Thursday, September 28, 2006


Marseille, France, originally uploaded by HerveParisFrance.

The notes beneath this intriguing photograph, found on Flickr, say that here in the Chateau d'Ilf, "The count of Monte Cristo (Edmund Dantes) was imprisonned for thirteen years."

I like that sentence quite a lot. I like the respect it gives fictional characters. It doesn't say that here, Alexandre Dumas set his novel. It says here, Edmund Dantes lived. And to all of us who've lost days of our lives engrossed in his story, he did.

I also like that the place where Dantes grew brilliant and obsessed is envisioned by a rectangle of light. Yes, I think, that's where great characters are born. Behind doors within doors, in a furnace of mysterious light.

Some months ago, my friend Susan Messer was preparing for a trip to France. One of her preparations involved digging out some of Dumas lesser known works and reading them. Just before she left, she sent me a quote that says more about the power of story than anything I've ever read:.

"Alexander Dumas died penniless but cheerful on December 5, 1870, saying of death: 'I shall tell her a story, and she will be kind to me.'"

Ah, we can only hope it is so.


And if that isn't enough wisdom from dead French authors for one day, this morning I was greeted at Keri Smith's blog by these words from Balzac:

"Strolling is the gastronomy of the eye. To walk is to vegetate. To stroll is to live."

At first, the quote baffled me, but after I had strolled back a couple of times to look at it, it revealed its truth.

I even did Keri's homework assignment: Take a stroll somewhere and find ten versions of the same thing.

Since there's nowhere to stroll around here but the beach and the mall, and picking up say, ten black sweaters at the Gap, would push me over my credit limit, I gathered shells. I'm sure I had ten when I left the beach, but by the time I got home to document my stroll, only eight remained.


My personal favorite is #6 for its fancy black scroll work. But if I had a black velvet ribbon, I would thread it through the hole in #3, and wear it around my neck.


Lorna said...

first, I would hold them all under one of those hand dryers....

MB said...

You can't find a black velvet ribbon at the mall?

Fred Garber said...

Patry, thanks for that post! I work across the street from our library and am going to pick up a Dumas novel tonight after work. Could you hold up that big sea shell to your microphone? It has been a long time since I have heard the roar of the ocean. The Missouri river, which is about a mile from hear doesnot have the same sound.

Patry Francis said...

lorna: After the article zhoen posted about hand dryers, I wouldn't even let my shells go near them--nevermind my hands.

mb: Ah, the mall. I hear it's a fun place, but mostly, I avoid it.

fred: that big shell really deserves a photo and maybe even a poem of its own. It is barnacle encrusted, broken in many places, and quite magnificent. I put it to my ear though, and alas, no roar.

Zhoen said...

Shells are sneaky that way.

The Curmudgeon said...

Can I go mostly off topic with you?

I like to think I can set a scene, describe a moment, catch a mood. (Stay with me, Your Honor, I can tie this up.) My problem is Story. Plot. Since I've started my blog, I've gotten better at focusing on a single story... but I begin to despair of plotting out anything longer.

Plotting reminds me of improv. Have you ever done any of that? Ken Levine has a great recollection this morning of the time he (tried to) do a scene with Robin Williams. Every time I've done it -- and this is going back decades, now -- the scene has funny moments... and ends with someone pulling the pretend gun and shooting. Because we could think of no way to get off stage -- not to denigrate murder as a plot device -- not to you especially.

But the nuns tried and failed to teach me outlining: I'd just write it, instead. I guess I'm just kvetching here, not asking for the location of the magic spring or anything... but I'd be interested in reading your thoughts on the subject of Plot. I'm calling it out as an improv topic from the peanut gallery today.

(Is that OK?)

Laini Taylor said...

"In a furnace of mysterious light" -- oh, that is such a beautiful phrase! I can't wait to read your book! And those shells! It's funny, seeing them with a little surprise, esp the one on the left, makes me aware of how totally cynical I am. I caught myself thinking, there are still shells left at the beach? We haven't killed and collected everything yet? That's nice. Huh. What a pessimist I am! Also, love the Balzac quote. I wish I strolled more. In Italy the evening passegiata is such a part of life, and it's so so so much richer than an evening in front of the telly.

MB said...

I was being facetious. I don't like getting malled either!

Patry Francis said...

zhoen: But the real question is how the shells ever captured that roar in the first place. Now THAT'S sneaky.

curmudgeon: I like to think nothing is off-topic here--especially in a meandering post like this one. Turns out "plot" is one of my favorite subjects. Thanks for giving me an idea for tonight's post!

Laini: The passegiata! What wonderful thoughts and memories that summons. When I was nineteen, my cugina and I spent a semester in Bologna. It was a long time ago, but I can still remember the exact color of the light on cobblestone, and the feeling of walking arm in arm and laughing. Always laughing.

mb: I knew you were an anti-consumer, which is indeed one of your many charms. xo

Anonymous said...

It is rather touching when the real world honors a character by maintaining his 'life.'

I love Dumas, and now that I've read it, his deathbed quote as well. How fitting; I'd like to think Death was indeed kind to him (and I wonder what story he told...)

