Vive la France!
Travel? Not really. I’m still here on Salt Spring Island; but I find that a goodly part of my imaginaire has settled in France. And time-travelled at that! The lavender just outside my door blooms in harmony with the lavender of France. It’s summer and it’s time for some French braids.
This is finally the summer I can read Proust. After The Hare with Amber Eyes identified the real-life netsuki collector, Charles Ephrussi, as part of the model for the composite fictional Swann, In Search of Lost Time has figured in my mind. I thought of it as something to revisit — but, I never really did read it, even though I felt that I may have. (As with all the classics, we kind of get the gist of something so well known it seems familiar, like a place seen in a movie.)
So, my current summer companion-book is Swann’s Way, enabling some sweet time-travel through exquisite descriptions, echoes of depths and meanings. And if that weren’t enough, volumes 2 and 3 have arrived; an encyclopedia of sensory memory. I am entranced. Aesthetic tuneup for the summer.
Coincidentally there is a second aspect of my French time-travel: In June, I subscribed to Patti Smith’s Substack sessions on Rimbaud, which she’s posting a few times a week. In each brief video she shares her impressions mixed with biographical stories of Rimbaud’s extraordinary brief life, and readings of his poetry. It’s non-academic, personal, quirky, direct, feels poet-to-poet. This Smithposium is still going on. A different sort of France here, another intense sensibility.
And because it is possible in the mind, I see these both poetically braid together nicely with a book that just arrived this past week: Immortality, a Traveler’s Guide; Sufi contemplations from Pir Zia Inayat Khan based on Inayat Khan’s 1923 Summer School lectures on The Soul Whence and Whither. How is this French, you ask? The Sufi Summer School was in Suresnes, just outside of Paris, 100 years ago - and yet the past is present. This work’s widely mystical view, is widely beyond time, in a conversation that includes classical Sufi mystics, Plotinus, and the lineage of the great Sufi Inayat Khan today.
I know this momentary France triangle is childlike, an idealized simplification. In my awareness, these three great figures briefly hold hands in a triangle, angel/angles hovering over France across decades, with Paris as its Egyptian-style centre eye. Proust/Rimbaud/Inayat Khan. Each a ruler of their realm, eating the bread of France at one table.
Here’s a photo of me at 4, my wispy hair tortured into tight French braids. I idealized this photo as well, thinking that it was lovingly hand-tinted by my mother at the time, then remembering that I had done the tinting myself, as an adult. Much as Proust hand-tinted his words to bring out more colour, more scent.
See those strands of hair that escaped my childhood braids? Sometimes a wispy tendril of quantum entanglement lingering from before springs out later. A comment in last week’s issue mentioned hawthorn blossoms, opened a brief exchange, then the next day I read Proust’s eloquent description of hawthorn blooms! A wink from the eye of the big mind, compressing and opening again at the touch of a thought. Fun simultaneity.
Substack automatically nudges free subscribers to go paid - feel free to ignore that - you already get what they call “the full experience”. These days I’m sending everything out to all. Subscribing to the paid side of Personal Papers does help support my writing, and also my other Substack: the Shamcher Bulletin, taken from the archives of Shamcher Bryn Beorse. If you subscribe to both, there may be weeks when you get a bit of an email cascade, but it won’t be too much - just open only if you wish, and at your leisure.
(and for Susie Kaufman, this is the edition I’m reading - Yale University Press)