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.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

This blog has moved

This blog is now located at http://abhadawesar.blogspot.com/.
You will be automatically redirected in 30 seconds, or you may click here.

For feed subscribers, please update your feed subscriptions to

Friday, February 19, 2010

Entertaining Science

Going forward I'm one of the contributors to the new Entertaining Science blog.

Roald Hoffmann, professor of chemistry at Cornell Universtiy and Nobel laureate, founded the series in 2002, and continues to host it with Stuart Firestein, profess of biology at Columbia University and the aid of a small cabal of other scientists. One can expect anything: readings , music, theatre, magic, arguments on controversial issues. The general idea is play with ideas, to talk to people about science. To entertain. And have fun.

If you're in the New York area then Entertaining Science takes place at the Cornelia Street Café on the first Sunday of the month, drop by! Otherwise follow the blog.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bull and man

Unlike the Spanish corrida (bullfight) which reeks of both cruelty and cowardice the Course Camarguaise is a local version in which the bulls are not hurt and are let into the arena to run with full vigor. A group of local lads (obviously utterly mad) with an insane appetite for danger enter the arena and try to get as close to the bull as they can. The objective is to remove the 3 attributes of the bull: ribbons tied close to the bull’s horns, glands that hang from these ribbons and a miniscule little rosette that hangs between the two horns and is well integrated into the hair in the front. To remove these attributes from the bull and score points they end up touching his horns and the front of his face many times; since the bull is not standing idly they must race to the edge of the arena and in one whooping leap cross over the fence and jump over to the balustrades to avoid getting gored.

Within the first few minutes of the Course on Tuesday one young man had already hurt his knee. The flying leaps over the arena are no joke even if there were no bull. Younger smaller bulls are also able to follow the raseteur across the arena and jump the red fence. It turns out that bulls are repetitive animals—once they discover they can jump over the fence, they do it again and again even if there’s no raseteur leading them there. There is a narrow track outside of the fence for the bull and ground level spectators are protected from this by wooden planks. Nonetheless the bull, his breathing, the sand he is kicking up, are all within smelling distance from the spectators at ground level. The bull’s charge vibrates through the wood.

The culture of the Camargue is centered on the taureau. Each village has its own votive festival lasting a week. Bulls are brought in everyday to the arena in the morning in a ceremony called the abrivado where a group of horses prevent them from veering off course. The course in the arena usually begins late afternoon when it is still quite hot; it typically involves 6 bulls that come on for 15 minutes each. The raseteurs must sustain their stamina through the whole show as the bulls progressively get heavier, stronger, and more aggressive. On Tuesday’s course de ligue the last bull didn’t wish to return to the bull pen once his 15 minutes were up. A simbèu (the docile bull of the herd which usually leads it through river crossings and passages) was sent out to herd the bull back to the toril. In Tamil Nadu during Pongal a similar event, the Jallikattu, is held. Unarmed men ride wild bulls to untie what’s tied to the bull’s horns. Of course, security barricades are entirely missing in the Indian version as the photos show making the event extremely dangerous and death tolls high. The Supreme Court even banned the Jallikattu for a period a result of injuries. The debate is extremely heated, with similar arguments being made by proponent of tradition and culture in Tamil Nadu (as in Nîmes and Arles).

At the end of the course a group of restless horses wait with their riders for bulls to be released from the toril. As each bull charges out the riders must swiftly gallop ensuring that the bull doesn’t take the wrong street in the village. After the course the bulls are even more aggressive. The audience which has emptied the arena to watch the send off or bandido must stay behind metal barriers. One man bent forward and got a gash on the side of his head.

The fête votive in Vauvert continues through till Sunday when it ends in a trophy event and a bandido with 20 bulls charging through the village before they get to the field. Cautionary signs everywhere of les manifestations taurines are not to be taken lightly that evening.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, August 09, 2009


Camargue is already a slightly strange place with its pools of stagnant waters and strong smelling marshes. Sometimes it's had to believe that these utterly still pools are just a few short miles off the Mediterranean gulf and even reaching it. Yesterday was a bizarre mix of Feria fever and gypsy tradition on the Mediterranean seaboard.

