Jeanne Moreau

When I was in my late teens and early 20s, Brigitte Bardot frightened me. She was too sexual. Like Janet Leigh. And Jane Russell. My first great film loves were Emmanuelle Riva, in Alain Resnais’s “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” (1959)…

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and Jeanne Moreau, in François Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim” (1962).

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Riva died in January 2017, Moreau on July 31, both at 89.

Her New York Times obituary said Moreau was an actress whom “journalists liked to call the thinking moviegoer’s femme fatale.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines femme fatale as: “An alluring and seductive woman, especially one who leads men into compromising and dangerous situations.” Moreau’s Catherine, in “Jules and Jim,” was certainly not like any woman I’d ever known—or have known since, sexually promiscuous but—or and—with the ability to remain friends with all her lovers, who became and /or remained friends with one another.

I saw “Jules and Jim” at the now vanished New Yorker theater, on Broadway between 88th and 89th Streets, the year it opened, my sophomore year at Columbia. I didn’t see many movies in those days, because I didn’t have a lot of extra spending money. I don’t know if I was conscious at the time that the movie changed my life, but that was certainly the case. I’d never seen anything like it: its voice-over narration, stop-action animation, the sense that its story could not have been told in any other medium. For a great many years, years when seeing a movie meant going to a movie theater, I saw “Jules and Jim” every year at one or another of New York’s repertory revival theaters. I’ve owned a DVD for years, but can’t remember the last time I watched it. I always cite it as my favorite film, but I guess I think of it as a film to be seen in a big room in the dark among others. I brought the DVD with me on a visit to Black Mountain NC to see Lily, and I’ll see if I can interest her in a memorial viewing.

Truffaut based his film on a semi-autobiographical novel by Henri-Pierre Roché. I don’t think I’ve ever read the book, and I just ordered an English translation. Roché was nearly 80 when he wrote it and it will be interesting to see if it has the movie’s vitality and, though it is ultimately a tragedy, love of life. Fans of the Roché novel or the book should click on this link. I was never aware that another Truffaut film, Les Deux Anglaise et le Continent (“Two English Girls”), was made from a Roché novel.

In my movie reviewing days with the Daily News, I met Truffaut at a party thrown by the French film office in connection with the New York Film Festival. (It may have been the same party when I ran into Leonard Cohen, who’d been a school friend in Montreal of my friend Wendy Keyes, a director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Film Festival’s producer. The party was full of young French actresses, and Cohen sidled up to me and said rather mournfully: “All these French women…They’re so beautiful.”)

I made the mistake of telling Truffaut that “Jules and Jim” was my favorite film. Whatever movie he’d just made was surely his current favorite film, not the 12-or-so year old “Jules and Jim.” I’m sure he was polite, but the conversation didn’t go far.

While we’re at it, I can report that I had a more enthusiastic response from Eric Rohmer when I told him I admired his 1969 film, “My Night at Maud’s.” Admired it so much that on my first trip to Europe in 1971 I made a stop in Clermont-Ferrand, a university and industrial city in central France where the film is set. The movie’s characters spend a lot of time in cafes and bookstores, and the city was striking to me for the number of bookstores and outdoor equipment shops. It is best known as the headquarters of the Michelin tire company, and Rohmer said that my visiting there would be like his visiting Pittsburgh.

 

 

 

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More profs…

trilling

Lionel Trilling, smokin’

Back in May, the New Yorker published a review of a biography by Natalie Robins of Diana Trilling: “The Untold Journey: The Life of Diana Trilling.” Trilling and her husband Lionel Trilling were members of the New York Intellectuals, a group of mid-20th century writers and critics sometimes referred to as the American Bloomsbury. Wikipeda’s alphabetical lists of the group’s members includes Hannah Arendt, Daniel Bell, Saul Bellow, Elliot Cohen, Midge Decter, Leslie Fiedler, Nathan Glazer, Clement Greenberg, Paul Goodman, Richard Hofstadter, Sidney Hook, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, Irving Kristol, Mary McCarthy, Dwight Macdonald, William Phillips, Norman Podhoretz, Philip Rahv, Harold Rosenberg, Delmore Schwartz, Susan Sontag, Harvey Swados, the Trillings, and Robert Warshow. I doubt that any but Bellow, McCarthy, are Sontag are familiar to general readers of today.

