Thursday, December 6, 2007

Event-Filled Week(s)

Sometimes these days I can't seem to keep up with things, but then there are other times, in the middle of the day, when I feel like I'm not doing nearly enough -- the irony of our time, I guess... I know that as the holidays approach time is only going to fly by faster, and the end of the month always hits me before I even realize it, with a pile of holidays cards still sitting on my desk patiently waiting to be stamped and sent. This year I'm determined to at least send out my cards to the U.S. by the 15th, holding onto my French cartes de voeux until the New Year -- one of the advantages of the French holiday traditions being that cards are sent in the New Year, and that custom holds that you have until the end of the month of January to get them out to one and all. Of course, in the past I've taken full advantage of this extended deadline, sending out some of my American cards down to the wire (using the French system as an excuse!), but I'd like to improve my card-sending skills, and avoid this procrastination that I appear to have ingrained in me.

Last week I unexpectedly attended several events that turned out to be wonderful experiences, ones I will not soon forget, and I have to admit that it is nice to have these kinds of appointments on my calendar at this time of year, when I'm inclined to get a bit of the cafard if I spend too much time at home alone. The curse of all expats, I guess! On Monday I crossed the Seine for a book-signing at Shakespeare & Co. -- Jeanette Winterson read from her latest book, The Stone Gods, and I couldn't resist picking up several books from her backlist as well, for myself and a few friends. I only just discovered her writing, I have to admit, thanks to dear Lauren, of course, who is my favorite source of wonderful literary (and cultural) inspiration these days. I'm looking forward to plunging into her writing over the holidays, when I'll have some time off from the daily grind and will be able to (finally!) throw myself into a few good novels. For some reason recently I've been having a really hard time reading for pleasure, a pastime that I've always taken for granted. I don't know if it's just the distractions of every day life or other preoccupations that are taking up too much space in my mind, but in any case I'm impatient to dive back into a good book again. I've also been disappointed by a few recent reads, and I have to admit that I count on a good book to pull me in fairly quickly in order to stick it out until the end... Perhaps I'm a bit too impatient and demanding, but I've reached a point now where I've decided that there are simply too many books waiting on my bedside table to be read, and I'm not about to waste my reading time forcing myself to enjoy a book that just doesn't do it for me. Basta -- life is simply too short, and I'm no longer reading out of obligation after all! Although sometimes I wonder if I may have missed my calling...

Winterson's reading was spectacular, by the way -- she was so dramatic and passionate when reading from her text, and she even went so far as to say that she practices a bit beforehand, that it's the least she can do, given the fact that we go out of our way to come to see her read. She really got into it, and climbed up on the table in the back of the shop so that we could all have a clear view of her throughout the reading. When I had her sign my books afterwards, I even picked up a copy of her children's book, The King of Capri, illustrated by Jane Ray -- when I saw it sitting there, tantalizingly, on the table, I knew I had to add it to my growing collection of children's books at home. It's a lovely fairy tale, with all the best elements: gorgeous, colorful illustrations, a story with a moral, and some appealing characters, including a little Italian cat.

Thursday night I was lucky enough to attend an excellent SCBWI France event held at the home of one of the organization's members in the 17th, where Uri Shulevitz spoke about his work for more than two hours (!!). He answered questions and went into great detail about his inspiration, his favorite forms of media when illustrating, his influences and even his most current work, which is to be published in early 2008. I was fascinated and couldn't help taking notes during the discussion, and I left the event feeling uplifted and inspired, convinced that I will soon apply my own inspiration to some drawings once again, and hopefully soon. Mr. Shulevitz's talk focused on the "invisible picture" in a drawing, as he called it, or the empty spaces in between two objects that ties them together, that unify a drawing and bring it to life. He emphasized that the "third picture" inside of a drawing is one that in fact you cannot necessarily see but that is only visible in your mind and is therefore stimulated by the story itself. In that sense, he explained, the meaning of a series of pictures in a story is often beyond the story itself and is made up of the elements that are underlying the story. The bigger picture, in fact, "needs to be fed by what's underneath."

Another point Mr. Shulevitz made during his talk that stayed with me is the importance of making a moment as specific as possible in a picture book in order to make the story itself more universal -- hence, a universal story can be made more personal and even more appealing. I was thrilled to be able to purchase a copy of one of his most famous books, Snow, which won the Caldecott Honor in 1999 and is magical in its use of spare text with enchanting, evocative and incredibly detailed watercolor images. All in all, I had a really wonderful evening, and thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the event, including the delicious meal, the captivating presentation and discussion, and, of course, the company!

Tonight I'm off to attend another book-signing, once again at Shakespeare & Co., so I can pick up a few more copies of Clotilde's wonderful first cookbook. I already have a copy of my own, of course, that I got back in the spring when it was first published (fairly stained and a bit beat-up around the edges!), but I'd like to bring one home to my mom for Christmas, and possibly another for one of my closest friends in the States as well. Here's hoping I can get to the bookshop early enough for a good seat, and that I'll be able to get my hot little hands on several copies of her book! It's always a pleasure to hear Clotilde speak about her cooking and her writing, and her success is such an inspiration. This is one extremely multi-talented, warm, engaging and creative gal -- I have to admit that her blog is responsible for my motivation to finally get cracking in the kitchen. So I know this evening is going to be a particularly memorable event as well! I can hardly wait...

10 comments:

jchevais said...

I'm so glad you wrote about the Shulevitz event... I don't remember much of his talk myself as I was filming it... however, that point about concentrating on the invisible picture really struck a cord. I remember a painting instructor telling us the same 'PAINT THE NEGATIVE SPACE' he used to say... but nobody knew what the heck he was talking about. It could have been because he was so flamboyant about it.

Linda said...

Nothing better than a good book. I used to read much more than I do now. I think I was using it more as an escape as I was unhappy back then. I do have to read in bed every night before I go to sleep-I like that habit.

Karen said...

How fun to take advantage of all the great events around you. I really enjoyed hearing about Shulevitz, it's clear that his enthusiasm was contagious. I hope we'll get to see some of your drawings on your blog.

Destination Metz said...

Wow a lot of book signings! Books are so personal yet we read them so often in a really detached, anonymous way, often we don't know anything about the author at all, book readings and signings kind of bridge that gap which can be really nice sometimes..or have the opposite effect!

joy suzanne said...

Sounds like the kind of stuff I'd like to be doing...

My New Year's resolution is to try and take a little more advantage of events and happenings in Montpellier. Sometimes I let a full-time schedule and general fatigue make me apathetic. Need to do more than meet my girlfriends for drinks and go to the movies with my Philippe, now and then! It's been a while since I've "attended" anything-- I don't feel like Saturday afternoon strolls through the photo museum or the Musée Fabre are cutting it.

Jennie said...

Ooh, I didn't know the French sent their carte de voeux in January. That's good to know!

Parisian Cowboy said...

It's always funny to read your point of view on our weird French habits :) bravo.

Poppy Fields said...

I am so jealous that you got to go to Clotilde's book signing. I wish she would come to Aix-en-Provence.

Poppy Fields said...

Back to say: Merry Christmas!
I am trying that leek and crozets de sarasin gratin recipe this week.

L said...

Thanks for all the comments on my blog!