Apricot Pie, Michel de Montaigne’s spiritual daughter, St. Emilion and gourmet to go

Literary Tourist near Bordeaux, France

Did you know that Transat flies Bordeaux – Montreal direct? We did, and so decided to avoid the Paris crush by driving from Le Mans, where we were staying, through Chateauroux where my wife’s uncle and aunt live, along to Angoulême, host, every January, to the world’s third largest comic book convention; from here we scooted over to Michel de Montaigne’s Chateau, and finally, into Bordeaux where I visited the oldest, and arguably biggest, independent bookshop in France.

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It was some hot. How hot? Let’s just say we didn’t see any escargot sunning themselves on the sidewalks. It would have been lethal. Luckily Robert had rigged up a garden hose shower in the back yard


Caroline et Robert

and in the shade of some nearby trees it was possible to enjoy, in relative comfort, his chilled red wine, a selection of his choice barbequed meats, and his wife Martine’s delicious apricot pie-like, clafoutis-type desert.

It cooled off a bit over night (the outside temperature that is) so the drive to Angoulême wasn’t as stifling as the one to Chatalroux had been the day before (the a/c in our Enterprise rental car was on the fritz). We arrived in time for a late lunch. Just in time, in fact, for the hostess at the first restaurant on the square where we’d parked, to tell us there was no more food, we’d have to try next door. Yes, they could accommodate us, but we were lucky. The last ones fed.

Most French restaurants outside of Paris stop serving lunch at around 2pm. Despite the inconvenience I kind of like this practice; says something about the quality of the food. Good that it’s not available around the clock like it is in North America. Judging from the glee with which ours delivered her dispiriting news, it’s clear that at least some waiters over here do get a perverse pleasure in telling people, especially Americans, to get lost. But I’m being too harsh. Generally speaking the demeanor of French hospitality toward English speaking tourists has improved markedly over the past ten years.

I wanted to see Angoulême’s comic strip museum, ground-zero for the International Comics Festival that has taken place here every year since 1974. More than 200,000 attend annually; venues are spread out around the city. The Festival is known for the important prizes that it hands out. Unfortunately the place was closed (on Mondays). I did however get a photo

and along the way found evidence of Angoulême’s commitment to comics. Its street-names are displayed in cartoon speech bubbles

There’s also a 4,5 meter high obelisk that’s been erected in front of the train station in honour of Astérix scriptwriter René Goscinny. On it you’ll find memorable lines from the comic strip including “Strange guys, those Romans!”

From Angoulême we went Bergerac, which, I figured, had to have something to do with Cyrano. Turns out it didn’t. Seems like neither the real guy, nor the fictional guy ever stepped foot in Bergerac. The only connection is this opportunistic statue

Cyrano, statue

Still, it offered the opportunity to think about Edmond Rostand and his play, published in 1897. It describes Cyrano’s love for the beautiful Roxanne, whom he woos on behalf of his handsomer, less articulate friend Christian. Cyrano was first performed at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin in Paris in 1897, and in English in the United States in 1898. Its translation that year introduced the word “panache” into the English language. Anthony Burgess, among others, also translated the play. There have been numerous adaptations of Cyrano, among the best-known are the 1950 American film starring José Ferrer and the 1990 French-Hungarian film starring Gérard Depardieu.

From Bergerac, with its half timbered houses, we went to our hotel which looked, for a heart-stopping hour, like it might not be able to offer internet service. Luckily it kicked in after we got back from a run to the supermarché. The following morning we headed out to famed essayist Michel de Montaigne’s Château. It’s beautifully situated.


Surrounded by Continue reading “Apricot Pie, Michel de Montaigne’s spiritual daughter, St. Emilion and gourmet to go”

Tumbling into the Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart in Paris

Literary Tourist in Paris

It was a tough trek. Way longer than I expected – from the American University of Paris to the Shakespeare and Company bookstore along the Seine. I was lugging my laptop too, and the books Daniel Medin had given me after our conversation about translation, plus this

Shakespeare and Company Paris: A History of the Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart. Predictably I wasn’t on time for my interview with its editor, Krista Halverson. It wasn’t that I was winded, or, despite the heat, sweating too much; no, I was annoyed because I was unnecessarily late. Krista quickly shooed this funk away, assuring me that she hadn’t noticed, inviting me to join her for a beverage at the store’s adjacent cafe (there on the left,  all dressed in white).

