Monday, April 23, 2018

My final presentation in France - book blogs are good

If you find yourself in France for an extended period, a couple of months, even, you are crazy not to track down and join the local branch of the Acceuil des Villes Françaises, the AVF.  The organization is for people new to the city, the members a fascinating mix of French and non-French.  Many of the French members are themselves new not just to the city but to France, having lived abroad for many years.

The benefits: meeting people, parties, practicing French, food, French, wine, French, parties.  The members are self-selected to be the friendliest people in France, and the most welcoming to outsiders.  They are also saintly in their patience, as I will demonstrate here.

Last week I gave a half-hour presentation on book blogs to an AVF audience, about a dozen people.  In French, a language I do not really know.  My French is a lot better than it was in September.  This was not a final presentation in a French course, but it sure felt like it.

An AVF member had organized a series of talks on “Passions,” meaning true amateurism, hobbies taken seriously.  Material for a blog, right?  Using myself as a case study, I showed what a blog is, how it works, and why it is useful, without putting much emphasis on literature as such.  The blog is an all-purpose form.

With no internet connection, I could not play around with the blog but had to screenshot every relevant item in advance.

So: screenshots, half-hour, general interest, and French-in-progress.  Those were the constraints.  That suggests the level of the talk.  I doubt I said anything that would surprise anybody.

I defined some terms.  I deployed the Samuel Johnson quote about how only blockheads write for free.  If I were writing for the blog, I would just drop in the word “blockhead” and assume every possible reader knew the Johnson quote already.  I used Wuthering Expectations to show some bloggy features, especially the comments and commenters.

I emphasized two things, really, first, the community or interactive side of blogs, the mysterious process by which actual humans who know a lot wander by and help me, and second, the remarkable international diversity of bloggers and blog readers.  I showed some examples, maybe even your blog!  Who can say.  Whatever arguments I might have against social media, the global connections among people with shared passions have worked as advertised.

I ended the talk with a bit of French-flattering English-bashing, all true, I am afraid, arguing that book blogs have had a special role in countering Anglophone insularity and connecting the small number of English-reading people interested in non-English literature, in so-called “literature in translation,” and have had a real, expansive influence on publishers, translators, and readers.  And how we need those books.

Before the talk, I asked for advice on Twitter – many thanks to everyone who contributed.  Some hint of every suggestion was somewhere in the talk.  Ma femme gave a short, illustrated talk on beautiful libraries before my section, which surely helped put the audience on a good mood.  And there was, as always, wine, and snacks, and pastry.  I guess there were worse things than enduring my talk.  Still, what kindness.  Endless thanks to the Lyon AVF, international branch.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Today at the Quais du Polar: French class and translation class - maybe it's not perfect but maybe it's great

A better view of the Quais du Polar bookstore on Sunday morning.  I figured out that I could go upstairs for a picture.  While we were waiting in line for the building to open, employees were hauling in more books.

Today was like a school day for me.  Aural comprehension day.  I went to a discussion of the social noir by my new anti-hero Jean-Bernard Pouy and several other writers, all in French, too fast, too difficult.  Pouy has written, I learned today, a crime novel featuring and partly narrated by a telepathic cow.  Larchmütz 6532 (1999) is the title.  I am learning a lot.

The next panel was about food in mysteries, this time in French and Italian but fortunately much easier to understand, but still exhausting, eventually, and the writer who was hardest to understand – who spoke most rapidly – seemed honestly way more interested in food as a vehicle for the delivery of poison than as an expression of culture.  I know, a mystery writer  who can’t stop talking about poison – a comic figure I have now encountered in so-called real life.

I ended the festival at a Translation Joust, a friendly but rigorous public translation seminar.  Two young French translators independently worked up the first chapter of a novel-in-progress, Blackwood, by Michael Farris Smith, not really a mystery or detective writer at all, but a testament to the expansiveness of the French term polar.  The two translations and the original were projected, side by side, for all to see.

I first thought that this process would be painful for the translators, but at least as much wincing came from the author.  More than once, after the translators went over a difficult phrase, Smith would say a bit about what he had been thinking and finish with “But I think I’m going to cut that.”  Once, we, the audience, or at least some of us, had to overrule him.  “Noooo, noooo!”

Smith is, in this book, this chapter, at least, a blatant Faulknerian.  Light stream of consciousness, long sentences with biblical cadences and surprising intrusions, followed by strings of fragments.  If these translators were expecting a mystery, boy were they surprised.  This text was hard.

There was one relatively simple sentence where the translators made different choices for every possible word.  As one translator noted, they had just three words in common, and those were the equivalents of “he,” “the,” and “of.”  Different nouns, verbs, and adjectives.  For “street lamps,” one “réverbères” and one “lampadaires.”  And – here is the great lesson – both sentences were good translations!

In ten years of reading book blogs, I rarely saw anyone reading William Faulkner, and much of what I did see was in a spirit of fear and loathing.  I don’t, as usual, get it.  But today I saw a real Faulknerian get the same response.

A few older members of the audience seemed genuinely freaked out by the end of the phrase “he walked in the satisfaction of night,” which both translators had as “la satisfaction de la nuit,” just word for word.  An “anglicism,” the protestors said.  A translation error.  But the translators pushed back – “satisfaction” is an ordinary French word; it is the English that is unusual, poeticized.  Over-written, maybe, but truly Smith’s, an example of his style, which has a strong flavor.  It is the common problem, that a reader dislikes an author’s style but blames the translator.

It was to a different example, but this response of Smith's was good: “maybe it's not perfect but maybe it's great.”  I like authors who think like that.

This was an instructive session, an instructive book festival.  Nerve-wracking for the author, in this case, but they usually seemed to be having a good time.  Get your mystery novel written and get invited, that is my advice to you.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

noir, metaphysical and hopeless - having fun at the Quais du Polar

The core of the Quais du Polar is a giant bookstore.  The big hall of the Bourse, the 19th century stock exchange, is occupied by ten local booksellers, all medium to small independents, with huge heaps of books, the piles sometimes concealing the authors.  How the authors are assigned to particular bookstores I do not know.  C. J. Tudor, signing away, took better photos than I did.

The last time I was in this hall, it was for an organic wine expo.  That was also nice, and much less crowded.  The French are more serious about crime novels than about organic wine!

