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Dylan Thomas’s country

_mg_2908_1-2A stay in Tenby seems incomplete if it does not include a visit (a pilgrimage might be a fairer term) to the country of Dylan Thomas, Laugharne, where he lived and wrote for a significant part of his life. Everything contributes in Thomas’s magic, the winding road leading to it, the peninsula, the Norman castle, the house where Dylan lived, the little boathouse where Thomas wrote (photo), or the pub where he spent perhaps a little too much time. This time, I wanted to visit him at the cemetery (where he is buried near his wife Caitlin), his grave marked with a simple white wooden cross (I expected nothing less from him). I am reassured to see that it still has a beautiful view of the hills. I then return to the boat shelter, which I had not been able to photograph last time because of the reflections. The visit of course must end at the pub with friends, where everything recalls his presence. I guess in the summer the place is invaded by visitors, but today it’s only us and a few local. A truly perfect and inspiring day.

Au pays de Dylan Thomas

_mg_2908_1-2Un séjour à Tenby semble incomplet s’il n’inclut pas une visite (un pèlerinage serait peut-être un terme plus juste) au pays de  Dylan Thomas, Laugharne, où il  a vécu et écrit pendant une bonne partie de sa vie. Tout participe à la magie de Thomas, de la route en lacets y menant, la péninsule, le château normand, la maison où Dylan vécut, le petit abri à bateau où Thomas écrivait (photo), jusqu’au pub où il passa peut-être un peu trop de temps. Cette fois-ci, je tenais plus particulièrement á lui rendre visite au cimetière (où il est enterré auprès de sa femme Caitlin), sa tombe marquée d’une simple croix de bois blanche (je n’attendais rien de moins de lui). Je suis rassurée de voir qu’il a toujours une belle vue sur les collines. Je retourne ensuite à l’abri à bateau, que je n’étais pas arrivée à photographier lors de ma visite précédente, en raison des reflets. La visite bien sûr  se doit de se terminer au pub Brown avec des amis, où tout rappelle sa présence. Je suppose que l’été l’endroit est envahi par les visiteurs, mais aujourd’hui, il n’y a que nous et quelques gens de l’endroit. Une journée parfaite et inspirante.

What I have read : Virginie Despentes

 Vernon Subutex
I have not read a lot in the last few months as  I’m finishing The Grey Country, my novel about language and identity and I do not have a lot of  time, but I wanted to go back to a book (actually two) from Virginie Despentes  I read last autumn.


Virginie Despentes made her debut as a writer with Fuck me , a book I did not read,  but saw its film version in Christchurch at the Film Festival many years ago (but I left before the end). This book tells the story of a girl raped by three men and her revenge (mostly). Virginie Despentes herself was a victim of rape in her youth (but instead of feeling victim, she  rather felt anger). She has been a prostitute for a while, was  a porn film reviewer, and identifies as a lesbian and a feminist.


Vernon Subutex (spoilers alert !!) was released in 2015 as a  part of a trilogy. I read the first volume in English (a good translation) and the second in French. This is the story of a record store owner who  becomes homeless (volume 1) then guru (more or less, in volume 2), as well as the story of  people around him. I wanted to read the first volume, because it was  talked a lot when it came out and polarised opinions.


In French,  reviewers  who liked the book focused on  her  style (which is sometimes compared to that of Balzac) and the authenticity of the voices. I quite agree with these critics. I rather liked reading the first volume. The pace is sharp and the characters compelling (except the final delirium of Vernon Subutex). I enjoyed it  enough to continue reading the second volume, where the density is lost, the characters are less convincing,  and the story drags. The episode of the girl who « tattoos » the man  she believes to be responsible for the death of her mother is a little too much like the scene from The Girl with a golden tatoo to convince me.

Those who did not like the book  found the thread of the story a little thin (I quite agree with them, but that was not the goal of Despentes, I think) and did not like the characters animated by hatred and power struggles (and I quite agree with them too), which is true but probably corresponds to a certain humanity, probably far from ideal but perhaps a more realistic one. English language reviewers seemed to  like it more, perhaps because, for once, they are presented with something other than the Parisian intelligentsia and a France, which perhaps corresponds more to the one they know. And perhaps for the same reason,   some Parisian intelligentsia did not like Despentes’s book. Or it depicts human beings who are rather ordinary, from the point of view of their character, who may look a little too much like we are : not always noble, sometimes mean, etc. This is probably not the book to read for those who need to regain confidence in humanity. The Irish Times particularly liked Vernon Subutex 1 and even goes so far as to say that Despentes leaves Houellebecq far behind, quite a compliment, given his international prestige. As for me, the second volume disappointed me enough not to make me want to read the third right now, but I may  come back to it one day or the other.

Ernest Heminghway, La Habana and rum

New Image
La Habana, Cuba, January 2018, canon digital, ©Sylvie G
I read only one book by Ernest Heminghway, The Old Man and the Sea, when I was very young, but this book has left a mark on me. Heminghway’s « iceberg » style is part of my quest for simplicity when I  write prose or poetry. I did not know much about him when I was in La Habana, but I could not miss the mention of his name in many places, including the Ambos Mundos hotel, where he lived in the thirties ( he lived in Cuba for about twenty years). It inspired me to read more about this tragic author: four marriages, a lot of alcohol, physical and psychological suffering, he is part of a family where suicide was passed from generation to generation and himself committed suicide at the age of sixty-one. But this Nobel Prize winner has left his style as a legacy. I think of all this when  passing  by the hotel, which is beautiful. The bar on the ground floor is inviting, but the only place I did not like at all to Habana: not only there was  no more coffee,  tea or  local beer (which  can be forgiven), but it was also the only place where the two musicians were not at all up to the standards and not at all nice,  the opposite of what I experienced elsewhere  in La Habana. Then I tried the Floridita, Heminghway’s favorite bar, but the excellent music was too loud and there were really too many people.

But most of all, I was  at the end of my journey in the Caribbean and I still had not had any rum, which is everywhere in the region and  very cheap. Even in Martinique, where  the best rum of the Caribbean is found (according to the « taximan » and an Italian sommelière met on the ferry between Martinique and Saint Lucia), I was content to smell it in a glass without really wanting to drink it. But at La Habana, it seemed appropriate to drink  rum, as long as it was the same as the one Hemighway had. In an anonymous bar, the list of daiquiris was long, the bartender told me Hemingway drank rum and ice, confidently.
I woke up the next day (well, not really, I spent the day in bed)  with a huge headache, with the satisfaction to have tried rum (for the first and the last time), the same as Hemingway (well, maybe).