Sunday, January 23, 2011

Letters and Manuscripts

There's a hidden gem in Paris, well, not so hidden as it is since April 2010 located in a beautiful Haussmannian building on the Bd Saint-Germain: the Musée des Lettres et des Manuscrits.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Autograph manuscript illustrated with aquarelle from the author, April 1943-May 1944
I still cannot believe I never heard of this beautiful museum until very recently. The Museum was established in 2004 in a townhouse rue de Nesle and moved to its current location last April. It was founded by Gérard Lhéritier, a collector, investor, writer passionate about history and manuscripts. Lhéritier explains in an interview for the newsletter of the Aidac how it all started: "Very early, I've grown an interest in the arts in general and more particularly in old documents. But my encounter with Autographed Letter Signed has been by chance. My son used to collect stamps and I wanted to offer him the first French stamp, the 20 cents black stamp from 1849, for his birthday. While looking for it, I saw in a window at rue Drouot a small letter with the inscription "par Ballon Monté" and I asked the owner of the shop what it meant." It referred to Balloon Mail, used to transport mail during the Siege of Paris of 1870. "A nice Jules Verne like story that seduced me" says Lhéritier, explaining that he bought this letter and that's how his passion started. Within the 'History' section of the Museum, there is a whole window dedicated to the Paris Siege including letters from Victor Hugo to a journalist of Courrier de l'Europe in London and from Edouard Manet to young artist and Manet's student Eva Gonzales, both letters including information about the Siege. Lhéritier's interest in the Paris Siege grew into a passion of letters and manuscripts and the founding of this museum in 2004.

Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond d'Alembert, Edition of the Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences; des arts et des métiers, Genève, Pellet, 1777-1779, in 39 volumes.   

The museum has some 70,000 pieces in its collection, from which around 250 are on display in its permanent collection, and other pieces are shown in various temporary exhibition (one about Romain Gary is currently on show until 3 April 2011). 
Jacques Brel's Cahier a spirales vert, 1964

The permanent collection is divided into thematic sections: History, Sciences and Discoveries, Music, Arts, and Literature. By clicking on each of the thematic sections' links, you can explore some of the pieces of the collection. Going from section to section the visitor will have the chance to discover a wide range of original letters and manuscripts, like documents from the Second World War -including letters from Charles de the Gaulle or the cease-fire order signed by Eisenhower, Einstein's notes on the Theory of Relativity, a letter from Charles Darwin, an original partition by Beethoven, notes and letters by Chanson Francaise artists Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg, and last but not least, letters by the greatest writers of French literature including Balzac, Zola, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Hugo, and many many more. One of my personal highlights was Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's window including a letter he wrote to a young female officer he met in Algeria and was in love with, and the movingly beautiful drawings with words of Le Petit Prince. 
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Autograph manuscripts illustrated with aquarelles from the author, April 1943-May 1944
Although this museum is of high interest to French and non French visitors alike, there is absolutely no information available in any other language than French, even on the website. This is of course a pity as the heritage shown here isn't just relevant to the French of French speaking people and I hope that the museum is working on a multilingual communication for the near future. However, this shouldn't stop you from visiting, especially if you manage to do a little preparation before. Also, you won't need to understand every single word to be moved by Edith Piaf's writing, Saint-Exupery's drawings of Le Petit Prince, or by the formulas of Einstein. 

A catalogue of the permanent exhibition is also available (in French); Lettres et manuscrits. Petits et grands secrets. Edited by the Museum and Flammarion (2010).

Photos without flash are allowed in the museum. The museum website has much better pictures than the one I took with my iPhone (and are of poor quality I admit but still useful to illustrate this post). 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Juggling on Bach

Last Sunday was Bach Day at the Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam, organized by the wonderful Early Music Festival I mentioned a few months earlier on this blog. One of the events was "Le Chant des Balles", a magical show by Eric Bellocq and Vincent de Lavenère, both musicians and jugglers.

Le Chant des Balles (c)Philippe Cibille
de Lavenère explains his artistic commitment at lenght on his website. "The roots of my universe stand in the heart of our cultural and musical heritage" says the artist, explaining that his interest for traditional arts has a central place in his work. Each of the performances are inspired by various traditions, the inspiration for "Le Chant des Balles" was medieval and baroque, including Middle Ages jugglers and poetry. "Tradition isn't only a source of inspiration" explains de Lavenère, "but a real actor in the performance enabling to nurture, enrich but also to develop this very particular language that is jonglerie musicale".  
Le Chant des Balles (c)Philippe Cibille
"Le Chant des Balles" was the first such performance they developed with lutenist Eric Bellocq, therefore being at the very origin of this "jonglerie musicale" concept. After receiving many questions about this particular language using juggling and music, they have decided to publish a book that not only translates the various gestures and language of their show but also explains their artistic commitment. In "Le Chant de Balles", de Lavenère and Bellocq present an Early Music repertoire. The programme at the Muziekgebouw included Lute suites by J.S. Bach, a prelude from the Chants d'Espagne by Isaac Albéniz and traditional German and Japanese folk songs.  

Le Chant des Balles (c)Philippe Cibille
I really enjoyed the way both artists mastered their art, juggling and playing the lute, and were able to share their passion for "jonglerie musicale". There was a great energy between the two, and the show was very well balanced between comical and more sober scenes. There were a few kids in the audience but I believe all the adults were even more mesmerized by the music and the jonglerie, dancing in a beautiful mise-en-scene.

The duo is now touring the Netherlands with "Le Chant des Balles" and will end in Belgium this weekend. They will perform other shows starting from March in France, Spain and Italy. Check their calendar for more information. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Catching up with some pictures

This blog has been awfully quiet for the last couple of months. It isn't out of laziness, I promise. On the contrary, I have been busy working on various projects (documentary film, literature and comics mainly) and have learned many interesting things I will share at great length with you on this blog.

In the meantime, I'll start by sharing some pictures from last week's trip to Portugal, hoping you'll forgive my silence!

Cats in a bin, Lisbon
A friendly sign in Lisbon
Faculty of Letters, Coimbra
Club Fluvial Portuense, Porto
Biblioteca Joanina, Coimbra