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 just spent an hour looking through 5 bookcases and hundreds of books looking for for my old collection of Rossetti's poems, a copy that I had taken from my parents collection of old and rare books years ago, but to no avail. It must be somewhere, but I absolutely hate when this happens! I was looking for one poem that referred to the moon, but I couldn't remember the exact title... In any case it must be around somewhere, and I will find it when I decide to take all of the books out, dust them and fit them back in the bookcases again, like a jigsaw puzzle. It got me thinking about how Rossetti has always been my favourite artist, because even though I love his poetry, I love his paintings even more. One of the main founders of the Pre-Raphaelite movement in the 19th century, many of his paintings depict beautiful portraits of women, with medieval and Italian Renaissance influences. The attention to detail n all his work is tremendous, and if you look closely at the faces of the women you can see that they all resemble each other, even if the hair colour or dress is different. I suppose this is because his artwork was intrinsically close to his real life relationships with his models and muses and he tended to reproduce their faces in his different paintings.
I used to have a whole collection of postcard reproductions of his work all over my bedroom walls years ago (amidst the Nirvana, Cure and Bauhaus posters), but I've lost most of them during my many moves. During my brief stay in London 7 years ago I got to see a good collection of his work at the Tate Britain (for free - only the temporary exhibitions have a fee to view) which was great. In an alternate universe where I was a millionaire and collected art, Rossettis would be what I would want to cover my house in. Or at least, own one of. Beauty, sadness, depth and other-worldy...
When I write I don't see words in my minds, but images, and I try to convey those images in words. When I take photographs I always think of words, strings of sentences, that go with the photo and convey the feelings and emotions that go through me when I capture exactly the image that I see in my mind. I think that's what I love the most about Rossetti - each piece of artwork is closely intertwined with a poem or a piece of writing. It's as if one cannot go without the other, which in my mind is an utterly true statement.
I've been feeling very whimsical all week... Maybe it's the weather...
Here is the poem I was looking for earlier:
A Match With The Moon
WEARY already, weary miles to-night I walked for bed: and so, to get some ease, I dogged the flying moon with similes. And like a wisp she doubled on my sight In ponds; and caught in tree-tops like a kite; And in a globe of film all liquorish Swam full-faced like a silly silver fish;— Last like a bubble shot the welkin's height Where my road turned, and got behind me, and sent My wizened shadow craning round at me,
And jeered, “So, step the measure,—one two three!” And if I faced on her, looked innocent. But just at parting, halfway down a dell, She kissed me for good-night. So you'll not tell.
She walks in beauty, like the night Of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that 's best of dark and bright Meet in her aspect and her eyes: Thus mellow'd to that tender light Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less, Had half impaired the nameless grace Which waves in every raven tress, Or softly lightens o'er her face; Where thoughts serenely sweet express How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o'er that brow, So soft, so calm, yet eloquent, The smiles that win, the tints that glow, But tell of days in goodness spent, A mind at peace with all A heart whose love is innocent!
This is still one of my favourite poems ever written. Unlike most of Byron's work it is actually short and quite simple in tone and wording, but I think this was the exact effect that was intended. It's said that Byron wrote this after meeting his cousin's wife, and being inspired by her beauty wrote this poem. Other sources say that it was written about Augusta, his half sister (like many of his poems), and yet other sources say it alludes to the beauty of Art in general. After spending so many years studying 19th and 20th century literature and pulling apart poems until you could find any meaning to them that would make sense if backed up with the right arguments, I just like to read poetry and let the words give me the meaning they want to give me.
This poem was published as part of the volume of poems called Hebrew Melodies in 1815, and each poem was set to music. When read out loud you can almost hear the melody that goes with it (or maybe that's just me). In any case, whenever I feel agitated or upset I read this poem and immediately feel calmer. Serene beauty, inspiration, music and the calm sound of the ocean (the ocean is not mentioned but serenity and the ocean go hand in hand for me, and if you want to know why you should just ask me).
Here's a lovely recording of Eric Portman reading She Walks In Beauty:
I still have a teenage crush on Byron... What girl doesn't?!
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 !