The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery ♥♥♥♥♥

People aim for the stars, and they end up like goldfish in a bowl. I wonder if it wouldn’t be simpler just to teach children right from the start that life is absurd…..Despite all that, despite all this good fortune and all this wealth, I have known for a very long time that the final destination is the goldfish bowl.

It’s just more comfortable. And even then: I think lucidity gives your success a bitter taste, whereas mediocrity still leaves hope for something. What is the point of dying if not to not suffer? I’ve devoted great care to planning how I’ll exit the scene: every month for the last year I’ve been pilfering a sleeping pill from Maman’s box on the night table. She takes so many that she wouldn’t even notice if I took one every day, but I’ve decided to be particularly careful. Therefore, I am headed slowly toward the date of June sixteenth and I’m not afraid. A few regrets, maybe. But the world, in its present state, is no place for princesses. Having said that, simply because you’ve made plans to die doesn’t mean you have to vegetate like some rotting piece of cabbage. Quite the contrary. The main thing isn’t about dying or how old you are when you die, it’s what you are doing the moment you die.

I have set as my goal to have the greatest number possible of profound thoughts, and to write them down in this notebook: even if nothing has any meaning, the mind, at least, can give it a shot, don’t you think? But since I have this big thing about Japan, I’ve added one requirement: these profound thoughts have to be formulated like a little Japanese poem: either a haiku (three lines) or a tanka (five lines).

So, on June sixteenth I intend to refresh their pea-brain memories: I’m going to set fire to the apartment (with the barbecue lighter). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a criminal: I’ll do it when there’s no one around (the sixteenth of June is a Saturday and on Saturdays Colombe goes to see Tibère, Maman is at yoga, Papa is at his club and as for me, I stay home), I’ll evacuate the cats through the window and I’ll call the fire department early enough so that there won’t be any victims. And then I’ll go off quietly to Grandma’s with my pills, to sleep.

Can one be so gifted and yet so impervious to the presence of things? It seems one can. Some people are incapable of perceiving in the object of their contemplation the very thing that gives it its intrinsic life and breath, and they spend their entire lives conversing about mankind as if they were robots, and about things as though they have no soul and must be reduced to what can be said about them—all at the whim of their own subjective inspiration.

I’m still too young to claim to know much about love and friendship. But Art . . . if I had more time to live, Art would be my whole life. Well, when I say Art, don’t get me wrong: I’m not just talking about great works of art by great masters. Even Vermeer can’t con-vince me to hold life dear. He’s sublime, but he’s dead. No, I’m referring to the beauty that is there in the world, things that, being part of the movement of life, elevate us.

In fact, I got this idea for a double journal (one for the mind, one for the body) yesterday.

Most people, when they move, well they just move depending on whatever’s around them. I don’t really know how to explain it, but when we move, we are in a way de-structured by our movementtoward something: we are both here and at the same time not here because we’re already in the process of going elsewhere, Everyone was enthralled by him but no one seemed to know why. Yet it became obvious in the haka: he was moving and making the same gestures as the other players (slapping the palms of his hands on his thighs, rhythmically drumming his feet on the ground, touching his elbows, and all the while looking the adversary in the eyes like a mad warrior) but while the others’ gestures wenttoward their adversaries and the entire stadium who were watching, this player’s gestures stayed inside him, stayed focused upon him, and that gave him an unbelievable presence and intensity. What makes the strength of a soldier isn’t the energy he uses try-ing to intimidate the other guy by sending him a whole lot of sig-nals, it’s the strength he’s able to concentrate within himself, by staying centered. That Maori player was like a tree, a great inde-structible oak with deep roots and a powerful radiance—everyone could feel it.

We are mistaken to believe that our consciousness is awakened at the moment of our first birth—perhaps because we do not know how to imagine any other living state. It may seem to us that we have always seen and felt and, armed with this belief, we identify our entry into the world as the decisive instant where consciousness is born. The fact that for five years a little girl called Renée, a perfectly operational machine of perception blessed with sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, could have lived in a state of utter unawareness both of herself and of the universe, is proof if any were needed that such a hasty theory is wrong. For in order for consciousness to be aroused, it must have a name.

The only purpose of cats is that they constitute mobile decorative objects.

In short, in my opinion the cat is a modern totem.

