Abha Dawesar Blog

Family Values has been released! Babyji is now available in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Turkish, and Thai. The Hebrew and French translations of That Summer in Paris are also out. My site: www.abhadawesar.com
I also have a FRENCH BLOG.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The French Tour Fall 2007, Stop#3: Manosque

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Just before the high speed train from Paris comes to a stop in Aix-en-Provence it passes by several exposed limestone cliffs and one feels as if one is actually pulling up into a Cézanne painting. The authors invited for Les Correspondances de Manosque are received at the station by a smiling Valérie who puts us all into a small mini van. The ride from Aix to Manosque is an hour in low traffic. Despite the dark grey skies the ochre-colored cliffs bring cheer to the day.

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Even though it is only September the temperatures are not much higher than those in Paris and the weather conditions not a lot sunnier. We pass the L’Occitane factory along the auto route and I try to imagine the countryside in the height of the lavender season.

The festival at Manosque is a leisurely affair with time to digest what is happening and the possibility of doing things at one’s own rhythm. I’m staying with several of the other writers at a hotel just five minutes from the small center of the old city which has several large gates and a crisscross network of some fifteen or twenty narrow streets. I walk around and make it to the Place de l’Hôtel-de-ville only after 5pm when François Salvaing is most of the way through his débat. The session is animated by Pascal Jourdana who is also responsible for my being present as well. The Place de l’Hôtel-de-ville is a small square surrounded by cafés. A podium has been set up with a large bookshelf full of books. Salvaing holds forth on his new novel Jourdain. After Salvaing two novelists Gilles Leroy and Maurice Audebert are on for a session. Gilles Leroy is on the shortlist for four awards-the Prix Goncourt, the Prix Renaudot, the Prix Médicis and the Prix Femina-for Alabama Song, an imaginative fictionalized biography of sorts about Zelda while Maurice Audebert is a philosopher who has just written a novel (his second) about Greta Garbo. They talk about the real personalities behind their books and also the fictionalized aspects of their novels. Someone in the audience is bothered by the fictionalizing of others’ lives but when the writers probe deeper it seems her discomfort comes from the fact that the people in question are famous.

By the end of the afternoon’s sessions everyone is a little frozen and happy to stand around the table set up in the square by the local bookseller La librarie du Poivre d’âne. While poivre means pepper and âne is a donkey I still haven’t cracked the idiomatic mystery behind the bookstore name. The conversation turns around the unseasonably low temperatures and those who were here last year say that it was incredibly hot during the festival, but I’m guessing that in 1901 the fall was as cold as it is today. There is a statue at one of the main gates showing a couple huddled together called La froid. Not the kind of thing you’re expecting when you head down to Provence.

Manosque, despite its modest population of some twenty thousand, has been hosting this festival for nine years inviting major authors and actors. The 9pm evening special each night is the reading of a text in the local theater by an actor of national repute. Tonight it is Julie Depardieu—yes the daughter of Gérard—and an actress in her own right. She does a staged reading, props and all, from the letters of Violette Leduc. One of the people I have just met is Achmy Halley the new director of the Villa Mont Noir where I will be spending some time next year. Violette Leduc, Achmy tells me, she was a close friend of Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre. In her letters to Nelson Algren, Simone de Beauvoir referred to Leduc as the “ugly one” but she also thought Leduc was the most brilliant woman she ever knew. Leduc’s letters to her lovers Alain, Georges and Robert would be funny if they weren’t tinged with sadness. Intense and obsessive the letters follow a repetitive pattern of declaring dramatic love, suffering from rejection and repeating the pattern.

Friday morning is a day of discovery. I make the most of the sun in the morning to climb the small hill Mont d’Or (530m) to the north-east of Manosque. The climb is short but steep and I pass by many beautiful provencal homes along the way. Though in the south of France Manosque is actually located at approximately the same latitude as Portland, Maine. The vegetation as one climbs up gets more interesting. There are several plants that have been entirely populated by snails, at first sight I mistook these for flowers. There is another tree I’m unable to identify with very weird fruit. Mont d’Or provides a nice view of Manosque and the surrounding lands.

One of the special things at the Manosque festival which is centered around correspondence and letters is the omnipresence of écritoires. A word that can be translated as a writing desk but does no justice to the concept. Ecritoires have been set up in all sorts of venues including shoe stores, chocolateries, pâtisseries, boulangeries, cafés and boutiques. There is even an écritoire in the shape of a camera lens that can be used to write in the dark or with little light and one shaped like a kaleidoscope with mirrors. The population at large is encouraged to write letters (pen, paper, envelope and stamps provided for free by the post) and indeed people can be seen writing away furiously. I stop by a lovely art gallery run by the painter Anje Delaunay and write. Delaunay borrows from some of the ideas of Buddhist thangka art and appropriates it with his own style and indeed some of his works achieve the mysterious and the spiritual. I then wander into Empreinte a workshop for etchers, lithographers and print-makers. The workshop is run as an association with each of the artists paying a small membership fee in exchange for a key and materials. The artists “correspond” in images with artists from all over the world, sending there prints and receiving one that enters into a dialog with the work they sent. The idea is magnificent and in many of the “letters” that are on display (during the annual festival they exhibit the year’s correspondence) there is a visible and evident dialog between Japanese and Danish artists and Manosquins.

