Everyone has heard of Lalique and his famous glass creations, but have you ever heard of equally gifted and far less well-known Maurice Marinot? He was a painter and artist in glass from Troyes (1882-1960), but his glass-making period was relatively short. He only discovered the medium in 1912 and stopped working in it in 1937, when the glass factory that he had been working with closed down.
Another reason that his output wasn’t huge was that he was quite experimental (and not all the experiments went well) and a bit of a perfectionist, sometimes taking as long as a year to produce one piece. To top it all, his workshop suffered a direct hit during the Allied bombing, which destroyed most of his glass and paintings.
Here are some captivating examples of his work in the Lyon Museum of Art. Of course, glass through glass is notoriously difficult to photograph, so I apologise that you cannot see the beautiful shimmer and reflexes on these creations.
The second artist I discovered at the Art Museum in Lyon is Louis Janmot, a 19th century Lyonnais artist whose style is oddly reminiscent of the Pre-Raphaelites. An ardent Catholic, deeply affected by the childhood loss of his siblings, his work is romantic and profoundly spiritual.
I fell in love with his Mona Lisa equivalent, a painting entitled Flowers of the Fields, featuring the Bugey landscape around Lyon in the background.
However, he is best known for his magnum opus Poem of the Soul (Poème de l’âme), which he spent nearly 50 years on (and which was still not complete at the time of his death). He also wrote a lengthy poem (2800 verses) to accompany it. It’s a sort of reinvention of Catholicism, showing the life-cycle of a human, accompanied at all times by his/her soul. The first series of 18 paintings are displayed in a room in the museum.
Jaume Cabré is a Catalan philologist, possibly a philosopher, as well as a writer, and it shows in this massive doorstopper of a book, which takes you through most of the European history of the 20th century, plus quite a few centuries of Spanish history (notably the Inquisition). The translator Maya Faye Lethem must have the patience of a saint, because the plays on words, the fragments from other languages, the philological inventiveness and sudden changes in time frames must have been extremely challenging to interpret and translate.
So yes, I’m not going to lie to you: it is not the easiest thing to sink your teeth into. It is long, complex, toying with your mind, suddenly veering into another story, another character’s point of view, another point in time. Even in the middle of a paragraph. Nevertheless, it’s all done with great verve, charm and wit and remains coherent (just about) and fun. Even though the subject matter is anything but fun, and it can be quite emotionally draining at times. You do have to succumb to it and allow yourself time to read quite large chunks daily, otherwise the magic might dissipate.
It’s the story of Adrià Ardèvol, who comes to realise he was born in the wrong family, that he has always been very much alone. He writes a long letter to his beloved, a sort of examination of his life, before he sinks into the enforced silence of dementia. He talks about his loveless childhood; his father’s distasteful business practices and the blood-spattered background to the family heirloom, a priceless Storioni violin; about never quite living up to expectations; his love for the beautiful Sara and trying to meet her Jewish family. Interwoven with the personal, we find moving accounts and moments of sharp insight about the Spanish Civil War, about the suppression of the Catalan language, about medical experimentation and gas chambers in the German concentration camps, religious and ideological battles throughout Spanish history and so much more.
Some of the repetitions are funny, others moving, while yet others are occasionally annoying. The sudden stops mid-sentence and switching of topic can be off-putting. I think it’s supposed to reflect Adrià’s growing mental confusion. There is perhaps too much ‘bagginess’ in the novel’s structure, but the book rewards those who persevere and reveals its secrets gradually (and with an element of surprise which appears more often in mystery novels). Above all, it appears to be a meditation on the nature of evil: it is unbearably bleak at times, showing that evil has always existed and is inescapable.
This was not a #20booksofsummer effort (I wish it had been!), but it had been sitting on my shelf for far too long. I was intimidated by its length and reputation of being ‘difficult’, but the imminent move made me decide to tackle it (so that I can decide whether to keep it or donate it).
This has ‘cult book’ written all over it. As a teenage fan of Foucault’s Pendulum and One Hundred Years of Solitude, I think it’s a keeper.
Lyon has an impressive number of independent and chain bookshops, antiquarian and plain second-hand bookshops, as well as a thriving books on the quay (bouquinistes) lifestyle in summer.
Although I did stop to peruse outdoors, I was heading to a specific location: the second-hand bookshop Le Pere Penard on the Quai Fulchiron. I had met the owners at the Quais du Polar, and discovered they had a fantastic selection of noir and crime fiction, as well as BD. So I ordered some Jean-Claude Izzo through them. However, the shop is huge, stuffed to the gills with books in all genres, including cookery, history and coffee-table books.
It was set up by a group of friends in 1994: members of the group have changed over the years, but the passion for books has stayed the same. It’s a real treasure trove of a place, to explore at leisure, over many hours.
a title by Pascal Garnier that I was unfamiliar with, a short novella called Nul n’est a l’abri du succes (Nobody’s safe from success). Then, to my utter surprise and delight, look what I discovered when I looked inside!
