My wife Joan and I recently came back from the Trouville Book Fair in Normandie. I signed books there along with many choice illustrators, including guest of honor Nathalie Novi, with a mind-blowing exhibit of her oil pastel illustrations. Nathalie is one of the most talented French illustrators of the "new" generation. Her work is rich in colors, warm and seductive, poetic, and at the same time inventive and full of energy.
Trouville, like its better known neighbor Deauville, both resort towns on the "English" Channel, used to be a fisherman's village. So were Saint-Tropez, Cannes and Monaco, but let's stay north, there's no reason to linger on the French Riviera unless you have the privilege to live at Cap d'Antibes or Cap Ferrat or in the lovely town of Eze, perched on a cliff above the Mediterranean. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who recently bought a "home" (château de Miraval) fifteen minutes away from our own, must have noticed that inland Provence is far more interesting and unspoiled than any location on the coast itself.
In the turn of the century both Deauville and Trouville quickly became fashionable spots for "le tout Paris" of the time. The photographer Lartigue was a frequent visitor, so were Marcel Proust and Flaubert, and painters such as Dufy, Manet, Marquet.... The palace hotel (now divided into private apartments) and rococo villas, the boardwalk along the beach and small shops give the place an air of melancholy and loneliness that I find quite moving.
Joan and I noted once again how very well intellectuals and creative people in general are treated in France. The Book Fair catered to each of us with no restraint, from the paid travel fare to a very comfortable room, exquisite meals (oysters and other sea food, foie gras, quality champagne, etc. which—as expected from people in our profession—we devoured as a swarm of locusts). Of course, a stipend was also included. In the company of major authors and illustrators, my table at the signing was stacked with 8 or 9 of my books.
As I visited three consecutive schools, I was surprised by the maturity of the 8 to 11 year old children I was addressing; they studied Italo Calvino's "Palomar" and "Difficult Loves" (in the adult editions I illustrated) and one boy at least had a passion for Obama to the point of plastering his bedroom wall with photos of him. I was happy to give him my Obama button which he seemed to cherish much more than he would have any pop singer memento.
We are now back in Cotignac, our Medieval village. It has rained today. Our windows are open, the cool scent of night drifts in, along with the rhythmic croaking of frogs. As old as our home, both built in the middle of the 17th century, the fountain on Place de la Mairie, "Town Hall Square", trickles softly as it has for generations.