24 September 2017

Marie-Hélène Lafon: Sur la photo (2003)

Rémi lives in Paris with his wife Isabelle and daughter Louise, and is a collector of photos. This novel Weaves in and out of Rémi's present live and his life as an eleven-year-old with teenaged sisters in the countryside. Maybe I wasn't quite ready for it, but I was certainly expecting more of this highly-rated novelist: OK, this is one of her earlier works, so I'll return to her.

22 September 2017

Jerzy Giedroyc in Maisons-Laffitte, Yvelines (78)

'Jerzy GIEDROYC
1906–2000
Fondateur de « Kultura »
revue politique polonaise –
et de l'Institut Littéraire
a vécu et travaillé
dans cette maison'

Kultura was a Polish and world cultural magazine designed as an instrument against communist totalitarianism. Many important writers of the twentieth century contributed to it, such as Albert Camus, Simone Weil, George Orwell, Witold Gombrowicz, T. S. Eliot, Emil Cioran and Czesław Miłosz.

Paris 2017: Cimetière de Montrouge, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #3: Cécile Aubry


Cécile Aubry (1928–2010) was a novelist, screen writer, and an actor most remembered for her TV series success 'Belle et Sébastien' based on her novels, from which the English indie group Belle and Sebastian took its name.

Paris 2017: Cimetière de Montrouge, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #2: Michel Audiard


Michel Audiard (1920–85) was a screen writer, a film director, and a novelist. Sometimes called a right-wing anarchist, one of his greatest regrets was not to have adapted Céline's Voyage au bout de la nuit to film. He is the father of the film director Jacques Audiard. His novels include Priez pour elle (1950), Massacre en dentelles (1952), Ne nous fâchons pas (1966), Le Terminus des prétentieux (1968), and Le Petit cheval de retour (1975).

Paris 2017: Cimetière de Montrouge, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #1: Albert Kazimirski de Biberstein


Albert (or Albin) Kazimirski de Biberstein (1808–87), of French nationality but born in Poland, was an Arabic-speaking orientalist who was the author of an Arabic-French dictionary, and the translator of several Arabic-French works, principally the Koran.

Ariane Chemin: Mariage en douce (2016)

Ariane Chemin works for Le Monde, and this book involves the secret marriage of diplomat and (amusingly fraudulent) two-times winning Goncourt, the chameleon Romain Gary, man of a number of names, to Jean Seberg, the deeply disturbed female actor most famous for her role in Godard's hugely popular À bout de souffle (Breathless in English).

The heavily-cropped photo on the cover shows the happy couple looking perhaps not all that happy: the tiny village Sarrola in Corsica was chosen for the occasion – and the mountains can clearly be seen in the background – because they (and Gary especially) wanted to avoid a media circus at all costs.

However, this book is also a summary of the lives of Gary and Seberg, Gary the Vilnius-born possessor of many names, Seberg the small-town, Marshalltown, Iowa-born movie star. I loved the information about them visiting the Kennedys, and Jackie Onassis telling Jean Seberg (aside) not to get married as it ruins things. De Gaulle and his wife would certainly have objected, but then De Gaulle and America...

Jean Seberg went on to marry twice after her marriage to Gary (although her final marriage was bigamous) before killing herself 30 August 1979. Gary put a gun to his mouth on 2 December 1980, leaving a note that his suicide had nothing to do with Seberg. Really, nothing at all?

21 September 2017

Paris 2017: Cimetière parisien de Bagneux, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #1: J.-H. Rosny aîné


J.-H. Rosny aîné was the pseudonym of Joseph Henri Honoré Boex (1856–1940), a French author of Belgian origin who is considered one of the founding figures of modern science fiction. Born in Brussels, Rosny spent most of his years in France. Rosny was an influence on Arthur Conan Doyle, the plot of his Force mystérieuse (1913) being adopted by Doyle for his The Poisoned Belt. Les Navigateurs de l'infini (1925) is generally considered as Rosny's best work, and his use of the word 'astronautique' is a first. However, I suspect that, in spite of a prize existing in his name, Rosny will be most remembered for his disagreements with Lucien Descaves, particularly for the, er, scandalous winning of the Goncourt in 1932 by Guy Mazeline's Les Loups, rather than Céline's Voyage au bout de la nuit, which received the 'compensatory' Renaudot.

