A story from Villa Amalia by Pascal Quignard

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The photo

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Written on the back of the photo

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Inscription in front of book

The copy of ‘Villa Amalia’ I got second-hand from Amazon had this photo in it and this inscription in the front.

So what does the inscription say?  It looks like: J’adore cette photo première d’un bonheur retrouvé. 26 janvier 2013 But surely the première should be in front of the photo–unless it’s in apposition, in which case there’s a comma missing?

The birthday boy seems to be well over 30 if you count the candles on the cake, so bonheur may have been missing for some time…

If it’s really première then [she] has formed the p differently there and in photo. If you look at janvier [her] v extends below the line, which increases the number of possibilities for the suspect word. [She] and [her] are my supposition from j’adore and an inscription in the front of the book. Restoring the omissions there gives us La souffrance [,l’amour, la musique, la faim] avai[en]t fait d’elle une femme intense–which looks like a case of adapting the sentence to refer to oneself.

There are no shes in the photo, which would be strange for a family gathering, so this she might have taken the picture.  Let”s call her Ann Hidden, since she’s behind the camera.  The man on the left of the picture seems to have the same shaped face as the candle-blower-out, which lends credence to the family gathering idea.

My conclusion for the time being is that it’s not a birthday party–there aren’t enough people–but a family celebration of the lad overcoming some mishap and the candles (say) represent the number of [periods] he was in hospital/prison/rehab/married to that woman, though he looks a bit young for some of those. If it was hospital/rehab, that would explain why he is warmly dressed while the bloke behind him is in shirtsleeves.

It’s much easier to leave out punctuation–note that there’s no full stop at the end of the sentence–than put an adjective in the wrong place, so première is a noun in apposition to photo, with some meaning like Première épreuve tirée pour la correction. ‘Galley-proof of happiness’ is quite good really.

Then  the inscription La souffrance…avait fait d’elle une femme intense would fit in well with [Ann Hidden’s] [son] returning from [rehab] [or from death’s door].

There is another and perhaps better idea. When I first looked I thought it had to be pleine or remplie, just by context but could find no way of making that fit what appear to be the letters. The second “l” in elle above doesn’t extend above the line, so you might be OK with pl- plénière [plenary] could fit the bill. I think that in French ‘plenary photo’ would be OK.   Plenary photo from a recovered happiness.  That would indeed imply that [she] took the photo–it would be plenary from her point of view but not the others’.  Which leaves the putative ‘l’ that doesn’t extend above the line–which may not be a problem at all–and the absence of one accent to deal with…A missing accent is better than a missing comma…

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