Saturday, October 14, 2017

Why I love Lausanne: Béjart Ballet

A reminder that Lausanne's Belle Epoque magnificence rested on European fortunes from colonies.

     The Béjart Ballet of Lausanne was not on my bucket list. Pure curiosity about the man after whom Lausanne's market pace is name compelled me. Dancer and choregrapher Maurice Béjart was born in Marseille in 1927. He moved the last of his successful companies from Brussels to Lausanne in 1987, and died 10 years ago. 
     I took the funicular, missed a bus connection and descended in a small town in the hills above Lausanne where the Company was giving a last performance before their departure for their tour of Shanghai and Tokyo. The Theatre du Jorat (Jora meaning partially forested area) is an imposing barn-like structure of wooden beams and shingles. The seats, or rather benches, were comfortable, if a bit church like. 
     When the performance began, all awareness of my surroundings slipped away. This was dance as I had never seen it before. It was neither classical ballet, nor modern, in the style of Americans Martha Graham or Paul Taylor or Alvin Ailey. It was, of course, very European. Although Béjart was inspired by dance and music forms from around the world and the company does include a handful of dancers of non-European origin, an awareness of the classical framework transmitted from Russia and France is ever present, even if spoofed a bit. It's avant-garde in a very conservative place, and Lausanne loves it.
     What made it appealing to modern me was that the dancers performed with such palpable joy, expressing common human passions of love, lust, envy and friendship with mind-boggling technique and physicality. I particularly loved the rhythmic and expressive use of hands, something I'd never noticed in great dancing before. 
     The Company will be celebrating what would have been Béjart's 90th Birthday with a sort of multi-media retrospective. I'm looking forward to seeing it on Christmas Eve!

Beaux Art Architecture and
two lovers at Mon Repos, where Voltaire stayed when in Lausanne.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Still More Writers, French and Irish

    Saturday's round table, "Déplier la mémoire"  brought together three women who've written about aging: Lorraine Fouchet, Marie Javet and Fanny Wobmann.      I struggled to understand, French, not the aging part. Maybe that's why I spent the rest of the afternoon in the English programming, held in a stone basement, or cave. "Dystopias, Utopias and Places of Escape" featured German born Emanuel Bergmann, Californian Claire Vaye Watkins and British Rachel Joyce. Each of their books makes me wish I had more time and more space in my luggage, but there is always Amazon Kindle. Bergmann's tale brings together a young dreamer and an aging magician. Claire builds on California's drought to summon up a grim future of climate refugees; our historic crimes against minorities and mother nature circling ominously. Joyce's book is also about a community resisting unwanted change.
     By now it was pouring rain, so I stayed in the Cave, for a discussion of "Irish Encounters: Turbulent Families" with Anne Enright and Donal Ryan, whom I'd heard on Friday, and Sara Baume.  Anne Enright and Donal Ryan had already had great fun laughing at themselves as Irish-writers and not-Irish-writers. Sara Baume, who has extraordinary blue eyes, which she says are actually gray, is both writer and sculptor, so her modes of working, writing in the morning and art in the afternoon, is inspiring to me.
     Emanuel Bergman came back to the Cave to participate in "Writing History," along with the Irishman John Boyne. Boyne's most recent book, The Heart's Invisible Furies is the story of a seventy year old gay Irishman, recalling his history in the Ireland of the 1940s through the Irish referendum which approved gay marriage.
     I arrived back to Lausanne, tired, drenched with the rain, and with my head full of ideas. I woke up Sunday, ready for more. First, I marched up to Mon Repos for a little Voltaire inspiration and a swim, and then it was down to the train to Morges. By the way, it is not pronounced like the place where dead bodies are kept, but with a soft squishy g, morsh.
     Sunday's English language panel was centered on "Place and Landscape in Irish Literature." Sara Baume was there, and Matthew Wake, of the English language bookstore moderated. New to me was Kit de Waal, whose first novel, My Name is Leon reflects Kit's years as a lawyer and judge in England's family court. Kevin Barry wrote City of Bohane, about Limerick, from whence my great and great-great grandparents immigrated to New Orleans after surviving the famine of 1847. Barry's Limerick is a dystopian vision of Limerick in 2053, and still spot on for the vibes the city had in the past and has now. His latest is a novel called Beatlebone which arose out of his cyling around Clew Bay, where John Lennon bought an island back in the late 1960s. I purchased the French translation, which is entitled Lennon's Egg, and then realized I might not hear Kevin Barry's voice through the translation. He told me he's not read it in French, but that bi-lingual friends have told him it works. Himself narrates the audio book in English, and so far it is making me laugh out loud.
     The last English language panel was all women crime novelists: Denise Mina, Ruth Ware and Sophie Hannah.  I am contemplating my father's ventures into the Annals of Crime for the New Yorker Magazine, so it was illuminating to hear how Denise based her book on a real notorious serial killer, using the trial transcript for dialogue, because indeed the truth was unimaginable. I have to admit that Sophie was the delighting discovery for me: she's been commissioned by the Agatha Christie Estate to write more Hercule Poirot!
     I ended the day at a workshop on memoir conducted by Susan Jane Gilman. Susan is a New Yorker by birth like me. Like me, her husband is here as a visiting scientist. Gilman's great strengths are the humor and the honesty of her memoirs.
     All-in-all, the combination of writers talking, singing really, and Susan Jane Gilman putting forward some structural and procedural practices has spurred me on my writers way. An impressive Book Festival!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Books on the Waterfront and Other Cultural Adventures