The other surprise has been how muted the publishers have been.  Aside from sponsoring the hamburger truck, they are concealed.  I cannot help but contrast to the Frankfurt Book Fair, which was about publishers, agents, and book rights, not books.  The Quais du Polar is about books and writers.  And readers.  I see people reading more here, reading one of their new, newly-signed books.

I had the public library’s copy of Jean-Bernard Pouy’s A Brief History of the Noir Novel with me, and I wanted to get him to sign it, but ma femme seemed to be against that.  I asked Pouy and he seemed fine with it, but he would be, since one chapter of his book is devoted to pessimists and nihilists and two chapters contain nothing but weird stuff, the craziest books.  Has anyone wandering by read Peter Loughram’s The Train Ride (1966), for example?  “[T]his descent into hell is one of the most noir, metaphysical and hopeless novels that the history of the genre warms in its moist and malodorous folds” (p. 80, translation mine, be suspicious).

So anyway I bought my own copy; he signed that; the library book is pristine.

I went to an event featuring Patricia MacDonald, Camilla Grebe, C. J. Tudor, and two debut novelists, all of whom have recently written novels about old crimes that have returned, so that the novels have multiple time frames.  The moderator said that his Belgian teen students hated flashbacks because flashbacks are for adults, who look into the past, while young people look to the future – I congratulate whichever Belgian kid came up with that bit of sophistry.  The mystery writers were dismayed, visibly dismayed, every one of them.  Otherwise, this panel of professionals gave predictably professional answers.  Patricia MacDonald only spoke in French, which impressed me.

More doomy and interesting was a panel of Deon Meyer (South African) and Yana Vagner (Russian), both mystery writers who have written disease-apocalypse novels.  Meyer’s book was openly a kind of Year Zero Utopia, but Vagner’s seemed truly grim.  Her direct quote about her characters, transcribed into my notebook: “They all know that they are doomed.”

The happy part of the story is that Vagner, not a professional writer, not a fiction writer, wrote the novel directly to her blog, a chapter at a time, picking up an audience, and a publisher, and a movie deal along the way.  It’s the blogger dream!  Meyer was stunned, and kept interrupting her with questions.  Stunned and impressed.  Me, too.

One more crime day.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Quai du Polars, Lyon's big detective novel festival, begins tomorrow - everything is in everything

The Quais du Polar, Lyon’s author-centered celebration of the polar, the crime novel, begins tomorrow.  Readers of Book around the Corner are well aware of the pleasures of this book festival.  My impression, not just from her but from other things I have read, is that it is a favorite of authors, which is why it attracts such a substantial group of international mystery authors.  Camilla Läckberg, Harlan Coben, and Ian Rankin are the biggest names this year.  I think.  See below.

Of course the festival is attractive to authors.  It is in Lyon.  Just think of what they will be given to eat and drink.  I am thinking of it now.  I plan to eat and drink more or less whatever they are having.  Lyon is so pleasant, and so well-fed.

The second* real problem, for me, is that I do not particularly care about crime novels, not as such, not as a fan, and thus the third problem is that I do not feel like I know that much about them.

The latter problem I know how to fix, by reading.  Over the last several months, with the help of the surprising English-language collection of the Lyon municipal library, I read many crime writers I had never read before, one book apiece: Agatha Christie, John Buchan, Erle Stanley Gardner, B. Traven, Anthony Berkeley, Francis Iles (the last two are the same person, I know), Geoffrey Household, Eric Ambler, Len Deighton, Stanley Ellin, Craig Johnson (he’ll be at the festival – maybe he is also one of the biggest names).  I relied heavily on the “Top 100” lists of the British Crime Writers’ Association and the Mystery Writers of America, alongside the odder and more interesting 100 Best Crime & Mystery Books by H. R. F. Keating.

I also read, in French, books by Maurice Leblanc, Gaston Leroux, Fred Vargas, Thierry Jonquet (plus another Georges Simenon).

My tastes in the genre run to weird stuff, anti-mysteries, but I enjoyed all of these writers on their own terms.  They all had their surprises.

Maybe I like crime fiction more than I realize.  Jean-Bernard Pouy’s Une brève histoire du roman noir (A Brief History of the Crime Novel, 2009) invokes, in the first chapter, Robert Louis Stevenson, Émile Zola, and Thomas de Quincey along with many other examples that I have mostly read.  He argues for, well:

For example.  Oedipus Rex ( - 430), by Sophocles, is a crime novel.  The proof is that it has been published in the “Série noire” in 1994, and that was at the time more than a cultural provocation, but the confession, late, that in literature also, and maybe mostly, everything is in everything.  (p. 13, translation mine)

The “Série noire” has been the French prestige series for mysteries, home of Chandler and Hammett, for example, since 1945.  I had a tiny suspicion that Pouy was joking (and he is, with the word “proof,”) but the bookstore at the mall had three copies of this specific Oedipe roi on the shelf.  In the mystery section.  Three copies of a translation of Sophocles.  In the bookstore at the mall**.

This Pouy book is great fun.  He’ll be at the Quais du Polar, too.  The festival should also be great fun.  My hope is that I will come across things worth writing about here.

*  The first problem is that the language of the Quais du Polar is French.  How good is Ian Rankin’s French?  I guess I will find out.

**  The mall is adjacent, almost attached, to the big public library, where I am writing this piece.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Literary branding in Lisbon and Lyon

In Lisbon, where I vacationed recently, images of Fernando Pessoa were everywhere, in street art, on mugs and shirts and puzzles, even on books.  This lovely tile example is near the Pantheon, overseeing the Saturday flea market where I bought my own Pessoa souvenir, a €1 tile with the image of Pessoa used on the cover of one of the many Richard Zenith translations.  There were three different Pessoa tiles available.  That seems like a lot to me.

Maybe it is not.  Maybe more cities than I know use once-obscure Modernist writers as their mascot, as their brand.  Kafka in Prague.  Others?  There should be others.  The portrait of Pessoa amounts to a moustache, glasses, and a hat, so it is endlessly flexible and instantly recognizable.  Why is New York City not full of stylized Marianne Moore art?  She wore a distinctive hat.  She was even famous while alive.

Lisbon’s pride in its writers is so great that it was easy to find souvenirs for other writers, the most thorough being a little box meant to contain a tealight; one side of the box had a caricature of Pessoa, of course, and the others had Luís de Camões, José Maria de Eça de Queirós, and José Saramago.  I know that Saramago has had international best-sellers, but it is hard to believe that this is an item for non-Portuguese tourists.  More Eça stuff is visible on the right.