Yes, Shakespeare & Co. has its own cafe now! – a luxury that long-time owner George Whitman could only covet. The store, and cafe, are now owned by his daughter Sylvia –  as in Beach – who I had hoped to interview. Unfortunately for me, she was off on maternity leave, nurturing the next generation of bibliophiles.

I ordered an espresso, Krista chose some sort of energizing berry-carrot concoction. Of course that’s what I should have had – being hot and tired and late and all. We moved to the outdoor patio to plot out how our conversation would go. Krista couldn’t finish her drink and offered me what remained – looked like half the glass. Perfect.

She showed me through the shop, which, thanks to various adjacent rooms and apartments coming on the market and being bought or rented at different times , really does

resemble a rabbit warren.

You need to pay attention to details if you want to get the full bookstore experience. Floor tiles

overhead signs, biblical

and otherwise

(City Lights in San Francisco is a sister store, and sports a Shakespeare &Co. sign above its door), and I really liked this window full of flowers

We even stopped in on some young Continue reading “Tumbling into the Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart in Paris”

Five must see places in Bath for Jane Austen fans

By Angela Youngman

For any fan of Jane Austen, Bath has to be the place to go. The elegant, genteel streets filled with buildings of pretty yellow stone still bear a distinct resemblance to the Bath that Jane knew so well.

The Assembly Rooms & Museum of Costume

Jane knew this building as the Upper Rooms and it was the venue of many of the dances and social events that she attended. She refers to it in Northanger Abbey and also in Persuasion when ‘Sir Walter, his two daughters, and Mrs Clay, were the the earliest of all their party at the rooms in the evening; and as Lady Dalrymple must be waited for, they took their station by one of the fires in the Octagon Room’.

Administered by the National Trust, visitors can explore the rooms, which still have many of the original features including the elaborate chandeliers. On display is an elegantly decorated sedan chair – typical of the type of chair Catherine Morland would have used in Northanger Abbey.

The Pump Room

This was another social venue frequently used by Jane and her characters. Visitors came to Bath to take the waters and enjoy the social round. Edward Austen, her brother, came to Bath suffering from gout. Jane wrote ‘he was better yesterday than he had been for two or three days before ….He drinks at the Hetling pump ….. is to bathe tomorrow’.

The Pump Room was also where the Subscription book was kept. New arrivals to Bath could insert their names, alerting others to their arrival. It enabled visitors to subscribe to Assemblies and concerts in the Pump Room and the Assembly Rooms. In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Moreland visits the Pump Room to ascertain if Henry Tilney was still in town: ‘His name was not in the pump-room book, and curiosity could do no more. He must be gone from Bath.’

The Sydney Gardens

This was one of Jane’s favourite places in Bath. She enjoyed walking in the gardens. In a letter to Cassandra dated 21st January 1801, she wrote, “my mother hankers after The Square dreadfully and it is but natural to suppose my Uncle will take her part. It would be very pleasant to be near Sydney Gardens – we might go into the Labyrinth every day….” Her wish was granted, and they took a house at Number 4, Sydney Place.

The Royal Crescent

In Jane Austen’s books, this is referred to as The Crescent. It was later renamed The Royal Crescent after a visit by Prince Frederick, second son of King George III. It features in Northanger Abbey when the Thorpe and Allen families discover that the place to be seen on Sundays is the Crescent, rather tha the Pump Room. Situated in the upper part of the town, it comprises a great half circle of thirty, linked houses all made out of the pretty yellowish Bath stone.

Trim Street

This was the site of Jane Austen’s final home in Bath. They had returned from a holiday with friends in Steventon in considerably reduced circumstances and took, what they hoped would be, temporary accommodation in Trim Street. Located in the very centre of Bath’ it was noisy, confined, narrow and bustling. They were very pleased to be able to leave it when the opportunity arose.

Angela Youngman is a writer and journalist with numerous books linking travel and literary/film sites. She is the author of Discovering Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Jane Austen: The Writer, the Story, and Places to go