Paris 2017: Cimetière parisien de Bagneux, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #2: Anna Langfus


Anna Langfus (1920 – 1966) won the prix Goncourt in 1962 (for Les Bagages de sable), and this is one of the few Goncourt graves I've come across to mention the Goncourt. But it certainly should be mentioned, if only because (at the time that I write) there have been only twelve female winners of the title since its creation in 1901. Langfus was a Polish Jew, and Les Bagages de sable concerns the difficulties of a Shoah survivor adapting to everyday circumstances.

Paris 2017: Cimetière de Montmartre, 18e arrondissement #3 Émile de Girardin


Émile de Girardin (1806–81) was the founder of the paper La Presse, and, with his rival Armand Dutacq (Le Siècle) was responsible for the first serial novels to appear, some writers of note being Balzac, Lamartine and George Sand. He was also a politician and wrote numerous political and social works.

Paris 2017: Cimetière de Montmartre, 18e arrondissement #2 Jeanne Moreau


Actor Jeanne Moreau (born 1928) only died on 31 July 2017. I, a lover of her films, particularly Truffaut's Jules et Jim in which she sings Serge Rezvani's 'Le Tourbillon de la vie', and Buñuel's Le Journal d'une femme de chambre, just had to see her grave.

20 September 2017

Paris 2017: Cimetière de Montmartre, 18e arrondissement #1 Sacha Guitry


The writer of 124 plays, Sacha Guitry was also an actor and a film director.

Aristide Bruant in the 18e arrondissement, Paris

'LE POÈTE ET LE CHANSONNIER
ARISTIDE BRUANT
EST MORT DANS CETTE MAISON
LE 12 FÉVRIER 1925'

17 rue Christiani.

Bernard Dimey in the 18e arrondissement, Paris


Poet and singer Bernard Dimey is commemorated in this plaque in rue Germain Pilon. He spent fourteen years with painter and sculptor Yvette Cathiard, who wrote about it in La Blessure de l'Ogre (1993). 

Éric Holder: Mademoiselle Chambon (1996)

Before reading – indeed before knowing the existence of – the novel on which the movie is based, I'd seen that film. And I loved it. But for me this is an unusual case of loving the film (by Stéphane Brizé) although not feeling the same way about the book.

I have no problems at all with Éric Holder's short book, which in so many ways manages to pack in so more (in one hundred and fifty-seven pages) than the film, but the film manages to say so much more in a very short space, with a far more limited number of characters, without actually stating feelings, just leaving the unspoken to be said in images. Also, the two main characters in the book (the Portuguese manual worker Antonio and the school teacher Véronique Chambon) are roughly half the age of their counterparts in the film, which seems far more appropriate for the circumstances.

The story (in both novel and film) is about Antonio and Véronique, who come together (but never sexually) through Kevin, Antonio's son by his wife  Anne-Marie. After the film, I found too much extraneous detail here, particularly in Antonio's workplace, the petty rivalry, and Antonio being under pressure to fall in with his boss Van Hamme's wishes.

Oh for the aching, gloriously ferocious non-dits of the film, I thought. Which all the same in no way discourages me from reading any more of Éric Holder's work.

Bernard-Marie Koltès: Dans la solitude des champs de coton (2010)

Bernard-Marie Koltès (1948–89) died of AIDS three years after the publication of this play, Dans la solitude des champs de coton, which is a mere sixty short pages long. Maybe 'play' is a misnomer, as it's really a dialogue between the Dealer and the Customer. But no transaction takes place as the whole thing is a tense verbal ballet, skirting around a never specifically mentioned subject, although drugs are briefly mentioned, and sex a number of times. There's also an atmosphere of threat, of danger, of a kind of known but at the same time uncharted territory, of braving an unspoken challenge. I can't say more now as this is the only work I've yet read by Bernard-Marie Koltès, whose existence I only discovered last year on finding his grave in the Cimetière de Montmartre:

Yves Ravey: Enlèvement avec rançon (2010)

Yves Ravey's Enlèvement avec rançon is a kind of thriller (but only a kind of) and is exactly what it says on the cover: a kidnapping with ransom. This is first person narration, and that person is Max, the elder brother of Jerry, whom he has not seen for twenty years (when Jerry was twenty and Max fifteen). What happened to Max in those twenty years seems very little, and Max (in spite of some obvious sexual dalliances) is still in the home of his widowed mother, now in an old people's complex Max is paying for.