I wondered about Lyon.  It should be more heavily stamped with writers.  The airport is named after Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, but images of the Little Prince are rare.  Even this snowy statue of the Prince and the Aviator is almost hidden, a surprise.  Maybe the Little Prince is too expensive.

François Rabelais is public domain.  He was only in Lyon for a few years, working as a doctor in the Hôtel-Dieu, the big Renaissance hospital, and editing humanist texts with his printer friends, but these are also the years that he wrote and published both Pantagruel (1532) and Gargantua (1534).  The renovated hospital is about to reopen as a gargantuan International City of Gastronomy, whatever that is, the perfect setting for cartoons of Rabelais, Gargantua, and Pantagruel.

Too openly gluttonous, maybe, and anyway Lyon already has its literary restaurant mascot, the puppet Guignol, created in Lyon in the early 19th century.  Although here he has a popsicle, he is normally carrying a wooden club.  It makes a deeply satisfying thwack against the heads of other puppets.  “Should I hit him [the pirate] again, or has he had enough,” Guignol asked the children at the performance I saw.  Guess how the children responded.  Guignol is a version of Punch, but friendlier and much less weird.

That performance, at La Maison de Guignol, included a surprise guest appearance by another Lyon icon, not exactly literary, although he is responsible for a number of books.  Please see this article in the regional paper Le Progres for the origin of the puppet of Paul Bocuse.  The pirates, in this play, kidnap M. Paul for their ship’s mess, as is logical.  Bocuse had died just a few weeks before we saw the play, which was not stopping anybody.  They even added a line: “You can’t kill me, I’m already dead!”  French theater works fast, and is ruthless.

Images of Paul Bocuse are everywhere in Lyon, is my point.  Maybe they will fade away, but maybe not.  Maybe a hundred years from now, this will be the Platonic ideal of what a chef looks like. He is not a literary character yet, but might become one.  Still, the city’s branders should make room for Rabelais and Gargantua, for the legendary gluttons who swallow of all that great, bold, heavy Lyon food and wine.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Encounters with Rousseau and Borges in Geneva

I was recently on vacation, in Lyon and Burgundy, a food-and-wine vacation, of little literary interest.  Well, try the Memoirs of Phillippe de Commines for some firsthand Burgundy history.  The Duchy, not the wine, I mean.

Aside from that, we ended up, briefly, in Geneva, where we visited the birthplace of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the upstairs of which is now, how to describe it, a narrated, illustrated encyclopedia entry.  How fun does that sound.  Not worth visiting except as a pilgrimage, and an excuse to think about this complex, and, to me, confusing figure.  So, put that way, worth visiting, absolutely.

A bit down the street, this tribute to Jorge Luis Borges:

“Of all the cities in the world,
of all the intimate homelands
that a man searches for (to deserve)
in the course of his travels,
Geneva seems to me
the most propitious
to happiness.”  (translation mine, obviously; third line a puzzler)

Geneva has no place at all in my idea of Borges, but my idea is wrong.  He went to John Calvin High School, for pity’s sake.  That is a true Genevan credential.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Playing with fire in France - Lyon's Fête des lumières

For the last four days, for just two hours a day, a big chunk of the center of Lyon has been converted into a kind of artsy urban theme park.  The theme is light – illuminations, light sculptures, and short films projected against every convenient large flat surface.  It's the Fête des lumières!

It is something to see, a French city emptied of cars and buses, surrounded by soldiers, and packed with people – several million people – wandering around, sipping hot wine, and taking what must be some desperately bad cell phone photos of light-based art exhibits.  I know most of my photos were awful.

This one is not bad.  An example of a light sculpture, the flying fish flapping around.  Or perhaps it is a bird, since I know, in spite of the bad crowd, that there is a nest in middle of the fountain, because I saw people constructing it earlier in the week.  I know there is a fountain because etc.  This is one of the pleasures of living in Lyon, witnessing not just the festival but the preparations for the festival.  To see a bubble appear around a fountain.

The short films attract large enough – enormous – crowds that I was being literal about the theme park.  Ordinary city streets are converted into cattle chutes, or whatever they call the crowd-control corridors at Disney World.  Get in line, wait, advance, wait, and emerge in one of the big city plazas to watch the cartoon.  The highlight for me was the tribute to film (visible on Youtube) that made simultaneous use of the facades of the City Hall and the Art Museum.  Only in France would the films selected for a cute cartoon make a pretty decent syllabus for an Intro to Film course; only in Lyon would the spectacle start with a long excerpt from Workers Leaving the Factory, the first film.

Curiously, the festival has a religious purpose as well.  The first sign that the festival was upon us was the appearance of the illuminated words “MERCI MARIE” on the hill over the city.  A religious procession mounts the hill and thanks Mary for protecting the city from pestilence and revolution and so on.  I glimpsed the procession on Friday while helping build a candle-sculpture at the base of a Roman amphitheater.  You can see the shape of the head, yes?

That night, the wind and rain and sleet were so bad that there were not many candles lit when we gave up.  Saturday, the weather was good and the artist was more ambitious, so it was a solid two hours of lighting candles with a gas campfire starter.  I am not sure what the design is, exactly, because by the time we had the whole thing lit, the crowds above us were too thick to bother with.

I was supposed to help again tonight, but the weather was and is too miserable.  Still: constructing candle art that a million people will see in a Roman theater while a procession of priests pass by – when else will I have the chance to do this?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Lyon dispatch - the Lumière film festival

The Lumière film festival is wrapping up as I write.  Lyon is the city where film was invented, more or less, by the Lumière brothers, and the festival, a recent invention, only in its ninth year, is a tribute to that history.  It is not a showcase for new films, but a massive course in film history, from the French perspective.  The big – or biggest – retrospective features were for Wong Kar-wai, Henri-Georges Clouzot, and Harold Lloyd, which gives an idea of the scope.  It is a festival where five thousand people fill a giant hall to see Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love, and on another night five thousand fill the same space to see The Lion King.

I have perhaps alluded in the past to some aspects of French culture that I envy.  The Lumière festival was in this sense a painful week for me.  I will describe a single event.

Here we see the Hangar of the First Film at the Institut Lumière.  The festival’s screenings are scattered all over the city, but this theater is the headquarters.  The movie theater is literally built on the site of the first film, Workers Leaving the Factory (1895).  The theater is built out of and around the remnants of the building featured in the first film ever made.

