Florence in 2016 - Readings and Ramblings
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My name is Florence. I am a fifty-something software consultant and visual artist living in Montreuil, near Paris. I read in French and English, both fiction and non-fiction. I used to devour books, but I have other things in my life now (including LT) and spend less time reading. I have a tendency to start way too many books at the same time, so it can take me a very long time to finish them.
In this thread I will discuss, in a completely unstructured and haphazard way, books I've read, exhibitions I've seen and movies or TV shows (mostly documentaries - for some reason I have almost completely stopped watching fiction either at the movies or on TV) I watched in 2016.
ETA: links to my 2015 threads:
Florence in 2015 - still reading after all those years
Florence in 2015, part II - still reading but not that much
Hi Florence! I tend to start way too many books at one time, too. Hope you have a good reading year!
Thank you Rachel! 2016 is getting close now. I'll start posting here in a few days.
I've been cleaning up my "Currently reading" list on LT and removing several books of essays and short stories that I am not really reading at the moment, I just haven't read all of the stories yet but I don't know when I will.
Even pruned, the list is still too long:
Super Spy by Matt Kindt, a graphic novel I picked up at the library
Louis XVI by Jean-Christian Petitfils
La révolution française : dynamique et ruptures 1787-1804
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Kimonos in the Closet by David Shumate, whose prose poems I discovered last year
La fin de l'homme rouge (The End of The Red Man) by Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievitch, a wonderful book but I have to take it slowly
Sodome et Gomorrhe, which frankly I'm starting to doubt that I will ever finish, because I'm getting really tired of Proust's obsession with the useless social elite of the Third Republic and its petty competitions for a meaningless status
Books I have set aside after reading a few essays or stories and should theoretically pick up again soon:
Conjectures and Refutations by Karl Popper
Heroides by Ovid
Histoires de la révolution et de l'empire by Patrice Gueniffey
Rashômon and other stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Europe n° 864 (Litteratures of India)
Books I bought recently and would like to read soon:
Sans feu ni lieu by Fred Vargas (I will probably start it after I finish Cranford)
New American Stories, an anthology
Varieties of Exile by Mavis Gallant
Cranford was a sort of impulse read. I had downloaded a free version of this book some time ago, and found it while rummaging for a light fiction on my iPad. I enjoyed it a lot, it was funny and affectionate and moving. It was a surprise since it's very different from North and South, the first of Gaskell's books that I read and loved, and Mary Barton which I abandoned after a few pages because I found it too depressing. Maybe I should try again.
Midway through my reading of Cranford, I suddenly felt the need for some background information on the book, so I bought the Oxford Classic edition. The notes were useful though not essential to enjoy the book, and I also read the introduction (after the book, of course) which was very interesting and made me rethink about what I have read and pointed out many things I would never had noticed on my own.
A quick and very enjoyable read, this is a great start to my reading year (though I read more than half of it last year, really).
>12 NanaCC: Colleen, I loved it and I'm hesitating between a 4 or a 5 star rating.
On my way to buy groceries I stole a quick glance at the book pile ran by a local association, which is conveniently situated on the way to the shop. There was a book by Tchekhov that I planned to snatch, but it was already gone by the time I came back. I did not leave empty handed though, since I found Le Dieu manchot (Baltasar and Blimunda) by José Saramago. The back cover blurb is mouth watering :-)
I've had Baltasar and Blimunda for several years -- glad to know it's so good.
>11 FlorenceArt: I loved North and South last year and I have a copy of Cranford - your review has definitely bumped it up my lift.
Just posting to say hi and happy new year. I don't recognize most of the books in post 7, so I'll look forward to learning about some of them here.
Hi Florence and Happy New Year! Sorry I dropped out last year but hope to do better in 2016. Love your painting in >4 FlorenceArt: above.
You know, I've never read anything by Gaskell. But I hope to get to North and South this year.
Happy New Year!
>15 cabegley: Thank you, good to know that! Maybe I'll buy the ebook version of I really like it (if there is one).
>17 thebookmagpie: I highly recommend both North and South and Cranford. I also read Wives and Daughters which was not as good IMO but still interesting.
>18 dchaikin: Hi Dan! I'm following your epic readings too.
>19 Poquette: Glad to see you back Suzanne! I look forward to hearing about your readings, but no pressure, take your time :-)
>20 The_Hibernator: Thank you Rachel!
I returned Super Spy to the library after reading about half of it. Not that it was bad, in fact it was rather good I think. Believe it or not, had I had the slightest suspicion that it was actually about spies, I probably wouldn't have borrowed it. I hate spy stories, they're too scary. This one is set in 1944 in Europe and realistic enough that there is practically one death in every short chapter. At first the chapters appeared to be separate stories but after a while connections began to appear. I would recommend it to people who like spy stories, I mean realistic spy stories, not James Bond. But it's not for me.
I just finished Sans feu ni lieu by Fred Vargas. Great escape literature. I really like her books, her humor, her bizarre and yet very human and believable heroes.
I was amazed by how much I liked North and South - definitely hope to read more Gaskell.
And Happy New Year!
I just wanted to let you know that I am enjoying my first Fred Vargas mystery, so thank you for introducing me to her.
On Friday my parents came to visit, and we visited an exhibition at the musée d'Orsay together: Splendeurs et misères. This was my mother's idea, and my father and I mostly came along to please her. Although the subject (prostitution in the 19th century in Paris) interested me, I didn't think an exhibition on such a difficult subject could be both informative and artistically interesting. I was wrong, and we all ended up loving it.
The subject of prostitution is a sensitive one in France now, as there is a law in the works to criminalize clients instead of punishing prostitutes, who are in most cases victims. I have seen a couple of documentaries on the subject last year, including one on the same period as the exhibition, although I can't find my notes on it.
The exhibition managed to make clear the way prostitution worked and why artists were so interested in it. The texts at the entrance of each room and next to some of the works are clear, very informative without being to tiring to read. They show how many paintings which may seem to us at first sight to be simple street scenes are in fact showing prostitutes and potential clients.
Many women in the lower classes had little choice but to practice prostitution. Some jobs, such as laundry woman, did not pay enough to live, especially if you needed to support a family, and the women had to resort to occasional prostitution.
The opera with its "rats" (ballet dancers) was nothing more than a meat market. Girls were placed there by their lower class families in the hope of gaining the "support" of one of the middle aged rich patrons who had access to the wings. There is a painting by Degas showing a dancer on stage, while a man is watching her from the wing. These men, with their dark costumes and top hats, are ever present in these scenes.
The room that revolted me most was the one showing works where the men were presented as victims, and the prostitutes as immoral monsters exerting their power over poor hapless men and leading society to its doom, with of course heavy biblical references.
If you are in Paris I highly recommend this exhibition, which will end soon.
That sounds like an excellent exhibition. That I won't be able to see.
Thanks for your excellent review of the Splendeurs et misères exhibition, Florence. Your comments closely parallel the book I'm currently reading about child trafficking in the US.
La porte s'ouvre et la belle jeune femme entre dans ma turne. Je ne sais pas comment je me retourne le nombril, mais toutes les fois que je suis dans une paire de draps afin de me rebecter, y a une poupée blonde qui vient roder autour de mon plume en tortillant du dargeot comme une négresse a plateaux...
San-Antonio is a monument of French popular literature in the second half of the 20th century, though I don't think it has had much success elsewhere (the only Wikipedia article on him is in French). 175 books were published from 1949 to 2001.
Laissez tomber la fille is the second book in the series, originally published in 1950. Like the first, it went mostly unnoticed. The edition I read is from 1965, and I suspect it may have been partially reworked. It's probably not the best, but it already has the main characteristic of San Antonio books, which is its amazingly creative and humorous use of language, including a healthy dose of argot (slang). This may be the reason it hasn't caught on outside the French speaking world. I didn't even try to translate the above quote, sorry, it's just beyond my abilities. I often thought of Rabelais, which is not a coincidence as Frédéric Dard, the author, admired him very much.
I'm very glad I found this in the local book exchange pile last year. I only read a couple of San-Antonios in my life, and I think there might be room in my future for a few more.
>30 RidgewayGirl: Oops, sorry for teasing you with it! There is always the catalog of course, and also the documentary I watched last year, Cocottes et courtisanes dans l'œil des peintres, which was very good, I dont know why I didn't comment on it at the time. Just laziness, probably.
>31 kidzdoc: Thank you Darryl!
Continuing about this exhibition, my mother bought me a little book called Abécédaire de la prostitution au XIXe siècle. I seems very well done, but there doesn't seem to be an English edition. I only read the introduction.
The title of the exhibition is an obvious reference to Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes (A Harlot High and Low), although Balzac is not mentioned in the show as far as I remember. Zola's Nana gets several mentions though. I have never read it, and I think I'll add it to my wishlist. Coincidentally I have just started reading Au bonheur des dames (The Ladies' Paradise). I should also read the Balzac some day, but first I'll have to read Les illusions perdues which comes before Splendeurs et misères.
Urani by David B. and Joann Sfar is a rather confusing story (but I'm easily confused) involving spies, an android and a tiger. It was OK but I probably won't read the next volume.
