Sunday, November 8, 2009
Red Wolf Conspiracy/Rats & the Ruling Sea European Mini-Tour, Part II
Okay, I’ll be straight with you: I’m home and recovering. Eleven days in France passed in a happy dream. For the first six, Kiran and I were having the Paris experience: first time around for both of us, and a good excuse to act like 18-year-olds on the backpack circuit once again. We did a number of predictable things (Café de Flore, Sacre Coeur) and a few not so predictable, like spending seven hours in the gardens of Versaille with our NYU/art history professor friend Christina Vankoehler. It was amusing to learn of the messages Louis XIV intended to convey with all those incredible sculptures. Here, for instance, are some Lycian peasants becoming frogs. The myth is from Ovid’s Metamorphoses; the peasants are turned into frogs after they muddy the water where Latona, mother of Apollo and Diana, wanted to drink. Louis was sending the aristocracy a warning: don't mess your betters or you'll end up squashed into the nether mud-zone. Let them eat flies.
The place we rented was in Montparnasse, a short walk from the Jardins du Luxembourg. It had a little kitchen (helpful in a town where a sandwhich on the street can run you $14) and even came with a neighborhood cat (I half expected her collar to have a tag identifying her as property of the Ministry of Tourism).
Then came Utopiales ’09, the big SF/F celebration in the city of Nantes. I had an absolute blast. Like any conference or convention, the greatest pleasure was the people. I found the attendees kind, smart, enthusiastic and hungry to debate ideas. Who could ask for more?
In addition to my incredibly cool French editor Bénédicte Lombardo and her equally brilliant partner Olivier Girard (also an editor & co-founder of the journal Bifrost), I had the good luck to spend time with scores of other authors. Among them were Ugo Bellagamba (who moderated a number of panels and can speak volumes about pirates), Michel Pagel (who is also my translator, and a prizewinner at that, as well as a terrifically smart guy), Pierre Bordage, Stephen Baxter, Sarah Ash, Hal Duncan (who apparently draws energy directly from gravitons or cell-phone signals or the nearest wall socket, because the man just doesn't sleep), and Stéphane Beauverger, who took the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire for his novel Le Déchronologue (never have I seen a happier soul). Also loved meeting writer, journalist & lit student Annaïg Houesnard, who took me and Hal visit a jaw-dropping steampunk menagerie, “les machines de l'ile de Nantes”. Words fail me: these creations are works of art on an industrial scale, beautiful fusions of wood and iron sculpture—and they do things! Here’s a shot of the Grand Elephant, which actually walks, blinks, moves her ears, blows steam from her trunk....
I also had the great good luck to be interviewed seven times during that week. The footage of one of these is already online (only my answers are in English, however). Odd how many fingers my hand seems to grow each time I gesture.
All told, a splendid sojourn, and a much-needed breather from The River of Shadows: my only serious pause in six months, I hasten to add. The idea, see, is that a clean break like this can recharge your batteries even as it empties your bank account, so that you return freed from the temptation to indulge in further distractions, and so stimulated by the good company that you're twice as productive as before—as long as you keep the post-travel blogging to a minimum.