Yes, it’s a signed copy and it’s as if the author (whom I only discovered about 4 years ago but who’s since become a firm favourite) is talking to me from beyond the grave.
For more Lyon bookshops, see this earlier post. And no, the Lyon Tourist Office is not paying me to promote their city!
I’ve become a much less frequent visitor to the dVerse Poets Pub in the last few months, but it’s still the friendliest, most fun poetic community that I’ve come across. They are celebrating five years of poems, discussions, shared thoughts and laughter, so join us there , find out what Brian Miller (one of the founders of dVerse) has been up to recently, and take part in the first challenge of the week: a quadrille about ‘Journeys’.
A quadrille is a poem of 44 words exactly. Here is my attempt.
The journey’s start
your journey’s end
Ouroboros alone knows
when we are done exploring in porous dinghies
or flour containers
in baroque façade deceptions
carton jungle of dead ends
where our feet move on and on for miles
yet our hearts not one iota
Michael Gannon is a doctor and a war hero, happily married and father of four (another on the way). One sunny day in 1962, just before Easter, while repainting the house, he has a heart attack and dies. This book is the story of his family after his death, but it’s also a condensed version of American history, covering a significant chunk of time (1962 to 2015), births and deaths, marriages and divorces, wars and grief. We travel with the protagonists from Southern California to Arizona, to Woodstock, to Massachusetts and New York, as well as London and Scotland.
We hear mostly from Michael’s widow, Barbara, and from the sensitive youngest son, Francis, who is just nine when his father dies, but it feels like we get to know and understand other family members as well: older daughter Patty Ann, who marries early, and whose oldest son Kenny becomes his grandmother’s pet; Mike Jr. who becomes a doctor like his father; Luke and Sissy, who leave home far too soon and never come back.
It’s an ambitious project, with many voices, so it has the potential to get very messy. Anne Korkeakivi, however, navigates this with elegance and impeccable prose. I really admire writers who can telescope several years’ worth of events but then also linger on a revealing detail. The chapters are not very long, and usually skip a few years, as well as switching between Barbara’s and Francis’ POV. There is a more lengthy part in the middle of the book, set in 1984 in the Inner Hebrides, where Francis meets and joins a group of friends preparing to sail across the Irish Sea on a mission of conciliation between Catholics and Protestants – with some tragic consequences.
This is a character-driven family story (and none of the characters are intimidatingly perfect, they all feel very realistic), composed of a series of vignettes of key moments in their lives. The sea runs through it as a theme, sometimes beautiful, sometimes agitated, now friend, now foe. Barbara deliberately banishes the sea from her life when she remarries and moves to the desert of Arizona. The tragic moments are sometimes on-screen, sometimes off, but we always see the long-term effects of grief and how family relationships can be impacted. We the readers gain a little extra understanding of events and people as the years pass, as do some of the characters. Yet the author also demonstrates that sometimes even the most well-meaning and loving family members can misunderstand and challenge each other, hold different political beliefs and personal values, which often drives them apart and only sometimes brings them back together.
I loved it above all for the precise, lyrical language; the dusting of poetry contained in the writing. Here, for example, is the passage describing Michael’s death:
A cool breeze. Then calm. He is not sure where he is. He is no longer walking along a body-strewn road in the Philippines He is no longer passing through winter, autumn, one season after another. He lays his whole body down flat; the breezer rushes over him. The ground beneath him feels soft and mossy. Rain begins to fall, and it is tender, warm, it is the sound of his sister’s voice… It is Barbara. Her bright eyes… her way of clasping her hands together when laughing.
He is home. He is home.
You’ve heard me say this many times: family sagas are not my ‘thing’. And yet I would recommend this: a striking portrait of an American half-century and a family which manages to be both average and remarkable at the same time. I also have Anne’s first book An Unexpected Guest, whose main character has been compared with Mrs. Dalloway, so I look forward to picking that up and losing myself in her subtle brand of writing again quite soon.
Lyon is one of my favourite cities, not just because it hosts the annual Quais du Polar crime festival. Yet, no matter how often I come here, I never seem to have enough time to visit everything. So I was determined to do two completely new things this ‘weekend of adieus’: see a show in the Roman amphitheatre for Les Nuits de Fourvière festival; and get to see the Brothers Lumière Museum about early cinema. Well, one out of two is not bad…
The Blues Night featured American blues music legend Taj Mahal; a ‘Mali meets New York’ session with guitarists Habib Koité and Eric Bibb; and local boy (relatively speaking), saxophonist Raphaël Imbert and his band. The atmosphere was very special (at least until the cushions went flying onstage), and it was delightful to see people of all ages and backgrounds enjoying this kind of music. Thank you to Emma from Book Around the Corner, who suggested I join her for this event!
But the rest of the weekend involved doing a few of my favourite things.
Of course, it’s the last thing I needed right now, but a few books just seemed to sneak their way into my bag. I will write more about the bookshop I got them from in a follow-up post.