I have read so many books . . .And yet, like most autodidacts, I am never quite sure of what I have gained from them. There are days when I feel I have been able to grasp all there is to know in one single gaze, as if invisible branches suddenly spring out of nowhere, weaving together all the disparate strands of my reading—and then suddenly the meaning escapes, the essence evaporates, and no matter how often I reread the same lines, they seem to flee ever further with each subsequent reading, and I see myself as some mad old fool who thinks her stomach is full because she’s been attentively reading the menu.

Let me explain: if, thus far, you have imagined that the ugliness of ageing and conciergely widowhood have made a pitiful wretch of me, resigned to the lowliness of her fate—then you are truly lacking in imagination. I have withdrawn, to be sure, and refuse to fight. But within the safety of my own mind, there is no challenge I cannot accept. I may be indigent in name, position, and appearance, but in my own mind I am an unrivalled goddess.

He still believes that something known as duty exists and although in my opinion that’s just pure fancy, it protects him from the cynic’s debility. Let me explain: nobody is a greater schoolgirl in spirit than a cynic. Cynics can not relinquish the rubbish they were taught as children: they hold tight to the belief that the word has meaning and, when things go wrong for them, they consequently adopt the inverse attitude. “Life’s a whore, I don’t believe in anything anymore and I’ll wallow in that idea until it makes me sick” is the very credo of the innocent who hasn’t been able to get his way.

Nothing is harder or more unfair than human reality: humans live in a world where it’s words and not deeds that have power, where the ultimate skill is mastery of language. This is a terrible thing because basically we are primates who’ve been programmed to eat, sleep, reproduce, conquer and make our territory safe, and the ones who are most gifted at that, the most animal types among us, always get screwed by the others, the fine talkers, despite these latter being incapable of defending their own garden or bringing a rabbit home for dinner or procreating properly. Humans live in a world where the weak are dominant. This is a terrible insult to our animal nature, a sort of perversion or a deep contradiction.

All of phenomenology is founded on this certainty: our reflective consciousness, the sign of our ontological dignity, is the only entity we have that is worth studying, for it saves us from biological determinism.

What we know of the world is only the idea that our consciousness forms of it.

Did you know that our consciousness does not perceive things right off the bat but performs a complicated series of operations of synthesis which, by means of successive profiling, introduce to our senses objects as diverse as, for example, a cat, a broom, or a flyswatter—and, God knows, isn’t that useful? Have you ever wondered why it is that you can observe your cat and know at the same time what he looks like from the front, behind, above and below—even though at the present moment you are perceiving him only from the front? It must be that your consciousness, without your even realizing it, has been synthesizing multiple perceptions of your cat from every possible angle, and has ended up creating this integral image of the cat that your sight, at that moment, could never give you. And the same is true for the flyswatter, which you will only ever perceive from one direction even though you can visualize it in its entirety in your mind and, oh miracle, you know perfectly well without even turning it over how it is made on the other side.

Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment). The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. While the former refers to chronological or sequential time, the latter signifies a time in between, a moment of indeterminate time in which something special happens. What the special something is depends on who is using the word. While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative nature.

As I have already explained, I have spent every moment of my existence that could be spared from work in reading, watching films, and listening to music…I have read history, philosophy, economics, sociology, psychology, pedagogy, psychoanalysis and, of course—above all—literature. While all these have always interested me, literature has been my whole life. My cat Leo was baptized thus because of Tolstoy. My previous cat was called Dongo because of Stendhal’s Fabrice del. The first one was called Karenina because of Anna but I called her Karé for short, for fear of being found out.

When illness enters a home, not only does it take hold of a body; it also weaves a dark web between hearts, a web where hope is trapped. Like a spider’s thread drawn ever tighter around our projects, making it impossible to breathe, with each passing day the illness was overwhelming our life.

I am a complete slave to vocabulary, I ought to have named my cat Roget.

That silence helps you to go inward, that anyone who is interested in something more than just life outside actually needs silence. 

If there is one thing I detest, it’s when people transform their powerlessness or alienation into a creed.

 

Truth will out, when the end is near ..we are all prisoners of our own destiny, must confront it with the knowledge that there is no way out and, in our epilogue, must be the person we have always been deep inside, regardless of any illusions we may have nurtured in our lifetime.

We have never had our tea together in the morning, and this break with our usual protocol imbues the ritual with a strange flavor.

The tea ritual: such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accesion to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a license given to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and of the poor; the tea ritual, therefore, has the  extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony. Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light. And, with each swallow, time is sublimed.

