Saturday, 27 June 2015

Texts belong as much to the reader as to the author

In a previous entry, "No challenge for the Provincial Lady" (, I talked among other books about "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt, that I had read in French as "Le Chardonneret".

I am afraid my comment was not entirely positive. There it went

"So, I grabbed "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt because it was close and handy (paperback) while heavy and full of promises of a universe of its own between its front and back covers, being so big - a page turner? -, and because I dimly thought it spoke of Flemish painting, and nothing seemed better appropriate in this calm than the calm of Flemish masters. [...]
I have read a page turner, as a page turner it is, full of more or less veiled allusions to Pip and Estella, David Copperfield, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoevsky, to memories of Henry James, to the glare and blare of the USA, to the deserts of Nevada, the wilderness and sophistication of different New-York Cities, to the Russian-Ukrainian mafia, to the traffic of "oeuvres d'art", to the American middle-class whose dreams seem broken, to the lower shallows where drugs and adulterated alcohol are more usual than sleep and food, to the heights to the upper class where money is far from being the only criterion to be a member of the "caste"... 
A dancing, stunning, rich, full and replete book where the loose threads of the beginning get woven together little by little to be rounded off at the end. A compelling book that went with me in the early morning, the lazy hours around tea in the afternoon, and at night when I could not sleep. But a book that left me with a hangover and a pasty taste in the mouth: why pseudo-philosophical comments as a final touch? The braid that had been woven seemed to be over-weighty and contrived by a useless load of "morale", as these fables that always carry a "preach" and lesson.
But a "tour de force"."

Since then, I have talked with friends and read the blog of some one I do respect as literary competence are involved.

The first friend with whom I talked is American. He told me that this book was among his five top ten readings of last years and he thought highly of it. As he is not very talkative about description of his feelings, I had to be let with this cryptic statement but I knew he meant it because my friend is eminently truthful. I know as well that he knows the desert of Nevada and the life in New-York City and has travelled to The Netherlands. He is a keen connoiseur of paintings and the arts. He is receptive to atmospheres. He knows about the problems of youngsters smoking, smoking drugs, and drinking. He knows the "Bohemian" side of the Village well and the upper-classes of NYC as well. He has read and reads a lot and was appreciative of Harry Potter. Lots of assets to make a clever reading of "The Goldfinch".

My second friend is Russian and deely in love with English literature. She underlined the relationship with Cherles Dickens, with the Bildungsroman and "David Copperfield" and mentioned Pip and Estella - the latter split between Kitsey and Pippa. But of course, she insisted upon the links with Dostoyevsky - "The Gambler" of course, "The Idiot", "The Brothers Karamazov" - and I saw the point as with philosophy and reflexion upon arts and the "oeuvre d'art" at the end of the novel, the last pages of Dona Tartt's novel. My Russian friend is a pianist and senses things I tend to let aside.

The third opinion came through an exchange with a university professor of literature specialised in Henry James. She was reading "The Goldfinch" as one drinks water in small sips when one is thirsty. She enjoyed her reading and used the techniques she knows about close reading, reading against the grain, making notes, comparing with other sources and critics - or so I imagine. And she gave us her comments in a blog entry this morning:

I am definitely defeated. What I thought and felt as heavy lesson in the last pages of the novel, my two friends and the lady blogger qualify as a gem.

What is wrong about me? I have re-read those few pages and still find them as heavy as a 17th century sermon and as demonstrative, without any of the lightness of touch and gauzy approach I prefer. I feel a lesson is given to me and I have no option but to learn it. As a fractious child, I tend to rebel and would have preferred to be incited to consider it and to make an opinion by myself. But the majority is against me. I must me wrong. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

What my American friend has told recently comforts me a little: a text belongs as much to the reader as to its author. I will add: and each reader is free to own the text his or her own way, if he/she does not misrepresent it!

Meanwhile has already such a wee slip of a bird had so much interest focused on him?

Friday, 26 June 2015

Nights of juin

After I had written about the fête de la musique, I was unhappy with the entry and said so rather vehementy to a friend who retorted that he, as a reader, thought it did not need anything else and found that it was perfectly complete as it was. He added that a text belongs as much to the reader as to the author. I was very angry and almost deleted the entry but in the end let it stand as it was. And it is still here.

Nevertheless, this was still nagging at the back of my mind and I knew I wanted to talk about the nights of June, those without the noises of the fête, these particular nights of the year.

These particular nights that come late and very slowly and leave us early for morning light. A few hours of respite and peace, of semi-silence. The night to which Mrs Dalloway escapes when the weight of her party becomes too much.

In French, I would say that these nights come à pas de velours, with velvet steps or on tiptoe. It is nine o'colck and the sun is still here, the light more golden than during the day. There is a mellowness that the birds recognise and although it is warm, they begin to sing their adieux. The notes are not the same as in the early morning, as if they were drowsy and calling their young ones or saying good bye to their friends. In the house, the dining room is almost deserted, the table cloth almost naked, the china, glasses and cuttlery in the kitchen. Only crumbs and decanters, the fruit in a basket - the first peaches and apricots and nectarines -, a water pitcher, napkins.

Voices outside. In the now fading light, we are watering the flowers and their scent rises more pungent with the odour of wet earth. 