Listen to the church bells of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer from Saturday afternoon 170_51.wav

Inside the church in crypt is Saint Sara who is brought out every year for a large gathering of Romas from round the world.

Despite the afternoon heat it is hotter inside the crypt than outside.

The corrida then and now

Labels: , ,

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The other bridge to nowhere

Alaska is not the only place in the world with a bridge to nowhere. To the left is the ascent to Pont des Tourradons (not too far from Vauvert in the Gard region of Southern France).

From the top of the bridge the view over the canal stretches on both sides. The route to the right takes you to the Mediterranean sea and the one to the left all the way to Avignon though more realistic is the approximately 20 km bike route
which forms part of the Canal du Rhône à Sète first constructed in the 17th century.

I took the road to the left Galliacian where there is another bridge that links Gallician to Scamandre, a 200 hectare natural reserve centered around a still water lake. Near Gallician several boats are docked. There are also several people who fish by the canal side even in the direct heat of the southern sun.

If one ignores the turns to the right and left of the Pont des Tourrodons and continues across the bridge, one reaches, within seconds, the end of the road which stops dead in its tracks!

Biking back from Gallician to La Laune, a small hamlet where the Writers Residence of Le Diable Vauvert is situated I took the inside road. Unlike the route parallel to the canal it isn't flat but it is less strewn with pebbles. Two large dragonflies flew in tandem beside me for a while.

Last evening Laurent Herrou and Jean-Pierre Paringaux drove me to the canal at dusk. The sky behind us was saturated a deep pink-orange and the full moon was still low in the sky. It reflected in the small étangs (still water pools) by the canal. Back at the residence we could see all the way to the Pont des Tourradons from the window and now the moonlight turned the waters on the horizon a glinting silver.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Stranger Love

Just a shout out for the SAWCC conference this weekend in New York. Details are on the SAWCC site.

There's a terrific line up starting Friday night at 7pm with Jhumpa Lahiri and ending Saturday night at Bar 13 with a reading. I'll read from Family Values. Also if you're in Karnataka, check out this months The Bengaluru Pages for an interview with Saumya Ancheri on the novel. Lastly, if anyone wants to help me with a Telugu take on my book here's an article from Andhra Jyothy published last week. What does it say? I haven't a clue.

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 07, 2009


Of course the irony is that when there is a lot to be blogged one is in too much of a frenzy to actually do it! Where to begin and what to cover? You can read about some of my upcoming events further down in Bratislava (Art), Bangalore & Hyderabad (new novel Family Values), and New York (the Sixth Annual SAWWC Literary Conference sponsored by the New School & the Asian American Writers Workshop).

Family Values launched!
My new novel was released on the 20th of January in Delhi by the French Ambassador Mr. Jérôme Bonnafont who absolutely stole everyone’s heart with his wit and presence.
Penguin’s Managing Editor Ranjana Sengupta introduced the event and the President of Alliance Française in India, Mr. Varadrajan also spoke.

H.E Jérôme Bonnafont, Ambassador of France to India, myself & Mr. Varadrajan.

I’m very grateful to everyone who put this rather touching event together for me behind the scenes both at Penguin (specially Smriti!) and at the Alliance (Marielle, Tato).

