Tous les matins du monde sans retour

Tous les matins du monde is a 1991 novel by Pascal Quignard, which was simultaneously made into a French film. The film starred Gérard Depardieu as an aging viola player in the court of King Louis XIV, looking back on his life. The book is like a series of still life paintings, capturing successive moments in the life of composer Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe and his student Marin Marais.

Gentle reader, we struggle to make sense of life, to find meaning in its moments, looking for direction, a way forward.

Pascal deals with the subject of art. Can it be taught? Do words suffice to explain the art of the viola? Is not the music felt? It is an emotion, and therefore incapable of literary discription. Once notes are transcribed, Monsieur Saint-Colombe believes, they become like a painting, nature morte.

the five senses, Lugin Baugin,
the five senses, Lugin Baugin,

 

Nature Morte

The subject of still life (nature morte) paintings comes up in the book through Sainte-Colombe’s friendship with the painter Lugin Baugin. Saint-Colombe requests of his friend a painting of his room after the apparition of his dead wife comes to him. Gentle reader, is there not irony in the capture of nature in a painting, and the idea that nature though captured is dead to all the senses excepting the eye?

Tous les matins du monde

But it is not he death of nature I wish to discuss. Rather it is the enigmatic meaning of the title, Tous les matins du monde.

The phrase is not delivered in the book until Chapter 26, and then it is delivered by the author as a comment on the passage of time:

“Tous les matins du monde sont sans retour. Les annees etait passees.”

Gentle reader, though we are tempted to translate literally as “without returning,” the better meaning is never to return. Each morning, each moment passes, and is gone. A painting, a thought, real to the eye and the memory is still dead to the world.

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Madame Pommery

It takes vision and a will and a woman, to find a way to success in Champagne, France.

A champagne toast to Madame Veuve Pommery (Widow Pommery), the greatest Champagne widow of the 19th century, who steered the world’s taste in sparkling wine from sweet to dry – a taste that became liquid gold.

Madame Veuve Pommery, Bouzy, France

Pommery was born Jeanne Alexandrine Louise Melin in 1819. She married Alexandre Pommery, from a prominent wool family in Reims. They had two children about 17 years apart, and it was the imminent birth of the second child in 1856 that prompted a just-retired Alexandre to enter the wine business with Narcisse Greno. Alexandre Pommery died in 1858.

Madame was 38.

“I have decided to carry on with the business and take the place of my husband,” said the widow Pommery. For “heath reasons”, Narcisse Greno retired from the business in 1860.

She adopted the motto, Qualite d’abord, quality first, then changed the direction of her wines from red to white. Having been schooled in England she understood that the English preferred wines less sweet. Also, she modeled her winery as an estate to cater to a growing flock of American and English visitors to the French wine regions. When rumors that her winery was on shaky financial grounds, she purchased Jean-Francois Millet’s “The Gleaners” for 300,000 francs, with the proviso that it would be donated to the people of France at her death. The gesture endured her to the public and captured the notice of the press.

The above statue dedicated to the memory of Madame Pommery is in Bouzy, France, cute name n’est-ce pas?

Bouzy is unique, since hard-headed winegrowers here make a non-bubbly Bouzy Rouge, a Pinot Noir that is expensive because, it is counter-intuitive in Champagne. There is also the Pommery Brut Royal, Variety: 35% chardonnay, 35% pinot noir and 30% pinot meunier.

Oooh la la la, c’est magnifique!

bouzy france winery grape vines on a hillside

Memorial Day

PRELUDE
(To Departmental Ditties)

I have eaten your bread and salt.
⁠I have drunk your water and wine.
The deaths ye died I have watched beside,
⁠And the lives ye led were mine.

Was there aught that I did not share
⁠In vigil or toil or ease,—
One joy or woe that I did not know,
⁠Dear hearts across the seas?

I have written the tale of our life
⁠For a sheltered people’s mirth,
In jesting guise—but ye are wise,
⁠And ye know what the jest is worth.
Rudyard Kipling, 1885

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Memorial Day is America’s tribute to those who gave their lives that we could live our lives free from tyranny.

unknown

Especially to those whose sacrifices and names are known only unto God.