I noticed there are a few books by Frédérik Dard translated into English. A French James Bond?
>29 FlorenceArt: Wonderful notes on the exhibition. Looking forward to following you this year.
>37 baswood: He does have similarities with James Bond, I suppose (though I've never read the books, just saw a few of the movies, mostly older ones). The most obvious one is his success (and offhandedness) with women. But as I said the main appeal is the language, and the humor. Wikipedia has a list of all the sexual positions he invented (named rather, they are not described). The Euclidian postulate, the Hawaiian Guitar, the automatic crankshaft are some of the more translatable ones.
>38 detailmuse: Thank you :-)
Echoing what Alison said, the same goes for books that use period art to reveal particular aspects of society. I am thinking of a book that I have been dipping into --- mostly devouring the pictures so far --- that focuses on the depiction of family life in Renaissance Venice mostly --- sorry, not Paris to be sure. This book is called Private Lives in the Renaissance. Thanks for your discussion of the art exhibit. Sorry I won't get to see it.
>33 FlorenceArt: Another book that you might be interested in is Love in the Time of Victoria: Sexuality and Desire among Working-Class Men and Women in Nineteenth Century London, a translation of L'amour sous Victoria: Sexualité et classes populaires à Londres au XIXe siècle. Although the title indicates London, there are a fair number of comparisons with the situation in France in the same era. You can probably find it in the original French.
>29 FlorenceArt: That exhibition looks really interesting. I just finished reading Half the Sky, so I've been thinking about the subject of prostitution lately. I almost watched the documentary Born into Brothels today, but decided to read instead. (I have a book review for an ARC due soon.) Before reading Half the Sky I recognized that many prostitutes had been bullied, coerced, or kidnapped (or all three). But I never realized how bad it was. It was a powerful book.
Hope you had a great weekend.
>40 AlisonY: I'm usually rather skeptical about these, and in fact hadn't planned to see this one, but it was really great.
>41 Poquette: I think I remember you mentioning that book Suzanne. It sounds interesting.
>42 janeajones: Maybe the exhibition will be shown elsewhere? I hope it is.
>43 SassyLassy: Thanks for the recommendation, I'll look it up.
>45 The_Hibernator: Half the Sky looks like something I should read. Well, add to the wishlist anyway :-)
I am on an extended vacation now, since my work contract ended in December and I'm not looking for another one yet (I have a vacation planned in February). So you can expect a few visits of exhibitions this month. Today I went to the Musée Jacquemart-André to see Florence: Portraits at the Court of the Medici. Of course, with a name like that I had to see it! It was a beautiful exhibition, some of the portraits were really remarkable, such as the one on the show's poster. It was not as memorable as Grandeurs et misères though.
Tomorrow I will probably visit Beaubourg and Anselm Kiefer.
>32 FlorenceArt: the iTranslate app gave a very entertaining and incoherent result.
"The door opens and the beautiful young woman enters my turne. I do not know how I turn the navel, but all the time I'm in a pair of sheets to rebecter me, is a blonde doll that just grind around my pen wiggling of dargeot as a negress trays..."
>48 dchaikin: LOL. I love machine translations!
>49 rebeccanyc: Oh yes, I am!
Right now I'm sitting in the café at Beaubourg, getting a rest after the Kiefer exhibition. I must admit I started with a slight negative bias, as I've always been rather annoyed by his grandiose works that do tend to kind of shove symbolism in your face. But they are visually beautiful, and the texts helped me understand where Kiefer (born in Germany in 1945) is coming from. It's a shame that the German texts written on almost all of his works were not translated, although it gave me an occasion so use my very very rusty German skills.
After the exhibition was the mandatory walk through the bookshop, which I usually negotiate without much harm, but this time the exhibition made references to two Germanophone poets, Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachman. So I came out with a bilingual edition of each. I must watch it, I have started not only buying books again, but paper books, which is worse! But I don't see a bilingual edition working very well in ebook, not with the current tools available. I also resisted buying, but wishlisted thanks to the handy LT iPhone app, The Demons by Heimito Doderer.
Now I'm debating trying the Gonzalez-Foerster exhibition again. I stormed out last time after being plunged in the dark once again.
Oh, I envy your trip to the Pompidou. I'm planning a few museum weekends before I move back to the US and I think that Paris will have to be one of the choices.
>51 RidgewayGirl: Let me know if you come to Paris. We can have an outrageously priced tea at the Pompidou cafeteria together!
Abécédaire de la prostitution au XIXe siècle
Usually, books bought after an exhibition end up on my bookshelves after I only skim the content, but I read this one from beginning to end. It repeats the information of the explanatory texts in Splendeurs et misères, with additional details (or maybe details I missed while visiting the exhibition) and well presented illustrations. Much better than a catalog IMO.
Forgot to mention that I did visit the Gonzalez-Foerster exhibition after all. I followed a different route this time, that allowed me to avoid the dark rooms. I'm still not sure what all the fuss is about but it was OK. In the room entitled 1975, I saw a cotton fabric with a "tree of life" motif that was exactly like the one I had in my room at 18! There were also a lot of books there, in several different rooms. After I left, I realized that although the exhibition title is 1887-2058, all the rooms I saw were about years from the past, none from the future. Maybe the future was in the dark rooms that I avoided. Hmmm.
>50 FlorenceArt: Was just looking at Google images of Kiefer's paintings and would have enjoyed seeing the exhibit. Sounds like you are having a fine vacation.
You really have to see them in person Suzanne. He piles up materials like tar, wood and reeds on the paintings. And there is also a whole fascinating room of glass cases full of the same kind of stuff.
I suspected texture was a big part of the paintings. But even if it were not, there is nothing like seeing the real thing --- scale, color, physicality, etc.
I have the same response to Kiefer.
>39 FlorenceArt: - the 'positions' are very amusing! Much better to leave it all up to the imagination!
A Shame that the exhibition of Florence: Portraits of the Medici is going to close soon.
I'm just catching up with your thread, Florence, and am having a wonderful, vicarious vacation. As you live just outside of Paris, I live just outside of NYC. I go into the city quite a bit for theater, but more rarely for art exhibits, of which there are many. I should do better.
>47 FlorenceArt: : I saw it too. There was a portrait of a woman in a red dress - surprisingly modern in the making. At first, I thought of Manet : she was directly facing us, looking at us and at the same time gave an impression of closed attitude and distance. Very striking. I forgot the painter's name of course!
>63 h-mb: >64 FlorenceArt: No, del Sarto's woman was in yellow. The one you're describing must be Bronzino: http://florence-portraits.com/fr/themes/les-courtisans
>65 FlorenceArt: Yes, that's the one. When I entered the room, it confused me for a few seconds.
Yes, the face seems very modern. I don't much like Bronzino's style though, it's too "clean" for my taste, I like a bit more softness and shadows.
I just watched "1965, la première campagne pour l'Elysée" (1965, the first French presidential election), a very good documentary on, well, the first presidential election. De Gaulle decided that the president should be selected in a universal direct suffrage election. He, and everybody else, had no idea what that meant, and what a presidential election was like. What was supposed to be a walk in the park ended with him actually having to defend his seat against François Miterrand. For someone who had always considered democracy as a formality, this was a the beginning of the end. And for Miterrand, the beginning of a long career as an opponent, and finally in 1981, as a president. I was two years old in 1965. Very interesting.
>33 FlorenceArt: I just saw your mention of The Ladies' Paradise, and it made me wonder if the Italian show Il paradiso delle signore (which just started airing last month) had anything to do with the book, and as it turns out it is apparently inspired by the Zola but set in Milan in 1956.
>69 ursula: It's funny, because the reason I started reading the book was a mention in the TV program of a show based on it, which I didn't watch. I don't think it was the same one though.
On Tuesday I had a tooth extracted. I felt that some pampering was in order, so I read Sylvester by Georgette Heyer. Just what the doctor ordered. I also had a plate of tagliatelle carbonara. I feel much better now.
>72 FlorenceArt: Sympathies. I am off to the dentist tomorrow to have an implant fitted - it has been a year in the making.
>72 FlorenceArt: Sounds like a very appropriate amount of pampering, carbonara is one of my favorites.
Thank you guys!
This afternoon I visited an exhibition at the Maison populaire here in Montreuil. It's a weird place and their exhibitions are a hit or miss thing. This one is definitely a hit for me. The title of the exhibition is "Comment bâtir un univers qui ne s'effondre pas deux jours plus tard 1/3 : simulacres" (How to Build a Universe That Will Not Fall Apart After Two Days 1/3 : Imitation). It is centered around virtual worlds and the questions they ask, such as what happens when you get to the end of the world? Does the world still exist when I'm not looking at it?
Parallel II, a video by Harun Farocki, explores the space of several video games and triggers special features of the games to make their built-in limitations visible. In many games you can make your character walk sideways by walking in an unauthorized direction. In a fighter pilot simulation game, if the player leaves the authorized combat zone, they are shot down after a few warnings. In another game, you can actually jump off the world's edge and fall.
Following Bit by COLLEO is a reenactment of a 1969 performance by Vito Acconci, who followed people chosen at random in the street of New York. COLLEO did the same in 2013 in Liberty City, the virtual city in the game Grand Theft Auto IV. They picked one non-player character at random every day and followed them until they entered a private space or were killed.