Lionel Trilling taught a class in 20th literature that I look in 1962-63, my junior year at Columbia. He was well known for a book of essays, “The Liberal Imagination” (1950) and less well known for a novel, “The Middle of the Journey” (1947). “The Liberal Imagination”‘s current publisher, NYRB Classics, calls it “one of the most admired and influential works of criticism of the last century, a work that is not only a masterpiece of literary criticism but an important statement about politics and society.” Though I’ve never read the book, the impression I had was that it was a work of genius.

According to the biography of Diana Trilling:

When Lionel finished his first book [a study of Matthew Arnold], he thanked Diana in the preface for her assistance. (“I cannot calculate its full sum.”) Then, perhaps in a fit of bitter pride, he destroyed the pages she had filigreed with her edits, blotting her from the literary record. She was crushed. Nearly a decade later, the same fate befell drafts of his only novel, “The Middle of the Journey.”

Interestingly, Diana Trilling became a best-selling author in 1981 with her book “Mrs. Harris,” an account of the trial of prep school headmistress Jean Harris for the murder of her lover, Dr. Herman Tarnower, creator of the Scarsdale Diet.

I have three memories of Trilling:

  • He was an impeccable dresser. He wore what seemed to me a different tweed sport coat every day (the class met three times a week). They all looked good enough to eat.
  • In his lecture on James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” he departed from his usual form by asking us a question: how would we characterize the relationship between Stephen Daedalus and Buck Mulligan? He wouldn’t let go of it. A couple of classmates took stabs, and he waved them away. It got uncomfortable. Trilling wanted the answer; we had no clue. I needed help with many things I read in college and to get through “Ulysses” I had read or at least skimmed William York Tindall’s “Reader’s Guide to James Joyce.” I remembered Tindall’s observation that Stephen paid the rent for their shared lodgings in the Martello tower while Buck kept the key. The tension grew. I dared to raise my hand. I had certainly never raised it before and I don’t recall that I ever did again.  “Stephen pays the rent,” I said finally, hoping my voice didn’t quaver or crack, “and Buck keeps the key.” “That’s it,” Trilling blurted, and swiveled away to make the rest of his point. I don’t know that anyone turned to look at me gratefully. I don’t know that the room exhaled. I do remember that a friend in the class who had read a little Tindall too chided me later for quoting Tindall more or less directly. He went on to a successful career in publishing; I became a published novelist. So there’s that.
  • On the day in I guess the fall of 1962 (my course with Trilling ran two semesters) that John Steinbeck won the Nobel literature prize, Trilling came to class agitated. Students and teachers smoked in the classrooms of Hamilton Hall (and elsewhere) in those days in accepted breach of a university no smoking rule, but Trilling enforced the rule from the start, saying he was a smoker and that if he could go an hour without a cigarette, so could we. On that day, Trilling said he needed a smoke and that anyone who cared to could join him. Flame and smoke erupted all over the room.

I don’t remember Trilling’s objection to the award. I do remember that he said the only American writer he thought deserving of that honor was James T. Farrell. I had never heard of Farrell, much to the distress of my father when I told him. An autodidact, he’d grown up on Studs Lonnigan.

In researching this blog, I discovered that Trilling wasn’t the only one dubious about the award to Steinbeck. This is from the New York Times of January 4, 2013:

The decision came amid their general dissatisfaction with the candidates for the prize that year, according to documents recently released by the academy.

As has become its custom, after a 50-year waiting period the Swedish Academy released documents on the internal deliberation of its committee members as well as a privately kept shortlist for the literary prize, The Guardian said,citing a report in the Svenska Dagbladet of Stockholm.

