Feeling the air of Waterloo & other oblique explorations…

Hey, explorer…

Choose a knowledge-field you don’t know at all, and begin to dig to find your gold. This is what you like to do, right?

Japanese cinema, French classical music, British painters of 19th Century, US Civil War – what else?

Voilà : you have your unknown territory ready. Your hungriness will do the rest. Yum!

You need help, right? A compass, a guide, a book, a web site, friends, a lecture… It’s easy to find some. Find a map. Draw your map.

What we often do is to see what’s essential. Kurosawa and Ozu for Japanese cinema. Ravel and Debussy for French musicians, etc. You read the most important books, and that’s OK. An afternoon on the web will help to find the list…

Here I propose some more oblique ways to do that.

  • Find documents against. People who dislike, or say the contrary of what it’s commonly said. I once read about the French Revolution : next to the great books I piled on my table, I put a book written by a Royalist, an historian whose motto was “Revolution : a wrong mess!”. He was a good writer, though, and I learned a lot from him – though it’s pretty rare to find this “music” in our times.
  • Explore little branches of the tree. After decades of exploration, I knew the great composers and their important works : Brahms, Bartok, Prokofiev and more. Then I spent years to explore the same field, but under the stars : Roussel, Martinu, Walton and Sibelius. And thanks to the previous “normal” exploration, I had so much pleasure!
  • Find other ways to explore :
  • Instead of reading history books about an era, try to read books written by witnesses. Instead of trying to find the big picture, choose one person, a detail. One painter’s life. Instead of reading, go to lectures, watch them on YouTube. Find the minor things, what’s considered failures, and study hows and whys…

  • Explore what’s difficult : Mahler instead of Beethoven. Avant-garde photography.
  • Explore what’s hard because documents are rare, or the field very small.
  • Explore what you think you dislike : Consider other doors. Baroque music. Swedish movies. History of Prussia. Try to see if you find surprise-gold.
  • Go on site. This is totally different. Feeling the air of Waterloo. Find Vermeer’s city. Watch the sky…
  • In between two fields. Instead of studying Portugal or the new America, study the boats, the travels, the movements, agreements, trades. Learn what happened between two territories : producers and movie makers, Napoleo and United Kingdom…

 

What territory will you find? Butterflies? African masks? Dante? Religions in India? Story of the city of Philadelphia? Bridges of Budapest?

Do you have other ideas to find doors, bridges, territories and maps?

Then, what vein of gold will you find? What doors, what ways? Will you wake up in the morning with this delicious urge : dig more, know more, learn more?

Thanks for reading!

 

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Instagram : genevievealicegarner

 

 

 

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Every bookstore is the result of its clientele

One day I saw an interview of a celeb journalist and TV show presenter, a person I like very much, directing good shows and a pretty good interviewer herself. She was asked why TV was so full of trash. I saw her face changing, she was really upset, then answered something very surprising : TV broadcasts were so bad because “It’s what the audience wants!”.

She continued on this mode, telling something like “If people were watching operas, literature documentaries and great movie classics, all trash TV would broadcast in front of nobody, then would disappear for ever, then we would have great TV everywhere!”.

Her anger was noticeable, and that’s why I remembered it clearly. When smart people complain, you listen. Then, you wonder, right?

Because of course this all seems to be too good to be true, and it’s easy to counterattack. People watch trash TV because it’s prepared and broadcasted to them, etc.

 

So, there’s a balance here to find. After counterattack I have to admit that we all have a responsibility here, nonetheless. It’s like when I hear someone complaining about dense traffic… from a car. I have to answer to this person that he is a brick of it.

In some countries, if you are stuck into a traffic jam, you get a ticket! Which, in a way, is fair : you’re a part of it, it’s your fault!

OK, there’s a balance to find…

 

I work in a bookstore, and I’m confronted with this “structure”. The axiom could be :

“Every bookstore is the result of its clientele”.

You can be appalled, but it’s true. For a part, at least.

Yeah, there are other dials to watch. You need to have serious booksellers on board. And you often have to sell tons of “best sellers” on end displays… to be able to present entire tables of great books (your choice) in the store. Etc.

In a serious bookstore, all kind of books are bought then presented on tables and shelves. Employees, then, watch (weekly) closely the sales, then books are reordered. Never sold volumes (for months) are a bit dirty or torn, and therefore sent back to editors, and this is it : little by little, the customers, by the way they act and buy, model and form the store.

