Friday, May 04, 2007

la Première gorgée de bière

I wish I could track down copies of the English edition of this book which I picked in a wonderful bookshop in Oxford years ago. Obviously attracted by the title!+

Strange that a book, which was a solid bestseller in France never took off in English translation. We're left rather with the umpteenth edition of "Chicken soup for the soul". There seems to have been an American edition but I'm not sure it has the same stories.

Delerm narrates wonderful stories on the small pleasures of life as suggested by the title story.

As Observer reviewer John Walsh notes in this 1998 review the book has a very French flavour and were the concept to be applied to English life the stories may have a quite different hue.


LEAF WITH me a-while through The Small Pleasures of Life, an unexpected best-seller in France last year by a floppy-fringed exquisite called Philippe Delerm, which is now available in translation over here. A precious little volume, about as substantial as The Little Book Of Calm, only more elaborately poetic, it offers 34 meditations on tiny joys: the first sip of beer, eating a croissant in the street, the smell of apples, inhaling an anti- cold remedy, pulling on a new autumnal jumper - you get the picture. Some of M Delerm's "plaisirs minuscules" are a little hard to empathise with (Getting your espadrilles wet? The noise of a dynamo?), but you must take your chapeau off to a clever idea.

As you read these two-page epiphanies, however, it is impossible not to imagine how different an English version of the book would be. Instead of Philippe's educated raptures about railway-station travelators and small-town mobile libraries, there would be a lot about wet dogs, conkers, linseed oil on your first cricket bat, the words "Cromarty, Forth, German Bight", Water Splash at Battersea Fun Fair, the front-loading brassieres of public schoolgirls (M Delerm doesn't mention sex at all) and, instead of his ruminative, oh-so- French "first sip of beer", the frictionless texture of your sixth pint of Dogbolter bitter at the aftermath of a London wedding.

I am left wondering then, what South African flavour such a book might take were I too sit down and write it. Something I have oft thought about in fact.

Obviously the first sip of beer remains the keynote story, but it is now a beer that sheds a quick melting shard of ice as I carefully unwrap it from a layer of newspaper. I have haggled with hawkers on a busy street in Masvingo, Zimbabwe for that beer. It is early evening but still equatorially hot and I've still have the dusty tan that only standing in the sun and walking some kilometres on untarred roads can give you. The hawker reached deep into a gas-run deepfreeze for that beer and delivered with a smile. One for me, one for my best mate. Two sips of beer, one for me , one for Craig, sitting on a rock with a world's possessions in my backpack, a freshly pitched tent, a bumpy bus ride to Harare and a whole life ahead of us.

More please, from my dear readers.

+la Première gorgée de bière = (fr) the first sip of beer

PS. Am I ever-briefly back in your lens frame yet, Ant?
PPS. Val - no mail yet.

7 comments:

VallyP said...

Ooooh, I like this challenge...I'll be back..

And as for the success of the book in France, whatever people think of the French as a collective bunch, there's no doubt at all that they know how to savour the sweet things of life!

I shall be thinking of both African and Dutch contributions.

BTW the idea of the old boat with the old goat does have appeal..;-)

ATW said...

Looking fwd to yours Val.

VallyP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
VallyP said...

Right, one for South Africa:

Early morning in spring, and I mean really early. I step out of the door and feel that fresh bite of dew-filled air. It is keen and sharp and wakes me up. At the same time the penetrating warmth of the sun embraces me like a new skin. It's the kind of morning when I just know it's going to be hot and glorious later on. I can smell it in the air. Jasmine. That's it. And that spicy, musky smell that is the parched earth of Africa. The air positively sings. I run down the road to the Tea Room. They open at 7, and the wonderful smell of freshly made bread assails me. The cheerful Portuguese owner, Mannie, selects a piping hot, fresh loaf of crusty white bread. He puts it in a white paper bag, and leaving with it, still hot from the oven, I tear off great hunks from the crust and munch them as I walk back to the house. Village tea rooms, hot bread and fresh sunshine - or the other way rounf...Sublime. It’s just too much heaven for one day.

ATW said...

love it val.

Another Bridge said...

See my post on this book: http://clovelly4208.wordpress.com/2008/10/30/the-first-mouthful-of-beer/

Ҝ8 said...

I've read _Un été pour mémoire_ by Delerme and have been wondering if any English translations of his beautiful, lyric works exist. I'm the only one of my close friends and family who speaks French, and I'm heartbroken to not be able to share these wonderful pieces of literature with my loved ones. Also, I'm curious to see what gets lost in translation.... I certainly would be hesistant to attempt a translation myself. Please let me know an ISBN if anyone knows of a published translation!