There is a new film from the conveyor belt of Thomas Hardy films. It is called far from the Madding Crowd. The films lead star is Carey Mulligan, who stars as “Bathsheba Everdene” who comes across as a kind of Scarlett O’Hara, (a character created much later in 1936 by Margaret Mitchell). Like Scarlett, Bathsheba is a headstrong independent woman, (very much a modern day woman) who has dilemmas when it comes to choosing men, which will also involve losing her independence. First to pursue her is Gabriel Oak, a noble man, who she has much to thank for. Then there is farmer William Boldwood, who has a puppy dog love for her. Of course she finally succumbs to the wrong man, a slime ball called Sergeant Troy, the archetypal cad, who nearly brings about her undoing. Right from the off the film, twists and turns and has a modern day soap opera feel about it at times, dished up with occasional Hollywood clichés, Gabriel and Bathsheba, in a tight clinch riding a horse. The setting couldn’t be more perfect rural Dorset by the sea, the rolling hills appearing sculpted by God, littered with roaming sheep.
There have been previous epic Hardy inspired films. Who could forget “Tess” by Roman Polanski. Set in Wessex County, England during the Victorian era, the film centers around, misfortunes of a young shy, innocent, proper yet proud peasant girl, Tess Durbeyfield, who happens to be a descendant of the aristocratic d’Urberville family. She seeks umbrage with the family, but this only leads to an unfortunate encounter, with an utter bastard of a man, “cousin” Alec, who is not a true d’Urbervilles, but rather from an opportunistic family, who have purchased the name in order to improve their own standing in life. Alec abuses her innocence. Later on in the film we encounter Angel Clare, the son of a parson and an apprentice farmer, the man Tess should have been with, the man would have offered contentment. Angel and Tess fall in love with each other. Their happiness is shadowed by her previous entanglement with Alec. The film moves on into a dramatic ending, as Tess can only rid herself of Alec, by murdering him. This film is much grittier that the recent “Far from the madding crowd film”.
An even harder film is “Jude” directed by Michael Winterbottom. The story is so tragic it almost excruciatingly so, the ending is dramatic and heart-wrenching. Playing the part of Sue, was Kate Winslett, before the furor of Titanic. The other main actor was Christopher Ecclestone, a bright young lower-class man who dreams of a university education. Sue is another headstrong, highly intelligent, modern day woman, who is not afraid of going against convention. When the two finally get embroiled, they are immediately deemed as social outcasts, as the film is set in conventional Victorian era.
Hardy’s books certainly make fodder for dramatic films, set in glorious countryside. Woman will surely relate to the leading female characters in his films, the fact they are strong in the face of such adversity. The films aren’t sugary sweet period pieces, they can be deeply moving. For sure Hardy conjured up great books, which are perfect for films, in the modern age.
You can say on an unyielding regular basis something is happening culturally in Paris. Last Sunday for example was the Fete de la Musique, in which well-known and lesser known bands get to take over the city, playing on the street or in bars and cafes. Walk around the city and you almost stumble upon some musicians urgently trying to enthrall a crowd. One year I remember hearing a singer do an incredible Jim Morrison impersonation. Had Jim Morrison come back from the dead? No it turned out to be some spotty youth, who had did a really good Morrison sound-alike. The range of music you can hear, in one night is remarkable. Another night if you live in Paris, you would wish to put in your diary would be the decade-old Nuit Blanche, another free event from dusk ’til dawn. A carnival of arts and culture inspired by St Petersburg’s ‘White Nights’, where music and the arts keep the population captivated, throughout the night. In Paris. The premise is simple: for one night only, art takes over the city, with projections, events in unlikely places (public swimming pools).
If you want to enjoy the writers scene, you should head to Shakespeare and Company. I used to live not far from this famed book shop. Next to it is a park and I heard a voice booming from the park, a voice I was familiar with, on television, it turned out to be Will Self, who was part of the Shakespeare Company literary festival. That year he was joined by, Philip Pullman and Martin Amis. Paris is brimming with ex-patriot writers… Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was fortunate enough to be on a “writer’s panel” recently along with a writer David Burke author of Writers in Paris, Literary Lives in the City of Light. Here is some information about his book. “No city has attracted so much literary talent, launched so many illustrious careers, or produced such a wealth of enduring literature as Paris. From the 15th century through the 20th, poets, novelists, and playwrights, famed for both their work and their lives, were shaped by this enchanting place. From natives such as Molière, Genet, and Anaïs Nin to expats like Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, and Gertrude Stein.” As a labor of love David Burke follows hundreds of writers through Paris’ labyrinthine streets, inviting readers on his grand tour.
The Art you can see in Paris is of course rich and varied. For example if you want to be challenged by the bizarre, you might wish to visit The Palais de Tokyo, its brand of art is conceptual. The art deco building, that dates back to 1937, itself is imposing and situated in the well-off 16th District, overlooking the Seine. The gallery has this “rough and ready, construction site” feel to it and was reopened in 2001, having been rejigged by the architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Phillipe Vassel. The Palais de Tokyo, does not have a permanent collection, it is more the habitat for experimental artists for show their often challenging quirky offerings. The museum was derelict for a decade, but reinvented itself, as this striped-down voluminous cathedral to the unorthodox and hip contemporary art. The “hipness and chicness” of this gallery might not appeal to all, and some might find it too cold and unwelcoming and capacious . One of its advantages is that it’s programme, can be flexible and adventurous and reflect the “here and now” as well as staying open to midnight.