And what is there to remember of those whose names are not known, whose deeds not written down? It is enough to know the sacrifice was great, greater than we will ever know.

Cinderella

After the battle, when the bombs quit falling, an American soldier in World War I takes a moment to entertain a little girl with the story of Cinderella. Even Hell has its tender moments, and in the midst of despair, there is hope.

Nous savons comment l’histoire va.

 

In a far, far away, long, long ago kingdom, Cinderella lived happily with her mother and father until her mother died. When Cinderella’s father remarries a cold, cruel woman who has two daughters, Drizella and Anastasia, Cinderella becomes a servant suffering in her own house.

One day the King announces that there will be a fancy dress ball…

 

Tout bien ou rien

Et si tu le fais bien et vite, tu comprends francais.

 

Has Oz mentioned that his grandmother was French? Oh, there is so little we know of each other, but then, very little we know of ourselves.

 

“Tout bien ou rien.”

I think I got this from John Muir in his dedication of the book On National Parks, 1901. He got it elsewhere, though where, I don’t know. The sentiment is surely an old one.

I translate it as all is well or nothing. That is literal. Somewhat like the English, All or nothing, but not quite.

Some translations give it as, Do your best or not at all. That works too. If that is the case it is like the Flemish, Als Ik Kan, literally, as I can, and figuratively, to the best of my abilities.

The French phrase, tout bien ou rien, contains opposites, all or nothing, polar extremes, it is good or it is not. Shakespeare likde this form of “simplespeak”. It is ambiguous and clear, depending on the intended purpose of the speaker. One is afraid to argue for seeming the fool.

Ambiguity is a fact of life. It puts one in trouble and keeps us out of trouble. Just ask any politician, who has to explain contrary positions to opposing sides.

Tout bien ou rien, c’est bien fait, c’est tout.

Now, quick, try this – Vite fait bien fait.

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Great starts

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”  –  Mark Twain

frog in pond

It certainly had a wide celebrity…but I was aware that it was only the frog that was celebrated. It wasn’t I. – Mark Twain’s Autobiography

frog-submerged in water

It seems like such a waste, what do the French do with the rest of the frog, and what does the frog do with the rest of the day?

How to write a sentence #1

quillLet us have a conversation, friend, on how to write a sentence, and if we do it right my friend, let it be a pleasure, not a penance.

The ancient Greek poet Homer knew that language needs to be sonorous to be remembered. Long lines of disconnected, harsh sounding words are hard to memorize. Words must make sense and should sound pleasing, language being music to the ears and food for the soul.

In her writing Gertrude Stein famously avoided commas as unnecessary interruptions in the flow of thought. One made up thought floating out there in the internet is this:

Commas are the slaves of the sentence, according to Stein, and we know that slavery is never a good thing. If the sentence can’t make sense without multiple commas, rewrite it.

We know it is made up because it has several commas and repeats. Wait, I take half that back since, “a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”

Stein did say this:

“A comma does nothing but make easy a thing that if you like it enough is easy enough without the comma.”

Now isn’t that nicely said without a pause or a comma?

So, should I say:

Let us have a conversation friend on how to write a sentence; and if we do it right my friend let it be a pleasure not a penance.

If you noticed the switch from comma to semi-colon, give yourself bonus points.

Disons nous une conversation mes amies sur la façon d’écrire une clause; Et si nous nous la faisons bien mes amis laisse faire plaisir et ne pas pénitentiaire.

 

What is the word I am looking for

What is this fascination we have with words?

Who has not spent an hour, a day, or a week searching for the right word, and having found one, will change it for another, then another. And daring to wax poetic we fail, like the child wanting to catch an elusive butterfly, flailing with net, coming up with empty air.

 

Prologue to Troilus and Criseyde

It was then quite refreshing to come across these words from Georffrey Chaucer’s Prologue to Book 2 of Troilus and Criseyde.

