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Château d'Angers

After a quick stop in Montreuil (near Paris), I headed for Angers.  Angers is fairly close to where I am from; however, I had not been there since I was a young kid and the only thing I could remember of the town was the famous castle (we used to pass it when driving from Nantes to Paris).  My expectations were not really high, but I was agreeably surprised.  Angers is a really pleasant town with a great atmosphere.

A small paved street near the cathedral

I was there for a conference, but arrived the evening before.  The sun was shining and it was warm and I was at leisure to explore this charming town.  I love small and disordered streets and I enjoyed wandering in them.

Saint Maurice Cathedral

There are many old stone buildings and a beautiful cathedral, as well as some maisons à colombage.  I decided to have my dinner on a terrace facing one of them.

La Maison d'Adam

We were treated like kings at the conference and maybe it is not such a myth that the French like their food and their wine; I just did not grow up in such a family.  On both days, two hours were allocated for the lunch break, and these were indeed spent eating and drinking.  We had three-course meals in both places.  The first was only the university cafeteria, but the food was delicious.  The second day, we went to a café-bistro where we were able to eat on the terrace and enjoy a leisurely lunch in the sun.

Les Caves de la Genevraie

You might notice that I am skipping a meal here.  For the conference dinner, we were bought by bus to a village, Louresse-Rochemier, where a table had been reserved for us in a troglodyte restaurant, Les Caves de la Genevraie.  Troglodytes are houses that are built in the rock.  The temperature there can be quite low, but a fire kept the restaurant room warm and cosy.  There, we were served a traditional and earthy meal.  Each course was accompanied with some fouace, a traditional bread, which was made on the premises and served hot.  We began with a fouace stuffed with some mushrooms (grown in some toglodyte houses), followed by some rillettes.  Then, the main course arrived and consisted of a dish of white beans and rillauds (little bits of lard), which you spread on your fouace.  Being in France, we couldn’t escape a plateau de fromage, to my delight, as well as a dessert.  A filling meal, but as we took our time, we were able to fit everything.  Through the meal, we actually took a break and went to visit another part of the restaurant where the baker makes the bread.  It was a most enjoyable evening and a great food experience.

Baking the fouaces

The conference itself was also a success.  The theme of the conference was The Figure of the Author in the Short Story (you can read the programme here), a topic that I find highly interesting.  It was a small conference and consequently very friendly.  The plenary speaker, Charles E. May (whose blog you can read here) delivered a paper highlighting why the short story is a more writerly genre than the novel.  There was also a roundtable led by Tim Struthers (whose first ever interview was of Magaret Atwood) on the topic of interviews.  The highlight of the conference was a reading by Toby Litt, followed by a series of questions and answers.

Toby Litt

Here is the complete set of photos:

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On my way from Birmingham to Paris, I went to passed through London where I took the Eurostar (very comfy!).  I had been to London before, kind of…  More exactly, I had been to Stansted and Gatwick airports before, and once, on my way from one airport to the other, I got to smoke a cigarette outside Victoria station!  This time, however, I walked from Euston to King’s Cross and had the opportunity to snap a few shots.

I will be back to London in September and will stay there for three days, so I should have more time to explore this busy city.

St Pancras Parish Church, near Euston station

A detail of St Pancras Parish Church

Hotel St Pancras, between the British Library and King’s Cross

Still the same building, I’m not sure if it’s still the hotel though

A detail of St Pancras building

The clock tower of St Pancras building

Arriving in Birmingham: the air shuttle; very cool!

You might remember that I went away for a little while in April.  My first destination was Birmingham.  How exciting!  Not really, it was my second time there and I was still not impressed by the town.  However, the reason why I was there was a lot more exciting: the British Association for Canadian Studies annual conference.

The Bullring by night; 8pm and the streets are empty...

Clock tower, University of Birmingham

 

Luckily for us, the conference was taking place outside the city at the University of Birmingham and we were also staying on campus.  It was so much more pleasant than the city with birds, trees and flowers…

Thus, for three days, I listened to interesting papers on Canadian studies.  I mostly went to the literature panels, although I now regret having missed some of the other panels.  That’s the problem with big conferences like that: they have a few panels running at the same time and one has to make difficult choices.

As always, it was great to meet people with a similar interest and sit back to listen to them talk about their research.  I was part of a panel on Atwood and was pleased to see that the three of us were dealing with the “minor” genres: poetry and short fictions.  It was all the more surprising that the theme of the conference was “Peace and (In)Security: Canada’s Promise, Canada’s Problem?” and one would have expected some of Atwood’s latest novels to be discussed.