According to The Guardian, 66 authors were put forward for the literature Nobel in 1962, and the list was narrowed down to Steinbeck, Robert Graves, Lawrence Durrell, Karen Blixen and Jean Anouilh. But after looking at the field of contenders a committee member, Henry Olsson, wrote, “There aren’t any obvious candidates for the Nobel prize and the prize committee is in an unenviable situation.”

Blixen, the Danish author who wrote “Out of Africa” under the pen name Isak Dinesen, became ineligible when she died in September 1962. Graves, whose novels included “I, Claudius,” was nonetheless regarded primarily as a poet and Olsson, The Guardian said, was reluctant to give the prize to an Anglo-Saxon poet until Ezra Pound, whose work he greatly admired, died. (Although Olsson objected to Pound’s politics.) Durrell’s series of novels “The Alexandria Quartet” was not yet considered a significantly substantial body of work (the author had also been passed over in 1961), while Anouilh, the French dramatist, had the bad fortune to come between the 1960 Nobel victory of his countryman Saint-John Perse and the ascent of Jean-Paul Sartre, who would win in 1964.

So the prize was given to Steinbeck, whose body of work consisted merely of such enduring novels as “Of Mice and Men,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Cannery Row” and “East of Eden.” In awarding the Nobel to Steinbeck, the Swedish Academy offered no public hint of its internal weariness, citing him for being among “the masters of modern American literature” and “for his realistic as well as imaginative writings, distinguished by a sympathetic humor and a keen social perception.”

(In that last paragraph, I suspect that “weariness” is a typo, and that the Times writer meant “wariness,” although the Academy may have been weary too.)

All I knew about Diana Trilling in my college days was she and Lionel lived near the Columbia Campus on Claremont Avenue. Someone told me (I think the same friend who had read Tindall) that she characterized Claremont Avenue as “the liberal causeway of America.”

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Ted de Bary

theodoredebary

De Bary as I remember him.

I had several illustrious teachers at Columbia College between 1960 and 1964—more than I was smart enough to know how to take advantage of. James Shenton (American History), Lionel Trilling, Eric Bentley, and F.W. Dupee (English), Dustin Rice (art history) were among them.

(Edward W. Tayler, who was to become illustrious, was in his maiden over as an instructor in the English Department. To hear him tell it, he was just a couple of hours ahead of his first-year students, me among them, in reading Homer, Dante, and other exemplars of European civilization. More about Tayler, who weirdly connects me to my daughter, Lily, another time.)

Perhaps the most esteemed of my teachers, since he really created his field, Chinese studies, was Wm. Theodore de Bary, who died this week at the age of 97. (Wm. was his surname, altered to distinguish him from his father, who divorced his mother when he was young.)

De Bary, along with Japan expert Donald Keene and India expert Ainslee Embree (whose christian name I just pulled from deep in my memory vault), taught a one-year course called Oriental Traditions, each of them taking a third of the academic year. I have few memories of Embree (who I just discovered died in June, at the age of 96), except I think he was my first encounter with a Canadian accent. He was born, according to his Washington Post obituary, on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, “in a village that no longer exists.”

Keene, who is still alive at age 95 (the field must prolong life), I recall mainly for an awkward moment when he tried to extract from us the title of a work of European literature whose plot resembled that of a Japanese classic.  He was very disappointed that we weren’t familiar with André Gide’s Strait is the Gate (La Porte Étroite).

De Bary was tall and kind of austere, but not intimidating. I remember a wonderful moment when he was describing a moment in Chinese history and hesitated over how to accurately describe the state of affairs in a particular province. Someone far more confident than I ever was around those three minds (I can’t imagine how I managed to write a paper or an exam that demonstrated knowledge that would pass muster with any of them), spoke up from the back of the room and suggested that the region had been “beset by civil strife.” De Bary laughed, as did we all, grateful to be given the cliché he’d been trying to avoid. I’ll never forget how the moment brought him down to our level and how graciously he welcomed the descent.

In my last year at Columbia, I was invited to the home of a classmate whose father, it turned out, had been a Columbia classmate of de Bary’s, class of 1941. My friend told me later that his father had remarked to his mother, after being introduced to me, “My god, he looks like Ted de Bary.”

