I first came over to Paris as a student during my third year at university on my year abroad. I consider that as my first time because previous school trips aged 11 and 13 had failed to leave any sort of impression other than the wind on the ferry over, the steps of the Eiffel tower, and the Carrefour sweets section.
One of the reasons I had chosen to study French was because of this opportunity to live for a year in a completely alien landscape. I was desperate to be completely lost, perhaps out of some yearning to experience an absolute cultural isolation and build from there.
Another reason, and one that ultimately sealed the deal, was intellectual access to French literature, which I felt I felt but couldn’t get into much further without a deeper understanding of the language, culture and history of the country.
Back on the English literature side to my studies, I remember reading Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven on Christmas eve while staying at my uncle’s eerie and echo-filled house in deepest darkest Cornwall. Aside from being scared silly, I loved it, and Poe was scribbled into my will not resell on Amazon list. He even came with me and Orwell to Paris (great travelling companions both.)
So imagine my giddy delight when I found out that Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher was being performed at the gorgeous Maison de la Poesie just next to the Pompidou Centre (scroll over the image for address). Not only that, but it was the translation by Baudelaire, which had originally opened Poe’s writing to an entirely new audience over the channel, and was a huge success. Excitement!
In my opinion, translations are normally pretty bad. If they are good, it is for one of two reasons: Either the translator has been fairly liberal, finding an alternative, relevant way of applying the text to a different language, or the original just happened to perfectly suit the style and cadence of the foreign language, perhaps even more so than the original. With La Chute de la Maison Usher, it is the latter. Poe’s short story was made to be translated; taking on a new coat of sexy, shivery gothicism.
It was overall a great performance, with the narrator capturing the heavy oppressiveness perfectly, and Usher (played by a woman) gave a side to the text I hadn’t considered. The music score was disturbing (in the sense that it grated at times) but I then ask myself if that isn’t just what is needed in a production of Poe’s work.
In any case, I highly recommend checking out the Maison de la Poesie when you are next in the area. They have a lovely little restaurant and bar as well, tucked down a cobbled street you wouldn’t even notice if you didn’t know it was there (I had to ask). And don’t worry, it’s not the Rue Morgue ….