I mean, come on.  I am going to see King Kong (1933) here.  I had already been here, before the festival, to see the restorations of Jean Vigo’s L’Atlante and Zero de Conduite.  The regular programming of the Institut Lumière is a year-round film festival.

The chairs at the hangar have little brass plaques on the arms with the names of important filmmakers.  I am sitting “between” Buster Keaton and Stanley Kubrick.  As with every event at the festival, nearly every seat is filled, a substantial number of them by schoolchildren.  Almost every film I saw was attended by school groups.  Every film is introduced, often by someone well-known.  A random early Clouzot movie I saw was introduced by Vincent Perez.  But this time we get:

On the left is the director of the festival; in the center is Bertrand Tavernier, president of the Institut and one of France’s greatest living directors; on the right is Michel Le Bris, who is talking about (see screen) Kong, his new 950-page novel about the directors of King Kong.  Le Bris is among other things a Robert Louis Stevenson expert.  How I would like to read this book.  Maybe someday.

My point is that at a screening of King Kong, the first twenty minutes are spent in the discussion of a novel, and the film itself is discussed as if it is something serious, as if it is a work of art, and this is all taken as entirely normal not just by the film buffs but by a hundred or two French school kids.

To top it off, Tavernier, who presumably has things to do, sits down to watch King Kong with the rest of us.  Afterwards, on the way out, I speak to him.  I tell him that he had created a beautiful film festival.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Frankfurt dispatch - notes on the Frankfurt Book Fair

The Frankfurt Book Fair originated soon after the invention of the Gutenberg printing press.  I recently browsed through a history of early modern publishing that used the Fair’s records to quantify 16th century international publishing, the early years, circa let’s say 1570, when Venetian publishers brought a total of forty books to the fair, and Dutch publishers brought another thirty, and so on, an international book fair with a hundred books.

Now, well, this is one of three floors of the English-language building, with the enormous Harper-Collins campus sort of visible in the upper right.  Or maybe fortress is the right word, since it was the least welcoming space at the Fair.  The books were present as samples for the salespeople to use.  The fortress was full of little tables, each one the site of some kind of meeting.

The Frankfurt Book Fair exists for the purpose of facilitating meetings, at which the rights to publish books are sold.  Not books, but the rights to books.  Deeply interested in literature but not so much in books, I experienced the Fair as a great mystery, less of a glimpse behind the veil than a sustained look at the veil.  I still don’t really understand what is behind it.

But if I wonder why was this book translated instead of that one, why is this book available in the U.S. but not in England, why does this book exist at all, much of the answer was there in Frankfurt.  A Random House rep met with a Catalonian publisher, and said yes to this book and no to the rest of the pile.  Who, away from that little table, really knows why.  Lots of reasons.  At the Fair, I got to see all of this without understanding it.

Three big floors of English-language publishers, two floors (plus) of German publishers, two floors (plus) of the rest of the world.  And additional areas for scientific publishing, education, religion, travel, maps, greeting cards, and an endlessly interesting area filled with nothing but art book publishers, including the strange subset of publishers of facsimile editions covered in gold and jewels.

Part of why it was so interesting to me was that I did not need so much German among the art books, I admit that.  The Fair would have been a lot more fun if I had German.  This is also why I kept returning to the food and cooking area, where there were samples, wine, and a demonstration kitchen where the default language was English.  Plus, I mentioned samples?

The biggest celebrity I saw just wandering around was Dany Laferrière, the only Academician I have seen in real life.  I saw Péter Nádas being interviewed for a television program, and stumbled across Wim Wenders plugging his new book.  Meine Frau came across Reinhold Messner, who beats the others, I think, as a celebrity.

More pleasurable was meeting Lisa of Lizok’s Bookshelf, who was at the Fair fighting the good fight for Russian translations.  Thanks for the time and conversation, Lisa!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A footnote to the food in Lyon – the Spicy Dallas Burger Pizza

The point of photographing this horror, advertised all over Lyon, is not to note that potheads are everywhere but rather to puzzle over the culinary associations French marketers attached, and expect some segment of the French pizza audience to attach, to the word “Dallas.”  Does the city go with “spicy”?  Or “burger”?  Steaks would not be so strange, in a generalized Texas sense.

The café chain Flunch has a Tennessee Rosti Burger that is just as puzzling.  The rösti is Swiss, and Tennessee evokes – nothing at all?  Maybe the burger is tobacco-flavored.  Memphis, now Memphis has a lot of associations, not one of which are present in the Tennessee Rosti Burger.

Someday I will write something about food I have actually eaten in France, good good food.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Lyon dispatch - "the food" - the best thing that will happen to you

“The food” is good in France, I am told.  And it is.  After a month in Paris, we have relocated more permanently to Lyon, long known as the “gastronomic capital of France,” which sounds like the food here ought to be even better.  Arguable.  Arguable both ways.

The nutshell story of Lyon is that a generation or two of chefs, mostly women, converted a regional urban cuisine into high culinary art and in their restaurant kitchens trained a couple of generations of chefs, mostly men, who continued and extended the tradition.  Many of the chefs were part of the nouvelle cuisine movement of the 1970s, an innovative time in French cooking.

At a street food festival I acquired a piece of propaganda about Lyon’s food that is full of statistics.  Four thousand restaurants in Lyon, or one per 334 people.  Michelin stars: 23, three of them belonging to the legendary Paul Bocuse, making Lyon the fourth-most “starred” city in Europe, greatly disproportionate for its size.  477 bakeries, 298 butchers, a paltry 28 fish sellers, but Lyon is not exactly near the sea.  I have little idea what these numbers actually mean.  The density of restaurants does feel thick compared to anywhere else I have been in France, and the bakeries do feel like they are on every other corner.

Lyon’s reputation as a restaurant city means it gets massive numbers of restaurant tourists, thus supporting not just all of those Michelin stars but several more levels of restaurants, including the famous bouchons, specialists in a particular strain of traditional Lyonnaise cuisine.  For writers like Ruth Reichl or Elizabeth David, this food is not especially good, heavy and brown when good food should be light and green.  I love it, but how often can a person really eat at such a place?  Sausages, liver, tripe, huge amounts of butter – I would quickly develop gout.  Similarly, what do all of those Michelin stars have to do with me?  If I ate at those too often, I would quickly develop poverty.  (Please click on “À LA CARTE AND SET MENUS” to see a PDF of the current menu at Paul Bocuse).

