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Literary escapade: Marcel Proust on his mother’s side – an exhibition

July 24, 2022 8 comments

After the exhibition at the Musée Carnavalet (see my billets here and here), my celebration of the centenary of Proust’s death continues with another Parisian exhibition. Indeed, the Musée d’art et d’histoire du judaïsme set in the Marais quarter currently hosts an exhibition about Proust on his mother’s side.

Proust’s great grandfather, Baruch Weil (1780-1828) directed a porcelain manufactory in Fontainebleau and was the official circumciser of the synagogue Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth in Paris. Nahé, one of his sons, married Adèle Berncastel (1824-1890) they had a daughter, Jeanne.

Jeanne Weil married Adrien Proust, a doctor from Eure-et-Loir who was probably a freemasonry acquaintance of her father.

Combray is on Adrien’s side. Adrien and Jeanne had a civil marriage and decided that their children would be educated as catholic. Nevertheless, Marcel and Robert went to the Lycée Concordet, a Républican high school and not a Catholic school.

So, Adèle Weil is Proust’s grandmother, the one who reads Mme de Sévigné and Saint-Simon in In Search of Lost Time. Jeanne is Proust’s mother. Adèle and Jeanne had a solid education and studied more than most girls of their time who were brought up for marriage and nothing else. (See Balzac and Flaubert) Here are photographs of these two important ladies who raised Marcel into the writer he became.

Marcel Proust was close to the Weil family. His great-uncle Louis lived in Auteuil where Proust used to live when he was a child. The great-uncle Louis is in In Search of Lost Time under Oncle Adolphe. He was rich and had no children: he left his money to his nephew Georges and his niece Jeanne and Marcel inherited part of his fortune after his mother died.

Jeanne Weil was very important in her son’s life. They had a close relationship. It came from the circumstances of his birth (right during the Paris Commune and his poor health. (Marcel almost died of an athma attack when he was ten) Beside her traditional role as a mother, she was the one interested in arts. She traveled with him, helped him translate Ruskin as her English was better than his. Adèle, Jeanne and Marcel were the art lovers while Robert was more into science and sports and closer to his father.

The exhibition aimed at pinpointing the importance of his Jewish roots in Proust’s life and literature. Sometimes I thought the connections were obvious and interesting to explore and sometimes I thought it was a bit farfetched. Let’s start with those.

The exhibition makes a comparison between Proust’s manuscripts and their “paperoles”, additions to the text and transcripts of the Talmud with their peripheral commentaries surrounding the text. See for yourself.

Sure, his “paperoles” and additions to the text exist but any other writer could have done the same, no?

His Jewish family lodgings in Auteuil or in Paris became places in his novel. His stays in Normandy from 1880 to 1914 among the Jewish intelligentsia are in the center of In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. This is where we hear about the Narrator’s Jewish friend Bloch. It was the opportunity to see a few paintings as illustrations of the atmosphere of the time. I always enjoy impressionist paintings and I love that they give us glimpses of life at the end of the 19th century.

There is also a special display about Esther, Jewish the heroin of The Book of Esther. Jeanne Proust admired this heroin a lot and Sarah Bernhardt (La Berma) performed in the play Esther by Racine. It was also mentioned that Raynaldo Hahn, Proust’s friend and ex-lover accompanied her at the piano.

Then the passage about Charlus’s secret. He’s one of the homosexual characters of In Search of Lost Time. The link between homosexuality and the Jewish community is that both communities had to lay low. It sounds more an excuse to include the major theme of homosexuality in the exhibition than anything else.

I thought that the real themes about Jews in In Search of Lost Time are the Dreyfus Affair and how Proust paints Jewish characters. The Dreyfus Affair is a key topic in Proust’s work. He was on the Dreyfusard side, right from the beginning. He supported Zola and signed a protest. And yet he remained friend with the despicable Léon Daudet, a notorious anti-Semitic writer. (I’m glad that Proust never got to see how his friend turned out in the 1930s until his death)

His work depicts with accuracy the impact of this affair on the social order. He shows how families were torn apart. With light touches here and there, he makes the reader understand how antisemitic the French society was and I can truly say that reading Proust made me understand how Vichy happened. There were antisemitic roots that Vichy watered, grew and exploited.

The two main Jewish characters in Proust’s masterpiece are Charles Swann and Bloch. Swann represents the elegant and cultivated Jew while Bloch embodies the opposite. Proust was sometimes criticized because his Jewish characters seem caricatural while they are only the mirror of the society’s prejudices and not reflecting the author’s opinion.

The exhibition also points out that the Zionist movement rapidly stressed Proust’s Jewishness. It happened right after his death, in the 1920s. His work was quoted in several reviews and his recognition as a Jewish and universal artist was early. This is something I wasn’t aware of.

All in all, it was informative and interesting to think about Proust’s work through his Jewish background. It was the opportunity to visit this museum and see its permanent collections about Jewish history and culture.

Marcel Proust & Paris Exhibition – People and characters

February 28, 2022 19 comments

I imagine that a lot of readers of In Search of Lost Time wonder who were the real people behind the main characters of Proust’s masterpiece. The characters are so striking that they stay with you years after you’ve read La Recherche and it’s natural to want to dig out who was who between the Narrator’s life and Marcel’s. It doesn’t help that the Narrator is named Marcel, it blurs the lines between fiction and autobiography.

The Marcel Proust and Paris exhibition that I mentioned in my previous billet showed real life person vs characters.

Odette de Crécy

Odette de Crécy is the courtesan who captures the imagination and the heart of Charles Swann. We meet her in the first volume, Swann’s Way. She’s also the mother of Gilberte, the Narrator’s first love.

Odette de Crécy is modelled after Laure Hayman. She was a courtesan, first the mistress of Proust’s great-uncle Weill, then of his father Adrien. The rumor says the Marcel wanted to take over the family tradition and propositioned her but she rejected him. She had a salon, 4 rue La Pérouse in Paris, where famous writers went. Some dukes too but not their duchesses. She wasn’t too happy to recognize herself in Odette de Crécy, even if Proust always denied that it was her.

Charles Swann

Charles Swann is the key character of Swann’s Way. He was friends with the Narrator’s parents, went to salons in the high society and his love for Odette led him to the bourgeois salon of Madame Verdurin. He was very cultured and refined, his love for Odette was a surprise in the higher circles.

Swann’s real-life counterpart is Charles Haas (1832-1902) He was a star of several salons, including Madame Straus’s. Like Swann, he was Jewish, well-introduced in the world and known for his intelligence, his excellent manners and his broad culture. He was the lover of several famous ladies, like the actress Sarah Bernhardt. (Herself a model for La Berma in La Recherche)

Robert de Saint-Loup

Robert de Saint-Loup is the Narrator’s dear friend. They confide to each other, spend a lot of time together. They have a really close relationship. The Narrator knows about Robert’s liaison with the actress Rachel and Robert knows that the Narrator hides Albertine in his home.

Proust had several friends from his high school days but two dear friends stand out in his life. The first one is Raynaldo Hahn. They were close friends during twenty-eight years, it ended with Proust’s death. Hahn was a musician and a composer. Their relationship started with a liaison that turned into a long-lasting friendship. I’d like to think that there is something of him in Robert de Saint-Loup. The specialists think differently.

