DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — My Favorite Cemetery

Accompanied by Dorette’s son-in-law, Paul Kuhns, I’m heading to Paris next week to attend the International Hemingway Conference. I also expect to visit again the most famous graveyard in the world, the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, established by Napoleon in 1804.

The cemetery is huge ― 110 acres ― with more than 1 million individuals buried there. Most were ordinary folks. But people from around the world come to see the final resting places of an unusual number of famous artists, writers, musicians and other public figures.

No, Hemingway is not there (look for his grave in Ketchum, Idaho). But Marcel Proust, the author of “In Search of Lost Time,” is. Dorette took this picture in 2005 of me paying respects at his grave.

I’ve long been fascinated with both of them. Hemingway goes back further in my reading history.

As for Proust, I took John Updike’s advice that it’s best to read him in your 40s because it takes that long to accumulate experiences that will make the novel most relevant to your own inner life.

And it was, in fact, at about that age I became obsessed with all 1,267,069 words of the “Search,” all of which I still compulsively read once a year in English translation.

There are many interesting graves in the cemetery. American authors Gertrude Stein and Richard Wright are there, as well as U.S. rock star Jim Morrison, who receives more public attention.

Nearby is Irish writer Oscar Wilde.

Among others are Sarah Bernhart, Frederic Chopin, Georges Bizet, Isadora Duncan, Eugene Delacroix, Dominique Ingres, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (better known by his stage name Moliere), Sidonie Colette, Amedeo Modigliani, Yves Montand, Nadar, Edith Piaf, Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat and Simone Signoret.

Tourists receive a free map. I like its closing comment, presented in seven languages:

“And now, let the pages of history turn to the rhythm of your footsteps, and the baroque monuments still you with their gentle poetry, leading you into a quietness propitious to meditation.”

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — A Proustian Moment

Here’s another photo from my visit Tuesday to the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum not far from our place in Bloomington, Minn.

These are hawthorn blossoms, French writer Marcel Proust’s favorite flower.

When I got home, I looked up what he had to say about them. Those who haven’t read Proust will notice he used long sentences.

“I found the whole path throbbing with the fragrance of hawthorn-blossom. The hedge resembled a series of chapels, whose walls were no longer visible under the mountains of flowers that were heaped upon their altars; while underneath, the sun cast a square of light upon the ground, as though it had shone in upon them through a window; the scent that swept out over me from them was as rich, and as circumscribed in its range, as though I had been standing before the Lady-altar, and the flowers, themselves adorned also, held out each its little bunch of glittering stamens with an air of inattention, fine, radiating ‘nerves’ in the flamboyant style of architecture, like those which, in church, framed the stair to the rood-loft or closed the perpendicular tracery of the windows, but here spread out into pools of fleshy white, like strawberry-beds in spring.

“How simple and rustic, in comparison with these, would seem the dog-roses which, in a few weeks’ time, would be climbing the same hillside path in the heat of the sun, dressed in the smooth silk of their blushing pink bodices, which would be undone and scattered by the first breath of wind.

“But it was in vain that I lingered before the hawthorns, to breathe in, to marshal before my mind (which knew not what to make of it), to lose in order to rediscover their invisible and unchanging odor, to absorb myself in the rhythm which disposed their flowers here and there with the light-heartedness of youth, and at intervals as unexpected as certain intervals of music; they offered me an indefinite continuation of the same charm, in an inexhaustible profusion, but without letting me delve into it any more deeply, like those melodies which one can play over a hundred times in succession without coming any nearer to their secret.”

Yup, that’s exactly what it was like Tuesday.

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — Bois du Boulogne

I shot this photo in Monday of a professional dog walker in the Bois du Boulogne, the large park on the edge of Paris, which figures in Marcel Proust’s novel, “A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu.”

Over my lifetime, I’ve read this work more than once in English translation (all 3,031 pages in seven volumes), and some of it in the original language, thanks to the basic French I learned via a staff tuition waiver program at the University of North Dakota.

Is Proust, who died in 1922, still relevant?

I think so. His novel continues to sell worldwide, and I purchased two new biographies before we departed from France on Wednesday.

On past visits to the Bois, I’ve made a point of walking around its lakes and on the broad promenades such as the former L’allée des Acacias, now mostly roads crowded with automobiles.

Even so, Dorette, her granddaughter, Avery, and I enjoyed our time there, although the experience troubled me somewhat. The place seemed “different.”

Then I recalled that Proust’s fictional narrator, now an elderly man like me, remembering his youth, had felt a similar disenchantment.

