Posts Tagged ‘Colette’

Chez moi – old neighborhood, eminent neighbors, and a long wait

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

My neighbors at the Palais-Royal.

Diderot lived and died here.

So, while waiting for my luggage, and deepening my relationships with the baggage resolution personnel at United Airlines, I finally did spend a few minutes this afternoon wandering around my neighborhood, with my cellphone handy in case I had to rush back home for a joyful reunion with my suitcase.  Alas, the phone call never came… (we’re getting close to three days now).  Clearly, this arrondissement is big on the 17th century – so am I, so it’s a nice match.

Colette lived and died here.

Daniel Medin was right in telling me that this is a literary neighborhood – but really, aren’t all Paris neighborhoods literary ones?  Certainly my previous digs near the Eiffel Tower had its share of literary associations. Since I could not meet Daniel at the Louvre today as we had hoped, this increasingly grubby woman could explore the sites that Colette, Diderot, Molière, Corneille, and even Peruvian writer César Vallejo (1892-1938) called home – or at least a place to die.

A few blocks away, French tragedian Pierre Corneille (1606-1684) is entombed at the magnificent Eglise St. Roch.  Nearby, the Comédie-Française, which reaches back to the days of Molière (1622-1673). Good company for an afternoon walk.

The brouhaha with the airlines reminds me of the famous saying of Colette (1873-1954), “Plus je connais les hommes, plus j’aime mes chats.”  Mes chats are far away, but I’ll settle for the company of a few ghosts, these eminent and familiar spirits.

This one, however, disquiets me.  A marker for Ludovic J. Jacquinot, one of the “group of angels” who “fell gloriously” on the 26th of August, 1944.  The name, which has slightly Slavic resonances for me, reminds me of the ones I saw in Poland, trying in my off-hours to find out what I could about these wartime victims and heroes.  Unlike his Polish counterparts, however, there were no flowers at Ludovic’s marker.

There’s not much about him online. The FFI, or “Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur,” were the French Resistance fighters at the tail-end of the war. He may have been an architect, and may have lived on this or that street.  He was forty years old, and of course did not fall but was “tué,” under what circumstances it isn’t clear, except that it occurred here, at 2 rue des Pyramides.  Who remembers him?  I will, I guess.

Postscript:  Voilà!  My luggage has arrived while I have been writing this.  What a glorious thing it is to be clean again.

What do Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, Philip K. Dick, and Jean-Paul Sartre have in common?

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Hermann Hesse finds true love

I have a lot of writing to finish between now and Sunday night – I’ll be going at it 24/7.  Meanwhile, you might want to check out Buzzfeed’s “30 Renowned Authors Inspired by Cats.”  There’s also more at Writers and Kitties.

Mark Twain was an obvious choice.  But I combed through to see if they were going to remember some of the world’s most famous cat-lovers.  Colette, for example, who famously said, “Plus je connais les hommes, plus j’aime mes chats.”

Mississippi and J.B. (Photo: Bengt Jangfeldt)

She’s there, along with Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, Philip K. Dick, Hermann Hesse, Edward Gorey, George Plimpton, Jacques Derrida, W.H. Auden, and Jean-Paul Sartre make the cut.  But where’s T.S. Eliot, for goodness sake?

A few other notables were missed.  Where is Joseph Brodsky and his famous cat Mississippi?

I’m not entirely sure Vikram Seth is a cat-lover, but I think he must be.  The gnarly old tomcat Charlemagne, in The Golden Gate, is one of the great literary cats. I could find no photo of him with cats – only this from Delhi Walla, which is as close as I’m going to get tonight.  And since my own copy of Golden Gate is loaned out to a good cause, I found this sole sonnet (the novel is composed of Pushkin tetrameter sonnets), in which the lawyer John is warned of his romantic competition for the heart of fellow attorney Liz.  I like the way these fleet, four-footed sonnets fit onto wordpress better, next to a photograph, without awful line breaks:

Vikram Seth and fan

Ah, John, don’t take it all for granted.
Perhaps you think Liz loves you best.
The snooker table has been slanted.
A cuckoo’s bomb lies in the nest.
Be warned. Be warned. Just as in poker
The wildness of that card, the joker
Disturbs the best-laid plans of men,
So too it happens, now and then,
That a furred beast with feral features
(Little imagined in the days
When, cute and twee, the kitten plays),
Of that familiar brood of creatures
The world denominates a cat,
Enters the game, and knocks it flat.

Charles Bukowski and friend

Speaking of Vikram Seth, let’s take a moment to give equal time to dogs.  I have in mind one that played prominently in Seth’s novel, An Equal Music. It’s St. Augustine’s small white Maltese dog in Vittore Carpaccio‘s Saint Augustine in His Study, in Venice’s Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni. It’s from Carpaccio’s mature period – he began it in 1502 and completed it in 1507. It’s one of seven panels he made, still in the Schola, depicting the guild’s patron saints.

On Vikram Seth’s authority, I shlepped to the Schola a decade or so ago. It’s tucked away on one of Venice’s sidestreets and not easy to find.  It was worth it. The schola is dark and mysterious and pure magic. The painting everything he said it would be.

Highly recommended.


A saint's best friend...Carpaccio's Augustine in his study


Marcel Proust playing air guitar

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

OK, you’ve got to see thisSusan Sontag in a bear suit.  Flavorwire has Annie Leibovitz‘s photo of her partner thus outfitted – but go to the source, which is here, for a gallery of Leibovitz’s portraits, including some magnificent ones of Sontag.

Flavorwire’s “Extremely Silly Photos of Extremely Serious Writers” features Sontag as Exhibit #1, but some of them are more or less unsurprising. Mark Twain playing billiards, Ernest Hemingway kick a can, Hunter Thompson with an inflatable woman, Colette dressed as a cat – but this one takes the cake: Marcel Proust playing air guitar on Boulevard Bineau with his friends in 1892 (his mimetic beloved Jeanne Pouquet in center).  At this time of the photo, he was known as a snob, a dilettante, and a social climber.

But the somehow sad image brought back the words of René Girard (recently the subject of a post here) from his landmark Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, which celebrated its 50th anniversary since publication a few months ago. His words:

“The sterile oscillation between pride and shame is also found in Proustian snobbism. We shall never despise the snob as much as he despises himself. The snob is not essentially despicable; he tries to escape his own subjective feeling of contemptibility by assuming the new being which he supposedly procures through snobbism. The snob thinks he is always on the point of securing this being and behaves as if he has already done so. Thus he acts with intolerable arrogance. Snobbism is an inextricable mixture of pride and meanness, and it is this very mixture which defines metaphysical desire. …

“The snob bows before a noble title which has lost all real value, before a social prestige so esoteric that it is really appreciated by only a few elderly ladies. … The snob seeks no concrete advantage; his pleasures and sufferings are purely metaphysical.”

The anonymous photo is from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, which, incidentally, also has the René Girard archive.