Les Fous littéraires (1882; rev. 2000). He was born in Carpentras, where he died in a 'hospice', and is most noted for his triple-volume self-published work Les farfadets, ou tous les démons ne sont pas de l'autre monde (1821), all about the little devils, elves, imps, goblins, call them what you will, but they have been making Berbiguier's life a mess for many years.

Berbiguier addresses his monster work of exorcism (as he hopes) – of which I've only read a certain number of pages (the ones in Blavier: a person can, er, only have so much of a 'bad' thing) – to all the leaders of the world, that they may be conscious of the colossal problems of the farfadets, of the torments they can bring to people's lives, for which he makes no apologies for creating neologisms from the root of the common noun: the abstract noun farfadérisme, the verb farfadériser, and the adjective farfadérien.

I'm not sure if it's just a question of Blavier's examples from this huge work, but the overwhelming impression I got from the excerpts was that Berbiguier's problem is at root Freudian: fear of sex, latent homosexuality, asexuality? Who can tell, but when a shameless demoiselle says that she knows what his problem is and puts her hand on his thigh, he behaves as if it's the end of the world – she's a farfadet! He's goes home with his thigh in pain. Furthermore, farfadets make women pregnant when their man is away, wreck marriages, can even cause virgin birth, and illnesses, etc.

Well, the pioneer psychotherapist Philippe Pinel couldn't cure him, so who could? An excellent, very funny rant to be taken in short doses, and I may well return to it for more fun: the book puts Berbiguier well up the with the best of the fous littéraires. And it's available – in full – free online through Gallica.

My André Blavier/Fous littéraires posts:
André Blavier: Les Fous littéraires #1
André Blavier #2: Alexandre Ansaldi, G. Clair/Rupin Schkoff, Camarasa

André Blavier #3: Hyacinthe Dans
André Blavier #4: Ernest de Garay, aka Karl-des-Monts
André Blavier #5: Francisque Tapon-Fougas
André Blavier #6: Jules Allix
André Blavier #7: Alexandre-Vincent-Charles Berbiguier

9 May 2019

Guy des Cars: Une certaine dame (1971)

The aristocratically born Guy des Cars, who without  expectation churned out novels at about the rate of one a year, was nicknamed 'Guy des Gares' by his detractors in recognition of his beach, or airport reads. But was he that bad?

Une certaine dame (a 435-page novel) is narrated by Dominique Gonzalez, and is almost entirely in flashback. It begins with the arrival of the stunningly beautiful Dominique with her billionaire Argentinian husband Miguel to a plush hotel in Biarritz with their four-year-old (adopted) son Raphaëlito, where Dominique dazzles the clientele.

But then things go wrong for Dominique: she is recognised by Patrick, a guy out on his luck who now starts blackmailing Dominique: he wants money, or expensive items he can sell in exchange for his silence over Dominique's past.

In the end Patrick ends up dead by a bullet in him, most probably arranged by Miguel, who is now in Sorrento many miles away from wagging tongues, from where no damage can be caused to the reputation of Dominique and her family. And the huge flashback?

This is what is hard to believe, the fact that Dominique's mother – disillusioned by her boyfriend in youth – should, as a result of an unfortunate sexual encounter with him, which resulted in the birth of Dominique, have chosen to shun the male sex so much that she brings the male Dominique up as a girl.

And the damage is big: Dominique is scorned so much by his/her fellow schoolmates, and misunderstood by the teachers, that he/she finds life unbearable. This is the cue for Dominique's mother to arrange for private lessons at home, hormone therapy, and, well...

Dominique doesn't like being a man, and although she enjoys the androgynous club her (and her mother's) friend Rara introduces her to, even later enjoys (with (truly unbelievably) her mother's approval) performing a striptease on stage down to a cache-sexe, she's decided to go the whole sexual hog and completely change sex.

Guy des Cars evidently delights in describing stories of the unusual, at the time no doubt considered slightly risqué, although today of course these matters are par for the course. Will his work continue to be read? I suspect not, although no doubt from time to time there be renewed interest in the work of Guy des Cars from a historical literary point of view.

