Poem of the Week

Here’s a first. I’ve chosen a French poem for this week.  Enjoy!

A ma mère

by Jacques Roland

La tristesse donne un air sombre et sévère au visage de maman dont le regard semble traverser toute chose, percevoir dans le lointain quelque vérité terrible et muette qui captive son âme.

Quelle pudeur absurde me retient de serrer contre moi son corps de petit oiseau amaigri, outragé par le travail du temps?

Il n’y a pas une parcelle de moi-même, une once de ma chair ou de mon sang qui ne refusent de voir impuissant s’évaporer avec son corps, l’âme de maman.
Son âme… apeurée par les affres de l’oubli, la perte des souvenirs, l’incompréhension du monde, s’est réfugiée dans la tristesse désabusée de son sourire ; tristesse fugitive qu’un revers bref de la main repousse plus loin, pour ne pas inquiéter, pour protéger le plus longtemps possible ceux qu’elle aime.

Pauvre maman Jeanne, la vague géante de ton amour viendra s’échouer un jour à mes pieds. Alors toute l’écume de ta vie roulera sur la mienne.

Stolen Kisses

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Antoine and Christine

A François Truffaut film, delightful Stolen Kisses follows Antoine from 400 Blows and Antoine and Collette as he gets kicked out of the army and hops from one menial or clerical job to the next. His first job as a hotel watchman comes via the father of his hearts desire, Christine. As in Antoine and Collette, Antoine charms the parents of his object of desire more than the young woman herself.

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Extremely idealistic, Antoine’s got a bit of Chaplain’s Tramp in him. He’s got terrible luck and as he’s estranged from his parents so he’s all alone. Yet a job always pops up when he needs it. My favorite job was when he was a detective. Most of the time he’s tailing someone, but then he gets hired to work in a shoe store. The socially inept, bragging owner must find out why people don’t like him. Thus Antoine goes undercover at the shop. So no one will think that the new guy is a plant, the shop owner has a contest with job candidates. They each must wrap a shoe box. Antoine does a terrible job. He’s by far the worst in the bunch, but he’s hired. While at the shop, Antoine gets smitten by the owner’s sophisticated wife. She’s a goddess to him, though he still wants Christine. He sees all women as elegant paragons. And can’t believe that his goddess would fall for him and sneak into his apartment one morning proposing a few hours of hanky panky, which is never to be spoken of or repeated. The goddess crashes to earth with a light comic touch.

The story flies by and has several fun moments showing all the misadventures Antoine encounters trying to get his footing in the adult world. I have my doubts about this poor guy making it.

Jules and Jim, the Novel

Truffaut’s film Jules and Jim intrigued me for days. It’s a beautiful film, but the story itself haunted me. Through the DVD extra interviews I learned that the film was based on a book and the book on actual lived experience. Oh, my!

I tracked down the book to get a closer look, a deeper understanding of these people. Written by Henri-Pierre Roché, the style is clear and fresh. It’s a fast paced book, that covers more time and space than the film. Jules, Jim and Kate move from summer house, to Parisian apartment to chalet in Jules’ country, here and there again and again. I doubt Kate stayed in the same place for more than 18 months. Kate and Jim also find lovers quite easily so change was in their blood.

Somehow Roché’s style countered Kate’s destructive behavior and Jim’s sorry obsession with her. The style doesn’t hide Kate’s annoying penchant for looking for slights and then punishing men to get even because they did something she deemed “irreparable” (i.e. not idolizing her totally). For most of the book, I wished Jim would wise up and leave the crazy whirlpool that Kate creates, but he evidently was crazy too.

In the book there are many extra events. At one point Kate befriends a woman who’s a Freudian psychoanalyst. Psychology was a new field then and this analyst was a nincompoop who just took Kate’s side and blamed Jim for the wild moods and irresponsible actions that Kate used to manipulate those around her.

The book does present a different way to live and doesn’t glorify manipulation. It’s an excellent study for someone who’s adapting a novel to film because Truffaut whittles down the plot adroitly.

Library of Luminaries: Coco Chanel

Similar to the illustrated biography of Jane Austen, Literary Luminaries: Coco Chanel is a delightful biography that provides the main details of Coco Chanel’s life.  Again, charm prevails as delightful illustrations show Chanel’s life from childhood as an orphan to later success with plenty of love affairs along the way.

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It’s a good introduction to the life of the sophisticated, brave woman who pared down fashion, gave us the “Little Black Dress” and quilted purses.

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I’m glad I discovered this book via Farah Shamma’s A BookTube Book channel.

Word of the Week

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esprit de l’escalier: wit of the staircase : repartee thought of only too late, on the way home

I learned this on Ash Wednesday during the prayer ceremony I attended. This French phrase is a pithy expression to capture that feeling of suddenly thinking of the perfect response after a conversation is finished and you’re probably back home ruminating on what transpired.

The priest used the phrase in terms of the story between Jesus and the rich, young man who followed all the commandments but turned away from Jesus because he didn’t want to give up all his belongings. In some ways that isn’t a perfect fit, but this phrase sure is useful.

This is the second, or bonus word of the week. I loved two discoveries and didn’t want to possibly forget this phrase. 

The Soft Skin

Truffaut offers a realistic look at infidelity in The Soft Skin (1964) where Pierre Lachenay, a publisher and scholar known from his TV appearances, gets obsessed with Nicole, a flight attendant, and starts an affair with her. Pierre has a sort of budding butterball look. He could be the Pillsbury Doughboy’s French father. He is smart, yet bland. He’s married to an attractive woman and they have a young daughter whom he dotes on. He doesn’t hate his life, but when he sees Nicole on a flight, he becomes smitten.

He later sees her at a hotel and follows her to find out her room. It’s a bit stalker-ish, but not quite. Nicole who’s probably half Pierre’s age is interested. She hasn’t experience romantic love and is in awe of Pierre’s success.

Throughout the film Pierre and Nicole have difficulty meeting up. Their rendezvous always go awry. Perhaps an old friend meets Pierre and asks to go for a drink. He’ll respond that he must drive back to Paris and the friend will say that’s where he wants to go and figures they can drive together. All the while Nicole’s twiddling her fingers back at the hotel where they’re staying. Such obstacles crop up again and again. Ever nervous, Pierre bungles along with his poor plans and lies. Yes, Nicole is young, beautiful and energetic, but having the affair is offset by the stress of lies and running around only to be thwarted.

Eventually Franca Pierre’s wife realizes something’s off. After awhile Franca gives up on the marriage and asks for a divorce. Freed, Pierre agrees, but he soon finds that breaking with Franca does not lead to bliss in a new posh apartment with Nicole.

The film is beautiful and Truffaut’s direction is sophisticated and engaging. He films intimacy in such a classy, real way. He shows affairs as they really are, not all romance, not all due to a horrible spouse. Infidelity certainly doesn’t lead to a blissful new romance and a break with past problems.