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.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The French Tour Fall 2007, Stop#4: Montélimar


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The regional express train TER that transports passengers from Lyon to the towns of the Drôme and Provence speeds past vast vineyards angled over hillocks. On the way to Montélimar I spot the Hermitage and Paul Jaboulet Ainé estates.
The Cafés Littéraires de Montélimar is organized by a small association of volunteers. A committee of readers reads books all through the year and decides on the authors to invite each year to the festival. This year for the first time the small village of La Garde Adhémar is hosting a café littéraire during the festival; it has taken some work and some convincing, I am told. One of the members of the association Christine drives us from the hotel to the medieval village some twenty kilometers from Montélimar which is perched on the top of a hill. She conjectures that La Garde (literally the guard or the army) was a lookout for the Adhémar (the local noble family) since the village is located high on the hills with a great view all the way to the Rhône river. The Rhône separates the Drôme from the Ardèche.

Night has already fallen but from the foothills one can spot the small ruin that is part of the village. In the main square a group of very serious men is playing pétanque. The referee is in a suit. The village dates back to the middle ages and has its own post office and a population of under 1500. On the hills just below the bell tower is a botanical garden that has all the species of the Rhône-Alpes. The café littéraire is moderated by Franck Daumas and held at the restaurant L'Absinthe. I’m absolutely touched by the incredible turnout. The committee of readers and other members of the association have worked hard with librarians and booksellers of the region to ensure that people attend events. Someone from the staff hunts for a microphone so that those seated outside the restaurant can also follow the proceedings.

The audience is hesitant to ask questions when Franck turns over the floor to them but they soon warm up. There are questions about India, about Babyji and about writing. Everyone now and then I get a question that betrays the as a writer. We finish up an hour later and when I’m asked to sign books I have my turn quizzing some of the audience. Many of them have traveled to India and others are, indeed, writers. The restaurant has a special menu for the evening and one of the choices is an Indian plate. This is how it comes about that I end up eating one of the best south Indian vegetable biryanis of my life in a tiny village in the south of France. L'Absinthe's owners have traveled several times to India and have obviously picked up a few recipes and some kadipatta.

The next morning we are taken to a nearby nougaterie which doubles as a museum. The Nougaterie Arnaud Soubeyran still makes nougat by hand and conducts a guided tour through the premises. Though we’ve had breakfast we take up the offer of a cake au nougat and some tea before being shown around. The nougaterie is fabricating calissons today. Originally a specialty of Provence somehow the delicacy made its way to Montélimar and now many provençal businesses order these from Montélimar. Nougat gets its whiteness from egg white. The nougaterie uses honey harvested from lavender fields (which it owns) and also grows its own almonds. A while back a local apiarist arrived with some bees and the nougaterie decided to display them in a glass case, the bees have been given an exit through a pipe out into the open but they come back to their hive in the evenings. The queen has a spectacular blue dot Franck Thilliez spots right away and is easy to identify through the glass, several worker bees are moving to and fro doing things for her. At the end of the tour we are offered some more types of nougats and calissons to taste. At the afternoon lunch served at the hotel dining room for the authors I’m too full to eat.

I’ve a rendezvous at three with students at the local lycée Alain Borne. A few minutes from the hotel, the lycée is having its break when Chantal the association president and I walk over. Some of the other writers invited to the festival are also addressing classes here and in another nearby lycée. My event is with students in the première, the seconde and the terminale. From what I understand of the scholastic system that means the students are high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors and a few students who’ve opted for a technical education. They are between fourteen and seventeen, a mixed group. The event is held in the library. The students have put up several displays about India, pictures, texts, studies and a collection of books. I take a look at them before sitting down. All the students have read extracts from Babyji and many have read the whole book, they have been asked to write about India and two texts have been selected for me. Marie-Charlotte reads her text first, it is poetic and rhythmic. The next text is written by Cassandre but is read by her and two of her classmates. After this the floor is opened to the students. They are shy to ask the first few questions but after that they don’t stop. For an hour and a half they quiz me about the book, about myself, about schools in India, about writing, about why the main character is a girl, about getting published, about the process of writing various drafts. It is intense, it is exhausting. It is, above all, profoundly satisfying. Their energy is contagious and their enthusiasm on a Friday afternoon at four pm is immensely flattering. I realize that with them I’ve let myself get carried away. The usual distance that I try to maintain as a writer is broken. When the teachers suggest we move to the réfectoire for a goûter littéraire and continue the discussion there I take a picture of them all saying I want it for my blog. Within hours one of them will comment on my French blog.

