Thursday, August 30, 2012

"KISSING OFF" with MONSIEUR BREJOUX - A valley, a canal, a haven of peace

Le Moulin du Verger de Puymoyen
One bright blue morning a few months ago, our friend  Jodie, a Bermudian artist* who has been living in France for around nine years, picked us up in her chariot and took us on a "Magical Mystery Tour" of some of her favorite, slightly secret French spots.  Unlike the Beatles film and album of the same name (which flopped miserably) our jaunt was chock full of hidden magic. 

First stop: SWANS

Behind the Salle de Marcel Pagnol lies a fast flowing river (rivière qui coule) invisible until one walks behind the rather ugly, institutional concrete wall with the grotesque grinning graffiti.  I thought graffiti might be derived from the french, but no, it comes from the Italian "graffito - a little scratch," but in this case some big scratches! Originally from the Greek, meaning "to write".  The ancient Romans carved graffiti on walls & monuments--here's one about disappointed love from CIL IV 1284:

Salle de Marcel Pagnol
Whoever loves, go to hell.  I want to break Venus's ribs with a club and deform her hips.   If she can break my tender heart, why can't I hit her over the head?

                          WHY INDEED?
But I don't think the images on this wall had anything to do with unrequited love or broken hearts.  I had to look up Marcel Pagnol to see why they named a Salle after him.  Novelist, playwright, filmmaker, teacher, perhaps best known for his novels:   Jean de Florette, Manon des Sources, La Gloire de Mon Pere & Le Chateau de Ma Mere. One of his quotes:
"Such is the life of a man, moments of joy, obliterated by unforgettable sorrow."

I think they should have attached his name to a far more elegant building. This one fills me with "unforgettable sorrow".  But when you get to the other side, & see the river laced with & dozens and dozens of "Mute Swans" - (Cygnus olor), you are filled with Joy!

Low divorce rate--they are said to mate for life--maybe being "Mute" contributes to maintaining a harmonious household. 

There are many wonderful legends and lyrical fairy tales about swans, e.g., "The Ugly Duckling", "Leda and the Swan" from Greek mythology, the Irish legend of the "Children of Lir" about a stepmother transforming her children into swans for 900 years and the swan related operas, Lohengrin & Parsifal.  Yeats's poem, "The Wild Swans at Coole": "...but now they drift on the still water, mysterious, beautiful;" was a testament to the heartache of living in a time when "all's changed". When he first counted the swans at Lady Gregory's lake in Coole Park, he wrote:  "Unwearied still, lover by lover, they paddle in the cold companionable streams or climb the air; their hearts have not grown old; passion or conquest, wander where they will, attend upon them still." Long ago in graduate school we learned that the theme here is actually Irish Nationalism. But my friend Liisa, who has her own original take on things, says I am a "four" on the Enneagram--at the core, a hopeless romantic, thus I have rejected the Nationalism idea and believe that Yeats was probably a four on the Enneagram as well.

During the reign of England's Elizabeth I, there was a lot of swan meat served up to the upper classes.  A surviving recipe for this luxury food:  "To bake a Swan Scald it and take out the bones, and parboil it, then season it very well with pepper, Salt and Ginger, then lard it" ...etc. etc.,
I won't print the recipe in its entirety as the clamor for baked Swan seems to have died down as have the upper classes.

The French satirist, Rabelais, wrote that a Swan's neck was the best toilet paper he had ever encountered.  Giving Charmin a run for its

Leaving the gliding beauties behind we head to Le Moulin de Verger, the papermill at Puymoyen, where Jacques Brejoux uses 19th and 20th century linen rags to make his exquisite handmade paper.

The purple paper for packing fruit

Paper was first made here in 1539 and the Moulin has been in operation for over 450 years; one of the few working papermills still producing handmade paper.  Monsieur Brejoux, proprietor and master papermaker appears at the front door looking like the proverbial central casting Frenchman with beret and beard, but does not look happy to see us.  Fortunately, he lights up when he recognizes Jodie, who has bought quite a few sheets of his "not for starving artists" paper.  

Jacques Brejoux, Master Papermaker
While Kevin and Jodie engage Monsieur, I wander around taking photos and pawing through the collection of apothecary texts, oaths and poems, settling on a 1924 Cocteau piece-- de la fumée de l'âme--the smoke of the soul.