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Niue

We were sitting on the deck of the Front Street Grill in Beaufort NC, our favorite July restaurant, and an immense single-masted sailboat went by on its engines. We couldn’t make out its name or home port. It’s ensign was either this:

bermuda flag

The flag of Bermuda. Or this:

ontario flag

The flag of the Canadian province of Ontario.

I know that because I quickly Googled “British Commonwealth flags,” and those were the two candidates among the search results.

We got more interested, however, in this flag:

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The flag of Niue.

We’d never heard of it either. Here’s where it is:

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niue location

Here are some landscape vignettes from the official tourism page:

niue landscapes

This is a chunk of Wikipedia:

In 2003, Niue became the first country in the world to offer free wireless internet to all its inhabitants. Niue Island Organic Farmers Association is currently paving way to an MEA (Multilateral Environmental Agreement) committed to making Niue the world’s first fully organic nation. A leader in green growth, Niue is also transitioning to solar power, with help from the European Union. In 2015, Niue started providing phone landlines to all of its inhabitants. In 2008, Niue became the first country in the world where laptops are provided to all its school students. A highly democratic nation, Niueans enjoy high freedom, with elections every 3 years. There are no political parties in Niue; all assembly members are independents. The last political party, Niue People’s Party (1987–2003), won once, but was subsequently disbanded in 2003.
In January 2004, Niue was hit by Cyclone Heta, which caused extensive damage to the entire island, including wiping out most of the south of the capital, Alofi. The disaster set the island back about two years from its planned timeline to implement the Niue Integrated Strategic Plan (NISP), since national efforts concentrated on recovery.

Now you know what we know.

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She blows!

The carcass of a 32-foot male sperm whale that washed up on Cape Lookout NC in 2005, a relative of Moby-Dick. Note the teeth in the lower jaw; they’re for grabbing and ripping, the marine biologist docent at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort explained. These whales don’t chew their prey; they swallow them whole. This particular whale had the beaks of 18 or so squid in its belly, along with an octopus or two. There are vegetarian whales, blues and humpbacks, that have instead of teeth baleen plates, plastic-like sheets with comb-like teeth that filter out small crustaceans and plankton from mouthfuls of sea water.

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Version 2

Also on display, suitable for touching, was this whale’s heart, the size of a very large pumpkin and the consistency of hardish clay or soft plastic. After we’d touched it, another docent, a young woman, said “now you’ve played with a whale’s heartstrings.”

 

 

 

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Tides, and other water

Trisha and I are on our annual two-week visit to Emerald Isle. For the past several years, I’ve been the beneficiary of an iPhone app called MyTideTimes that gives local tides at the four nearest locations to wherever you area. (According to its web site, the app supports locations around the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Brazil, the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.)

The low tides during our visit are in the afternoons, the best times these days for beach walking. As I write this on Friday 7 July, the daytime low tide is at 13:02, a fall of .03 meters. Saturday’s numbers are 13:41, .02m. Sunday 14.20, .02m, Monday 14:49, .02m, Tuesday 15.38, .03m, Wednesday 16.20, .04m, 17.05, .06m, Friday 17.55, .08m, Saturday 18.51, 09m. I’m not sure what “fall” signifies. More research needed.

I’m more than a little interested in tides because of a book I found in the Beach Book Mart in Atlantic Station NC during a trip out to Bogue Banks in early June for an AA gratitude retreat: How to Read Water: Clues and Patterns from Puddles to the Sea—Learn to Gauge Depth, Navigate, Forecast Weather and Make Other Predictions with Water, by Tristan Gooley.

Gooley notes that sea level is influenced by, among other things, atmospheric pressure. The higher the pressure—and the higher the number read on a barometer—the lower the sea level. The difference between high pressure and low pressure levels is as much as a foot.

Therefore, a discernibly higher than normal sea level, even at high tide, means a drop in air pressure that presages bad weather. Because air pressure also affects the amount of water that rises through the soil and is held there in suspension, a drop in pressure can also mean a drop in the soil’s ability to hold water through capillary action and an increase in local flooding.