5 May 2019

Frédéric Mistral: Mireille (1859)

Frédéric Mistral's epic narrative rural poem Mireille was and still is considered a major work of literature by many writers and critics, among them Barbey d'Aurévilly, Lamartine, André Chamson, and (perhaps most importantly for its initial reception) the academic Saint-René Taillandier.

Inevitably, Mireille's story of star-crossed lovers has been compared to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (star-crossed by class rather than family), but also to Goethe's Hermann und Dorothea, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's Paul et Virginie, and Longfellow's Evangeline. Perhaps equally inevitably, this is also considered by many to be essentially a love story, although Mistral intended it (as it is written in both French and Provençal (as Mirèio) as more a renewal of a dying language and as a hymn to the glory of old Provence: the male protagonist Vincent, the son of Ambrose, is from a family of basket-makers and menders in Vallabrègues, a small town in Gard, in fact the only commune on the left bank of the Rhône which is in Gard.

Comparisons have been made between Mistral's work in general and a number of international poets – Virgil, Byron, Burns, Wordsworth and Hardy, for example – although in the case of Mireille Homer is more appropriate: this is an odyssey, but of a very different nature.

Vincent is almost sixteen and evidently comes from a very modest family, but his lover the fifteen-year-old Mireille (a variant (via the Provençal Mirèio: thanks Vagabonde (aka Mireille!)) of Mary, a symbol of purity) is from a far wealthier one: a marriage such as this would therefore be a mésalliance, and very strongly opposed to the wishes of her father Ramon, who lives with his family in the Mas de Micocoule.*

Like Homer's Penelope, Mireille has her suitors, all three of them in possession of considerable property: the shepherd Alari, Veran (a keeper of mares), and the repulsive cowherd Ourrias. She rejects them all in favour of the lowly Vincent, and when her parents object she runs from home in flight across the Crau to Saintes-Maries-de-le-Mer, where she hopes that they will give their approval of the match. Unfortunately she catches sunstroke towards the end of her journey and dies soon after reaching Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

There is a statue of her, taken by me in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, elsewhere on this blog. (Unfortunately for haters of tourism, although of course the opposite for the economy of the area, this is one of the smaller towns that have suffered from the effects of Peter Mayle's eulogies about Provence.)

*A micocoule is a hackberry, an edible (but little eaten) fruit of the micocoulier tree.

My Frédéric Mistral posts:
Frédéric Mistral at Le Mas du Juge
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
Frédéric Mistral in Saint-Giniez, Marseille
Frédéric Mistral, Marseille
Frédéric Mistral in Avignon
Frédéric Mistral in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
Frédéric Mistral in Grambois
Frédéric Mistral in Saint-Michel-l'Obsevatoire
Frédéric Mistral in Pertuis

4 May 2019

Dominique Mainard: Leur histoire (2002)

The first half or so of this uneven book – which is about trauma and more particularly the hell of illiteracy in a modern world – is exquisitely written in a language of its own, feeding the reader with pieces of information at a slow pace, you can wince for the traumatised characters, feel for their lack of ability to communicate, to cocoon themselves in on themselves. Nadèjda is one of the two main characters, a woman whose literacy stopped at the age of six, when her grandmother died while reading to her.

From then on Nadèjda – whose ancestors come from a country she can't put a name to but from which her grandparents had to flee from to save their lives – is one of the walking wounded. She manages to find work in a bird shop and starts living with a man who is aware of her illiteracy even though it isn't spoken about, although her verbophobia is apparent from the way she tries to steer him away from reading. But the crisis point comes when Nadèjda discovers that her companion keeps what seems to be a journal: she draws a rectangle round each word and fills them all in. By her companion's reaction she feels that she must leave, and he gives her a large sum of money for the abortion of the child she's carrying.

But she decides to have her child, Anna, who is perfectly capable of speaking but doesn't, she carries the verbophobia through to another generation, and because of these problems is bullied at school and moves to a school for the deaf and dumb. The teacher there, Merlin, knows that Anna has something special in her, and he also realises that Nadèjda too has a great number of psychological problems which need bringing to the fore, to exorcise them.