 Days later I write to my friend Kim, a poet/artist living in Idaho, describing our visit to the papermill, how hypnotic and enthralling it was to stand in a shaft of sunlight surrounded by centuries old machinery, to touch the handmade paper, experience its opacity, brilliance, longevity--its nobility. Here is what she wrote:
"I love papermaking. Got hooked in college making handmade paper using the big hollander. 
Tearing cotton, boiling it, ripping and cutting it and then putting it in the hollander with water for a slurry. Screens and deckles, the kissing off, shaking the screen one direction then the next to align the fibers of the paper, rolling the wet sheet onto felts that get layered in the press. Later dry on racks, always remembering that paper has memory. The corner that I bent when laying there was persistent in being bent when dried. Hopefully when we're younger papers we're not so impressionable. It is a very physical art where the entire body has to participate slaked in water and clumps. I was offered to stay on to run the paper making studio after I graduated, I suppose I just had too much rambling in me, not to mention lack of clarity. With all that, I think painting grabbed my heart back then. Now using beautiful paper in printmaking, I fall in love all over again and want to gather it up so I can stare at the creamy surface of d' Arches or the mulberry paper of Japan. It is like those who collect beautiful fabrics. I am trying not to be a collector as I have no room. So the paper will be pressed upon."

Only a poet could describe it so lucidly.
L'Atelier de Fabrication
Choosing Paper
Not sure how one would say "kissing off" in french, since baiser means more than kissing these days, so perhaps one would "embrasse le papier?"
And then there is the "couching" stage which derives from "coucher" (to lay down) which takes me back to French 101 and the phrase everyone learns the first day:  "voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?" *note the use of vous instead of tu, definitely putting it into the one-night stand category.

Le Laminage

Medieval Stamper

Like most things in France, the language of love is woven throughout the paper fibers too. If you want to further your love affaire with paper, Monsieur Brejoux, il vous embrasse at the next workshop for handmade cover paper Sept. 17-21, 2012 at Le Moulin du Verger. 

For the final leg of the Magical Mystery Tour, Jodie takes us to the best patisserie//boulangerie I've ever experienced and that includes Paris!  It is in Magnac-sur-Touvre, but je ne sais pas le nom (and I wouldn't tell you if I did, it's already too crowded!)

Patisserie  Magnac-sur-Touve,--Where the sweet tooth fairy works overtime

* (Jodie Tucker, Bermudian Artist)

Fugitive Beauty  George De Gregorio
The term “fugitive beauty” came
to me in a letter. A friend’s wife
had used it in conversation. My friend
is a painter who studied in Paris.
I sought his opinion on poetry.
Fugitive beauty, evanescent, fleeting,
as if it implied a criminality
I did not understand.
Did all art start that way –
alone, furtive, so coiled
in its incubation that it feared
possible success or failure?
Fugitive, running away,
not standing with the norm, the herd,
not strong enough
to be judged?
Or did it mean beauty as Keats meant it?
“Truth is beauty, beauty truth” –
a raw truth, or a new dimension of beauty,
a new adjective
to describe eagles soaring,
no parameters,
like prisoners breaking out.

             Out there by itself,
             not great, not mediocre,
             but flying in its own space
             against all normalcy, blasting off
             to its own truthfulness,
             its own freedom.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


"There is a way to master silence
 Control its curves, inhabit its dark corners
 And listen to the hiss of time outside."
                            Paul Bowles

Sea of Sunflowers
104 yesterday or 40 celsius (sounds a lot cooler, doesn't it?) I still can't do the math.  I've got the kilometres and the litres down; somehow the temperature formula evades me.  But it all translates to aisselles en sueur (sweaty armpits) and a languid "Out of Africa" feeling.  The air is still as a stickpin. Rien ne bouge = nothing moves until the sun goes down or at first light. Two weeks ago I glided through fields of sunflowers that parted like the sea.  Once it even rained--the clouds squeezing out giant teardrops.

This morning, at the crack O'dawn I rode my bike to O'Sullivans, the French cafe in Feuillade, to listen in on the farmers' talking crops, the "meteo" (weather report), catch up on compost and whatever else I can glean from the hard to decipher Charentais accent.  The symbol of this region is the "escargot"-- joke being that the people move like snails-- au contraire, I've seen the tractors plowing, threshing, baling at midnight & out again at  4 a.m.  Struggling thru the lead piece in the local rag, La Charente Libre, on the future of farming here, I am not surprised to discover there are no skeptics re GW. Plans for 2085 are for cultivation, harvesting etc. to take place solely at night and in the early morning hours. Water in our enchanting emerald green secret garden will become scarce...the river of De-Nile ain't happening here. 