Smriti, Marielle & Ranjana

The day after the launch I headed to Jaipur to lounge in the main hall of the book festival and heard Nadeem Aslam in a very thoughtful conversation with Shoma Chaudhury, Nandan Nilekani on his new tome Imagining India (don‘t miss his NYPL event with Tom Friedman if you are in the big apple in March), Wendy Doniger talking about her book The Hindus: An Alternative History to her former student Arshia Sattar, and most peppy of all, a town hall style debate on Madhu Trehan’s book, six years (?) in the making, Tehelka as Metaphor, with Manoj Raghuvanshi. The tent outside by the pool too boasted some interesting debates Ashis Nandy & Christophe Jaffrelot (Nandy roundly sounded off Jaffrelot for believing that since Europe had discovered the Enlightenment India ought to get there as well, a fantastic subject on which next time Jaffrelot should be allowed to debate) and Tulsi Badrinath who read from her novel Meeting Lives and performed one of its stanzas in Bharata Natyam. On the way back from Jaipur, as if echoing Madhu Trehan’s book and the passionate town hall debate on systemic corruption, I had a group of smartly-dressed twelve year old boys in red-blazer uniforms demand thirty rupees when I asked them where to turn at a traffic island for the highway to Delhi. At this age? Already? We’re going to need a bone-marrow transplant.

Daniel Georges, one of the curators of the international traveling exhibit Your Documents Now, says that the show is moving now from Berlin to Bratislava. It opens in Bratislava on the 12th of February. I have a piece in this show.

Some upcoming events for Family Values include:

Valentine’s Day at 7pm. Crossword Bookstore, ACR Towers, 32 Residency Road, opposite Gateway Hotel. I will be in discussion with fellow novelist Shinie Antony and we are hoping to cover the span of my four books under the theme Love: Erotic, Neurotic & Sclerotic. Rsvp: Hasan (93422 77977)

21st February at 6pm. Book reading & discussion at Akshara Bookstore (most likely the West Marredpally location but subject to change). The Director of the Alliance Française Mr. Frédéric Dart will introduce me and Priti Aisola will give a vote of thanks. Please watch the events space for more details or call Akshara on 04027804626

28th February 5-7pm. Panel Discussion on Family Values with Ravi Singh, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief Penguin Books India, Novy Kapadia Professor Delhi University & Mrinalini Patwardhan Mehra, Novelist. I’ll field questions from the panelists. This is a terrific line up and I’m looking forward to it. Venue: Alliance Française, 72 Lodi Estate.

The Sixth Annual SAWCC Literary Festival
New York

March 7th 4:15-5:30pm Passing Strange: Race, Gender and Sexuality. Panel Discussion moderated by Svati Shah with Farzana Doctor, Chandra Prasad & me. Venue: The New School, 6 East 18th Street, 9th Floor.

Also March 7th 7pm. Closing Night Reading for the conference. I’m reading from Family Values. The other writers and poets reading are Meena Alexander, Farzana Doctor, Minal Hajratwala, S. Mitra Kalita, Yesha Naik, Amy Paul, Zohra Saed, and Purvi Shah. This event is at Bar 13, 35 East 13th Street which is walking distance from the New School where the rest of the conference is being held. Kudos to SAWCC for remaining such a vibrant organization after all these years and renewing itself repeatedly! If you are a South Asian Woman in the arts looking to get involved then sign up.

I’m invited as a writer-in-residence at Passa Porta in Brussels in April. If you are passing through get in touch.

Finally, I had a massive computer crash (my computer would not reboot even after using a recovery CD for XP) and learned a lesson that cost me a lot of time. If you are running XP and have a password when you log in then your hard drive encrypts the data. Even if you remove your hard drive and run it in an external casing the data will not be visible. Many hours of web-surfing later I've found two good solutions: 1) The easier one is to link your hard drive via an external casing to a Windows Vista machine which will automatically ask you if you want to over-write your security settings and ownership; choose Yes. The data will be decrypted and you can save it. (2) Log into the computer on which you are running your old hard drive in safe mode. Acess the drive via explorer and choose the security settings with a right mouse click. You will find a tab called ownership, change that to administrator and make sure you have ownership at all levels, not just read only. You can now save this data. If you are not logged in in safe mode then even if you have administrative privileges the data remains opaque. To log in in safe mode press F8 several times on the keyboard as your computer boots up. If you have a quirky computer this won't work if you've used the restart option, you have to shut down, boot up and press F8. Well, if the publishing industry continues to nosedive along with the global economy I know where I can find a living. And dear monopolistic, Microsoft, if you are looking for guidance on how to write more meaningful error messages on your support site feel free to consult me, I have my prosthetic brain back now.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Art Basel/Miami & Budapest

