18 March 2018

Sorj Chalandon: Retour à Killybegs | Return to Killybegs (2011)

Sorj Chalandon used to be a journalist for the daily paper Libération, specialising in particular in reporting on the problems in Northern Ireland. He wrote the novel Mon traître in 2008, which was inspired by his friendship with Denis Donaldson (1950–2006), a staunch member of the IRA and Sinn Féin who became a British agent. In Mon traître a French character (obviously based on Chalandon himself) named Antoine Chalons – a luthier, or maker of stringed instruments – appears as a friend of Tyrone Meehan's. In 2011 Chalandon returned to the subject with Retour à Killybegs (translated as Return to Killybegs), another fictionalised account of Chalandon's Story, although whereas Mon traître is narrated by Antoine, Retour à Killybegs is narrated by Tyrone, who was born in 1925 and died in 2007.

The structure of the book is in two essential parts: chapters that run more or less chronologically from the 1920s to 2007, interspersed with far fewer and much shorter chapters from 24 December 2006 – when Tyrone returns to his empty family home in Killybegs, where his strongly Republican father used to take out his frustrations on other people (and animals), but mainly Tyrone – to 3 April 2007, when Tyrone is murdered by a Republican group opposed to the peace process. (In reality the Real IRA admitted to the murder, although this name is not mentioned in the novel.)

This is to some extent a violent and gruesome book, beginning with Tyrone's father Padraig's beatings of him, through the general violence in Ireland at the time, the beatings of prisoners by the wardens, the prisoner's protests at not being treated as political prisoners, refusing to in uniform and not washing, smearing their own shit on the walls, a hunger strike in the background, etc.

But the main thrust of the story is about Tyrone's betrayal of the political organisation he lived for: he has accidentally killed Danny, one of his friends, during a shoot-out with the opposition, MI5 have the bullets to prove and to broadcast the fact, and (by indirectly threatening his son and his wife) blackmail him into becoming an informant. There is really no way he can turn the offer down. But come the ceasefire and the setting up of the peace process, Tyrone's role as traitor will out, and his return to Killybegs, he knows, is a return to death. Chalandon makes Tyrone eighty-one here, although he (the real Denis Donaldson, that is) was of course much younger.

Retour à Killybegs is a compelling read, and received the Grand prix du roman de l'Académie française for 2011. I can't say that I've seen the excellent cover before, but this edition comes from'Le Grand Livre du Mois' book club, which I found in a book exchange depot.

My other Sorj Chalandon posts:
Sorj Chalandon: Profession du père
Sorj Chalandon: La Légende de nos pères

16 March 2018

Auguste Mariette in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais (62)

François Auguste Ferdinand Mariette (1821–91) was born in Boulogne-sur-Mer and died in Cairo (where he is buried), and along with Jean-François Champollion he is the co-founder of Egyptology. His publications include Notice des principaux monuments exposés dans les galeries provisoires du musée d'antiquités égyptiennes de S. A. le vice-roi à Boulaq (6 vols (1864–76)); Dendérah (1875); Karnak, étude topographique et archéologique (2 vol., 1875); Voyage dans la Haute Égypte (1878); Catalogue général des monuments d'Abydos découverts pendant les fouilles de cette ville (1880); and Itinéraire de la Haute Égypte comprenant une description des monuments antiques des rives du Nil entre Le Caire et la première Cataracte (1880).

Ernest Deseille in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais (62)

LE 14 MAI 1835'

Ernest Deseille (1835–89) was Boulogne-sur-Mer's archivist, and wrote a large number of publications, amongst which are the poem Un exploit de Roland, ou Pourquoi le diable a-t-il des cornes ?  (1860), a glossary of Boulogne sailors' patois (1978), and a 118-page book on the Egyptologist Auguste Mariette (see above), which he called 'Auguste Mariette: Souvenir sur l'Inauguration de la sa statue'. After his death, his widow left a gift to Boulogne-sur-Mer of over ten thousand books and manuscripts.

Guillaume Duchenne in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais (62)

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne (1806–75) – commonly known as Duchenne de Boulogne – was a neurological doctor born in Boulogne-sur-Mer who died in Paris. He was interested in photographing expressions created under the application of electricity to the brain, of which a few expressions are reproduced below: the origins of the uses of electricity to stun (or delete) people's memories under ECT (electro-convulsive therapy) or EST (electric shock therapy) in American English are quite clearly documented. I just wonder how much Duchenne can be blamed for this abuse of patients with mental problems. His main works: Essai sur la brûlure (1833); De l'Électrisation localisée et de son application à la physiologie, à la pathologie et à la thérapeutique (1855); Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine, ou Analyse électro-physiologique de l'expression des passions applicable à la pratique des arts plastiques (1862); and Physiologie des mouvements démontrée à l'aide de l'expérimentation électrique et de l'observation clinique, et applicable à l'étude des paralysies et des déformations (1867).