Robert de Saint-Loup was modeled after two other friends of Proust: Prince Antoine Bibesco (1878-1951) and Bertrand de Salignac-Fénelon (1878-1914).

A scene in La Recherche, where Robert de Saint Loup goes for the Narrator’s coat when he’s cold in a restaurant has happened in real life between Marcel and Bertrand. Bertrand de Fénelon died in combat in 1914, his body was never found. Proust only learnt about his death in March 1915 and was very distressed by his loss. Specialists think that Fénelon misunderstood Proust’s love for friendship. He died the same year as Agostinelli and the grief has certainly fueled Albertine Gone.

The Baron de Charlus

The Baron de Charlus, brother of the duc de Guermantes is the most famous homosexual character in La Recherche. He’s an art afficionado, appreciated in salons for his artistic tastes. In La Recherche, we will see him in the throes of passion, we will follow him to gay brothels and discover the underground gay Paris. Proust knew it well too.

Everyone agrees to see Robert de Montesquiou (1855-1921) in the Baron de Charlus. Proust and Montesquiou met in Madame Lemaire’s salon. They admired each other greatly and Proust called him “professeur de beauté” (teacher of beauty)

Montesquiou was a dandy, a poet and a novelist. He was the cousin of the comtesse Greffulhe. Like Laure Hayman, he was furious to discover himself as a character in La Recherche. I’ve never heard of him as a writer, even if he wrote eighteen collections of poems, two novels and twenty-two art and literature critics. He was very influencial in Proust’s life, for introducing him in salons and for developing his artistic tastes. He was an early promoter of lots of poets and artists, with an incredible capacity to unearth new talents and adopt new forms of art.

I haven’t read Against Nature by Huysmans, but Montesquiou also inspired the character of des Esseintes.

Madame Verdurin

Madame Verdurin has a salon that grows from bourgeois to high society in the course of La Recherche. She has around her a little clique of writers, musicians, painters and other professions. Madame Verdurin is based upon Madeleine Lemaire.

Proust was a frequent visitor in Madame Lemaire’s salon. He met there several of his close friends or acquaintances, like Raynaldo Hahn or Robert de Montesquiou. Madame Lemaire had a famous salon where numerous artists met. She was a painter herself and illustrated Proust’s first book, Les Plaisirs et les jours, in 1896. Like Madame Verdurin, she was very peremptory in her likes and dislikes and regular visitors of her salon were expected to bow to her judgements.

The duchesse de Guermantes

The duchesse de Guermantes was the Narrator’s ideal. He dreams about her and maneuvers to go to her salon. Being a regular guest at Oriane de Guermantes’s soirees is the highlight of his society life. The enchantment lasts a moment but the Narrator quickly discovers his idol’s flaws and the duchesse de Guermantes turns out to be not so likeable after all. The duchesse de Guermantes was created after the Comtesse Greffulhe, Madame de Chévigné and Madame Straus.

The Comtesse Greffulhe was a star in the Parisian high society at the turning of the 20th century. She was a painter and played the piano. She promoted various artists and loved Wagner, whom Proust adored too.

The Comtesse Geffulhe met Proust in 1893, at a soirée at the princesse de Wagram’s. She was a lot more intelligent than La Recherche lets out. She helped artists but also funded Marie Curie, as she was also interested in science.

Proust met Laure de Sade, future comtesse de Chévigné in 1891. She’s the descendant of the Marquis de Sade and she had a famous musical salon in Paris, 34 rue de Mirosmenil. Like the Narrator with the duchesse de Guermantes, Proust used to watch out for her when she was taking her morning stroll. Proust was fascinated by her and in love with her too. They remained friends during twenty-eight years, until she was hurt when she discovered herself in Madame de Guermantes and refused to read Proust’s novel.

Some say that the duchesse de Guermantes was also inspired by Madame Straus (1849-1926)

She also had a famous salon where artists gathered. Maupassant was a frequent visitor (She’s the main character of his novel Fort comme la mort). Robert de Montesquiou went to her salon too.

This is where Proust met Charles Haas, who will become Swann. In 1898, the Straus move into their new mansion, 108, rue de Miromesnil.

The duc de Guermantes

The duc de Guermantes is a formidable character in La Recherche but he’s not as interesting to the Narrator as his wife Oriane or his brother Charlus. Indeed, he has nothing in common with the Narrator. He cheats on his wife, he’s rude, talks with a booming voice, and is not interested in the arts.

He’s modeled after the comte Greffuhle. He was fabulously rich, cheated on his wife repeatedly and as soon as they were married. He loved hunting, understood nothing to art and disliked his wife’s artistic friendships. Sounds like the duc de Guermantes to me, indeed.

Albertine

And what about Albertine? It is admitted that Albertine was modeled after Alfred Agostinelli (1888-1914) He met Proust in 1907 when he drove him to Normandy. Agostinelli was a chauffeur who became Proust’s secretary. Agostinelli was passionate about aviation and he died in a crash in 1914. Proust was in love with him but his love was unrequited. Now you know where Albertine Gone comes from.

Artists in La Recherche.

Bergotte is THE writer in La Recherche. The Narrator loves his books. Bergotte is a frequent guest at Madame Verdurin’s, which confirms her ability to detect real talents. He seems to have been made of Anatole France and Paul Bourget. Ironically, unlike Maupassant or Zola, they are not a writers that people commonly read today. The irony. Anatole France had national funerals when he died but I think that his books are unreadable today.

Elstir is THE painter of La Recherche. He’s an impressionist based upon Monet, Manet, Renoir, Helleu, Whistler and Boudin. Proust must have met Monet, Manet and Renoir through Mallarmé, who was close to Berthe Morisot’s circle. He’s also a member of Madame Verdurin’s salon.

Vinteuil is THE composer of La Recherche with his sonata. There’s no actual link with a real composer.

La Berma. This actress features in beautiful pages about Phèdre and theatre. It is notorious that Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) and Réjane (1856-1920) inspired the character of La Berma.

After writing about all these characters of La Recherche and their real-life inspirations, it strikes me that it was really a small world. The salons were very close, geografically and they all knew each other. How was it to be surrounded with so many great artists? What has become of salons today and what replaced them?

A lot of Proust’s models didn’t like how he portrayed them in his novels. Was he too harsh or didn’t they like that he saw through them so well? I suppose there are some clues in Proust’s abundant correspondence. What they didn’t foresee is that their socialite friend or acquaintance would give them a form of immortality. Truly, all these people would have been long forgotten if Proust hadn’t used them in La Recherche. So, literature gave them their immortality. The only ones who survived through their own merits are the painters who shaped out Elstir and and in a lesser way the writers who inspired Bergotte.

I hope you had fun with me in peaking at what was behind the scenes of La Recherche and read about its who’s who.

PS : Another thought. We must be grateful that Robert Proust was not the same prick as Paul Claudel. Otherwise, you bet that some serious editing about homosexuality would have been done in the volumes published after Marcel’s death. And let’s not think about what could have happened to his correspondence.