The Edge! a show judged by Bonnie Clearwater of the Miami Museum of Contemporary Art showing at Armory Art until November 8th in West Palm Beach is moving to Miami for Art Basel/Miami. It will show from November 17-December 12 at the Sheila Elias Gallery, 1510 NE 130th Street, North Miami, FL 33161. If you'd like to come check out my work there note that the opening reception is on November 30, 2008 at 6pm. I'm excited and looking forward to the show and likely to be in Miami for the opening. I have three pieces in the show.

I also have a piece in Your Documents Now curated by Daniel Georges & Rumi Tsuda who have done tremendous work getting the show to move from East to West across the globe. It started out in Japan and is now opening in Hungary. The show will open at 2B Galeriá November 28- December 30, 2008 with the opening reception at 6PM, Nov. 28th. I'm not going to be there but if you are, do check it out! 2B Galeriá Ráday utca 47, Budapest IX. ker. Along with more than 250 other artists I have an ID document I fabricated in the show. It's moving next to Berlin then Bratislava before going to Mexico.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Proust and a certain sense of time in our information age

Véronique Aubouy has been filming people of all nationalities (but primarily in Europe, I believe) reading aloud from Proust's Remembrance. I first met her to read a section at the Luxembourg Gardens and learned of an upcoming phase in this project that would occur over the internet. That time is now here. Everyone is invited to read a page from Proust starting 27th September 2008 at 12pm GMT. You can participate in this project by signing up on Le Baiser de la Matrice. Véronique has worked with La Villette to develop a site where readings can happen simultaneously over a short period of time to produce a 170 hour film. I'm guessing that the internet-web cam filmed sections of Proust will eventually be shown along with the other parts in order. Since I read for Véronique there have been at least two such screenings. Among other features of this project one of the people who has read was a young boy and he reappears later marking the age of Proust himself in these narratives. More sadly, some of those who have read are no more. Participating in this project and becoming a part of this communal reflection on Time is an experience
I strongly recommend. Please pass the word to those around you.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, July 06, 2008

2 Thursdays in a row

Firstly but briefly, two of my drawings were accepted for Viridian’s 19th international juried show in Chelsea judged by Elisabeth Sussman, Curator at the Whitney. There is a reception on Thursday, July 10th from 5-8pm and all are welcome. So drop by! 530 West 25th Street #407. Map.

A shout out to the energetic Farhana Akhter who founded Global Fusion and organizes monthly Global Fusion Arts events in Manhattan bringing together musicians, poets and visual artists. I participated on July 3rd at Global Fusion’s event at Spark in Chelsea showing some of my paintings and was fortunate to meet several talented artists.

Thanks, Farhana! As Tania Sen said, Dawoud’s sitar playing held the evening together. Roopa Singh wrote some poems in situ that she shared with us. Watch out for Global Fusion the first Thursday of every month. Here are web links (if I could find them) to the artists who participated. Check them out, everyone has very different work ranging from C Bangs’ fascinating in-depth NASA work to Scott Munroe’s pencil strange modern biomorphic formations via surrealism (Veru Narula) and yogic images (Tania Sen).

Farhana Akhter
C Bangs

Roopa Singh
Veru Narula

Scott Munroe
Antonio Puri
Tania Sen
Ellen Woods
Tehniyet Masood

Labels: , ,

Friday, June 06, 2008

Animals in your kingdom

I'm going to miss the opening of this exhibition where one of my pieces is showing but if you live in the Brooklyn area it sounds like fun.

