Posts Tagged ‘Marcia de Sanctis’

The sea “like a wide blue road into the sky”: Willa Cather’s French journey

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017
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Marcia de Sanctis over at Lit Hub, recounts being on the trail of a major American author in  “Retracing Willa Cather’s Steps in the South of France.” I’ve written about Marcia’s book, 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go, here and here (and I wrote about her years ago interview with Joseph Brodsky here.) The new article, and the journey that inspired it, was born from that book:

Francophile (Photo: Ron Haviv)

A few years ago, while researching my book on France, I immersed myself in the country’s rich travel writing canon, and decided to retrace the voyages (or parts of them) of many of my literary idols. In Nîmes, I imagined Colette dancing in the Jardins de la Fontaine; I conjured the ghost of a bored Henry James by the Rhône River in Arles; and in Chamonix, I pictured 16 year-old Mary Godwin unwittingly gathering inspiration for Frankenstein while hoofing it across the Alps with her future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley.  With her 1908 road trip classic A Motor Flight Through France always stuffed into my bag, Edith Wharton was my frequent guru and guide. But no one lit my path brighter than Willa Cather, who I have read and admired for as long as I can remember.

The collection of essays, Willa Cather in Europe: Her Own Story of the First Journey, is a series of dispatches she filed for the Nebraska State Journal in Lincoln to help pay for her voyage. It was 1902, and Cather was accompanied by her friend Isabelle McClung. The book contains, to my mind, some of the most evocative travel writing in the English language. The stories bear all the elements—personal reflection, descriptive detail, observational insight, and cultural depth—we strive for when writing about place, and in perfect proportion.

For awhile, Cather and a friend stayed in Saint-Clair, in a villa that was owned by a painter. She wrote that it was “good for one’s soul,” to “do nothing but stare at this great water that seems to trail its delft-blue mantle across the world.” But the place she loved best was Lavandou, writing: “No books have ever been written about Lavandou, no music or pictures ever came from here, but I know well enough that I shall yearn for it long after I have forgotten London and Paris,” she writes. “One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions that will make happiness; one only stumbles upon them by chance, in a lucky hour, at the world’s end somewhere, and holds fast to the days, as if to fortune and fame.”

And no wonder. Marcia writes, “The air was scented with dried lavender; the landscape was of pine, green fir and sea ‘reaching like a wide blue road into the sky.’”

Read the whole thing here. Meanwhile, photos by Marcia de Sanctis herself.)

100 reasons to go to France – Wednesday at Stanford bookstore!

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015
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Francophile (Photo: Ron Haviv)

Francophile (Photo: Ron Haviv)

Marcia DeSanctis and I met the modern way – in cyberspace, over her previously unpublished interview with Joseph Brodsky. Now I’ll meet her face-to-face – and you’ll have a chance to meet her, too, at the same time.

She’ll be speaking at the Stanford Bookstore at 6 p.m. tomorrow – that’s Wednesday, June 10, 2015. The subject is one dear to her heart: France. Her 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go is for the serious Francophile – well, we wrote about the book here, in a post titled “We’ll always have Paris: 100 reasons to go back, right away.”  The award-winning author draws on years of travels and living in France to lead you through vineyards, architectural treasures, fabled gardens and contemplative hikes from Biarritz to Deauville, Antibes to the French Alps.

Marcia is a former television news producer for ABC, NBC and CBS News and has written for the New York Times, Vogue, and others: her book quickly hit the New York Times Travel Best Seller list shortly after its release last November. As I wrote a few months ago:

After a quick glance through, I began scribbling notes, picking quarrels, marking passages with stars, brackets, exclamation points, or question marks in the margins. The book is addictive, like crack, and I could see I wasn’t going to get much done unless I hid it somewhere in the midst of my piles of books and papers. And so it waited.

(Photo: Ron Haviv)

Marcia is a former television news producer for ABC, NBC and CBS News and an accomplished journalist (we’ve also written about her here), and she hardly needed a boost from me: the book quickly hit the New York Times Travel Best Seller list shortly after its release last November. Not bad, considering it was published by a small, off-the-beaten-track house. Coincidentally, the publisher is in Palo Alto – Travelers’ Tales, an imprint of Solas House.

