Authors, Books, Chateau Vincennes, Festival America, First Peoples, Hector Tobar, Louise Erdrich, Paris, Toni Morrison, Travel, Writers

Toni Morrison and Louise Erdrich in Chateau Vincennes


Amada and I, the two Latinas in Paris,  just returned from Chateau Vincennes where we spent the day attending the huge “Festival America: Literature and Cultures of the Americas,” that took place throughout this past weekend.

A couple of weeks ago we saw a poster in the metro of a big old truck with Festival America-looked interesting, to writers such as we are, so we got on the internet and found their website.

We shrieked when we read that this years guest of honor was Toni Morrison, Pulitzer Prize recipient for her novel “Beloved.” She also has a Nobel Prize in Literature. Louise Erdrich, author of 14 novels, including “The Plague of Doves,” was also going to be there as well as Hector Tobar, another Pulitzer Prize winner and Los Angeles Times Journalist. He is the author of “The Barbarian Nurseries.” 

First we had to find out how to get to the Chateau-pretty easy with the Paris Metro website and iPhone app. It’s about 30 minutes away. We made our way there on Friday afternoon and visited the Chateau itself, royal home of Charles V, and famous for housing the Marquis de Sade in one of its prison cells. (PS- This place has one of the best audio guides I’ve ever rented-very detailed). 

by Edward S. Curtis-1903 
The festival took place in the center of town, in front of the Hotel Del Ville (City Hall) among white tents with a yellow tee pee. Now the tee pee is there as part of the First Peoples exhibition. 

The festival commemorated  the 520th anniversary of the discovery of the American continent by devoting a series of discussions, screenings, and 8 photography exhibits with the theme of the First Peoples, Inuits, and Indians North and South.

Now back to Toni Morrison. When she entered the stage, via wheelchair, she received a standing ovation. It was a very crowded auditorium with people standing alongside the walls and aisles.( I don’t think they have fire codes like the USA). 
Toni Morrison
Everything was conducted in French, with interpreters by the English speaking authors, so I had to wait until the applause died down to understand what was said.  It was noted that she is 81 years old and has been writing for decades. Ms. Morrison has a soft high pitched voice, very pleasant and resonant.  Her gentle lovely response:

 “My mind is alive, I am alive, and I can make other people alive too, through writing…”

 She credited Carlos Fuentes, Marquez, and James Baldwin as some of her influences. 

Louise Erdrich was also on stage with her interpreter.

She commented that she attended a presentation by Toni Morrison decades ago. “…I remember the first time I heard you…at Dartmouth…you read a piece of Beloved. I experienced this surge…this power of writing, so visceral…you gave me the grace and freedom to write.” 

To which Ms. Morrison commented, “…reading Louise’s first book was love at first sight…the purity of her words…” caught her attention. 

Unfortunately, we could not find the panel where Hector Tobar spoke, but I’m sure I can see him back in Southern California. (Did I mention that the programs were all in French too?)
There was more to the discussion on Ms. Morrison’s writing, but frankly it was hard to follow since the discussion was in 3/4 french (with the questions asked in French with no English translation) and 1/4 English. 
After the presentation we looked for Ms. Morrison, among the throng of people, so we could get our book signed. Alas, she was gone. Louise Erdrich though did stay,we had our books signed and had a chance to tell her how much we love her work. 

I’m glad Amada and I took a chance and attended the festival. What I came away with was that contemporary writers are influenced by other great writers, it is important to read great literature, and you have to remain faithful to your voice and write because you are driven to write, not for prizes or accolades, but to get the story inside of you out there in the best possible way. Now I know I didn’t have to go to France to hear that, but it sure made for a cool adventure.

Amada Irma Perez, Connelles, France, La Residence Normandie, Latina writer, Normandy, Paris, Seine, Travel, Writing

Writers in Connelles, Normandy, France Day 1

Amada Cafe St. Lazare, Paris
It took a plane, bus, train, and taxi but we made it to Connelles, Upper Normandy, France 18 hours after departing LAX. Our first stop, Cafe St. Lazare, with mon ami Amada. 

the pit Paris, Fr. 

The bathrooms in old buildings require strong thighs and an overwhelming urgency to go.
I decided to wait until we walked to Gare St. Lazare Train Station. The .50 E worth it. Talked with very nice people in cafe and station, very helpful teenagers helped with luggage-just because. It helps so much to know some French.

We arrived at the village of Connelles 1 hr. 30 minutes later. La Residence Normandie sits among meadows, corn fields, forest and the River Seine. 

La Residence Normandie, Connelle, FR-MFrazier
After we got our bearings, unpacked and rested we found out there are no grocery stores for 5 miles, no shuttles, no village buses. 

The reception lobby has a grocery store, behind a counter, where one orders Cote d’Rhone or Burgundy wine; Camembert, for 2.30 E, daily bread: pain du chocolat, baguettes, croissants .92 E. 

first French dinner in Connelle AlvardoFrazier

We enjoyed our first dinner, Spagetti 
Bolognaise and haricorts verts (green beans) immensely before we dropped into our beds for a rest before getting our second wind.

A stroll across the bridge, journals in hand. Enjoyed the sights, sounds, and smells. The perfect bench awaited us.

our perfect writing spot Connelles, Fr. AlvaradoFrazier

Ah, to take time to explore around our new surroundings to walk over across the unassuming bridge, over the deep dark waters of the Seine, traveling beneath us. Mona and I stopping just long enough to take pictures. Our only neighbor the restaurant next door that looks like a castle with pink geranium boxes.

Turning on all of our senses… sitting down to let the beauty and serenity reach way down- soul deep. Stopping to sit on a bench which seems to be placed here just for us, a perfect place to be the writers we are and live the writing life we’ve chosen or has chosen us. Oh, this place, this day, is the perfect beginning to our writing retreat. Amada Irma Perez.

Buzzing bees, curious flies, soft coos of mourning doves. Birds twitter in Morse code, two visitors approach. Dancing iridescent blue dragonflies chase one another over the deep green of the Seine. A bevy of geese glide over the glassy surface. White butterflies flit over fuchsia sweet peas.

 Mulberry trees, Willows, Blue Spruce sway in the cool breeze, signaling the nose to take a deep breath.

sunset over Seine Connelles, FR AlvaradoFrazier

Who sat on this wooden bench before me?  Did they photograph their moments in their mind. MAlvaradoFrazier

What do you see?