Finding Quincy

When the girl at the tourism office in Mieussy, France asked if I would like to meet John Berger, I blushed.  It wasn't about fandom. I had too much respect for his work to meet the man. It would be like
Trail from Ley to Mieussy
meeting John Lennon. On the other hand, I had already spent a day wandering the wrong Quincy. I had already taken a bus, wandered up the wrong road, strode back to my starting point, considered the directions again, and eventually reached a hamlet that is in the midst of change from rural to suburban. A theme of Berger's Into Their Labours trilogy -- the work that attracted me to the area -- so it might have been the right place. But it did seem rather accessible, and not as high in elevation as I had imagined. Back at my computer I looked up Quincy again and found the second one, listed in Wikipedia in connection with John Berger. Of course. Further, higher. Remote enough that the bus switch in Annemasse didn't happen on my first try because I didn't know I was supposed to have made a reservation for the second bus from Annemasse to the commune of Mieussy. Consequently, the six hours I hoped to spend in Quincy immediately dwindled to four, because I had to catch the last bus back to my connection at Annemasse, a dreadful place, said an Irish friend, soulless, grey. Maybe so, but a girl at the A tourism office was kind enough to call Mieussy tourism and explain my situation. I had planned to walk from Mieussy to Quincy and had written walking directions in my notebook, but with so little time...No, there wasn't a bus to take me from Mieussy to Quincy. However, the Mieussy tourism officer was going home for lunch and would pass through Quincy, if I wanted a ride, if the bus reached Mieussy in time. It did and she first drove me to the town's only boulangerie to buy a sandwich, because there are no restaurants in Quincy, she said. This second tourism officer, the helpful Delphine, was the one who asked if I wanted to meet John Berger. He is friendly and open, she said, he would be happy to meet you. But when she called a friend of his, it turned out that the aging writer, thinker, artist, art critic was in Paris. Which was a real relief. For what would I have said to him? I love your books? I've read the Trilogy several times? I've longed to see the Alpine settings you described? I'd like to tap the truth of people the way you tapped the truth of your characters?

The question has come up before, on other trips to the neighbourhoods of writers I admire. New Orleans for Walker Percy, the actual version of his fictional intersection, Elysian Fields and Bons Enfants; the pool where Tennessee Williams swam; the NY East Village doorway that bears a plaque commemorating Allan Ginsberg, who wrote Howl there. Joyce's Martello tower in Dun Laghoire out of Dublin. It has to be fandom to some extent, yet if I could meet the writers who drew me to those places, it might ruin it for me. As Henri Matisse said, it's not the artist it's the art. The work. Celebrity, while it gets one's works known, is not the point at all. So what is the it that might be ruined?

I looked around the quiet hamlet of houses, gardens, farms. Feeling a bit the sneak thief, I took some pictures of the oldest house, which belongs to the Bergers, and then I continued down the road to Ley, where I followed Delphine's directions to the chapel, then followed a partially wooded trail through just the sort of setting I had pictured, took a wrong turn down a steep path, climbed back up using the long, silky green grass in the meadow alongside for a handhold, and finally made it back to Mieussy, in plenty of time for the last bus.

Birdman and the Idiot President

Part of the charm of the movie "Birdman" is its suggestion that humans can be magic. You might be arguing with your teenage daughter one minute and flying above Manhattan the next, or levitating or causing cars to explode at the snap of your fingers. Of course the magic is fickle. Birdman had to walk around in his underwear when he couldn't get inside the theatre he inadvertently locked himself out of. Still...
Imagination set him free at his darkest moment.

Daniel Alarcon, in At Night We Walk in Circles, also uses theatre and the magic of transformation onstage and off. His novel follows the actors in The Idiot President, a show that is touring far flung communities in the Andes, who often fall into the roles that were written for the characters they play, the idiot president, his idiot son, and the servant. Patalarga plays the servant and when Diciembre, the theatre company, arrives in his home village his mother asks him, "if you're putting most of the money into this, why are you playing the servant?"

The boss, playwright and idiot president himself, Henry Nunoz, says "The role comes so naturally to him. It would be a shame to use his talents any other way."

Nelson, who plays the idiot son, ends up acting the part of an "actual" old woman's lost son just because she perceives him to be her boy. The mother's other son pays Nelson to do it to keep her happy in her final days.

Magic realism plays with possibility. If you're playing Birdman, can't you be Birdman? If a woman happens to think you're her son, isn't it possible to become her son? Magic is the power of the imagination. People turn to magic when they are most desperate, about to jump off a building in Birdman's case, and trying to avoid the knowledge that her youngest son is dead in the other.

In another novel, Joy of Man's Desiring a character called Bobi wanders into a silent valley where the residents are afflicted with the leprous malaise experienced by wintry souls in a wintry land. Bobi asks a farmer about his grain. Winter is nearly over and the farmer still has a third of his crop. He has used a third to feed his family, saved a third to sow for the next year. He is thinking of selling the rest. The Ouvèze Valley has been still, no birds at all until Bobi convinces the farmer to spread his remaining grain on the threshing floor. Then, do they ever come! The way Jean Giono describes the various species and their hues and the movement of their wings it's as if someone has scattered a basket of multicoloured sequins on the bleached grain. Such beauty and the awe it inspires in people who thought they would never feel such awe again is a sort of magic realism in itself. Imagine.

Friends of long standing

From the rather serious expressions on the faces of these two long-time friends, sculptor Geoffrey Smedley on the left, and architect/sculptor Richard Henriquez, one would never guess the brilliant and playful imaginations they possess. What a treat to hear Richard talk about his work and present images at another successful Gambier Arts and Ideas event. One line I remember, that..."the office building is the epitome of the homogenization of the world."