Edward Jenner in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais (62)

As I'm always wary of saying anything on scientific issues – people tend to be swift to add a comment on any mistake I make – I shall steal most of my material from Wikipedia, so any mistakes can be blamed on the anonymous contributors there. Edward Jenner (1749–1823) was an English physician and scientist who pioneered the smallpox vaccine. The words 'vaccine' and 'vaccination' stem from Variolae vaccinae, the expression Jenner used for cowpox: in 1796 he described the protective effect of cowpox against smallpox. Jenner is often called the father of immunology, and his work is said to have 'saved more lives than the work of any other human: in his time smallpox killed around ten per cent of the population, reaching up to twenty percent in towns and cities where infection spread more easily. His publications include: An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolæ Vaccinæ (1798); Further Observations on the Variolæ Vaccinæ, or Cow-Pox (1799); A Continuation of Facts and Observations relative to the Variolæ Vaccinæ (1800); The Origin of the Vaccine Inoculation (1801). Like several statues, this one is at the side of the Haute-Ville in Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Philippe Besson: « Arrète avec tes mensonges » (2017)

The title refers to the narrator Philippe Besson's mother's criticism of him as a child, telling him to stop telling lies. But lies, of course, are Besson's profession: he's a novelist. On the other hand, this novel is the most autobiographical he's yet written. And through this novel, we come to learn that other books of his have skirted around this particular story, especially perhaps in Mon frère, where the character Thomas Andrieu is prominent. And «Arrète avec tes mensonges» is dedicated to the memory of Thomas Andrieu (1966–2016): he really did exist.
Philippe Besson was born in Barbezieux (Charente), where he spent his childhood and adolescence, and where much of the narrative takes place; also, as Besson says, his family spent their holidays on Île de Ré, taking the ferry as this book is largely set in 1984, before the bridge was built in 1988.

But the main interest is between Thomas and Philippe, who meet for passionate sex on a number of occasions, although Thomas wants their activities to be kept strictly secret, as if he's somehow ashamed of being gay. Thomas lives on a farm with his parents (father French, mother of Spanish origin from Gallicia) and is still expected, as were children many years before, to follow his father's profession. Thomas knows that the academic Philippe will leave tiny Barbezieux (pop. then just over 5000) and that their friendship will end.

It is in fact Thomas who will call an end to the relationship by going to Spain, leaving Philippe with only memories of their affair as he leaves Barbezieux for Bordeaux and later Paris.

The second part takes place in Bordeaux in 2007, and here the narrative seems to swerve a little away from fact and into contrivance, although I may be wrong. The day after a book signing session in Bordeaux, Philippe is interviewed by a journalist in his hotel when he suddenly spots Thomas. Well, it's not Thomas but his son Lucas, the 'spitting image' of his father. Lucas is the product of a relationship with a Spanish girl and Thomas, and as she comes from a staunch Catholic family there's no question of abortion so they marry and live on the farm in Barbezieux. Lucas knows that Philippe is a famous writer, that he's been very friendly with Thomas, and reveals that Thomas has read Philippe's books and that there has to be absolute silence in the house when Philippe appears on TV. Lucas gives Philippe the family's phone number and takes Philippe's number to pass on to Thomas, although Philippe knows that neither will phone the other.

And then, in 2016, the bombshell: Lucas must see Philippe in Paris soon and hand something to him. The meeting takes place in Café Beaubourg, when Lucas tells Philippe that his father's hanged himself but not left a note saying why. He goes on to reveal that two days after Philippe met Lucas, Thomas anounced that he was leaving the family definitively, giving his wife his land and his other possessions: they are to divorce. No one knows where he went. Searching around after Thomas's death, Lucas – who's carved a new life for himself in California but returns to France for his father's funeral – finds a number of letters from another man to Thomas threatening to sever their relationship if Thomas doesn't live with him. But Thomas is incapable of revealing his real sexual identity, which is why he'd lived a heterosexual lie for so many years.

Before Philippe reads it, Lucas leaves the café giving Philippe an unsent letter Thomas wrote to him in 1984, in which he tells that the time he's spent with Philippe is the happiest he's ever had, and that he knows that he'll never be as happy again.

