Thu 19 January 2012

Bart van Loo blogs about Chartres (#2)

Belgian writer Bart van Loo is currently in Chartres for his citybooks residency. On his blog he writes about his experiences in the French city.

chartres © bart van looChartres on crutches (2): “You look like a writer”

Last week I went to see Le repas des fauves in the local theatre, a most beautiful venue from the 19th century. This much praised play attempts to be a mixture of a boulevard farce and existential drama, but it seems to remain stuck in the former. The audience laughed a lot, and now and again even I could manage a grin. Afterwards the crowd went wild, and people continued to applaud until the actors almost had to signal them that it was quite enough. Back home I continued reading The Magus by John Fowles, a novel by a British author, set in Greece. Just to make sure I don’t ‘Frenchise’ completely.

My hand regularly says 'crack', causing me to grab my crutches again quickly. Yes, the iron handshake of the waiter in Le bistrot de Paris remains fascinating. Otherwise, he’s all convivialité, though. He's able to sell people on a pancakes with their coffee so smoothly you'd think it’s on the house. The bill teaches you differently. But then there's that smile again. And of course you pay, without accepting his handshake. There are limits.

“You look like a writer”, he says “Yes, Lorant Deutsch, right?”. He nods. It’s not the first time this has happened to me. I don’t tell him that I once considered writing a history of France based on the subway stations in Paris. Deutsch was faster, and wrote Métronome, a big bestseller. But history keeps finding its way back to me, and years later quite unexpectedly ‘a songbook history of France’ appeared from my pen.

And still my hunger isn’t satisfied. In Le bistrot de Paris in Chartres I reread my first sketches for my citybook, and next I dive into the Histoire de France by Jacques Bainville. It's a classic from 1924, that despite the obvious love of the author for the monarchy is an absolute masterpiece. More thrilling than a novel, and much more lucid. Having filled over a thousand pages with French literature in my trilogy Eten! Lezen! Vrijen!, I’m now getting more and more fascinated by the history of my southern neighbours. My literary journeys turn out te be a good compass. History and literature. Insights and beauty. And excitement. And sometimes all of it together. It doesn’t get much better than this. With or without crutches.

Photo: the veil of the Holy Virgin, since 876 (!) in the collection of the cathedral, a gift from the grandson of Charlemagne.


Bart van Loo © Koen Broos
Bart van Loo blogs on




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