Émile Nelligan, poet, tortured soul, was born Christmas’s eve 1879 and died his second death in 1941. His second death was physical. His first death, the real one, lasted forty two years. A comet in Québec’s literary sky, Émile burned bright but a few seconds....Read More
No other spirit in history has the mystique of Absinthe. It was the muse of Beaudelaire, Verlaine and Rimbaud, of Van Gogh, Manet and Toulouse-Lautrec. THE ORIGINS OF ABSINTHE In ancient Egypt, mentions of absinthe were found in papyrus. The Greeks, Pythagore and Hippocrate,...Read More
Writers and bars. There’s something in the combination that works. The drinks, the crowd, the music, the people-watching. Today I’m following James Joyce, Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway. DUBLIN – THE BRAZEN HEAD In St-Patrick’s day honor, I...Read More
Émile Nelligan, poet, tortured soul, was born Christmas’s eve 1879 and died his second death in 1941. His second death was physical. His first death, the real one, lasted forty two years.
A comet in Québec’s literary sky, Émile burned bright but a few seconds. Sensitive and shy, close to his mother, he wrote brilliant poems, studied in schools even today.
POSTER CHILD OF THE TWO SOLITUDES
Canada has an expression entirely its own: the two solitudes, taken from Hugh MacLennan’s 1945 novel of the same title. It refers to the rift between English and French, the lack of communication and the lack of will to communicate.
Émile’s father, David Nelligan, emigrated to Montreal from Dublin at the age of twelve, succeeded at school and managed to establish himself in middle-class society with a job at the post office. He married Émilie Hudon, from an old Montreal family, catholic but French-speaking.
Émile came first, then his two sisters were born. David forbade his wife and children to speak French at home, and this only pushed Émile closer to his mother, a devout catholic and a musician. Émile chose French to write his first poems.
WHEN IN TIME
Émile’s era came just after the Enlightenment movement in Paris and its famous poets, Verlaine, Baudelaire and Rimbaud. Inspiration also came from Poe, since Émile was fluent in both French and English.
Rimbaud is the poet Émile is most compared to, both for their visionary verses and their short careers. Émile Nelligan’s “Le Vaisseau D’Or” or “The Ship of Gold” is often compared to Rimbaud’s “Bateau Ivre” or “The Drunken Ship”.
The Nelligan family had a summer home in Cacouna and Émile missed school a lot every year between March and August. His mother completed his education at home. In 1896, age 17, he enters Ste-Marie College and it’s at that school he finds his first literary friendships, Joseph Melançon, Denys Lanctôt and Louis Dantin. His first poem is published in a weekly journal under a pseudonym. But the journal refuses to publish more poems unless Émile gives his real name and address.
In 1897, he meets Arthur de Buissière, who gets Émile admitted at the Literary School, a club of young writers, freshly out of university or in their last year. At his first meeting, he reads two poems, Berceuse and Le Voyageur. Émile goes regularly to the Literary School and writes steadily.
The following year, Émile finds a job as a sailor on a boat leaving for Liverpool. He makes the voyage but upon his return, he abandons the job. His father finds him a new position with a coal merchant (or a flower shop, history is unclear on that point) but Émile can’t stand it. Meanwhile, other writers read his poetry at the Literary School and his name gets circulated in the literary world.
MAY 26TH, 1899
In January 1899, the popular newspaper, La Patrie, publishes L’Idiote aux Cloches and Émile works with fervor to complete his first poem collection. In March, La Patrie publishes yet another poem and Émile is on the roster at the Literary School on six consecutive meetings between January and February. A journalist from France gives a negative review of Le Perroquet and Émile is crushed. He stays a few weeks away from the Literary School but returns in April.
May 26th, Émile reads La Romance du Vin, written in response to the French journalist’s critique, and the crowd is ecstatic. He wins the honors of the night and he is carried home by his friends in triumph.
This was Émile Nelligan’s last public appearance. He suffered a psychotic breakdown that summer and he never recovered. He was 19 years old. In August of that year, his family committed him to the St.Benoit’s retreat house and he came out in 1925 only to be transferred to the psychiatric hospital St-Jean-De-Dieu, where he died in 1941. After
his triumph on May 26th, he never wrote again.
