Friday, June 1, 2012

Perhaps the purest ramble I have ever posted - travel plans, reading plans, bad plans

I have to disappear for a few more days – back Thursday.  I had planned to write a book review-like post today, but that’s bad planning, isn’t it?  Nearly a week with some random book review topping Wuthering Expectations.  I should instead feature something that strengthens the brand.  If only I knew what that something was.

The book was Demolishing Nisard (2006) by Eric Chevillard, a short novel full of goofy vitriol and revenge.  The narrator hates a particular critic and blames him for everything wrong in literature, and life – the critic’s life, all life.  Traffic accidents, crime, you name it.  “He uses his phone on trains” (55).  That the critic, Désiré Nisard, has been dead for 120 years, is a minor detail for the narrator.

The best reason not to review the book is that Trevor Mookse Gripes did such a fine job in April, so what is the point.  What does he say – “one of the funniest books I’ve read” – I don’t go that far, but parts are awfully funny.  Vitriolic Thomas Bernhard is funnier.  “The book’s existential conundrum: in hating Nisard, the narrator brings on his own Nisardification” – now that is just right.

The only real point I want to make here is directed at the PR person at Dalkey Archive:  because of Trevor’s review I bought a copy of Demolishing Nisard with my own money, so keep sending him books.  He has generated at least one sale.

The Chevillard novel was part of the recent Frenchification of my reading.  I am going to France in July so I am reading about France, even though the books have nothing to do with where I am going.  Not only am I not going to Jersey, the setting of Victor Hugo’s The Toilers of the Sea, but I am going about as far from it as I can get and still be in France.  And strictly, even loosely, speaking, Jersey is not even in France.  So why I am reading the novel?  General cultural seepage, I guess.  Also, it is awesome, although people uninterested in unusual parts of the world should skip the long introduction, and then also skip much of the rest.

The Francis Steegmuller book Flaubert and Madame Bovary is outstanding but mostly set in Normandy.  I am working up to a Madame Bovary festival.  Flaubert is a sort of household god at Wuthering Expectations, so it should be fun to explain what I mean by that.  Has everyone read Prof. Maitzen’s Flaubert posts?  The second one, Bovary vs. Middlemarch is especially idea-rich.

The Janet Lewis novel, The Wife of Martin Guerre, is set near my destination, so it qualifies as more direct research.  Now there’s an idea – I should end with an open-ended question, allowing thoughtful strangers to do my research for me.  I have read that blog posts should end with questions.  How about this one:

What do you recommend I do in Languedoc-Rousillon, which is where I will be?  Eat cassoulet?  Yes.  What else?  And what should I read?


  1. I'm so jealous! Take me with you!

    Some of the France-themed reads on my TBR pile include recent releases "Paris, I love you but you're bring me down" by Rosencrans Baldwin and "Paris Was Ours" by Penelope Rowlands—clearly, I have the City of Lights on the brain.

    Les Mis is always good for a reread. I'm seeing the musical tomorrow, so again, Fantine and revolution are on the mind.

  2. Drink wine. Read about Eleanor of Acquitaine and her troubadours.

  3. We are actually avoiding Paris this time, fleeing from it. But that Zola novel was set in Paris.

    The south does seem to have wine, but given that I was in Burgundy last summer I will set my expectations low. Regardless, this should be a fine food vacation.

    I know nothing about Eleanor of Aquitaine. Look at all of the historical novels about her! Wild, wild. I wonder if any are any good.

  4. I can't believe I was scooped on my Eleanor of Aquitaine recommendation, which was the first thing that popped into my head. But I'm completely maddened by being unable to recall what exactly I read that had been so memorable in every other way except for the author and title. I'll keep looking. In the meantime, Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolfo unfurls for some pages through Languedoc & Roussillon.

    Food will most certainly not be a problem (and the wine - while not quite up to the standards of Bourgogne - has improved remarkably in recent years). If you find yourself in Pézenas, make sure to try the petits pâtés de Pézenas - one of the oddest and most delicious culinary creations in the area. If I can dig up the name of it, I'll send you a suggestion for a great place hidden among the vignobles outside of Sète. Will you go to the Camargue?

