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Posts Tagged ‘France’

“All beautiful things encourage a child’s sense of wonder–and everything that encourages a child’s sense of wonder is beautiful.” –Mitsumasa Anno

The work of Mitsumasa Anno has been beloved since the 1970s when his first books appearedImage result for Anno's Journey in the United States.  His first US title was Topsy Turvies (1970) and in 1978 the book that acquainted me with his work appeared.  That was Anno’s Journey–a truly inspired and for me, enchanted wordless journey through Europe.  The genius of Mr. Anno’s work is in the delightfully detailed watercolors that lead the reader from pastoral scenes to village and finally to city scenes. Life is presented within the simplicity of quotidian routine–farmers tending their fields, shepherds guarding their flocks, a merchant selling wares, or a child playing hoops.Then suddenly, suddenly, out pops a scene from an Impressionist masterpiece, or a character from a novel, or a scene from one of Shakespeare’s plays. Traveling with Anno through Anno’s Journey is a delight to any that love art, architecture, literature, geography, culture or children’s books! For instance, hidden within his inviting scenes one will come upon Van Gogh’s Langlois Bridge or George Seurat’s  A Sunday on La Grande Gatte or his Bathers at Asniers.  Less artistically inclined “readers” will find delight in Anno’s hilarious depiction of the silly king from The Emperor’s New Clothes, or the unsuspecting Little  Red Riding Hood innocently picking flowers while the wily fox watches from the woods.   Then there is Pinocchio, running through the streets!  Even young children will experience the thrill of discovery when they notice the four whimsical characters–the donkey, the dog, the cat and the cock from the well-loved Tale of the Bremen Town Musicians or see the iconic red balloon wafting up off the page from the Oscar-winning French film short of the same name.  There is something for everyone here, even the youngest child will love just pouring over the pictures with their intense colors, humor, and variety.

Over two years ago, I contacted the Japanese publisher of Mr. Anno’s work, in order to ascertain if they would be willing to have our

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The enchanted Guilan from Anno’s China

company, Beautiful Feet Books, republish Anno’s Spain, which had been out of print for some time.  In the process of that journey, I also found that Mr. Anno had done a Journey book on China, which had never been published in the US before.  Not only that, I also discovered that for each of Mr. Anno’s Journey books (there are now 8) he had written wonderful back matter to accompany each scene. These have never been translated and published in the English language editions, which is a shame, as Mr. Anno’s voice is as endearing and warm-hearted as his art. So for the editions that Beautiful Feet Books is bringing out, we are thrilled to be including these wonderful notes. After that we will begin work on Anno’s Japan and Anno’s Denmark.

annos-china-iphoneJust a few weeks ago we took delivery (like proud parents with a new baby!) on Anno’s China–the first time this beautiful book has ever appeared in America. Just like his other books, “readers” will accompany Anno as he travels through China, exploring life in this vast and majestic land where birds fish for men, where dragons and lions dance, and where thousands of clay soldiers and calvary guard the tomb of China’s first emperor.  Anno’s China received a Kirkus starred review which you can read about here.

I am currently working on bringing Anno’s Spain back into print as well.  I am finishing up editing the translation from the Japanese to English and expect to go to print early Spring. I will continue to post more about Mr. Anno’s work as we continue on this wonderful Journey with him!

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I1413374964-8-origmagine each day wrapping your hair up in a lovely bun and then slipping a very tiny bible into your chignon?  Odd?  Well, there was a day when many young Christian women hid their bibles this way! In September 1685, in France, all Bible reading was forbidden and Christian homes were subject to search. French Protestants known as Huguenots were forced to keep their scriptures hidden and to worship in secret. I was privileged to get a little glimpse into the lives of this courageous minority on a recent visit to Provence, France while visiting with ICCP of Aix-en-Provence. While staying there with a gracious 93 year-old Huguenot gentleman, a Monsieur D’Cazenove, we were able to visit the Musée du Désert, where this fascinating and inspiring history is kept alive. And indeed it’s true that Huguenot women hid their very tiny bibles in their chignons!

This tiny bible measures just one inch high yet is very legible. Huguenot women hid them in their chignons.                                                                                   From Le Musée du Désert, Cevennes, France

The Huguenots were the fruit of the tide of the Reformation coming to France in the mid 16th century, and were devoted to reforming the church and the political institutions of their times.  Many noble and highly intellectual families joined this movement, but in a majority Catholic country where the Church was all powerful, persecution was inevitable. The most notorious incident occurred on St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1572, when thousands of Huguenots were in Paris to celebrate the wedding of Henry of Navarre (a Huguenot) to Marguerite de Valois (a Catholic). The young King Charles IX, under the sway of his powerful mother, Catherine d’ Medici, ordered the massacre of all Huguenots.  Thousands died in Paris that day and tens of thousands all across France.

