It is believed that every cloud has a silver lining. Whilst reeling from the unspeakable horrors which unfolded in Paris on January 8th and beyond, I stumbled my way through my humdrum existence hoping to hear, somewhere, a few snatched words of wisdom which could cut through the inexplicable cruelty wreaked by a handful of lost souls upon others. Many conversations were shared; with friends and family, of course, with the butcher, plumber and neighbour but I did not realise that I would finally find solace in the words of a giant born nearly five hundred years ago.
The wildly obscene humour of Pantagruel (1532), written by our local Renaissance author, François Rabelais, has been dramatised recently by the French stage designer and Renaissance and Baroque specialist, Benjamin Lazar. A meeting with gracious Lazar, the formidable and hugely warmhearted actor Olivier Martin-Salvan, who was born to take on the role of the friendly giant Pantagruel, and the two musicians involved in the production, was arranged one evening last week. As I sat beside my daughter Héloïse, surrounded by a small group of Pantagruel enthusiasts who were uplifted by the show they had just enjoyed, with my notebook and pen in hand, I put my weariness of recent events to one side and devoured the words, in true Pantagruel style, of these four creative men.
And then there was the performance on the following night, a selection of extracts from Rabelais' voluminous Pantagruel. We marvelled at the actor's formidable memory - lengthy monologues in five early European languages left us speechless with wonder and hilarity was born from the scene where Pantagruel, hungry for knowledge, devours book upon book in a Parisian Library with startling effects, at times, on his digestion. The language of Rabelais, both obscene and flowery, can best be described as earthy poetry, I believe. It must not be forgotten that this formidable Renaissance writer, first monk, then physician, was intoxicated by the sudden availability of all manner of books so shortly after the first printing press had seen the light. The stage director, who usually inhabits a theatrical world where candles are the only form of light, chose this time to play with electricity in an obscure world where a giant roams the earth. It was Lazar's intention to connect Rabalais' universe with our own. Playing with electric light cast a human-sized actor into the shape of a giant, helium-filled jelly-fish balloons bobbed on the waves of a stormy sea and sixteenth-century instruments mostly played contemporary music in a most convincing manner.
Hilarity and wonder aside, it was in the words of a tolerant, magnanimous (and very hairy) giant clad in an animal skin, who continuously practises the art of unflinching gentleness, that I finally found my silver lining. As Pantagruel recited the formal and elaborate letter received from his Humanist father advising him on his education, the following words rang out:
Wisdom enters not into a malicious mind, and [...] knowledge without conscience is but the ruin of the soul.[...] Be servicable to all thy neighbours, and love them as thyself.
And there it was. Lazar and Martin-Salvan had succeeded in bridging the gap of five centuries. If Pantagruel's father urges him to learn the languages and wisdom of all races he also advises him to remain kind and altruistic. As I walked out of the theatre I realised that little had changed in the grand scheme of things but thanks to François Rabelais and a handful of creative souls my faith had been restored in humanity.
If you are interested in reading about Rabelais and his world, this book is enlightening and an excellent read whereas this translation of Pantagruel, I believe, is a good one.
All pictures below reveal my manner this month of softening the blow of events in Paris and beyond, and demonstrate, perhaps, my ability to bury my head in the sand.
2. My first bunch of hyacinths. They have flowered exquisitely and smell divine.
3. Green the colour of hope, renewal and harmony (batik fabric from Alewives Fabrics).
4. An angel mouse named Charlotte in honour of Charlie Hebdo.
5. Puck, a dear hat pattern by Dani Sunshine. This one looks like Confetti Cake.
6. Finally, Hope, a mouse who represents the promise of spring and new beginnings.
Hope is looking for a home, dear friends; would one of you be kind enough to take her in? She is a sweet harbinger of peace and spring. A little green sprite poised on a green moss seat bearing snowdrops in her handbag. Soon these delicate green and white flowers will bloom in shady places like forgotten patches of snow, piercing through the unforgiving ground with their pointed leaves and slender stems. Such is the magic of the natural world. If you would like to take a closer look you will find her here.
I wish you all well and hope the last few days of January bring you happiness...and a few snowdrops, perhaps.
THANK YOU so very, very much for your wonderful comments, both short and long, you take the time to write which both touch and inspire me. Three cheers for this blogging community! :-)