Wednesdays With Romain Gary – Part Five

February 12, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

Gary_LecturesLife is a serious matter because of its futility. That’s what M. Cousin says in Gros Câlin. (1974). I have written two billets about this bittersweet tale of a sensitive and lonely man who lives with a python named Gros Câlin. Câlin is a word that means cuddle. The accent on the a makes the a last a bit longer. It sounds like the softness of a mother, the tenderness of a lover and it evokes warmth and happiness. Strange that a python might be named like this. It’s one of my favourite Gary and if you’re really fluent in French, it’s worth reading. It’s beautifully written and totally different from anything you’ve read before.

The first quote is about brotherhood, a theme often present in Gary’s books. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood) is France’s motto and the immigrant Roman Kacew still hiding behind Romain Gary believed in that slogan. Gary was also scarred by war and he had a strong experience of brotherhood in his combat unit. (He was in England, in an airplane squad.). It’s important to him, so I picked that quote:

Je pense que la fraternité, c’est un état de confusion grammaticale entre je et eux, moi et lui, avec possibilités. I think that brotherhood is a state of grammatical confusion between I and them, me and him, with possibilities. Translation kindly reviewed by Erik McDonald.

I love the way he pictures the feeling and twists the language on his way.

The second quote is typically Gary too. Gros Câlin is about loneliness. Cousin is isolated, anonymous in a big city and Gary nails down the feeling when Cousin describes his hesitation about beds:

Les lits m’ont toujours posé des problèmes. S’ils sont étroits, pour une seule personne, ils vous foutent dehors, en quelque sorte, ils vous coupent vos efforts d’imagination. Ca fait I, sans ambages, sans ménagement. « T’es seul mon vieux et tu sais bien que tu le resteras » Je préfère donc les lits à deux places, qui s’ouvrent sur l’avenir, mais c’est là que se présente l’autre côté du dilemme. Les dilemmes sont tous des peaux de cochons, soit dit en passant, j’en ai pas connu d’aimables. Car avec un lit pour deux chaque soir et toute la journée samedi et dimanche, on se sent encore plus seul que dans un lit pour un, qui vous donne au moins une excuse d’être seul. Beds have always been a problem for me. If they’re narrow, single beds, they throw you out, in a way; they cut short all your efforts of imagination. It makes an I, without beating around the bush, bluntly. “You’re on your own, my friend, and you know you’ll stay that way.” I therefore prefer double beds, which are open to the future but that’s where the other side of the dilemma comes in. Dilemmas are bitches, by the way, I’ve never known a nice one. Because with a bed for two, every night and all day Saturday and Sunday, you feel lonelier than you would in a bed for one, which at least gives you an excuse for being alone.  Translation kindly reviewed by Erik McDonald

This is Gary at his finest: funny and serious, talking about a serious matter through a futile preoccupation.

Please, can a publisher contact Alexandre Diego Gary who’s in charge of his father’s work and acquire the rights to translate this wonderful novel into English? Meanwhile, for other readers, it exists in German (Monsieur Cousin und die Einsamkeit der Riesenschlangen.), in Italian (Mio caro pitone), in Spanish (Mimos) and probably in other languages too. What is the Anglophone world waiting for?

  1. February 12, 2014 at 7:12 pm

    I was going to ask you what ‘calin’ meant. Actually the name makes sense. I owned a ball python once (by default, long story) and sometimes he’d escape. I’d go looking for him all over the house and I’d find him attached to something–once it was the stair banister, and he’s wrap around it tightly. He was equally happy wrapping around your arm too.

    • February 12, 2014 at 11:57 pm

      This one wraps itself around M. Cousin and he feels less lonely.
      Gros Câlin escapes too: there’s a hilarious passage when he goes to the apartment downstairs through the toilet pipe and brushes at the neighbour’s bottom when she’s using the facilities.

      PS: I couldn’t touch a snake, I don’t even think about owning one.

  2. February 12, 2014 at 11:16 pm

    I loved La Vie devant soi but struggled with Les racines du Ciel, so I wanted to read a third Gary. Gros Câlin will be it. Thanks!

    • February 12, 2014 at 11:59 pm

      Gros Câlin is excellent, you’ll find the same style as in La vie devant so I.

  3. acommonreaderuk
    February 13, 2014 at 10:01 pm

    I shall await a translation with interest. I think Guy should tell us more about his experiences with the python!

    • February 13, 2014 at 10:19 pm

      I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for a long time before it’s translated. “Sigh”
      Yes Guy, we want to know more about the python.

  4. February 15, 2014 at 8:01 am

    Beautiful quotes, Emma. Loved both of them. The first one – “brotherhood is a state of grammatical confusion between I and them” – is so beautiful. I loved the insight and the paradox in the second one. Thanks for sharing. I hope all of Gary’s books come out in English.

    • February 16, 2014 at 3:59 pm

      His books are full of quotes like this one. The second one is typically Gary: a mundane situation seen as much more.

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