Posts Tagged ‘France’

I bought this collection two or three years ago. I find listening to the them deeply enjoyable. They have come to mean a great deal to me.

J’ai acheté cette collection il y a deux ou trois ans. Je trouve leur écoute profondément agréable. Ils sont devenus très importants pour moi.

Ho comprato questa collezione due o tre anni fa. Trovo ascoltarli profondamente piacevole. Sono diventati molto importanti per me.

Olivier Messiaen écrit

Each piece is written in honour of a French province. It bears the title of the bird-type of the chosen region. It is not alone: the habitat neighbours surround it and also sing (-)… its landscape, the hours of day and night that also change this landscape, are also present, with their colours, their temperatures, the magic of their perfumes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalogue_d%27oiseaux

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olivier_Messiaen#Birdsong_and_the_1960s

The Song of Roland is reputedly one of, if not the actual, oldest of the medieval French chansons de geste, or songs of deeds.

The Song first made its appearance in this form in the twelfth century, shortly after the First Crusade. This is important because, although it is based on an actual incident in 778AD, the twist in the chanson de geste version is very important.

The actual incident concerned King Charlemagne, and his being approached by Saracen rulers in Spain for help in dealing with a mutual Saracen enemy. He agreed and entered Spain with them, conquered two major cities, and was besieging Saragossa, when he was called away. He left Spain via the Pyrenees pass of Roncevaux. Here his rearguard was attacked by Basques, who slaughtered them to a man, and left with their goods. It was Basque territory.

The version in the geste has the Saracens the enemy throughout, and the attack on the rearguard an agreement between a renegade Frenchman and the Saracens. The composer of the piece, like his audience, knew next to nothing of Islam, and so we come across some absurdities, some crazy assumptions.

It is very important for the story-line to remember that Count Roland of Brittany was the nephew of Charlemagne, and that it was rivalry with his step-father  – as in the old folk tales, and modern life – Ganelon, that caused his death.

The Song of Roland consists of 291 ‘laisses’, that is, stanzas, of varying length. They all follow the same strict metrical pattern, however: this is syllabic verse, and each line is strictly ten syllables in length.

Each line consists of ten syllables, divided roughly down the middle by a pause or rest. The rhythm of the line is formed by strong stresses falling on the fourth and tenth syllables. Within a single laisse, the separate lines are linked by assonance—a partial rhyme in which the accented vowel sounds are the same but the consonants differ, as in “brave” and “vain,” for instance. The vowel sound repeated through one laisse never carries on to the next. Since the poet has divided his song into laisses according to the sense and not any standard length—for instance, a new laisse will begin when one combat or speech ends and the next begins—this use of assonance reinforces the divisions of plot, of action.

The death of Roland occurs in the middle of the piece. The second half is then taken up with Charlemagne’s revenge. The first half shows the treason of Ganelon, the build-up to the central fight scene.

The ending is really quite poignant. We see Charlemagne wearied with fighting, having dealt with Ganelon, sitting down at long last. Only to be met with new calls of his warrior ship: ‘How weary is this life.’ he says.

The first appearance of the chanson was as one of many legends and tales that circulated on pilgrim trails, and in local courts and gatherings.

At just about 4000 lines it required quite a feat of memory. And so the tale is structured in such a way, with parallels, repetitions of motifs, events etc, that once the main structure was grasped the reciter could riff with rather detailed subject matter fully, and with skill.

It is structured so as to be symmetrical through and through. The poem is centered around four great scenes which balance each other perfectly.
At the very beginning we have Ganelon’s (stepfather) crime; at the very end we have his punishment.
Around the center of the tale, Roland’s martyrdom and Charlemagne’s vengeance face and mirror each other, both taking the shape of great battles, presented in a parallel order, at Roncesvals.
Ganelon’s successful treachery and Roland’s early death temporarily set the scales of good and evil askew; the events of the rest of the poem then set them right.

The many repetitions and parallel passages of the poem contribute to the total sense of purpose and symmetry.
For instance, the similarities between how the battle between Roland’s rear guard and Marsilla’s army, and the battle between Charlemagne’s and Baligant’s men, reinforce the poet’s point that one battle is the mirror-image of the other, that Charlemagne’s triumph over Baligant is perfect revenge for the Saracen ambush.

The order in which the two battles are presented is the same; first there is the inventory of the two opposing forces as they assemble themselves, then, when they meet on the field, the threats and boasts and first blows. Each one-on-one combat, besides the most remarkable and important ones such as that between Charlemagne and Baligant, takes up one laisse, and all are described in the same language.
Comparing the various rather gory ways in which the warriors kill each other, one sees immediately that each description is a slight variation on all the others. Ideally, the effect of such repetition is a sense of ceremonious consistency and rhythm.