These two exhibits were fascinating and justified the visit. The rest of the exhibition was OK, except for the part where I had to put on a virtual reality helmet and let myself be guided to a bed where I lay down and listened to some guy telling me how to breathe. I lasted about two minutes, mostly out of politeness toward the nice lady who had fumbled with the equipment and explained the thing to me. There is also a sort of game that takes you through a nearby park. I didn't really get how to follow that (possibly there is an app I can get for my iPhone) but I didn't try. Given how I react to audio guides, this is not for me no matter how good it may be.
Hyper Geography is also an intriguing experience. There were two videos and a book.
Very happy I finally dragged myself to see this exhibition!
In 1975, Lamia Ziadé was 7 and lived a happy upper middle class life in Beirut. And then the war started. Bye Bye Babylone tells the story of this war from the point of view of a child, but with the hindsight of an adult. The book starts with a list of the belligerents and a description of the weapons used. Both are drawn in the same childlike style as the objects of everyday life that describe the daily life in Beirut. Candy, cigarettes, hamburger, AK-47. The story is told in short typed sentences and the illustrations are on different pages. It's not exactly a graphic novel as I was expecting it. The style is very simple, but the story makes it very powerful. I loved this book.
I learned about Lamia Ziadé recently because she is busy promoting her new book, Ô nuit, ô mes yeux, about popular singers and actors in the Middle East between 1930 and 1970. I will borrow this as soon as I can find it at the library (I always have difficulties locating books in the BD section). Or maybe just buy it, as I see it's available as an e-book.
>78 The_Hibernator: Thank you! It was a pleasant surprise.
Today I saw another exhibition: HEY! modern art & pop culture / Act III. It was nice despite the very bad lighting that had me fighting all the time to avoid being blinded either by the glare or by my own shadow. This is the kind of art that would have had me extatic when I was a teenager, and for this reason it's hard not to reject it now. But most of it was really good, if not the kind of thing I would like to have hanging on my wall.
After that I visited Saint-Michel (the Latin quarter) for the first time in ages, in search of Jean Bottéro's translation of Gilgamesh, which I found. It's a little intimidating because of all the notes and typographical signs indicating missing fragments and variants (I suppose). I thought I had read this, but after mentioning it on Dan's thread I remembered that the text I read was not the complete text, only excerpts. And suddenly I had to buy it NOW, my excuse being that I will be stuck on a plane for 8 or 9 hours on Thursday, and I like to have a paper book at hand for take-off and landing, and in case the battery of my iPad doesn't last for the whole trip. I'm not sure this is the best book to read on a plane though, it might need a bit more concentration than is available at such times.
One advantage of looking through the BD racks at the library not finding the books I'm looking for, is coming up with other, random books to bring home and read. Sometimes they're good, sometimes not so good. Frances by Joanna Hellgren was good, and I will certainly seek out the next volumes. I like the drawings, and so far the story, of a young girl who somes to live with her aunt and grandfather after her father has died, is very good.
Bye Bye Babylon sounds terrific. Look forward to your comments on Gilgamesh, although I can't imagine it will take you 8 hours.
Dan, I had decided not to take Gilgamesh with me but you decided me to. Not sure I'll read it though. I have three books on my iPad I need to finish, plus another paper book everyone insists I should read, which means of course I probably won't.
On the iPad:
Au bonheur des dames (The Ladies' Paradise)
La fin de l'homme rouge by Svetlana Alexievitch
Louis XVI by J.C. Petitfils
I haven't made much progress with the last two lately.
And on paper, Immortelle randonnée : Compostelle malgré moi by Jean-Christophe Rufin, which I received as a Christmas gift a year ago and never thought to read, but both my parents have loved it, so I'll give it a try I guess.
I'm going to Miami to visit my sister who lives there, and I'm looking forward to visiting all the art galleries there. Every time I visit, there is something new and interesting to see.
I don't think you will run our of reading material.
Miami is kind of home to me, but I can't remember the last time I visited an art gallery there. Enjoy your trip.
>83 dchaikin: Dan, several local collectors have opened private museums to show off their collection. They are wonderful.
I finished Au bonheur des dames on the plane. This was my first Zola, and I was surprised at how readable and modern his writing is. Practically the whole book happens inside the department store, described repeatedly and lyrically as a machine. The growth of the store and its innovative marketing techniques (inspired by those implemented by Boucicaut at the Bon marché) are described through its effects on clients (all women), employees (men and women) and the destruction of the local businesses. I thought the description of the different types of clients and how they fell prey to Mouret's predatory marketing was fascinating. The birth of department stores with their irresistible display of goods also triggered the birth (or at least unprecedented growth) of shoplifting.
I confess I am much more likely to like a book when there is an element of romance in it, and this one delivered wonderfully. I liked the character of Mouret, with his cynicism, enthusiasm and commercial genius. Denise is a lovably strong character, even though she impersonates all the stereotypes of the 19th century's perfect woman: loving, motherly, patient and of course virtuous.
Again, I was surprised at how modern this all was. The narrative structure of the book is based on following multiple characters as they work or shop in the ladies' paradise, and at times it felt like watching a movie. Also, the working world described is surprisingly close to ours, even though the workers' condition has thankfully improved. I found it much easier to identify with these working people than with the idle bourgeois depicted by Balzac or Proust. Zola's style is of course a bit dated but very dynamic and a pleasure to read.
As I said, my first Zola but certainly not my last. I bought an e-book of his complete works and I have my eyes on Le ventre de Paris, describing les halles, and Nana.
I must visit le Bon marché when I get back to Paris, especially since there is an exhibition of works by Ai Wei Wei at the moment there.
I downloaded the complete Balzac and complete Zola when I first got an e-reader, about four years ago - I've only read about four novels from them so far. It's a lot easier to live with a big TBR list if it's in electronic form!
The first Zola I read, when I was about 16, was La Terre - I don't remember so much about the others I read later (except Germinal and La bête humaine), but that first experience has really stuck with me. He's quite something. As you say, surprisingly modern (apart from his rather odd notions about heredity).
>84 FlorenceArt: >85 thorold: >86 lilisin: Interesting that The Ladies Paradise was your first Zola, Florence, because it wasn't one of my favorites; I liked The Belly of Paris and Nana much more. But i agree that Zola seems modern and many of the issues he addresses are still with us in other forms. Plus ça change . . .
Mark, I loved La Terre and Germinal (my first Zola that got me hooked) and La Bête Humaine.
Lilisin, I'm a charter member of the Zola fan club!
>88 rebeccanyc: It wasn't really a calculated choice, I just picked it up after reading about a TV show based in it. I'm glad there are even better ones ahead.
The end of my Miami vacation is getting close and I will leave for home tomorrow. There was no new museum after all but I visited several I already knew: the Pérez Art Museum, the Lowe Art Museum and the Margulies collection which had a beautiful exhibition of Anselm Kiefer's works, very different from the Beaubourg one. All these were great. I have also been reading a lot, Gilgamesh and Louis XVI and a lot of Internet articles. A very relaxing holiday.
Today we had planned to go to Key Biscayne, but it was too cold, so instead we visited the de la Cruz collection. The building is beautiful and so is their artwork, but it's more on the decorative side than the other museums, as is the whole Wynwood district where the museum is situated. I'm not sure how I decide what makes an artwork decorative, obviously it's rather subjective and maybe it's not relevant at all, but this is a very strong feeling, that I remember having had on my previous visits to this collection. No matter how pleasing to the eye it is, there is something missing. But is it missing from the artwork itself, the artistic process, or my spectator's eye?
Taking the plane back home in a few hours.
The flight home was suitably horrendous and I was reminded once again of why I hate traveling, especially by plane. I finished Immortelle randonnée : Compostelle malgré moi which was almost perfect flight entertainment on the way out, but ended up annoying me on the way back. At least I can now tell the people who suggest I should do the Compostelle pilgrimage why I don't have the slightest wish to do so. If there is an organ in the brain for spirituality, I was clearly born without it. And I am not submitting myself to the torture of being tired and filthy for weeks just so that I can commune with The Great Whatever. I'm perfectly happy with day walks on a preferably beautiful and deserted trail, and coming back to a nice hotel to have a shower and a good dinner afterward.
The book started out as a light funny read, but it lost me when Rufin started getting all spiritual. It's probably not very fair to the author, but right now I don't feel inclined to try reading another book by him.
A friend of mine explicitely did it as atonement but I think that's true for everyone who try it - but the masochistic ones.
Atonement? Yes, I suppose sincere Catholics do that. But I suspect most people do it in search of some new age kind of spirituality. You know, taking something they like from every religion they encounter and then adding their own personal beliefs to match precisely what makes them comfortable. It's a bit irrational I'll admit, but I hate that even more than I hate organized religions.
I had a friend years ago who wanted to go on a pilgrimage to Campostello, but his motivation was more historical than spiritual. He wanted to recreate the conditions a medieval pilgrim would have faced. We had a fun conversation about the logistics of traveling by donkey in the 21st century.