My mother gave me his complete collection when I was teenager and I cherish the book. I studied Émile Nelligan’s body of work in high school, and contrary to my classmates, I was completely absorbed by his poetry.
The public library I lived closest to was called Émile Nelligan and I loved to roam the rows of book and settling my eyes on his pictures that dotted the walls.
I’ll leave you with Émile Nelligan’s last poem, the one he recited on the evening of May 26th, 1899, La Romance du Vin or The Song of Wine. I found the translation online on The Flying Scribbler.
Fresh in joy, life, light – all things coincide,
This fine May eve ! like living hopes that once
Were in my heart, the choiring birds announce
Their prelude to my window open wide.
O fine May eve! O happy eve of May!
A distant organ beats out frigid chords;
And long shafts of sun, like crimson swords,
Cuts to the heart the scent of dying day.
How gay, how glad am I ! Pour out, pour out
Once more the wine into the chiming glass
That I may lose the pain of days which pass
In scorn for all the wicked human rout.
How glad am I ! My wine and art be blest!
I, too, have dreamt of making poetry
That lives, of poems which sound the exequy
For autumn winds that passing far-off mist.
The bitter laugh of rage is now good form,
And I, a poet, must eat scorn for food.
I have a heart but am not understood
Save by the moonlight and the great nights of storm.
Woman ! I drink to you who mock the path
where the rose-dream calls with arms flung wide;
I drink, too, to you men with brows of pride
Who first refuse my hand then scorn my life!
When the starry sky becomes one glorious roof,
And when a hymn resounds for golden spring,
I do not weep for all the days’ calm going,
Who wary grope within my own black youth.
How glad am I ! May eve all eves above.
Not drunk but desperately glad am I !…
Has living grown at last to be a joy?
Has my heart, too, been healed of my sick love?
The clocks have struck and the wind smells of night
Now the wine gurgles as I pour it out.
So glad am I that I laugh and shout
I fear I shall break down and sob outright.
No other spirit in history has the mystique of Absinthe. It was the muse of Beaudelaire, Verlaine and Rimbaud, of Van Gogh, Manet and Toulouse-Lautrec.
In ancient Egypt, mentions of absinthe were found in papyrus. The Greeks, Pythagore and Hippocrate, also praised absinthe, its creative stimulation and its aphrodisiac after-effect.
The modern origins are disputed between Doctor Pierre Ordinaire and between a woman named Henriod in the canton of Neuchatel, in Switzerland. What historians seem to agree on is the recipe was bought by a soldier, Major Dubied, who opened with his son-in-law, Henri Louis Pernod, in 1797, the first absinthe distillery in Couvet, Switzerland.
For thirty years or so, absinthe remained a local beverage, despite an organized fight against alcoholism. In 1830, French soldiers colonized Algeria and recommended to the population to distill a few drops of absinthe in water to fight malaria and dysentery. Upon their return to France, soldiers quickly shared their taste of the beverage and its popularity lighted up Paris.
WHAT’S IN ABSINTHE?
Wormwood is the main herb used in absinthe. Green anis, fennel, lemon balm and hyssop are also part of the recipe. Absinthe is a distilled alcohol, like whisky or gin. This beverage is between 45 and 90% proof. No wonder one can hear muses and angels.
THE HIGH TIMES OF ABSINTHE
During the mid nineteenth century, absinthe was the preferred drink of writers, poets and painters. Oscar Wilde loved the “green fairy”, and he is quoted: ”What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?” Ernest Hemingway, (no surprise here, as stated in this other blog) featured the drink in For Whom The Bell Toll and the short story Hills Like White Elephants. It is said he procured absinthe from Spain and Cuba after the ban.
Famous French poets, Verlaine and Rimbaud, were known to drink large quantities of absinthe together. Beaudelaire was also a “green fairy” addict and wrote under its influence. Guy de Maupassant, in his story A Queer Night in Paris, describes all sensations from the hour to take absinthe.