Rather than running along at a consistent pace, the narrative consists of certain scenes where time is slowed down so much that it almost stands still, suspending the noble and the wicked gestures of the characters mid-air, with bits of quick summary providing the connection from one tableau to the next.

This rhythm is particularly clear and easy to pick out toward the beginning of the poem, in the first fifty or so laisses. After some quick exposition in the first laisse, we get the council of Marsilla presented as if it were a drama. The poet summarizes nothing; he describes the stage of the action, the “terrace of blue marble” (2.12) and then gives us the speeches of Marsilla’s advisors in full.
The story is conveyed in this section by dialogue, not by running commentary. Then, after another quick laisse of summary, telling how Marsilla’s messengers rode out to Charles’s camp, we go back to the same slow, dramatic mode of presentation that was used for Marsilla’s council for the conversation between Marsilla’s envoys and Charlemagne. This alternating, fast-slow-fast-slow rhythm, interspersing quick pieces of narrative between long dramatic scenes at regular intervals, is characteristic.

Within each laisse, each sentence and phrase stands separate, on its own. Similarly, no grammatical connection is drawn between one laisse and the next. The reader must draw the connection between one element to the next on his own, for the author does not make the relation between the separate elements clear, but instead simply sets them side by side, without conjunctions.
This technique is known as parataxis, which means “a placing side by side” in Greek. To see more clearly what this is, one might take a quick look at laisse 177, for instance, a particularly striking example. There is no connective tissue: “Roland is dead, his soul with God in Heaven. / The emperor arrives at Roncesvals” (177.2397-2398). The corollaries of this lack of relation between phrases include a propensity towards long lists and a lack of simile, aside from certain highly stylized and conventionalised comparisons which are repeated often—beards, for instance, are very frequently “white as April flowers.” The elements are strung together like beads, one after another.

Narration

It is thought the The Song of Roland, like other medieval chansons de geste, was passed on orally, sung by wandering performers known as jongleurs at feasts and festivals, before it was ever written down.
The written epic that we now have, based on a manuscript version set down by a medieval scribe, bears the marks of its origin in the performances of the jongleurs in its narration. The voice that tells the story is the voice of the jongleur. He does not take on the character of one who was there, nor does he take on any kind of neutral, third-person-omniscience of observation. He tells the story as a story-teller.

While the events recounted in The Song of Roland are almost all myths and inventions, the jongleurs’ medieval audiences accepted them as historical truth. Because of this, and because the heroic deeds described took place in what was the distant past for even those long-ago listeners (the centuries that separated the audience from the figures they heard about made those figures seem all the more grand and glorious), the jongleur could not take on the point of view of an eye-witness of the events he sings about. If he did, the whole story told would lose credibility in the face of the obvious impossibility of the jongleur having seen himself anything that he was describing. Thus, the effect that the narration aims for and achieves is a vividness without immediacy. The characters and events are brightly painted, to be sure, but there is none of the you-are-there feeling that one usually expects nowadays from a well-told story. Different eras want different effects from their literature.

The narrator does not pretend that he was there; he instead implies that he has his knowledge from chronicles and tales, which he alludes to in order to gain the best effect of credibility for the story he tells: for instance, he says of Olivier, Roland, and Turpin fighting at Roncesvals that “The number that they killed can be determined; / it is written in the documents and notes: / the Chronicle says better than four thousand” (127.1683-1685). It is probable that many of the historical chronicles he speaks of are as much his own inventions as many of the events he recounts, but this does not hinder his allusions to them from creating the desired effect of a past both mythic and historical.

That the telling of The Song of Roland does not aim for surprise or suspense is a result of the way in which it, like other chansons de geste, was passed about orally, told again and again, varied but still recognizable in each new performance. The narrator assumes that his audience is already thoroughly familiar with the story he is telling them; he knows they have already heard it plenty of times, but that they enjoy hearing it again. The interest of the audience is not bound up in the question of what’s going to happen next; the listeners already know that Ganelon will betray Roland but that Charlemagne will avenge him in the end. Familiarity was part of the story’s charm for medieval listeners. And so the element of surprise is absent, and suspense is not cultivated; in the very first laisse, we are told that Marsilla will be clobbered by Charlemagne’s men, and Ganelon is called a traitor before he makes a single treacherous move.

