"Seigneurs, vous plaît-il d'entendre un beau conte d'amour et de mort? C'est de Tristan et d'Iseut la reine." ("Lords, would you like to hear a beautiful story of love and death? It is of Tristan and Iseut, the queen.") So begins the legendary medieval love story of Cornish prince Tristan and Irish princess Iseut. Predating and influencing Arthurian legend, this tragic story of love and betrayal has inspired many authors including professor of medieval literature Joseph Bédier. I am so
delighted to present to you this nearly immaculate, absolutely breath-taking edition of Le Roman de Tristan et Iseult
by Joseph Bédier, published by L'Edition D'Art, Paris, in 1928.
Stunning art nouveau illustrations by Robert Engels and the near-mint condition of the book make this work a true wonder. Rebound in beautiful leather, it still has the original gilded paperback covers inside. The green boards are in perfect shape, the soft paper still strong and unmarked, illuminated typeface adorns every chapter, and the illustrations are a glimpse into another world, full of a deep magic all their own. This is such a special find that we've moved it up to the Rare Book Room on the 3rd floor. Please come and leaf gently through its pages to see the beauty for yourself!
A tough act to follow, but I do have a little gem of French sonnets to share with you. Les Quarante Immortels (The Forty Immortals) by Pierre Louis-Picard is a slim volume of sonnets ironiques published by Les Editions de Gargailloux in 1938 and signed by Monsieur Louis-Picard, himself! Les Quarante Immortels refers to the 40 members of L'Académie Française, the revered institution of the French literati, founded in 1530.
Next I have a slightly shabby, but still lovely cloth-bound book from our French history section called Versailles et les Trianons. Originally a pocket-sized guide book from the Collection des Guides Joanne, and published in 1911, there are many maps — slightly outdated, but time capsules in themselves. There are wonderful little black and white photos of statues of Louis and Marie Antoinette and one strange photo of Encelade, the Greek giant, son of the Earth, coming out of the ground with a terrible grimace on his face. Très effrayant!
A more modern book, but just as charming, we have De Paris à la Lune (Paris to the Moon) by the inimitable Adam Gopnik. Gopnik writes for the New Yorker magazine, and spent five years living in Paris with his wife and young son. This book is a wonderful account of his time there — a unique expat experience, told in Gopnik's intelligent and hilarious style. Neighborhood histories and fish-out-of-water anecdotes abound, and you will see France and French people in a whole new light. A marvelous read!
Switching gears, I want to show you a wonderful book called GraffitiArt: Pochoirs Politiques (Graffiti Art: Political Stencils) by Eric de Ara Gamazo. This book shows the wonderful spray-painted street stencils of Paris and environs, most of which are political in nature. I remember well as a student in Poitiers, France, in 1987, the political stencils that would appear overnight at my bus stop and around town. For "graffiti" they were very elegant and powerful. To me, they elevated spray paint to a higher form of art. I learned a lot about stenciling while living in France, and still use the technique in my own art today. This book is a collection of stencils found on the street, some more sophisticated than others, but all united in their silent voice for justice.
Now let's take a look at several interesting film magazines we have in the French aisle. L'Avant Scène Cinéma is a series of film magazines about French film in the 1980s. Wonderful black and white photographs, analysis of French directors, and excerpts from French films fill these slim pamphlets. Featured French film greats grace the covers including Jacques Bral and Jacques Doillon. A sure way to make your coffee table très cool.
I often find myself drawn to inexpensive mass market paperbacks in the French section simply because of their arresting cover art. Here are a few of the latest examples: First, Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal (Flowers of Evil). This book has been published thousands of times, but perhaps never with such a fleur du mal as this 1964 copy. The silhouette of a flower filled with naked women represents the intense contrasting forces Baudelaire felt towards women. For Baudelaire, women embodied the combination of the ideal and the malignant. Thus his fixation with death and decay becomes intertwined with his perception of women as inspiration towards God, but also symbols of temptation and the Devil. Pauvre Baudelaire! Such angoise!
Next is this hilarious cover of the book Je Suis Née Grecque (I Was Born Greek) by Melina Mercouri. I swear I am going to do a blog post of just French books with people smoking on the cover. It would be a very long blog post. Evidently Melina, the smoking sophisticate that she seems to be, has written about her love of Greece and her life there between the two world wars. The back of the book describes it as being "sensible, sensuelle, coloreuse, exubérante, rieruse, pessimiste, espérant et au-delà de tout espoir". I don't think she left anything out — it sounds like this book has it all!
Next is this wonderful little history book called Le Kurdistan ou la Mort by Rene Mauries. Although published in 1967 it poses questions about Baghdad that are applicable today: "Pourquoi le monde et les puissance occidentals ont-ils laisse s'accomplir un véritable génocide dans le pays kurde?" (Why have the world and the strongest occidental countries allowed a veritable genocide in the Kurdish countries?) Why indeed? Although we've spent nine years there, I don't know that we're any closer to the answer to that question.
Now for one of my favorite books by one of my all-time favorite people, Le Portrait de Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. This cover is fabulous because of its frightening, cracked, and almost 3-dimensional portrait, but also because of its kooky 1975 typeface. "Fantastique" is the genre noted on the cover, and fantastique it certainly is.
Finally for our little paperback section we have La Proie du Chat (The Prey of the Cat) by Patricia Highsmith. Highsmith is a noted American author of thrillers, which is evidenced by this thrilling cover of a cat screaming (although truthfully, he looks like he was actually yawning) in front of a burning house. I wish I had a poster of this cover!
Wandering over to our miscellaneous nonfiction French section, I present for your enjoyment this wonderful hard-bound book called Poupées de Laine (Dolls of Wool) by Madeleine Banier. This is a collection of whimsical dolls knitted and knotted from wool and the instructions on how to make them. Included are the how-tos for making "Dolly" dressed for play, for Bastille Day, and Le Grand Bal. Elle est si jolie! Also you will find instructions for making Le Grand Sorcier du Hula Hula, Fleur de Riz and the adorable chien who is strangely named "Vodka."
Following this spate of arts and crafts I must show you some lovely watercolors in this two-volume set called Mon Jardin Enchantée (My Enchanted Garden) by André Grangeon. Published in 1950 by Chez IAC, these books are in very shabby shape, but still treasures. The sensitive, poetic descriptions of the flowers and animals of the countryside are accompanied by charming line drawings and spectacular watercolors. Soft and detailed, these vintage illustrations bring to life the entertaining anecdotes and naturalist studies. Waiting for a good home, these fragile volumes will bring a smile to any lover of nature, home, and hearth.
C'est tout pour l'instant mes chers amis, please join me again here on Powells.com for the next installment of our blog de la voie française. I will find more treasures and unique and out-of-print books for you to enjoy, and as always feel free to come to the Red Room at Powell's City of Books, aisles 817 and 818, to browse the shelves for discoveries of your own.