Every morning at breakfast Papa drinks a coffee and reads the newspaper. Several newspapers, in fact: Le Monde, Le Figaro, Libération and, once a week, L’Express, Les Échos, Time and Courrier International. But I can tell that the most satisfying thing for him is his first cup of coffee with e Monde. He is absorbed by his reading for at least half an hour. In order to enjoy this half-hour, he has to get up very early, because his days are full. But every morning, even if there’s been a nighttime session and he has only slept two hours, he gets up at six and reads his paper while he drinks a strong cup of coffee. In this way Papa constructs himself, every day. I say “constructs himself” because I think that each time it’s a new construction, as if everything has been reduced to ashes during the night, and he has to start from scratch. In our world, that’s the way you live your grown-up life: you must constantly rebuild your identity as an adult, the way it’s been put together it is wobbly, ephemeral, and fragile, it cloaks despair and, when you’re alone in front of the mirror, it tells you the lies you need to believe. For Papa, the newspaper and the coffee are magic wands that transform him into an important man. Like a pumpkin into a coach. Of course he finds this very satisfying: I never see him as calm and relaxed as when he’s sitting drinking his six o’clock coffee. But at such a price! You pay such a price when you lead a false life! When the mask is taken away, when there’s a crisis—and there’s always a crisis at some point among mortals—the truth is terrible!

Papa reads his paper while he drinks his coffee, Maman drinks her coffee while she leafs through catalogues, Colombe drinks her coffee while she listens to France Inter and I drink hot chocolate while reading mangas. Just now I’m reading Taniguchi mangas; he’s a genius, and he’s teaching me a lot about people. Tea and mangas instead of coffee and newspapers: something elegant and enchanting, instead of adult power struggles and their sad aggressiveness.

Eternity eludes us.

At nine in the evening, I put a cassette into the video player, a film by Ozu, The Munekata Sisters. This is my tenth Ozu film this month. Why? Because Ozu is a genius who can rescue me from biological destiny.So I found out more about Ozu and, for the first time in my life, the Art of the cinema made me laugh and cry as real entertainment should.

In the world, everything is compensation.

When you watch someone doing something, the same neurons that they activate in order to do something become active in your brain, without you doing a thing. An acrobatic dive without budging from the sofa and while eating potato chips: that’s why we like watching sports on television.

All those things that pass before us, which we miss by a hair and which are botched for eternity . . . All the words we should have said, gestures we should have made, the fleeting moments of kairos that were there one day and that we did not know how to grasp and that were buried forever in the void . . . Failure, by a hair’s breadth . . .

I find this a fascinating phenomenon: the ability we have to manipulate ourselves so that the foundation of our beliefs is never shaken.

In chess, you have to kill to win. In go, you have to build to live.

Beautiful things should belong to beautiful souls….One of the most extraordinary aspects of the game of go is that it has been proven that in order to win, you must live, but you must also allow the other player to live. Players who are too greedy will lose: it is a subtle game of equilibrium, where you have to get ahead without crushing the other player. In the end, life and death are only the consequences of how well or how poorly you have made your construction. This is what one of Taniguchi’s characters says: you live, you die, these are consequences. It’s a proverb for playing go, and for life. Live, or die: mere consequences of what you have built. What matters is building well.

We live each day as if it were merely a rehearsal for the next.

We mustn’t forget old people with their rotten bodies, old people who are so close to death, something that young people don’t want to think about (so it is to retirement homes that they entrust the care of accompanying their parents to the threshold, with no fuss or bother). And where’s the joy in these final hours that they ought to be making the most of? They’re spent in boredom and bitterness, endlessly revisiting memories. We mustn’t forget that our bodies decline, friends die, everyone forgets about us, and the end is solitude. Nor must we forget that these old people were young once, that a lifespan is pathetically short, that one day you’re twenty and the next day you’re eighty. Colombe thinks you can “hurry up and forget” because it all seems so very far away to her, the prospect of old age, as if it were never going to happen to her. But just by observing the adults around me I understood very early on that life goes by in no time at all, yet they’re always in such a hurry, so stressed out by deadlines, so eager for now that they needn’t think about tomorrow . . . But if you dread tomorrow, it’s because you don’t know how to buildthe present, and when you don’t know how to build the present,you tell yourself you can deal with it tomorrow, and it’s a lost cause anyway because tomorrow always ends up becoming today, don’t you see? So, we mustn’t forget any of this, absolutely not. We have to live with the certainty that we’ll get old and that it won’t look nice or be good or feel happy. And tell ourselves that it’s now that matters: to build something, now, at any price, using all our strength. Always remember that there’s a retirement home waiting somewhere and so we have to surpass ourselves every day, make every day undying. Climb our own personal Everest and do it in such a way that every step is a little bit of eternity. That’s what the future is for: to build the present, with real plans, made by living people.