Very early one morning in the late 1880s two young men were trying, with a little difficulty, to make their home. They found themselves walking along the misty banks of the Seine. They were carrying on an animated but rather fractured conversation that had started up earlier that evening. In the distance they saw another man making as to circuitously pass them by.
This was difficult, due the staggering motion of their own walk.

The younger of the two hailed the man, Monsieur! Monsieur! The man looked over, a little reluctantly, Yes? He replied, What is it?

But what on earth can bring a honourable man like yourself out into the early morning, like this?

As you see from my uniform, monsieur, I work for Customs and Excise. It is my job to be out this early.

No, no, sir, what I see when I look at you, sir, is an artist, an artist I say!

You mistake me, sir; I know nothing of painting.

No, unmistakably an artist, sir. I see it in you.

I have never painted in my life.

It is written all over you, sir. Believe me, I know of these things. You, sir, are unmistakably, and without doubt an artist. And I would wager, a very fine one too!

The man hesitated, a look of confusion passing over his face. Then out of it, as a sun rising through the mists on the Seine, he smiled, amazed: Do you know, sir, I do think you are right! Indeed I do think you may be so! Your name, sir?

Jarry. Alfred Jarry, the younger man replied. And you, my dear man?

Rousseau, sir. Henri Rousseau.

Well, la douanieur, I expect to see your name everywhere from this day forth. Au revoir!

Ah, the legends of old Paris!

Here’s another Jarry one.

Here he resolved not to buck the system, that would be counter-productive, but to adhere to the rules as closely as humanly possible. He still ended up on report constantly.

One time when instructed to sweep the barracks square as a consequence of some misdemeanor, he was found still standing to attention, broom over shoulder, some time later. When asked to account for himself and his dereliction of duty, his reply was, I was ordered to sweep the square, sir. I was not told in which direction.

Laval barracks.
Jarry had spent some years of his childhood in Laval. And oddly enough Henri Rousseau was born there also. Is it possible Jarry recognised the accent? Is that part of the back-story?

For a period of time I was caught up in Elizabeth Kostava’s big-selling novel, The Historian.

Ok, I am well aware of its failings, that denouement in the crypt for one – I could not believe how perfunctory it was. And I hated that creaky, clumsy Darling Daughter postcard episode.

What kept me reading (twice!) were the descriptions of the east European villages, towns, cities.
The opening up of eastern Europe.
And there was the eastern European angle on the Dracula story. Got me scurrying through maps of Lake Snagov in Romania; to Bulgaria’s Rila Mountains, and following the route of the monks with their ‘cargo’.
One aspect of the story sees Vlad Tepes learning of the way of vampirism from a book. The book came from what was to prove Dracula’s/Tepes’ one weak spot, a monastery in the Pyrenees.
Now where could that be? If it really existed, and was not a mash-up of many.

The monastery in the book is Saint-Matthieu-des-Pyrénées-Orientales:

theHist

Then I came across this one. The Basilique St-Just de Valcabrere, in the Haute Garonne.

BstJ
What is important about this place is it has a legend. The legend suggests this it was to this town that Herod Antipas, King Herod’s son, was exiled and died. Exiled due to his ‘association with the executions of John the Baptist and Jesus.’
It is not, of course, historically accurate by any means.
But what a hook!

On the other hand Pontius Pilate himself was said to have died in Vienne, Isere department of the Massif Central.
His body would not rest, and is said to have been relocated several times. The last to the tiny Oberlap lake on Mount Pilatus, Switzerland.
pilatus

Take your pick.
Admit it, France and environs are rich in legends and inspiring sites.

La Source de la Seine

Posted: February 18, 2017 in Chat
Tags: , ,

Many years ago I took a little time out. I only had little money so the options offered me were Turin, in Italy, or Dijon in France. I knew no Italian, but had a little school French. Not only that but the predominantly urban Turin, and the longer journey I found off-putting. I had also come across an article on the wooden statues found at La source de la Seine. So that was decided.

The day I went out to visit the sanctuary of La Source  was warm, wonderful, with occasional cooling showers of rain. I t00k l’autobus from Dijon, to Ste Seine l’Abbeye, and then walked from there. It was a mostly long straight Langres road.

As I neared the site I noticed the long lines of roadside trees seemed full of dark growth. Intrigued, I looked further: their crowns were thick with mistletoe. This occurred to me to be highly significant: I was approaching a sacred grove.

And then La Source de la Seine:

 

seine2

Whimsical, and 19th Century.

seine1

La Source consisted of a narrow cleft between lush and leafy tree slopes; the sun streamed in and was caught there. As the afternoon declined the air took more of the green colour from the trees, and the many-coloured pastel-shade pebbles in the bed of the water became more noticable.

