Ah, Yes! I remember it well … Atlantic Avenue, reading coffee grinds, and the French novelist and woman of letters, Colette

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954)

“Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth and, without pity, destroy most of it.” Collette, Casual Chance, 1964



I remember it well: my first encounter with Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. Picture it.  Brooklyn. A Lebanese restaurant someplace on Atlantic Avenue, ambiance of the Middle East, redolent with fragrances of cinnamon and cardamom and the mouth-watering smell of lamb roasting.

It was 1958. We had just seen the movie, Gigi, starring Leslie Caron, which is based on Colette’s novella of the same name.  You might remember that in the early scenes Ms. Caron wore a wide-brimmed straw hat with a ribbon tied in a bow. The ribbon trailed gracefully down her back. I had such a hat and suffered the illusion that I looked just like Gigi in the film. This illusion was strongly supported by the fact that Gigi is my childhood nickname. In fact, from that day on and until her death, my mother would tell everyone  – as she did at the restaurant on this occasion – that I was Gigi before Gigi. I knew it wasn’t true. I’d read in the newspaper that there was a book written in 1944, which would predate me by six years. I was hungry to get my hands on it.

As the adults talked, I mentally replayed scenes from the movie and imagined a woman sitting at her desk writing the story that became the movie. I might have felt smart and pretty and even glamorous and certainly rather grown-up, but I would soon be relieved of my illusions. My mother allowed one of the restaurant patrons – an artist – to do a picture of me. Much to my dismay all he saw and drew was a scrawny olive-skinned kid with a rather gauche hat that sat too far back on her head. Nothing at all approaching the light, elegant, grown-up beauty of Ms. Caron. Then our supposed* distant cousin, Julia, the restaurant owner, worked her special magic.  She told fortunes by reading the sludge left in the cup after drinking Lebanese coffee. Julia would provide this service . . . “reading” coffee grounds . . . for her favorite (i.e., frequent) patrons.

*Note: Honestly, everyone we met from Lebanon was pronounced a cousin, so I’m skeptical.  Cousin in spirit and language, maybe. Blood cousin? Not so sure. 

At Julia’s my special treat was one cup of Lebanese coffee with my baklava. On this day, Mom let Julia do a reading for me. It had none of Julia’s usual romantic niceties: “You are like the sun and the moon. He is the sun that warms your heart. You are the moon that reflects his strength.” Or, “I see a key. Many doors will open for you. And, see there?  There are two bells entwined with a string.  There will be much love shared.”  There was to be no romance like the fictional Gigi’s for me. No. No.  For me there was: “See that, Gigi. Two books. You must keep up your studies. Therein is your happiness.” Maybe Julia did have something of a seer’s eye. I turned out to be better at reading books than reading men and I’m content with that.


“Then, bidding farewell to The Knick-Knack, I went to collect the few personal belongings which, at that time, I held to be invaluable: my cat, my resolve to travel, and my solitude.” Colette, Gigi, Julie de Carneilhan, and Chance Acquaintances: Three Short Novels


As for Sidone-Gabrielle Colette (a.k.a. Colette), the Nobel nominated (1948, Literature) French novelist, actress, and mime, this was my introduction and the beginning of my appreciation for her life and work.

Colette was a prodigious writer of many popular literary works. The Claudine stories were the first. For La Belle Époque, Colette’s writings were racy but – perhaps unfortunately – by today’s often jaded tastes, not so much.  While Colette’s life was too much on the wild side for me, I appreciate her courage and honesty and I do love her writing, so full of an appreciation for life and so rich in perfume, color, and humor, occasionally wry.


Publicity still of Colette for Rêve d’Égypte at the Moulin Rouge.

Quotable Colette

For the romantics among us:

“I am going away with him to an unknown country where I shall have no past and no name, and where I shall be born again with a new face and an untried heart.”


The story of Gigi is about a young Parisian who – in her family’s tradition – is being groomed for a career as courtesan. A handsome, wealthy, and well-placed young man is targeted by her grandmother (Mamita) and aunt for Gigi’s first relationship. For the movie version, the story is sanitized to get by the American censors. It was 1958 after all.


“You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.”


Colette’s life and work are honored in film, song and story by (among others) The Year I Read Colette (YouTube video) by singer-songwriter Roseanne Cash, The White Rose by Truman Capote (describes his first meeting with Colette), and the movies Colette and Becoming Colette. Les Vrilles de la vigne is number fifty-nine on Le Monde’s 100 Best Books of the [20th] Century. When Colette died, she was denied a religious burial by the Catholic Church because of her divorces but the French people justly honored her literary significance with a state funeral.

If you are reading this post from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to the site to view these trailers from two movies about Colette.

© 2019, words, Jamie Dedes; photo credits – 1.) Colette’s photo, public domain, 2.) Rêve d’Égypte photograph copyright unknown (probably in public domain), 3.) the different types of Arabic coffees with the Hejazi / Najdi golden coffee seen on the left and the Levantine black “qahwah sādah” (plain coffee) on the right 

RELATED


ABOUT

ORWELL MATTERS, “A Little Poem” and … “Power is not a means. It’s an end.”

George Orwell (1903-1950), BBC Photograph in the public domain an curtesy of Penguin Books, India

George Orwell (1903-1950), BBC Photograph in the public domain, curtesy of Penguin Books, India

A LITTLE POEM

A happy vicar I might have been
Two hundred years ago
To preach upon eternal doom
And watch my walnuts grow;

But born, alas, in an evil time,
I missed that pleasant haven,
For the hair has grown on my upper lip
And the clergy are all clean-shaven.

