Sunday, July 03, 2016

Once in a while

Somewhere, in our minds, in our memory, there are places which are difficult to share with others who were not there.  The landscape is personal, the events and experiences not connected with the here and now, and the feelings perhaps even too private to attempt to expose with words.
I have places like that in my memory, one of which is to do with my first visit to Paris, and in particular the Jardin du Luxembourg.  It was November 1964, at 16 I had been deemed too young to go to university, so for my final school year I was taking extra classes alone in French language and culture - and was steeped in the existentialist novels of de Beauvoir and Sartre.  Not only that, but it was the first time ever that I was able to be somewhere with neither parent, nor any relative - thanks to a school exchange of pen pals.
When we visited the Etel Adnan exhibition at the Serpentine the other weekend I was intrigued in the gallery shop to see her writings, and bought not only the exhibition catalogue but also her book Paris, When it's Naked.  It was loosely described as a novel, but really it is a kind of notebook of thoughts, experiences, reminiscences of Paris in the early '90s just after the break-up of the Soviet Union, of Adnan's life there and its relationship to other cities and places in her life - a kind of stream of consciousness approach where one thought triggers a connection to another, or several more.
It has been a joyous experience reading this book with its multi-cultured essence.  I have felt connected so much to Adnan with her lived links to the Lebanon, Europe, and California - and reading it over these days of free-fall into Brexit hysteria and aftermath I felt more sanely at home in the book than I did in real life! 


  1. Your post has stirred my own personal memories. At 16 I was in New Jersey in the States, and my French was too advanced for the local High School so twice a week I took a French literature course at Princeton University. Princeton had not gone co-ed then so I was the only girl in a group of second year undergraduates. My passions at the time: the French existentialists like you, Rimbaud and Baudelaire. I remember I had to give a class presentation on Le Bateau Ivre by Rimbaud - I was petrified. The other thing I remember very clearly was the end of year exam: the lecturer came in, gave us the paper and left - no supervision at all. We all buckled down and when we finished the exam we took the paper to his office.

    I wanted to visit the Etel Adnan exhibition but things have been not exactly difficult recently, but different and odd, so I was unable to - I am really sorry to have missed it.

    1. I'm sorry you did not get to the Etel Adnan exhibition as I felt that it worked particularly well in that splendid venue. But we cannot do everything - and perhaps that is a good thing over all.
      As for our coinciding personal memories - I am always astonished at how Zeitgeist works for a slice of a generation in cultures. It's fascinating who is moved by what and when, and how some things are so much more important than others - across a wide swathe geographically but a fairly narrow one culturally. Am I wittering?!

    2. No wittering at all. I agree - it always amazes me too. Our world is so small.