 

I was fascinated by the way the Japanese use space in their lives, and by these doors that slide and move quietly along invisible rails, refusing to offend space. For when we push open a door, we transform a place in a very insidious way. We offend its full extension, and introduce a disruptive and poorly proportioned obstacle. If you think about it carefully, there is nothing uglier than an open door. An open door introduces a break in the room, a sort of provincial interference, destroying the unity of space. In the adjoining room it creates a depression, an absolutely pointless gaping hole adrift in a section of wall that would have preferred to remain whole. In either case a door disrupts continuity, without offering anything in exchange other than freedom of movement, which could easily be ensured by another means. Sliding doors avoid such pitfalls and enhance space. Without affecting the balance of the room, they allow it to be transformed. When a sliding door is open, two areas communicate without offending each other. When it is closed, each regains its integrity. Sharing and reunion can occur without intrusion. Life becomes a quiet stroll—whereas our life, in the homes we have, seems like nothing so much as a long series of intrusions.

I put music on in the morning, just that it sets the tone for the rest of the day.

 

You would be surprised by what ordinary little people come out with. They may prefer stories to theories, anecdotes to concepts, images to ideas—that doesn’t stop them from philosophizing. So: have our civilizations become so destitute that we can only live in our fear of want? Can we only enjoy our possessions or our senses when we are certain that we shall always be able to enjoy them? Perhaps the Japanese have learned that you can only savor a pleasure when you know it is ephemeral and unique; armed with this knowledge, they are yet able to weave their lives.

Boredom was born on a day of uniformity.

I’m going to say something really banal, but intelligence, in itself, is neither valuable nor interesting. Very intelligent people have devoted their lives to the question of the sex of angels, for example. But many intelligent people have a sort of bug: they think intelligence is an end in itself. They have one idea in mind: to be intelligent, which is really stupid. And when intelligence takes itself for its own goal, it operates very strangely: the proof that it exists is not to be found in the ingenuity or simplicity of what it produces, but in how obscurely it is expressed. Conclusion: better to be a thinking monk than a postmodern thinker.

This is the first time I have met someone who cares about me when he is talking: he’s not looking for approval or disagreement, he looks at me as if he to say, “Who are you? Do you want to talk to me? How nice it is to be here with you!” That is what I meant by saying he is polite—this attitude that gives the other person the impression of really being there.

If you have but one friend, make sure you choose her well.

Teenagers think they’re adults when in fact they’re imitating adults who never really made it into adulthood and who are running away from life.

The most awful thing is not that we’re playing this game, but that it isn’t a game.

Looking at her, I wondered, “Is she going to end up just like all the others, too?” I tried to picture her ten years older, blasé, with high-rise boots and a cigarette dangling from her mouth, and then another ten years later in a sanitized décor waiting for her kids to come home while she plays the good Japanese wife and mommy. But it didn’t work. And I felt extraordinarily happy. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve met someone whose fate is not predictable, someone whose paths in life still remain open, someone who is fresh and full of possibility. And yet another: What about me? Is my fate already written all over my face? If I want to die, it’s because I believe it must be.

But those who seek eternity find solitude.

Living, eating, reproducing, fulfilling the task for which we were born, and dying: it has no meaning, true, but that’s the way things are. People are so arrogant, thinking they can coerce nature, escape their destiny of little biological things . . . and yet they remain so blind to the cruelty or violence of their own way of living, loving, reproducing and making war on their fellow human beings . . . Personally I think there is only one thing to do: find the task we have been placed on this earth to do, and accomplish it as best we can, with all our strength, without making things complicated or thinking there’s anything divine about our animal nature. This is the only way we will ever feel that we have been doing something constructive when death comes to get us. Freedom, choice, will, and so on? Chimeras. We think we can make honey without sharing in the fate of bees, but we are in truth nothing but poor bees, destined to accomplish our task and then die.

