Sunday, 26 June 2011

J.M. Le Clézio

I try to find something to read in French. It has to be a novel, as I can follow a story without having to look up every other word. I'm attracted to the Nobel Prize winner of 2008. What kind of writing gets a Nobel Prize? To my astonishment the back cover is immediately readable, so I open it and begin at the beginning: 'I know hunger, I've felt it.' The author explains that he was one of the children following US trucks at the end of WW2, hoping for a crust, or a bar of chocolate. How he'd gulp down a tin of sardines, oil and all. & the luxury of a tin of spam... But, he says, this book is about another kind of hunger.

It's a family history, presumably the author's family, the story of a girl growing up in 1930s France. We become aware of the casual anti-semitism of adult conversation, even as she's becoming attracted to a young Jewish Englishman visiting his aunt in Paris. They meet up again after the war. His aunt has been rounded up in the affair of the 'Vel d'Hiv' – the 'winter velodrome' - a notorious and merciless round-up of Jews by French police in 1942, for which Jacques Chirac was to apologise in 1995. The author visits the site of the velodrome, now a high-rise estate with a memorial. The local youths challenge him: 'What do you want?'

I kept coming back to it until the end. Le Clézio has written since he was a child, and it shows. The longest word is probably in the title, 'Ritournelle de la faim' – 'Refrain of hunger' - and I read it hungrily. The writing and the story are simple enough, and yet it's alive and has real emotional depth. It's great to see that winning a Nobel Prize doesn't require long words, complex sentences, elaborate ideas, a big style, the expression of wild emotions, although it might take a lifetime of practice.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Arles again

Arles has extensive and well-ruined Roman ruins. The Greeks built theatres to watch Sophocles and Euripedes: the Romans, we are told, built theatres to watch humans and animals killing each other. The Greeks kept violence off-stage and described it: did the Romans really build massive theatres so they could watch actual suffering and death?

Much less grandiose and much more human is the late 11th or early 12th century facade of the cathedral. The cathedral itself is a massive, dark and boring space, but the sculpture in the sunshine outside is a real delight. The carving is so deep the figures are quite rounded, and work this good must surely be underpinned with drawing from life.

A familiar story at the top, but I wonder about the figure, apparently swimming, at the bottom. Or is it Adam undergoing ribesectomy?

& a weary Daniel with friendly lions.

Affection for a lion.

& I'm not sure what these stories are: a massive foot appears through the central door. The anguished figures on the right are carved so deeply there is actually a crowd behind them.

Curiously, it reminds me of Khajuraho, which was being carved at the same time, on a bigger scale, it's true, and with rather different subject matter. But the way the friezes are organised, separated by decorative layers, and the depth of carving, are actually quite similar. Offhand, and without digging out my slides of Khajuraho, I'd say that some of the decorations are identical.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


Van Gogh's yellow house was bombed in WW2. Just as well, perhaps; it'd be a dreadful tourist trap today. Better spend time looking at the drawings and paintings – but there are none on display in Arles.

The designer Christian Lacroix is from Arles, and the Musée Réattu has close contacts with him. A number of rooms have carpets made from his drawings: it's extraordinary to walk on the soft pile of these drawings. The Musée also has a sound installation, a raised wooden floor you are invited to walk over, barefoot: there are speakers beneath it, and you feel the sounds of a subterranean city through the soles of your feet. It feels clearer if you block your ears, and it's a curious experience to invert the normal order of perception happening at the top of the body.

Other than that, the musee shows a small modern collection, including photos, and a 'Picasso gift' of some 57 pieces, which aren't all on display. But in some ways the extensive 18th century building itself is the display, a whole maze of different-sized rooms, on different levels, with corridors behind old doors with antique latches, a maze in which every part is a centre. If you're assiduous you eventually find a room full of beanbags where you can lie all day and listen to 'sound art', and there's probably more that I never discovered. & every now and again you look out over the Rhone. The staff are unusually laid back and friendly.

Christian Lacroix, I read, filed for bankruptcy a few years back, at the beginning of the recession. In 20 years, his company never really made money despite his reputation, and prominent commissions like the entire reworking of the interior of the TGV trains. Apparently, he doesn't even own his own name, Christian Lacroix, any more, and has to work under variations of it.

Musée Réattu carpets

The Rhone at Arles

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Down to the sea in ships

This fabulous bird perched on the horizon...

...and Antibes. There seems to be a milonga there now, which is good news, with Céline Deveze involved. I didn't have time to explore, and it may be a recent development.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Lead and follow

Tango UK is the main UK tango message board, and from time to time it's also used for discussions on tango. Message boards don't work that well for discussions, and anyway Tango UK probably isn't read outside the UK.