Panel on Atwood; drawing by Heather Spears

The keynote addresses were varied.  Professor Stephen Royle (Queen’s University) presented a lecture sponsored by the Eccles Centre (British Library), which was entitled “Insecurity in Canada’s past: James Douglas keeps the peace on Vancouver Island”.  Dr. Susan Hodgett (University of Ulster) gave a presidential address and delivered a presentation on her latest project, which involves the use of Sen’s capability approach to evaluate social attainment of immigrants in Canada.  I was not familiar with her work, but her lecture was interesting and really approachable.  Professor Claude Denis (University of Ottawa) gave a lecture entitled “Canada-US armour for a happy place?  Building ‘perimeter’ security withoutMexico”, which discussed North-American relations after 9/11.  Finally, Professor Louis Balthazar (University of Laval) also discussed Canada-US relations in his presentation, “Canada’s Continental Destiny and Quebec’s Americanité Confronted with American Security Obsession”.  He emphasised in particular why Quebecers felt less threatened by the US because of their distinctive culture.

There was also a presentation by the novelist Kate Pullinger entitled “(In)Security, and Belonging in The Mistress of Nothing and Flight Paths”.  After briefly discussing The Mistress of Nothing, for which she won the Governor General’s Award, and the research she did for the novel, Pullinger focused on the future of publishing and the new media available to writers.  She discussed new forms of literature, such as her digital novel Flight Paths, which is a community project associating writing to images and music and is hosted on a website.  Pullinger has espoused new forms of media for literature; you can see all she is involved in here.  However, she insisted that there is room for all kinds of forms in literature and that new media do not mean the end of the traditional book.

Our evenings were equally busy and on the first night there was a poetry reading.  Poetry is not my favourite genre, but I usually prefer to listen to it than read it and I really enjoyed the readings by Roz Goddard, Heather Spears and Kim Trusty. 

Roz Goddard

Roz Goddard, a local poet, read from her collection How to Dismantle a Hotel Room and had us in stitches; I couldn’t believe that poetry could be so fun! 

Heather Spears

Heather Spears, a Canadian artist living in Denmark, was more serious and her poems had you thinking.  One of the poem she read was especially poignant: it was about her experience of being asked to draw stillborn babies.  

Kim Trusty

I also connected with the poetry of Kim Trusty, a Canadian based in Birmingham.  She read poems that are quite ordinary and could be about you or me.  In one of them, the speaker tells us about her failure in relationships; how she falls in love but always ends up bruised and on her own with her cats.  It was humourous and sad at once, but then I realised in shock that it was about me!

The BACS conferences are also known for organising great book displays.  Indeed… a whole room filled with books connected to Canada and most of them actually coming from Canadian publishers.  I had a hard time choosing only a couple; I wanted to buy everything!  Next time, I might take an extra luggage!

New books

Overall, it was a great experience and I hope I will be able to assist to the 2012 edition, which will be on sustainability.  It will be hosted in Cambridge; I have never been there, so this is the perfect excuse!

University of Birmingham

I took the opportunity of being in Dublin for Roger Waters’s concert to visit one of my favourite bookshops.  I was a bit worried as someone had recently told me that he had seen that shop across from Trinity College (on College Green), but that it had closed down.  To my relief, I found out that the shop was still there and open, and I could leave my feelings of mourning behind.  I consequently felt it was my duty to buy a couple of books and did not feel too guilty about spending.

 

What is it that I like so much about Books Upstairs?  Hard to say…  The shop in itself is not that extraordinary, although I really like that little mezzanine. 

I feel comfortable in this small cosy shop and love browsing books there.  They have an excellent selection of books and a good choice of fiction that entice to discovery.  I have often bought books there that I was not looking for and have enjoyed them.  This is where I bought my first Carver!  Before the few shelves dedicated to fiction, you will find two whole shelves of discounted new books.  The prices of those books are more than decent and you will thus be less reluctant about buying a book you have never heard of.

I also really like their non-fiction selection, especially in literary criticism.  I guess this is due to the fact that they are located near Trinity College.  You won’t find the usual Oxford Very Short Introduction series, which you can find in any major bookstore, but you will find books from Routledge and others at affordable prices.  For someone like me, who buys a lot of literary criticism books, it can become expensive and I tend to buy them second-hand on the internet.  However, here, I have the pleasure of flicking the pages before buying, and they always have a few on sale.

You will find books that you don’t find everywhere, and I guess that’s what I like.  Of course, they have some bestsellers and main stream new titles, but you might come across a gem you weren’t aware of.  They also have some chapbooks and various journals, which is something you don’t see everywhere.  If you’re ever in Dublin, I highly recommend you pop in and spend a few euros.

I was chatting to the lady working there and actually discovered that they also sell online.  Their website is down at the minute, but you can find them on Amazon.

As I said, their choice of discounted books is amazing and you will be more willing to buy a book you do not know of.  I treated myself with three books.  The first is just a German phrasebook for my forthcoming trip; I was grateful to finally find one that costs less than a fiver.  The second is by an author I have never heard of before: Denis Hamill.  The title of his novel, Fork in the Road, caught my attention.  After a quick look at the synopsis and reading the first page, I was convinced. 