You just need a year or so to adjust, understand and change your store to adapt to your clientele. If you have an architecture school a street away, your architecture department will grow, you’ll have rare books, theory books and even anthropology books for the thinkers around. A visitor will pass and will be in a awe : “Oh wow, what a great architecture choice you have!”. Yessss it’s thanks to the bookstore employee, but mainly because he found the clientele, too. It’s a dance, a tango.

There’s a balance to find.

There’s a split of responsibilities in front of trash TV, in traffic jams, in poor supplied bookstores. Suppliers, of course, but audience too.

Do you meet this structure too, in your job, in your life? Don’t hesitate to comment, here.

 

We have an old idiom in France, about couples : “L’homme propose, la femme dispose”. It’s something like “the man proposes doings, the woman makes the choice” – I’m sorry for the translation, it’s almost impossible to do it, but you got me, right? Tango.

 

Thanks for reading!

(Really sorry for my English today. Have a nice day!)

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“To Eat Alone”

Some recent events in my life made me a lonely man, and therefore a lonely eater.

When I was a father in a family, I was really happy to have dinner-togetherness, to cook for my tribe, to talk, listen, laugh, and feel the family’s energy around the table.

I’ve been very skeptical when I read about how Americans were losing these daily gatherings of all the big cats around the table. “Everyone is having snacks when they want, everybody’s picking things in the fridge, watch TV or eat in bedrooms”, they said. My feelings were like between “it’s not true, it’s impossible” and “oh these Americans!”.

When my daughters were little, some days I went home late, it was almost time to go to bed : I told them stories, kissed them goodnight, then I was happy to have dinner with their mother, but also alone.

I remember good summer evenings. Two cat babies sleeping, mother cat watching a movie, and me papa cat, with a cassoulet, two slices of bread and half of a bottle of Bergerac wine, eating on a tray, on my bed, in front of a wide open double-window (or should I say “French door”, really?), watching and listening birds and trees in the dusk, sshhh.

Not working on thursdays, I remember I was happy to have meal time alone, eating in silence in the kitchen, listening to the rain outside. On my table : a candle, a corner lamp, and a magazine (about movies). Maybe some Brahms chamber music too. Bliss!

Now I eat alone, but I don’t snack. I never snack, and I’m always questioning my snacking friends in America, opening different little colored bags to crinch crunch and croonch while we Skype. I’m like “Where’s your plate, dear?”. They know I eat alone, thus they’re somewhat amazed by HOW I’m eating alone. Well, that’s nothing special, but I… I’m sorry… I can’t snack. It would kill me under a blanket of depression. It’s almost : “I’m French therefore I need a plate”.

I know better, OK : I have more time, in France. We work less, we move less (distances are… different here – I go to work by bike), and… errr… I think we think that food time is worth it, too : I eat alone but it’s cooked, sliced, prepared, organized. Just a bit. I need it.

Awweee sorry for my bad English. I’m wobbling, I know it. Pardonnez-moi !

Have a nice day! Bon appétit !

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Babette’s Feast, a Frenchization

In a remote 19th-century Danish village, two sisters lead a rigid life centered around their father, the local minister, and their church. They take in French refugee, Babette Hersant, who agrees to work as their servant. After winning the lottery, Babette wants to repay the sisters for their kindness and offers to cook a French meal for them and their friends on the 100th anniversary of their father’s birth. It proves to be an eye-opening experience for everyone.

As they say, Babette’s Feast is “still the gold standard of food movies”. I use it here because I find it’s a good example of… well… the reasons why people love the French – when they do 🙂

Babette is the perfect example of the Intruder/Revealer type. She disturbs a system, here a rigid grey life, with her “way of being”, which is here the love of food, et la gourmandise.

Nothing is the same after her…

Gourmandise is the French word for “love of good food”. I think you don’t have this word in English, which is maybe cultural (Mayflower spirit?). It’s like a positive, smiling way to talk about… greed. Yum!

On this pattern, there’s another movie, with Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp : Chocolat.

I agree : this spirit can be a bit disturbing for obedient Anglo-Saxons. Each time I’ve been in France with an American friend, this person was like amazed (in many ways : surprised, annoyed, afraid) about our freedom, our “not following the rules that much” ways, our casualness, our inefficiency too – and the food. The food, always, and again.

Here (like in other countries like Italy), c’est un Art de vivre, an Art of living. And we fight for that! Many of our cheeses are and will stay forbidden in America : not “safe” enough, not enough disinfected, sanitized…

Here I pity the French who live in America : they’re all missing… the cheese! And also, I will now search for “cultural differences movies”, where Anglo-Saxon’s culture irrigate our exhausting Frenchiness.

