A Happy New year to all readers! At the recent launch of the English translation of Nicolas Bouvier’s So It Goes, our friends at Eland also marked the return of their Travellers’ Film Club by showing a film about Iran of which ‘Nicolas would probably approved’. If you have read Bouvier’s wonderful The Way of the World, you will know that Bouvier, and his artist friend Thierry Vernet, were forced by deep snow to over winter in the mountains of Iran. The Lovers’ Wind is a truly amazing film showing off a stunning and beautiful country with so many varying types of landscapes. Take an hour to watch it on your laptop, or, if you have a smart TV, you may find that you have the You Tube app available and can watch it on a larger screen.
The Lovers’ Wind (French: Le Vent des amoureux) is a 1978 French documentary film directed by Albert Lamorisse about the landscape of Iran. It was commissioned by the Shah of Iran as an exercise to show off the progress of his country, it certainly shows what a beautiful place it is. I wonder how much it has changed in those 40 years? Lamorisse was killed in a helicopter crash while filming some of the final scenes of the documentary near a dam. His widow and son completed the film, based on his production notes, and released the film eight years later in 1978. It was nominated for a posthumous Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
As mentioned in our review of Nicolas Bouvier’s So It Goes, to celebrate its publication, Eland will be hosting a book launch at 6pm (with seasonal pop-up shop from 5pm) on Thursday 28th November, to be followed by the return of the Travellers’ Film Club at 7pm.
They will be showing a film which they feel honours the spirit of Bouvier, The Lovers’ Wind by Albert Lamorisse, an extraordinary film, shot entirely from the air in Iran in 1970. Join them at The Holy Redeemer Church Hall, 24 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QE.
Entry is free but it’s helpful to rsvp: firstname.lastname@example.org
Perhaps I have not read widely enough amongst the travel writing genre, or exposed myself to a wide enough variety of travel authors, but for my money, Nicolas Bouvier is one of the top travel writers of the twentieth century. At his best he surpasses Paddy, for he brings a rare sense of humour to his writing, something that Paddy, for all his marvellously detailed prose, is not noted for.
Some of you may have come across Bouvier by reading his best known work, The Way of the World, or perhaps you might recall a few mentions on this site, including, Armenia, Nicolas Bouvier and Paddy. It’s been over twenty-five years since a new work by Switzerland’s master travel writer has been translated and published in English. It would appear that Rose Baring, at that lovely publishing house, Eland, has made it her personal mission to get this collection of shorter travel stories published. I have enjoyed everything I have read so far, and I think you will too. Buy a copy for someone for Christmas. At 180 pages it is manageable for all. Don’t just take my word for it.
‘Nicolas Bouvier was a writer of rare grace and subtlety. Every essay here shimmers with imaginative insight and wry humour. He has long been known to cognoscenti. Now, perhaps, his stature will be more widely recognised: one of the most brilliant, penetrating and individual travel writers of his time.’ Colin Thubron
‘Bouvier writes with such verve and style and carries his erudition so lightly. This is the perfect literary travel companion for the Aran islands, Xian and point in between. The Japanese Chronicles are next on my list. Bravo Eland and Robyn Marsack for this brilliant translation.’ Natania Jansz, publisher of Sort of Books
‘Passionate curiosity, appropriate seriousness and a comic sense are kept in balance by a wide, tolerant and most unusual cast of mind. He has the intuitive gift of capturing landscapes, atmospheres and personalities in a flash, and he finds himself totally at home in the heart of heterodoxy and strangeness […] he catches scenes and atmospheres with a painter’s eye and a poet’s ear.’ Patrick Leigh Fermor in his introduction to the first English edition of L’Usage du Monde.
Rose Baring, in her publisher’s foreword to So It Goes, explains what drove her to get this lovely collection translated into English by Robyn Marsack, the final part of Eland’s homage to Bouvier:
Only twice have I read a travel book and immediately wanted to speak to the author. The first time it was Ogier de Busbecq’s Turkish Letters, and I was well aware that I would never get through to the sixteenth-century Habsburg ambassador to the court of Suleyman the Magnificent. The second time was when I finished The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier in 2006. It didn’t take long to discover that Bouvier had died in 1998, and I entered a period of mourning for this man I had never met.
Despite his brilliance, Bouvier had largely slipped back beneath the Anglophone waves. Tracking down and publishing the works which had been translated – The Way of the World, The Japanese Chronicles and The Scorpion-Fish – allowed me to spend time with his words if nothing else. I tried, and largely failed, to trace the field recordings he had made of music from Zagreb to Tokyo. I looked at the images he had collected from around the world, the photographs he began to take in Japan in the 1960s, the poetry he wrote. I watched, much more than once, the film made about him in 1993, Le hibou et la baleine, and other snippets on the internet. I still long to have met him, and feel quite envious of the translator of these stories, who did.