     Last year, the Ubud Writer's Festival was the highlight of my writerly year. 
The rice paddies and temples of Bali competed with authors from Indonesia, Australia, the United States and lots of places in between.
     This year, I'm spending three days in Morges, a lakeside village about 20 minutes from Lausanne by train. I had noticed white wedding-style-tents all along the shore when I sailed by earlier in the week. Now they are inhabited by authors, hundreds of them, and their books. As the mother of a son and daughter who preferred books to ice cream as children, and the daughter of a librarian, I know better than to resist the lure of unread books.
     The session I wanted to go to wan't to start for a few hours. A snack was needed. I ate a chocolate gopher. No, a gauffre---Belgian-style waffle. You would go for it, too. After all, at literary festivals you are allowed, rather encouraged to play with words. The gopher vendor agreed, and found a picture of one to show to his co-chef.
     Not quite time yet. A visit to the museum in the town castle was next. It's famous for its collection of toy soldiers. Miniature armies, I would say, acting out famous battles from history. Not my thing.
     A temporary and very special exhibit was in place: "Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy; An elegant friendship." As she was, and still is, my ideal, resistance was futile.
The Woman, the clothes, oh my.
More striking to me than the encrustations of the evening dresses, the exquisite sewing of tiny folds was the textures that Givenchy could utilize. 
Wool Coat.
In his eyes, this dun colored weave becomes a slightly military, but shapely coat.
As I left the chateau, I noted the chiseled careless perfection of the stone.
Worked stone.

     Satisfied by taste and sight, I moved into one of the tents, where the authors are seated behind their stacks of books. Laure Mi Hyun Croset was born in Seoul in 1973, adopted by a Swiss family, and lives in Geneva. She loves the French language, and teaches French to immigrant children in Geneva. I bought her 2010 memoir, which is called Polaroids, and cannot wait to start reading it and exchanging emails with her. 
     I huddled under another tent to wait out the rain for a round table on the future of the Irish novel. The session sonwas conducted in English by Matthew Wake, who owns Books, Books, Books, the English language bookstore of Lausanne. Translation was provided by the indomitable Lesley Viet-Jacobson .
The panel: Anne Enright, Paul McVeigh and Donal Ryan. Uh-oh, more books!
     Matthew had brilliant questions to throw at the panel, and they answered in kind. My favorite response to the state of publishing, which is quite healthy in Ireland, was a reflection on how things used to be: it used to be that Irish writers had to get published in England, because "Liberal England loves to read about things that trouble them." (Anne Enright) Paul McVeigh talked about the difficulty of being a Northern Irish writer, but most helpfully for me as a writer, he talked about writing as a gift to himself. Anne Enright's answer to the question, How do you write from the mind of someone who is very much unlike your self: "Go Very Still," was a gift to me. Donal Ryan expanded on this to talk about the allowing your pre-linguistic intuition to generate your words. Paul McVeigh re-iterated his note "Give yourself permission."
     Wow. And to think that it happened along the Waterfront, and there's still more on Saturday and Sunday, including the author of my beloved Limerick's City of Bohane , Kevin Barry!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Boomerang Effect

Aboriginal Knotwork from an exhibit in Australian National Museum in 2008-Lucey Bowen. Perhaps the artistic seed that grew into the ghost net creatures.

     Tuesdays are our new day for exploring together. Yesterday we went to Geneva, and took in an exhibit at the Ethnography Museum of Geneva: L'effet boomerang.

     My training as an art historian and an anthropologist has made me very critical of museums of any sort. I find they tell me more about the obsessions of collectors than they do about the collection.
     L'effet boomerang is different, possibly the best exhibition I've ever seen.
Constructed jointly by the museum and contemporary Aboriginal artists and thinkers, the story gets told from multiple perspectives.
     For starters, signage sets the context of the display, Les arts Aborigenes d'Australie, with the statement "the endeavors to suppress aboriginal culture from the 18th century have ended up having the opposite effect."
     Instead, "Attempts at acculturation and generalized denigration have led to strengthened identity, demands and displays of unprecedented creativity." The result is that aboriginal artists today have found their own ways of using their art for political ends.

     I suppose that my reaction to the exhibit says a lot about my obsession. I suppose I am obsessed by the idea that those in power hoard the production of the powerless. Montreux loves jazz, but doesn't treat Africans very well; Americans love rap, and send African American youth to death or jail.