And later still the times were good,
We were so easy to please,
We rocked our troubled thoughts to sleep
On the bosoms of the trees.

All ignorant we dared to own
The joys we now dissemble;
The greenfinch on the apple bough
Could make my enemies tremble.

But girl’s bellies and apricots,
Roach in a shaded stream,
Horses, ducks in flight at dawn,
All these are a dream.

It is forbidden to dream again;
We maim our joys or hide them:
Horses are made of chromium steel
And little fat men shall ride them.

I am the worm who never turned,
The eunuch without a harem;
Between the priest and the commissar
I walk like Eugene Aram;

And the commissar is telling my fortune
While the radio plays,
But the priest has promised an Austin Seven,
For Duggie always pays.

I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls,
And woke to find it true;
I wasn’t born for an age like this;
Was Smith? Was Jones? Were you?

– George Orwell


POWER IS NOT A MEANS. IT’S AN END.

The current state of affairs has many pulling 1984 and Animal Farm off their bookshelves, dusting them off and reading them again, probably for the first time since school days.

“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.” George Orwell, 1984


51fgdfc5bl-_sx315_bo1204203200_Eric Arthur Blair (pen name George Orwell) “was born in 1903 in Motihari, Bengal, in the then British colony of India, where his father, Richard, worked for the Opium Department of the Civil Service. His mother, Ida, brought him to England at the age of one. He did not see his father again until 1907, when Richard visited England for three months before leaving again until 1912. Eric had an older sister named Marjorie and a younger sister named Avril. With his characteristic humour, he would later describe his family’s background as “lower-upper-middle class.” MORE

STILL TIME to enter your collection for the University of North Texas Rilke Prize

Bohemian-Austrian Poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

Bohemian-Austrian Poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

The deadline for submission of a book for this prize is November 30, 2016. This is an annual competition with “a $10,000 award recognizing a book that demonstrates exceptional artistry and vision written by a mid-career poet and published in the preceding year.” Details are HERE. This particular award is for books written in English only by citizens of the United States.

Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final
– Rainer Maria Rilke

Rilke’s photograph is in the public domain

CELEBRATING AMERICAN SHE-POETS (16): Victoria C. Slotto, Jacaranda Rain …

Victoria C. Slotto, the poet as captured in (c) photo by David Slotto

Plain as a needle a poem may be, or opulent as the shell of the channeled whelk, or the ace of the lily, it matters not; it is a ceremony of words, a story, a prayer, an invitation, a flow o words that reaches out and, hopefully, without being real in the way that the least incident is real, is able to stir in the reader a real response.” San Dabs, Seven from Winter Hours by Mary Oliver

51+5zJY7zaL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_

Thus begins Victoria C. Slotto’s 2012 poetry collection, Jacaranda Rain, which she dedicated to Oliver “my mentor unaware.”  Like Mary Oliver, nature is frequent inspiration for Victoria. The collection includes some fifty-five poems on nature, spirituality, death and dying, which are arranged rather charmingly in alpha order.

What haunts me,” said the dead man
to his wife whose ashes mingled with
his own, “are books I’ve never read –”
from About the Dead Man and Books

“What haunts me more,” the dead man said
for no one else to hear, “are books I never
wrote — ideas fanned to life by life …”
from More About the Dead Man and Books

Victoria certainly will have no such regrets. Since 2009 she’s been publishing her poetry on her blog  (Victoria C. Slotto, Author; Fiction, Poetry, Essays). Her original intention in starting the blog was to promote her first novel, Winter Is Pastwhich was ultimately published by Lucky Bat Books in 2011.

Victoria is however a lover of poetry and was drawn to write and published more and more poetry – Lovely! – becoming involved in poetry groups. (We met via Jingle’s poetry group for those of you who have been around as long as we have and remember that dear lady.)

Victoria eventually became involved with dVerse ~ Poets Pub, “a place for poets and writers to gather to celebrate poetry. We are many voices, but one song. Our goal is to celebrate; poets, verse & the difference it can make in the world. To discover poetry’s many facets and revel in its beauty, even when ugly at times.”  dVerse is a collaborative effort offering inspiration, encouragement and education. I highly recommend it, especially if you are just getting started online and want to make connections. Jacaranda Rain includes several poems that were part of an anthology published by dVerse (also recommended). Victoria was for a time a core-team member of The BeZine where she offered monthly prompts for poets and writers.

Victoria’s collection includes explanatory notes for some of the poems and these are engaging and not intrusive.

I dreamt
I flew among the stars
skirted between planets,
cracked open doors
to distant worlds
from Quantum Leaps in Jacaranda Rain

In all since 2009, Victoria has maintained a blog, been an inspiration to poets and a friend to many, written two novels (the second is The Sin of His Father) and a nonfiction book, Beating the Odds: Support for Persons with Early Stage Dementia. Victoria is a former registered nurse who worked primarily with the elderly. She writes from that experience and the more intimate experience of caring for her own mother. As her mother faced early stages of dementia, they worked together to devise practical steps to help her mom remain independent for as long as possible. Victoria offers memory prompts, health care considerations, ideas to help one find meaning in life, suggestions for preparing for the future and more in this very worthy book.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Though I must leave you
I’ll come to you again
a shower of purple petals
on dew covered sod –
from the poem Jacaranda Rain in the collection

Victoria now has a second blog, Be Still and Know That I Am God.

© poem excerpts, book covers/art, and portrait, Victoria C. Slotto