Opening Party June 7 from 8 – 11PM ($10)
David Goldman plays the Lumiano at 9 PM
Visual Exhibit continues to be open
Saturdays 12 - 7 PM --- $2 p/person
June 7 through July 19

"Curated by Founding Director, Kathleen Laziza – Animals in Your Kingdom represents a versatile point of view where animals are fanciful, evocative, threatened, and threatening. The whimsicalness of the art is diversely expressed in paint, collage, photography, illustration and video. The selected artists are Julie A. McConnell, Barbara Rachko, David Platt, Reet Das, JD Siazon, Russ Revock, SJ Hart, Ingrid Vance Aubry, Abha Dawesar, Debra Friedkin, Michael Quirk, Monika Malewska, and Diana Ogaard, Azita Ganji. Including Interactive Art by William and Kathleen Laziza. "

Labels: , , ,

Friday, April 18, 2008

Museum of Arts & Crafts, Itami, JAPAN

For those of you out there in Japan just wanted to say that my artist's passport is showing at an international group show Your Documents Please currently showing in Japan at the Museum of Arts & Crafts in Itami (see link above). The show moves next to Yokohama (ZAIM) if all goes well. I guess if my passport has made it to Japan it's a sign that one day I will too!

It will also travel to:
HUNGARY (November 2008)
-2B GALLERY, Budapest IX. Ráday u.47 Hungary
SLOVAKIA (January 2009)
The curators for this show are Daniel Georges & Rumi Tsuda.

In the last several months I've been doing a lot of art and thinking about it (though I'm glad to say that I've done more of it than thought about it). I'm in the process of updating my site to include some images. Also, I'll post any announcements for the future on this blog.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Antiquity and its discontents---2000 year old staues at Hodal

View Larger Map

About half-way between Delhi and Agra on National Highway 2 stands the city of Hodal. NH2 is a bit of a cliché with dusty industries, chimneys and swanky malls called fancy names like "Manhattan." There is even a government designated leafless "green belt" full of trucks and containers. As this highway past Palwal a small-town flavor sets in on the road. Hodal is located just a little ahead of here. Some 4 km off the highway from Hodal is the village of Saundhad where 2000 year old statues of Hindu deities were recently found according to an exclusive report in the Faridabad Times dated February 27, 2008. Ever since my family moved to Harayana a few years ago I've tried to get to know the area a little even though having been born and brought up in Delhi I still can only think of myself with reference to the megapole.

Om Bir of the village of Saundhad was kind enough to accompany us from the main road to the temple where .D. Verma of the Faridabad Times had reported the idols were kept. Saundhad, I was told, has a population of some 15,000 families. Despite its large size however it is very much a village. There is a palpable change in rhythm when one turns off the pukka road amid a herd of animals and follows the kaccha village road with its small houses and bales of fodder stored for animals.

The Badrinanrayan Temple is located beyond the village near a large tank called the Surya Kund which dates back to antiquity according to the villagers. The temple Mahant Parasuram is of the opinion that by reporting the find the local newspapers have caused a real problem for the village. He holds his hand around his neck to indicate that this is like a noose; the police will now hold him responsible for any possible theft of the icons from the temple premises.

Baba Nath and some other local villagers accompany us to the shrine of the goddess where the icons have been housed under lock and key with the exception of one large icon of a goddess dating back from antiquity that is kept outside the temple and has been freshly washed. It is impossible to eyeball the age of the statue. According to the Faridabad Times report the Archaeological Survey of India dated the statues as 200 years old, had them locked up inside the temple of the goddess and put it under police protection. The villagers are not happy about this. They want the temple to remain active, a place of worship where they can pay their respects every day. This is impossible with the temple barred and locked.

