Denizens II

Art for the heart’s sake

Arabic calligraphy I find very attractive. It fits into a wholly pleasing aesthetic slot in my sensitivity. I don’t know what the words mean and I don’t feel the need to find out. This is restful, like sitting at a street café in a German-speaking country, enjoying guttural, familiar-sounding, but totally unintelligible speech. On Capri, visiting the blue grotto, our Scottish accents got us a seat on the boat with the German tourist guide.

Arabic music makes me feel that I am not at home. Maybe I only really encountered it for the first time when I spent the winter in Morocco as a teenager. My first trip outside my home country. The labyrinth of the Medina at night.

So I’m thinking about the idea of being foreign, which, strangely enough, for an Anglophone living in France, is sparked off by Arabic music. I should add that I once lived in Paris with a Moroccan lover who committed suicide. Could be that the feeling of foreignness is more a reluctance to acknowledge or return to that period of emotional devastation, the aftermath of the suicide, than anything to do with a geographic country.

One thing that saved me was Dubuffet’s Jardin d’Hiver in the Modern Art Museum at the Pompidou Centre. I would crawl into it of a Sunday afternoon, and I felt safe there. There are many pictures of it online, but I haven’t found one that captures the magic of the pale winter light that comes in the “skylight” in the ceiling of the grotto – I always assumed it to be the natural light of a pale winter sky, but, come to think of it, there must be a light bulb, since the source is concealed, and that wouldn’t work here, the way the sunshine manages to shine upwards from under the water in the blue grotto of Capri.

I loved the Pompidou Centre, which we always called Beaubourg; a free place to keep warm, especially on a wet Sunday afternoon, when entrance to the museum was free, too. It is probably what I miss most about Paris.

From today’s Guardian:
“The Pompidou Centre's marvellous L'Atelier d'Alberto Giacometti is a retrospective featuring not only Giacometti's sculptures, paintings and drawings, but also the studio itself - what went on there, and what was removed after the artist's death, including sections of the walls on which he drew and painted. These were not so much murals as a palimpsest of stains, scribbles and scratches, among which loom faces, walking men and standing women: Giacometti's perennial subjects.”

I added the bold. I felt that was really creepy. Visions of vultures and the word cannibalistic come to mind.


Denizens I

The local library (“médiathèque”) invited two craftsmen publishers to show their wares and speak about their craft. Gérard Truilhé (éditions les Trames) and Aurelio Diaz-Ronda for Le grand os. Their websites give a tiny idea of what they are doing, but it is so much more exciting in reality. I was mesmerised by their entire production and, indeed, existence. I asked if I could touch the books and Aurelio was insistent that books had to be touched, otherwise what was the point in making them – he is keen on the desacralisation of the book object. I try, I try, but I have to admit my shortcomings. I’m not afraid to touch them. But I don’t see how I could not hold them in awe.

Mr Truilhé earns his living as a guitar teacher, and so is free to produce or not produce whatever books he wants. He insisted on the musicality of the hands-on experience of paper and ink. He explains that each book is the result of a meeting with the author of the text and/or the artist who illustrates. He writes himself. He said he was not happy with the appellation “éditeur” – (publisher) and considered himself rather a “faiseur de livres”. I smiled at the thought of “book maker”, ridiculously far removed from what he does, and flicked it back to French as “teneur de paris” - which seemed to click. Each individual book they make is a wager against oblivion.

Gérard also said he was working against the execution of books, when books are placed on bookshop shelves for a very short space of time and if not sold then sent to be pulped… His books, whether read or not, whether bought or not, will never be pulped.

I visited the main Médiathèque in Toulouse. The building is an imposing arch, and I was almost too intimidated to go in. But I had heard there was a panoramic view to be had from the third floor. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. All along the glass wall of the townward side of the third floor are CD players and headphones and comfortable chairs. It was too cloudy to see very far but it was nice to be perched above the traffic and the trains. The headphones seemed to be good quality but I couldn’t find a volume switch. All or nothing music – you either hear it or you don’t. The person behind me must have found a switch because his music seemed very loud. I didn’t choose music to listen to, decided to take what was offered by the people who had occupied my seat before me. The first CD was Arabic and felt foreign. Then I picked up Bach and thought “now what language is Bach in?”.

In the evening I went to the Mandala to listen to music improvised on two drumkits, a computer, a saw and a saxophone, and a crystal organ.


1. An inhabitant; a resident: denizens of Monte Carlo.
2. One that frequents a particular place: a bar and its denizens.
3. Ecology An animal or a plant naturalized in a region.
4. Chiefly British A foreigner who is granted rights of residence and sometimes of citizenship.
tr.v. den·i·zened, den·i·zen·ing, den·i·zens Chiefly British
To make a denizen of; grant rights of residence to.


