Jacques Reda - his style is an homage to the long sentence made of complex clauses with subordinates that intricately follow each other—a perfect mastery of grammar as logic-machine
Jacques Réda, Europes, Trans. by Aaron Prevots, Host Publications, 2009.
Bilingual edition . In EUROPES, published in French in 2005 and appearing here as a complete bilingual edition, Jacques Reda takes the reader on a leisurely, lyrical journey across the continent, from the bucolic pastures of Switzerland to the urban emptiness of industrial Dresden, and from the monumental churches of Ravenna to the colorful streets of his beloved Paris. Reda's encounters and observations are at once exhilarating and familiar, subverting preconceived notions of travel and home, and providing an unforgettable glimpse of a landscape in flux. With its sumptuous blend of poetry and prose, EUROPES is an endearing and idiosyncratic travelogue.
With his Proust-like ramblings, Europes is Jacques Réda's entertaining reflection upon the various selves that surface in different locales across the continent. In fact, often the named country provides only the most tangential entry point for the inner world into which he dives. Take for example a passage from Switzerland. IV. The Eagle: We had the feeling of belonging to a collegial club for the chosen few: we had seen the eagle.This is how revealed religions and their martyrs are born. Had we been threatened with irons, fire, boiling hot oil, we would still have persisted: an eagle, the Eagle, I saw it, I'm telling you. My Belgian friend was with me. These are the thoughts of a man who is much more concerned with his inner landscapes than ones the train passes through, one who tells the reader about what he would like to have seen rather than the reality that disappointed him. --Roy Wang, NewPages.com
After having published Return to Calm, Host Publications now offers us another book by Jacques Réda, also bilingual and also in Aaron Prevots’s translation—Europes. If in an “official” way Europes could be called a “travel essay,” the book’s fluid character undermines this characterization. Recording the fleeting instants of the narrator’s peregrinations, Europes includes essays on Portugal, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Scandinavia and France—one or two essays followed by one or more poems for each country. The poems are “poèmes de circonstance,” that is, topical poems, in this case, poems on the countries described in the preceding essays, written in the tradition of Raymond Queneau: playful, silly, ironically rhymed.
Réda is what the French call a flâneur, a roamer who enjoys his anonymous status in a city’s labyrinth. When a flâneur crosses a border into a new territory he becomes a tourist. The difference between a flâneur and a tourist is that a tourist usually has a destination and certain goals—“Today is Paris Disneyland, tomorrow Auschwitz.” Réda is that rare species of tourist-flâneur; more a traveler than a tourist, he doesn’t entirely belong to the first category either, since as early as the eighteenth century it was common for travelers to have a project: that of letting themselves be formed by the experience of travel. Réda wants to be neither formed nor informed by his travels, he simply has “la bougeotte,” as the French would say, i.e., he can’t stay put.
Although Réda’s style is very literary, he is no snob, and he probably wouldn’t mind being called a tourist. With complete lack of snobbery, he declares that he loves supermarkets “for themselves,” a love only natural for someone who has grown up in poverty (after all, to despise richness is a luxury only the rich can afford). But this confession is immediately followed by an unexpected critical reflection: supermarkets are “counter-museums” or “museums of the instant,” Réda says, “whose instants are accessible, consumable, nearly straightaway consumed but indefinitely renewable . . .”
--Daniela Hurezanu, Three Percent
Jacques Réda (b. 1929) is the author of more than forty books, including works of poetry, autobiographical prose, short novels, and essays on topics ranging from jazz to city life to literature. A cultural icon and eminent literary figure in mainland Europe, he is the recipient of numerous honors, including the Prix Valery Larbaud (1983), the Grand Prix de l'Academie Francaise (1993) and the Prix Louis Mandin (2005), all three awarded in recognition of his lifetime's achievements. Reda's books available from SPD include EUROPES (Host Publications, 2009) and RETURN TO CALM (Host Publications, 2007).