Today, Gloria one of the etchers from the association is volunteering. Visitors are encouraged to try this art form for themselves. While the artists at the workshop etch on a regular basis on wood, metal and linoleum, she proposes something very simple: a small square of thin plastic. I get to work with the tools. Once I’ve got my engraving I cover it with printer’s ink and we run it through the one ton press that is over a century old. I’m so enchanted I do another. I also meet Claudine Rovis a painter from Nice who is going to bring out a hand-made book L'Incendie précaire at another book festival next week. Her book is a collection of her paintings along with the text of a poet who has written specially for the occasion. We hit it off. Bernadette another of the members of the association drops by and I take a photo of the three ladies. If I can find a low-cost workshop like this in NY or Delhi I will participate in this other aspect of the literary festival for next year, corresponding in image with one of the ladies I’ve met. There are other options too, like engraving at home and substituting the one ton press for a rolling pin in the kitchen. The images are less beautiful but apparently it works! So in case you are interested you can too.

Muriel Barbery speaks in the afternoon about her novel L’élégance du hérisson. She has found herself on the bestseller list for over 53 weeks and the Place d’Hôtel-de-ville is spilling with people. I read her book in the spring and stayed up late into the nights to finish it before I left Paris (it was a borrowed copy). I find out she’s got a background in philosophy. She’s in and out of Manosque in a jiffy since she’s invited to Korea so I don’t get a chance to talk to her in person. In the evening I dine with Hubert Artus a journalist who is covering the festival for rue89 an online news site set up by journalists who worked for Libération. We head over to catch Edouard Baer for the 9pm show which is entirely sold out. The auditorium packed. My translator Isabelle Reinharez and her husband Georges call out to me; they have a free seat next to them. I’m in luck! Baer reads from Patrick Modiano’s Un pedigree: searing autobiographical pages about a horrific relationship between the young Modiano and his parents. After the 9pm reading there is a concert scheduled in another room of the same premises. I had missed Mathias Malzieu on Thursday but I catch Babx tonight. He begins by reading an extract from Novecento Pianiste (a novella I’ve read before) and then moves on to texts he’s set to music (Kerouac, Rimbaud, Baudelaire) and other’s he’s written himself.

The next morning is so gray I go right back to Empreinte and set to work on a few more etchings, try new things. At lunchtime it starts to pour and when I bump into Hubert again we take cover in an Italian restaurant offering a simple fare of bruschetta and pizza. The dessert however is totally unexpected, a duo of melting chocolate-caramel-à-la-fleur-de-sel cake. Exotic and delicious it is worthy of getting into more gastronomic menus. In the afternoon I catch snippets of Yannick Haenel who speaking of his book Cercle (also shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Médicis) says he wanted to compose this book much like a musician composes—a comment that immediately made me want to read the novel. I also catch bytes of Marie Darrieussecq (her novel Tom est mort is shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Femina) and Natacha Appanah (her novel Le dernier frére is shortlisted for the Prix Médicis). In the evening the dinner table is bigger than ever, we are 13 and I find myself across one of the only other non-francophone writers invited to the festival: Jamal Mahjoub. With an œuvre comprising some seven novels in English, Jamal is of Sudanese-British descent and currently lives in Barcelona. Needless to say he is a polyglot who speaks fluent Arabic, Spanish, and French in addition to his native English.

The 9 pm reading at the theater tonight is by Jacques Gamblin who has chosen to read from Romain Gary’s La nuit sera calme. A piece in which it turns out Gary has interviewed himself (clandestinely of course, much as he wrote his second Goncourt winning novel under the name of Emile Ajar). Gary holds forth on international politics and his time in the United Nations in the piece and some of his comments are clairvoyant. I skip the evening concert since I have my own débat the next morning.

Sunday is a sunny day. My translator Isabelle Reinharez (click on 25th september to watch her on tv) and I are on together for a Jeu double. Pascal Jourdana our moderator finds a balance between posing us both questions about language, about the book and about writing and translating. The hour flies quickly. We chat for a while after the event and then I head back to the hotel. A bus is taking the authors who are returning on the same train as me to Aix. On the bus Natacha Appanah and I chat through the crack between our seats. We haven't talked before and I'm heartened to hear our conversation can continue next week in Montélimar where we are both invited for the Cafés littéraires de Montélimar.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely lovely! Undoubtedly France makes you more acutely aware of it and brings out the best in you. It makes you more sensitively receptive to what it has to offer.
You have condensed so much experience and information into this piece that it makes a very enriching read. I loved the pictures of the statue and the engravings (samples of your work?).
Continue to enjoy France.

p a

5:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

awesome! I wish I could travel like you..like a real queen of the Bees..:)

1:22 PM  

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