Keeping in line with the ongoing French theme of the moment, I suddenly thought about an amazing series of graphic novels that my old friend and one-time roommate Maud had introduced me to years ago. For some reason I have never been all that drawn to graphic novels, or BD as they are called in France (the acronym for "bande déssinée", literally a "drawn strip"). Apart from Tintin (who I absolutely adore) and Asterix, I never really read many graphic novels growing up, or still even today. When Maud started going on and on about a graphic series called Sambre that I had to read I wasn't really interested. Until she gave me the first one, and then I was hooked. I don't know why I suddenly thought of it today of all days (going through my thought process it sounds a little like this: rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 8 - seeing Beth's Buffy graphic novel - oh my god remember that wonderful French graphic novel series I read back in France?). I couldn't remember the name, so after a little research via google.fr and then the FNAC website I found it. Sambre. Should be synonym of both beauty and despair.
The main storyline is based on the torturous and condemned love affair between Bernard Sambre, a young man from a bourgeois family in France, and Julie, a beautiful vagabond and daughter of a prostitute, who has red eyes, something that incites fear in many a heart. The series follows the couple's descent into despair in the midst of the 1848 revolution in France. Bernard and Julie cannot be together, but cannot be apart, end up finding each other and then leaving each other, willingly or not, time and time again. The drawings are reminiscent of all the19th century had to offer: dark, powerful, romantic, decadent and full of doom, with a touch of hope here and there. Bernard and Julie, as well as the many characters that surround them, are beautifully drawn, and it's very easy to fall into their world of fire, pain, love and glory. It's unfortunate that the series has never been translated into English, although it would require an excellent translator who understands and feels the story to do it properly (in my opinion). The drawings are amazing, but the words are just as important in setting the scene and the characters.
After that short description (which really doesn't do the series any justice to be honest), you probably understand why I fell in love with it. Gothic doom, unrequited love, 19th century? Say no more. Best read with a background of Berlioz. I have only actually read the first four, as there was a long wait for the fifth one to come out, and I left France before it did. Now I need to add them all to my list, and more, as, according to Wikipedia, there are other series out there, and others in the works, all based on the Sambre family, post Bernard and Julie.
Sambre is a compound word, created from the words "sang" (blood) and "sombre" (somber). The title of the first book in the series is "Plus ne m'est rien...", a phrase that conjures up exactly the way I feel some days. Actually, some old friends of mine released a song of the same name back in the late 90's, which happens to be absolutely beautiful and I think now is the time to listen to it. This band is actually very, very dear to me, for many different reasons (and not just because I grew up with some of the members). More about that another time...
Bernard Hislaire on Wikipedia (it definitely sounds translated from French though)
Sambre at the FNAC
I was reading through my 2003-2004 journal the other day,
otherwise known as the “Israel journal”, where the first few months are written
in English and the later months in French. I did this because my writing at the
time was very intense and private, and I was always worried that someone on the
very not private kibbutz would come across it and read it. While reading
through the French entries I realized that not only was my French writing good;
it had as much a voice as my English writing. That was 8 years ago, and since
then all I seem to have really written in French is a few business emails
(apart from the web page I recently wrote for a friend), and, even worse, I
have completely neglected my French reading. It’s not like I am lacking in
French books at home – I still have well over a hundred items of French
literature lingering in my bookcases, well-read and beloved copies of works by
my favourite authors, Rimbaud, Nerval, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Stendhal amongst
many others. I even own the first 4 books from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles
in French because at the time in France it was quite difficult to acquire
English books right when you needed them. (After that my mum started to go to
the States a couple of times a year for work so I would give her a list of
books to buy for me). I’m still completely bilingual, and I still speak French
with a French accent, and English with an English accent (and not Australian as
someone was trying to tell me the other day). So what happened to me? Why don’t
I ever write in French anymore? It’s still, in my opinion, the most beautiful
language in the world. While English contains a dozen different words to
describe something in several ways (take the word “shine” for example – how many
synonyms can you come up with in one minute?); French has the ability to make
anything sound like a song. I think “lyrical” is the best way to describe it,
something that most Latin languages seem to be.