 

I was fascinated by the way the Japanese use space in their lives, and by these doors that slide and move quietly along invisible rails, refusing to offend space. For when we push open a door, we transform a place in a very insidious way. We offend its full extension, and introduce a disruptive and poorly proportioned obstacle. If you think about it carefully, there is nothing uglier than an open door. An open door introduces

a break in the room, a sort of provincial interference, destroying the unity of space. In the adjoining room it creates a depression, an absolutely pointless gaping hole adrift in a section of wall that would have preferred to remain whole. In either case a door disrupts continuity, without offering anything in exchange other than freedom of movement, which could easily be ensured by another means. Sliding doors avoid such pitfalls and enhance space. Without affecting the balance of the room, they allow it to be transformed. When a sliding door is open, two areas communicate without offending each other. When it is closed, each regains its integrity. Sharing and reunion can occur without intrusion. Life becomes a quiet stroll—whereas our life, in the homes we have, seems like nothing so much as a long series of intrusions.

 

I put music on in the morning, just that it sets the tone for the rest of the day.

 

You would be surprised by what ordinary little people come out with. They may prefer stories to theories, anecdotes to concepts, images to ideas—that doesn’t stop them from philosophizing. So: have our civilizations become so destitute that we can only live in our fear of want? Can we only enjoy our possessions or our senses when we are certain that we shall always be able to enjoy them? Perhaps the Japanese have learned that you can only savor a pleasure when you know it is ephemeral and unique; armed with this knowledge, they are yet able to weave their lives.

Boredom was born on a day of uniformity.

I’m going to say something really banal, but intelligence, in itself, is neither valuable nor interesting. Very intelligent people have devoted their lives to the question of the sex of angels, for example. But many intelligent people have a sort of bug: they think intelligence is an end in itself. They have one idea in mind: to be intelligent, which is really stupid. And when intelligence takes itself for its own goal, it operates very strangely: the proof that it exists is not to be found in the ingenuity or simplicity of what it produces, but in how obscurely it is expressed. Conclusion: better to be a thinking monk than a postmodern thinker.

This is the first time I have met someone who cares about me when he is talking: he’s not looking for approval or disagreement, he looks at me as if he to say, “Who are you? Do you want to talk to me? How nice it is to be here with you!” That is what I meant by saying he is polite—this attitude that gives the other person the impression of really being there.

I was having breakfast and looking at the bouquet on the kitchen counter. I don’t believe I was thinking about anything. And that could be why I noticed the movement; maybe if I’d been preoccupied with something else, if the kitchen hadn’t been quiet, if I hadn’t been alone in there, I wouldn’t have been attentive enough. But I was alone, and calm, and empty. So I was able to take it in. There was a little sound, a sort of quivering in the air that went, “shhhh” very very very quietly: a tiny rosebud on a little broken stem that dropped onto the counter. The moment it touched the surface it went “puff,” a “puff” of the ultrasonic variety, for the ears of mice alone, or for human ears when everything is very very very silent. I stopped there with my spoon in the air, totally transfixed. It was magnificent. But what was it that was so magnificent? I couldn’t get over it: it was just a little rosebud at the end of a broken stem, dropping onto the counter. In the split second while I saw the stem and the bud drop to the counter I intuited the essence of Beauty. Yes, here I am, a little twelve-and-a-half-year-old brat, and I have been incredibly lucky because this morning all the conditions were ripe: an empty mind, a calm house, lovely roses, a rosebud dropping. And that is why I thought of Ronsard’s poem, though I didn’t really understand it at first: because he talks about time, and roses. Because beauty consists of its own passing, just as we reach for it. It’s the ephemeral configuration of things in the moment, when you can see both their beauty and their death. Oh my gosh, I thought, does this mean that this is how we must live our lives? Constantly poised between beauty and death, between movement and its disappearance? Maybe that’s what being alive is all about: so we can track down those moments that are dying.

How to describe such moments of bliss? To be watching The Munekata Sisters on a giant screen, in gentle darkness, nestled against a soft backrest, nibbling gloutof, and drinking scalding tea in contented little sips. From time to time Kakuro pauses the film and we both begin to talk about this and that, camellias on the moss of the temple and how people cope when life becomes too hard.

From being silent, I then became clandestine.