As for Jerry, who has come from Afghanistan, there are obvious suggestions of Islamisation: he doesn't like eating pork (including lard with fried eggs which he used to love,), and appears to be only interested in making money for a mysterious organisation.

Max has stomached twenty-two years as an accountant to Pourcelet, a highly unsympathetic boss. So why shouldn't he profit from him by (with Jerry) kidnapping his daughter Samantha and demanding half a million euros ransom money?

Well, this may be a hare-brained idea, but it may come off, although it of course doesn't allow for sibling rivalry, or (perish the thought) Stockholm syndrome. Crime (whisper it gently) often does pay, but that payment might come at a high price. This is Yves Ravey, and his books resist being put down.
My other posts on Yves Ravey:

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Yves Ravey: La Fille de mon meilleur ami 

Yves Ravey: Un notaire peu ordinaire

19 September 2017

Alain Poulanges: Boby Lapointe : ou les mamelles du destin (2012)

Boby Lapointe (1922–1972), about whom I have written several posts on this blog, was a singer, writer and mathematician of some brilliance. He was born and died in Pézenas (Hérault), although he spent most of his mature years in Paris. Alain Poulange's biography is by far the best work that has been written on Boby, although – five years after its publication – it is out of print. Which is a pity, as he seems to be more popular today than he was in his lifetime, and only several weeks ago Le Monde included him in their Géants de la chanson series.

Boby's singing involves great use of puns and other play on words, Spoonerisms, nonsense, general absurdity, and it is perhaps unsurprising that a number of people have found his work too difficult to understand, although to contradict this many children have also enjoyed his playfulness. Even just after the age of twenty he was using a pun in a very serious situation: he escaped from the Nazi work camp (Service du Travail Obligatoire, usually called STO) and made his way back to Pézenas as Robert Foulcan (for which read fout le camp, which of course is exactly what he was doing).

The book charts his love of women, his love of wine, his sense of humour, and his inability to deal with money. He was very fortunate to have Georges Brassens (who too didn't care much for money, although he had enough of it) change his bald car tyres for new ones, even give him a new car and help his family out.

There are many humorous moments in this book, such as the attempts to take a plaster cast of his penis, or the fact that (as Pierre Perret notes in the Preface) he could even joke about dying of cancer: usually late for gigs, he suddenly as if by miracle started turning up early for them: when other performers took a long time getting to a venue because of the difficulty parking, Boby simply parked on the pavement: his reasoning was that he wouldn't have to pay the fines because he'd be dead.

We're lucky to have this book. But why hasn't it been re-printed?

Cimetière nouveau de Neuilly, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #10 Ferdinand Brunot

Ferdinand Brunot, maire du XIVe arrondissement.jpg


Ferdinand Brunot (1860–1938) was a noted linguist. A teacher at the Sorbonne, his famous work was Histoire de la langue française des origines à 1900, nine volumes of which were published between 1905 and 1937.

Cimetière nouveau de Neuilly, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #:9 Jean Aragny


Jean Aragny (1898–1939) was a playwright about whom little information seems readily available, apart from his writings, seems to be known. His plays include Les Yeux du spectre (1924), Prime (1932), and Bourreaux d'enfants (1939). He also wrote the screenplay adaptation of Timothy Shea's novel Toute sa vie (1930), the screenplay of Les vacances du diable (1931), and co-wrote the screenplay for Le Poignard malais (1931).

18 September 2017

Cimetière nouveau de Neuilly, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #8: Victor Charbonnel


Victor Charbonnel (1863–1926) was a priest who left the priesthood and then gave a series of anti-clerical talks. Among a number of other publications he wrote  Séparation de l'Eglise et de la famille (1900), Victor Charbonnel: Sensations de vie (1906), and La Vérité sur le Vatican: Palais et caverne [1907]. In 1901 he founded the paper La raison and was a director of L'Action with Henry Bérenger.

