Saturday, 22 April 2017

Classics Illustrated

American edition
When speaking to English people about comic strips, I often smell an air of disdain on this subject. I can't really blame them; if comic strips were only associated with Donald Duck, Superman, Spiderman and the like I would not be very impressed with the idea either. However, on the continent, and certainly in countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and France nowadays comic strips are widely appreciated, by children, grown-ups and intellectuals alike. When I was a kid however, times were slightly different. I sometimes borrowed a comic strip book (like Lucky Luke, "the man who shoots faster than his shadow") from my little friends, and my parents frowned upon it. Even Donald Duck was seen as a danger for my sensitive children's soul…. My parents found a solution, and made me a member of the public library. The problem with the books there was simple: the library decided which books were appropriate for your age group, and I was condemned to the equivalent of the Ladybird books, whilst knowing there were good, thrilling books available about e.g. Cowboys and Indians. Fortunately I had friends whose parents were not as narrow-minded (or as observant) as my parents were, and I managed to borrow decent books for young boys, like the Winnetou and Old Shatterhand series (Westerns) by the German writer Karl May or the translated "Famous Five" books by Enid Blyton. Anyway, that is how I discovered Classics Illustrated.

Dutcch edition
Of course in those days I was unaware of the fact that this was originally an American series with translated books from world literature in small size comic strip form. They were simply great books with juicy stories. My memory fails me, but somehow titles like "Robinson Crusoe" and "Moby Dick" spring to mind. It definitely was my first encounter with great books of great writers, albeit in condensed comic strip format. In later life I caught up reading the originals.
A few weeks ago I entered, unsuspectedly, the Tabac in Cormatin to buy a newspaper, when I noticed on the shelf a comic strip edition of "Around the world in 80 days", in French, published by Le Monde.

French edition
Since I like comic strips as well as Jules Verne, I bought the book and finished it in no time. It appeared, that Le Monde has a series in the making not dissimilar to Classics Illustrated. The 2nd book was "Treasure Island", the 3rd "The hunchback of Notre Dame". At the back there was an overview of the volumes to be published, with titles not dissimilar to those published in my youth. However, these books are printed on proper paper, in colour, and in French standard Comic Book size. If you want to read a book in French, and you have a choice between a Comic Strip in two volumes of 48 pages each (Like "The wretched"), or the original version of over 1200 pages, which is using the passé simple all the time, the choice is not so difficult. The only dilemma I have is this: am I going for the full series of 29 volumes at € 9.00 per volume, or am I going to skip the titles I am not terribly keen on (like "Jungle Book" or "A Christmas carol")? As a habitual collector, which I certainly am, skipping volumes does not sound very professional….

The first three volumes of Le Monde's series
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Saturday, 8 April 2017

The community of Taizé

The bells of Taizé
I am woken up every morning by the bells of Taizé, the single bell for the monks rings out at 07.45 for about 5 minutes, calling the monks to their morning prayer then the bells start in earnest at 08.15 and ring until 08.30, letting all the pilgrims at Taizé know that the service is about to start. When the bells stop I know I really must get up. The bells ring from 12.15 to 12.30, so I know lunch should be on the table and if dinner is not ready when the evening bells go at 20.15, I know I am very late. And that was what Taizé was to me when I arrived here in 2005.

After Easter in 2006 we went to Taizé to have a look around and we were amazed at the number of young people milling around. We didn’t go to a service as that seemed inappropriate, with all these kids around it seemed like a young person’s thing. I wanted to go to a service, but I didn’t know how it worked, so I didn’t dare go alone. In July some campers (Ans and Simon) arrived, she had been to Taizé for the first time that spring and wanted to camp nearby to take in a few services and tempt her husband to go too. He however wasn’t interested and she didn’t dare go alone. At last my chance to go to a service, so on a Friday evening Ans and I went up the hill to Taizé.

A service in Taizé (Photo © Arnd Waidelich)
The services are made up of singing and silence. The songs are mesmerising. With pilgrims from all over the world the songs need to be simple to enable everyone to sing. There are a mixture of languages, Latin, German and some sort of Slavonic language are the most popular with French, English and Spanish there too. Each song has two lines and these are sung over and over again. The songs are a mixture of four voices, rounds and solo singing with the congregation singing the chorus. It is not to everyone’s taste, but I absolutely love them. In every service there is silence, five minutes of it. Five minutes is a very long time and it is quite amazing that a church full of people can be so quiet for so long. The singing continues after the monks have left and on a Friday and Saturday night this can go on into the early hours of the morning I have been told.

Pottery made by the brothers
The peace that pervades in a service is tangible and I can quite understand why some people come back year after year, just to regain that and to take a little bit of serenity back home with them. It is definitely not just a young person’s thing at all. Everyone is welcome to the services. Many, many of the visitors in our gîtes or on the campsite come for Taizé, to take part in a couple of services while being on holiday and enjoying other things that this area has to offer. Something not to be missed is a look at the stunning pottery the monks make to pay for their upkeep.

Special service - 5 years ago: Frère Roger killed; 70 years ago: he arrived in Taizé (2010)

We get many questions about how to walk or cycle to Taizé from here, so we have made some maps of the various routes and posted them in a photo album. Click here for those routes.

Text Sue Nixon

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