I think I am more than likely just being lazy. English is my
first language and it’s the one that comes easiest to me, even if I do find
myself thinking in French now and again for no specific reason. I live in an
English-speaking country where English is spoken first and then Spanish, and
after that Mandarin and most probably Russian. I do however speak French at
least once a day, but it’s not the same as living in a country where French is
everywhere; on the radio, on TV, outside, inside and everywhere else. I don’t
communicate extensively in French every day, and I definitely don’t write in
French much anymore. I only watch the French movies I own (if they are Region
1, because most of them are Region 2 as they were purchased in France). I’ve
watched most of the French movies available on Netflix and wish I could have
more at my disposal. In any case, I am so behind on my movie watching that it
would take me about 4 years to catch up on everything I want to see, if I
maintain my current work schedule. I will always miss France and consider it
home (although NYC is also my home now), and apart from my friends and old
haunts, the main part I miss is being completely immersed in FRENCH.
You know what I also miss? Going into a French bookshop and
browsing the French books. The funny thing is that when I lived in France I
missed going into English bookshops and browsing the English books. That is
until the Decitre opened in Grenoble along with their great collection of
English books, at very decent prices. It’s difficult to buy French books here.
Really difficult. Or again, I am too lazy to search too far for them, although
I think I have done a pretty good job up until now. In any case, I follow the
book reviews on a site called Boojum Mag, known to me because a good friend of mine
in France writes for them, and I recently started making a list of all books I
need to buy. I’m not going back to France anytime soon (but my mum is and oh my
god a light bulb just went off in my head), so last week I bit the bullet and
went on to Amazon.fr and looked through the books that I wanted to purchase. €57 later and two books are coming my way. According to the tracking
system, they are now in Croydon and I can expect to receive them late next
week, two weeks after I ordered them. Now this is not a cost effective solution
to my problem, nor can I, Miss Impatience, wait two whole weeks to receive the
books I want to read right now at this very minute, so there MUST be a better
solution. If so, let me know. French book swap? French book lending library?
What if I spend this amount of money and end up disliking the books? I know
that’s always a risk one takes when buying books, but usually you don’t have to
factor in the costly shipping charges too. And I shouldn’t really be spending
money on books from overseas when I have a lot of debt to pay off, should I?
At a first glance the fact that I am going on
about reading in French may not seem to have anything to do with my issue with
not writing in French anymore. It does, however. Reading and writing are my two
main passions in life and one cannot go without the other. I read because I
love to fall into a world someone else has created and imagine myself there,
and I read because it is also the best form of education for me. I write
because I have so much to say, and I also write because I want to be read.
Reading inspires me to write and writing inspires me to read, and if I read in
French I feel like I write more in French too. One will never go without the
other… I set myself weekly writing targets that I sometimes keep to, and often
don’t, so I think I will just need to add a French writing target too, even if
it’s just a journal entry or a random rambling of no real interest. In any
case, I just wrote this whole post in English when I could just have easily
have written it in French, couldn’t I? Although I know why… Most of the friends
I grew up with in France are insanely good writers, and I would just worry
about them critiquing anything I wrote in French. I got over that small
stepping stone in English, so I may as well just get over it in France. OK…
Over to my written journal for some French immersion then…
I explore more and more, dig deeper and deeper, but sometimes it's that one favourite poem from my teens that actually explains it all today. Seen enough, had enough, time to leave.
Arthur Rimbaud - Départ
Assez vu. La vision s'est rencontrée à tous les airs.
Assez eu. Rumeurs des villes, le soir, et au soleil, et toujours.
Assez connu. Les arrêts de la vie. - Ô Rumeurs et Visions !
Départ dans l'affection et le bruit neufs !