Marcel Proust & Paris Exhibition – Proust in Paris

February 24, 2022 36 comments

The exhibition Marcel Proust, Un roman parisien at the Musée Carnavalet shows the importance of Paris in Proust’s life and in In Search of Lost Time. (“La Recherche”). It explores Proust’s Paris and the fictional Paris of La Recherche.

Proust has lived in Paris all his life, except for his stays in Illiers-Combray or Cabourg and his travels to Venice. The exhibition traces his family’s origins, the apartments they occupied in Paris and the places they used to spend time in. There are even maps of them!

Proust was born in 1871 in Auteuil, a village incorporated to Paris in 1860 and which is now the wealthy 16th arrondissement. His great-uncle had a country house there and Proust’s parents found shelter there during the Commune. Then they moved to the 8th arrondissement, where Proust would spend all his life. This area of Paris was modeled by the Baron Haussmann: large avenues, trees, not far from the Bois de Boulogne.

Rich bourgeois had mansions built there. In today’s touristic Paris, it’s the Boulevard Haussmann and its famous department stores, the Garnier Opera, the La Madeleine Church, the Saint-Augustin Church. We have to remember that for Proust as a child, everything around him was rather new.

The exhibition shows all the places that were Proust’s quotidian in Paris, so there is nothing about Cabourg or Illiers, translated as Balbec and Combray in his novel.

Proust spent his early childhood in Auteuil. Laure Hayman, a famous cocotte of the time was his great-uncle mistress. Marcel went to play at the Champs Elysées and he had various crushes on girls. His father, Adrien Proust, was a gifted doctor who had a brilliant career fighting for hygiene and against epidemics (cholera). He studied how epidemics spread and how to prevent their spreading. I listened to a series of podcasts about his work and actions during the first lockdown and it was fascinating. Proust’s mother, Jeanne Weill, came from a rich Alsatian-Jewish family of tradesmen. They had stores in Paris. She was the one who shared Marcel’s interest for literature and the arts, and, as the Narrator’s mother, was devastated by her mother’s death.

Proust had his mother’s eyers, no? We can imagine that Proust’s younger brother, Robert, who became a doctor, was closer to their father.

Marcel Proust went to the high school at the Lycée Condorcet. The students there were mostly non-religious bourgeois as the others were in private Catholic schools. Imagine that he had Stéphane Mallarmé as a teacher! They say he was very influential in Proust’s youth. Personally, I find Mallarmé’s poetry unreadable, I tried again after reading Berthe Morisot’s biography. Proust met close friends during his formative years at Condorcet and was an active participant to the high school newspapers and started his first literary work during those years.

La sortie du Lycée Condorcet by Jean Béraud (1903)

Growing up, he met people who introduced him to the high society. I took pictures of all the key people who inspired the characters of La Recherche but that will be in another post. These are the years he spent in salons, translating Ruskin, writing articles for Le Figaro and gathering memories and material for his future masterpiece.

Une chanson de Gibert dans le salon de Madame Madeleine Lemaire
by Pierre Georges Jeanniot (1891)

Following the death of his father (1903) and his mother (1905), he had to move to a smaller apartment, still in the same neighborhood.

The exhibition shows what Paris was like for Proust at the time, knowing that he never left the very wealthy 8th arrondissement. Maps showed the places he used to go to, like shops and restaurants. Some still exist, like the bookstore Fontaine and the restaurant Maxim’s. The gay brothel he financed and frequented, the Hôtel Marigny was on the map too. There was a map of the theatres and operas he loved and out of the nineteen places, I counted that only three don’t exist anymore. They may have moved but they are still there and that, in itself, is a tribute to the vibrant Parisian theatre scene. See an illustration with this very contemporary street corner in the 10th arrondissement.

The most surprising thing was Proust’s subscription to the Théâtrophone service. It was a service you could subscribe to in order to listen to live theatre plays and operas over the phone. It started in 1890 and was in operation until 1932, replaced by the radio. Proust loved theatre and operas and he signed up for this service in 1911. He listened to Wagner’s operas and Debussy’s music. We’re talking about the first streaming service for music and theatre here. Isn’t that mind-blowing? Reading a bit about it, I discovered that this service was invented and sold by Clément Ader, who made a fortune out of it and used the money to finance his researches on aviation. From music to planes!

When we think about Proust, we picture the whirlwind of soirées, shows and salons, but Proust wasn’t disconnected from politics: he was a fervent support to Dreyfus and Zola. He followed closely the battles during WWI and stayed in Paris during the whole war. He was interested in the world’s affairs.

Meanwhile, in 1906, he starts writing La Recherche, as if he needed his parents gone to spend some serious time on writing. The first official recognition came with the Goncourt prize for In the Shadows of Young Girls in Flower in 1919. He finished the first draft of the whole La Recherche in 1922, and told his housekeeper Céleste that he was done and could die. He hadn’t left his bed much during the last years.

Proust’s bed, coat, cane and writing instruments

His brother Robert made publishing Marcel’s work his mission. Tough job as Proust never reviewed Time Regained and added corrections and additions with sticked bands of paper. The last volume of La Recherche, Time Regained, was published in 1927. Then, Robert published Marcel’s correspondence. Céleste Albaret’s book of souvenirs was published in 1973 and it’s a gold mine of information.

It was a fascinating exhibition with a lot of information and things on display. Paintings, posters, pictures, maps and scale models were numerous and all accompanied by useful explanations. I loved it and I’m not the only one. There were a lot of visitors, which explained the poor pictures. It wasn’t easy to take them.

I will post the pictures about people who mattered in Proust’s life and inspired characters in La Recherche and I hope I’ll have time to post about Paris in La Recherche, the second part of the exhibition.

Literary Escapade: Alexandre Dumas, Edmond Dantes and the Château d’If

February 21, 2022 31 comments

Le Comte de Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is one of my fondest memories of reading during my teenage years. It’s the definition of a page turner, I remember reading it with eagerness and delight. What a story!

With The Three Musketeers, it is the most famous novel by Alexandre Dumas and I don’t think I need to sum up its plot. If you’ve never heard of it, here’s a link to the related Wikipedia page and to its free pdf edition on Project Gutenberg. Now you have no excuse not to read it.

Alexandre Dumas published Le Comte de Monte Cristo in 1844 and a significant part of the plot is set in the Château d’If. It is where Edmond Dantes is imprisoned and where he connects with Abbé Faria. The Château d’If really exists, it’s near Marseille and tourists can visit it after a mere 20 minutes boat trip from the Vieux Port. How could I resist such a literary escapade?

Photo by Jean-Marc Rosier, from Wikipedia

The Château d’If is a fortress built on the orders of King Francis I between 1527 and 1529 and reinforced by the military engineer Vauban in the 18th century. (There are Vauban fortresses all over the country. The man was everywhere, I don’t know how he made it). The Chateau d’If was a prison during 400 years and became extremely famous when Alexandre Dumas set his novel there. The last prisoners left the Chateau d’If in 1914.

Dumas knew of the Chateau d’If through his father, who was a general in Napoléon’s army. For the General Dumas, this fortress was where the General Kléber’s coffin was kept after he was assassinated in Egypt in 1800. Bonaparte was embarrassed by his death and Kléber’s body remained at the Château d’If until 1814.

