So, after we returned from our France trip, I changed my gravatar to this nice photo of…a book. With A Leaf in it. Would you like to know about this book? Good, because I thought I’d tell you about it 🙂 And at the end of the post, I have a question for you, chers lecteurs!
Not too long ago, I wrote a post about “unintentional souvenirs.” Well, this is an “intentional souvenir!” A mon avis, a good souvenir needs to have a good story. The day we visited Montmartre, we walked through several of the famous passages couvertes or covered passages of Paris, which were built in the 19th century. At that time, there were a lot of these passages, designed for protecting pedestrians, and about 20 of them still exist. In the Passage Verdeau, there was a rare and antique book seller who had boxes and boxes of books lining the passage. I was, naturally, drawn to these. I can’t resist books in any form, but these were charming and rare, and…FRENCH! What more could I ask? I saw this pretty little red spine hiding in one of the boxes. It was surrounded by many large and intimidating books, thick ones with dusty black spines and Impressive Titles. But then I saw this petit livre, très joli, with a bright red spine, embossed in tiny gold letters, with the unassuming title, Pour Moi Seule (For Me Alone) by an author named A. Corthis. I glanced around, and it seemed ok to touch the books, and pick them up, even though there were obviously some very old books there.
Interesting French Sidenote #1: While in France, I noticed several things about books. One thing in particular about books in France is that people seem to, you know, READ them. There were people reading real paper books on the Métro, in the parks, on the streets, on random benches…yes, and even books which looked old and/or rare. In other words, these antique books are being read as we speak in Paris. The bouquinistes along the Seine, for example, sold all kinds of books, from the rare and old to the new and shiny, everything from vintage magazines to brand new copies of the Hunger Games (en français, bien sur!) and people were picking all of them up, and reading them. I believe that the people who bought the books read them. Yes, some books are old enough and rare enough to require special care, but I saw more “public” reading in Paris than I have seen in a long time in the USA. Strange, isn’t it?
Anyway, I reached down into the box and picked up the little book with the red spine. It was so pretty! The cover was in a sort of red marbled paper. I opened it, and saw that the flyleaf was also a beautiful red marbled paper. The pages were not all cut to the same size exactly, which gave it a rustic appearance. I carefully turned though the first few pages, and found that it was published in 1919. The printing itself looked and felt almost embossed, and after a little research on the internet, I suspect that the book was printed using the “letterpress printing” method. I saw that A. Corthis had written three other novels and a book of poetry, and I read the first paragraph or so. It began with a description of the view from someone’s window, and a lament about the things that the narrator could not say, but which she wanted to write about…
I thought I’d like to read on and find out what these things were, and I was excited that I understood as much of the charming little red book as I had, but my husband looked as if he wanted to move on. He loves books, but a whole gallery of books in a language he can’t read understandably failed to capture his attention. As for me, I always want to improve my skills in reading French language books, so I was fascinated. I decided to quickly thumb through the rest of the book, and that’s when I found The Leaf. An autumn leaf, captured between pages 84 and 85 of Pour Moi Seule. I had no idea how long this had been there, or who had put it there, but I was entranced by it. My husband had started walking, so I forlornly put Pour Moi Seule back into the box next to the huge forbidding black books. Even as I walked away, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed this book, and talked incessantly about it to my husband until we were half a block away. He finally said, “Are you going to buy that book or what??”
And I hemmed and hawed, and finally, I said, “Yes. I’ll be right back.” and I ran back to the box, hoping that nobody had snatched up this gem in the last few minutes. It was still there! I picked it up and walked to the door where le proprietaire was sitting, going through some other boxes of books. I walked in timidly and said, “Bonjour, Monsieur…” He raised his eyes from the books he was looking at and replied with a bonjour of his own. I held the book out and asked him, “C’est combien, ce livre?” He took the book and looked inside the cover, then handed it back and told me it would be 4 Euro. Wow! My treasure, including the leaf inside, was a bargain! I handed him the money and told him “merci beaucoup! Bonne journée!” and I kind of hurried off, first of all to catch up to my husband, but most of all I was afraid he’d realize he’d made an error of some sort, and that this beautiful little book should have fetched 40 Euro. Or 400.
And that’s how I acquired Pour Moi Seule. My next order of business, once I reached the apartment (and its “wifi”) later that day, was to find out a little bit about A. Corthis. Quelle surprise ! C’est une femme ! André Corthis, née Andrée Magdeleine Husson was born in Paris in 1882. She was an author during a time when women weren’t respected for doing such things, so she, like George Sand and others, took a masculine name to publish under, in order to garner respect for her work. And in 1920, she won the Grand prix du roman de l’Académie française for Pour Moi Seule.
So, chers lecteurs, perhaps you want to know what this novel is about? Well, I have to admit to you that I haven’t read but 40 pages of it so far. Why? Well, sadly, life is getting in between me and the narrator, Alvère, her sister, Guicharde, and their pauvre Maman. The book is far too fragile to carry with me to work, and I somehow have not spent the requisite time curled up with it while I am home. I’m a flighty girl, (pun sort of intended) and am easily distracted by…just about anything. Not that I can’t get engrossed in a book, because I do that all the time, but Pour Moi Seule requires more from me. I don’t read very fast in French, much less the flowery sort of French that this book is written in, a very elegant style, and, bien sur, le passé simple, that odd past tense in the French language which is used solely in literature and not in the spoken language. Contrary to its name, this tense is not simple at all. The conjugations are, well, odd, and conjugating the irregular verbs is just…difficult! Plus, having been written in French, and in 1919, there are words and allusions which are not familiar to me AT ALL. So it isn’t just a matter of curling up with the book, it’s a matter of curling up with the book and mon dictionnaire! And a notebook.
SO….the question I talked about wayyyy back at the beginning? Here it is: I have speculated, but in the end,I think I will just make up my own story.
Who put the leaf in the book? When? Why? Where were they? What was going on in their life when they received the book?
Alors, Chers lecteurs, would you like to try answering the questions? I guess you could call it a “writing prompt” because that’s how I intend to use it. Anyway, let me know if you come up with what you are convinced is the “right” answer. I’m interested to know! Merci!