Just how orchestrated was all this? Were the pebbles natural to the site, or chosen and laid? Was the mistletoe still the same growth from long centuries ago, or especially nurtured recently?
In a way the questions are superfluous: the early priests did no less when building up and commemorating this shrine to Sequana.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequana

http://www.worldhistory.biz/ancient-history/53561-source-de-la-seine.html

What if I had chosen Turin? The wonder of the Turin Shroud awaited me. Is it any less a mystery, not being what we thought it was?
Even the present whimsical Sequana caters to a need. It may not be a particularly elevated need. But then, we have to ask if ‘elevation’ is what it is all about. Is spiritual elevation a specifically Christian concept? Is it a generally monotheistic concept?
Is it a response to a Sky God, a reaching up out of ourselves, to something greater which we conceive of as therefore higher dimensionally, as well as ethically and spiritually?
Is this experience of elevation, or need for elevation, a genuine response of reverence?
Is ‘elevation’ an offering up of oneself?

The wooden offerings date from the Iron Age, and show a variety of physical ailments. We can surmise they were given as votive offerings, as the people appealed for help in some way with physical infirmities. We can also surmise that this was not the earlier reason for the specialness of the site.

I learned many things from my brief time there. One being to keep a tighter hold of one’s money. The other things, I am still discovering.

We go, travel, looking for the authentic experience. It may be that we confuse that authentic with the genuine, even the gratifying. These are mis-identifiers for the experience that is deeply moving, dare we say, elevating – that changes us?

EUROPE

First thing the change in air, the quality of light
on red, gold roofs above Dijon streets.
Then the aggression to my poor school French:
I was young still, ‘Youth is stateless, language
as eloquent as need!’ From l’eglise
de sainte Benigne to the marketplace, a circling;
Algerians spread floor cloths for tooled leather,
haggling I became their foreigner, fair game.

To flounder in language; to return to the hostel, perplexed.
A French-Canadian said, ‘Talk English, huh?’
That night with German students, language
on tongue-kisses, shared strangeness – that night
white walls of apartment blocks opposite
took on a rose-tinge, windows yellowing.
How our differences lit up in us, united us.

Was a time I lived for a period in Bolton, a Lancashire ex-textile town. In my time  there it was making the most of its ex-ness by becoming a hub of academia.

One consequence of this was its outstanding public library. Nor were Bolton’s credentials solely based on this remaking of itself: the library archives housed an extensive collection of letters from a Bolton literary society (before such corresponding societies were disbanded by Government order for suspected fostering of sedition in the long aftermath of the French Revolution). The recipient, and correspondent? Walt Whitman.  The collection of letters and photographs is housed under the heading of the Bolton Whitman Fellowship, as they styled themselves.

That public library had more wonders in store, or should I say ‘stock’: some I bought up as I left the area, and the library, like most, sold off stock to make way for new.

And for the overall depletion of library services; to turn into what we have now – a rather sorry service. Anything of note now has to be requested from the central lending library, for a fee.

You have to know what you’re looking for, and how to look for it. All those fortuitous finds of books, materials, you had no idea existed…all that surprise and wonder, has gone.

One of those ‘treasures’ was a book, “Notes from an Odd Country’, by Geoffrey Grigson (Macmillan, 1970).

Grigson was… an awkward bugger; but by design, I think. I could tell you things, but… another time maybe.

He started off well: in the 1930s starting with his wife the most important poetry magazine of the decade, New Verse. The library archives also had originals of this magazine too.

New Verse was the main podium for the most energetic and lively writing of the period, W H Auden, Louis MacNeice, Stephen Spender. Wyndham Lewis, pre-Blast, was a close friend. Anyone who was anyone…..

The story behind ‘Notes…’. was that circa 1968 Grison was driving through France to meet his family in Venice… No, re-wind, that was Seamus Heaney, same time or near enough, similar route too:

The smells of ordinariness

Were new on the night drive through France:

Rain and hay and woods on the air

Made warm draughts in the open car.

…………………………………..

A combine groaning its way late

Bled seeds across its work-light.

A forest fire smouldered out.

One by one small cafes shut

…………………………………..

(‘Night Drive’, Door into the Dark, 1969).

And most of those small cafes have gone now, sold up about ten or more years ago.

