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Amber Paulen

Jean Giono

Blue Boy

19 March 2007


It was during a segmented reading of Henry Miller’s The Books in My Life that I stumbled across the title Blue Boy. Then finding a copy on a shelf in Moe’s Books, Berkeley, I decided I must read it. Three months ago I read Joy of Man’s Desiring also by Giono, who led me to Miller’s chapter, who led me back to Giono, a French sensualist. By the word sensualist, the connection between the two men should be apparent. It’s Giono’s deep connection with the world, persistent communion with nature and its people pulled Miller in, body and soul; he praises this man from the rooftops. Vivid depictions course through Joy of Man’s Desiring, pulsing with a simple reverence for the French countryside, its obstacles and its illuminations, such a heightened tangibility caused me think I too stood in that river. The same river that poured down on Billy at the end of the book, the river that is the buck, brought to the farmers to show them freedom.

There is a certain nostalgia that captivated me when I read Joy of Man’s Desiring, transporting me to a forgotten summer morning. The descriptions of Giono’s French countryside in the early twentieth century are hands full of earth. Rich and fecund the soil drops in moist black clumps out of my hands as an earthworm snakes its way through my fingers, wet and unknown in its downward struggle for the ground. In this book men are men, with pillared thighs and taught fore-arms, they tend to the land and to their livestock, wiping the sweat from their brow at the end of each day. The women are women, from the fleshy matrons to the adolescents, each with a feminine odor, described in curious detail in Blue Boy. Their hips sway languidly through Giono’s work, singing as they prepare a feast, enjoying it hungrily, flirting across the table with another woman’s husband. The prose of Jean Giono is a remembrance of time past, of provincial grey-stoned villages where church bells resonate across the cobbled streets, religiously calling out the hour. The bells vibrate until reaching the ears of the cobbler’s son, who is sitting alone in the attic, staring at a piece of mold he believes to be a woman’s face.

Jean Giono writes Blue Boy with the voice of an aged sensualist divulging in the attention span of a child. The cohering element, creating knots along the same thread, is Giono’s experience as a child. Henry Miller believed this book to be part memoir of Giono’s father, who was a simple man, a cobbler by trade, performing as healer in intermittent stints. This father was a man who opened avenues wider then Jean, as a young boy, could have widened for himself. He noticed the sensualist and spurred him on. Yes, he is an impressive man, walking kilometers to sit on a patch of land, just to listen to the plants grow. Though my own impressions of this book are something of a regressive memoir of childhood, something akin to Proust in mere idea. Honestly I found this book a bit difficult to keep up with. Comparing it to the easy flow of Joy of Man’s Desiring, Blue Boy jumps and skips with all the wiliness of a child’s conversation. It is the beautiful and knowing images that forced me to finish this book to the end, for Giono as a child is even more tactile than Giono as a man.

As soon as one knows the interior passages of the air, one can depart at will from one’s present and one’s cares. One has only to choose the sounds, the colors, the odors which give the necessary transparence to the permeable air to dilute the pores of time and one enters time like an oil.

Jean, the boy, sits alone in the attic. On the first floor there buzzes his mother’s laundry interspersed with chatter from the girls who work there. On the second floor sits his father, prying with leather and form, fixing a shoes in patient persistence. Jean is staring at a patch of mold. The walls before him throb with music, played and conducted by the two men on the opposite side, one on the flute the other on the violin. Through the small window, to his right, drifts the sounds of the courtyard where the sheep plod heavily through dung and wool, uniting with the song of the dark woman from across the ocean, “Tapa mé, tapa méta pamé.” It is the landscape of a child’s raw imagination allowed to flounder and surface wherever he is drawn. The mold becomes a lady’s face, expressing every emotion ever felt. He stares deeply into her eyes, he covets her mouth, feeling ‘its beauty coming from its profound humanity.’ Jean, the boy, is as open as a sponge.

As Jean passes into adolescence he is sent by his father to the countryside to live with a farmer of obscure personage. He becomes the prodigious shepherd, sleeping with his flock as he eagerly flips through the pages of the Iliad. I cannot help but to connect all this to this man as a writer, bound to the quick of life. The earth has always been alive below him. ‘All this was not only an image perceived by our senses, but an existence, a pasture for our senses, something solid and strong which had no need of us for its existence, which had existed before us and would continue to exist after we are gone.’

There is validity in Jean Giono’s poetry for this generation and those to come, for the natural beauty that surrounds us is fading fast. The cause may not be a lack of respect, but a lack of connection to the soil which is constantly below us, for there is a constant layer of concrete between our feet and the ground. The sensuality of Giono’s writing comes to us from the time when the land was not as plundered, where neighbors were known for who they were because there was not quite so many of them. There is no excuse for dropping the connection. It is the simple act of breathing that Giono’s words are attempting to convey. Breathing in tune with the great breath of the world, an open and connected breath where all things are allowed to pass gracefully through, like a sponge. Breathe in, breathe out. There you go. Connection.



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