The police have gone on a "break" and we get to see the small pieces that have been housed inside the small temple in addition to the large statue of the goddess outside. Despite the report in the newspaper which was somewhat vague and suggested that these statues were recently discovered when the area was dug the villagers are vehement that the statues are not a recent discovery as the report claims. Baba Nath who is the priest under the mahant Parasuram goes as far as to say, "the newspaper report is propaganda." These statues have been lying outside the temple structure for years and years. They were not brought inside since they were broken (the paper had reported this) but in fact they have been on the temple grounds for fifteen, twenty or thirty years. No one can remember though Om Bir who is 31 says that for most of his life these pieces of antiquity have been lying around. In this short clip Madan Lal talks about the origin of the temple and there are shots from the inside of the temple once it was opened. Statues from antiquity are lying on the floor.

After some probing it comes to light that there are some more statues that haven't been "put inside" so to speak. These are lying under a tree near the Surya Kund itself. There is a recognizable lingam there and also a rather badly eroded statue of a goddess. Ants are crawling over a magnificent piece with figures and a dog comes over and hovers over the assemblage.

Mahant Parasuram and Madan Lal one of the villagers who has been talking to us get into an argument. (see clip below) Parasuram fears the worst for the statues and loathes the responsibility he must shoulder, he wants them taken away. He even implies that people like Madan Lal who talk about it are the ones who might one day make off with it (see the second clip). Apparently a while back there was an attempted theft of one of the statues but it was too heavy to lift. All sorts of rumors are thickly circulating in Saundhad, an otherwise sleepy idyllic village that is just starting to shoot into prominence following the report. After the Times article another reporter or two has been there but now they are sure more will be coming. The villagers divided as they are into at least two camps on the issue feel at moments that the goddess of the temple has decided to shower them with attention from the world.

There is an argument to be made for the heritage of this village to remain in it. The ASI could build a small museum on the temple grounds where the idols were found and also do some more work around the historic Surya Kund to date it and restore it. The Surya Kund has small monuments for its local devtas. If habitation in this region goes back to 11th and 12th century as Mr. Tanwar of the ASI is reported to have said in the Faridabad Times then these artifacts could illuminate the local history of the area. Once the idols are entirely removed from here and displayed out of context in another museum or worse put into storage some of their meaning will be lost. If there already exists a collection of this period then some of the idols could be re-united with it. No matter what villagers should not have to bear the responsibility of these gods from antiquity or be made to feel that when the outside world suddenly becomes aware of the objects that were always a part of their life they will be made scapegoats because of the high-handedness of the law givers.

Children play on the mud road and some of the women knead fresh cow dung to make it into cakes they will dry out. The cakes are saved in small hut like structures that are incredibly designed and decorated in great detail. Decorations that are reminiscent of one of the geometric designs one the base of one of the statues from antiquity.

On the drive out from the village I let the camera roll one last time.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The French Tour Fall 2007, Stop#4: Montélimar

View Larger Map
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.

Labels: , ,

Monday, October 01, 2007

The French Tour Fall 2007, Stop#3: Manosque

View Larger Map
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.

View Larger Map
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.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The French Tour Fall 2007, Stop#2: Nancy

View Larger Map

The new TGV inaugurated in the summer hurtles east reaching over 320km/hr as we head to one of France's most important literary festivals of the autumn Le livre sur la place in Nancy. I'm expecting a pretty city but nothing prepares me for my sudden arrival into the dramatic place Stanislas after I check my luggage into the hotel and follow directions to le centre ville. With its gleaming gold highlights and its symmetric fountains, its paved central plaza and its open-air cafés it has me instantly in love.

