Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A few things that I learned on vacation

1. It’s good to get away. Away, in particular from the computer. We spend probably a majority of our waking hours every day staring at screens and typing. While in France, however, we were online for about a total of an hour over 2 weeks. This is partly because of the curious absence of internet cafés in this part of the world, which has mystified me ever since I started going there some years ago.

I found the withdrawal difficult for the first two days but then I spent long periods forgetting that the internet exists.

And, as much as I love the internet, this was a Very Good Thing.

But nothing personal, you understand.

2. Jacques Demy was a genius. Not only did he make mind-bendingly beautiful The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) but -- thanks to Arte -- we can also report that his The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) is just the thing for getting into that summer vacation state of mind.

Just take a look:

I mean, really: what more do you want?

3. Beaches are a wonderful invention. One has a very different outlook on life when, well, the outlook is like this.

Or this.

And when the most exciting thing that happens all week is the occasional docking of a dredger, you can be reasonably sure that you’re achieving the right level of relaxation.

(Sharp eyes will note that this vessel is the brilliantly named ‘Britannia Beaver’. Further comment, I think, would be superfluous)

4. Reading is a joy. This may seem obvious; however, I mean 'reading' in the sense of ‘reading something from beginning to end for the pure enjoyment of doing so and being able to linger over the better parts for as long as you like while pleasantly lost in thought’ and not, ‘desperately skimming a book or article to get what I need out of it in the shortest time possible.’

I (and we) spend a lot of time doing the latter and not nearly enough doing the former.

And they are very different experiences.

The joy is only increased by being able to focus on beautiful prose, of course, and I thank Erich Kästner, Ian McEwan and Thomas Mann for providing it.

(And, in Herr Mann’s case, in such enormous quantities: Buddenbrooks is pretty epic, and its German – parts of which are in local dialect or a bit archaic or both – is not the easiest for a non-native speaker used to humbler fare. However, it’s a gripping read, both deeply moving and very, very funny. I’m now encouraged to take on Magic Mountain: any advice? For those of you who're looking more simple -- but still beautifully written -- German reading, I can't recommend Erich Kästner's Emil books too highly. They're meant for children, apparently, but I found them to be a delight.)

Finally: The French, in their creativity, civilisation and love of state-supported civic life, have managed to combine point #3 and point #4 by putting libraries on the beach.

How awesome, dear reader, is France!?

Très awesome!


Ario said...

Good to hear you had a nice holiday!

As far as Mann goes, the best is to keep at it. Once you're inside his prose and world it is "easier" to keep on reading his other books. I first read Zauberberg and then Buddenbrooks in the space of half a year - a year. Then I thought it might be good to take a break, but never got back into him, the access those two novels had opened was gone.

They are both very different novels, though, as you may already be aware of. Arguments have also been made that Zauberberg might have benefit from a slightly more aggressive edit (i.e. by lobbing a third of the page off). I am not sure. An essential theme of the story is Time, which, to my mind, also makes the long time to read it an essential part of the experience of the novel.

It's still on the pithy side of À la recherche du temps perdu, though, which I shan't pretend to have finished.

headbang8 said...

All French films have a moment of ennui over cigarettes, don't they? Here, it's at 1:01.

John Carter Wood said...

Ario: Thanks for the best wishes!

I can see what you mean about being in Mann's world. Buddenbrooks took a little while to get into, but once I was in, I was hooked.

We just had friends visit: one liked Zauberberg and had trouble with Buddenbrooks; the other had the opposite view.

I'll be sinking into the Zauberberg soon; I'm thinking I'll allow myself a Theodor Fontane chaser first: Effi Briest.

I managed about 500 pages of À la recherche du temps perdu. I'm hoping to finish it one day.

Though not in French. I know my limits.

hb8: Oh, yeah, definitely. There was a period of my life that had a daily moment of ennui over cigarettes, too.

Hence my attractions to French films.