Pierre Corneille in the 1e arrondissement, Paris

'PIERRE CORNEILLE
NÉ À ROUEN
LE 6 JUIN 16016,
MORT À PARIS
LE 1ER OCTOBRE 1684,
EST INHUMÉ DANS CETTE ÉGLISE.

–––––––––––

Erigé en 1821.'

Église Saint-Roch, rue Saint-Honoré, where, as mentioned above, Corneille is buried.

Karl Wood's Baker Street Windmill. Orsett, Essex, UK

image1.JPG
David Skelton of New Zealand sends me this superb shot of Karl Wood's oil painting of a smock mill which he rescued from oblivion. It's dated 1933 and Guy Blythman has identified it as Baker Street mill, Orsett, Essex. This is now a grade II listed building, and is partly a house conversion. Many thanks to both David Skelton and Guy Blythman for this.

17 September 2017

Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin, 1e arrondissement, Paris

'ICI
SE TROUVAIT DE 1845 à 1852
LE THÉÂTRE
DES
SOIRÉES FANTASTIQUES
FONDÉ PAR
JEAN-EUGÈNE
ROBERT-HOUDIN
RÉNOVATEUR DE LA PRESTIGITATION
CRÉATEUR D'AUTOMATES ET DE
NOMBREUX APPAREILS SCIENTIFIQUES'

Plaque at 11 rue de Valois, dedicated to Robert-Houdin (1805–71).

Emmanuel and Mireille Berl, 1e arrondissement, Paris

'DE 1939 À 1963
JEAN COCTEAU
A VÉCU, TRAVAILLÉ ET RAYONNÉ
DANS CETTE MAISON
 
MIREILLE
ET ÉMMANUEL BERL
ONT VÉCU ICI
40 ANS DE LITTÉRATURE
ET DE CHANSONS'

36 rue de Montpensier.

Paris 2017: Cimetière du Montparnasse: #17: Serge Reggiani


Serge Reggiani (1922–2004) first made his name as an actor, and it wasn't until he was forty-two that he turned to singing. Nevertheless, he is now considered as one of France's greatest singers. In the 1990s he published two autobiographical works. Having missed this grave and strayed into the eight division, a cemetery workers' van pulled up alongside of us and asked if we were looking for Reggiani. Yes. 'Over there, where the people are.' Yep, just as it's marked on the map.

Cimetière nouveau de Neuilly, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #7: Georges Izambard

Georges Izambard photo anonyme.jpg


Georges Izambard (1848–1931) was teacher of Rhetoric and became the friend of his student, Arthur Rimbaud, in Charleville-Mézières. His first wife Marie was the sculptor René Fauche's daughter. His writings include À Douai et à Charleville. Lettres et écrits inédits [by Arthur Rimbaud] commentés par Georges Izambard (1927) and Rimbaud tel que je l'ai connu (1947).

16 September 2017

Christian Oster: Mon grand appartement (1999)

On the back cover of the poche edition of Christian Oster's Mon grand appartement (1999), Patrick Kéchichian states that an Oster character is neither tragic nor absurd, and resembles no one or everyone. Well, I dunno. Tragic, no, but a little absurd surely yes, although the absurdity is that of the every day.

Luc Gavardine (usually called by his surname) begins the narration by saying he can't get into his big appartment (which doesn't have a part in the story, apart from his not being able to enter it) because Anne (whom he's at the time living with) isn't there to let him in, and he's lost his briefcase in which he carries he key. A lost key also appears at the end of the novel, although he finds it, as if he's unlocking the door to a new life, or maybe not.

Gavardine spends the night in a hotel (this is written before mobile phones became ubiquitous), and then goes to the florist shop where Anne works, to be told that she didn't go to his big appartment that night. Instead of asking her why, is the relationship therefore finished, and if so can he have his key back, Gavardine just goes away, buys a new briefcase and goes to the swimming baths to see an old female friend. But when he gets there his friend loses importance and it's love at first sight for him when he sees Flore (nothing to do with florists), who is heavily pregant, walks with her from the baths, and even arranges to go to the Corrèze on the train with her, where she's going to see her brother.