The story about O'Sullivans (perhaps apocryphal), since it is completely owned and run by a French family, is that the original proprietere traveled to Ireland, fell in love with the country, their pubs, beer & shamrocks and decided to replicate the experience.  Oddly the only thing about O'Sullivans that smacks of Ireland is its name, and a dog named Guiness who lives up the road.

Most mornings I visit him and his pal, Nokie, as I pedal through Doumerac to Feuillade.  With their capable paws, Guiness and Nokie manage the sheep farm and also keep order among the chickens and errant goats.  Beer drinking is kept to a minimum.  But on this suffocatingly hot morning I see a dead sheep in the pen and what seems to be a helpless, rather distraught look in the dogs' limpid eyes (Border Collies take their job seriously!). Creatures just expire in this kind of heat like the 14,000 French  two-leggeds who died during the infamous summer of 2003, the hottest on record since 1540--seven days of 104 degree temps.

But on this stolid morning it is a mere 90 degrees,
nothing to get too excited about. 

When I was a young armchair traveler I dreamed of going to exotic places transported by the stories from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.  I was sure I would find Aladdin's Wonderful Lamp, rub it and be granted three wishes.  My uncle kept a threadbare oriental rug up in the hayloft of our barn, & I designated it as my "magic carpet".  Somehow I missed out on how many of the tales' plots had to do with violence and virgins, Jinns, Ghouls & Apes.

Later on I graduated from the Ali B world to the novels and short stories of Paul & Jane Bowles. I imagined myself smoking Kif with Paul (never with Jane) adrift in his existential world of Tangier. In North Africa, together he & I would discover le dejenoun, the Arabian mountain where the spirits and genies dwell, master the craft of storytelling, (he'd already gone a long way) the power of the curse -- the exalted the sacred and the divine! We would "write in bed in hotels in the desert",  how could we go wrong??

From Bowles' essay:  "A Hundred Camels in the 
Courtyard" - "Moroccan kif-smokers like to speak of the "two worlds," the one ruled by inexorable natural laws, and the other, the kif world, in which each person perceives "reality" according to the projections of his own essence, the state of consciousness in which the elements of the physical universe are automatically rearranged by cannabis to suit the requirements of the individual.  These distorted variations in themselves generally are of scant interest to anyone but the subject at the time he is experiencing them.  An intelligent smoker, nevertheless, can aid in directing the process of deformation in such a way that the results will have value to him in his daily life.  If he has faith in the accuracy of his interpretations, he will accept them as decisive, and use them to determine a subsequent plan of action.  Thus, for a dedicated smoker, the passage to the "other world" is often a pilgrimage undertaken for the express purpose of oracular consultation." BINGO.

Alors, as you have probably guessed by now, none of my cleverly constructed maps were ever circumnavigated, and Paul and Jane merrily lived out their creative lives without me.

I was searching for presence and essence all those years.  The pilgrimage undertaken landed me in France where the real magic takes place:  Here we have diamonds (organic manure) on the souls of our shoes, tapdancing through the sacred and divine paysage. The French farmers do wheelies on my heart.  The invasion of rapacious empires is receding from our sunflower shores.  The insatiable thirst for air conditioning and electric dryers is not quenched here.  I have been granted three wishes:  Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite along with the bonus of sanity, balance and harmony.  Abracadabra!

A picnic in the Vineyard with Valerie, the French stone mason
Moon Flowers

Clothes Dryer


We will be known as the culture that feared death and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity for the few and cared little for the penury of the many.  We will be known as a culture that taught and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke little if at all about the quality of life for people (other people), for dogs, for rivers.  All commodity. And they will say that this structure was held together
politically, which it was, and they will say also that our politics was no more than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of the heart, and that the heart, in those days, was small, and hard, and full of meanness.

  - Mary Oliver

Festival of the Earth
Homeward bound, I spot a new "affiche" (poster) at the turnoff to Marthon, for the Fete de la Terre, held at the end of August, comparable to our "Earth Day" back in Etats-Unis.  A celebration of the soil, organic gardening; a labyrinthe vegetal; horse drawn plows pulled out of barns (I've seen some farmers using them this year).  Demonstrations and animations, petits et grandes.  Spinning my wheels, I'm off to check the homemade plum wine fermenting in our kitchen. There was a Harmonic Convergence on August 16/17. The 25th synchronized meditation for world peace-- a Closing of the Cycle.  The honeycomb of humanity buzzing in unison.


The Devil - Tarot Metal Sculpture - St. Suzanne, France