Saturday is the moment for readers to meet with authors. At the Village des Cafés Littéraires set up not far from the hotel the writers seat themselves at tables. Those browsing our books at the bookseller can drop by and ask us to sign. Two young teenagers Juliette and Charlotte who are journalists for a real-time gazette during the café drop by and interview me for their afternoon edition. The cartoonist Eric Vaxman draws us. Lunch is served in our hotel Le Relais d'Empereur (it has boasted the passage of Napoléan, Winston Churchill and Brigitte Bardot) which is located at the Place Marx Dormoy. One of the writers Eric Holder tells the rest of us that Max Dormoy a minister for the Popular Front who refused to sign over the granting of full powers to Pétain was assassinated in Montélimar with bombs that had been placed under his bed. His assassins fled to Franco’s Spain and were never persecuted. In the afternoon after lunch there is enough time to take a quick walk to the Château des Adhémar in Montélimar. Located on a small hillock it provides a nice outlook over town. It was constructed in the twelfth century.


My café littéraire in the evening is held at 9pm at a local teahouse La Caverne d’Ali Baba. The treasurer of the association Jean-François walks me over. I see faces I recognize from earlier meetings and many new ones. Harold David the moderator has come from Paris and works for La maison des écrivains. After the session I get a chance to speak one on one with many in the audience. Pia Petersen and Nathacha Appanah come to my event and we end up sitting and talking long after it is over. Pia is a philosopher by training who left her native Denmark to study in France and now writes novels in French. She’s bursting with political ideas of all sorts and regales us with stories about passports, civil status and run-ins with the bureaucracy that border on the Kafkaesque. Nathacha and I ask simultaneously if she’s written about it threatening that we will if she doesn’t! Nathacha’s café littéraire is the next morning and I’m going to miss it since I am leaving early. But we’ve bought each other’s books now—another way of being in touch. Earlier in the day leafing through her novels trying to decide which one to begin with I finally settled on Blue Bay Palace because the character Maya shares her name with my character in That Summer in Paris. I wonder for a moment if I would have written that book if I had known so many other writers at that time and if the novel would have been anything like it is if I had. I felt the isolation of the writing life and the absence of friends in the field so sorely then. The beauty of the festivals this month is that one gets to meet one’s readers and also ones confreres.

Christine Carraz who is the only employ of the festival (the others are all volunteers of the association) has handled all our logistics and our last minute issues with train reservations and transfers like a solid rock. Since the festival began on Thursday she has barely slept, whether one is getting back to the hotel past midnight or taking breakfast early in the morning she is always there with a smile. She drives us to the station in the morning, Eric Faye and Dominique Fabre are on the same train. Dominique will be in New York next year, his book La serveuse était nouvelle is being published in English by Archipelago Books under the title The Waitress was new. Only after I leave the train and head to the taxi stand do I realize I’ve not left my email with Dominique so I’m hoping he’ll come across this blog and contact me before his US book tour.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's good to see you, know you, with the help of your literary journeys and read about your gastronomic and artistic adventures.

Enjoy the heartwarming response of your readers and the companionship of fellow writers.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous nana said...

"La liste des livres nominés au prix Bel Ami a été dévoilée
Pour sa deuxième année d'existence, le prix Bel Ami récompensera une nouvelle fois l'auteur d'un ouvrage retraçant le destin d'une femme, que ce soit au travers d'une biographie, d'un essai, ou d'un roman.

Pour son édition 2008, le jury a retenu en deuxième sélection : La mort du papillon de Pietro Citati, Babyji d'Abha Dawesar, portrait d'une jeune fille indienne, ..."

12:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

whither thou?

3:45 AM  
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11:04 AM  

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