Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Mapping the heart : kissing and counting   Leave a comment

Lac D’Indifference

Mademoiselle de Scudéry’s allegorical Carte du Tendre, is a map of human emotions, upon which she plotted the Lac d’Indifference, Mer d’Inimitié, and many villages including Grand Cœur, Probité, Générosité, Respect, Exactitude and Bonté, in her 17th.c. novel Clélie.

Lac d’Indiference

This is Jacky Bowring’s allegorical addition to that map. Her own site is to be found to the west of here, under Passages, in my links. Her posts are moving and affecting.

Tonight – New Year’s Eve – there are those who feel indifferent to the whole show; while others will feel differently, and may need to know how to kiss correctly when meeting. Here is a map for those who care about Kissing and Counting :

kissing mapof france

How many kisses? Per cheek, per person, per day . . .

There should be a small white patch down there in the bottom left corner : that would represent the utter indifference that our French vigneron friends, Charles and Isabelle, feel about the whole ‘kissy french thing’. They, in common with Parisiens, quite like the way we Anglo-Irish just stand around gormlessly saying ‘ uh, hi . . .’


Posted December 31, 2007 by Richard Williams in books, france

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The present: tense. The past, presently.   Leave a comment

If there was a thread that ran through my reading last year, it was mediaeval history – specifically the transition from feudal life and the emergence of early Europe. It was sparked I think, by the chance finding of a big book in English, by an American, on the local French history shelves of the bookshop in Narbonne. It was ‘Ermengard. Countess of Narbonne’ by Frederic L. Cheyette. And it caught me, as well as the rest of the region, by surprise – the French had completely forgotten her (or utterly ignored her: she wasn’t a Count so she didn’t count. Ahem.No further play on words.) It was a super piece of detective-work, with masses of source material relating to everyday village life. Some of those 13th century family names are there in the local phonebook.

Intriguing as this unexpected treasure-trove of gossip might be, my over-arching curiosity concerned the interaction of the muslim world with the christian: the Saracen and the Crusader. The Believer and the Infidel. It was a search for some understanding of why the world is in this particular mess. However, one can only spend so long in that tangled web before succumbing to sadness, and ultimately, madness. So it was with some relief, late last year, that I found myself strolling through the Enlightenment of the 17th century. in the excellent company of Neil Stephenson and his Baroque Trilogy. These are also 1000-pagers (as is his wonderful Cryptonomicon) – so that kept me happy and sane for the rest of the year.

Now a 1300-pager has come into my life – a mid-winter present from our Jessica – and it’s back to those murdering Religionists: the Christianists and the Islamists. The book is The Great War for Civilisation, by Robert Fisk. It encompasses his writings for the Times and the Independent: thirty years in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Algeria, Palestine, Israel and other beauty-spots become hell-holes in the name of all that is Unholy. The title comes from the inscription on the reverse side of the World War 1 Victory Medal, and is not to be taken at face value: quite the reverse.

I gave up after the Algerian bloodbath. Half the book remains. I passed it with relief to Mary who has been eying it hungrily. She’ll regret it soon enough. For while she has a seemingly bottomless appetite for philosophy, science, peak oil, sudokus, and murder-mysteries – she may find Fisk’s account of our inhumanity too much to stomache.

And so – what have I found to keep me happy and sane? Well it would have to be history of course – but now it’s very much more personal. During the mid-winter holiday I came across a old box of ‘papers’ in the attic. Scraps of stuff that in some way were related to the family that built the house in 1860. I had already found and read some old letters and inconsequential everyday items, and had presumed these were more of the same: old bills, childen’s notes, invitations to mariages in the area etc.

But there was more in this box: a small envelope with photo negatives. A letter from a captain near the Western Front in 1917. I soon found myself plunged into the world of the village a hundred years in the past. And looking again at the aftermath of the War to End all Wars, when the Great Powers divided up the spoils: carving up Mesopotamia and creating Iraq and Iran, colonising Algeria, mandating Palestine. Slaying one vast old monster only to produce the smaller complex monsters we live with now.

And now the problem is finding a way to begin. I don’t want to make a history lecture of it – because at the heart of it all is a love-story. Not one of the happy-ever kind – one of the unrequited-passion sort, with bitterness and disillusionment, a dead lover and a dead brother, a false gentleman and an impoverished poet, fast cars and mistresses, private religion and public fame.