My other Philippe Besson posts:
Philippe Besson: Un instant d'abandon
Philippe Besson: Son frère
Philippe Besson: En l'absence des hommes | In the Absence of Men
Philippe Besson: Un garçon d'Italie
Philippe Besson: La Trahison de Thomas Spencer

Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt: La Femme au miroir (2011)

This is a novel in three stories, although the stories continuously alternate, making forty-two sections, or fourteen for each story. The reader knows there must be a number of links between the stories, and struggles until near the end to find the main ones. To begin with, all three main female characters have similar names. although live in different places at very different times:

Anne is from the 16th century and is about to marry when a vital mirror breaks and she knows she must flee. She never marries, never has sex, and is destined for a religious life. But her murderous, arsonist cousin Ida, a survivor of a self-made fire and a failed suicide attempt, will ensure that Anne is tried and burned at the stake for witchcraft and poisoning.

Hanna's story is epistolary, mainly her writing to Gretchen about the lack of real spark in her marriage to the nevertheless worthy Franz. Why can't she have an orgasm? Until, that is, she has anonymous sexual relationships with total strangers, and she realises she can no longer live with Franz.

Anny, though, is an LA movie star who sleeps with anyone she likes, or virtually anyone who would like to sleep with her. She is also a drug addict whose nurse Ethan is too, and although he loves her he holds off the moment until towards the end.

So how does this all fit together with three so very different attitudes to sex and/or love? Ah, well, Hanna finds out about Anne ('the virgin of Bruges') and sees her love of God as the unconscious in another (more Freudian) word, and she decides to write a book about Anne called Le Miroir de l'invisible. Anny decides to go for apparent professional suicide by accepting a screenplay written by a European director: this is to be La Fille aux lunettes rouges, an adaptation of a work written by Hanna von Waldberg, which was sent to the director's father's grandmother Gretchen. And so the three threads come together: quite the best Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt I've so far read, and at 453 pages much longer than his usual stuff.

My other Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt posts:
Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt: Milarepa
Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt: La Tectonique des sentiments

15 March 2018

Francis Tattegrain and Alaniz in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais (62)

The painting by Francis Tattegrain (1852–1915), La Ramasseuse d'épaves, viewable in the Château-Musée in Boulogne-sur-mer, depicts a young woman, a member of the working classes in rags, carrying wood that she has salvaged from a shipwreck. Tattegrain, along with Eugène Boudin, Henri Le Sidaner, Frits Thaulow, and others, were named 'L'Ecole d'Étaples', this area attracting many French and foreign artists inspired by the light and the beauty of La baie de Canche in particular. In turn inspired by Tattegrain, this street art is by the Argentinian Alaniz.

Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais (62)

Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804–69) was born at 16 rue du pot d'étain, Boulogne-sur-Mer, a month after his father's death, and was brought up by his mother Augustine and his maternal aunt. He went to school in Boulogne, which he left to continue his studies in Paris. Sainte-Beuve was a poet and novelist, but is most noted for his work as a literary critic, particularly in his belief that the work of a writer is a reflection of his life. Proust was a stong critic of Sainte-Beuve's ideas, his Contre Sainte-Beuve being published posthumously in 1954. The building where the plaque on his birthplace stands is now pretty non-descript, although when Harold Nicolson phographed it for his biography of Sanite-Beuve (published 1957) it was Hôtel Restaurant Sainte-Beuve.

Sainte-Beuve's grave in the Cimetière du Montparnasse.

14 March 2018

Émile Lemaître, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais (62)


Émile  Lemaître arrived in Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1884 and was editor of L'Indépendant, then (more importantly) the paper Le Boulonnais. He was also the founding director of La Correspondance de la résistance laïque (1896-1904).

Ernest Hamy, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais (62)


Ernest Hamy was born in Boulogne-sur-Mer, was a medical doctor by education and the founder of the Musée d'ethnographie du Trocadéro in 1878, and, with Albert Gaudry and Georges Pouchet, the co-founder of the Galerie de Paléontologie et d'Anatomie comparée in 1898. His most well-known publications are Précis de paléontologie humaine (1870), Crania Ethnica (with A. De Quatrefages and in two volumes (1875-82), and Les Origines du musée d'ethnographie (1890).

12 March 2018

Charles Ternisien, Cimetière de l'est #3, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais (62)

Charles Ternasien (1843–1916) is most noted with editing the satirical paper Le Farceur, started two years before as L'Index du farceur in 1885, but originally dating from as far back as 1870 (Le Farceur boulonnais). He was self-educated, had the appearance of a peasant, but was highly instructed in many disciplines. His four-page paper sold for ten centimes, and had a representation of him on the headmast of the paper in a beret inside a wine barrel: it probably wasn't easy to take him seriously.

