Archive for May, 2015

Max.M visuel

At the Méjanes Library in Aix, I catch an unusual performance. First comes the thrum of electric guitar vibrations, then the compelling beat of drums, then the voice insistent on keeping the rhythm, the tick tock—and the intent—of the words.


Trois mille six cents fois par heure, la Seconde

         Chuchote: Souviens-toi! Rapide, avec sa voix

         D’insecte, Maintenant dit: Je suis Autrefois,

         Et j’ai pompé ta vie avec ma trompe immonde!


(Three thousand six hundred times an hour, Second

Whispers: Remember! –Immediately

With his insect voice now says: I am the Past

And I have sucked out your life with my filthy trunk.)

Translation by Mylène Farnier, 2013


The voice is that of rock singer and guitarist Max, M. The words are from the third stanza of the poem “L’Horloge,” or “The Clock,” by the great and hugely influential poet– and iconic 19th century bad boy–Charles Baudelaire. Together, words and music comprise the first song of Max, M’s CD, “Tribute à Baudelaire,” although the poem was the last in Baudelaire’s work “Spleen & idéal.” It is also part of the repertoire Max, M plays live.


If “L’Horloge” is about the “sinister, terrifying god,” Time, and ends with the line “When all will say: ‘Die, old coward! It is too late!” other poems selected by Max, M reflect different baudelairean themes: sensuality, intoxication, voluptuousness, the corruption of the material world. These images are drawn from the ‘spleen’ side of “Spleen & idéal.” On the other side, are reflections on ideals of beauty, love and the symbolism found in nature.Baudelaire


Born in Paris to a well-off family, Baudelaire developed a taste for the exotic, and the dissolute, early. As a teenager, he discovered the pleasures of alcohol and prostitutes, and quickly went through his fortune, gaining a reputation as a free-spender and a dandy. Despite the revolutionary content of much of his work, he used a formal, traditional structure–such as the sonnet—to deliver his shocking messages in forms of classical beauty. At 36, in 1857, he published the first edition of his famous “The Flowers of Evil,” of which “Spleen & ideal” makes up the first part.


Max, M—short for Morena—is, on the other hand, a native of Nice, and a 21st century rock musician with a day job for the French national railways, where he is known as the “railwayman rocker.” Though he started playing music at 15 and has had a band for years, it is only recently that he connected with Baudelaire and put together his Tribute.


“In 2013,” he tells me, “I went through a bit of sadness and began reading poetry and found ‘Spleen’ on the Internet.” Not only did the poems speak to his state of mind, he says, “but I had the impression of reading songs—classic French songs. I added the music.” In that respect, he feels he is in an honored tradition of French singers—such as Jacques Brel, for example—who join music to a meaningful and poetic text. He also thinks if Baudelaire lived today, he would be a superstar songwriter.Baudelaire quote


Max M’s desire to go forth and sing Baudelaire now, in the 21st century, comes from his sense that the poet is very modern, up-to-date, and given the right beat, even hip. This is the poet who in one breath speaks of “the caress of serpents,” and in another extols “the language of flowers and of mute things.”


“With music from today,” Max M adds, “people are astonished to learn that these are actually poems of Baudelaire’s.”


Bringing people to that sense of astonishment and appreciation underlies his sense of mission: to take his tribute far and spread the melodic gospel of the “poète maudit,” or cursed poet, as Baudelaire was known, far and wide. He sees Baudelaire’s work as an important part of the French “patrimoine,” a word you hear often in France, meaning heritage. He would like to take his work out of the region of Provence, where he lives and works, and spread it throughout France—to high schoolers, for example, who struggle to learn French poetry– and eventually the francophone world, such as in French-speaking Africa.


He would bring them that baudelairean split universe of spleen, where, as in “The Death of the Lovers,” the lovers extinguish themselves “like a long sob”; or of ideal, as in the famous couplet from the iconic “Invitation to a Voyage,” in which lovers find themselves in a world where all is “Beauty and measure/Luxury, calm, and pleasure.”Max.M 1-Live


Meantime, he has his railroad work and plenty of music gigs and projects. He plans to make more CDs, a video, and continue to develop Baudelaire “songs” that fit well with a rock beat.


To find out more about Max M, his CD’s, and to catch many YouTube videos of him performing rocking Baudelaire (I recommend his rendition of “The Cat,” with his guest star feline), go his website: www.maxenligne.com, or contact him at max@maxenligne.com


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You hear it, bouk-een-bar, like a refrain, like a whisper lost from casual conversations across this gilded, sun-blest city of Southern France. And although the bookstore, Book in Bar, sports an English flag and a teapot as its logo, emphasizing its Anglophone literary bent—and its destination as a café—the accent is definitely French.

Situated in the heart of the exclusive Quartier Mazarin, it occupies an unimposing corner in the midst of impressive neighbors—elegant 18th-century-mansions-turned-art-centers, the Centre Caumont across the street,

Centre Caumont

Centre Caumont

the Hôtel de Gallifet around the corner; the Lycée Mignet, where Paul Cézanne and Émile Zola became best friends, down the block; the famous Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins

Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins

Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins

two blocks further down rue Cardinale, named after Cardinal Jules Mazarin, minister to King Louis XIV, and brother of Archbishop Michel Mazarin, urban planner of the district.

But it is not  the ambiance of ancient grandeur and brilliance that draws you to Book in Bar; rather it is the opposite. The welcoming sign of a teapot, the enticing display of books in the window, the cozy warmth once you step inside, and the friendly greeting by manager Anne Conet, who is most often ringing up books at the cash register.

Anne Conet

Anne Conet

Anne, a native of Belgium, has been at the bookstore since the beginning, which she remembers well–September 12, 2001. She had already worked in another English bookstore in Aix, when she met Anne Philippe, who wanted to open a bookstore/café. Anne Conet persuaded Anne Philippe and her eventual co-owner, Luc Delmet, that there was a market for English-language books, and they combined their visions. The store moved to its present location eight years ago and offers not only a rich selection of books in English, but selections in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and French, as well as other languages. If you need a Japanese version of a Tintin book, for example, could be your spot.

It is also your spot if you, like I, find yourself in need of a perfect refuge from the rain when small children are visiting. They’ll love the snug children’s room and a cup of hot chocolate.

Tea? Coffee? Smoothie?

Tea? Coffee? Smoothie?

Or if you need a place to bring guests who want to peruse the International Herald Tribune while sipping tea, or meet friends, attend author events, participate in a writer’s workshop, a poetry corner or a book club. There’s one in English—and one in Swedish.


But best of all, it’s a place to find a moment of peace. Take a table or a stool by the window or a chair tucked upstairs, pull out something to read, and soon enough a cheerful waitress will take your order for a café, a croissant, a cookie or a scone. Payment is later, on the honor system. And while you’re sipping, and musing, you can also take in the other habitués of this literary nook: teenagers doing homework together; tutors helping students with homework in English or French; friends chatting over tea; folks discussing a book together; scholars of every stripe buried in pages, or, of course, laptops. Curiously, all speak in hushed voices, as if careful not to disturb anyone else’s muse.


A Reader's Spot

A Reader’s Spot


In a city of many cultural treasures, bouk-een-bar is definitely an addition. As American French teacher Ron Wallace remarked on a recent visit, “I never expected to find a bookstore like this outside of Paris.”

But there it is, in the heart of Aix—the 21st arrondissement of Paris, as some would have it. If you come to Aix, you’ll definitely want to visit– and to buy some good books for the journey ahead as you check out.

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