Alexandre Dumas visited If in 1834 for the first time. During a trip in the Mediterranean, he came across an island named Monte Cristo. The legend says that in the Middle Ages, monks amassed a treasury on this island and nobody ever found it.

So, life provides material for fiction but the writer is the one who ties together the real story of Pierre Picaud, the Chateau d’If, the island of Monte Cristo and the political context of the Restauration.

Le Comte de Monte Cristo was first published as a feuilleton in the Journal des Débats, from 1844 to 1846. The newspaper gave it a large audience as papers circulated more than books at the time, as they were cheaper and available in cabinets de lecture. (The cabinets de lecture were establishments where people could read newspapers and books against a small fee.) It was then published as a novel and immediately translated into 20 languages. So, Le Comte de Monte Cristo is one of the first international bestsellers!

Le Comte de Monte Cristo was a huge success when it was published. Dumas came to the Chateau d’If, in 1858, ten years after the novel was released as a feuilleton. To his astonishment, a guard, not knowing who he was talking to, explained the whole story of Dantes and Faria as if it were real facts. He showed the supposed cells of the two fictional prisoners and a passage between the two had even been built! It is still visible today.

This is a picture of Marseille, taken from If, only 1.5km away at sea.

How frustrating it must have been to be so close to the coast and unable to go back to the city! The only person who managed to escape this fortress is the fictional Edmond Dantes.

Readers started to visit the Château d’If as soon as the novel was published. It wasn’t officially opened to visitors but the novel was so popular that it drew people to see the fortress and Dantes and Faria’s cells. See, we’re not so original with Harry Potter or Hunger Games tours! I find this kind of trivia fascinating and I often realize that a lot of our modern behaviors started out in the 19th century.

Le Comte de Monte Cristo has an amazing plot, and it was made into a play by Dumas himself, into films and into a manga by Ena Moriyama. The clerk of the boutique at the Chateau d’If told me that she met a Japanese tourist who was staying in France for four months to learn French and was very happy to visit the castle as he was a huge fan of the Monte Cristo manga.

History and fiction are entwined in such a way that the Château d’If has 100 000 visitors per year, something it would never have without Dumas. Otherwise, it is a rather banal fortress, a prison whose most notorious prisoner is a character in a bestseller.

And, that is the lasting power of literature and books for you, my friends. 🙂

Literary Escapade: Ploubazlanec and Pors-Even, Brittany with Pierre Loti

August 12, 2020 18 comments

As mentioned in my previous billet, today’s Literary Escapade takes us along the Icelanders’ walk in Ploubazlanec and Pors-Even, Brittany.
It starts at the Wall of the Missing Sailors in the cemetary. Since a lot of fishermen never came back from the fishing campaigns in Iceland, there was no burial and no grave. The families put plaques on the wall of the cemetary to remember them.

Loti_Mur_Disparus

After a walk, we arrived at the Perros-Hamon chapel. Gaud, the young woman in love with Yann Gaos, stops there to pray on her way from Paimpol to Pors-Even. The chapel in its current form dates back to the 18th century. Here’s the entry side

Chapelle_Perros-Hamon_Face

Inside the chapel, there’s a replica of the boats used for the Iceland fishing campaigns. See how the ceiling looks like the hull of a boat.

Chapelle_Perros-Hamon_Interieur

Original plaques for the missing boats have been moved from the cemetary to the chapel, for preservation.

Chapelle_Perros-Hamon_plaques

Here’s the chapel inside the chapel where Gaud stops to pray, reads the all the names of Yann’s family members who disapeared at sea. It makes her shudder.

Chapelle_Perros-Hamon_chappelle

In this chapel, families celebrated Easter while their beloved ones were at sea and they had a special ceremory for them. It’s called Le Pardon.

Then we arrive to Pors-Even, a fishermen village, even today. See the landscape:

vue_pors-even

After that, the trail takes us to the Chapelle de la Trinité. It was never used as an actual chapel but it is a tribute to sailors. Here’s the view from the chapel:

vue_chappelle_trinité

Families used to go there to say goodbye to the ships when they were leaving. They were so close to the shore that people could recognize each other.

Then we walk to the Croix des Veuves. (The Widows’ Cross).

croix_veuves

This is were women used to go at the end of the summer to look for incoming ships. They were looking at the sea to wait for their husbands, fathers, sons or brothers’ return. Some of these women will become widows. Gaud goes there to wait for Yann’s return.

The Virgin Mary was a typical protector of sailors. Loti reports that they has this kind of ceramic sculpture on board:

vierge_ceramique

The village still has the stops for the Pardon procession. Religion was an important part of life at the time.

At first, I thought that Ploubazlanec was fictional, then I saw the road signs. Then I looked it up in our tourist guide and found the articles about the museum and the walk.

I think it’s the first time I’ve been on the premises of a novel that I was reading and where I could see places of the novel that were close to being the same as in the novel. It’s incredible and I’m happy that our timing was so good.

It looks bright and beautiful with this incredible weather. It’s quiet, the sea looks like the Mediterranean but there are terrible tempests there. The wind can be really strong, so strong that since centuries, church towers have “holes” to let the wind go through. You can see it on the chapel picture before.

That’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed our Literary Escapade with Pierre Loti. If you ever read Fisherman of Iceland after reading my billets, please let me know, I’m always glad to have feedback.

 

Literary Escapade: Combourg and Chateaubriand

August 6, 2020 26 comments

Chateaubriand (1768-1848) is a writer that my highschool BFF and I had nicknamed Chateaubrichiant. (Chateauboring) That’s how much we enjoyed the excerpts of Memoirs of Beyond the Grave that we studied in school.

Since then I’ve read Atala and René and mused in my billet that I didn’t know that Chateaubriand was in favor of kibbutz (Atala) and missed the opportunity to invent Kleenex (René) The whole billet is here.

Chateaubriand is taught as the precursor of Romanticism and I have to confess this is not my favorite literary movement. Too much gloom and doom for my tastes. And indeed, see what Chateaubriand writes about his own birth:

Il n’y a pas de jour où, rêvant à ce que j’ai été, je ne revoie en pensée le rocher sur lequel je suis né, la chambre où ma mère m’infligea la vie, la tempête dont le bruit berça mon premier sommeil, le frère infortuné qui me donna un nom que j’ai presque toujours traîné dans le malheur. Le Ciel sembla réunir ces diverses circonstances pour placer dans mon berceau une image de mes destinées. A day seldom passes on which, reflecting on what I have been, I do not see again in thought the rock upon which I was born, the room in which my mother inflicted life upon me, the tempest whose sound first lulled me to sleep, the unfortunate brother who gave me a name which I have nearly always dragged through misfortune. Heaven seemed to unite these several circumstances in order to lay within my cradle a symbol of my destiny. 

Translation Alexander Teixeira de Mattos

Kill me now…Anyway, this house is still there, in St Malo, in what is now Chateaubriand Street. (of course)

Chateaubriand was brought up in Combourg, a castle bought by his father who made a fortune as a fisherman in Newfoundland, tunred corsair and then invested in slave trade. A man of his time. Combourg is still owned by the descendants of the family and it’s open to visit, with a guided tour. The castle was empty during 80 years after the Revolution and was renovated by Viollet-Leduc. Here’s a general view of the castle.