It seems that Lyon has become in some ways a kind of restaurant museum city, providing perfect copies of a range of classic dishes rather than innovating.  On an individual level, of course, who cares?  Cooking is in many ways the art of the perfect copy.

Lyon did add an innovation to French cuisine recently.  The taco Lyonnais was invented circa 2001 in a suburb a bit west of me.  It is a North African sandwich, meat and cheese wrapped in a flatbread and grilled in a panini maker.  It thus resembles a Mexican-American burrito quite a bit, a Mexican taco very little.  How the word “taco” got attached to it I do not know, but the sandwich has permeated not just Lyon but France more generally.

See, for example, Takos King, in the Place Joachim-du-Bellay in the center of Paris, the home of “Authentic French Takos” which promise, on the left, to be “The Best Thing That Will Happen To You.”  Just to the right – I took a photo but sadly it stinks – is an O’Tacos, which on that August evening had a long line.  O’Tacos is a franchise that has dropped the identification with Lyon, and has made its own innovation with the Gigataco – more than two kilograms! – and with, I wish I were kidding, eating contests.

The taco Lyonnais is now established French food, even if it is not eaten universally.  My guess is that people with or who will soon have high blood alcohol levels make up a lot of the customers at O’Tacos.  But it is part of “the food” in France, which is perhaps not always good.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Paris museums - but you do go

In the museums you will find acres of the most strange and fascinating things; but all museums are fascinating, and they do so tire your eyes, and break your back, and burn out your vitalities with their consuming interest.  You always say you will never go again, but you do go.  (Mark Twain, Following the Equator, 1897, Ch. 16)

I went to a museum or museum-like location almost every day that I was in Paris, sometimes, even, if they were small enough and I was fool enough, two a day.  I have now been to a small fraction of the museums of Paris.


The Museum of Art and Design had the first airplane to cross the English Channel (the top one pictured, I think), and a steam-powered bus that was the first motorized vehicle allowed to drive in Paris, and a diving suit that never worked but looks cool, and, what else, Lavoisier’s test tubes, and a display of the evolution of the eggbeater, not prominently featured, but they had it.

This is basically the French patent museum, full of prototypes, dead ends, and revolutions  Amply strange and fascinating.

On the same day, I went to the Museum of the National Archives, both museums reminding me that I am in a capital city, where amidst facsimiles of Napoleon’s will, the Edict of Nantes, and the letter authorizing the Albigensian Crusade, there was this:


It’s the Infernal Machine – each pipe is a firearm – that nearly assassinated King Louis-Philippe in 1835, and did kill eighteen other people.  A hand-constructed, terrible object, not a facsimile but the actual fragment of history, set out among the charters and constitutions for some reason.

The museums of Asian and Pacific art were as strange and fascinating as anything in Paris.  The small-scale Musée Cernuschi, the Guimet (ancient) and Quai Branly-Jacque Chirac (more recent).  What Surrealist ever bettered the wooden Melanesian reliquary, part tuna, part shark, impaling a little man on its beak, and containing a human skull.  This object did not come to Paris until 1935; the Surrealists who saw it must have despaired.


The objects in the Western and non-Western museums are in deep conversation.  The 1845 J. M. W. Turner painting at the Louvre (right), which I swear looked more orange in person, and this Australian dream painting by Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, which depicts the dream of a mouse (below), seemed to have a lot to say to each other.  Formally, I mean.  When I came across the latter, I thought “Didn’t I just see this at the Louvre”?


That Turner was the last painting I really saw at the Louvre.  Where I got the strength, I do not know.  It was getting late, the crowd had become preposterous, and I was no longer looking at art but at people looking at art, or more precisely at people taking photos of people taking photos of art.  And who could blame them.  I was in the long red gallery filled with the most famous French paintings – Gericault’s “The Raft of the Medusa,” Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People,” and Napoleon in a number of monumental scenes.  How is anyone supposed to actually look at these things, as paintings, as art, even without the company of hundreds of other people.  We were mostly there, like those in line to see “Mona Lisa,” to acknowledge the celebrity of the paintings.

When I start thinking like this, it means my vitalities have been plumb burnt out, and the smart thing is to trade the museum for coffee, which is what I did.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Paris dispatch - empty, except for all the people

Paris is empty in August, I read, a “ghost town.”   It is like having it to myself.  “Everyone” goes on vacation for a month.  I am Googling around, finding these descriptions.  Sure, I think, except for all of the people, and I do not mean the tourists, who are thick on the ground but in predictable locations.  But everywhere I go, Paris is full of people.  I like to think I know how hyperbole and metaphor work, but a metaphor should mean something, yes?  The stark exceptions are the residential and moneyed 16th and 17th arrondisements.  Some fraction close to “everyone” may well be away.

In the 13th arrondisement, in the southeast of Paris, where I am staying, “everyone” is far from everyone.  I have been confused since our first night here, when the Tuesday-night crowd at Bercy Village, a line of restaurants tucked into cute little 19th century wine caves, looked exactly like, and presumably were, young professionals having dinner after work.  Just as the even younger crowd having lunch outside of the Create Zone, Share Zone, and Chill Zone, “the world’s largest startup campus,” look like they work there.  Or chill or share or whatever they are do.  They are not on vacation.

Nor are the dozen or more African immigrants, all men, wandering around the Champs du Mars with their plastic Eiffel Towers on wire rings.  I suspect that their vacations are more accurately called “seasonal unemployment.”  I wonder who they work for.  When someone says that Paris is “empty,” they are not counting any of these people.

I believe it is the roof of the Chill Zone visible in the view from my apartment window, at the bottom.  On the left are two of the four towers of the National Library, and on the right a glimpse of the other two; in a better view they would look like open books, set on end, maybe.  The structure in progress is one of a long line of post-modern apartment buildings, classic decorated boxes, being built atop the train lines running south form the Gare d’Austerlitz.  I would not call Paris a construction site, any more than I would call it empty, but construction workers are another group not on vacation.

I have no idea what any given neighborhood looks like normally.  I’ll have to come back some time to see.  Meanwhile, I am enjoying the relative emptiness of the city by bicycling all around it, trying to learn how the pieces of the city fit together.  There is no good substitute for physically moving among spaces.  Well, maps are a good substitute.  There is no great substitute.