I enjoyed Hector Obalk's short films in the "Grand art" series, and I've had his book Aimer voir on my mental wishlist for a while, so when I saw it in the shop of the Jacquemart-André museum, I bought it. I just finished it (yay jet lag, I should be sound asleep right now). I love how Obalk talks about art, in a passionate and peremptory way that somehow doesn't feel either condescending or overbearing. I find I often agree with him although I am spontaneously drawn to very different paintings to those he admires. He actually made me "discover" some classical painters and managed to send me to the Italian rooms in Le Louvre that I had been avoiding all my life. It helps that he almost exclusively talks about what he loves (although one of his books is entitled Andy Warhol n'est pas un grand artiste so I suppose he can also talk about what he hates, but I doubt I would enjoy it half as much). He is at his best when describing texture.
This book was enjoyable, but I do wish he hadn't insisted on doing the layout himself. The font is a disaster and I had to go online to actually see some of the paintings and the details he was talking about, they are so small and dark in the book that I couldn't see anything. Obalk can talk about painting, he can make movies about paintings, but designing a book is something he should have left to a professional. Still, I'm glad I bought and read it (yes, from beginning to end) and it reminded me of his films since many of the paintings described in the book already featured in the films. Which I've been too cheap to buy on the iTunes Store.
Too bad about the horrendous flight! But I guess if you hate traveling they're probably all horrendous. :) Have a good week!
Happy Valentine's Day!
Last night I saw my fist dance show of the year, Tenir le temps by Rachid Ouramdane. What a start! It was beautiful. Next week we have tickets for the Ballet de l'opéra de Lyon with four pieces. We saw the last one (One Flat Thing, Reproduced), by William Forsythe, last year I think, and we look forward to seeing it again.
This week I recorded two TV shows. The first one was Les trois lumières (Der müde Tod / Destiny) by Fritz Lang, but I have become very reluctant to watch fiction and I decided after the first act (of six) that silent expressionist movies are not for me. So I watched the second show I recorded, Ma cité au féminin, which was beautiful but ultimately depressing. It follows 4 young women or girls from a "cité" (ghetto) and their struggles to live in a world controlled by boys/men. One confronts the attempts at control, another accepts it but suffers from it, all try to find ways to go around it, but they are never really free. Of course, the men aren't free either, but even if they are prisoners themselves, they try to imprison their sisters or neighbors in the world they themselves can't escape. The cité is probably in my town, unless there are other places with the same name in neighboring cities, but it's at least in the same department, the 93. It's really sad to think that this is happening right next door to me.
>91 FlorenceArt: I favorited this post because it's the first enthusiastic comment on Miami art museums that I have come across. Unfortunately I'm usually in the area over our Thanksgiving holiday when they are likely closed (and with kids who would not be interested). But still noting.
Dan, most of these museums have great contemporary art collection. The Lowe Art Museum has a wider range of subjects, with a great glass art collection and also beautiful African and oceanian art. Children might be interested in that one I think.
Dada is 100 years old! It was born in February 1916 in Zurich at the Cabaret Voltaire. The documentary Viva Dada gives a beautiful and lively overview of the movement. I'm sure I should have something meaningful to say about it, but really, it was just fun to watch. And it gave me a better perspective on this movement that I tended to view with some reservations. Now that provocation and subversion have been institutionalized and become a stifling rule, it's refreshing to see its beginnings. Did that make sense? Probably not. Ah well, it's the Dada influence. Nothing to do with the wine I had for dinner of course.
Made sense to me. And happy century to this style of provocative subversion.
I've been immersed for a week in shameful literature. Carol Berg is one of my favorite authors for comfort reading, which is rather strange since she likes to put her heroes through hell before the happy ending. I think I'm a closet masochist, I like to see them suffer as long as I know it's going to be all right in the end. But the trouble with that kind of literature is that it's addictive, and it's hard to come back to the real world after finishing a book. Last week I bought Ash and Silver and found out it was the sequel to Dust and Light, which I read but had completely forgotten. So I (re)read the two books. They felt comfortably familiar, especially since they are set in the same universe as Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone. She obviously plans more books in that universe, as both series leave much in the world to be healed. I'll be waiting.
In the meantime I guess I have to reluctantly come back to more serious reading. I need to finish that Louis XVI biography and Gilgamesh. Also I borrowed L'histoire, la guerre, la résistance from the library, a collection of texts by Marc Bloch, and I'm only halfway through the introduction. And I've got so many novels I should read, it's going to be hard to pick one. Maybe La carte et le territoire. And oh wait, I almost forgot I'm still reading Texaco. I have to admit I'm less enthusiastic since I discovered that I already read it a few years ago, but I'm not willing to put it down either.
Wonderful evening at the ballet last night. The Ballet de l'Opéra de Lyon performed 4 pieces, each one better than the preceding:
Xylographie by Tânia Carvalho
Sunshine by Emanuel Gat
Black Box by Lucy Guerin
And the clou du spectacle: One Flat Thing, Reproduced by William Forsythe
The first one I felt was the weakest, but had some good moments. The second was good, and the last two were really great. There is a film on YouTube of Forsythe's piece. Although it is very different from my experience, it is both more and less, and I recommend it (if you can see it that is and are not prevented by stupid geographic restrictions). It comes in three parts:
One Flat Thing, Reproduced - Part 1
I'm in the mood for light read and sneaked in one more, The Toll Gate by Georgette Heyer. A bit more mystery than romance in this one, but I enjoyed it.
I'm afraid I will give up on Texaco, not that I don't like it, I just don't feel like reading it again. I bought it because it was mentioned in the Caribbean theme read thread on Reading Globally, but it turned out that I had already read it a few years ago. It must have been before LT, or at least before I started systematically logging my readings on LT. From what I remember and the few chapters I re-read, it's an interesting and enjoyable read, both because of the language and because of what I learned about the history of Martinique, about which I know next to nothing. I just don't feel like reading it a second time. The books I re-read are mostly light comfort reads, not "serious" literature.
>110 h-mb: Hope you enjoyed them! It's really a completely different experience from seeing it on stage though.
I visited the recently reopened Musée Rodin today. And since I was in the vicinity, I made a short visit to the Invalides. Enjoyed both. And I saw an ad in the metro for the next exhibition I will probably see: Jean-Michel Alberola at the Palais de Tokyo.
What has been done to the Musée Rodin. I hope that nice tea/cake shop is still in the gardens.
Nothing much I think, just basic renovations and possibly a new space for the shop which I didn't visit. The experience seemed similar to my first visit years and years ago, only the youthful enthusiasm of the discovery was missing, but that's not their fault. I saw the sculptures differently. What I remember from the first time is the incredible energy. It's still there, but I also noticed how his depiction of the human body is not especially realistic but much more concentrated on emotion and movement. Relatively few of the statues have faces, but those are striking. And the bourgeois de Calais are just as impressive.
The restaurant is still there, but the food didn't appeal to me and I went to a brasserie facing the Invalides instead, which explains why I ended up visiting the museum.
This week was the 25th anniversary of Serge Gainsbourg's death. He was a thoroughly unlikable individual, a sad manipulative and misogynistic bastard. But he was a great songwriter and had a wonderful way with language.
Le poinçonneur des Lilas
>119 FlorenceArt: That is an amazing song. (I was listening to Gainsbourg last night, by coincidence)
Funny how he had a talent for picking subjects that dated themselves so rapidly - poinçonneurs, fumeurs de Gitanes, soixante-neuf, Bonnie and Clyde, ...
True, he was very much of his time, and IMO his attempts to catch up to the 90s were not very successful. I feel that his best poetry and music will endure, but maybe I'm just showing my age.
Just catching up. Glad you had a good Miami visit (I am presently on the opposite coast.
Nice to see the photos of the Musee Rodin.
On Friday I hurried to finish Frances, Tome 2 before I had to return it to the library. As it turned out, I still had one week before I had to give it back, but anyway. I'm not sure what I think about this series. I like the story, although it's a bit conventional in a politically correct kind of way. I like the characters. I like the drawings. What I don't like is that the story is impossible to place or date. Somewhere in Europe, sometime in the second half of the 20th century would be my guess, but really it feels like an imaginary place. It annoys me that this story about social issues (homosexuality, women's status) is not grounded in a specific reality but sort of hovering in an unreal world. I will probably keep reading, but I'll wait a bit before I borrow the next volume.
Plenty of interesting reading and doing here Florence.
I too like dance, and go to Sadler's Wells in London half a dozen times most years. I've just seen the Akram Khan company, wonderful stuff. I love his work, and also his imaginative collaborations.
Thank you Caroline! I have been wondering about Akram Khan. I'd like to see his work but he always seems to be performing in the suburbs, and I'm not sure he would be worth the trip. Maybe next season I'll try to convince the friend I share a subscription with to give him a try.
There's a copy of Rodin's The Burghers of Calais in the gardens next to the houses of Parliament. It is fabulous. But most people just walk past it and barely spare it a glance. I can remember Mum telling me who they were and why they look so miserable when I was on a trip to London in my teens.
>127 Helenliz: I read Rodin's biography on the museum's web site before my visit, and I think it mentioned this. Isn't it strange that the British government chose to purchase this sculpture, which refers to an event in the hundred years' war?