A fountain at Place Stanislas

My publishers get me a last minute invitation to a luncheon hosted by Le Point, a national magazine with a lot of readers in these parts and a co-sponsor of the festival. We all find ourselves in the cave of a restaurant where the apéro is served. The basement has a damp odor that is somewhat intoxicating. Over warm crispy bread sticks I meet Le Point's marketing director Xavier who worked for many years as a professional magician. I'm hoping that before the salon is over I'll have a chance to see some of his sleights of hand. The lunch is given in honor of Michèle Lesbre the author of Le Canapé Rouge (ed. Sabine Wespieser). Her book has been chosen as the Coup de Coeur of this year's rentrée littéraire by Le Point (it is also shortlisted for the Goncourt). Despite the last minute arrangements there is a place marked for me at the table thanks to Marie-Claude and the restaurant dishes vegetarian versions of all four courses including a lavish pastry shell in the form a purse that is stuff with finely julienned vegetables and served with a delightful red sauce.

Franz-Olivier Giesbert who is the Director of Le Point speaks for a few minutes followed by the mayor of Nancy André Rossinot who has held his office since 1983. In a short but touching speaks he talks of his vision of Nancy as a tolerant and diverse city two words one rarely hears in France where public discourse is not all that politically correct. After lunch we all head to the place Carrière where the festival is being held. Along the way I find out from Franz-Olivier that it was France 5 who chose to name his Saturday night talk show Chez F.O.G and that among other books he has written one called The American which was published in the US in February by Vintage. A journalist wants pictures of F.O.G in place Stanislas for the newspaper and he insists that Tatiana and I get in the photo.

The place Carrière is located just off of place Stanislas. Communicating tents have been pitched up with local booksellers hosting authors at their tables. I'm signing at the bookseller Le Hall du livre between Tatiana and Pierre Pelot both authors published by EHO. (Pelot is the author of over ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY books!) A couple of high school students come and quiz Tatiana for a school project. Minutes after they leave another gang arrives and wants to pose the same questions. With admirable patience she agrees. Tomorrow they will come for me.

At 5:30 I have a radio interview with Laurent Pilloni of France Bleu Sud Lorraine who is running his show live from a tent pitched at the entrance of the festival. He is very funny and we chat for a quarter of an hour about Babyji after which I return with the others to the hotel. There is an official dinner for the authors invited to Nancy (some 450). Tomorrow, Saturday, will be a busy day at the salon and we will all be exhausted (130000 visitors pass through the salon over the period of one short weekend) but tonight we are still enthusiastic.

The sit down dinner is held at L'Excelsior where I am happy that our table seats not just our own crowd (EHO authors and Héloïse & Gilles) but also two nancéiens Michel Vagner (who has interviewed me in Paris many months ago) and Patrick Germain who are both journalists in addition to Christopher Mory who has among other things written a biography of Molière. The Excelsior is the perfect venue for hearing from Michel and Patrick about some of Nancy's art nouveau tradition and the école de Nancy because the brasserie itself is a work of art boasting Jacques Grüber's glasswork and chandeliers from Majorelle (in two days I will know more about this following a visit to the Villa Majorelle). They convince me as I snap some quick pictures of the mirrors and the ceiling that I must make time for the museum devoted to Nancy's golden age.

The interior of the Excelsior

The official dinner for authors that marks each of the literary festivals I am attending has already become familiar. Some of the same authors are invited to Nancy as Besançon but the big gossip tonight is that four (or is it five?) members of the jury for the Goncourt are present. When Dephine De Vigan who is shortlisted for the Goncourt walks by our table and says hello I decide to investigate the table of honor with my camera where in addition to the mayor and his wife the jury is said to be seated.

