Archive for the ‘France’ Category
Early on in Francine Prose‚Äôs richly imagined and intricately constructed tour de force, Yvonne ‚Äď the proprietress of the Parisian Chameleon Club ‚Äďtells a story about her pet lizard, Darius. ‚ÄúOne night I was working out front. My friend, a German admiral whose name you would know, let himself into my office and put my darling Darius on my paisley shawl. He died, exhausted by the strain of turning all those colors.‚ÄĚ
History ‚Äď and the people who compose it ‚Äď is itself a chameleon, subject to multiple interpretations. Ms. Prose seems less interested in exploring ‚Äúwhat is the truth‚ÄĚ and more intrigued with the question, ‚ÄúIs there truth?‚ÄĚ
The setting is World War II Paris — when the Germans begin their occupation of the city, the protagonist of this story is just turning sixteen. Maral Pegorian and her older brother, Missak, are part of an Armenian family displaced to France after the Armenian genocide. They are stateless refugees and have made the suburb of Belleville in Paris, their home. Maral‚Äôs father is a cobbler and owns a small shoe shop hoping to one day pass on his skills to his son.
It is Paris in the spring of 1942. Paris, the glorious “City of Lights” is even more wondrous in the springtime….but not for the French, not in 1942. It is the second year of the victorious Nazi occupation, and the French are struggling to get by. There are economic problems with the payment of the costs of a three-hundred-thousand strong occupying German army, which amounts to twenty million Reichmarks per day; lack of food for French citizens – the Germans seize about 20% of the French food production, which causes severe disruption to the household economy of the French people; the disorganization of transport, except for the railway system which relies on French domestic coal supplies; the Allied blockade, restricting all imports into the country; the extreme shortage of petrol and diesel fuel; (one walks or rides a bike); France has no indigenous oil production and all imports have stopped; labor shortages, particularly in the countryside, due to the large number of French prisoners of war held in Germany. And then there was the Jewish problem.
George Baxter Henry is no paragon of virtue. In fact, he is a paradigm of vice, with a penchant for lustful young women. His marriage is on the rocks and his fractured family is falling apart. Connor Bowman‚Äôs novella after The Last Estate takes us back to the South of France‚ÄĒthis time Nice, but with an American protagonist. In this sinfully laugh-out-loud story about a wounded family trying to stitch itself back together, Bowman manages to make the reader care about these cross and querulous individuals who are headed on a grease skid to oblivion.
I was in my late thirties when the poet Arthur Rimbaud first crossed my horizon. It was Jim Harrison, the American writer, who brought him to my attention. In his memoir OFF TO THE SIDE, Harrison writes, ‚ÄúI think that I was nineteen when Rimbaud‚Äôs ‚ÄėEverything we are taught is false‚Äô became my modus operandi.‚ÄĚ Harrison continues, ‚Äú…Rimbaud‚Äôs defiance of society was vaguely criminal and at nineteen you try to determine what you are by what you are against.‚ÄĚ I admire Harrison a great deal. If he liked Rimbaud, if Rimbaud was the man, then I needed to know more.
According to Richard Wrangham, a biological anthropologist at Harvard, when Homo erectus, already master over fire, threw some tubers on a spit, freeing up nutrients and easing digestion, teeth, jaws and intenstines shrunk, paving the way for the evolution of larger brains, and us, Homo sapiens. In the wilds of the prehistoric world, it‚Äôs likely our human ancestors gathered around a single fire for safety, and a communal feast, suggesting that our need to sit and break bread with each other ‚Äď rather than scarfing down food, alone, in a moving car ‚Äďis an ancient memory buried deep in our brains.