Friday, March 7, 2014

A Literary Tour de France

Following  World Book Day lets visit some French locales where major literary works have taken place.

Paris has been the center of so many literary works -Victor Hugo's  "les Miserables" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame ,  the many novels of Balzac and Emile Zola ;  Henri Miller's  "Tropic of Cancer" and on and on.  Here are two most evocative reads about Paris :

Hemingway in front of Shakespeare &Co.
Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast" - retraces the footsteps of young Ernest when he lived in Paris in the 20's as a struggling author.  He described his walks  in the city, the strolls through  the Luxembourg Garden, the apartment he shared with his wife Hadley in the Latin Quarter, the bistros where he ate, wrote and kept warm, the visit he paid  his friends Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Emile Zola "Ventre de Paris"  (Belly of Paris) . This mid 19th century novel depicts the life and   struggles of the working class in  Paris around the busy  central market of  Les Halles .  Zola was remarkably precise in detailling the sensations- smells, sound, colors of the market.   This atmospheric neighborhood depicted by Zola is only a shadow of itself today. Gone are the central market Balthar pavillons and the  workers and vendors that populated this very intense and picturesque neighborhood; they have been  replaced by trendy boutiques and chic cafes.  Other oeuvres of Zola featuring 19th century Paris include notably "Nana"  "Au Bonheur des Dames" (Ladies' Paradise),  "L'Assommoir" and "l'Oeuvre".
Rouen was the setting of the classic novel  "Madame Bovary" by Gustave Flaubert.  Emma, the wife of a provincial doctor  escapes the banality of her country life by spending beyond her means and having adulterous affairs.  Emma spends time away from home visiting her lover Leon in Rouen where they attend the theatre and take horse driven rides around  town.  The author himself was a native of Rouen.

Grand Hotel Plage-Cabourg
Cabourg is the  resort on the Normandy coast where Marcel Proust's alter ego spent long lazy summers meeting "Jeunes filles en fleurs" .  In the late 19th century and Belle Epoque era, the resort was popular with Parisians who came to spend the summer by the sea.  The Grand Hotel where Proust himself came to vacation and seek inspiration is still popular today.

George Sand's house in the Berry region, in the center of France, offers visitors a feel for the peaceful countrylife the 19th century author ( born Aurore Dupin) came to seek away from Paris.  Nohant as it is known was her refuge. Here she wrote novels like "La Mare au Diable", "La Petite Fadette";  entertained her artist friends like Flaubert, Delacroix, Balzac and where she lived with her lover Frederic Chopin for 12 years ; here is composed many of his preludes.

Marcel Pagnol and Jean Giono are the quintessential authors from Provence.  We hear the sunny and colorful accents of the south of France when we read the works of these two authors.  Marcel Pagnol, evoked his early life growing up in around Marseille  in  two books: "Gloire de mon Pere" (my Father's Glory)  and "Chateau de ma Mere" (My Mother's castle).   In his other works Jean de Florette" and "Manon des Sources", Marcel Pagnol depicted the miserable and hard scrabble  life of Provence countryside and its people, their superstitions and greed. Gionno,  a native of Manosque described  the countryside life of Haute Provence in his works such "the baker's wife" (adapted to the screen by Marcel Pagnol); the "Horseman on the Roof". 

The more recent memoir, "A Year in Provence by English author Peter Mayle is set in Menerbes, a picturesque village in the Luberon hills where the author recounts through expatriate eyes his hilarious adventures with local customs when building a country home. The book and its sequels "Encore Provence" and "Toujours Provence" have brought on notoriety and many tourists to the little village and Provence in general.

If you want to channel the spirit of F. Scott Fitgerald, head to  the French Riviera.  In the early 1920's   the american writer and his wife Zelda moved to a rented villa in Saint Raphael where he worked on the the Great Gatsby.  They would often drive to nearby cap d'Antibes to meet friends for drinks and sunbathe on the beach.  In 1926 , needing respite from the success of the Great Gatsby, F. Scott and Zelda retreated again to the peacefulness of the Riviera , this time renting the villa St. Louis  in Antibes.  It  later became the art deco hotel  Belles Rives, a much sought after 5 star Riviera retreat today. "Tender is the night'  is a story of a wealthy American couple  sojourning on the French Riviera and their tortuous relationship.

Happy reading and Happy travels !!

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#France #Paris # French Riviera, #Provence #books

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