The English gave up Calais in 1559, but I wouldn't be surprised if some members of the English government still think they own it.
>130 FlorenceArt: pfffft.
>126 FlorenceArt: I have seen about half a dozen of his works Florence, including collaborations with Julliet Binoche, Sylvie Guillem and others. I don't think you would be disappointed.
>127 Helenliz: Helen, I saw the sculpture regularly when I worked nearby. You are right, a lot of people do not realise they are ignoring a Rodin.
We have a lot of his work at the Victoria and Albert museum. He had an exhibition in London just as the First World War broke out, and the V&A took it in as he couldn't get it back to France. After the war he gifted it to us. I go and look at it often.
>131 Caroline_McElwee: reminds me that I haven't visited London in a while. I should go while I still can ;-)
A couple of articles I just read:
The Psychologists Take Power by Tamsin Shaw, in the New York Review of Books
This article is about psychologists' claims as experts on moral issues, which I agree with the author raises serious problems. However, although interesting, it tends to bog down in ad hominem attacks which weaken the argument. I felt that the real issues were only skirted here. I also learned some appealing facts on the use of psychology by the US Army.
And speaking of psychology: Everything Is Crumbling by Daniel Engber, in Slate, or how a seemingly established psychological effect, confirmed by hundreds of studies, may not exist. I'm not sure what to think about that, I only read the article this morning. There will probably be more reactions to this, I hope they will help me make sense of this.
Yesterday I made a very rewarding visit to the Palais de Tokyo. I did not know anything about Jean-Michel Alberola's work. It's difficult to describe. He is a very wordy painter, but in a completely different way to Kiefer. He uses quotes from philosophers a lot, but not in a preachy way. I'm sure there is a political message involved, but also a subtle humor. Visually I liked his paintings. The exhibition was very rich and all the works seemed to be recent, which gave it a coherence and allowed ideas to reappear in many related works.
The other exhibition I liked, "Not Not Knocking On Heaven's Door" by Simon Evans, had similarities to Alberola's work in that it features texts and maps and collages, but in a more obsessive way and without the humor, it felt closer to art brut.
All in all a very pleasant visit.
>133 FlorenceArt: I've never heard the term art brut before, but it is a great one.
>134 SassyLassy: Really? I think the correct English term is raw or outsider art. The French term was invented by Dubuffet and designates art made by people who are so isolated from the general culture that they have no idea what art is supposed to be, they just make it up as they go along because they have to.
http://www.artbrut.ch/en/21052/qu-est-ce-que-l-art-brut (this link is to the English version of the page).
I've been working hard on preparing and promoting the project I'm building with two musicians, which we have named Lacuna Echo. We will hold two live performances on the 1st and 3rd April. Here is our Facebook page (all in French so far, it's work enough writing this stuff in my own language, I may try to do some translation later but...):
Don't hesitate to "like" us! (but only if you feel like it :-)
After giving up on The House of Shattered Wings and These Old Shades, I finally managed to finish a book: Post Office by Charles Bukowski, recommended by AlisonY). I'm not sure what to think of this book yet. I read it relatively quickly, so I guess you could say I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure why. I keep trying to write something and then deleting it. Time will tell, I suppose, what I take away from this book. I'll probably read another by Bukowski, if only to decide whether he is just a despicable sexist good for nothing bum, or... something else. Not that I disliked the narrator, in fact he was a rather likable sexist good for nothing bum, but he's also hiding a lot, and I can't decide whether he is just a softie under all that male bravado, or just a manipulative bastard using women he is incapable of regarding as human beings. Probably something of both. I dunno.
refreshing to see that you find a sexist good for nothing bum rather likeable.
good luck with your project. Is there any connection with the heavy metal group Lacuna coil?
Thank you! No connection I think, I was not aware of this group, maybe my musician friends were but I doubt it.
Very interesting discussion (in French) on contemporary French literature. I'm ashamed that I know so little about it. Many of the names cited are completely new to me, and others I have heard about but not read. Although, in the case of Christine Angot, I evidently needn't bother. Must look up Annie Ernaux though. And who is Quignard?
Quignard is the Tous les matins du monde chap (Depardieu playing the viol). I haven't read the book, but it was a great film. Annie Ernaux sounds interesting but super depressing.
>142 FlorenceArt: I'm hardly a cinephile either, but I'm pretty good at remembering films I did happen to see 20 years ago ... Especially if they had a soundtrack by Jordi Savall.
It does look as though Ernaux is someone we should have read, whilst Quignard - judging by the summaries of his books - could equally well be dazzling or bafflingly unintelligible.
I have been too busy and stressed out by the preparation of my exhibition and performance to read much lately, or even keep up with the threads here. We held our first performance (of two) last night to a very small audience, but I think they enjoyed it, and we certainly did. Tomorrow is the last day of the exhibition and the second performance, after that I have to pack everything up and go back home. And on Monday I start a new job.
Looking at my "reading now" list, it's obvious that I need to reduce the number of books I am "reading", and concentrate on actually reading them! Now that I'll be working again I'll spend more time in the metro, which is when I usually read, so that should help.
I hope the second performance goes well, too. Were I in Paris, I'd attend. And, Yay! to the new job.
Thank you! I've enjoyed these three month of freedom, but I guess it's time I started earning my bread again. I need money for all these exhibitions where I never sell anything. And I need a new MacBook for the performances.
>146 FlorenceArt: I need to reduce the number of books I am "reading", and concentrate on actually reading them
haha that feels familiar. Congratulations on your performance project and your job!
I am slowly getting used to normal life again, after three months of professional inactivity and a few very intense weeks. The performances on the weekend of 1st April went well. Here is an video of the event: https://vimeo.com/162289743
Then I started a new job immediately after that, which is interesting but also very intense. But my life is slowly returning to its usual rhythm, and I started reading again. Not that I ever stopped completely of course.
The Talisman Ring reconciled me with Georgette Heyer after the disappointment that was These Old Shades. It's one of the funniest of hers I read, I think, and I enjoyed the fact that this time there is not only a silly young female, but also a silly young male, as well as two more mature characters. Now that I think of it, young men in Heyer's books as just as silly as young women. That makes me feel less guilty about liking her books.
I finished The Heroides. It took me a while because I like to read short stories one at a time and not back to back, especially when the whole book is by the same author. I enjoyed them, and was struck by how modern Ovid's storytelling seems to me.
I also finished Gilgamesh and had mixed feelings about it. Like the bible, it's a fascinating read because it's so old and offers a glimpse of the ways of thinking of a people so far from us in time, or at least the stories they liked listening to. But because these stories are so old and come from a culture so foreign to us, it's hard to really enjoy it. Plus, I had issues with the French translation by Jean Bottéro. His presentation of the text and notes were invaluable, but his choices (which he faithfully explained) in the translation itself didn't work for me at all.
Two weeks ago I saw a great dance show by Wim Vandekeybus, "Speak low if you speak love". The friends I go to these shows with has been more or less dragging me to all his spectacles and raving about how great he is, but frankly so far I have been underwhelmed. Now I'm starting to see what she's talking about.
This trailer kind of gives a small idea about the exhilarating energy of the thing, but it doesn't really do it justice: http://youtu.be/EMVb-nWELNE
That same evening, we visited the exhition "100%" which was part of the same festival at la Villette as the dance (our tickets have us free entry). It was also very good, all the works were intriguing and some of the works were really exciting. I took a video of one of the best, a large air balloon that writes on the walls (it has spikes with charcoal on them): https://www.dropbox.com/s/okar5bmwqc5zj5u/IMG_0256.MOV
Last night we saw another dance show, but you can't win every time, this one was no more than OK. It was called Rice, by a Taiwanese company called Cloud Gate Dance Theater.
Oh, and I forgot to mention the Albert Marquet exhibition at the Musée d'art moderne. I heard of him for the first time very recently, in Hector Obalk's book. He has a wonderful way to show light, any kind of light: blinding sun on the Normandy coast, the diffuse light of a northern see in Hamburg, or Paris under the snow. He painted mainly coasts and harbors, and in the Paris area rivers. I visited at lunchtime (my new job is a 5 minute walk from the museum!) so unfortunately I was a bit rushed. Maybe I should visit again.
Flo - congrats on your own exhibit. Hope the new job is working out. Interesting reading and exhibits. Did your Gilgamesh edition show biblical links? You'll have to reread Ecclesiastes now. Maybe Noah's bit too.
Thanks Dan! No, now that you mention it there was very little mention of the biblical links, unless I forgot. He did quote himself a lot, a book on the gods of Mesopotamia that I have seen on Amazon a couple of times, and that I might want to read some day.
Right now though, I am trying to concentrate on finishing the books I have started. At the moment, Louis XVI and Baltasar and Blimunda.
>151 FlorenceArt: Yes I really enjoyed the video - the performance looks to have gone very well. I can just imagine being in that darkened room and being in tune with the art work and the music. I thought he music developed really well especially when they got into a more rhythmic (red indian like chanting) feel. The changing images were stunning at times. A lovely way to spend 15 minutes - I hope you enjoyed doing it.
Thank you Bas!!! Yes, I think we all enjoyed it, I did at least. Hopefully we can do it again soon.