Middle English

Ye knowe eek, that in forme of speche is chaunge
With-inne a thousand yeer, and wordes tho
That hadden prys, now wonder nyce and straunge
Us thinketh hem; and yet they spake hem so,
And spedde as wel in love as men now do;
Eek for to winne love in sondry ages,
In sondry londes, sondry ben usages.

Chaucer’s speech is Middle English, the language spoken after the Norman invasion, influenced by French, but connected to the language of the Saxons and Angles who came to the British Isles in the Middle Ages. With a little study the words and meaning become clear.

Following the rhetorical salutation “you know” we are greeted by the strange sounding  word “eek” in line 22 (pronounced like “eck” and not the sound we make when we see a mouse) is derivative of the German “auch” meaning “also” or “besides”.

Third line, the word “prys” is “prize” which is a fair equivalent for value. Line 26, “spedde” is the past tense of “speed”. It is a word familiar even in Shakespeare’s time in the common salutation “Speed well” meaning may your trip go quickly and without mishap. “Fare” and “farewell” is a more modern adaptation. “Eek” appears again in the second to last line. Here it is better to substitute “besides”. The word “sondry” we spell “sundry” but the meaning is the same, “various”.

The last line repeats the word “sondry” twice, referring first to different lands, and second to the usage of speech. The verb “ben” is our “been” expressing a form of the verb “to be”. Today, one might more appropriately say “have been” to imply continuous usage, but “were” fills the bill nicely.

Modern English

You know also that the form of speech changes
Within a thousand years, words though
That had value then, now seem wondrous nice and strange
We think them; and yet they spoke them so
And fared as well in love as now men do;
Besides, to win love in sundry ages,
in sundry lands, there were sundry usages.

In Chaucer’s day, French was the language of court and had been so for 300 years. Despite this, and the continuing marriages with French princess, and wars in France, England seems to have had an affinity for the language fiven it by the Saxon and Angles who invaded the island in the Middle Ages.

French translation

Were I to translate Chaucer’s English to courtly French, I might, without the correct rhyme or meter, have this:

Savez que la forme de la parole change
Dans mille ans, les mots si
Cela a eu une valeur, alors, semble maintenant belle merveilleuse et étrange
Nous les pensons, et ainsi ils les ont parlé
Et aussi bien réussi dans l’amour que maintenant les hommes;
D’ailleurs, pour gagner l’amour dans les âges divers,
dans les terres diverses, il y avait des usages divers.

Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer, first poet to be buried in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Plan B

[Another in a series of posts about World War I and the Battle of the Somme. This year marks the one hundredth year anniversary.]

luxembourg-bike-plan-b-poster-2

September, 2016, Fields of Flanders.

I am in Europe on vacation with my two brothers-in-law. Adam, Andy, and Art, in case you were wondering. Three A’s. Three lawyers. At times, three assholes, some would say. Adam says I am contentious. What does that mean? Three of us in a car on our way to celebrate (is that the right word?) the one hundredth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The fields of Flanders are all about us. Beautiful, I think. The picturesque homes and farms, the flowers. The very image of peace and tranquility.

I am driving down the highway minding my own business, gawking at the scenery, driving slowly, but not so slow as the small truck in front of me. The one with the blue bike on the back and the box. Just in case.

Thinking, thinking about all those lost souls on the battlefields.

“I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything.” Anne Lamott’s words, but they ring true for most of us. I remember being thirteen, reading books on faith, even Thomas Aquinas, which is a lot for a thirteen-year-old to tackle, in church and wanting to believe, but struggling. Waiting for a sign but seeing and hearing nothing. Faith is not in a book and not in a mass. Faith is in believing in the bottom of your heart when there is nothing else. As I said, I have a lot of faith, I trust it is all going to work out.

But wouldn’t it be nice have a Plan B?

Thoughts on reading Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

P.S.

Faith is what you have when you cut and chop everything up. You pull it apart and look, deep into the inner recesses of what matters. So what if it is untouchable and unknowable. Lots of things are, but it is still felt, and felt all the more strongly because it comes from the heart.