The book abounds with solid advice on where to shop, where to go for a long afternoon walk, where to find the best wines, and where to eat, eat, eat. Typical of her advice on the latter: “Some of the best meals I’ve ever had in France have been haphazard affairs, slapped together with a quick trip to the Marché d’Aligre near the Bastille – ripe Rocamadour cheese and saucisson aux noix, bread, and a salad of mâche trucked in that morning from the Loire Valley. It’s important to dine like this in France … while uncorking a decent Beaujolais from the corner store…

Dostoevskij_1872

He’s waiting, Marcia.

As for her own story, she writes on her website here: “I graduated from Princeton, where I studied creative writing with Russell Banks but majored in Russian language and literature. I still love those writers and wish I had the attention span to read Dostoevsky’s collected works again. … Moscow is still one of my favorite places on earth.”

I’m with you on Moscow, Marcia. As for the attention span, that’s what the internet will do to you.

Comedians1-500x500Postscript on 6/11:  Marcia DeSanctis is on the road again … but what is she reading? “When I travel, once I’ve rounded up my documents and stuffed the carry-on to bursting, the last thing I pack is a book. I slip whatever I have chosen between my change of clothes and my blanket, and close the zipper. I appreciate that e-books have, for some people, erased the need to make an absolute decision on what single piece of literature will accompany them on a journey. But on the road, I prefer a tactile, 3D, lick-my-finger-and-turn-the-page hard copy, the kind I’ve toted around for decades, stealing sentences in cafes, train stations and hotel beds all across the planet.  For me, a book is a well-considered traveling companion…” Read her discussion of her travel reading in today’s Tin House. It’s here.

 

 

We’ll always have Paris: 100 reasons to go back, right away

Saturday, January 10th, 2015
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Time to go back, for sure.

Time to go back, for sure.

We are all thinking about Paris this week, but I prefer not to let terrorists shape my thoughts about the city. I miss it terribly, so I turned again to Marcia de Sanctis‘s excellent new guide, 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go.

Joan_of_arc

Best person evah? Twain thought so.

I say “turned again,” because I had to put it away rather abruptly after she sent it to me last fall. After a quick glance through, I began scribbling notes, picking quarrels, marking passages with stars, brackets,  exclamation points, or question marks in the margins. The book is addictive, like crack, and I could see I wasn’t going to get much done unless I hid it somewhere in the midst of my piles of books and papers. And so it waited.

Marcia is a former television news producer for ABC, NBC and CBS News and an accomplished journalist (we’ve also written about her here), and she hardly needed a boost from me: the book quickly hit the New York Times Travel Best Seller list shortly after its release last November. Not bad, considering it was published by a small, off-the-beaten-track house. Coincidentally, the publisher is in Palo Alto – Travelers’ Tales, an imprint of Solas House.

The book abounds with solid advice on where to shop, where to go for a long afternoon walk, where to find the best wines, and where to eat, eat, eat. Typical of her advice on the latter: “Some of the best meals I’ve ever had in France have been haphazard affairs, slapped together with a quick trip to the Marché d’Aligre near the Bastille – ripe Rocamadour cheese and saucisson aux noix, bread, and a salad of mâche trucked in that morning from the Loire Valley. It’s important to dine like this in France … while uncorking a decent Beaujolais from the corner store…

There’s also plenty of amusing, and sometimes poignant, stories about women (including the “Veuve” of Veuve Clicquot in Reims). Here’s one about a teenager who has become an obsession, at least once, in every girl’s childhood – but in this case, Joan of Arc also attracted an adult monomaniac,  and a male one at that. Marcia writes:

Mark Twains inspired book on Joan of Arc stands above the rest. He became fascinated with her when he was a teenager himself in Hannibal, Missouri, after picking up a sheet of paper in the street that turned out to be from a book about Joan of Arc. Many years later, he spent fourteen years researching and writing Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, her life story as told to a fictitious childhood friend who traveled with her as page and secretary. The author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn believed this to be his greatest work. His near-worship for her was boundless – for her magnanimity, convictions, faith in God, intellect and the sheer unbridled strength of body and purpose. ‘There is no blemish in that rounded and beautiful character,’ he writes in a later essay. ‘She is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.'”