 

I also bought Amulet by Roberto Bolano.  He is not an unknown author as his novel 2066 is much talked about, but I have not read anything by him.  I was glad to find this book which is less intimidating than 2066 and tickled my curiosity.

I’m delighted with my findings and look forward to reading them!

"Guenica", Picasso

What can I say about Madrid?  I had stopped there on a school trip to admire “Guernica” in 1992 and hadn’t returned since.  It is a beautiful and atmospheric city.  I loved strolling in its streets.  The architecture is really impressive and there are lovely buildings every few meters, but what I preferred were the small streets with those cañas y tapas bars.  I loved this web of streets, which managed to disorient me a couple of times.

Metropolis building, Calle de Alcala

Alhambra, cañas y tapas bar

I was lucky enough to meet a friend there who brought me to a lovely tapas bar.  I still can’t believe at how cheap wine and food are compared to Ireland.  I also really appreciated the way they always give you a little snack when you order a drink; crisps, salami, cured ham, cheese, fried white bait, etc.  However, the late night life wasn’t what  expected.  I would have thought it would be possible to stay out late for a quiet drink in chilled out bars, but it seemed that after 2.30am, everybody went to late bars and night clubs, which are quite noisy and more expensive.  Maybe I wasn’t in the right area?

Cured ham in a tapas bar

I was there for a conference on “Myth and Subversion” and, unfortunately, did not get enough time to explore the city at my leisure.  However, I managed to escape for a few hours to visit a part of the Museo Reina Sofia and enjoyed looking at paintings by Picasso, Dali, Miro, Gris and others.

"Figura en una finestra", Dali

"Un Món", Angeles Santos Torroella

Here is the whole set of photos I took at the Museo Reina Sofia:
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And this is the set for Madrid, which does not do justice to what I saw:

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The prospect of spending eight hours in Gatwick airport while waiting for my connection to Madrid was not too tempting, so I decided to catch a train and go to Brighton. 

I had never been in Brighton and enjoyed my walk on what seemed to be the main street and on the seafront.  Brighton’s seafront is very similar to seaside resorts in the North of France, such as Deauville (from what I have seen in films anyway).  It looks like a place that must have seen better days and that must have been trendy a few decades ago.

Seafood joints on the seafront

I found the architecture in Brighton quite interesting.  The buildings’ facades are varied and often have a certain grandiosity.

Buildings on the seafront

The weather was mild and it was pleasant to chill out in a town I did not know for a few hours.

A walk by the sea

After eating a plate of fried seafood, I still could not resist going in this cute French patisserie where I enjoyed a coffee éclair while reading a book.

Too cute and appeatising to resist

A book, a coffee, an éclair

But the clock was ticking and I had to get back to the airport to catch my plane to the next destination.

Brighton train station

Here is the whole set of photos:

What do The Band, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Oscar Peterson, Basia Bulat, Arcade Fire and Leonard Cohen all have in common?  That’s right, they’re Canadian!

I was reading Rosemary Sullivan’s The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood Starting Out yesterday and she mentioned Ronnie Hawkins and Joni Mitchell.  I was a bit surprised, I had no idea they were Canadian (Ronnie Hawkins is actually born American and got naturalised later).  I knew Neil Young, one of my favourite musician, was Canadian, and so was Oscar Peterson, a great jazz musician, although I only learnt that after liking their music, but Joni Mitchell?  It’s just weird, I seem to be drawn to Canada; my mother thinks I must have a Canadian sensibilty (my favourite literary theorist, Linda Hutcheon, is also from Canada).  Curious to see what other musicians originate from Canada, I had a look on Wikipedia.  Guess what?  The Band are also Canadian (well, four of the five members)!  For those of you who don’t know them, they played with Bob Dylan for a while, and their last concert, The Last Waltz, was made into a film by Martin Scorcese.  I am also a big fan of them (I even used to fancy Robbie Robertson as a teenager; don’t laugh!).

So here is some great Canadian music for you!

Joni Mitchell singing “Big Yellow Taxi”, quite a famous song:

Joni Mitchell singing “Coyote” with The Band at The Last Waltz concert:

It’s a bit difficult to choose just one song by Neil Young as there are so many I love.  You can’t go wrong with “Rockin’ in a Free World”:

And this is “Old Man”, the song that made me discover Neil Young:

I love this version of “The Weight” by The Band and The Staple Singers performed at their last concert, The Last Waltz.  Rick Danko is amazing in it and The Staple Singers are amazing!

