Friday, November 24, 2006

"The Last Time I Saw Paris.......

....its trees were dressed for Spring" - so ran the song lamenting the fall of Paris in the 1940's. It continued that "lovers walked beneath the trees and birds found songs to sing."

If Paris in the Springtime is for lovers, I’m not too sure who the intended beneficiaries are of a Paris on a wet and windy day in November. The birds had sore throats and most certainly it was not the sans-culottes, not that there were many of them about, as a chilly breeze and a light drizzle whistled under the bridges of the Seine. Under these bridges there reside a substantial population of indigents who, unlike their contemporaries in other countries, seem to be able to equip themselves with all the usual amenities of life, with the exception of a roof over their heads.

The Gendarmerie and the Red Cross spend a good deal of time dishing out soup, sandwiches and even pizza to these residents, most of whom have equipped themselves with comfortable looking bivouacs of the latest in camping gear that would have been the envy of many a holidaymaker.

With a charming view of the river, no tax d’habitation and occasional free food, it was a carefree existence, one would have thought.

Authority, of course, always dislike seeing contented citizens as they tend to negate the purpose in life of such bureaucrats, and so spent a good deal of time recently, moving these happy campers on, quite where, I have no idea. But it was pretty miserable weather for camping, I suppose. The best thing to do on a day like this is to go to one of the many exhibitions that abound in Paris.

Menus in the sprauncier restaurants of the US often had, on the bottom of the page, “A day without wine is like a day without sunshine.” It did, of course, rather depend on the wine they were serving. Some of it could convert the most radiant day into gloom, but perhaps it was this saying that prompted Paris to hold its annual wine tasting festival in November. It certainly bucked up the weather for some, even though the idea is that you spit most of it out, although I bet a few had the odd illicit gargle. It does seem a pity to waste it.

But for those who can’t bear the site of all that good plonk being spat out into buckets, the Andre Malraux exhibition is a good bet for keeping warm, dry and enlightened.

Malraux was, apart from being an exceptional writer, a legend in himself, with a life of adventure and achievement that even he would have had difficulty in compressing into a book. And the exhibition, or museum, is a fine testimony to the life of a man, known to most for his writings, who survived against all odds to become the Minister of Culture for his nation.

But for myself, one of the interesting things that always strike me when I view the original manuscripts of famous writers is, how on earth did anyone manage to read them?

My handwriting has always bothered me, so much so that I gave up the unequal struggle years ago and went for the mechanical means of expression. At the time, I blamed it on the Biro but even with my ridiculously expensive Mont Blanc, kept only for show to prove how successful(?) I am, my writing looks as though an inebriated cockroach has strayed into the ink bottle. Even my signature has a charmingly artistic but variable quality, causing some problems to the occasional recipients of my cheques.

And it’s not only Malraux’s handwriting. Dickens was not much better, and pity his poor typesetters having to work by gaslight.

I believe J.K.Rowling handwrites all her stuff too, but I haven’t seen an example so maybe she does better.

But for most of us, even with the most masterful penmanship, if we turn in a hand crafted manuscript, I wonder how many agents, editors or publishers would take the trouble to read it, even if they could? Not too many, I venture to suggest.

Malraux certainly wrote in an age when typewriters were available but clearly preferred to write by hand. And there is a point. Many of his pages show crossings out, drastic revisions and amendments. And this is, perhaps, where those who still work this way may have the advantage over the rest of us. There is a sort of mindset about producing words by way of a typewriter or word processor, a feeling that these are now set in, if not stone, some medium that is impervious to change. Changing is extremely easy with the computer and its “cut and paste” ability, but the psychological barrier is there.

So I think I’ll go back over this and cross out a few bits.

Thank you, M. Malraux. And I see that it's stopped raining.


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