Archive for Victor Hugo

reading highlights

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2021 by xi'an

A reading questionnaire I picked somewhere I cannot remember, a while ago, and filled in the lazy days after X’mas… Could have substituted each entry with dozens of others.

  1. Your first memorable reading experience : La Panthère Blanche (a pre-1960 children book about an albinos jaguar in the Amazonia I kept reading as a kid, and then I switched to compulsive bi-yearly reads of David Copperfield…)
  2.  Your hidden masterpiece : Kent’s Burial Rites
  3. An official masterpiece you could not complete : Melville’s Moby Dick (too much technical jargon)
  4. A writer you would dream to meet : Patrick Rothfuss (so that I could hear the end of the trilogy!), Karen Blixen, Victor Hugo, many others
  5. A favourite writer you would rather not meet : Louis Céline (definitely not a favourite person!)
  6. A book you would like to be the main character : Zeno in Yourcenar’s L’Œuvre au Noir (The Abyss)
  7. A book you offer by default : Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day
  8. A book that makes you laugh out loud : Paasilina’s The Year of the Hare
  9. A book you would rather read in the vernacular : every book not written in French or English

Wagram, morne plaine!

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Running with tags , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2020 by xi'an

Avenue de Wagram is one of the avenues leaving from Arc de Triomphe in Paris, named after a (bloody) Napoléonic battle (1809). This is also where I locked my bike today before joining my son for a quick lunch and where I found my back wheel completely dismantled when I came back!  Not only the wheel had been removed from the frame, but the axle had been taken away, damaging the ball bearing… After much cursing, I looked around for the different pieces and remounted the wheel on the bike. The return home to the local repair shop was slower than usual as the wheel was acting as a constant brake. I am somewhat bemused at this happening in the middle of the day, on a rather busy street and at the motivation for it. Disgruntled third year student furious with the mid-term exam? Unhappy author after a Biometrika rejection?

Not a great week for biking since I also crashed last weekend on my way back from the farmers’ market when my pannier full of vegetables got caught in between the spokes. Nothing broken, apart from a few scratches and my cell phone screen… [Note: the title is stolen from Hugo’s Waterloo! Morne plaine!, a terrible and endless poem about the ultimate battle of Napoléon in 1815. With a tenth of the deaths at Wagram… Unsurprisingly, no Avenue de Waterloo leaves from Arc de Triomphe! ]

the 101 favourite novels of Le Monde readers

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2020 by xi'an

Le Monde called its readers to vote for their five favourite novels, with no major surprise in the results, except maybe Harry Potter coming up top. Before Voyage au bout de la nuit and (the predictable) A la recherche du temps perdu. And a complete unknown, Damasio’s La Horde du Contrevent, as 12th and first science fiction book. Above both the Foundation novels (16th). And Dune (32nd). And Hyperion Cantos (52). But no Jules Verne! In a sense, it reflects upon the French high school curriculum on literature that almost uniquely focus on French 19th and 20th books. (Missing also Abe, Conrad, Chandler, Dickens, Ishiguro, Joyce, Kawabata, Madame de Lafayette, Levi, Morante, Naipaul, Rabelais, Rushdie, Singer, and so many others…) Interestingly (or not), Sartre did not make it to the list, despite his literature 1953 Nobel Prize, maybe because so few read the (appalling) books of his chemins de la liberté trilogy.

I did send my vote in due time but cannot remember for certain all the five titles I chose except for Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit (2nd), Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (74th) and maybe Fedor Dostoievski’s Brothers Karamazov (24th). Maybe not as I may have included Barbey d’Aurevilly’s L’ensorcelée, Iain Pears’ An instance at the fingerpost, and Graham Greene’s The End of the affair, neither of which made it in the list. Here are some books from the list that would have made it to my own 101 list, although not necessarily as my first choice of titles for authors like Hugo (1793!) or Malraux (l’Espoir). (Warning: Amazon Associate links).

Gone…! [Ash Monday]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2019 by xi'an

Even stronger and farther-reaching a symbol of Paris than the Eiffel Tower, the Notre-Dame-de-Paris cathedral is now burning down. Only Hugo can make for the memory of this monumental loss:

“Sur la face de cette vieille reine de nos cathédrales, à côté d’une ride on trouve toujours une cicatrice. Tempua edax, homo edacior; ce que je traduirais volontiers ainsi: le temps est aveugle, l’homme est stupide.” Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame-de-Paris, 1831

“Notre-Dame est aujourd’hui déserte, inanimée, morte. On sent qu’il y a quelque chose de disparu. Ce corps immense est vide; c’est un squelette; l’esprit l’a quitté, on en voit la place, et voilà tout.” Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame-de-Paris, 1831

“Tous les yeux s’étaient levés vers le haut de l’église. Ce qu’ils voyaient était extraordinaire. Sur le sommet de la galerie la plus élevée, plus haut que la rosace centrale, il y avait une grande flamme qui montait entre les deux clochers avec des tourbillons d’étincelles, une grande flamme désordonnée et furieuse dont le vent emportait par moments un lambeau dans la fumée. ” Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame-de-Paris, 1831

The spire is gone. The roof is gone. What’s terrible is that it survived the French revolution, which wanted to tear it down, the 1870 siege of Paris by Prussian troops, the Commune de Paris, the 1914-1918 canon bombs from German guns, the 1944 air bombings by Allied planes. (Once again an accidental fire started by maintenance works. As in the Brazilian Museum of Natural History, Windsor Castle, Glasgow, Rennes, &tc.)