'Why?' and 'What if...?' don't necessarily count for much in Oster's world, and life-changing decisions are, well, just part of the normal course of events. Not that Gavardine has anything to lose by giving into a whim, as he seems to accept that he's lost his girlfriend Anne, doesn't have a job, so why not join Flore to meet her brother, even though he doesn't know if the father of her future child is still around?

As it happens, Flore's brother Jean, who runs a bar and an adjacent museum, welcomes Jean as a brother-in-law (Flore having been hastened to hospital to give birth to a baby called Maude) and even offers him a job of sorts as museum guide. Jean doesn't seem to be too much concerned that Luc (they're now on 'tu' terms) has only met Flore two days before and obviously isn't the father, and as for Flore, well, she doesn't love Luc but maybe things will work out all right.

Strange things happen to male protagonists in Christian Oster's books, and it's usually women who cause them: don't ask too many questions, just enjoy his highly original, amusing, and very engaging novels.

15 September 2017

Cimetière nouveau de Neuilly, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #6: Pauline Avery Crawford


Pauline Avery Crawford (1890–1952) was, as Charles L. Robertson's 2001 biography of her states, An American Poet in Paris. His sub-title is 'Pauline Avery Crawford and the Herald Tribune': Crawford was an american expatriate who wrote for the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune in the 1930s and 1940s. After the war she wrote a column called 'Our Times in Rhyme' up until shortly before her death.

Cimetière nouveau de Neuilly, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #5: Alek Plunian


Alek (or Alexia) Plunian (1894–1967) was born into a Breton family. Her first novel, Lina, la Jaguine (1926) was about maritime life in Brittany: in the 1920s, she spent several months teaching at a school in Saint-Jacut-de-la-Mer (Côtes-d'Armor). Her other books include Histoire de Pommette (1933), Tempête... (1937), and the play Le Coq qui se fait pigeon (1951).

Cimetière nouveau de Neuilly, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #4: Charles Chassé


Charles Chassé (1883–1965) was born in Quimper and died in Neuilly-sur-Seine. He wrote enormously, and was particularly interested in the unusual, the mysterious, the esoteric: the loves of Napoléon, for example, or religion, witchcraft, the Seznec affair, the Ankou, etc. Three of his works stand out above all: Napoléon par les écrivains (1921), Sous le masque d'Alfred Jarry, les sources d'Ubu-Roi (1922), and Gauguin et son temps (1963).

Cimetière nouveau de Neuilly, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #3: Paul Géraldy


Paul Géraldy (1885–1983) was a poet and playwright who was born in and died in Neuilly-sur-Seine. He has now virtually slipped into oblivion, although his collections of simple poetry, particularly Les Petites Âmes (1908) and Toi et moi (1912) were great popular successes. His plays revolved around the psychology of bourgeois families between the wars.

Cimetière nouveau de Neuilly-sur-Seine, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #2: Marcel Beaufils


Marcel Beaufils (1899–1985) was a highly influential professor of the Aesthetics of Music at the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse in Paris, his most noted work being Le Lied romantique allemand (1956). He died in Saint-Germain-en-Laye (Yvelines).

Cimetière nouveau de Neuilly, Hauts-de-Seine (92) #1: Wassily Kandinsky


Born in Moscow and one of the twentieth century's most important painters of modern art, Wassily (or Vassily) Kandinsky (1866–1944) was also an engraver, art theoretician, poet and playwright. He gained French nationality in 1939 and died in Neuilly-sur-Seine.

César's thumb, La Défense, Hauts-de-Seine (92)

There are several reproductions of César's thumb, one of which I included here on our visit to Marseille. This is the largest, being twelve metres high and weighing eighteen tonnes.

14 September 2017

Paris 2017: Simone de Beauvoir, Montparnasse, Paris


'SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR
1908 – 1986
AUTEUR DU DEUXIÈME SEXE
ÉCRIVAIN, PHILOSOPHE
VÉCUT DANS CETTE MAISON
DE 1955 À 1986'

11 rue Victor Schoelcher.