Painters also let absinthe color their work. Van Gogh’s many yellow paintings and his ear cutting episode are attributed to absinthe.
Absinthe became the ugly face of alcoholism throughout France, speared on by anti-alcoholic leagues (one was headed by Louis Pasteur) circa 1875. In 1906, The French National Anti-Alcoholic league collected 400,000 signatures. In a time where signature had to be collected one by one (No Facebook option at the time), this movement was simply phenomenal. In a twist that’s all French, their motto was “All for wine, all against absinthe.”
Wine producers might have been behind the movement, non?
Sarcasm aside, if one drank the same amount of absinthe as wine, the effects were four to six times more heady.
The leagues won their cause. In 1915, absinthe was banned in France and many other countries. It’s been re-emerging lately with modification to the recipe. If you’re interested in knowing more about absinthe, there’s a fascinating documentary available on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime.
Writers and bars. There’s something in the combination that works. The drinks, the crowd, the music, the people-watching. Today I’m following James Joyce, Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway.
In St-Patrick’s day honor, I thought I’d start with Ireland. Touted as Dublin’s oldest bar – circa 12th century – The Brazen Head has a courtyard and three bars and live music every night. It’s a short walk away from the Guinness Brewery. History has marked the walls of the bar, with revolutionaries drawing plans against the British, treason, arrests and more beer please!
Ireland is on my list of must-see places-before-I-die. And the Brazen Head screams Irish fun. Especially the Storytelling evening: a night of food, folklore and fairies.
Born in 1882, James Joyce enrolled in the new Dublin University College in 1898, graduated in 1902. He left Dublin briefly for Paris but came back when his mother became sick. Known for getting into trouble, he drank heavily, and many of his friends – and enemies – ended up in his most famous novel, Ulysses. He left Dublin in 1904 in self-imposed exile and came back only on occasion. But his stories all revolved around Dublin.
It’s impossible to find to bars in the world where Ernest Hemingway has not visited. Harry’s Bar in Venice has been patronized by Hemingway, but I’ll concede this one to Truman Capote.
Venice, Italy. The charm of a forever sinking city.
My husband and I happened on Harry’s Bar at the end of a long walking day. It was our first time in Venice and we did like all tourists: oohing, aahing and pointing. The architecture defies logic, the waterways are amazing, the museums seductive.
Feet aching, Harry’s Bar called to us like water to a parched throat. But we didn’t drink water. We had bellinis. One can’t go at Harry’s Bar and not try the bellini.
The name Harry is after a young man, Harry Pickering, a young, rich man from Boston. He hung out at Hotel Europa in Venice where he met bartender Giuseppe Cipriani. His family cut his finances and Harry stopped going to the bar. Cipriani loaned him some money. Two years laters, Harry came back to Venice and gave Cipriani almost triple the amount and asked the bartender
to open his own establishment and to call it Harry’s Bar.
Truman Capote traveled Europe and published in 1950 Local Color, a collection of travel essays. He is known for this quote about Venice: “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.”
Conferences attract writers, even in difficult economic times, because it’s an occasion to meet other writers, to socialize, to commiserate. In other eras – after wars especially – writers and other artists would gather at bistros and cafés, thirsty for mind-like company.
That’s how The Bodeguita came to be in the 1950s. The bohemian Casa Martinez, as it was named then, attracted writers and journalists, musicians and choreographers. It brought life to Old Havana. Oh, and a new cocktail named “mojito”, an affair of rum, mint, sugar, lemon and club soda.
Ernest Hemingway lived a Ferrari life in a world of Peugeot. He traveled intensely – that’s why he’s been in every bar in the world - married four times, had multiple accidents that should have killed him but didn’t. He was there on D-Day, covered both world wars in person, and drew inspiration in every place he visited. He was the Indiana Jones version of a writer.
He was known for drinking – a lot. Chronic pain propelled him into self-medicating with alcohol. Paris, Venice, Havana and Key West, many cities boast of bars where Hemingway spent time at. At The Bodeguita, there’s a sign on the wall: ”My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in La Floridita.”