When Henry IV, a Huguenot known as Le Bon Roi–the Good King, came to the throne, he passed the Edict of Nantes (1598) granting religious freedom to Huguenots–one of Europe’s first IMG_2727documents to protect this fundamental right. However, 80 years later, King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, and Huguenots were harassed out of all educated professions, arrested, tortured and imprisoned, their lands and properties confiscated.  Louis XIV  issued countless warrants for the arrest of Huguenots who refused to convert to Catholicism.  At left are just a few of King Louis’s numerous warrants persecuting Huguenots.  In these samples, agents of the King are instructed to destroy all the Huguenot churches, extinguish and suppress  their colleges, arrest their midwives, and to obtain their declarations as to whether they will convert  or die as Protestants.

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This barrel converted into a pop-up pulpit, but looked like an ordinary barrel when not in use.

It was particularly during this period that Huguenots became very creative in finding ways to worship in secret.  As a large majority lived in the Provence region, where there are thick forested areas and many caves and grottoes, the Huguenots often met secretly in caves to worship.  A home church or a church meeting in a factory might have a convertible pulpit, that when not in use looked like an ordinary wooden barrel, but converted quite ingeniously into a pulpit by a clever system of levers.  Goblets for communion wine could be converted to appear as ordinary looking candlesticks, and picture frames were designed so that bibles could be hidden between the mirror and the back of the frame.

Despite these subterfuges, countless Huguenots were arrested, tortured and put to death.  Over 5000 men were forced to slave on the galleys of the King, choosing that grim fate over giving up their faith. Marie Durand was arrested at age 19 and spent 38 years imprisoned because she refused to violate her conscience.

Remarkably, despite these tremendous hardships, the Huguenot people were known as the “people who sing.”  Their secret IMG_2802worship services were marked by their joyful singing of the scriptures set to music, particularly the psalms.  When I question our host, Monsieur d’Casenove, about this fact, he slips quietly into his centuries-old chateau and reemerges quickly holding an ancient book in his hand.  It is a psalmer, a very old book of the psalms set to music.  When I ask him how old it is, he turns to the copyright page, and the book had been printed in the 1550s.

The history of the Huguenot people is a rich, varied, and inspiring history of a people who fought, suffered, and died for freedom of conscience.  It is a history that has some bearing on American history too.  In my next post I will explore what Huguenot history has to do with Paul Revere, George Washington, and the Marquis de Lafayette!

 

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The chateau of Monsieur d’Casanove in the Cevennes region of France, an area rich in Huguenot history.

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Dear Readers,

Having spent the last month visiting the remarkable city of Paris, I have returned with a new appreciation for a number of distinctly French things.  Besides the Normandy butter, melt-in-your-mouth croissants, rich dark coffee, organic meats, stunningly fresh and beautiful produce, not to mention the world class art and architecture, I’ve come to appreciate something which has quite taken hold of me, and spurred a great deal of thought and interest.  That is the French art of conversation.

While traversing countless parks, gardens, cafes, restaurants, art galleries, museums, cathedrals, and other public places, I was continually struck by the way in which the French engage with one another through the medium of speech.  Whether observing a work of art, or visiting over an espresso, the French are devoted to conversation. One thing which immediately becomes apparent, is that the French do not consider gazing at one’s iphone or smartphone while conversing the least bit civilized.  You simply don’t see it.  The French parks are filled with people of all ages, of all socioeconomic strata, and of diverse racial heritage.  And while they are conversing, they are looking directly at one another, completely engaged.  Their conversations are animated, apparently interesting to both parties (or multiple parties, as the case may be), and they are polite in their tone, and respectful in that they consider making eye contact essential to meaningful exchange.

In pondering this, I have been struck by how far our American culture has slipped in something so fundamental to a civilized society.  The saturation of PDAs  in American society has done little to improve true communication. If eye contact is fundamental to real exchange, then no wonder we seem to have slipped so far in the last few decades.  What kind of effects will a degeneration in true conversation portend for our future?

In reviewing a classic book I am currently preparing for publication, I came across this statement by Benjamin Franklin from his Autobiography, and it seems to strike at some essential components of meaningful human interaction.  It is to be wondered how much Franklin developed these notions about conversation due to his long tenure in France as America’s ambassador.

Benjamin Franklin 1767

Benjamin Franklin 1767

As the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of these purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure.  For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fixed in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error.”

Franklin’s perspective certainly gives one pause if applied to much that is considered “talk” today.  How will our loss in this area affect future diplomacy, family relationships, and the civil discourse necessary to a true “liberal arts” education?  Is there a bright future for reasoned and civil discourse in this country?

In discussing these notions with a close friend who accompanied me to France, we both felt quite convicted by how often we miss the opportunity to make eye contact, to speak kindly and respectfully and to truly listen to the other. We were impressed as we pondered it, by the notion of how powerful eye contact is in affirming a person’s sense of worth and dignity.  Our fully intentional and direct gaze gives the sense of true engagement and interest in the other.  It imparts something quite elemental to the soul,

Americans (yes, us!) conversing excitedly in front of Notre Dame de Paris, despite the cold wind and rain!

something we perhaps can’t completely understand or define, but something critical nonetheless.  That, combined with Franklin’s plea for well-meaning and sensible men to be modest and pleasant in their conversation, are simple but powerful tools available to anyone with their sense of sight and speech intact.  What do you think?  How have these ideas impacted your life?  Does the art of conversation come naturally to you?

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