 

Tool : what from other country’s culture thing do you need in your job, in your life? What if you ask a Japanese expert about your company? What for? Where are the axis of progress?

Have a nice day!

OK, here’s a little Camembert to say goodbye.

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Pecking ways & means of apprehend a work of art

Choose a painting, a photograph, a poem, a symphony. You pay attention. But what are the ways and means of choosing, then knowing, apprehend this work of art?

I wrote an article already about the braid between reason & feeling : you can just “I like it”, or begin to dig knowledge around it, and, of course, weave both.

In French we have a verb for “to peck”, like a hen beaklooking for seeds : picorer. Then it begins to be tricky, because we made other words from it :

  • Picorer : to peck.
  • Picoreur : “the one who pecks” -> pecker.

Well, I checked, and found out that a pecker in something else, right? And that “to peck” means also to “kiss lightly”. I appreciated the English metaphors, but I’m embarrassed now to say that a way to discover art is to be a pecker!

I admire those (I call them the divers) who explore a little square. Instagrammers who takes HDR pictures of beautiful lands (or black and white portraits of homeless people in Alabama). Bloggers about vegan food or cheetah high heels. Callas (or The Beatles) only lovers. Crime novels specialists. They dig dig dig like dwarves in the mine. They’re great!

I’m a pecker (un picoreur). Let’s take a picture of the sky, then a minimalist low angled light on a roof, then a golden swan for sale on a table. Let’s listen to Puccini’s Tosca, then Brian Eno’s Apollo Atmospheres & Soundtrack, then Dave Brubeck’s Lost Waltz. Let’s read a short story of Chekhov, Calvin & Hobbes and a whole book about Duke Ellington’s life. In the same day.

I wonder if it’s linked, this way of microdiving in things, with the appetite to know “how it works”, “when it’s been composed”, “who are other artists around”, “what was he thinking at this time”, etc.

Books and the Internet : you can read about Brubeck’s life, watch an Eno interview, buy a second hand poster about Puccini’s opera.

Some will say it’s my sign : Taurus (patient, artistic, methodical) Gemini ascending (fast, curious, restless). I don’t believe in this, but it’s funny, right?

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Tool/Dial : are you a diver, or a pecker?

 

Thanks for reading!

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Freedom & Hungriness : exploring a domain “in a roundabout way”

Imagine you want to explore the life of Abraham Lincoln, or the D-Day. You can do that the proper way, reading a biography or watching a good documentary. But I like to find other path, in a roundabout way, finding another door, another color, being a little casual and inappropriate.

Take the Lincoln example. You can :

  • Read about someone’s around : his wife, a general, his murderer.
  • Read about what happened after him, or the American life before him.
  • Find pictures on the web about him, his life, his handwritten letters.
  • Read a diary of somebody who knew him.
  • Find everything about his opponents.
  • Explore one month only of his life and the country’s life too.
  • Find a Lincoln forum on the web and spend months exploring, reading questions and answers of specialists.

Tool :

Casualness in knowledge exploration is a possible way.

Thanks for reading!

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Writing in another language

I’m French. I write in English. Why? Here’s what I see :

  • Blogging in English forces me to me short and simple.
  • So it’s like pendrawing instead of oil painting. Water instead of wine.
  • I constantly check (and thus learn) vocabulary.
  • So I have to think about the French vocabulary too.
  • I am not distracted by any search of French “Style”, and it’s a relief.
  • I quit my well known ground, to find another babyway to walk on another soil.
  • Writing in French is like “too easy”, it flows fast (as I type) from ideas to words.
  • Writing in English is more like building a little plane-model with unusual words. It’s slower, and a pleasure too.
  • There’s a playing child pleasure into it.
  • As it’s not my “tongue”, I feel really more chilled out when I write here.
  • Therefore I can focus on my little tools, not “How to say that in French properly”.
  • I invent words with a smile.
  • I make mistakes on purpose… with a smile.
  • I know and feel that I miss something, and I have to ignore it, and let go.
  • I can speak English, but I’m also quite lost in it. I explore, then.
  • I learn constantly about American culture, just by watching the way this language expresses things.
  • Idioms are different, and each time it’s like finding a jewel.
  • It’s probably an exercise for “one day write in French”, with new eyes and muscles-of-the-brain gained from writing in another language.
  • It can also be a way to voluntarily lose bad habits in my own language.

 

Beautiful books are always written in a sort of foreign language, said Marcel Proust. That’s a great seed for the mind, don’t you think? It’s about style. When I’ll “write back” in French, I’m sure I’ll be richer, then, because of my English exploration years…

Merci!