In a recent discussion, Chrisjj talked about the prevalence in the UK of '...pattern recognition lead-follow' which he says is 'Wholly divorced from the way people from BA and around the world dance tango in clubs.'

I felt there was more to be said about 'pattern recognition'. Every now and again I dance with a newcomer who is unwilling to be drawn into a close embrace. I don't particularly enjoy dancing open, but an open embrace works fine - just so long as the woman maintains a tight grip with her left hand. So long as there is a rigid frame her body will follow what my body is doing. Remembering back to classes, that grip on the man's upper right arm is always taught, always insisted on. So why do newcomers invariably dispense with it? Every time I've danced with a newcomer I've had to say, look, you must hold on with your right hand. Oh yes... she says, and promptly forgets. So how does lead and follow work if there's no positive connection between the two bodies?

'Pattern recognition' is certainly there, but my impression is that there's a strong visual element. She watches my shoulders, and matches my movement with hers. Sadly, this, like pattern recognition, is a terribly long way round. Ask a friend to point at something at the same time as you do, and your hands won't move together. Take that friend's hand and point with it, and the two arms will move together. Instead of being something physically enjoyable, two bodies moving as one, tango becomes a skill set in which even the greatest skill won't result in moving together.

Chrisjj praises Andreas Wichter's teaching: Andreas of course teaches close embrace classes, and there's no visual lead, and no need for it, in close embrace.

There's too much inferior teaching: perhaps there's just too much teaching. Maybe it's my own limited ability, but the partners I've found difficult to dance with are those who have spent a lot of time in classes, and taken 'women's technique' to heart, whereas women who've enjoyed dancing a lot are always a pleasure to dance with, and I look forward to catching their eye across the floor when the music we both enjoy is played.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


Boire du café:
ça aide a faire
les choses ennuyantes
avec plus

(Drink coffee:
it helps you do
boring things
with more

Sign in a small bar in Vence where I had a 'pan bagnat' with a glass of wine, looking out into the shade of plane trees and sunshine. I had no boring things in mind, but enjoyed a coffee anyway.

Friday, 10 June 2011


I recognised the house immediately, even after decades. It was shuttered and closed, but it had hardly changed: the main upstairs room then had wooden shutters, hinged from the top and propped open to let in the warm evening breeze, and now it has metal shutters. Then it was August, so hot that bathing costumes were all anyone ever wore, and footware was redundant. In the evening, that upstairs room was hot and full of conversation; the adults read the papers, drank wine and talked politics, while granny cooked up tomatoes, garlic, onions with olive oil and herbs, and I felt free to enjoy my difficulties with French, because getting it wrong really didn't matter. It was a laugh. Such freedom! I was 14.

It was a village then; most of the 'roads' were just sandy tracks between houses, with acres of flat sand and grass all around, and the cinema was a walled enclosure with rows of chairs in the sand, and a white wall as a screen. That village is now a small town, with proper roads and roundabouts, and rather regimented in appearance. Out of season it's all shuttered, strangely empty and closed up against the cold ceaseless wind, though the huge spaces of the sea and beach, and that penetrating light, haven't changed.

I needed to revisit because it had been my first experience of life outside England, a life where it was hot and colourful, where the food tasted amazing, where everyone met everyone and talked all the time, where the streets were alive at night. I discovered I was Mediterranean by preference, if not exactly French. I've met a good many people since then who have problems with their place of origin, and imagine themselves as belonging elsewhere, or who simply have preferences, and it becomes obvious that identity is flexible, something we create and recreate out of preferences and experiences, and that discovering preferences for being someone else is something to explore, so long as you never lose sight of where your roots really are.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Le Pont des Arts

I loved this. It must be 7 or 8 years since I last crossed the Pont des Arts, and I don't remember it festooned with locks then. Locks! Locks in all shapes and sizes, locked to both sides of the full length of the Pont des Arts, as if in a spontaneous, collective artwork. If you look closely, a reason becomes apparent: many have traces of paint, more likely lipstick or nail varnish, letters, initials. In places there are two identical locks, locked together and to the bridge: then, I guess, you throw away the key, into the river below. & I think it's wonderful the Maire de Paris has left the locks there. Even if the Millennium Bridge inspired feelings of romance (and it's certainly not as comfortable as the Pont des Arts) I doubt the Mayor of London would take kindly to it being covered with locks.

& what if Solanas had turned up to film that memorable opening tango-ballet sequence of El exilio de Gardel: Tangos on the Pont des Arts, only to find it covered with locks?

Friday, 3 June 2011

Interview with Ney Melo

' don’t learn Tango, you develop your tango...' Interview with Ney Melo.