So what prevented it from being the perfect weekend? Not the fact that I didn’t make it to the Lumière Museum, but that when I sat down for breakfast at a local café, there was a disturbance outside. A group of diverse young men, some black, some white, some drunk, some sober, started making a great deal of noise and one of them grabbed another by the neck in what looked like a rather violent incident. The police were called and managed to walk one or two of the worst troublemakers away. Then, as I passed in front of the remaining group, I heard them speaking Romanian.
I wanted the pavement to open up and swallow me right then and there.
After a brief honeymoon on Facebook back in 2009/2010, when I reconnected with friends I hadn’t ‘seen’ in 10+ years, I became a very infrequent visitor. But over the past few weeks, while attempting to sell household items, old toys, sports equipment etc. prior to our move, I’ve been checking in several times a day. With some dismay.
Buying and Selling on Facebook in Privilege Land
The number of items for sale in June/July in the Geneva area is unbelievable. You can have your pick of furniture, clothes, toys, inflatable pools, cars, bicycles, barbecues and electronics if you are buying. But no one is buying, because everyone is either on holiday or else about to relocate. By September, when the changing of the guard is complete, people new to the area will be looking for second-hand items… and there will be NONE.
The dialogue is straight out of Eugene Ionesco:
‘What do you mean, I need a minivan for a corner sofa? But I don’t live in a minivan.’ ‘Where is the nearest bus stop? Why can’t I take that solid pine chest of drawers on a bus?’ All waiting for you to utter the magic words: ‘Fine, I’ll bring it to you.’
‘How much did you say this was again?’ ‘Oh, you meant euros, not francs?’ “What, you live in France? Oh, no, I never come over the border…’
‘Yeah, I know I asked about the measurements before I came to pick it up. But now that I look at it, I realise it will never fit in my living room.’
Plus, of course, every appointment will need to be rescheduled at least twice. Busy, busy, busy lives we all lead, even though we seem to be trawling through Facebook very frequently.
I can’t believe how many people are selling unused Celine bags, unworn Prada shoes and Gucci tops. Someone has clearly been having a shopping binge or is of a vacillating disposition. Or there are too many husbands/lovers out there who still don’t get their women’s taste!
The Joy of Updates
I’m really happy that people are happy – don’t get me wrong. I am not one fat killjoy waiting to pounce on you. But it’s become a blast of trumpets (or vuvuzelas) rather than a conversation. Look at me, look at me!
Far too easy to click ‘like’ and believe that we are actually interacting. Whilst all along we are thinking how to top that story with one of our own.
I’m also inherently suspicious of people who are projecting too much joy – are they trying a tad too hard? A day out is no longer fun if you do not instantly upload the pictures for all to see. You cannot kiss your partner on your wedding anniversary in the quiet of your bedroom or kitchen without inviting the world along to peek.
My modesty feels assaulted when I see people patting themselves on the back in humblebrag mode. I am delighted that their children have achievements to share, but would rather not rub it into the faces of those who don’t.
The friend who’s constantly ‘too busy’ to meet up with you or invite your son over to see her son, and then you see her posting pictures of her walks and bike rides and having other friends over at her house? A cold shower, that’s for sure.
As for those who whine about the awful day they’ve had and how they deserve that glass of wine, the recent documentary on immigrants on BBC 2 Exodus: Our Journey to Europe shows you what a really bad day, week, month or even year looks like.
I say all this and yet I’ve been guilty of every single one of the above myself on occasion. That’s why I don’t want to play ball anymore. I can commiserate or share my small triumphs directly with my friends, the friends who I can rely on to cheer me up and save me when I am down, who are not envious about any success. Without half the world witnessing our conversation.
The Powerlessness of Politics
Facebook is also a great place to discover that some of your friends of yore have very different political views to your own. Somehow, it never came up in face-to-face conversation… or have you been away for too long and political views can change so dramatically as they approach middle age?
It’s become an ideological battleground (although meaningful arguments cannot really be conducted via quick messages and article links). Above all, it’s become a judgemental moral high ground: ‘How DARE you not change your profile picture to a French/Belgian/Turkish or whatever flag? How dare you not express your sadness or outrage? That surely makes you against us.’
I’m reminded of the Communist dictate: ‘Those who aren’t for us are against us!’ I refuse to succumb once more to the tyranny of ‘what is prescribed behaviours’. I can mourn in my heart, alone, in a darkened room. There is no need to have a competition of who can mourn the loudest online!
But There Are Good Things Too…
Despite all that, I admit that I like pictures of my (real) friends’ children, to see how much they have grown. I have a soft spot for cat pictures and even dogs are adorable (especially in pictures rather than in real life). I like photographic challenges of landscapes or skyscapes, but am not so keen on selfies, food pictures and holiday snaps. It reeks too much of being invited for family dinner at our neighbours’ as a child, and being forced to sit through a hundred decks of holiday slides. I suppose the difference is that nowadays no one is forcing you to look for the price of a dinner.
Soooo that’s exactly what I’ll be doing very soon, once all the stuff is sold or given away. Not looking.