And, of course, there are the beautiful lyrics of Leonard Cohen, here singing “So Long Marianne”:

I am not really into jazz, but I went out with a jazz musician for three years and got introduced to jazz.  When I was with him, he shared his passion with me and I got to figure out what I liked and didn’t like in jazz.  Oscar Peterson is quite traditional in his playing of the standards, he is not into this free jazz madness, but he is great.  I nearly went to see him in concert; unfortunately, I missed my chance.  This is “Caravan” (look at his hands!):

And this is Basia Bulat, an artist I went to see at the Jazz Festival in Montreal last year.  She is amazing; she plays so many instruments!  This is “In the Night”:

Isn’t she great?  Have a look a this one too:

I could keep going for quite a while; some gems, aren’t they?  You want one more for the road?  Here is “Helpless” performed by Neil Young, The Band and Joni Mitchell:

I hope you enjoyed this musical interlude as much as I did.

 Literary Blog Hop

The Literary Blog Hop is a fortnightly event held at The Blue Bookcase prompting book bloggers to answer a question.

What setting (time or place) from a book or story would you most like to visit? Eudora Welty said that, “Being shown how to locate, to place, any account is what does most toward making us believe it…,” so in what location would you most like to hang out?

This question is more difficult than it seems.  I don’t like when local settings are described in too much details, but I like to feel the atmosphere of a place at a certain time. 

I think that ideally, I would like to be in the place described in the book I am reading at the moment.  I think it can enhance the reading experience.  For instance, I thought it gave more atmosphere to The Cousin, by John Calabro, to read it when I was in Italy.  However, I wonder if that might not also reduce to power of the imagination.  Reading is about interpreting language and perhaps knowing too much about where it comes from might spoil that liberty we are given when reading.  I suppose both reading experiences have their appeal.

Since I discovered Margaret Atwood’s works, I have wanted to visit Canada (even more than before).  As you might have guessed by now I am passionate about her writing, but also about the life she led while growing up and the myth she embodies.  Significantly, Atwood says that locations are at the origin of her writing.  This might partly explain my growing desire to visit those places. 

When I went to Canada last June, I was both visiting a real place, but also an imaginary world created through writing.  Quite often, I associated these places to specific stories.  My favourite experience was going to Ward’s Island in Toronto, which is one of the settings of “Isis in Darkness” (as well as The Robber Bride).  As I was taking the ferry, the narrator was sitting next to me on his search for Selena.  Like him, I went looking for her house.  Which one could be Selena’s house?  In the same story, the Bohemian Embassy is also mentioned and it is a place I would like to have seen.  However, the story is set a few decades ago.  I will never be able to experience the Toronto of the late 50s when Margaret Atwood did her first reading in the Bohemian Embassy.  I can still imagine it though…

Is this Selena's house?

You can see my posts on my trip to Canada in the June 2010 archives.  Quite often I have related the place to a piece of writing.  I am still in the process of writing those posts and I am writing the one on Ward’s Island at the moment, but I have already posted the one on the Bohemian Embassy.  I know it is taking me a long time to write that travel diary, but, at least, I get to visit the place a second time!

This is the country road that goes to the village where I live.  Since I have lived here, I have always loved driving along this part of the road, which is like a tunnel of trees.  Every beginning of each month I will take a picture from the same spot and post it here.

I think this photo does not really reflect the season; it would have been better if there had been some frost on the trees.  But this is Ireland and it seems that the weather on this first day of the month of February decided to agree with the fact that it is officially Spring.

Spring?  The first year I was in Ireland, I had a laugh when I was told on the 1st of February that it was the beginning of spring.  I thought this person did not know what she was talking about or that people had been taught strange things at school.  Surely, spring starts on the 21st of March, the day of the equinox?

I have since discovered that Ireland has its own seasonal calendar.  When most countries in the North hemisphere would follow an astrological calendar, based on the dates of the solstices and equinoxes, or a meteorological one, Ireland has a calendar based on pagan traditions.  Thus, spring starts on the 1st of February, summer on the 1st of May, autumn on the 1st of August and winter on the 1st of November.

Spring, you say?  It might be time to plant the seeds I have bought for my summer veg then….

Here is an extract from Margaret Atwood’s poem “February” (how appropriate?).  You can read the whole poem here.

Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole.
Off my face! You’re the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.

CBC stands for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  It is what I would consider as a major Canadian institution.  It has done so much to promote the arts and culture in Canada.  One could mention the reading programmes created by Robert Weaver, one of which, “Canadian Short Stories”, featured a young Alice Munro.  The CBC is also the organiser of literary awards and of the famous “Canada Reads“.

CBC is in danger of disappearing and needs your support.  Steph at Bella’s Bookshelves discusses this matter better than I would, so I send you over to her blog.  You can read about it here and here, as well as sign a petition to show your support.  I am not a Canadian resident and cannot sign this petition, but I am aware of the importance of the role played by the CBC, so please, if you live in Canada, help the CBC!

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