The novel is set in the Belle Epoch when the Bois was the place where on Sundays strolled the most beautiful women of Paris, including one of Proust’s most famous characters, Odette Swann.

The narrator, after reminiscing about long-ago days, describes what he now sees:

“Nature was resuming its reign over the Bois, from which had vanished all trace of the idea that it was the Elysian Garden of Women; above the gimcrack windmill the real sky was grey; the wind wrinkled the surface of the Grand Lac in little wavelets, like a real lake; large birds flew swiftly over the Bois, as over a real wood, and with shrill cries perched one after another on the great oaks which, beneath their Druidical crown, and with Dodonian majesty, seemed to proclaim the inhuman emptiness of this deconsecrated forest, and helped me to understand how paradoxical it is to seek in reality for the pictures that are stored in one’s memory, which must inevitably lose the charm that comes to them from memory itself.”

A good lesson for someone my age. In fact, I intend to go to the Bois to have it repeated next year when I’m in Paris again, hopefully, for the Hemingway Society’s biennial conference.

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — Odette And Swann

I took this picture May 31, 2005, of a movie actress taking a break during filming along the Seine River in Paris

She reminds me of Odette de Crécy, an unforgettable character in Marcel Proust’s “Swann In Love,” a component of his larger work “In Search of Lost Time.”

Although Proust died in 1922, “the Search” continues to be read around the world and France regards him as one of its greatest literary sons.

For example, in New York last year Dorette and I noticed the French Consulate on Fifth Avenue is named “Odette” and has a Proust exhibit in its library.

I’ve been re-reading “Swann” as Dorette and I prepare to leave Saturday for Paris with her granddaughter, Avery Dusterhoft. We’ll be in France for 11 days, including May 31.

It should be great, especially for teenager Avery. But can 12 years have gone by since I shot this photo?

DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — A Proustian Moment

It’s been said “you can’t go home again.”

Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel with that title. Ernest Hemingway often returned to places that had been important in his life, such as the spot in Italy where he had been wounded in World War I. But invariably, he arrived at the same conclusion.

My favorite French author, Marcel Proust (his novel was translated in English as “Remembrance of Things Past”), believed one could go home again in memory, but even that, in today’s jargon, “was complicated.”

I snapped this photo on Saturday in Bismarck, N.D., of a big old house at 930 N. Fourth Street, converted long ago into small rental units.

Seeing it gave me a “Proustian” moment. I was flashed back 50 years to June 1966, when I lived on the top floor. Bismarck’s population then was less than 30,000; today it is nearly 70,000.

These days, the apartment would be called a “studio,” consisting of a room with a fake fireplace and a sofa that converted into a bed, and another room with a small stove, refrigerator, sink, and tiny adjacent toilet-shower combination.

My parents loaned me a bookshelf as well as a “coffee table” to place in front of the sofa. I stored my clothing in the trunk I had taken to college.

Since I was alone most of the time, I used any available floor space to stack books, file boxes, and a portable record player.

I had just graduated from Northwestern and taken a job in the Bill Guy Administration. My duties involved public information tasks in the State Highway Department, including tourism promotion. After hours, I was expected (with no additional pay) to help edit the Democratic-NPL Party’s newspaper, “The Leader.”

I worked in the Capitol building, where meeting young women was easier than I had ever imagined. Most were of German descent. One who saw my apartment was so appalled by the week’s worth of dirty dishes in the sink that she insisted on washing them.

From there, my career took me to the University of North Dakota, then to St. Cloud State University and finally back to UND ,where I remained until I took early retirement in 2005.

Since the recent Bismarck visit, I’ve wondered how many dwelling places I’ve lived in since my year at 930 N. Fourth Street.

I’m a pack rat, so I do have some documentation: copies of all of the federal income tax forms I’ve filed since 1966.

So far, I’ve resided in 17 places, all but once as a renter, for periods ranging from one to eight years (the longest stint in the Ware House Apartments in Grand Forks, N.D.).

My current abode is with my partner Dorette Kerian in Bloomington, Minn., where we’ve now been for going on five years. Previously, we lived for six years on Primrose Court in Grand Forks as well as a briefly in Eden Prairie, Minn.

One thing is for certain.

If I thought that girl of German descent was demanding about household cleanliness and neatness in my 1966 place in Bismarck, I still had much to learn when I hooked up with Dorette, who is of Polish-Czech ancestry but with the same attitude.

But, fortunately for me, she is reasonably tolerant about what I do — or don’t do —- in her house.