And one thing is sure, no matter what: I won’t get any better by punishing the people I can’t heal. I might have to rethink this business about fire and suicide. Besides, I may as well admit it: I don’t really feel like dying, I want to be able to see Madame Michel and Kakuro again, and his unpredictable little great-niece Yoko, and ask them for help. Of course I’m not going to show up saying, please, help me, I’m a little girl who is suicidal. But I feel like letting other people be good for me—after all, I’m just an unhappy little girl and even if I’m extremely intelligent, that doesn’t change anything, does it? An unhappy little girl who, just when things are at their worst, has been lucky enough to meet some good people. Morally, do I have the right to let this chance go by?  This story is a tragedy, after all. “There are some worthy people out there, be glad!” is what I felt like telling myself, but in the end, so much sadness! They end up in the rain.

Day after day, already wearied by the constant  onslaught, we face our terror of the everyday, the endless passageway that, in the end—because we have spent so much time walking to and fro between its walls—will become a destiny. Yes, my angel, that is our everyday existence: dreary, empty, and mired deep in troubles. The pathways of hell are hardly foreign; we shall end up there one day if we tarry too long. From a passageway to a pathway: it is an easy fall, without shock or surprises. Every day we are reacquainted with the sadness of the passageway and step by step we clear the path toward our mournful doom.

I belong to the 8% of the world population who calm their apprehension by drowning it in numbers.

I have never seen so many teeth all at once.

And as the taxi glides through the early twilight, I become thoughtful.

The paths of God are all too explicit for those who pride themselves on their ability to decipher them

How to measure a life’s worth? The important thing, said Paloma one day, is not the fact of dying, it is what you are doing in the moment of your death. What was I doing in the moment of my death, I wonder, with an answer ready in the warmth of my heart. What was I doing? I had met another, and was prepared to love.

And I’m ashamed. I think I wanted to die and make Colombe and Maman and Papa suffer because I hadn’t ever really suffered. Or rather, I was suffering but it didn’t hurt and, as a result, all my little plans were just the luxury of some problemfree teenager. Poor little rich girl rationalizing things, wanting to draw attention to herself.

For the first time in my life I understood the meaning of the word never. And it’s really awful. You say the word a hundred times a day but you don’t really know what you’re saying until you’re faced with a real “never again.

He looked very tired, more tired than sad, and I thought, That is what suffering looks like on a wise face. It’s not apparent; it just leaves traces that make you look very very tired.

Because from now on,  I’ll be searching for those moments of always within never. Beauty, in this world.

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Spuma zilelor, Boris Vian ♥♥♥♥

Despre cărţile lui Boris Vian se ştiu puţine, nu multora le este la îndemână să citească şi, mai mult, să aprecieze opere aparţinând suprarealismului. Oricum, probabil că una dintre cele mai cunoscute şi apreciate opere ale acestuia este Spuma zilelor, romanul care l-a consacrat şi prima carte a lui cu care am intrat în contact. Am început să o citesc în urma recomandării profesoarei de română din liceu, care ne-a propus o listă de lecturi care nu ar trebui să lipsească din bagajul literar al unui iubitor de lectură. După ce am terminat-o, am rămas în minte cu pasaje întregi timp de câteva luni şi am plecat spre bibliotecă să împrumut şi alte cărţi ale autorului. Dintre toate, tot Spuma zilelor mi-a rămas cel mai aproape de suflet, poate pentru că este şi cea mai atent gândită şi conţine cele mai remarcabile descrieri. La fel ca în Alice în Ţara Minunilor, universul lui Vian se constituie din imagini construite, parcă, pe un suport oniric, pasaje de-a dreptul psihedelice care creează liantul între lumea fictivă şi realitate.

Subiectul cărţii este constituit din povestea de dragoste dintre Colin si Chloe şi, în plan secund, de cea dintre Chick şi Alice. Colin este un tânăr bogat şi pedant care locuieşte într-o casă ai cărei pereţi se dilată sau se contractă în funcţie de stările spirituale ale celor ce locuiesc în ea. Primele fraze ale cărţii ne introduc subtil în atmosfera tipic vianescă, debutând cu imaginea protagonistului care îşi face toaleta de dimineţă, tăindu-şi colţurile pleoapelor cu forfecuţa, pentru a adăuga un plus de mister privirii sale. Această imagine este un preludiu pentru episoadele intense ce vor urma pe parcurs. În scenă mai apare şi Nicolas, bucătarul, care prinde peştii ieşiti prin chiuvetă, cu ajutorul pastei de dinţi cu aromă de ananas, urmând ca, mai apoi, să fie descris modul barbar în care acesta tranşează şi găteşte diversele preparate culinare.