More to come. And this tidbit along the way: female ducks (and presumably other birds) have duller plumage because it gives them camouflage while nesting.

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La Sauvette

The New Yorker article I mentioned a while ago sent me on an interesting journey. Its subject, Steidl Verlag, a German publisher of quality art and photography books, is also the focus of a documentary film, “How to Make a Book With Steidl,” that I watched on Netflix. I learned, among other things, that we own a Steidl book, Robert Frank’s The Americans, a gift to me from Trisha a few years ago, probably at Christmas.

It’s a wonderful book to hold, with paper that feels good enough to eat and a sewn binding that lets it lie flat on any page.

I also learned about a Steidl edition of a book I’d heard of often, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment, a collection of photographs, an essay on composition and technique, a slip cover by Matisse.

I suspect that because of the New Yorker piece, Steidl books were on sale on several web sites. With our 27th wedding anniversary approaching, Trisha generously offered to make me a gift of the Cartier-Bresson. It arrived in time for our June 17th celebration and included a monograph on the interesting history of the book—and the especially interesting story of its title.

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The monograph, “A Bible for Photographers,” was written by Clément Chéroux, senior curator of photography at SFMOMA. It describes the principals involved in the book’s creation: Cartier-Bresson, working at the time (1951) for Magnum Photos, founded in 1947 by Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, George Rodger and David “Chim” Seymour; New York literary agent Armitage Watkins; New York publisher Richard L. Simon (Carly Simon’s father); and Marguerite Lang. Cartier-Bresson wrote a draft of the book’s text with Lang, a colleague of Tériade, the nom de plume of Stratis Eleftheriades, an influential art critic, patron, and publisher of the quarterly journal Verve. The book’s working French title was Images à la Sauvette.

That got my attention, because “the decisive moment” is a phrase anyone who begins seriously taking photographs learns and remembers. Chéroux writes that Cartier-Bresson made a list of 45 tentative titles, with recurring notions of “instant,” “time,” “vivacity,” “moment,” and “eye.”

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The first title on the list was “Á pas de loup” (step of a wolf), which my 1962 Cassell’s New French-English Dictionary defines as “to walk stealthily, like a thief.” According to Chéroux, that title “expressed the way in which Cartier-Bresson approached those whom he photographed, as stated in a sentence from the preface: ‘The subject must be approached tiptoeing.'”

Cartier-Bresson’s second choice on the list was Images à la Sauvette.  My beloved Paris correspondent Alison answered my call for help with this from her Larousse: “Il vend des bricoles, à la sauvette,” which she translated as “He sells trinkets on the fly.” According to the web site of the French Centre National de Resources Textuelle et Lexicales, the term originated in 1867 to mean “child’s play which consists in escaping and not being caught,” and came to describe unlicensed street vendors selling goods on the fly or on the run.

Chéroux writes that Cartier-Bresson couldn’t find a suitable English translation for the French title. An alternative came from a quotation from Jean-François Paul de Gondi, a 17th century Cardinal of Retz, a region of Brittany: “There is nothing in the world that does not bear a decisive moment,” de Gondi wrote, referring to diplomatic situations opportune for decision or action.

Cartier-Bresson, according Chéroux, told an interviewer that “decisive moment” was suggested to him by Tériade, the critic and publisher. Simon, the book’s American publisher, approved the title. Chéroux writes: “It was in the United States, where Cartier-Bresson enjoyed an earlier and broader reception of his work, that the term first became popular before it was translated into French—yet not in its original form as ‘decisive moment,’ but as ‘decisive instant.’ When asked about this, Cartier-Bresson replied: ‘I had nothing to do with it!’ ‘It was not me. I was not involved.’ Inspired by his French publisher, imposed by his American publisher, this expression did not belong to Cartier-Bresson, but it nonetheless constitutes a lasting contribution to the reception of his work.”

From now on, when I get out a camera I will think of myself less as an artist on the lookout for a decisive moment and more as a wolf on tiptoe among the chickens.

 

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