And here are the grounds, taken from the stairs of the castle. There’s a lot of space to run around.

The visit takes us through parts of the castle and it’s a Chateaubriand tour, with quotes from Memoirs Beyond the Grave and all.

Here’s the room where he slept as a child, in a remote tower of the castle. The poor boy had to accompany his mother and sisters to their rooms, lock doors and check that there were no monsters and then had to go back to his isolated room in the dark and on his own. I can’t imagine what scars this you-will-be-a-man kind of education leaves on a young boy. Don’t you think that his room looked like a cell?

Chateaubriand died in Paris, rue du Bac. (Like Romain Gary, btw) His furniture was moved to Combourg and they have redone his Parisian room in the castle.

It was a nice tour, telling about Chateaubriand’s early life in Brittany.

The most moving part for me was this tree. It comes from the north of Canada and it’s called a faux cyprès de Lawson in French and according to the dictionary, a Port Orford tree in English. I couldn’t help thinking about The Overstory by Richard Powers, who keeps reminding us that trees, if we don’t destroy them, often survive us.

It’s two-hundred-and-fifty-years old, it has known Chateaubriand as a child. The little stone structure is the Lucile cross, a place where Chateaubriand and his sister Lucile used to chat. She was the one who encouraged him to write.

I left Combourg with an anthology of Memoirs Beyond the Grave. I’m not up for the whole memoirs, so I’ll rely on the work of Jean-Claude Berchet who selected the parts he thought worth reading.

I’ve started to read it and I find it a lot easier than expected.

I’m very curious about the historical aspects of Chateaubriand’s life. He has lived through several political systems in France: born under Louis XV, formative years under Louis XVI (1774-1792), he lived through the Revolution and the Ist Republic (1792-1804), Napoléon and the Ist Empire (1804-1815), the Restauration (1815-1830), the July Monarchy (1830-1848). When he died, the Second Republic had just started. All this in a lifetime.

He traveled a lot, had piolitical responsabilites. I’d like to read his biography some day. (And Lamartine’s, for the same reasons)

I always wonder how common people navigated and survived all these changes.

Literary escapade: Book haul in Bécherel, the book village

July 29, 2020 12 comments

In my last billet about Bécherel, the book village in Brittany, I promised another billet about the books I got there. Of course, I had to refrain myself or I would have brought back LOTS of books. Lucky me, we drove to Brittany and there’s plenty of space in the car to bring books back home.

In the bookstore Le Donjon, I discovered a whole shelf of crime fiction by Breton writers and set in Brittany. See for yourself:

Bécherel_brittany

Apart from a lost book by Tony Hillerman, all of these are published by Breton publishers. I’ve never heard of these writers, I don’t think I’ve seen their name on the Quais du Polar List. I had to get some, right?

I browsed throught the pages, eliminated those whose style didn’t suit me and picked up Dernier concert à Vannes by Hervé Huguen (Last concert in Vannes) and Colin-maillard à Ouessant by Françoise Le Mer (Hide and Seek in Ouessant)

Bécherel_Polar_Breton

Both are the first installment of a series, one with Commissaire Baron and the other with Le Fur and Le Gwen, two inspectors from Brest. I asked the libraire about Breton school of crime fiction and he told me that he’d only found out about it. He’s read a few and he told me that they allow you to travel to places you’ve never been before. We’ll see how I’ll like them.

Then I stumbled upon a big shelf of old Série Noire books by Gallimard. This is the collection that introduced Noir and hardboiled to French readers. They also have classic crime, with Agatha Christie or Ngaio Marsh, for example. Simenon was published in Série Noire too. It’s very famous and still going on, still with yellow covers.

I found a copy of The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (Le grand sommeil) and of Hell Hath No Fury by Charles Williams (Je t’attends au tournant)

Bécherel_Série_Noire

This copy of The Big Sleep was published in 1948 and it’s a translation by Boris Vian. This French version of Hell Hath No Fury is translated by Bruno Martin and dates back to 1955.

I can’t wait to compare the translations to the originals. Early Série Noire books are notorious for formated translations and faith to the original was not a cardinal value. Gallmeister and Rivages have started to re-translate some Noir and hardboiled classics to make up for these botched up translations.

I got more crime fiction with All She Was Worth by Miyabe Miyuki and The Garden of Hell by Nick Wilgus. Both are published by Picquier, a publisher specialized in Asian fiction. Now I know what I’ll read for Japanese lit month and I’m intrigued by the character Father Ananda in the Nick Wilgus.

Bécherel_Picquier

Then I got two books by writers I’m fond of, Philippe Besson (Lie With Me) and Dominique Sylvain, a crime fiction writers whose books should be more translated into English.

Bécherel_Comfort

Then I found an old paperback edition of The Confusion of Young Törless by Robert Musil (All set for German Lit Month!) and Faillir être flingué by Céline Minard, a Western written by a French woman writer that won the Prix du livre Inter in 2014. I’m curious. This one is not available in English but has been translated into German and Italian.

Bécherel_Musil_Minard

I also browsed through shelves looking for the bear paw that signals a Gallmeister book. I didn’t find any except Dancing Bear by James Crumley, translated by Jacques Mailhos and The Signal by Ron Carlson, translated by Sophie Aslanides. I’m sure I’ll love these books, translated by two excellent translators.

Bécherel_Gallmeister

I don’t know why I couldn’t find more Gallmeister books. Perhaps the publishing house is too young to have many books landing in second hand bookstores. Perhaps the books are too gorgeous to be given away. Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

Well, this is it! I’m happy with my book haul and its diversity. Have you read any of these books?

Our next Literary Escapade will be about Chateaubriand, born and bred in Brittany. Meanwhile, I need to catch up with book review billets as I have a backlog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literary escapade: Bécherel, a book village in Brittany

July 28, 2020 35 comments

There are several book villages in France and one of them is Bécherel, in Brittany. What’s a book village? It’s a village whose main activity consists in bookstores. Yes, you heard me: a whole village with second hand bookshops. When I discovered there was one near our accomodation in Brittany, I had to visit. Of course. How could I resist?

I arrived early and the village was quite deserted and the bookstores closed.

56_Becherel

I had a walk around the village and took pictures of the various bookshops there:

Bécherel_Bookstores

As you can see, the whole village is made of houses in old stones, everything is beautifully kept.

I spent a lot of time in the bookstore Le Donjon. It’s like a chocolate factory for book lovers. Books everywhere, several floors, odd decorations and stuff lying around. This is the top floor, with the crime fiction paperbacks and children books.

62_Becherel_Librairie_Donjon

This is another floor with its off-the-wall decoration:

65_Becherel_Librairie_Donjon

and another floor. Every nook and cranny is filled with books and objects.

67_Becherel_Librairie_Donjon

and last but not least…

68_Becherel_Librairie_Donjon

This was my favorite shop. I was alone in the store and I asked whether they had a lot of clients. The libraire said that they don’t get too many people at the same time but there’s a constant flow of visitors. I could explore the shelves to my heart’s content and I’ll tell you what books I bought in another billet.

