Every trip to France is literary, or is to a visitor who knows the names of writers. Victor Hugo was a daily presence during our visits to Grenoble, Lyon, and Avignon because of prominent, central plazas names after him. “We need to go to that bakery in the Place Victor Hugo and get a brioche aux pralines,” that’s how I routinely invoked the name of Hugo.
I do not know the history of the naming of French streets and plazas, when city after city concluded that plaza needed to be named after a literary hero, when, for example, Dijon’s citizens demanded a Place Emile Zola even though Zola has no particular connection to Dijon. The square now features a bar named L’Assommoir that frankly seemed too froufrou – too clean – for that name, a frog-centered restaurant named Le Germinal, and, most amusingly, Pizz’zola, and why not.
The small Burgundian city of Auxerre, well worth visiting for its surviving medieval and early modern architecture, has been able to celebrate writers with the help of a sculptor, François Brochet, who adopted the region. Is there a more charming statue of a poet than that of Marie Noël? She seems to be a poet of real, if modest, renown in France; she has no presence in English at all, not that I can find. I wonder what her work is like? One result of every vacation, for me, is a reminder of the thinness of my knowledge and the narrowness of my vision.
Has anyone, any wandering visitor to Wuthering Expectations, read Rétif de la Bretonne? I have read a couple of his charming and sentimental stories about peasants, although he is best known, or so I believe, for his twelve (or is it sixteen?) volume autobiography Monsieur Nicolas (circa 1797), which rivals Casanova in its sexual prodigiousness. He was born near Auxerre and briefly apprenticed in the city, as a printer – there is, of course, a plaque on the relevant building. If only I had a point here. I merely want to admire Brochet’s sculpture of Rétif de la Bretonne, where he and his lady friend are seated on that startling pile of books.
Sometimes it seemed to this tourist that all of France was built on a pile of books.
An irrelevant, unrelated note: I logged in to Wuthering Expectations this morning to find this jolly message: “It looks like your blog is popular” (it is not!) ”and many popular blogs make money” (they do not!).