21 September 2017

Paris 2017: Cimetière de Montmartre, 18e arrondissement, Paris, #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, Paris, #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, Paris, #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 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.

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

LE 6 JUIN 16016,


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

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

SE TROUVAIT DE 1845 à 1852

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

Emmanuel and Mireille Berl, 1e arrondissement, Paris

'DE 1939 À 1963

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

1908 – 1986
DE 1955 À 1986'

11 rue Victor Schoelcher.

Paris 2017: Cimetière du Montparnasse: #16: François Maspero

François Maspero (1932–2015) was a writer, translator and publisher (Éditions Maspero). His most significantbook (to me at least)  is Les Passagers du Roissy-Express (1989), which he wrote with Anaïk Frantz taking the photos of their investigation of the RER line B, which involved meeting a number of interesting people and is a fascinating piece of investigative journalism. Their are many things written about his ancestors here, although nothing about François Maspero himself, as though his fascinating and important work were of no importance. Which is a shame, unless that was his wish?

Paris 2017: Cimetière du Montparnasse: #15: César Baldacchini

The impressive grave of the sculptor César Baldacchini (1921–98), better known simply as César, whose thumb sculpture I photographed in Marseille:

There's also a sculpture of his thumb at La Défense, but I've yet to show that.

Paris 2017: Cimetière du Montparnasse: #14: Léon-Paul Fargue

Léon-Paul Fargue (1876–1947) was a poet and writer. To freely translate from a paragraph on him in Wikipédia, Fargue usually used free verse, indeed prose, in a language full of tenderness and sadness, on simple, sometimes very funny, subjects, and has sometimes been compared to the photographer Robert Doisneau. He was a Parisian who loved the city (D'après Paris (1932)) and Le Piéton de Paris (1939), and also wrote about oppressive solitude drowned in alcoholic nights (Haute solitude (1941). He was an observer of Parisian society (Refuges and Déjeuners de soleil (1942) and La Lanterne magique (1944).

Paris 2017: Cimetière du Montparnasse: #13: Aristide Boucicaut

I wasn't aware of the influence of Aristide Boucicaut (1810–1877) on Émile Zola, and although it's not my policy to include business people in any blog posts, this is an exception. Boucicaut was the founder of the first department store. Le Bon Marché was the first modern shop of its kind, one copied not only in France but throughout the world. Zola was inspired to write about it in his novel Au bonheur des dames (1883), and of course more recently Daniel Pennac's novel about the departmental store scapegoat Malaussène, Au bonheur des ogres (1985), punned on Zola's title.

Dominique Fabre: Photos Volées (2014)

Dominique Fabre writes in an original way: sentences are left unfinished, there's no obvious structure to the book apart from being divided into many sections, the narrator frequently says 'Nous ne sommes pas nés de la dernière pluie' ('We weren't born yesterday'), there's a great deal of rambling and navel-gazing, dialogue often merges with the narration, the present merges with the future, and yet it works: it all seems so natural, written as thought, observations (sometimes slightly absurd) spring forth as casually and as life-like as if the reader can imagine being the protagonist himself.

The narrator here is Jean, who at the age of fifty-eight is fired from his insurance job because he's too old, costs the firm too much, and is left on the scrapheap, even though, in order to continue receiving unemployment benefit, he's forced to attend meaningless courses via Pôle emploi. He learns to sit in cafés over a beer, makes friends with someone who attended a stupid course with him, and looks at old photographs.

Before going into insurance, Jean was a freelance photographer, and taking photos remains something of a hobby for him: through old photos, he can link the past with the present, reminisce and contemplate about the ageing process, mull over past relationships he had with women, some of whom he's still in contact with on a platonic basis: he's old now, of course, wasn't born yesterday, and it's two, then three years since he last had sex.

Then along comes Hélène, and he's known a few Hélènes in his life. That was his wife's name. He even managed to have sex with the new Hélène, and maybe there's hope for the future. Maybe there's hope for him making himself known as a photographer even. We're left guessing, there are no happy-ever-afters, as life's not like that is it? No, but I'd like to read some more of this writer.

Hélène Lenoir: Le Magot de Momm (2001)

Hélène Lenoir's Le Magot de Momm depicts an intensely claustrophic situation from which attempts are made to escape, but fail. Momm is sixty-eight and widowed and lives with her thirty-six-year-old daughter Nann (who is also widowed) and Nann's three daughters: Lili (a sixteen-year-old) and the ten-year-old twins Wanda and Violette. The sexual tension is the house is almost palpable, and there is very little communication between the characters.

In a novel a little short of two hundred pages, not a great deal happens. Rather, Le Magot de Momm is written in a cinematographic style, the narrative concentrating on minute details, dissecting actions and psychologies. Misery seems inherent in this household, and Nann yearns to break free, hopes that her lukewarm lover Vincent will commit himself to her.

Although out of the central picture, that is to say not in the asphyxiating house, the worker Mario, mending the gate, is of great importance as he is a young male, dripping not only sweat but also sensuality: Nann even makes a half-hearted effort to escape from the house with him on his motor-bike, although she soon returns to Vincent and the house.

Dan, Lili's boyfriend, also has a role in the narrative, although only a bit part: he is merely the means by which Lili temporarily escapes (on a puny moped) – having found out that Momm keeps her savings in large denomination francs behind the photos in her bedroom. But Dan, very drunk, turns into a monster and Lili has to flee from her dream, falls into the hands of the police and is inevitably taken back to the house, where Momm has discovered that her nest-egg is missing and thinks it's Mario's doing. A very readable book indeed.

13 September 2017

Paris 2017: Cimetière du Montparnasse: #12: Helen Hessel

Helen Hessel (1886–1982) was born in Berlin, where she died, although she was a journalist who made her career in France. She married Franz Hessel, although her relationship with Henri-Pierre Roché (1879–1959) Roché fictionalised in Jules et Jim (1953) and Les deux anglaises et le continent (1956) and this was adapted to film as Jules et Jim by François Truffaut (1962).

Paris 2017: Cimetière du Montparnasse: #11: Pierre Albert-Birot

Pierre Albert-Birot (1876–1967) was mainly an avant-garde poet, although he was also a writer of non-fiction, a playwright, sculptor and painter. His most noted poetical works are Grabinoulor (1921), La Joie des sept couleurs (1919) and Poèmes à l'autre Moi (1927). As a sculptor, he is most known for the statue La Veuve in the cemetery in Issy-les-Moulineaux.