Alfred Dubout, Cimetière de l'est #2, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais (62)

Alfred Dubout (1854–1936) was a poet and playwright, and his bust here is by Edouard Manchuelle. Dubout wrote the plays Frédégonde, Boulogne en bouteille, and the early sonnets Les Contreblasphèmes.

Auguste Angellier, Cimetière de l'est #1, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais (62)

Auguste Angellier (1848–1911) was born in Dunkerque and died in Boulogne-sur-Mer, where he also went to school. He was a poet, critic and literary historian. He was expelled from the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris in 1866 due to a revolt over the poor quality of the school food. He wrote two theses: one on Keats (in Latin), and one on Robert Burns (1893), which attacks Hippolyte Taine's theories, and caused something of a stir. He was the first professor of English language and literature in Lille, where a statue is dedicated to him.

9 March 2018

Boîte à lire, Sorigny, Indre-et-Loire (37)

Brilliant. I've now found the generic name for these non-book shops which punctuate the whole of France, and are designed as book exchanging places: Boîtes à lire. You've read a book and don't want to keep it? Fine, just deposit it here and take one you fancy. I've heard of old telephone booths serving as boites à lire before, but this one in Sorigny is obviously a pseudo-English one, complete with crown but not saying who reigns. Anyone from Sorigny (or elsewhere) who knows the history of this, I'd love to know, so please make a comment or email me: ne vous en faîtes pas, je comprends la langue!

6 March 2018

Dominique de Roux in Chaniers (17), Charente-Maritime (17)

In the 1950s, on returning from various courses and jobs in Germany, Spain and England, Dominique de Roux, along with several friends and young relatives, founded the first (roneotyped) editions of L'Herne. In 1961, this organ became Cahiers de l'Herne, a collection of monographs dedicated to various literary figures, of whom Wikipédia gives a large number of examples: René-Guy Cadou, Georges Bernanos, Borges, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Ezra Pound, Witold Gombrowicz, Pierre Jean Jouve, Burroughs-Pélieu-Kaufman, Henri Michaux, Ungaretti, Louis Massignon, Lewis Carroll, H. P. Lovecraft, Alexandre Soljenitsyne, Julien Gracq, Dostoïevski, Karl Kraus, Gustav Meyrink, Thomas Mann, Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, Arthur Koestler, Charles Péguy and Raymond Abellio.

He also wrote several works of non-fiction and several novels, a few of which were published posthumously: Mademoiselle Anicet (1960); L'Harmonika-Zug (1963); Maison jaune; Le Cinquième empire (1977); La Jeune Fille au ballon rouge (1978); and Le Livre nègre (1997). He died of a heart attack at the age of forty-one. The publishing house still exists.

29 MARS 1977

5 March 2018

The Cairns at Saint-Denis-d'Oléron (17), Île d'Oléron (17), Charente-Maritime (17)

Until less than a few years ago – perhaps originally due to a number of schoolchildren on a bus trip – many sculptural cairns created from stones and pebbles emerged not far from the Phare de Chassiron (lighthouse) at the tip of L'Île d'Oléron. They became a great attraction, being mentioned in various 'unknown Charente-Maritime' publications, shown on YouTube clips, etc. Sadly, the local council decreed that they were causing erosion, were a danger, blablabla, and these ephemeral sculptures no longer exist: the shoreline at Saint-Denis-d'Oléron is lovely to see, but its heart has been removed. Bullshit, not the people's art, endures.

Georges Bordonove in Le Château-d'Oléron (17), Île d'Oléron (17), Charente-Maritime (17)

Georges Bordonove (1920–2007) was a writer of historical novels and biographies. He received several literay prizes, among them L’Académie française for his novel Les Quatre Cavaliers (1962) and his historical study Les Marins de l'An II (1974).

4 March 2018

The Massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane (87), Haute-Vienne (87)

On 10 June 1944 the SS Das Reich massacred almost all of the inhabitants in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane: 197 men, 240 women and 205 children. They then set the village on fire. General de Gaulle, on visiting the village some time later, wanted to preserve the village as it then was, as a memorial to this act of madness. Five men and one woman survived the ordeal and it was some time before one of them, Robert Hébras, could be persuaded into telling the tale, which must inevitably have been a painful experience. The booklet Oradour-sur-Glane : Le drame heure par heure was published in 1994, fifty years after the massacre. It is a stunning, because horrifying, read.