I hope that in novels, history, and news stories, Paris will now have a new concreteness for me.  Who knows.  I’m covering a lot of ground, at least.  The greatest danger of bicycling in this city, at least in the lighter August traffic, is that there are too many distractions.  It is all too continually interesting.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Thanks for everything - leaving the 19th century

With a deep sigh of relief, the traveler turned back to France.  There he felt safe.  (Education, Ch. XXXI)

The Education of Henry Adams (1907) would be, I thought as I was reading it, the perfect last book to write about at Wuthering Expectations.  It is more or less exactly about the disintegration of the 19th century in the 20th, a memoir of change, of obsolescence.

So I am using it this week as a source of context-free quotations that I find hilarious.  There are many more that I am not going to use.  What a great book!

Today, finishing Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth (1905), I have completed my non-neurotic chronological reading of Western literature through 1909; Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge awaits in 1910, based on a list I made twenty years ago and have fussed with and expanded ever since.  Any such list is capricious and arbitrary, but everything I have read has been displayed in public for the past ten years, so it should be clear enough that I have not been all that capricious.  It has been a little more substantial than a push through some “100 Greatest” list.   In the sense of dragging my eyes a single time across the pages of well-known books, I have covered a lot.  I make no claim beyond that.  Real experts do not read like this.

I keep the list in a spreadsheet.  No, you cannot have it.  It is essential, for your education, that you make your own.  I mean, if you are tempted by this kind of thing.

My 19th century Humiliations, the most famous 19th century books I have not read, are now, I don’t know, The Last of the Mohicans, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, The House of the Dead, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  I should read a Maupassant novel some time, right?  We could extend this list.

As happy as I am to extend the long 19th century to November 11, 1918, if I were not going to France I would still face this problem a year from now – I am moving away from the 19th century.  My chronological drift has taken me far from the 1830s, where I happened to be back in 2007. I am, aside from the usual re-reading, more curious about what is going on in the 1910s and 1920s.  My real Humiliations are The Magic Mountain, The Age of Innocence, Sons and Lovers, and The Master and Margarita.  I want to revisit some writers I have not read for a long time, maybe decades – Kafka, Faulkner, Woolf.  Heck, I am more interested in finally trying The Tale of Genji or The Dream of the Red Chamber than reading my fifteenth Trollope novel, as much as I would enjoy it.

None of this will happen now, or for a long time.  Instead, I will go to France.  I do not want to guess how much reading I will do, much less what reading, or what I will do with it, or what I will want to read, or write, once I return.

What an adventure!

As a final note, I want to thank everyone who had the energy to leave a comment or correction, here or elsewhere.  I have learned so much from other readers.  This is my selfish, but selflessly selfish, reason for writing Wuthering Expectation.  On paper, all of my factual errors, bad arguments, and conceptual mistakes sit there uncorrected; they are repeated, magnified, and ideas shrivel.  Not on the blog. The conversation with all of you has been so helpful.  I am a better writer than I was ten years ago, and a better reader, and a lot of the credit goes to everyone who took the time, and fought Blogspot, and said something.  Thank you so much.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

without understanding a single consecutive page - advice for book bloggers

Henry Adams is for some reason reading Poincaré’s La Science et l’Hypothèse,

which purported to be relatively readable.  Trusting in its external appearance, the traveler timidly bought it, and greedily devoured it, without understanding a single consecutive page, but catching here and there a period that startled him to the depths of his ignorance…  (Education, Ch. XXXI)

This may be my favorite kind of reading, not so far from my experience reading Henry Adams.  It is rarer than it used to be, but plenty frequent.  “What is this?”  The move from not-knowing to knowing can be a deep, difficult pleasure.

I think many readers are searching for repetitions of youthful pleasures, perhaps from the moment they really fell in love with reading.  Which books will have something that repeats the pleasures of that intense scene in Jane Eyre or The Return of the King?  Not many, but what a search it will be.  I suppose I am doing something similar, even if the great experience was decoding Pale Fire’s index or thinking through the infinite loops of “The Library of Babel” rather than identifying with a character.  Some readers get this pleasure from philosophy, or theory, codes I have never cracked.  That set goes to graduate school in literature, something I never had the imagination to contemplate.

Eventually I discovered that the study of literary history is itself a giant puzzle to solve, and that texts that are not themselves puzzles, and are perhaps even terrible as art, are pieces of a larger puzzle, and that the puzzle thus has an endless number of pieces and no solution, which on a table-top would be frustrating but as an intellectual pursuit is perfect.  What fun.

Having accumulated nearly a decade of bloggy wisdom, my advice to new bloggers has not moved beyond “Know thyself,” useful fairly generally.  I knew I needed a strong schedule, I knew I would not take free books, I knew I would write short, although I swelled over time, I knew I was not so interested in “reviews” as such.  But when I started Wuthering Expectations I had been reading seriously for twenty years or more.  Twenty years is two thousand books read, which is twice as many as I had read ten years before.  I cannot imagine starting a literature blog in my twenties.  I have great admiration for the confidence of anyone who does – they, you, are right to do it.

I should have included more posts that were just lists.  People love lists.  I know they love lists; I love lists.  I am suspicious of them as criticism.  They have kind of poisoned popular music writing – ranking every Beatles song is the kind of writing that gets clicks, I guess.  But this is a blog, so relax a little, right?  D. G. Myers was good with lists.  I remember a commenter asking him what database he was using to pick his Top 5 I-don’t-remember-what novels.  “My brain!” he snapped.

I don’t know.  I read a lot of good criticism in magazines, but it was missing something.  I am not sure what.  May be just me.  Literary criticism was missing me.  And now it has had a fair amount of me.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

no beginning, middle or end - the professor who taught me literary history and literary anti-history

At some point it occurred to me that I might get an English degree.  I began taking survey classes to see what they were like, and because they were fun.  Read Shakespeare, watch Shakespeare, talk about Shakespeare.  All right!

But the life-changers were British Literature I and British Literature II, both taught right out of the Norton anthologies (5th edition), and both taught by the same professor, Chester Sullivan.

Sullivan was an Arkansas novelist and expert on Southern literature.  I have read his two most recent novels, Answered Prayers (1992) and Rattlesnakes in the Rock Chalk (2012); they are so specific to Lawrence, Kansas that I am not sure I could recommend them widely.  Micro-regionalism.  I loved the novels and pray that he does not need twenty years to finish the next one.

Why Sullivan was teaching Brit Lit survey classes I do not know.  Another prof had suddenly quit?  He lost a bet?  Later I took a “Southern Fiction” class from him.  That was a good class, too, but not the revelation of those surveys.