So It Goes is the final element of Eland’s homage to this exceptional chronicler of the world – a selection of his shorter pieces of travel writing, and an essay on the childhood which catapulted him into the world equipped with such fertile curiosity. It contains all the hallmarks of his particular genius: an acute, painterly eye for the details which escape many others, an ear attuned as much to the qualities of a wind or the soft exhalation of a carthorse as to the nuances of conversation, and a willingness to open himself totally to the experience of a place, even when it threatens to unhinge him.
The title, So It Goes, is a phrase which crops up like a mantra throughout the book. Bouvier borrowed it from Kurt Vonnegut, whose writing he hugely admired. In Slaughterhouse Five (1969), the phrase implies that even faced with the horrific destruction of war, no good will come of shirking the truth. Bouvier is as good as his word.
Extract from So It Goes Scotland: Travels in the Lowlands
‘I ate some mussels with French fries in the dimly lit saloon bar, back turned on a huge pool-table where three couples were playing, their laughter high-pitched and loud, as though the inn belonged to them. The women, absurdly made-up for such an out-of-the-way place, pocketed their balls, fags in their mouths. The owner and his wife, who seemed to know them well, greeted each win with smarmy compliments. After a bit they came to my table with a bottle and three goblets. They seemed more fragile than the glass. I said, ‘A nice place you have here,’ meaning, ‘The natural surroundings are enchanting.’ She leaned towards me and whispered in my ear, ‘They kill me – this whole damn business is killing, simply killing,’ and disappeared into the kitchen, dabbing her eyes with her white apron. He remained. He told me he’d been trying to put the place back on its feet for several months, without success, and that his wife couldn’t stand it any more. Then, I don’t know why, he talked about the death of the poet Robert Burns (that colossal genius whose eyes shone with drink) in the doll’s house that the Customs administration, by whom he was employed, had offered him in Dumfries as a mark of their esteem. As he spoke, big tears rolled down his cheeks. I know that Burns makes the whole of Scotland cry, but there was something more going on here. I instinctively touched the back of his hand with my fingertip; he clasped mine and held it between his enormous paws for the time it took to swallow back something rising in his throat. What was he struggling against? I remembered the unexpected scene from several hours earlier: those two lost and frantic girls, their hair crested with red, opposite the unsightly woman calmly making an effort to set them back on their feet. Precarious, flawed little lives beneath the sky, a glittering sky tonight: theirs, hers, mine too. All looking, with what help we could find, for an honourable way out. So it goes.’
To celebrate the publication of Nicolas Bouvier’s So It Goes Eland will be hosting a seasonal pop-up shop from 5pm on the 28th November, to be followed by the return of the Travellers’ Film Club at 7pm. They will be showing a film which they feel honours the spirit of Bouvier, The Lovers’ Wind by Albert Lamorisse, an extraordinary film, shot entirely from the air in Iran in 1970. Join them at The Holy Redeemer Church Hall, 24 Exmouth Market, EC1R.
Watch Bouvier talk about his favourite books in 1993.
This post is dedicated to Elizabeth who will enjoy listening to the French. My on-off hiatus on the blog continues due to personal circumstances but I had to write this short update before I depart to walk across Armenia. I was inspired to travel there by reading Nicolas Bouvier’s wonderful book, The Way of the World. Paddy buffs will know that he wrote the introduction to the English version.
Bouvier’s work describes his journey with his artist friend Thierry Vernet in a Fiat Topolino (like a 2CV) from Geneva to Afghanistan in the 1953-54. It is a journey that would be impossible today. The book is beautifully written and such fun to read. He spent a lot of time writing about the Armenian community in north-western Iran which got me thinking about going to Armenia, and here I am going to Armenia.
I always like to make some spurious link to weave a bit of a yarn, and here I have it. Bouvier writes book including Armenians; Paddy writes introduction to said book; I travel to Armenia; and blog corespondent Mark Opstad (a long time ago) sends me a link to a French TV programme that includes Bouvier and Paddy. The latter speaking wonderful French but as ever struggling with technology; this time the microphone. Paddy suddenly appears around 29:10 (maybe he got stuck into the bar in the green room?) and proceeds to tell his story, but struggles to keep the microphone near his mouth. Note the “third hand” at 34:38 trying to keep it in the right position. At 47:00 Paddy inevitably ends up singing a Greek song.
Enjoy the video. As ever there is much more to come on the blog and I thank all of you who have got in touch with me. I just don’t have the time to keep up at the moment, but each and every one will receive a reply in due course.