I hope you enjoyed my historic bar crawl. Which one have you visited? Please share with me in the comment section!Read More
The Oscars last night got me thinking about historical movies. In the 2013 vintage, four out of nine movies nominated for Best Pictures were historical: Argo, Django Unchained, Les Misérables and Lincoln.
History movies rock.
What’s your favorite?
THE TOP TEN BEST HISTORICAL MOVIES
I looked for an official list of best history movies on google. I found too many. But a few movies rose to the top.
#1. Schindler’s List
#3. Saving Private Ryan
#5. The Last of the Mohicans
Those five movies consistently made every list. The next four are older but unforgettable.
#6. Ben Hur
#8. Gone With The Wind
#9. Lawrence of Arabia
I reserve the last spot for one of my favorite. It’s French, there’s suspense and mystery, great fight scenes and a fiery heroine. And the hero looks like my protagonist Jason in The French Way. Interesting fact: if you watch Iron Chef America, you might recognize the Chairman in the movie.
#10. Brotherhood of the Wolf
What’s your favorite historical movie? Share in the comment section. And please enjoy this trailer from Brotherhood of the Wolf:
There are weeks when writers are alone all the time. Just the chair and the screen. But other weeks are really busy.
A BOOK CLUB PRESENTATION
I had such a week last week and it was super pleasant. A tennis friend of mine had asked back in October that I present a program to her book club. ”But I’m not published,” I said.
I agreed to do it. The presentation was last Tuesday afternoon and my friend drove me to her club, who met at a member’s home. A group of twenty friendly ladies who welcomed me with the best southern hospitality.
I had decided to not talk about my book in detail. I offered the outline but I focused my presentation on my writing process, especially how I approached my revisions. I gave examples of before and after. I showed how I strengthened my manuscript with rhetorical devices, deeper POV and power words.
I opened the program with the analysis of Kelley Armstrong’s opening of her Young Adult novel, The Summoning.
Mommy forgot to warn the babysitter about the basement.
Here’s my analysis of this great opening. First, with “Mommy”, the POV is clear and tells me the protag is young. The verb “warn” is strong and it’s the writer’s promise of a good thrill. To end on “basement” is powerful. Basement evokes darkness, dampness, spiders and spookiness. It makes the reader want to keep reading and see what’s in the basement and what will happen to the POV character.
The group loved this analysis. I don’t think they ever thought of writing in such a way. One lady told me she thought writing was a simple matter of stringing words together until you reached the end.
“You are quite right,” I said. ”Writers knit about 100,000 words together to write a novel. But it’s so much more. It has to be the right words, in the right order, in the right format.”
I had a great time presenting to this book club, and I do hope they left their meeting knowing a little bit more about the PROCESS of writing.
SISTERS IN CRIME
Sisters-In-Crime of Upstate SC received Nina Bruhns Thursday night and I attended the meeting. Nina Bruhns is a best-selling author of nearly 30 novels and is the Editorial Director for Entangled Publishing’s suspense line.
After dinner, Nina opened her chat with SIC by saying she loves to play the fairy Godmother. Some time ago, she used an app on her Kindle to “listen” to a self-published book, Playing With Poison. Despite the robotic voice, she laughed so much she just knew she had to acquire the author. Cindy Blackburn was sitting in the room with us and, on the spot, Nina offered her a two-book contract.
Isn’t that a great way to open a meeting?
Nina talked about Entangled Publishing and its unique structure and how editors are linked to the success of their writers. When I’m finally ready to submit my current manuscript, Entangled will be a serious pursuit of mine.
How was your writing week?Read More
The French Revolution evokes a bloody historical era with one tool that still morbidly fascinates the masses: the guillotine.
To carry out a death sentence, it’s gruesomely efficient, almost diabolical in design. It never misses, unlike the electric chair or the noose. Death is quick, economical, bloody. And surprisingly, the apparatus is not that big.
ORIGINS OF THE GUILLOTINE
Pre-Revolution, death executions followed a societal order in France. Thieves were hanged, witches were burned, fraudsters were boiled, murderers were broken on the wheel, regicide were dismembered and nobles were decapitated. On October 10th, 1789, Dr. Joseph Ignace Guillotin addressed the National Assembly and appealed to the idealists of equality: every condemned men and women should have a quick and painless death.