I really like my new workplace. Not the office itself (although it's a very comfortable one) but the location. I have two possibilities to commute, the train (my favorite) or the metro. But today both were stuck, with a suspect package on the train and a technical incident on the metro. So I took the third option and went to the Palais de Tokyo to wait it out. I used to be mostly frustrated by exhibitions there, but since they opened the basement a few years ago, the place is so huge and there are so many different things going on, it's hard not to find at least one exhibition to please.
There was one new exhibition since the last time I visited, and it was very good. It's part of an annual series of shows featuring artists and artisans. Last year I was not much impressed I think, but this one was much better. It was structured around a murder case that I think we were supposed to solve: there was a small booklet and several visitors were writing on it. I didn't bother, I am not interested in solving murder mysteries even when I read them, and even less in a museum after a hard day's work. So my visit was mostly a leisurely stroll through a huge studio (both the victim and the putative murderer are artists) cluttered with artworks at all stages, finished, unfinished and projects, tools, materials and, well, the kind of clutter you find in a creative workplace. Then I took an even more leisurely stroll through the two exhibitions I liked best last time: Alberola and Evans. And after that I was able to go home in relative comfort, the incident being over in the metro.
A wonderful evening. It's a shame the other museums in the area (did I mention there are four within a 10 minute walk radius, plus countless others if I walk a bit more or hop on the metro for a few stations?) close much earlier than the Palais de Tokyo. But the musée d'art moderne opens late on Thursday and maybe the others also have "nocturne" days, so if the RATP times its incidents well, I might be able to visit them too.
I came across a comic book called Wet Moon and thought it might be interesting. Luckily I logged on to my Comixology account (which I rarely use) before buying it elsewhere, and found that I had already bought it, but left it unfinished. I like the art and the characters seem to be very lifelike, but that's the problem. The series follows the social misadventures of a bunch of messed up teenagers, and well, I don't want to know who thinks who has a fat ass or is a slut, in real life or in comic books. This kind of situation just makes me cringe. This time I skimmed to the end of the book, and I do think it's a good book, if you are not put off by the subject. But I am, very much, so I'm going give it two stars: one for my personal taste, and one more because well, I feel I'm being unfair.
I just watched Richard III on Arte replay. It was a German production filmed in Avignon last summer, so I wasn't sure which language it would be in. German, it turns out, with French subtitles and some of the most iconic passages repeated in English. As usual when I come into contact with Shakespeare, I recognized phrases that have become common in modern English but whose origin I didn't know. It starts with "The winter of our discontent" and ends with "Tomorrow in battle think of me" (in a context that gives it a meaning quite opposite to what I had in mind).
I enjoyed the play though it was a bit long (more than 2 and a half hours). I have to confess that I did some doodling on my iPad, but on the whole I kept my attention on the play and, as I said, enjoyed it. It's fascinating how Shakespeare (and the director, Thomas Ostermeier) manage to make all these intrigues and murders fun!
I think I should read the play now that the show is fresh in my memory, so I re-installed an iPad app I've had for ages but never used called "Shakespeare Pro". What a name!
Also, today I heard about another Shakespeare app that sounds very tempting. It's the first one of a series that plans to cover the whole repertoire, Heuristic Shakespeare, and this first installment is The Tempest, my favorite of the very few Shakespeare play I have seen. I will probably buy it.
>151 FlorenceArt: I hope the new job continues well Florence.
Hmmm, I have a ticket for the Taiwanese dance, at Sadlers Wells, on Friday!
>160 Caroline_McElwee: I hope you enjoy it! I did, just not as much as the previous one which was really exceptional.
That can happen Florence. So far I've not been disappinted in anything I've seen at Sadlers Wells, I go about half a dozen times a year. Of course, once in a while something really blows you away.
>160 Caroline_McElwee: Nice! I've passed by Sadler's Wells several times, especially when I've taken the 38 bus from Holborn to Islington to see plays at the Almeida Theatre or to my favorite barbershop on Balls Pond Road near Dalston Junction Overground station, but I haven't seen anything there yet.
Well next time your here, have a look and see if anything tempts you Darryl.
I spend a lot of time on 38 buses!
>165 Caroline_McElwee: Will do, Caroline. I won't make it to London in June, as I'll fly directly from Amsterdam to Barcelona, but Debbi, Joe and I are all planning to be there for two weeks in September.
I spend a lot of time on 38 buses!
Ha! I mainly take the Tube when I'm in London, but that line may be the one I take the most.
Thanks to Bragan, I now have two more books on my wishlist. The first one is the one she reviewed, Nonsense on Stilts, about the philosophy of science and pseudo-science. The second one came up while looking for the first on the site of the University of Chicago Press, and is on a related subject: The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument over What Makes Living Things Tick. Here is a blog post, written in most part by the book's author, in which she discusses the "real" reasons why Lamarck, who lay down much of the groundwork for the theory of evolution, is only remembered today for being wrong. It seems his theories were (and still are) disturbing, because they endanger the segregation of duties between science and religion that was established a couple of centuries ago and is still implicitly respected today. I find these insights into the sometimes irrational ways we arrive at rational knowledge fascinating.
>163 FlorenceArt: unfortunately Florence, I was incredibly tired on the night of the show, and had packing to do for a trip the next day, so only managed to see thirty minutes of the show. Interesting certainly. I'm not sure if I could have managed 90 minutes even if I weren't so tired, I'll admit. Though glad I saw what I did (and grateful to be sitting at the back to be able to sneak out quietly).
Oh, that's too bad! Hope you will be in better shape to enjoy the show next time.
It's difficult to say something meaningful about La place by Annie Ernaux. It's a short book that tells with great honesty the story of the author's relationship with her father. The "place" of the title is his place in society, if which he was always very aware and very ashamed. He wanted his daughter to be "better than him" and she was (in that sense at least), but as a result they didn't have much in common. I've already typed and erased several sentences, so I guess I'll only say that it really touched me. I will keep Annie Ernaux on my wishlist.
Giving up on Blast, a graphic novel (BD) by Manu Larcenet. Despite beautiful art, the story didn't catch my attention and it felt a bit pretentious. Perhaps also because I became aware of this book via the newsletter of an art publisher. I'm all for BD being recognized as art, but it can also have its negative side-effects.
According to one Amazon review, Larcenet has done better works, so I might look for them at the library.
I have a very long list of exhibitions to see, but I've been so lazy about actually going to see them, that several of them are getting dangerously close to their end. So I went and visited the Grand Palais tonight after work. My main goal was to see La terre, le feu, l'esprit (couldn't find a page in English...), an exhibition of Korean ceramics. Quantitatively it's relatively small, which was perfect because it gave me time to stop and admire the works, and they were practically all worth stopping for. This is ceramics as I love them, with minimalist, but often very lively, painted or engraved patterns. There were basically two colors, celadon and white (which often felt like a very light celadon actually). The shapes were simple, often with imperfections that made them even more beautiful.
After that I took a quick stroll through the Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso exhibition, which didn't really grab me except for a couple of paintings, mainly the one on the poster.
And finally I went to the "nave" to see Huang Yong Ping's "Empire" installation for Monumenta 2016.
To be honest, I had pretty low expectations for this one. But with these Monumenta exhibitions (I saw all of them except the next to last one which I stupidly missed), it's hard not to respond to the sheer gigantism of them. Plus there's always the wonderful metal and glass structure of the Grand Palais's nef, and in this case the containers. Containers are beautiful. The rest was OK I guess. The giant replica of Napoleon's hat was, as expected, highly uninteresting, but the dragon skeleton was cool. There were also performers in the room, sitting or lying on the ground so you didn't immediately notice they weren't just tired tourists. And a dancer, and some music. All this made for a generally pleasing experience, and the (for a change) nice weather helped my mood immensely.
On the whole, I'm very happy with my evening.
About books, well, I'm still leisurely making my way through Louis XVI, and also re-reading Mort.
Next-to-last dance show of the season tonight: La nuit transfigurée by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. A bit of a disappointment from a choreographer whose works I usually love. However, less of a disaster than last year, when I left in the middle of the show. This one was OK, but overly melodramatic. The music could have come straight out of a Hollywood movie of the 1950s or 60s. Even the dancing, while beautiful, played heavily on the traditional gender stereotypes of classical ballet: woman falls to the ground, man picks her up, woman jumps in the air and lands in man's arms... Thankfully it was short enough that I didn't have time to get really annoyed.
>176 FlorenceArt: I'm a big fan of ceramics. I recently went to a talk by Edmund De Waal, and am reading his book on white porcelain.
I know the feeling, too many exhibitions, so little time... As with books. I tend to blitz exhibitions, but have missed a few I'd have loved to have seen.
>178 baswood: Football match, what football match? Oh, you mean that little thing that all the media have been talking about nonstop for a month? I guess I missed it :-p
>179 Caroline_McElwee: I don't know if the Korean ceramic exhibition will travel, but if it crosses the channel, I highly recommend it!
Just received my DVD (I know, how quaint. It's just that I couldn't find a way to buy a dematerialized copy and actually get to watch it on my TV) of National Gallery (can't find it in the touchstones, maybe they don't work for videos). I'm looking forward to watching it, probably in several sessions since it's about 3 hours long I think.