Another girl story: the scandalous and powerful Eleanor of Aquitaine (1137 – 1204), wife of England’s Henry II. As queen of France, she had accompanied King Louis VII on the Second Crusade. As the wife of Henry II, she led a rebellion against her husband with three of her sons in 1173 – and lost. Henry imprisoned his 50-year-old wife  for fifteen years – more like a house arrest, really. Well, we’ve all seen The Lion in Winter, haven’t we? Marcia continues:

A Book Haven kind of gal.

A Book Haven kind of gal.

“And then, upon Henry’s death and Richard’s ascension to the English throne, she rose again. The dowager queen defended the kingdom while he was away on the Third Crusade (and imprisoned by the Holy Roman Emperor), even against her machinating youngest son John, who had been Henry’s favorite. ‘We can learn a lot about perseverance and hope from Eleanor,” says [colleague] Sue Morris. “She started a full second life after seventeen years in prison.’ And she rode until the end of her days, even in her early eighties, seeking wise political matches for her children and grandchildren.

“By then, she was already installed at the convent at Fontevraud. It is believed she had a hand in designing her gisant – the tomb effigy that bears her likeness – and here is where the story of Eleanor ends with a breathtaking statement. Usually the tomb of a queen shows her in sweet repose, the bible laid peacefully upon her chest. Eleanor, however, is actively reading her prayer book. Alive, for eternity.”

veuve_clicquot

The “veuve” was real.

For this concluding image of the enormously rich Eleanor, quietly reading a book into the next world, I can forgive Marcia for bringing Dan Brown‘s The Da Vinci Code into her account of Vézelay, and for all the little villages and people I wish she’d mentioned. Isn’t a hundred stories enough?

Tonight, we’ve roamed Auvergne, Languedoc-Roussillon, and the French Pyrénées. Let’s end with Normandy, and Mont-Saint-Michel, which I’ve never ever seen (so far): “It is arrogant, aloof, arrestingly dignified … The abbey might be just a lovely relic if not for the milky expanse of the bay in which it sits. Each can only be understood in relation to the other – the ocean’s perilous strength against the architectural beauty and vice versa.”

Francophile (Photo: Ron Haviv)

Francophile (Photo: Ron Haviv)

“I stopped at the West Terrace, where I looked down and saw the angry sea and clouds like waves of steel wool, Brittany to the west, Normandy to the east. I gazed up at the spire. There was Archangel Michael, brandishing his sword skyward, hip thrust to one side, looking dull in the mist. I walked in near solitude around the colonnades of the cloister, whose boxwood hedges seemed impossibly green. I strolled back down to town on the outside steps and turned back to see the Merveille. Two hundred thirty-five feet of sheer verticality and simple lines, walls thrown up in some fit of ancient genius. I ate dinner at La Mère Poulard, whose pricy omelet was nevertheless perfection. … The rain had ended, the remaining clouds lapped the full moon. I descended the hill to see the abbey from sea level, blazing like a fireball. The delicate spire looked blue, and Michael was gold again. I walked back up to the church to take in those walls that seemed to spring straight up from the rock I stood on.

“I was completely alone. The sound of my boots on the stone path resounded in the night. There was no crowd, the Breton biscuit stands and T-shirt shops, locked up. The air was frosty. ‘One looks back on it all as a picture; a symbol of unity; an assertion of God and Man, in a bolder, stronger, closer union than ever was expressed,’ wrote the American writer Henry Adams in 1905 about Mont-Saint-Michel. More than any other cathedral or abbey in France, I get a sense here of what fragile, earthly creatures we are, but also how optimistic, and how unstoppable. If ever I need reminding of the latter, I will make my way there again some rainy winter night.”

(Photo: David Iliff)

“Arrogant, aloof, arrestingly dignified …” (Photo: David Iliff)