Here are pictures of other bookstores:

Bécherel_Bookstores2

One of the rooms in the bookstore Abraxa was striking:

77_Becherel_Librairie_Abraxa

Look at this flamingo sitting on a wall whose red bricks are made of books. Yes, we need more education.

Here’s another picture of the village. Isn’t it lovely?

Bécherel

It made me think of cozy crime fiction, of Louise Penny’s Three Pines, minus the freezing winters. I can imagine a Miss Marple or a Miss Silver looking for a murderer among supposedly non-violent villagers.

I could have spent a lot more time (and a lot more money ! 🙂 ) exploring all the village’s bookstores. I did come home with a pile of books that almost offsets all the efforts I did to reduce the TBR. Oh well.

Stay tuned to find out about my book haul!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literary escapade: Bookstores in Rennes, Brittany

July 26, 2020 28 comments

Like all bookworms, I love visiting bookstores when I’m on holiday. Since this year I’m in France and we have a lot of bookshops, you might expect several bookstore-themed Literary Escapades.

This one is about the historical city centre of Rennes, (pop. 221 000). Of course,  I will only mention the independant bookstores I saw while visiting the city.

The Librairie Le Faillier seems to be the biggest general bookstore, set in an old building.

13_Rennes_Librairie_Le_Failler

The libraire at La Nuit des Temps was friendly and helpful. La Nuit des Temps is the title of a novel by SF writer René Barjavel.

16_Rennes_Librairie_Nuit_des_Temps

Then you have themed bookstores.

La Rose Mystique, dedicated to spirituality…

01_Librairie_Rose_Mystique

Ariane, for travel books

23_Librairie_Voyage

L’encre de Bretagne for books about Brittany, by Breton writers or written in Breton.

26_Librairie_Bretagne

Pecari, another general bookstore next to a pizza joint

05_Librairie

The bookstore Critic

24_Librairie

A second hand bookstore, des Mots et des Choses:

21_Bouquiniste

And last, but not least, here’s the Gallmeister display window at Le Fallier:

15_Rennes_Librairie_Le_Failler

In the end, trout fishing always seems to find me. 🙂

Have a nice Sunday!

 

 

 

Literary Escapade: Sète, France

June 18, 2020 33 comments

Sète is a city on the Mediterranean Sea, in France.

It is where Paul Valéry (1871-1945) was born and where he is buried. I’ve never read anything by him. I know him by name, he was very famous in his time, a contemporary of Proust. I browsed through his books in a bookstore in Sète but nothing seemed to be my cup of tea, except a book of maxims. We visited the marine cemetery where he is buried and here’s his tombstone:

Nice view, eh?

For me, poetry and Sète don’t mean Paul Valéry but Georges Brassens, who was born and buried there too. If Bob Dylan can be a Nobel of Literature laureate, Georges Brassens (1921-1981) could have been a contender too.

Brassens was a French poet and songwriter. An anarchist, his texts are cheeky and extremely well written. According to his Wikipedia page, his songs have been translated into twenty languages, Japanese and Esperanto included. For Australian readers, there is tribute album entitled Mountain Men chante Georges Brassens.

He’s a master of the French language, mixing old words and argot, playing on words and making our language sing. I was raised listening to his unorthodox songs, like The Gorilla, Bad Reputation or The Trumpet of Fame. He was a bit of an anarchist and certainly a free spirit. The song Mourir pour des idées (To Die for the Sake of Ideas) is a song against fanatism of any kind. The chorus says, “To die for the sake of ideas, ok, but let’s die slowly”, in other words, let’s not put ourselves at risk and be blind followers of extremists who exhort us to fight until death but stay safely behind the scenes.

I love his beautiful song about friendship, Les Copains d’abord (Friends First), and our Book Club, Les Copines d’abord, is named after it. Brassens was a faithful friend, he kept in touch with his childhood friends his whole life.

His repertoire also includes more tender songs like, Lovers Sitting on Public Benches. In the Non-Proposal (La non-demande en mariage), he explains to his long-term partner Joha Heiman (“Püppchen”) that he doesn’t want to tie her to him through marriage. He doesn’t want the quotidian to spoil their love and he says he doesn’t need a housewife or a servant but just a lover. They’ll stay fiancés forever.

Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète is a plea to be buried on the beach in Sète, to spend his death on holiday. It makes you want to visit the city and see its beach with your own eyes.

Brassens also sang poems by Victor Hugo, Paul Verlaine, François Villon or Paul Fort. To me, Heureux qui comme Ulysse a fait un beau voyage was a song by Brassens before it was verses by Joachim du Bellay.

We visited the Georges Brassens museum, with masks and all. It’s a lovely museum that tells Brassens’s life and puts it in perspective with what was going on in France at the time.

Brassens is buried in Sète, in the other cemetery, along with his life partner Joha Heiman. His fans have put reminders of his songs on his grave.

Non-French readers, did you know about him?

I’ll leave you with a last picture of Sète, the fishermen quarter. (Sorry guys, no trout fishing, guys, as trout live in rivers, not in the sea)

Literary escapade in Lyon – Le petit noir, a crime fiction independant bookstore and café.

June 7, 2020 36 comments

Now that we’re free to go as we please again, it’s time to resume Literary Escapades, even if it’s just a trip to a new bookstore.

During the lockdown, I bought vouchers to support local stores and I screened down all the bookshops listed there. That’s how I came across Un petit noir, a bookstore/café dedicated to crime fiction. It’s set in the Croix-Rousse quarter, Montée de la Grande-Côte, a zone classified World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The name of the bookstore is a play-on-word. In French, un petit noir is an espresso. And you all know what Noir means when it comes to crime fiction. Jean-Pierre Barrel, the owner, is undoubtedly a crime fiction afficionado and he really loves the good stuff. No mainstream crime fiction there. Librairie. Café. Polar. That’s his motto. According to his website, he enjoys his crime fiction laced with black humor and underlying analysis of our societies. That sounds a lot like me.

The librairie is split in three parts. One part with bookshelves, one part for the coffee counter and one room in the back to sit, sip and read and to hold literary events, around crime fiction, of course. With Jean-Pierre Barrel’s permission, I took a few photos of the librairie.

Hardbacks and BDs,

Paperbacks, sorted by region.

The shelves with used books by a coffee nook:

The coffee counter and the cash register:

I came out with four books, three from writers I’d never heard of.

I purchased a second Benjamin Whitmer, Cry Father. I had enjoyed Pike and wanted to read something else by him.

Vintage by Grégoire Hervier. It’s a debut novel, a crime fiction road a trip around the world with rock’n’roll as a background. It’s not available in English but it’s been translated into German and published by Diogenes.

Petits crimes contre les humanités by Pierre Christin, a polar set in a university where professors in literature and arts receive anonymous hateful emails. Who is behind it? The author writes scenarios for BDs and collaborated with Tardi or Bilal; it’s published by Métailié, it should be good.

L’envol du faucon vert by Amid Lartane, a crime fiction set in Algeria in the black 1990s. Crime mixed with politics, sounds interesting. It’s published by Métailié too and it’s rare to find Algerian crime fiction.