British Literature I was taught chronologically, moving steadily through the Norton anthology, hitting high points (Beowulf, Chaucer, Marlowe, Johnson) with more eccentric choices sprinkled in.  I remember the “Courtier” section of the Hoby translation of Castiglione’s The Ladder of Love to be especially baffling.  But as in Tom Lorenz’s “Innovative Fiction” class, the great question, over and over, was “What is this?”  It was in some sense a traditional “coverage” course that I took at the exact time I was ready for coverage.

I would not have used the term at the time, and chronology is, heaven knows, only one of many organizational principles, but it was in this course where I learned that literature is not just a collection of texts but a field of knowledge.  I have studied it as such ever since.

But it was Brit Lit II that was the real eye-opener.  The Norton anthology again, and for the first couple of weeks, we “covered” the Romantic poets.  I remember, after working through “To a Skylark” line by line, Sullivan saying (imagine a languid Arkansas accent) “I never cared much for Shelley,” and we turned to – I don’t know what – something else, something different, something we had not read in advance.  For the rest of the class, we ransacked the anthology.  In a single class – it was a three-hour night class – we would wander all over the book, jumping across writers and periods, from plays to poems to stories.  Much of this was planned in advance, since my table of contents is full of cryptic markings that I vaguely remember relating to assigned reading.  But often it was not.  “Let’s try page 2,483”:

A Martian Sends a Postcard Home

Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings
and some are treasured for their markings –

they cause the eyes to melt
or the body to shriek without pain.  (ll. 1-4, Craig Raine, 1979)

Yes, exactly, the Martian is describing my Caxton, my Norton.  I wish I could remember if we, or Sullivan, read the poem aloud or if we all read it silently before diving in.

The class felt free, like we were playing with two hundred years of British literature.  Sullivan approached each text as if he were reading it for the first time, as if he were asking the same questions that we all were.  I now see this as an act.  It worked on me.

It took me a while, and a lot of reading, to synthesize the classes, to combine the literary history approach of the first with the leaps of the second.  Henry Adams, writing about his discovery of fine art, laments that “Once drawn into it, one had small chance of escape, for it had no centre or circumference, no beginning, middle or end, no origin, no object and no conceivable result as education” (Ch. XIV, “Dilettantism”).  Right again, Henry!  I eventually discovered on my own that the same approaches were useful for painting, film, music, everything.  I eventually discovered on my own that the more I knew about the history of a field, the more fun it was to play with it.  Eventually I had the confidence to have my fun in public, here.

Thank you, Chester Sullivan.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Education begins - a note about a professor and class that led me here

As yet he knew nothing.  Education had not begun.  (The Education of Henry Adams, Ch. 4)

Those are the last lines of the chapter titled “Harvard College.”  Henry Adams has just graduated.  No offense meant to Harvard, but I did better than Adams at the University of Kansas.  I have long wanted to write about a couple of professors I had in college who led me to where I am, and now seems to be the time.

Tom Lorenz taught creative writing and was a novelist.  His two books are Guys Like Us, a comedy about amateur softball in Chicago, and Serious Living, which goes somewhere deeper.  They are both excellent.  I do not believe he has published a third.  While finishing the second, he was thinking about the third, wondering if he should try something more, let’s say, innovative; thus, in the spring 1988 semester he taught a freshman honors seminar titled “Innovative Fiction” which changed my life.

Like I knew any of this.  I signed up for a class with an interesting title.

The syllabus (caveat to everything here – “as I remember it”) was: Madame Bovary, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Metamorphosis, The Sound and the Fury, Ficciones, Pale Fire, and Cosmicomics.  I suppose I had read Faulkner before, maybe “Barn Burning,” but nobody else.  I had not heard of several of the authors, or their names had no associations at all.

Later Lorenz told me that he had picked The Sound and the Fury because someone had told him (or he had read?) that it was unteachable.  I cannot imagine a better motive.

My responses to the texts were something like, in order: “I don’t get it,” “wait, what is this?,” “wait, what is this?,” “this is awesome,” “awesome,” “awesome,” “awesome.”  Look, "awesome" was a popular word among young people at the time.

Perhaps because Lorenz was a novelist, we rarely interpreted the book or came up with a “reading,” so much as we asked and answered, again and again, for a book or passage or detail, the “What is this?” question.  “What is this?” can be a hard question, worth a lot of work.  And these are books where the answer to that question is directly tied to style, so much of the discussion was less about meaning than style, or about how style can be made inseparable from meaning.  Why tell the story like this?

Honestly, I had had no idea that the body of work labeled “literature” contained such things as these books.  I could barely believe it.  Why had no one told me before?  Well, never mind, Tom Lorenz told me.

Within a couple of years, I had read much of what was available by all of these writers, including Flaubert, who was upgraded to “awesome.”  These writers led me to all sorts of precursors, disciples, and fellow let’s still call them innovators.  Education had begun.

I was not so interested in older books, not yet.  That’s tomorrow’s professor.

Thank you, Professor Lorenz.

Monday, July 24, 2017

I’m going to France – so the long wind-up begins

I’m going for a long time, I mean, for ten months or so.  I’m going in a week.  What an adventure!  But it means this other adventure will have to adapt.  To end, in an important sense.  The tenth anniversary of Wuthering Expectations would be at the end of September, so I appreciate the pleasing, non-neurotic irregularity of changing now.

A decade ago when I embarked on this folly, I knew – oh, I knew so many things – I knew that I needed a strong structure to keep myself going.  Few things in life are easier than not writing a blog post.  Thus the idea of writing something every workday, something, something.  And I think I have done it, five days a week, excepting vacations and holidays and, to my memory, one day.

I won’t miss giving up that.

It is time to consider other kinds of writing: other lengths, venues, subjects, forms.  France will give me a chance to play around, perhaps even, who knows, to think.  Perhaps I will convert the website into an early film blog, or the glutton blog I have always dreamed of.  Whatever I do, I will put it here, somehow.  Why not?

I have no preconceptions.  No idea what I will write, or how much, or for that matter – more importantly, right? – what I will read, or how much.  The funny thing is that my reading will be more English-language than ever, since my French is too poor to read much – my hope is that I can convert my bad A2 French into decent A2 French – and the hardest books to find in France will be anything in English translation.  But I will have Conrad’s Under Western Eyes for the airplane, and I’ll have the internet, and France has libraries, good ones.  And bookstores, oh what bookstores, although the last thing I should do in France is buy books.

