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2010 :: Issue 6/Spring :: Micro Essays

The Straw Sandals: Notes 1980

Pierre-Albert Jourdan

Pierre-Albert Jourdan (1924-1981) is considered to be a master of the aphorism and other kinds of short poetic prose. His writings are inspired by the landscape surrounding his country home in the Vaucluse village of Caromb, with a snowcapped Mount Ventoux as the backdrop. The Straw Sandals is a journal of notes, maxims, brief observations, and short-prose texts. It was first published posthumously in 1982 before being included in, and giving its title to, the first volume of Jourdan’s Collected Writings at Mercure de France. The following excerpts have been translated from the French by John Taylor.

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Monday, 7 January

Gusts of time. They are sometimes so violent that they nail you to the spot. A procession of countable onrushes that overwhelm you.

Monday, 10 March

The garden in Caromb is now enriched with an acacia. Everything has come full circle. It is the acacia of decaying memory: it barely got along from year to year during my childhood in the blinding sunlight of Tresques. In Caromb, it will find an ageing man attentive to its presence.

Tuesday, 15 April

My memory is a land of brambles whose blackberries smear out lips with ink.

Thursday, 1 May

The medlar tree makes me think of Matisse. I imagine him, pencil in hand, standing in front of this display of dancing leaves (fingers straight up, half-closed palm). A fig tree cannot create this overall movement.

Sunday, 4 May

At Philippe Jaccottet’s house last Friday. On the patio table, a volume of Novalis and a bird guide. Many feathered wings coupled of quills and thoughts.

Anne-Marie Jaccottet. A refreshing palette. The impression of a world still caught up in the joy of its imminent birth, in its colorful explosion. What I can say is that looking at her pictures always gives me the urge to rush over to my own paintbrushes and start squeezing tubes. Her painterly joy is contagious. Is this really so common today?

Thursday, 15 May

“Wind is thus heavy; as it leaps over obstacles, it creates ‘dead angles’; these dead angles should be sought out by campers, for they provide security shelters.” (J. Loiseau, Camping et voyage à pied—Manuel du randonneur, J. Susse, 1944.)

The “dead angle” as a security shelter. This could be the meaning of the fragments that I have gathered under this title.

Tuesday, 20 May

The human being who invented singing was walking with bare feet over brambles.

Friday, 23 May

In an airplane. Clouds: swellings of the ephemeral.

Friday, 6 June

Perturbation, my indispensable sister.

Tuesday, 10 June

Try looking differently. Put the blindfold on the dull eye.

Thursday, 19 June

It is true that the mood is sometimes sharp, cutting up thought into bloody bits.

Tuesday, 15 July

A world of caresses, a world crippled with pain.

Wednesday, 30 July

To myself I keep adding defunct days that are like the rusty railings of an abandoned mansion.

Friday, 1 August

A blood sample—another kind of writing. (While waiting for revelations.)

Thursday, 7 August

As if all the tiredness were crashing down on you. Here you are, amid the heat, your hands and feet tied, the village idiot.

Saturday, 9 August

With its exalted voice, the pine tree covers over, all by itself, the infinite distances of unexpressed yearnings to escape.

Tuesday, 19 August

Opaque shadows whose fleshlessness sports with this serenity that you feel so close.

Thursday, 21 August

Little white skirts of the fuchsia.

Friday, 22 August

It is easy for me to see all that I owe to the landscape around Caromb. It has educated me. I have learned its lessons by heart. I could even imagine that we were linked for life, were this not mere boasting.

Monday, 25 August

It would only be with boundless astonishment that the land around me would learn the term “lassitude.”

Wednesday, 27 August

Dry, wrinkled, tanned hands, smelling of soil.

Thursday, 28 August

This morning, Caromb is outlined in a dazzling light, its architecture exposed in all its nudity. Literally stripped, it seems braced towards the sunrise, eager for those violent stains that make it go forward, an ocher ship on the heavy swells of the earth.

Monday, 1 September

Make a place for nudity, trust, offering. As you face them, learn how to simplify yourself.

Tuesday, 2 September

Sometimes the silence of the lands digs an abyss.

The olive fallen to the ground hears other voices. It moves faster than its peers, destined to ripen slowly.

Thursday, 4 September

More important would be to die wholesomely.

Friday, 5 September

The arrival of mist. The landscape puts on her veil, surely with modesty so as not to shake me up too much.

The threshold of autumn is not far. A rainfall or two and we will cross it.

The arrogant anarchy of brambles.

Monday, 15 September

Moving farther away as an emergency exit.

Thursday, 18 September

Speechless distresses covering the earth.

Sunday, 28 September

September: fruit of ripened light. A royal day.

Sunday, 5 October

The tall pine tree comes close and, shoulder to shoulder, we weep. We are disarmed.

Friday, 24 October

Strolling—a suspicious, Baudelairean word. Cloud fetishism. A silken-gloved sky. Shaky, high-swirling hairdos.

Modern times, gangrene-stricken prophecies.

Tuesday, 28 October

Coughing spells, one after the other. Shaken up and down by them. Not like a plum tree or a rag doll, but indeed like a poor human wreck. My head splitting. What revolt? What refusal? I have no idea. All I can do is endure the shaking.

Friday, 31 October

Dry and chilly weather: little bony fingers knocking on the door…

So my future is on the line, and what I know is that it is not dreaming.

Tuesday, 11 November

In the cherry tree, amid an accelerating rainfall of dead leaves (seemingly gaining weight as they fall), the vivacity of the great tit. Frost as the counterpoint.

Thursday, 13 November

He shook the bug’s ear.

Navigating through your own texts, from A to Z, is perhaps the only adventure.

Saturday, 29 November

Caromb. You do not hear the telephone ringing in an empty room. It fills with images: the walnut of the bookcase, the stones of the fireplace, the silvery quivering of the olive trees. The ringing is an alarm clock; the distances are shattered. They are merely inside you. Reduce them further. Keep performing this act until you can touch this fruit.

Wednesday, 3 December

Mere nothings: just a few notes, a few fragments, peelings as it were—which increase in number as it gets colder.

Friday, 12 December

…Like an abandoned orchard. You take a look from time to time. A glistening branch attracts you. But the high grass grapples up your legs like anguish itself.

Sunday, 21 December

Cats and boxes. These individualists adore them, but they keep, sometimes while remaining in incredible positions, an eye open on the world.

Monday, 29 December

A few improvised solos ripping through the air in my chest.

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