After Un petit noir, I went to another bookstore to find the mainstream crime fiction I needed for a gift and got myself Money Shot by Christa Faust. I enjoyed her Choke Hold, the follow-up of Money Shot and I wanted to read it.

Final book haul for the day:

I had a lovely afternoon, walking around the city again, browsing through books and discovering a new bookstore. Since there are around 50 bookstores in Lyon, I still have room for other Literary Escapades.

Have you been visiting your favorite bookstores recently?

Literary Escapade: Turin, Italy

February 23, 2020 28 comments

I missed my weekly post last Sunday because I was visiting Turin. It’s a great city to visit, great food, beautiful building, exceptional Egyptian museum and impressive cinema museum. However, this is a literary blog, so I’ll focus on the literary elements of my stay. I haven’t read Italian books for the occasion (book buying ban, remember?) but I will. According to my tourist guide, I should look for:

  • The House on the Hill by Cesare Pavese (La maison sur la colline) I’ve never read Pavese, it could be a good start.
  • Family Lexicon by Natalia Ginzburg (Les Mots de la tribu) This one’s about a Jewish family in Turin from 1920 to 1950. (Btw, Primo Levi was from Turin too)
  • The Watcher by Italo Calvino (La Journée d’un scrutateur) I’ve read books by Calvino, pre-blog but not this one.
  • The Two Cities by Mario Soldati (Les Deux Villes) I don’t think that Soldati’s books have been translated into English. I’ve already read The Ophans’ Father and I remember I liked it.
  • Scent of a Woman by Giovanni Arpino (Les Ténèbres et le Miel) I’ve already read A Lost Soul by Arpino and I enjoyed his style.
  • The Sunday Woman by Fruttero and Lucentini (La Femme du Dimanche) This one is crime fiction, I’ll look for it at the giant bookstore set up for Quais du Polar.
  • The Tattooed Colleague by Margherita Oggero. (La Collègue tatouée), not available in English. This one is more recent (2002), I’m tempted to read about today’s city.

Apart from the last one, all these books date back to the 20th century. If anyone knows a book set in contemporary Turin, please leave a recommendation in the comments.

Since I can’t read in Italian, I didn’t buy any books during my trip but I still had look at bookshops. There’s the international one, Luxembourg. I’ve seen other independent bookstores in the city.

On the via Pô, there are bouquinistes, like in Paris.

Sorry for the French word but according to the dictionary, the English way of saying bouquiniste is secondhand bookseller. I’m sorry guys, but you really need to find affectionate words for bookish stuff. The word bouquiniste is not as cold as secondhand bookseller, which is a matter-of-fact way to describe the activity. In French, bouquiniste implies that a libraire (not a retailer, but a booklover who happens to sell books) is trading secondhand books with love.

Everything was in Italian, so there was no need to spend time browsing through the books. It’s only frustrating to find a book you’d like to read, just not in Italian. Since I couldn’t buy book, I came home with bookish stuff, too bad captions were in English. For once, Italian would have been better.

Last but not least, I visited the Royal Library. (Reale Biblioteca)

Impressive room full of books in glass cases. I glanced at the covers: old books in Italian, French, English and German. There were mostly books about geography, history, politics, science but also statistics. See the number of books that were at my eyelevel: can you imagine that I manage to drop my eyes on French books about fishing?!!!!

It’s starting to feel like it follows me wherever I go. 😊 But no, still not ready to buy a fishing pole.

In case there wasn’t enough things to love already with the food, ice creams, coffees, art and whatnots, Turin people seem to have a thing for my beloved Mafalda. A bookstore was selling Mafalda tote bags and of course, I brought one home.

How could I resist, right? Then I saw a dress with Mafalda patterns and greeting cards.

I tell you, Mafalda rocks!

I had a wonderful time in Italy, and this was only the book part. Next Literary Escapade will be about the publisher Gallmeister. And while I go gallivanting in Italy, my pile of TBW grows and I haven’t read or commented on bookish blogs.

Literary escapade: Proust and the centennial of his Prix Goncourt

September 29, 2019 17 comments

In 1919, Proust won the most prestigious French literary prize, the Prix Goncourt for the second volume of In Search of Lost Time, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. Gallimard was Proust’s publisher.

To celebrate this centenary, the Gallerie Gallimard in Paris set up an exhibition around this event. Did you know that Proust’s win was a scandal at the time?

In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower was in competition with Wooden Crosses by Roland Dorgelès, a book about the trenches and WWI. The public was in favor of Mr Dorgelès and his patriotic novel. (I’ve never read it, I can’t tell anything about it)

Proust was considered too old for the prize. There have been arguments about the Goncourt brothers’ intentions when they made the prize for a “young talent”. Who’s young, the writer or the talent? Proust was too rich and the 5000 francs of the prize would have been better spent on a poor writer. Proust was too involved in the high society, even if at the time he wrote In Search in Lost Time, he was mostly living in solitude. Proust was too odd with his strange living habits, his book was too verbose and he did not fight in the war.

There were a lot of arguments against his winning but none of them were about the literary quality of his novel. And the Académie Goncourt, in charge of picking the winner, concentrated on the literary aspects of the book.

After the 1919 Prix Goncourt was awarded, the press went wild against Proust. The exhibition shows a collage of press articles of the time, all coming from Proust’s own collection.

According to Thierry Laget, who wrote Proust, Prix Goncourt, une émeute littéraire, (Proust, Goncourt Prize, a literary scandal), the violence and the form of the attacks against Proust were like a campaign on social networks today. I might read his book, I’m curious about the atmosphere of the time and what Laget captures about it.

There was a wall about Gaston Gallimard who founded what would become the Gallimard publishing house in 1911. Gallimard convinced Proust to let them publish In Search of Lost Time and In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower was Gallimard’s first Prix Goncourt.

The exhibition displays the letter that the Académie Goncourt sent to Proust to officially inform him that he won. I found it simple, unofficial looking.

There were two previously unreleased drawings of Proust like this one by Paul Morand in 1917. It was made at the Ritz and it represents Proust, Morand and Laure de Chévigné, one of the women who inspired the Duchesse de Guermantes.

And the other one was of Proust on his death bed in 1921.

It’s a small exhibition that lasts only until October 23rd, rush for it if you’re a Proust fan and are in Paris during that time.

Literary escapade : Hôtel Littéraire Le Swann – dedicated to Marcel Proust

July 6, 2019 22 comments

This week I had the opportunity to stay at the Hôtel Littéraire Le Swann in Paris. It’s a literary hotel dedicated to Marcel Proust and in the neighborhood where Proust lived his whole life. The building itself brings you back in time:

Proust in on the façade and inside, the decoration is Proust-inspired, in the lobby, the staircase, the rooms and in the breakfast room. There’s a timeline to disclose Proust’s biography, the room card have a Proust jacket and quotes from In Search of Lost Time are printed on the walls.

The rooms are Proust inspired, each of them is named after a character of In Seach of Lost Time and marketing did its best to play on the Proust pattern. See here the bathroom door, the nightstand and the coffee corner.

They did not put cork-padded walls like in Marcel’s bedroom and I’m not sure you can send the staff on nightly errands Proust used to do with his faithful servant Céleste Albaret.