The reason for the massacre is not exactly clear, although two days before, the Resistance blew up a railway bridge in nearby Saint-Junien with a view to slowing German troops moving to Normandy, where the Allies has disembarked four days before; in the process, two German soldiers had been killed. Added to this, Major Helmut Kämpfe – a personal friend of Commander Dickman's – appears to have been killed by the Resistance at this time.

The S.S. surrounded the village in order to block all exits, and moved into the village with their machine guns.

The entrance to Oradour village.

Trees are some of the few things that survived. Of note here are the tram lines at the side of the road: the tram ran from Limoges, where a number of the people worked.

The Champ de Foire, where the villagers were rounded up before being split into groups and led to several different barns to be executed.

The well at the edge of the Champ de Foire.

Remains of a garage.

A Peugeot, once.

Grange Laudy, from which the five men escaped.

Madame Ruffanche, the only woman survivor, escaped from one of these church windows.

Glasses salvaged from the barns.

Curling tongs and hairdressers' scissors.

The memorial to the 642 murdered holds central position in the cemetery at Oradour-sur-Glane.

On reading Robert Hébras's book, what pained me most was not so much the fact that General Lammerding, the leader of the division which perpetrated this insanity, lived a prosperous existence until his natural death in 1971. No, it was the words of Lieutenant Barth when tried in 1983, who saw the massacre as 'a perfectly normal action', and before being led to (a surely very brief) prison sentence for life, expressed regret that he wouldn't be able to enjoy the company of his grandchildren. Not a thought for the grandchildren and grandparents whose lives were cut short in an act of mindless slaughter.

3 March 2018

Henri Béraud in Saint-Clément-des-Baleines (17), Île de Ré (17), Charente-Maritime (17)

Henri Béraud (1885–1958) scooped the Goncourt in 1922 for Le Vitriol de lune and Le Martyre de l'obèse. His politics veered from extreme left to extreme right, he was condemned to death for collaboration in 1944, although several writers (notably François Mauriac) argued in his favour, and Charles De Gaulle pardoned him. He was freed in 1950 and died in his home on Île de Ré.

Luce Berthommé and Christian Le Guillochet in Villejésus (16), Charente (16)

In his invaluable Guide des tombes des hommes célèbres – which of course also includes graves of famous women – Bertrand Beyern describes Luce Berthommé (1944–2004, born in Villejésus) as an 'author, [film and play] director and actor'. His 2008-published book of course excludes her husband Christian Le Guillochet (1933–2011, born in Albi), who is described in Wikipédia as an 'actor, playwright and director of films and plays'.* Together (with the support of the actor Laurent Terzieff), they founded Lucernaire, a cultural centre in Paris involved with drama, the cinema and photography, in 1968. It began near the Gare Montparnasse in the Impasse Odessa, although ten years later Lucernaire was forced to move due to the construction of the Tour Montparnasse. In the sixth arrondissement at 53 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, in a disused factory, the second incarnation of Lucernaire consisted of three theatres, three cinema screens, an art gallery, small library, restaurant and bar. In 2004, after the death of his wife,  Christian Le Guillochet sold Lucernaire to Les Éditions L'Harmattan. And in 2006 Christian Le Guillochet published, via Les Éditions L'Harmattan, a book about the history of Lucernaire: 50 ans de Théâtre, depuis l'impasse Odessa jusqu'à la rue Notre-Dame des Champs.

*He also wrote two novels: L'Oiseau-éventail (1995) and Le Chien citoyen (2008).

2 March 2018

François Mitterrand in Jarnac (16), Charente (16)

François Mitterrand (1916–96) was the President of France for fourteen years, from 1981 to 1995. He died of prostate cancer – from which he had long been diagnosed – several months after the end of his presidency. François Mitterrand was born in Jarnac (Charente), into a bourgeois, Catholic and conservative family. His paternal grandfather was station master in Jarnac, although his father Joseph was an engineer for the Compagnie du Chemin de fer from Paris to Orléans, in 1919 moving to Jarnac to take up directorship of his father's vinegar factory: he later decame president of the Fédération nationale des syndicats de fabricants de vinaigre. François was the fifth child in the marriage between Joseph and Yvonne, and was baptised in Jarnac in May 1917. He is buried in Jarnac cemetery. No inside photography in his birthplace is allowed.


The front of the house.

And the back of it.

The old washing area.

The words 'Fabrique de Vinaigre' (Vinegar Factory) still clearly visible.

I couldn't avoid the light getting in.