După ce Colin şi Chloe se căsătoresc, se observă cum ritmul poveştii devine mai accelerat, firul epic parcă fiind grăbit într-o direcţie, care ne vom da seama că este cea a declinului personajelor. Astfel, Chloe se îmbolnăveşte din cauza unui ochi de geam care nu a mai apucat să crească la loc în urma spargerii lui de către Colin, atunci când aruncă cu un pantof după Nicolas. Aerul rece o face să dezvolte un nufăr la plămân, iar pentru a se vindeca are nevoie de multe flori şi de soare. Astfel, bogatul Colin ajunge încet-încet să nu mai aibă resurse şi este nevoit să se angajeze, lucru ce îi repugnă total, din perspectiva transformării omului într-o maşinărie. Nefăcând faţă cheltuielior, îşi vinde pianococteilul, invenţia sa care, pe măsură ce se cântă o melodie, produce o băutură aferentă fiecărei piese muzicale, însă toate din jurul său par să se darâme, să se micşoreze asemeni ferestrelor, pereţilor dar şi posibilităţii de izbândă.

În celălat plan, Chick îşi pierde toţi banii cumpărând cu fanatism tratatele, cărţile şi, chiar, hainele lui Jean Saul Partre (dublu ironic al filosofului), făcând-o pe Alice să recurgă la gestul extrem de a incendia toate librăriile şi de a ucide toţi librarii de la care cumpără iubitul ei. Sfârşitul celor doi este tragic, Chick este arestat pentru neplata datoriile faţă de stat, iar Alice moare în incendiu. Paralel cu destinul lor fatidic, Chloe este răpusă de cel de-al doilea nufăr care i se formează în plămân, iar cartea se încheie cu imaginea de o tristeţe surdă a şoricelului gri, locuitor al casei, care o roagă pe o pisică sa îl mănânce.

Atâtea imagini dure, atâta dragoste şi suferinţă, atâtea contradicţii împletindu-se cu metafore din cele mai diafane şi voalate, grotesc şi sublim laolaltă: asta exprimă cartea lui Boris Vian. O poveste de dragoste cum nu s-a mai scris şi probabil nu se va mai scrie, o existenţă măcinată de disoluţia sfârşitului încă înainte de a începe, dar care nu este marcată de tragismul elegiei ci, mai degrabă, îşi are rădăcini în neobişnuitul suprarealist. Problemele tratate cu destul de multă răceală, nu ne lasă să ne înmuiem în vreun sirop cu iz de romantism, ci ne lasă să înţelegem că suferinţa, la fel ca şi bucuria, se trăiesc la intensitate, nu pe durate interminabile de lâncezeală, se mizează pe forţa sentimentelor, nu pe statornicia lor. Spuma zilelor şochează, uimeşte, te face să nu o mai poţi lăsa din mână, să te revolţi, să o urăşti sau să o iubeşti, dar nu te poate lăsa indiferent sub nicio formă.

The Man Who Planted Trees, by Jean Giono ♥♥

 

The Man Who Planted Trees (or L’homme qui plantait des arbres’) by French author Jean Giono is a legendary tale written in the 1950’s, which has been translated into a multitude of languages.

It tells the story of one shepherd, Elzéard Bouffier, living in a desolate valley in the foothills of the Alps near Provence throughout the first half of the 20th century, who single-handedly re-forests and resurrects the wasteland around him. It is a message well ahead of its time, and one that has stayed with me in the few days since reading the short tale.

The story is narrated by a young man who remains anonymous, and who in 1910 and at the start of the book, sets out on a lone journey on foot through a wilderness region of France.  There is no trace of civilization and natural springs have dried up years ago. He is in desperate need of water, and at that point in his journey meets Elzéard Bouffier for the first time, who takes him in and gives him food and rest.

The shepherd is a man of few words and the narrator is fascinated by his lonely existence. On the first evening the narrator observes him carefully select one hundred perfect acorns from a pile that he has collected, which he painstakingly plants by hand the next day.

“He had been planting trees in the wilderness for three years. He had planted one hundred thousand of them. Out of those, twenty thousand had sprung up. Of the twenty thousand, he still expected to lose half, because of rodents or the unpredictable ways of Providence. That meant ten thousand oaks would grow where before there had been nothing.”

Over the course of the next 40 years, during which time two World Wars take place, the shepherd continues in his tree planting mission, and the narrator continues to visit him. The narrator sees the desolate hills transform into a magnificent forest, where streams begin to flow again and civilisation returns. The old shepherd had breathed life back into the land.