  5. What a lucky dog you are! I spent a day each in Montpellier and Narbonne several years ago, chosen pit stops in between the much more happening Barcelona and Paris. Nothing "must-see" in either Languedocian ville that I could recommend (this is not a slight on either city, by the way, just a reflection of the limited time I spent getting to know the cities), but Narbonne has a rather cool Archbishop's Palace and dungeon you could visit and an equally cool glimpse of the Via Domitia still visible after hundreds of years. The local table wine was quite drinkable and super inexpensive enough to send me napping after lunch! Books: Amy Kelly's 1950 Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings (Harvard University Press) is a dated but worthwhile bio of the famous lady, Ina Caro's 1994 The Road from the Past: Traveling through History in France (Harvest) is a quick reading and generally swell historical travelogue that has several chapters dedicated to visits to the Languedoc region, and of course there are several great primary works on the Albigensian Crusade written by people on both sides of the pro- and anti-Simon de Montfort contingents: the 13th century La Chanson de la Croisade albigeoise, composed by Guilhelms de Tudela and an anonymous successor in Occitan, is the best place to start, but others are good as well.

  6. I know there is a sort of cascade effect, but 3 of 4 people have now suggested reading about Eleanor of Aquitaine, something I was definitely not planning to do. So this loosey goosey post has already paid for itself, so to speak.

    My library, amazingly, has the first two books Richard recommends. He included the Guilhelms de Tudela (Richard on the Ina Caro book).

    I thought you were including the Guilhelms de Tudela book just to taunt me, but a recent translation was published by Ashgate. Huh. Still, tempting but unlikely.

    I doubt the Camargue will be possible. A dash to Barcelona is possbile, though. Our headquarters will be Perpignan, almost in Spain.

  7. Am I the only one to suggest that you read some of the troubadours themselves? I too was going to suggest boning up on the Cathars: some of their writings have survived, and are quite curious. I have the Tudela on the shelf, but haven't gotten to it yet, so I can't recommend it.

    Speaking of Flaubert, have you read his plays? Again, they're on the to-read pile...

  8. You could read some of Louis Aragon's wartime poetry. He and his wife Elsa Triolet were in that area (mostly Carcassonne) during World War II, avoiding the Nazis, and that poetry is interesting, to my mind -- now, he read all the troubadours. I believe most of it is findable in translation. Sadly, it's a part of France I haven't spent any major time in yet, so I can't make recommendations. Come back when you're doing the Massif Central, or Alsace.

  9. You must, of course, read Hemingway's beautiful Feast, and decide, sitting right there where he sat, if we should feel angry at him, or sorry, or inspired.

  10. Ooh reading-wise I'd go for Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, and then perhaps some Montaigne, as I'm pretty sure he's from those parts. I also think Claude Simon was a native and whilst I love his writing and oh do so wish you could read it (one memorable sentence for me took 10 pages, and was worth it) I'm not sure he's been translated. Oh, and you might consider Jean Rouaud's war novel, Fields of Glory, as he's another local boy.

  11. Look, I am at the computer. Howdy! And thanks for the new recommendations.

    The Hemingway will not do - this is almost an anti-Paris trip. We will be "fleeing" Paris, ma femme says. I love your poetic re-titling, Shelley.

    Not only have I not read Flaubert's plays, but I have not read Saint Anthony or Bouvard and Pecuchet. Who am I to talk about what Flaubert does? Nevertheless, I will.

    Original Cathar texts - interesting. Louis Aragon - hmm, yes. Troubadours, really good idea, a glance at them, at least. Stevenson, absolutely, if I had not read it last year. Claude Simon - wouldja believe I have read three Simon novels? He is one of my favorite French Faulkners. I will bet at least one of those novels, The Wind or The Grass or both, is set right where we are going. I should take one with & read it there.

  12. We might run into each other. July, Midi-Pyrenees and a bit of Languedoc for me too. I have been reading Viollet Le Duc's description of Carcassonne and mostly some french books associated with the Midi-Pyrenees. Also on the list is this documentary from the lovely channel about the Cathars (the Cathar castle drive is really beautiful, by the way).

    If you like history, and french school nouvelle histoire!, there are the very famous Montaillou and Les Paysans du Languedoc by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie.

    The last time I was in Perpignan I made it to the very close by Cadaques, the town where Dali lived - I loved it but I was there in May, no idea how it is in summer. There's a Dali museum in Figueres too.

    I am told Rennes Le Chateau is to be avoided.

  13. How funny. When you are up in the mountains, I'll be down on the coast - wave to me!

    Thanks for the excellent links and advice. Cadaques sounds great. Yes, Rennes Le Chateau - a good one for non-readers of Dan Brown to skip.

    Ma femme is reading Montaillou right now.

  14. Down and out in paris and london by george orwell. It will cure you of any intetest in fine dining. Reread sentimental education unless at reading level of F M F,

  15. It will cure you of any intetest in fine dining

    Like heck it will!