Friday, May 28, 2010

Brittany in Paris

It's getting harder to leave Brittany without taking a little something form it with me, so for the trip to Paris I started another novel from the many terrific ones at the house (yes, this means I finished Careless in Red, and, in the process, discovered that Steve and Gina watch the Inspector Lynley BBC series - yea!). This one is entitled Assignment in Brittany by Helen MacInnes, and my cover is even racier (it shows a buxom Breton peasant lass leaning over a wounded guy in peasany clothing - Vive la Résistance!). In finding the image, I was startled to discover the novel was first published in 1942 (!) describing events in 1940. It was also made into a movie in 1943, directed by Jack Conway. Something to add to our "Remember Brittany" Netflix cue, Mac!

Not to put on our Netflix cue because (sigh) a good medieval movie is hard to find is the latest Robin Hoof, which I took in tonight after a great day at the Bibliothèque Nationale (serious medieval, then not-so-serious medieval). I'm stunned to think of that movie showing at Cannes (which is in FRANCE!) because so much of the movie is unthinkingly anti-French. The French are vilified and ridiculed in these really kind of dumb ways (Friar Tuck gets a bunch of French soldiers drunk and then throws two beehives in the their room and locks them in - really?). The usual anachronisms in which medieval movies are a platform to display proto-democracy movements (this is much (much much much) more common in medieval movies than you'd think), I can get over (although they do sound awfully Tea Partyish, as one critic said). But it was watching Ridley Scott, who is such a brilliant director, and Brian Hegeland, to whom I will be eternally grateful (yes, grateful!) for Knight's Tale - it was watching those wonderful guys not have any fun with this that was harder. Robin Hood is a trickster, a scamp, a cad you can't help but root for. He speaks treason fluently, for goodness sake (this, from Errol Flynn). In this movie, he is just too heroic. This is what is always hard about medieval movies: heroicism thrust upon an age in which Innocent III's The Vileness of the Human Condition was a best-seller. That's not to say that there were no heroes in the Middle Ages - there were plenty. But they're conditional, flawed, complex - that's why I love teaching them. Lancelot? ponder that poor scoundrel for a bit! And then, how dare I complain about this, but: too many fantastic battle scenes that kind of go nowhere emotionally. (Much better would have been Robin Hood on Crusade with Richard the Lionhearted instead of coming back from it). BUT, there was a beautiful Brittany moment, for King Richard's retinue rode out of France and to England through the Forrest of.... Broceliande!

Let's talk about the BN (Bibliothèque Nationale) for two seconds. And then I have some news from home from Mac about the kiddies and Steve and Gina.

Ta-daaaa! Behold the fort of knowledge! What a project the BN is - this, to me, not the Pyramid at the Louvre, is where Mitterand is really leaving his mark. There are two levels, one of reading rooms and exhibition spaces, and, down below, one for researchers. The happy part is that the reading rooms upstairs were all full - that's such a beautiful thing! Being a researcher is still a special little thing: you have your interview in which you talk about your research and you show them your University letterhead letter (very important) and they decide whether or to let you in (I still get scared although I've never been turned away). And then you get your magic card, and then this incredible "Get Smart" sequence starts and after 1 turnstile, 2 sets of enormous doors, 2 separate escalators, and another turnstile (I'm bringing my camera next time), you're in! And what a place: gorgeous furniture, every detail seen to (I always think of Mitterand looking at carpet samples at this point). One small glitch: the guys who fetch the books (les magasiniers) are on strike. OH NO! But it's only the literature magasiniers that are one strike (whew! sorry lit students!). Good Lord, France, but I love you. I wish that I could swiftly and elegantly describe this crazy country, this wonderful place, this repository of hope and style. But I can only tell you that while at the BN I simultaneously laughed at the signs posted everywhere telling you that when it's raining (as it was today) all walking surfaces are very slippery (and you know how frail scholars are!), and then just as quickly, once I was seated and looking at a book, I was flooded with the joy of this place, and a study day gloriously stretching until 8 p.m. and isn't it fantastic what happened in France? Isn't it amazing to discover (as it was today) that François Ier had a manuscript made for him before he became king entitled "Letters of the Ottoman Turck Mahometes" (it's at the Manuscripts building which, though lovely, is run by really surly people who really really hate that anybody wants to look at a manuscript ever. Anytime. Ugh) - but no matter! I'll be going there next research gig.

I did briefly daydream of those dissertation research days when we would go "coast to coast" (9 a.m. to 8 p.m.) and just completely lose ourselves in research (easy to do so in the old BN reading room, eh? Wow, what a beautiful place that was!) - follow ideas to their original manuscript, bump between sources, write copiously. Sigh. I have to be much more efficient now. My dear Donna has a personal fantasy of running freely in the stacks of the BN - that's what I'll daydream about next time. Tomorrow morning I'll be looking at the 1517 French edition of a German 1484 Pilgrimage to the Holy Land text, one which has been liberally edited and added on to to include a call for Crusade, a condemnation of the Ottoman take-over of Jerusalem, and much, much more!

News from the home front is good: Iris is sorry that Steve and Gina won't be picking them up from school, since they're leaving Josselin at 3 p.m. tomorrow - but hey, at least she loves school again! I miss those babies. I can't believe we're all going to be here for a week at the end of July! Little Americans in Paris. On that happy note, goodnight all!

P.S. I have much more to get down: Pretty Big Insight on the primacy of self vs. the primacy of state, and also some pondering as to whether or not humans have always had bureaucracy? Is Bureaucracy a pitfall of the human condition, or of writing (which is pretty crucial to the human condition)? To ponder!

1 comment:

  1. Hello Anne! So happy that you are enjoying your time in Paris!! Drop me a line if you want to take a coffee break :)