Seems that I've been abandoning books more than finishing them lately. Anyway I'm late on my reviews.
Le dieu manchot (Baltasar and Blimunda). The writing was nice but never really dry me in, and when the plot started moving in a direction that made me uneasy, I gave up.
Horace. I felt I should give Corneille a chance after loving Racine so much, but judging by this play, there is no comparison.
Novecento. OK but I felt it was trying to hard to be poetic and moving. I am probably biased though, because this is a book that was lent to me, and I have a strong urge to hate books that I didn't chose myself.
Mort. A nice reread, but all my Pratchett rereads lately have been slightly disappointing. Maybe I should stop.
Louis XVI. The best book I've read so far on the French Revolution, it makes clear the chain of events without getting bogged down in details or ignoring the social and economic background that made them possible. Maybe slightly slanted in favor of Louis, who (like Marie-Antoinette) has often been misunderstood and underestimated. But this bias makes the book more interesting to read. I have a feeling it's not going to end well though...
Despite the world going (in the words of an Internet friend) batshit crazy, I just spent a wonderful afternoon in the Marais. I visited three exhibitions in the same street: Melvin Way at the Christian Berst gallery, Dédoublement at the Under construction gallery, and Alice et Mattia at the Sator gallery (my favorite).
Galleries are great but small, and I was in the mood for more art so I headed to the Centre Pompidou, had a drink at the cafeteria and went to have a look at the Arte povera exhibition. I thought it would be quick but I was wrong, I'll have to go back and see the whole exhibition. I saw a movie (two movies actually) about an incredible monument called Il grande cretto. It's a funereal monument to a village that was destroyed in an earthquake. One of the movies was a short presentation of the project, which was finally completed a couple of years ago after being interrupted in 1989 due to lack of funding. The other was a video installation showing dancers in the monument. Both films were great, and I was very impressed by this monument I had never heard about.
Also, I'm a bit behind on my posting but I did watch National Gallery. I enjoyed it, especially the second half (I saw it in three sittings as the movie is three hours long). The DVD cover says that the same author also made a movie about dance, I might try to find and watch it.
On the reading front, I finished the first story in Trois femmes puissantes by Marie N'diaye. I was a bit disappointed by the prose which felt rather clumsy at times, but the story was beautiful and well told, if not very original. I'm not sure what to think about this book. There are still two stories but I'll take my time getting to them I think.
I FINALLY finished Louis XVI, and it's the best book I've read this year. I feel that I finally have some idea how and why the revolution happened, as Petitfils explains the sequence of events very clearly. The other books I've read (or tried to read) try to analyze events without first describing them, and I was rather lost. As to the main protagonist, he comes out as a much more complex character than the traditional image we have of him. It's interesting to read this after Zweig's Marie-Antoinette. The opinion of historians in general has become more balanced toward this unfortunate couple. They were not perfect, but they were not as stupid and irresponsible as they once were thought to be. And of course, while Zweig tended to put more blame on Louis to exonerate Marie-Antoinette, Petitfils does the opposite. He might have a very slight tendency to be a bit too indulgent with his subject, but I think a biography makes a much better read if the biographer has some emotional investment in the biographee (not too much of course). This was not the case in the previous book by Petitfils that I read, Louis XIV, which left me unsatistied as I felt I really had no idea what kind of a man the Great King was.
Getting back to Louis XVI, he was obviously not the man of the situation. He lacked charisma, political sense and decisiveness. But he honestly tried to do his job as he saw it, to make things better for his subjects, to modernize the kingdom and the monarchy. He was prevented from doing it by an unlikely alliance of aristocrats and the people, who had of course very different goals, none of which were attained. Everybody lost at that game. I guess that's the usual way of revolutions, but what a waste.
Not sure what to start next in the non-fiction department. I'd like to read more about the revolution and later the empire. Another character who may be worth revisiting is Robespierre, and I have at least one book about him on the wishlist. And of course Napoleon, but so far I haven't found a biography that sounded good enough. But there are also many other things I'd like to read about...
As far as fiction goes, I seem to be in a reading slump, and abandoning book after book. Only light entertainment seems to satisfy me. Maybe I should just accept that. But I fear I'm running out of Heyers to read...
I have about 5 books and 5 graphic novels opened at various page amounts and even though I'm enjoying all of them I can't read. I've just put down books all entirely. I think it's the weather. It's finally summer and I just want to spend all day outside and just roam around and feel the heat on me and go to all the wonderful festivals and firework shows. Maybe I'll start reading again next year! lol
>184 lilisin: Enjoy your summer and forget about reading!
I think in my case it's more of a long term trend though, and it's rather frustrating. Reading novels has been the source of much pleasure in the past, I don't want to give it up, and yet I'm not reading.
>183 FlorenceArt: >184 lilisin:
I've had a lot of false starts lately too. Weather and news and Proms and travel are all distracting...
Oddly enough, I was also reading positive things about Louis XVI recently: he and M-A came out of Home: a short history of an idea rather favourably, as good influences on the development of furniture. But I don't think that's really enough to make me want to read a full-scale biography. Interesting, anyway.
You probably know it already, but in case you don't, Carpentier's El siglo de las luces is one of the most interesting novels I've read about about the French Revolution. And certainly a good page-turner for a slow summer.
>183 FlorenceArt: Louis XVI sounds really interesting. Congrats on finishing and sorry you're in a fiction slump. I think I've been in one of those for several years...it seems I need something extra to push me towards, and through, fiction. It's rare I can just pick up a book. (Maybe those last sentences weren't very helpful)
And I have started reading Hybrid: The History and Science of Plant Breeding, which I got as a University of Chicago press "free ebook of the month". I like the writing so far, and I find the subject timely and interesting. It seems almost a natural follow-up to An Orchard Invisible: a Natural History of Seeds which I got from the same source and found surprising enjoyable.
>189 FlorenceArt: Oh dear. You've just added at least one book to my wish list.
>190 SassyLassy: Oops, sorry ;-)
I think I can recommend them both, even though I have barely started Hybrid. But I already learned something!
I can't think of what I read, but I've had that view of Louis XVI for quite some time. He liked making things, I seem to remember? What on earth did I read? They were virtual prisoners and those people around them! The insanity of Versailles! Maybe it was a book about Versailles?
Yes, he liked making things and was interested in technology. He is famous for having set up a locksmith's shop in Versailles.
I don't think either of them was happy at Versailles. She had been brought up in the much more informal and free environment of the court at Vienna. He was brought up by bigots and had absolutely none of the social education necessary to negotiate the intricacies of Versailles court life, and manage to uphold pomp and protocol while carving out a private life for himself, as Louis XV and Louis XIV had done. There is a quote in the book (I forgot the name of the author quoted) saying that it was sadly paradoxical that they are considered symbols of the old order, when they were in fact among the very first modern sovereigns in Europe. They wanted a private life, and by insisting on it they made everyone angry, the court and the people.
Oh, and he also loved geography and maps, and drew some very good ones himself.
I am enjoying the TV series Versailles at the moment, but can't quite decide whether it is very good or very bad http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3830558/?ref_=nv_sr_1
Oo that sounds like a tv show I would really enjoy watching. More so in French but can't have it all. What network carries it?
Tonight, for the first time in ages, I watched a movie: I was intrigued by the article in Télérama and found it on Arte Replay. It's a soviet science-fiction film from 1962 called Planeta bur (La planète des tempêtes in French). Apparently it is considered to have influenced both Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas, through two American movies that used footage from it: Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women. With such a history, how could I resist watching it? Although to be honest I expected to lose interest after 20-30 minutes, which is usually what happens when I try to watch a movie these days.
In fact I watched it and enjoyed it to the end. It had of course some involuntary humor, and many similarities to Forbidden Planet and the original Star Trek series. The planet itself (Venus) was not very believable, bearing water, plants (some of them, of course, carnivorous) and remarkably earth-like animals, but no oxygen. But the plot was not bad and asked some interesting questions, and the ending did not solve anything, which I found extremely refreshing.
For anybody in France, it should be on Arte replay until Sunday night I think. Highly recommended, if you like vintage scifi.
Last time I was at the library, I picked up a book from the "new acquisitions" table: Fictions du corps by François Bon. The book is a collection of very short stories (flash fiction? prose poems?). It started out well enough, the stories were of the kind that don't quite make sense but still somehow do, or might if I thought about them but I prefer to just let them sit there at the edge of my memory and be weird. Unfortunately, this only lasted for a few pages, and the stories soon fell into predictable banalities about the alienation of modern life, the loneliness of big cities, bla bla bla. Too bad, it could have been good. Maybe he didn't have enough material to make a book. Or maybe it becomes a masterpiece in the second half, but if that's the case I will probably never know. The illustrations are nice.
Yesterday, in an attempt to avoid the heat (which didn't really work), I made a detour through the Palais de Tokyo on my way back from work. Because I work a few minutes from the museum, I recently took a yearly subscription that lets me visit whenever I feel like it, even if it's for a few minutes. Of course, now that I've made that commitment, I find I am disappointed by the exhibitions so far.