St. named after the Goncourts

Saturday is lost in a whirl of people. I sign books in the morning and briefly stop by the Hôtel de Ville of Nancy at lunchtime where a luncheon buffet is organized. The salon has been so packed and noisy that I need to decompress. I order a large tart à la mode on one of the terrasses and read (in English!). Most of the afternoon is taken up by a café littéraire hosted by Sarah Pollaci. I only know one of the authors at the round table Alex Taylor an Englishman who writes in French; he has been signing beside Tatiana at our stand. Next to me is Jakuta Alikavazovic, beside her Dorothée Janin followed by Gérald Bronner. It is a hard group to unite together but Sarah Pollaci manages to pose us all specific questions as well as ones that can be answered by the entire group. Alex has written a shocking memoir of his life as a homosexual and believes it is his first and last book (he lived in Nancy and worked in television and continues to be a journalist), Gérald's book is a kind of fantasy novel while the three of us women seem to be authors of literary fiction. Alex turns the tables on the audience and invites an old lady who has been smiling at him to speak up. She tells us she is 90 and that she's seen a lot of tomfoolery in her times; there is nothing that Alex or anyone else can say in their book that is going to shock her! You can see her hold forth right here!

We return to the tables where the booksellers have us set up and sign some more. The salon is hectic and a public announcement calls for security guards to control the flow of people in and out of the tents. Repeated announcements ask visitors to frequently step out of the tents and get fresh air. Sitting cramped behind tables we are hardly able to move. In certain moments the flow of humanity ahead of us has been in such volume that no one can actually look at the books, as people jostle and heave we try talking above our usual volume to the readers who manage to resist the momentum and stop to ask questions. Two high-schoolers ask me why I write, when I first wrote, how I write etc for their assignment. The young booksellers helping the bookshop and selling our books have been standing on their feet all day. They offer us authors coffee and tea and water. At 7 I go back to the hotel exhausted. I have an hour of much needed silence sitting on the bed with a book. Later I meet up with Tatiana and Richard Andrieux. A musician by training he has just brought out his first novel José to much critical acclaim. The salon has been taxing for him as well and we each realize we've had to talk ourselves into freshening up and making it to dinner.

If the food in Nancy has been fabulous so far it has yet to reach its peak. Les Agaves is the very sommet of my gastronomic experience this weekend. The savory millefeuille with tomato and fresh goat cheese is crispy, the risotto with morels one of the best I’ve ever had. At dinner I meet Patrick Besson who delivers all his lines with deadpan humor and can never pass up the opportunity for playing a word game or saying something caustic. I wish my French were better so I could catch all of it. He wrote his first novel when he was just seventeen, it also happened to be the year when I was born. Stéphanie Janicot who I have met many times before is also there.

Sunday is a light day for me because the bookseller runs out of my books. I make the most of it by going to the Musée d’école de Nancy and the Villa Majorelle. The museum boasts many beautiful pieces in wood and glass by Emile Gallé the most important figure of the art nouveau movement of the école. Majorelle was his rival and the villa he built is from outside to inside, tip to toe, is a work of art. It was, also at the time it was constructed, a fantastic commercial showcase for Majorelle. Visits to the villa are only by appointment with a guide who tells us that everything from the tiles on the outside of the villa (an orchid design) to furniture inside was available for sale in both popular and “lux” versions for buyers. Majorelle also had the items photographed in their respective rooms and put them in a catalog that was sent out to customers.

The most exhilarating aspect of both the museum and the villa Majorelle is that one can see how expansive the art nouveau moment was in its golden age. It touched every kind of object and medium from glass to furniture and tiles to paintings. One reason for the incredible flourishing of this period was that Nancy in the late eighteen-hundreds became home to many of the French who fled parts of Alsace and Lorraine in the aftermath of the Prussian war. There was thus a gathering of important men of wealth in the town. Industry boomed as did glasswork and the iron foundry of Louis Majorelle. In more modern times nancéiens have remained independent of Paris boasting their own wonderful boutiques and gourmet restaurants because of the lack of a TGV. Until the inauguration of the high speed line in June it took some four hours to get to Nancy from the capital. Now however the life of the city is going to change. Patrick told me at dinner he already knows of someone who does a daily commute to Paris for work and lives in Nancy. For someone like me coming from the other direction however it is a boon. It’s not unthinkable to just hop on the train one day on a whim and have lunch, take in another museum and make it back for dinner to 75005.

Labels: , , , ,