If the shoe fits

A few years ago, there was a door in Glasgow airport arrivals corridor with a sign on it saying: “this door is alarmed”. It always made me feel sorry for the poor door. Now I wonder if I am alarmed or if the news is actually more worrying than usual. Britain is claiming a chunk of Alaska - we need more frozen assets? A new planet has been discovered - not alarming in itself but given the current prevalent mentality on this one I can’t imagine it being shared out equitably. Rivalry, mainly unconscious, seems to be insurmountable for most of us siblings.

Whatever the case, it won’t do any harm to sign a petition against
France’s introduction of DNA testing for family reunification.

I watched a video in the Guardian the other day of the police following Jean Charles De Menezes into Stockwell tube station, and then of his dead body on the floor of the carriage. The CCTV footage in between, i.e. the actual killing, mysteriously went missing. We see the back of Jean Charles as he goes down the escalator to the platform. We know he picked up a newspaper before he got on the escalator. He looks like any other commuter. The escalator is swallowed up by the tunnel. Then, singly and in groups, the armed pursuers go down the escalator after him. The result is horrific. Suffocating. No way out. You can feel the unstoppable heavy machinery of human error grinding into action. Seven bullets to the head while restrained.


I have added a link to Laura Gonzales, who is lucky enough to be living in Glescka. Funnily enough, when I went to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (her home town) I did in fact come back with several pairs of shoes... The Spaniards certainly know what they're doing when there's art afoot.


Captain ad hoc

Talking about her small daughter’s drawings, a friend said “Ruby’s people have now got fingers and eyebrows – wonder what they’ll grow next week...”. Her words immediately reminded me of two lines from Sylvia Plath's Love Letter,

"I started to bud like a March twig:
An arm and a leg, an arm, a leg."

When I was looking for an online version of the poem to link to, the first six I opened all had the same two mistakes: “mice-scaled” (!!) for “mica-scaled” and “An arm and a leg, and arm, a leg”. (vaguely reminiscent of Gertrude Stein’s “as a wife has a cow, a love story”).

I also remember quoting those words early on in analysis, (the Plath, not the Stein) when I felt that parts of me were coming alive, coming back to life or coming into being. I was overly optimistic at the time, believing naively that progress would somehow be sort of linear.

Not according to the brilliant article by Todd McGowan in the latest edition of The International Journal of Žižek Studies; “Violence of Creation in "The Prestige"”. (see left sidebar). Coincidentally, I watched the film recently, failed to recognise David Bowie, and at the end was convinced I had missed at least some of the points. I was not mistaken.

As I also failed to grasp how to put categories on this blog, or to put the blog posts into categories, I created two parallel-universe blogs for my own writing, one in English (Vita Text) and one in French (Vita Texte). I will be adding things on an ad hoc basis, as and when they are brought to mind through an association of some kind.

I am also adding a link to a bilingual blog hosted by a French translator who lives in England, naked translations. I have not been following it closely but intend to do so because it is very interesting.

Talking about translation is a minefield I am scared to wander into, because I am bound by confidentiality agreements. I don’t always trust myself to know where to draw the line, restraint not being one of my strong points.

After a period of heavy rain I was watering the plants around the house that are deprived of rainwater by the eaves, and I thought of the expression “eavesdropping”. (Etymology: Anglo-Saxon yfæsdrypæ a person who stands under the eaves to listen to conversations.) . I suppose that is part of the phantasmagoria of the blog, that some mysterious other is lurking on the edges, either deliberately to steal information for dastardly purposes or simply because the rain started when they were passing and they stopped to keep dry.


Another high window

A shimmer of hope

in the pool with the ghoul

and I danced to disturb the fashionable mother.

Some greater other croaked

And a long-lost brother soaked

In the irony of a perpetual inkling.

This, then, is the drift, when the goalposts shift, make sure you know that

Love is being with the right person at the right time and realising it.



Po, it tree.

Roots in soot, shoots leaving for the sky

Knotted boughs branching out elegantly from the

Great trunk of human experience.

The years laid down in eccentric circles,

Budburst too early and your apples will be pipped by the frost, lost

- timing is everything.


Blue earth

Autumn has always been my favourite season, although this year, for the first time, I got such a kick out of spring I almost changed favourites. One of the things I love about the autumn is the colour orange. Photographs are frustratingly dull compared to the splendour of the countryside, but they do convey something of the excitement of the hue.

I gave this picture to a friend.

This is an attempt to paint the aftermath of sungazing.

La terre est bleue comme une orange