No, the Grigson family were driving across France (enroute to Italy?). What they found was a small side river off the mighty Loire; this was the Loir (no e), and the small village of Troo. Cliffside dwellings in Troo  appeared to be … cave houses? On closer inspection they were old and abandoned wine stores, carved out of the rock, and with new brick frontages: door, windows; the chimney was in the cliff top above.

G G was enchanted; they hired out every summer for years. The children attended the local school.

– It was here that Pierre de Ronsard took his daily walks;

– in this area that Rabelais first tasted delightful fruity Chinon wine (I’ve tried it, and it is!), and started out on the reckless career of Gargantua.

– around here that, newly released from long English arrest, that Charles d’Orleans had his chateau, his literary clique, and, it was rumoured,  that Francois Villon got to know the dungeons, following his banishment from Paris.

– It was also near here that Zola based and wrote ‘La Terre’.

– Claudel lived and wrote nearby.  “What do you think of Claudel in England?’ the woman asked Grigson, ‘ and without waiting for a reply she goes on and assures me that he is no less great than Shakespeare.’  Anyone who knows Claudel will know he was a Right wing bigot of a high order.

The book is illustrated with pencil drawings by Grigson.

So what is the book… about?

It consists of notes, expanded into meditations, observations, critiques. It is arranged into three sections: Spring, High Summer, The Fall. This is a device that helps record the locale of Tours, La Mans, Blois, Vendomes, the Beauce , the Loire and Loir, in all their variety and variousness.

It allows him to include his own translations of Ronsards’ poetry and memoirs of the region; of commentators on Ronsard and region etc.

Grigson records a visit and brief holiday by artist Ben Nicholson as he made his way to the opening of an exhibition of his work in Venice.

“The  convention of the rectangular canvas, which is the formalisation of the visioned space around one’s two eyes, upsets Ben, as a limitation. This… is one reason why he has admired Sunday painters… who combine their marks on a piece of cardboard, a torn box lid,……… There is a very real point here which reconciles me, almost…’

Always that ‘almost’, the last word.

Grigson glories in the balmy climate, the profusion of natural colour, flora and fauna – he was an ardent botanist, ornithologist… he was one of those who needed to know all about everything he encountered.

This being the time the Paris Riots of 1968 echo and resonate in the background. Occasionally they intrude; Grigson was enough of an old armchair socialist to be open to what was going on around him: the injustices as well the pleasures.

He was also enough of an old journalist to know to record all responses, both  Right (as he called them Gaullist) as well as Left, and middle, and the often frequent muddying of the two.

We read about the local character Maurice, wine growing: white wine (“few have the nerve for it now’ because it means leaving the grapes on the vine right until the last minute, just before the frosts hit.), and free thinker. Grigson uses him as a sounding board for many of his own explorations of the meaning of place. He records his responses even when he is distracted off-topic by something trivial. Tiredness, maybe. This brings out the multi-facettedness of the book, its glorying in variety.

“Swift: ‘I never saw, heard, nor read, that the clergy were beloved in any nation where Christianity was the religion of the country. Nothing can render them popular but some form of persecution.’

The resonance to Grigson of this passage must come from him being a clergyman’s son: Grigson senior was a wealthy Cornish (ex-Norfolk ) Anglican priest.

Variety:

‘A pleasant noise in this old-fashioned and I think I must say still backward France: the clip-clop of hooves drawing a trap, which comes up at this moment from the other side of the river. I prefer horse-droppings on the road to smears of oil on parking places; a preference – they look nicer – not a sentiment.’

Other local sounds:

‘…I recall walking home and hearing with extra pleasure one of the special noises of Troo.

…this noise could be described as the slow hitting of a soft anvil.

…………………………………………

A clear night, with three-quarters  of a moon, early summer, and here is this soft anvilling again – which is, in fact, the  noise of natterjack toads in unhurried conversation about their annually required sex.’

An incident with poet Roy Campbell circa 1944:

‘He fell out with me on account of something I had written about the poems of his friend Edith Sitwell…On the way from Broadcasting House to have a coffee, I encountered Roy in a ten-gallon hat stalking up the pavement. He raised a knocbkerry’ (walking stick) ‘, and threatened to crack it down on me… I dissuaded him, and he stalked on….’

The story went round and round. You know those office stories!

It was here that Jane Grigson first discovered the rich variety of local cuisines, and her second? career (gallery curator, wife, mother etc etc)  as cookery writer began.  In this connection:

“Last indulgence. We resolved to eat lark – petit des alouettes……… So how do they taste?…………extremely good, like roast pheasant in minature, plump ‘ (they are netted whilst fattening up for Winter in the wheat fields), ‘not at all like sparrows……..’