Drawings by Jabes on the manuscript of The Book of Questions
The place that felt to me just as holy as all the churches I visited (the Dourade with its Black Madonna that I described in my last post) is a large bookstore called Librairie Ombres Blanches (white shade/shadows). When I entered there was the same holy hush of a multifarious array of people. And poetry (unlike in the States, where it is banished to some obscure corner, usually downstairs) is right there at the entrance. Poetry with newly released editions by Classic authors such as Baudelaire. Then an extensive poetry section in a prominent part of the Literature section of the bookstore. There was an article in The New York Times about this phenomenon—about the French people's undying love for the physical book and physical bookstore—and I found it to be completely true. And there were so many altars at which to worship and I made my contribution at the cash register.
Jabes in 1952 while still living in Egypt
I write this on an electronic device and admit that the majority of my reading matter is saved on various devices: from the IPad, to the Kindle, to the IPhone. But what I miss is the sensuous pleasure of the book: the feel of paper in my hands, be it toothy, card-stock cover or smooth, glossy paper. The smell of a new book when I open it. These are primal pleasures that began for me in childhood and they continue. (I'm sure one day there'll be an app for that—the feel of paper and the smell of it—but God help us, I hope not.)
fragment from The Book of Questions scrawled on a Paris metro ticket
As I have written before, I have an obsession with the Egyptian/French Jewish writer Edmond Jabes, that had gotten submerged for many years but the obsession breached once I knew I was going to France, one more exilic Jew. He's filed under poetry in France. I went to have a look and there were many of the books in French that I already owned—mine, of course, translated into English by the brilliant translator Rosemary Waldrop. Then, a surprise: a brand new compendium on Jabes, just published to coincide with an exhibit to commemorate Jabes's centenary, which had taken place in Paris through June. [I can't tell you the editors nor the publisher because my "Blogsy" app swallowed the first two completed drafts of this post and I'm now on a train without the book having to completely rewrite!!!] This is the kind of book I adore when I am passionate about a writer (Kafka and Pessoa being two other examples). There are old photos, manuscript pages, letters he wrote and received, broadsides, an interview, essays by others, drawings.
Three aphorisms by Jabes and illustration by Eduard Chilliada (1975), which hung in Jabes's study
Three Aphorisms by Jabes:
The line is desire granted by one point for another. The shortest way.
The first breath comes from the remotest past; the last breath still owes itself to its own indifference.
That which is ungraspable is eternal.