All this marketed décor could be a bit tacky if the hotel had stopped there, after staging a Proust atmosphere. The charming part is in the display tables full of Proust memorabilia. There are display cabinets and tables in the lobby, with letters written by Proust to his friends. The visitor can admire a dress made by Doucet, the famous dressmaker of Proust’s time.

Here’s a display dedicated to Céleste Albaret, who gave us a lot of details about Proust’s quotidian in her memoir. It’s her Rememberance of Things Past and it’s a lovely read. My billet about it is here.

I think it’s moving to see her letters, her pictures here, in a place that celebrates her master. She shared precious information with Proust’s readers and we should all be grateful that she decided to talk instead of taking her memories to her grave.

There’s also a marvelous map of Paris and the places Proust used to shop to or visit.

Each place comes with a caption, its location and whether it still exists or not. I could have stayed in front of it forever to imagine a literary walk to follow Proust and Céleste’s footsteps.

The lobby includes a library full of books by Proust or about Proust.

This hotel truly celebrates literature and goes beyond exploiting the “Proust trademark”, if such a thing exists in our world. After all, I was the only guest walking around, spending time by the displays and taking pictures of everything I could. I can’t be cynical about this place because I felt a genuine love for books and literature. I thought it was charming and I take any opportunity to promote literature and reading as a good thing. There are never too many reasons to praise books and authors.

If you’re in Paris one of these days and feel like checking out the lobby, the address is 11-15 rue de Constatinople, 75008 Paris. Meanwhile, you can see better photos on their website.

I wasn’t going to participate to July in Paris hosted by Tamara because, being French, I feel like I’m cheating. But this billet goes well with the event, so I’ll join in.

Literary Escapades: Australia

August 26, 2018 29 comments

Regular readers of this blog know (or have guessed) that I was lucky enough to spend three weeks in Australia this summer. This is not a travel blog, so I won’t share details about my trip except the bookish ones. Reading Australian literature before visiting helped a lot during my stay, I had a better understanding of what I was seeing. Since I was with my non-bookish family, I didn’t specifically seek out literary places. I just took note of what I stumbled upon and visited bookstores along the way.

There’s a Writers Walk in Sydney, near the bay. It’s made of plaques on the ground with the name of the writer and a quick bio. I didn’t look at all of them but they were mostly Australian writers and foreign writers who stayed in Australia. To be honest, I’d never heard of most of them.

Of course, I tend to visit bookstores when I’m abroad. When I’m in a non-English speaking country, I can only watch which writers are on display. Here I came with the idea to get myself some Australian books. I visited bookstores when I had the chance and was very disappointed for the first two thirds of my trip.

At first, all the bookshops I found had books I don’t read. Lots and lots of mainstream fiction I’m not interested in and even the crime fiction section was a letdown. Literary writers have little room in these stores. Tim Winton and Peter Carey seem to do alright but otherwise, lots and lots of colourful cheesy covers with embossed letters. Yes, you see those in your mind eye. One of those sold new and second-hand books that were called Pre-loved books. I like that concept.

And, the horror, these books were expensive. 20 to 30 AUD, which means 13 to 19 euros for a paperback. In France, paperbacks cost from 5€ (classics in the public domain) to 12€ (fancy editions or small publishers)

I eventually found a bookstore in Alice Springs that sold Australian literature, Red Kangaroo Books. By then, I had adjusted to the local prices of books. I tried to focus on buying books I couldn’t find in France or in French. After reading Of Ashes and Rivers that Run to the SeaMarie Munkara’s personal story, a book I really recommend to everyone, I decided to try her fiction, A Most Peculiar Act.

After seeing the cover, my children asked me if I was now into horror books. And I have to admit that it looks like a book by Stephen King with a psychopath doll, don’t you think?

I’d heard about Growing Up in Aboriginal Australia on Lisa’s blog. It is a collection edited by Anita Heiss in which fifty Aboriginal Australians relate their personal experience about growing up as an Aboriginal Australian. I should be interesting.

The good thing about traveling so far is that you get a 30 kg allowance of luggage. Yay! More room for books! I ended up in a bookshop called Readings in the Carlton neighbourhood in Melbourne. It was their flagship, according to their website. It’s the size of my favourite bookstore in Lyon and they had a large enough section of Australian literature. I stayed a moment there, browsing through books before deciding upon four new additions to my TBR.

I wanted to read the Anita Heiss but couldn’t get it in France, so I knew I wanted to buy it in Australia. I’m lucky they had it at Readings because Aboriginal writers seem hard to find. (except at Red Kangaroo Books) I’ve already read Madeleine St John and I enjoyed her Women in Black.

I remembered reading about Tony Birch on blogs, Blood was listed for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and the blurb sounded good. We’ll see how I like it. Five Bells appealed to me, it’s published by Penguin so I expect a certain literary quality.

This was my experience with bookstores and I didn’t go out of my way to find them during my stay since I’m the only one obsessed with books in my family. There are probably incredible bookstores in Sydney and Melbourne that I didn’t see, they aren’t on the touristy paths, that’s all.

Seeing the price of books, I sort of felt relieved for Australian readers to encounter so many libraries. At least, there’s a way to read without depleting your wallet. The reading room in the State Library in Melbourne in stunning:

They have sculptures from children books in the forecourt. I didn’t recognise the characters, they were from Australian books but I find it nice that the entrance of this intimidating building is made to speak to children and not only to bookworms. Well, literary nerds have their corner with the James Joyce Seat of Learning.

It looks like a lectern to me, I can understand how Ulysses can be a bible to some but still. There’s a stone from Joyce’s house in Dublin embedded in the desk, like a relic in a church, which enforces the Catholic vibe. I thought it was a little weird, especially since Joyce never set a foot in Australia.

Another way to have free access to books is to check out Street Library boxes. There’s one in Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains.

And according to their website, there are tons of them in Australia.

This initiative exists in lots of countries and I love it. For France, you can check out the website Boîte à Lire. One of these days, I’m going to set one up in my street.

I also bought the literary number of The Big Issue. It’s one of those magazines that homeless people sell on the street. Several Australian writers are involved and donated either their time and/or their stories. It’s the first time I’ve seen one with a fiction edition and it’s a great initiative.

My literary escapade in Australia wouldn’t have been as good without a stroll in Melbourne’s CBD with Tony, from Messy Booker. Thanks for taking us to the lanes with street art and explaining what the references were and for pointing out William Barak’s face on one of the city’s skyscrapers. We would have missed this without you and it was lovely meeting you.

And last but not least, we loved having lunch with Lisa and The Spouse on our last day. I’m happy we had the chance to meet IRL, as it’s customary to say. It is always a great pleasure to meet online friends in person. I’m always surprised at how easy the conversation flows but I shouldn’t be because blogging is real life too and the love of books a strong enough connection. So, if you’re in Lyon, don’t hesitate to contact me.

And for the rest of my blogging life, I’m late with everything: writing up the two last billets of last season’s Book Club (The Eastern Parade and Small Country) and the two billets for Portuguese Lit Month (The Alienist and The Anarchist Banker). I didn’t have much time or energy to read at the end of my busy days. I didn’t have time to read other people’s reviews, unfortunately. I’ll try to catch up but I expect to be burried at work in the next months.

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