What a treasure trove you found while strolling the beach! Number 3 would be my favorite, just because Nature pre-drilled the hole for me. Though that big one would definitely find a place of honor on the mantel.

Anonymous said...

Shoot, I didn't even know the Château D'If was real! Ha!

I love Dumas as much as Balzac, and it's fun to go back and forth between the two, as Dumas is so exuberant, romantic and optimistic and Balzac is so, uh, not. Yet their subject matter occasionally overlapped. Dumas has a different tale to tell regarding the fates of the various sons of Catherine de Medici than Balzac -- and yet, not really. It is the same tale, but told in such a different voice and from such a different perspective.

There were two Alexandre Dumas, you know, too, père et fils. I much prefer le père, personally. He's the one who brought us the Count, after all.

Anonymous said...

Only thoughts reached by walking have value.
— Nietzsche

Not that I'm a fan of Nietzsche, but he did have a few interesting ideas, some of which might be true. This isn't one of them, as we can infer from Balzac, and as you've proved with your stroll and post.

(BTW, if you hadn't already recognised it, No. 7 appears to be the carapace of a spider crab)

rdl said...

ah dead french writers, my favorite. membering anais and henry ( well he was american and i didn't read him, you did). My favorite shell is #1 cause it reminds me of the conch shells in St. Croix. Great post, you are incredible.

Patry Francis said...

tinker: If death would be kind to any storyteller, it would have to be Dumas. I wonder what contemporary author could hold a reader similarly spellbound for 800 pages like he did.

sara: I vote for le pere as well. In fact, I'm not even sure what le fils wrote. (?)

pete: I'm not much of a fan of Nietzche, but I don't think he was entirely wrong. When we stroll we see the outer landscape more vividly, but when we walk, we tune into the inner world.

And thanks for identifying the carapace of the spider crab. I didn't know what it was.

r: I think Anais was Spanish, but she and Henry seemed to find their literary selves in Paris. Theirs was a great era. Thanks for the nice comment, my marvelous sister.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the bit about The Count of Monte Christo. My wife informs me there is a church in London outside which rests a plaque that says "Little Dorrit slept here."

crissachappell said...

beautiful pictures....

robin andrea said...

Ten rocks. Ten flowers. Ten bugs. Ten leaves. Ten colors. Ten dreams in one night. One dream in ten nights. Ten breaths. Ten deaths.

Patry Francis said...

robert: How interesting about Little Dorrit. I wonder how many fictional characters are commemorated this way.

chrissachappell: Thank you and welcome!

robin andrea: That's an amazing little poem--and you didn't even have to leave the house to collect your ten. Thanks for being here.

Sky said...

i have been so distracted lately with a family health emergency, but i am reading when i can even though i don't always comment.

i like the big broken conch. lucky you - living so close to the water. i remember many months ago when you posted something about considering a relocation and i did a big PR campaaign for the pacific nw! now i realize you already live among beautiful gifts of nature...the wide expanse of an ocean! :)

Patry Francis said...

sky: Thanks for stopping by to look at my conch shell in the midst of your family health emergency. I continue to send good thoughts and prayers your way.

Anonymous said...

Hi Patry,

I'm glad you liked the Dumas quote enough to feature it. What better reason can there be (than to mesmerize Death) to learn to tell a good story? Gorgeous photo too.

I've been thinking a lot about the collection of ten things ever since I read this entry several days ago, turning it over in my mind, thinking what I would look for.

And you know me, the worrier, I wondered . . . would I chose the thing before I set out? If so, how would I know I could find 10 variations? Or should it be more organic, choosing the thing to collect as I strolled?

Tnen I thought, since I live in the Midwest, and it is fall, the obvious thing would be leaves. But it's a bit early, and not many leaves have fallen or even changed color yet. Then I thought . . . hmmm . . . seeds, twigs, gravel. All possibilities, but I have now settled on something: litter. I know I could easily find 10 variants of litter, and by picking them up I would be doing a good deed too. So it's settled. This afternoon (also Yom Kippur), I head out. The documentation part should be interesting. I bet I won't be finding any tofu burger wrappings or carrot juice containers.

Patry Francis said...

Oh, Susan! You have to send me a photo so I can post your litter collection. A wordless social commentary...

Thanks again for the marvelous quote.

steve on the slow train said...

This remins me of how much more I need to read. On the advice of my 16-year-old son, I've just read "The Stars My Destination," a 1953 science fiction classic by Alfred Bester. It's a brilliant work. It's also follows the storyline of "The Count of Monte Cristo," which I haven't read. I hope to read it in the not-too-distant future.

Patry Francis said...

steve: How wonderful to have a sixteen year old son who recommends books! I've never heard of The Stars my Destination, but you've definitley got my interest.

Anonymous said...

I'm happy you liked my photo published on Flickr and the comment I wrote about Edmond Dantes :-), I quote : "Doors in Château d'If, Marseille, France
The Count of Monte Cristo (Edmond Dantes) was imprisoned here for 13 years in the Novel by Alexandre Dumas "