     The exhibition presents the history of European interventions in Australia, and the parallel acquisition of Aboriginal art and artifacts by museums throughout the world.
     In the next space, fabulous examples cover the geographic and sequential variations in the tradition. The use of modern materials is explored, most extraordinarily in the re-creation of giant models of sharks and other fish, using ghost nets, those scraps of discarded industrial fishnet which have caused the death of many sea creatures.
     The final section is a multi-media installation by a young artist, who touches on the complicated questions of ownership and ethics in the art market of Aboriginal work.

     The Boomerang Effect. Unintended consequences. Be careful what you wish for.

Friday, August 11, 2017

All the Way to Basel for Art?

Ellsworth Kelly at Kunstmuseum, Basel

     True confession: I didn't make the two hour train trip to Basel for art, or the one hour trip to Bern for rhubarb tart. Incessant hammering on the roof of our building has meant that I can have peace and quiet to write on the train, which are quite empty most of the day.
     Basel is the city for art, and I only scratched the surface. I sat with the Kelly, because he was the artist who most inspired me 50 years ago. Back then, I did a series of large canvases based on his principles of color and illusion. I learned the techniques for building the shaped canvasses and the hard edges, work I'm still proud of.
     Geneva is less that an hour away. I spent most of my time there in the house where Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born. His mis-fortunes forged his philosophy, which is one of the foundations for liberté-egalité-fraternité  and the rights of man. 
     What a contrast to what I'm reading: the French author, Jean Guéhenno's Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944. He survived the Nazi occupation of Paris with integrity. His quotation of the racial and anti-international words of the Nazis echoes ominously. 
     If four years was insufferable, I ask myself how long people of color in the United States will survive. I do know that in resisting, the writers and thinkers of Black Lives Matter, and those that came before, stand for integrity. I know that in the context of longer time and the larger world, they are heroic.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Boat Love

Croswell Bowen cruising the Mississippi in the late 1930s.

     Traveling is in my blood, and so is water. It's true I chose horses over sailing with my mother, but I do like messing about in boats. 

     Since the 1960s, excursion boating on the Hudson has made a comeback, as is evidenced by the many restorations and creations photographed around the time of the 500th Anniversary of the River's discovery by Europeans.

Docked at Newburgh
New York Waterways has taken over the Hudson ferry crossings.
Ersatz paddle wheeler also docked at Newburgh.

Lac Leman's Belle Epoque fleet of 8 restored boats puts the U.S. to shame.
A bit more graceful....

Friday, July 28, 2017

Three Museums

28 July 2017

            In the few days I’ve visited three museums. Transatlantic groans of recognition may be heard from my children, who recall being dragged on these excursions. Subscribers to the Swiss Museum Pass, like myself, can see them for free; a bargain to be sure.

            Museums reveal the values, past and present, of the segment of society that funds them. The three: Latenium, the museum of the archeology of the Neuchatel region, which includes the famous site of La Tene; the art museum of the suburb of Pully and the Musee de l’Art Brut, Jean DeBuffet’s magnificent collection of outsider art in Lausanne.

            All three are beautifully presented. The Latenium was purpose built along the lakeshore and in a park which displays reconstructed pre-historic dwellings. I find myself fascinated by the interplay between the Celtic inhabitants of the region and the conquering Romans. Once the Roman Empire retreated, that creolized culture seems the source for some of the artistry of the Middle Ages.

Diorama of Celts Working for Romans

Celtic Metalwork

            The Pully Museum is housed in a renovated townhouse on a cobbled street between the town center and the lake where I swim. Once rural, Pully is a wealthy enclave of Lausanne. My fellow visitors resembled me and my swim companions: well preserved ladies of a certain age. The Museum has a permanent collection of paintings of the Lac Leman waterscape.

            The special exhibition is what drew me to the Museum.  In 1990, the National Gallery in Washington, DC exhibited Matisse in Morocco, the color rich paintings and sketches which resulted from his visit there in 1912 and 1913. Matisse was one of many who found, as Michael Kimmelman wrote at the time, “Europe was orderly and predictable. Morocco meant extravagance.”  I treasure the catalogue of that exhibit for Matisse’s palette and shapes, but it wasn’t until we stayed in a house on St. Barts that was a virtual display case for French Orientalism, that everyday orientalism made itself clear.

            The Pully Museum was exhibiting a survey of the paintings of Edouard Morerod. A native son, born in 1879, Morerod travelled Europe and North Africa before WWI, pre-dating Matisse in Morocco. People of color are his chosen subjects for his paintings:  Algerians, gypsies and flamenco dancers. He gives them a monumentality through their costumes, voluminous white, or stringent color, which contrasts with subtle facial portraits.

Morerod Self-Portait

The third Museum has a world-wide reputation. Its instigator was the painter and sculptor Jean DuBuffet. He studied and collected Art Brut, created by individuals in various sorts of asylums and prisons, at first in Europe, and then world-wide. The vast collection inspired and terrified me. In it you meet and see the work of individuals who created their work obsessively.

            I wonder, is madness the price of non-stop creativity?