The legal process was not hinged on finding the truth and no accused was considered innocent. In absence of proof, the preparatory question, or torture, was applied by the executioner to force a confession of guilt. Once guilt was established, the preliminary question (more torture) forced the accused to reveal his or her accomplices.
King Louis XVI repealed both the preparatory and the preliminary questions May 1st, 1788, and advised against a French judiciary based on traditional procedures. It was the same king who would be executed on the guillotine in January 1793.
In October 1791, the penal code was modified in these terms:
All was needed was the apparatus.
After modifications to the legal code were voted on, the legislative committee, spurred by Dr. Guillotin, consulted with Antoine Louis to determine the efficiency of a machine that would sever heads without too much human intervention. Louis wanted the blade to fall from high enough to get a clean cut, but if the blade wasn’t sharpened enough, death would come from crushing instead of cutting.
Trials were done on cadavers. The blade ended up oblique instead of a crescent shape, falling from a height of 14 feet. The condemned was placed against a board, face forward, hands tied behind the back. The board flipped down horizontally with the condemned looking down. A “lunette”, two planks with a half moon carved out of the middle, held the victim’s neck in place. A release of the level, the blade fell down and death was quick.
Interesting historical note: Charles-Henri Sanson, official executioner of the kingdom, wrote in his memoirs he attended a meeting where King Louis, fan of mechanical engineering, suggested for the blade to be oblique. Is it true? If yes, the historical irony is sharp. A year or so later, King Louis would step up to the gallows and become victim to “la veuve”, or widow maker.
The guillotine’s name came from Antoine Guillotin because he was the one who suggested a more humane death penalty. In those first few years, it was also named “Louison”, after Antoine Louis, the inventor of the machine. It became the permanent means of death execution on August 21st, 1792.
A REIGN OF TERROR
During the Reign of Terror in France, from September 1793 to July 1794, more than 15,000 people were executed by guillotine in France. The guillotine remained the death penalty method until its abolition in 1981, with the last execution in 1977.
The era is a great backdrop for intrigue, treason and romance and I hope I’ll get the opportunity to write more stories in that period.Read More
I love history. Research is my favorite part of writing. If I’m not careful, I can easily lose hours chasing historical details.
No need to travel to the nearest library and bury oneself in dusty volumes. The internet provides plenty of info. A click of the mouse and there you go.
Click here and a new page opens up. Click there and ten others pop out. A deluge of information can drown a researcher. Like breadcrumbs leading to perdition, I can dig deeper and deeper until I forget just what exactly I was searching for.
Accuracy and veracity worry me. I always try to get several sources who agree on the same events and dates. Since my stories are set during the French Revolution era, I always search out both French and English websites to confirm my findings.
The main historical events are usually very accurate. Dates of battles, of executions and coronations are dead on. But sometimes I’m looking for nuggets hidden amid legends and hearsay. It’s hard to get to the bottom.
LET THEM EAT CAKE
I searched a few hours regarding the origin of the French croissant. Nothing says France like a croissant and coffee for breakfast in today’s world. What about during the revolution in 1793 though?
Legend puts the words “let them eat cake” in Marie-Antoinette’s mouth (which is inaccurate BTW). It’d be easier for me if legend had substituted cake for croissant. When did the flaky pastry originate? I’m sure our modern version is the end result of centuries of refinement and the original croissant looked and tasted different from what we all know.
Many sites said the croissant officially appears in recipe books circa 1850, but others say the croissant came to France with Marie-Antoinette. The young Queen was Austrian. Austria waged a long war against Turkey in the past and legend says the bakers were granted license by the King to create a pastry to commemorate the country’s victory. The Turkish flag bears a crescent and voilà! a new pastry was born.
Another website said the Austrian’s victory pastry was untrue. Several others confirmed the origin of the croissant is lost in time.
What to do? My rule is simple. If it doesn’t contradict proven historical facts, if it’s close enough, I can twist it to fit. After all, I write historical fiction with a French twist.
What’s your rule?Read More