Letters to Camondo by Edmund de Waal, the July selection for my public library's book club, is a book about archives and memory, memorials and loss. I read it a first time with interest. A second reading to formulate discussion questions (see below) deepened my interest to admiration, sorrow, and gratitude.
Picturing a World
The reward of blog-crawling on a rainy day was a post on "Harlequin Foods" at Victorian Paris. I knew that "pot-luck" soups were sold by street vendors to the poor, but get this: There was an entire trade in leftovers or rogatons from the kitchens of palaces, noble houses, fine hotels, embassies, and so on. The cook or the footman sold them to a vendor or reseller who came to the back door, and they began a journey of sorting and distribution until they reached a stall in Les Halles, where they might end up on a patchwork plate of mixed scraps more or less artfully arranged. In that form, they were called arlequins, probably because their patchwork appearance resembled the costume of the Commedia dell'arte character, Harlequin.
I hate what Sotheby's did to the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts; but news that the auction house will be selling this remarkable painting, Scène de rue à Montmartre (Impasse des Deux Frères et le Moulin à Poivre) by Vincent van Gogh is just too interesting to pass over. It has been in a private family, so at least its sale will not damage a museum. And if you go to the Sotheby's page, you'll be able to enlarge the image and get the impact of van Gogh's brush work. It conveys better than any painting I've ever seen before the ramshackle nature of Montmartre and its windmills.
This week, an astonishingly acute reader notified me that I had got Quilliard's name wrong when I mentioned this watercolor in a 2013 blog post. The old link no longer works anyway, so I'm delighted to post the image itself with a stable museum link. I used this watercolor to help imagine Jeanette's week at the Cluny in Where the Light Falls. Lovely to see it again! How I wish the novel could have been illustrated by an artist who took inspiration from such 19th C paintings.
Blog post alert: Herminie Waternau (1862–1913) would be an almost exact contemporary of my character Jeanette in Where the Light Falls. Her courtyard study shown here was made in 1908, the year in which my work-in-(very slow)-progress about Jeanette's sister Mattie is set. You can understand why I was fascinated to learn about her this morning! Four of her Parisian pictures illustrate James Gurney's post on 100,000 high-resolution images newly released by Paris museums. Check out Gurney, check out Waternau's Paris.
One way a book can make you happy is to transport you from your armchair to someplace else altogether. It helps, of course, for the place to be somewhere you’d like to visit (exposés need not apply). From Prevention’s list of 55 happy books, I’ll point to Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence and Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon as books that make you adore being in France. Read More