Three authors, three books!
David Burke of Writers in Paris, Literary Lives in the City of Light
Francis H. Powell of Flight of Destiny, dark stories to disturb
Randall Price, private chef and author of Chroniques Caustiques, his adventures in French kitchens
This was part reading, part panel discussion, part Q&A event
A writer working abroad.
For writers living abroad can be a rich experience, some have made their names talking about their unusual adventures and encounters.
When people look at my CV, maybe one thing they notice immediately, is that I am a British person living in France. Ok, these two countries are not too far from one another, I am not living in a far more exotic country like Thailand. None the less people ask, has living in a foreign country influenced my writing? There are quite a number of authors who have written books about France and in particular the culture shocks they have experienced. I have read two books of this kind “A Year in the Merde” by Steven Clarke and “Almost French” by Sarah Turnbull. I suppose I was interested because I wanted to see if another person’s experiences echoed my own. To write a book like this I imagine a certain amount of exaggeration is necessary, as well as creative license. Living abroad is not just about wild experiences. I did connect with somethings that arose in both books, however. A long while back, when fairly new to France I remember feeling incredibly isolated at a dinner party I had been invited to by a French friend, a sentiment that features in Sarah Turnbull’s book.
I have lived in two foreign countries, the first being Austria, when I was a bit younger than I am today.
Austria at that time was a place fertile for ideas for writing about. It was the place where I made my first albeit unsuccessful attempts at writing. I went to live with my then girlfriend, who was Austrian, and who lived in a house which was attached to parent’s house. She had a young son by a previous relationship and was involved in a constant battle with her parents, who assumed the responsibility of bringing the child up, often acting more like parents rather than grandparents. Ina short time I learned a lot about the intricacies of Austrian families and came to the conclusion it was only apt that Freud had originated from Austria. I remember clearly one of my ex-Austrian girlfriends first words to me “I’ve just come from seeing my shrink” saying these words as if she was boasting that she had a “shrink”. My experiences in Austria, really left my mark on me.
The village where I lived was divided strictly into two distinctive parts. There were the original villagers. The women wore dour black clothes, head scarf’s, some rode bicycles and would scowl at me as they rode past. I felt decidedly the outsider and their looks told me “what are you doing here, you are not welcome”.
The other part of the village was made up of younger families who had bought houses on a new housing estate, on the outskirts of the village. These people mostly were professionals and had jobs in Vienna. I used to teach their children English. There was even a woman from Wales, whose son was a student of mine. He led a chant of “Englisch ist dumm“ (English is stupid). Where had he come up with such a notion? In fact his German father was responsible. So Mother trying to get her son to speak English…the father discouraging him.
I had other experiences. On a train coming back from teaching a lesson, in a suburban new town, the trains which normally stopped and started with a regimental precision, was decidedly lodged at a station. Suddenly two soldiers armed, got on the train and demanded papers. I am from a country where (well in the past) guns are not that much in evidence and secondly it is not obligatory to carry papers. I had to explain I had no form of identification, this after they had searched me (failing to check a big bag I had at m feet containing books). I was within a whisker of being escorted off the train, thankfully one of the soldiers did not consider me to be of any consequence. I assumed the Austrian president had been shot, but no…a local supermarket had been robbed. On the same train, on another journey I was to be accosted by some Nazi youth, chanting “zieg heil” and “Ausländer raus“, while upsetting some of the immigrant workers, who joined the train as it entered Vienna from the suburbs. I discretely hid my British newspaper, as a scuffle broke out and then the driver had to cool things down.
Living in Austria had a big impact on me. It could be argued this being the result of living abroad for the first time, however it was very different experience to what I had experienced before and the village and its occupants, definitely influenced some of my writing long after. When I repatriated in my country of birth, I found it hard to resettle. I was always going on about my experiences in Austria, I must have bored many a person, but I couldn’t help myself. I split up with my Austrian girlfriend. The warning signs were there…when I arrived to go and live with her…she arrived late…held up by a funeral procession.
Funerals were fascinating to me. There was the big band playing somber music, a big turnout following the band. An absolute nightmare, if you got caught behind, traffic would well up. Then there were the graveyards. It seemed like if you were rich, you would have a gravestone the size of a king size bed, as a way of saying when I was alive I had money and was prosperous.
I went back to Austria, after a Christmas, to take in the new year celebrations. One tradition seemed to run naked and roll around in the snow (we were staying up a mountain, so there was lots of snow at that time) and then run back into the house and jump in a hot bath.
Memories like these stay with you forever, a writer abroad can gather a lot material for their books…
Some quotes by famous writers, who have been through the living abroad experience.
“You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafés.”
“Life might be difficult for a while, but I would tough it out because living in a foreign country is one of those things that everyone should try at least once. My understanding was that it completed a person, sanding down the rough provincial edges and transforming you into a citizen of the world.”
“What I found appealing in life abroad was the inevitable sense of helplessness it would inspire. Equally exciting would be the work involved in overcoming that helplessness. There would be a goal involved, and I liked having goals.”
Francis H Powell is the author of Flight of Destiny.