I do plan to be at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, and the Quais du Polar in Lyon in April, not to buy books, but just to see them.  They should be interesting, yes?  I can file dispatches, pretending I am a bookish reporter.

Henry Adams wrote about himself in The Education (1907) “that what he valued most was Motion, and that what attracted his mind was Change” (Ch. XV).  Me too, mostly, and I will be getting plenty of that.

I had the idea, once, that I would wind up Wuthering Expectations with a series on Daniel Pennac’s The Rights of the Reader (1992) – please see Book around the Corner, off to the right somewhere, and down a bit, for all ten rights – which was appealing in part because #10 is “The right to be quiet.”  But I’m not going to be quiet, so that won’t work.

But this five posts a week nonsense has to go, except for this week, the last one.  Four to go.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Jürgen Osterhammel's enormous global history of the 19th century, read by me, breezily discussed here

Jürgen Osterhammel is a German historian at the University of Konstanz, a specialist in Chinese history and globalization.  His 2009 The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century is a massive synthesis of the state of the field – the fields, history and the social sciences – on every big topic: cities, frontiers, imperial systems, etc.  Those are chapter titles.  The book is 1,500 pages in German.  Princeton published it in 2014, in the heroic translation of Patrick Camiller, in a mere 1,167 pages, not by omitting anything but by making the pages irritatingly large.

The bibliography and notes are of course enormous.  I may not quote from the book, which is written crisply enough but is not exactly written in the prose of Gibbon, but I am tempted to quote the bibliography.  It is, on its own, full of riches.

Osterhammel is an expert on China, and is himself German, and here we see much of the value of this particular massive history: as much attention as Great Britain and the United States get, inevitably, neither nation is the center of the history.  There are always competing centers.  I found this, by itself, informative.  If things are organized a certain way in the United States – and I likely knew that they were – they were organized some other way entirely in Qing China, Meiji Japan, and the Dutch East Indies.

Ironically, Princeton UP has published the book in a series titled “America in the World.”  Osterhammel has said that he barely knew anything about U.S. history before conceiving this book.  I would never have guessed.  His claim may be highly relative.

Osterhammel organizes the book in a German fashion.  My impression is that in the U.S., it is thought to be essential that the argument of a book be put up front, maybe even first.  Here is the surprising claim I am making.  Here is why you should keep reading.  Osterhammel begins with a hundred pages of methodology and definitions.  I am not sure he even has much of an argument, except that many particular claims look different in a global context, and many older global claims fall apart upon comparative inspection.  He just assumes that his book is worth reading.

Actually, this book may not be worth reading, exactly, not as such.  It is perhaps foolishness to read it through, although in fairness to myself I have been chipping away at it since 2014.  Any individual section can be read on its own.  Which sections would I particularly recommend to readers most interested in literature?  “V. Living Standards: Risk and Security in Material Life,” “VI. Cities: European Models and Worldwide Creativity,” and maybe “XVI. Knowledge: Growth, Concentration, Distribution.”  These fill in a massive amount of context around many 19th century novels.  I mean, the discussion of monetary policy, gold and silver standards, is exactly as fascinating in Osterhammel as in anyone else’s account, but thankfully has little to do with any novel anyone ever wrote that is worth reading.

The chapter on “Cities” I find almost baffling.  Every claim has to be tested against every major city, and heck if that is not what he does.  How did he keep track of it all?  How did he research it?  That bibliography.

Anyways, what a book.  Between the Sante and Osterhammel books I have been cramming myself with information.  Will I remember any of it, any at all?  Who knows.

Friday, July 21, 2017

criminals, prostitutes, weirdos - Luc Sante's The Other Paris

The other Paris in Luc Sante’s The Other Paris (2015) is that of the criminals, flaneurs, ragpickers, prostitutes, anarchists, saloon singers, and weirdos.  But it is something much more specific, a history that re-creates the Paris in Sante’s head, which comes into existence sometime after Napoleon, is under constant threat by Haussmann and other urban renewers, and is finally destroyed in the 1960s by Andre Malraux.  The book, to my surprise and delight, spends half its time in the 19th century.

Sante’s book is a history, and his Paris is real but it is constructed out of books, out of literature, out of Baudelaire and Eugène Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris (1842-43) and super-criminal Eugène François Vidocq’s Memoirs (1828).  Les Halles, the giant food market, last seen at Wuthering Expectations in Zola's The Belly of Paris, is Sante’s great symbol of this other Paris, or at least it’s destruction, “replaced by a hellish subterranean shopping mall that is nowadays topped by that urbanist cure-all, an espace vert,” symbolizes the end of the subject of his book (10).  Sante builds his Paris out of images, too, with one or two on every page, magazine illustrations, sheet music, and numerous postcards, street scenes from circa 1910.

The craze for suburban tree house bistros, based on Swiss Family Robinson.  Gangs – les apaches – whose members tattooed lines on their throats to guide the guillotine.  The saga of the anarchist Bonnot Gang (“It was the world’s first getaway car”).  Look at this list of occupations, documented by the flaneur Privat d’Anglemont, who may not be completely accurate, but still:

Madame Thibaudeau swept jewelers’ shops for no pay so that she could recuperate gold dust.  Madame Vanard, widow of a perfumer, was a zesteuse: she picked up lemon rinds from the stalls of lemonadiers and sold the zest to the makers of Curacao, syrups, and essences.  Old Monsieur Beaufils bought nightingales, canaries, and finches and, after educating them in song for six to eight weeks, resold them for four times what he paid. (99)

Then come stories about a man who kept a fifty-two goat dairy on the sixth floor of his apartment building, and the woman who farmed ants, selling the eggs to pharmacies and the zoo (“for pheasant chow”).

And those are just the ordinary occupations.  Prostitution gets its own chapter (“The Business”), as do professional criminals and singers.  Edith Piaf, as far as this book is concerned, is the professionalized end of a long, sordid, wild tradition.  “It was certainly not her fault that when she died, Paris was on the verge of becoming the trade name ‘Paris’” (190).

What a thrill to get to know a city this way; Sante has done it with New York City and Paris.  A disadvantage, in a sense, of The Other Paris, is that it is so hard to map the book onto the existing Paris.  He is writing about exactly the buildings, streets, and people that are least likely to have been saved.

I would like to read a book about another other Paris, the one that does exist today.  Is there such a book in English?  It would almost have to be by a writer of a younger generation, and a different ethnicity.