Anyway, last night I finally visited the exhibition put together by Michel Houellebecq: Rester vivant. Since then, I keep changing my mind about what I think about it. The exhibition itself is mildly interesting, the only thing that really stopped me was a sculpture by Renaud Marchand called Chimica matrix: a large plexiglass cylinder filled with water, in which colored inks are injected to form changing and subtle patterns. And also the room where the floor was covered with enlarged postcards of touristic locations in France. Houellebecq's photos are shown, and they go well with the postcards and airport announcements you hear when entering the exhibition space: they are just ordinary vacation photos, not bad but nothing any of us isn't capable of producing (and usually produces in large quantities). There is also a room dedicated to his late dog. Oh, and let's not forget his erotic photos. All of this is conspicuously ordinary, sometimes verging on the kitsch but mostly just the kind of stuff you could find in any of a million middle-class French homes. And it's glaringly obvious that none of this would be in the Palais de Tokyo if it didn't come from someone who has already made a name for himself in a different context.
So the whole interpretation of this show hinges on the question: does he realize this? Did he willingly throw a bunch of ordinary vacation photos at us in a kind of emperor's new clothes demonstration? Or does he really think he is an artist? If he doesn't think he is an artists does it make him one? And is the opposite true? Only in the contemporary art world can you come across this kind of dizzying conundrum.
From one hour to the next I change my mind regarding the answer to that question. But given the little I know about Houellebecq and the general feeling of subtle irony that pervades the show, I think it's not entirely unthinkable that he might be aware of the mockery it is. Which would, of course, make it true contemporary art and therefore not a mockery. Oh no, now my head is hurting again. I need a glass of wine.
I really must get around to reading one of his latest books. I've got La carte et le territoire on my iPad, and Soumission is also kind of tempting.
Nice review of the Houllebecq exhibition, Florence! I have both of the books you mentioned, but I haven't read either one yet.
I'll be spending a few days in Paris at the end of next month, toward the end of my vacation in London. Are there any exhibitions that you would highly recommend?
>202 baswood: You too Bas! I can't complain, I have air conditioning at work and at home I can take refuge in my underground bedroom, which is relatively cool.
>203 kidzdoc: It's hard to say right now, as the summer exhibitions are closing and the autumn ones haven't started yet. Of the exhibitions that I saw recently, only Beat Generation at Beaubourg will still be open when you are in Paris. Which reminds me, I forgot to post about it, didn't I? I do recommend it. It's an unusual exhibition since it's about people who used mostly writing to express themselves. There are very few artworks in the traditional sense but it's a kind of immersive experience with video, audio, texts, installations. It's a bit overwhelming but I chose to just wander around and soak it in rather than try to read and watch everything. I should probably visit again. I also have a yearly subscription at Beaubourg.
>204 FlorenceArt: Thanks, Florence. The Beat Generation exhibition does look interesting, so I'll likely go to it while I'm there.
Last night I watched a documentary on giant viruses. I learned a lot of things (which wasn't difficult since I know nothing about viruses) but of course it only scratched the surface, so I turned to Wikipedia afterward. I had no idea viruses are not considered living organisms (although this is debated) because they lack key characteristics that are part of most definitions of life. A virus is a parasite: it cannot replicate by itself and needs a host cell, which he uses to replicate its own genes, often killing the cell in the process. All living organisms can be infected by viruses: animals and humans get viruses, plants and fungi get viruses, bacteria get viruses, and even viruses get viruses (which is one argument in favor of them being living organisms, because in the words of one of the scientists interviewed, if it can get sick, it's alive). Giant viruses were discovered around 2000, and they raise a lot questions on what viruses are and where they come from. It's not very clear to me why they haven't been found before, but I suppose the answer is basically "because we weren't looking".
Luckily I happen to have A Planet of Viruses in my TBR list. I have to admit I had forgotten about this book, which I got in 2012 as a free ebook from University of Chicago Press. But it just moved to the top of my mental pile.
Copyright © Guerrilla Girls
Galleries are reopening after the summer break, so I visited several openings in the past 10 days. My favorite was the Guerilla Girls and La Barbe exhibition. No art, but a useful reminder of facts we are so used to accept we barely see them. I only disagreed with the "estrogen bomb" poster. No, women are not better than men. Sexism is just as wrong when it goes the other way.
Not reading much right now. I'm having too much fun time traveling. Visiting Dordogne and alternating between Paleolithic caves and medieval castles. And eating enough magret de canard for a whole year.
Hi Florence! That Guerrilla Girls poster reminds me of the excellent Georgia O'Keefe exhibition I saw at Tate Modern in London on Friday. She had to overcome numerous obstacles and mischaracterizations of her art throughout her career, and she remained underappreciated until late in her life.
My holidays are drawing to an end. I had a wonderful time in Dordogne and came back with several books on paleo-anthropology, plus one on order: L'Art des cavernes (Cave Art) by Jean Clottes. Back in Paris I visited several exhibitions: Josef Sudek (a Czech photographer) at the Jeu de Paume with Darryl (kidzdoc), Rembrandt at the Musée Jacquemart-André, and Spectaculaire Second Empire at Orsay. That last one was not as powerful as the prostitution exhibition I saw in the same museum, but interesting nonetheless. The exhibition starts with a striking painting of the ruins of the Palais des Tuileries, which was destroyed, along with several other monuments, during the Commune upheaval at the end of the French-German war in 1870. Between its unsavory beginning with a coup d'état and this catastrophic ending (the war ended with a humiliating defeat ant the loss of Alsace and Lorraine, plus the Commune), this 20 year period was very dynamic and successful, economically and from an international point of view, for France. It was also the beginning of things that shaped the world we live in today, for better or worse: capitalism and imperialism.
The exhibition focuses on the ostentatious parts of the culture : imperial propaganda, sumptuous architecture and furniture, the portrait boom (paintings and photographs). It was very interesting, even if a lot more could have been said, for instance on the effects of the industrial revolution for the poorer classes, which I'm sure had a lot to do with the violence of the commune. But I guess one exhibition could not cover all aspects of this fascinating period. I may look for some books on that subject. And of course I need to take up Zola again. I started Le ventre de Paris but have been neglecting it.
I really like the Jacqemart-Andé Florence. Glad you have had a good holiday, and caught up with Darryl too.
I am slowly getting to like Jacquemart-André too, even though it's a bit crowded. I still haven't taken the time to read about them (the people who owned the place and the collection).
Thanks, it was a great holiday!
It was great to meet you last month in Paris, Florence! I look forward to seeing you again soon.
Not reading much and having trouble finishing what I started. I read another Heyer, Faro's Daughter. Not her best but fun. And I just finished Les praticiens de l'infernal : destruction du littoral et césarienne interdite, a weird and completely nonsensical comic book. Funny, too. Probably just what I need right now.
Catching up on your enlightening thread. I too have been in a reading slump, and a review-posting slump, for what I do read. Your gallery/museum reviews are wonderful.
>219 FlorenceArt: Yes. I turn on the radio in the morning to catch the news, and then turn it off again, a moment later. Bleh.
Last night I visited the Palais de Tokyo. The good thing about having a subscription is that I can just wander in any time I want after work (it also helps that it's a 3 minute walk from work) and leave whenever I want without any pressure or expectation. It helped a lot last night, because the current exhibition is... not an exhibition. The huge underground space that used to be the cinémathèque française has been stripped bare (I thought it was bare before, but boy was I wrong), and apart from a few plants and a bar, there is nothing to see. Just a bunch of people singing (sometimes) or talking to the visitors about, I suppose, anything they want.
Neither the man who danced a little riddle for me when I walked in, nor that other guy who told me all his thoughts about what should be done with his body after he died (which may sound depressing but it wasn't really, and we had a very nice talk) will ever know how lucky they were that I didn't bite their head off the second they approached me, which would almost certainly had happened if I had forced to myself leave home and spend 2 hours on the subway during a weekend to see an exhibition and found this instead. As it was, I guess you could say I enjoyed the experience, at least I didn't hate it. And I got to see parts of the space that are normally hidden during exhibition, which was nice for the voyeur in me even though there was nothing particularly interesting to see.
I don't think I will visit again though, because now that I (more or less) know what to expect, I would be on the defensive and the experience would be much less enjoyable. On the other hand, I wonder if I missed something on the ground floor, which I didn't get to see because there were people queuing to see something, I asked what it was and nodded knowledgeably at the reply but I don't really know what it was.
A weird but interesting half hour, and a memory that will probably stay with me.
I do wonder if all these people have scripts or are just improvising. I'm sure all the answers are on the museum's site, but it's fun just to wonder.
What an odd exhibit.
Stopped by to say hi, realizing I haven't posted here in far too long.
>218 SassyLassy: Hoping the reading slump in the air drifts off somewhere.
When I was on holiday in Dordogne and visiting all the prehistoric caves I could find, I picked up Origines de l'humanité : les nouveaux scénarios (I just added the book and the milestone is not showing up yet). This book is a discussion on the current state of research and theory on the origins of humanity. It's really a discussion between four people, and therefore a bit too unstructured for my taste, but still interesting. It ends with a bibliography that should prove very useful, in case I ever come out of my reading slump...
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