Not once have I ever contemplated the matter of someone writing a novel, or anything else, before there were many—make that ANY—of the conveniences which lie at our fingertips these days. I know there were not always computers; my first job with The Blood-Horse came with a manual typewriter. But creating a masterpiece by hand, with a quill pen, STANDING UP? No way. Well, that is how a novel so immense that I am intimidated by the very idea of reading it, that is how Les Miserables came into being. I was struck by this thought as I wandered about Maison de Victor Hugo this afternoon. The place is flooded with posters—easily the brightest things in the place—pictures, paintings, letters, old furniture, old wall ornamentations and a lot of old people looking to be further educated about the doings of this singular figure. It also contains that old desk where Hugo stood and a likeness of the quill pen he used while creating Les Miz, the Hunchback, and so much more. As to Jean Valjean and the crowd, I could hum a few bars from the play, but that is about as intimate as I could get with the ever-precious and precocious Cosette. If you are into Victor Hugo, or Napoleon Bonaparte, or Pablo Picasso, Paris is your place. There is a Place Victor Hugo, an Avenue Victor Hugo, his house, his books and posters everywhere. As to Napoleon, he clearly cannot share the page with anyone, so he is for another time, as is Picasso, who can rival almost everyone who ever mattered when it comes to memorabilia. Pablo, too, will come later.
From Maison de Victor Hugo, an elegant old mansion now operated by the city, there is a wonderful view of Place des Vosages, special because you are more nearly at eye-level with the gorgeous old buildings which form the square. This closer look and different perspective is a good thing. In the house are numerous paintings, one being by—you guessed it—Pablo Picasso. But another is by one of my favorite artists, the much-less-well known Andre Derain, whose work has not been the subject of any major retrospectives of which I am aware but, nonetheless, art that I very much appreciate. Derain was a part of the short-lived group, the Fauvists, but he took a back seat to several of his contemporaries who went on to so much high acclaim, particularly Henri Matisse. I always look for Derain when visiting a museum, and in fact saw a piece of his at the Pompidou the other day. There also is a Derain in the Speed Museum in Louisville, I believe, and one or two in Cincinnati. In any case, because all the signage at the Hugo home is in French I could not quite figure why “Portrait of Derain’s Niece” was on display, but it filled the bill for me.
I determined to stay home on this Saturday night and tackle the matter of doing laundry, one of my very weakest points, particularly when the directions as to how to use both washer and dryer are unintelligible to me. Ah, but I have brought along a succulent piece of beef carved to order by the friendly man at the boucherie next door, and I have laid in a nice Pommard to be accompanied by a wedge of triple creme from the fromagerie. Madame de Sevigne, here I come.