It seems evident where all this is leading, that Merlin is in love with Nadèjda and vice versa, and from there we go downhill, into sentimentality. Some those scenes of the school celebrations are a little too soppy, and although there's a (very unexpected because so rapid and oddly situated) naked sex romp in Merlin's car, and although that's not exactly the end and all three are happy ever after, the final two chapters (and the last in particular) aren't as could be predicted.

That final chapter spins us almost into a dreamscape, almost into a nightmare world set in and around Nadèjda's parents' holiday seaside bungalow, where many odd things happen. There are so many beautiful words in this book that I ended up really disappointed way before the end.

3 May 2019

Zavière Gauthier: La vierge rouge : Biographie de Louise Michel (1999); repr. and addition to L'Insoumise (1990)

Zavière Gauthier's La Vierge rouge is a partly fictionalised biography of Louise Michel: she introduces conversation, mixes her own words and thoughts with those of Michel, generally turns a biography into a novelised creation, and yet it works.

Born in 1830, Michel was the product of a servant (Marianne Michel)  and – most probably – Laurent Demahis, the son of Étienne-Charles Demahis, the owner of a ruinous castle near the very small village of Vroncourt-la-Côte, Haute-Marne. The castle no longer exists, although a memorial to Michel with interpretation boards stand near its place.

Michel received a good and liberal education and later left to teach in Paris. One of her pupils was Mathilde Mauté de Fleurville, who Paul Verlaine married. Michel wrote a brief verse predicting a good future for the marriage, although the world of course knows otherwise.

She is most known, of course, for her anarchistic views, her activities in the Paris Commune, and her friendship with Victor Hugo, with whom she probably had a brief sexual liaison. From a physical and psychological distance, she loved the Communard Théophile Ferré, who was killed in the fighting and buried in the cemetery in Levallois-Perret, where Michel was buried in 1905.

The most interesting part for me came when she was deported to New Caledonia (then the French version of the UK's Australia), to a penal colony where she not only learned the language of the native Kanaks, braved her way into gaining their respect, but sided with them against the prison authorities. They showered gifts on her when she felt she had to leave to see her ailing mother.

After the New Caledonian episode Michel's life – return to prison, followed by seemingly hectic lecture tours all over France – seemed to come as an anticlimax, but then perhaps it was for her to some extent. It is in the nature of the French to love many of their anarchists, and I find it fitting that a large area in front of the Sacré-Cœur has been named after her, and that a statue of her (with a representation of one of her beloved cats snuggling around her skirt) is in Lavallois-Perret.

My Louise Michel posts:
Zavière Gauthier: La vierge rouge : Biographie de Louise Michel
Louise Michel in Levallois-Perret
Louise Michel in Marseille

Jean Giono: Regain | Second Harvest (1930)

The cover shows Arsule on the banks of a stream that she and Gédémus have pulled him from after a fall. She's been working like a slave for Gédémus, who has a knife-grinding machine he wanders around Provence with, earning very little. But Gédémus in a sense saved Arsule (whose real name might be Irène but Arsule seems to fit better) far from being a singing slave to Tony, playing the bars after walking to various places until she's fit to drop.

While Gédémus is sleeping they go to Panturle's house in Aubignane (modelled on Redortiers), a small village where he's the only person left after Gaubert and la Mamèche have gone. The title Regain can refer to a second harvest, or to a renewal, and is a very apt title because the book is about a number of different kinds of renewal: the life of both Arsule and Panturle are renewed, in the end the couple have new neighbours and the village is renewed, life is coming to it and Arsule is pregnant.

Arsule changes Panturle, renews the man who cared little for his appearance, who brought dirty wood into the house but now leaves it outside, and lived by killing wild animals but now is given a plough by the dying Gaubert and has a horse and a large quantity of corn seed borrowed from a friend from a nearby village. And soon Panturle grows the best (virtually only, but nevertheless very superior quality) corn, which he sells for a good price in town.

Marcel Pagnol made a film of Giono's Regain, although somehow it was a bit too comical, played for laughs as it (almost) could only be with the huge toothed, usually smiling, optimistic Fernandel as Gédémus. The two are rather different stories, but Giono's is the more powerful. It marks the final part of the author's Pan trilogy after Colline (1928) and Un de Baumugnes (1929). 

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