Time to talk leisurely while cutting the wilted roses from the rose trees, gathering them in baskets. A walk perhaps after that along the path near the river. The sky is turning a deep deep blue and the birds are quiet. Frogs are croaking near the pond and little green frogs skip over the water from grasses to waterlilies. We talk quietly: all noise wants to be banished. From time to time, car headlights pass by on the road. We breathe at last. And we are cloaked by the perfume of cut hay and new straw. One of us look up at the sky. It is the dark velvet night of June.

Time to go back home where children are asleep. The house is waiting for us. Lights open to the outside blackness. A stop in the garden and the creaking rattan armchairs to taste the coolness that has come at last.

Our talk is but a whisper that ripples the silence as do the footsteps of our neighbours on the gravel and then the squeaking of the iron gate behind them. We exchange good byes.

It is a quarter to eleven. 

Night insects are singing and their chimes are shrill.

I think of Tosca and the last aria of the tenor remembering the nights when he was coming to Floria's garden and house. 

It is time to go inside and close the shutters, leaving the windows open for the fresh night air to come in. Time to dive in white beds; which are like pools of slumber waiting for us.

Tomorrow, tomorrow, the morning light will be here soon with dew and blue tints, lighter blue than this evening, birds chirping and twittering. Tomorrow. Tomorrow...

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

La Saint-Jean Bonfires

Last Saturday, I was looking through my e-mail box when I found the parish news with a special annoucement. 

There is no Parish Magazine in the village. The village is not even a parish in itself anymore. Of course, being of Roman Catholic culture, each village in France, even the smallest one, has a RC church even when the Protestants have fought and won the majority of the population in centuries past. However, as everywhere in the Western world, less and less people go to church, less and less people consider themselves Roman Catholics, less and less people consider themselves Christians and one is considered either slightly backward or devout fanatic when one is neither atheist or agnostic. In fact, one has to be either a Jew or a Muslim to proclaim one's religion - at one's own risks...

No church-goers, no priests. No priests, no individual villages with individual parishes. These are gathered in large entities called "parishes" as well. Our village is part of one of these entities and the parish includes no less than around fifteen or twenty villages and churches, which cover a large area. As there are not enough priests, the diocese has concluded an agreement with an order of monks who form little congregations in former disused abbeys. And the monks serve the villages forming the large new parish.

This is an awkward understanding and disposition.

Of course, rectories or vicarages are empty, like ours.

And the rectories were almost at the heart of the villages, near the churches, like ours again.

Our former old vicar was a pittoresque to be seen opening the doors of the church every day, crossing la place, the main square, to go and buy his bread at the baker's, or shopping at the shops' and not at the supermarket, gardening his plot of land around le presbytère, the vicarage, or sat at his desk, the presbytère door wide open to all and sundry.

He was a character. Born of Italian parents in Northern Italy, in a village of the Dolomites, come to France at the age of ten months when his father migrated with the whole family to find work in the coal mines of Lorraine, in the East of France; treated as migrants; his father slowly falling ill to the breathing illness of miners; uprooted again to be farmers in the South of Dordogne where the mine's owner had farms; his father given another job both by "Christian charity" and voting purposes as the mine owners were from a political family searching people support to be elected; being selected by the priest of his parish as a clever boy and sent to study at the petit séminaire, the minor seminary in Bergerac; being ill himself and having to stay in bed for a year; going back to the seminary and deciding that he would be priest by intense faith and calling. He was gruff. He could be unpleasant. He could be as soft as the wing of a dove. He was loving and caring. He did not show his feelings. He hunted for the sake of walking at dawn and watching nature awaking. He frightened his parishioners and his non parishioners and all the children. He was loved by his parishioners and his non parishioners and all the children - and all were proud of his oddities. He would love philosophy and theology, his computer and internet, music, football, Italy, his family, his friends, painting, sculpting, his patch of potatoes and tomatoes, a plate of pasta bolognese, and quarelling with his best liked parishioners. He was sure and upstanding in his faith, meek, irritable, generous, straighforward, frank, an accumulation of contradictions. He was human. 

He died one morning at dawn, in his beloved Dolomites, while he was on holidays in Italy, visiting his cousins. He died on a mountain path, alone in the dew, on an August morning. He left no public image of himself.

Of course, the village was used to see him every day. Of course, bells were ringing. Of course, there were regular church activities. 

Nowadays, one monk comes each Sunday morning and each Tuesday morning for mass, and goes back to his abbey or the centre of activities of the parish, which is the next village ten kilometres away. This is not far away. But a seeping feeling is growing of secularity and death of Christian culture which are seen through little things like the continuing death of the heart of the village. The vicarage and the church are empty shells at the core of an emptying bigger shell. And new activities are being born around the supermarket.

Paradox. In all this secularisation, the monks have revived one thing: le feu de la Saint-Jean, the bonfire of the feast of Saint-John-the-Baptist! 

In their desire to create something that would take back young people and children with their parents to church, they have ironically revived the old Midsummer pagan festivities that had been progressively forgotten during the last cntury! (

Therefore the announcement in the parish leaflet I found in my mail box, inviting all people to come and share a picnic, and then music, dance and leaping over the bonfire on the 24th June - not on the Saint-John's Eve... (

Who says that religions are dangerous? They are, certainly they are. They are also on the long run but a veneer. Long live traditions!