Monday, 24 September 2012

What's On in Lausanne?!?

I often get people in the shop who say that there's nothing to do in Lausanne, that the city is boring and they'd much rather be in New York, London or some other metropolitan area. This attitude always amazes me. There is so much to do here it sometimes feels like an embarrassment of riches.

I don't consider myself a particularly cultured person. I don't scan the arts listings every week to see what's going on. But I thought I'd list a representative sample of the events I attended over the past few months, not to brag, but in the hope that people will get switched on to the events on offer.

  1. Estival - this is a summer-long series of free events for people of all ages and tastes. There are walks, tours, concerts and readings and they are all free. The best event is probaly La Fete de la Cite, a week-long festival in the old town with gigs, comedy and theatre. You should check out the Estival site for more info. 
  2. International Guitar Festival - this is so awesome it's unbelievable. Some of the best guitarists in the world come and play for a few days in the summer. The events take place all round the city. I went to see three guitarists who performed at the the Abbaye de Montheron. The atmosphere was amazing and there is a great restaurant next door too. 
  3. L'Orchestre de Suisse Romande - did you know that Lausanne is home to one of the world's leading orchestras? I went to see them at Beaulieu and, while not a great fan of classical music, I really enjoyed it. Definitely worth going to see. The musicians also give smaller concerts throughout the year in more intimate venues. You should drop by the Fondation de l'Institut de Ribaupierre on Georgette to pick up flyers
  4. Throughout October there is the Lausanne Underground Film Festival. Many of the films are in English and often the directors are there to introduce the films and take questions from the audience. There are also at least three independent cinemas in Lausanne where you can see films all year round. 
  5. Aperti - every year all the artists in Lausanne open their doors to visitors. This is called 'Aperti'. The organisation publishes a map and other details and you can easily spend an afternoon going from studio to studio meeting the artists and seeing their work. I was suprised at how many artists Lausanne attracts and at the quality of the work.
  6. Scarecrow festival - admittedly a bit left field, but the village of Denens near Morges is the Swiss capital of scarecrows. There is a lovely walk to do all year round between the village and Vufflens le chateau, but once a year they crank it up and have a festival with theatre, fireworks and more scarecrows you can shake a stick at. It's happening this year on 29th September.
  7. While we are in Morges, we should mention two more festivals. First of all, the tulip festival. You can spend a nice afternoon looking at tulips, which is actually more fun than I make it sound. 
  8. The Livres sur les quais is Morges' book festival. They have a growing English-language component and this year featured Douglas Kennedy, Stephen Clarke, Nancy Houston. Well worth the effort. 
  9. As I mentioned in my earlier post, anyone can study at UNIL. You need to simply fill in a form, pay CHF 150 and choose the courses you want to attend. You don't get credits, and some courses you can't take, but essentially you get the run of the university and a chance to put those grey cells to use. 
  10. Geneva Writers Conference - a weekend of writing with the big boys, this conference attracts some very high profile writers and literary agents who share their knowledge with you. 
I could go on, so I will. Did you know there was a free show at Beaulieu last night featuring a 250-strong choir, full orchestra and a light show? Did you catch the awesome temporary theatre in Lutry this summer? Have you ever been on a walk with Pierre Corajoud? Even better, have you celebrated the annual Fete des Voisins - it's a city sponsored intiative that gets neighbours together over wine and food. It's one evening a year that pays dividends all year round.

Don't fly home for the summer - you'll miss the best bit.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Studying at UNIL

Even if you are not a student

Every year the professors in the English section order books through the shop.  This year someone ordered books by authors who interested me and I found out something valuable: you can take courses at UNIL even if you are not a student.

All you have to do is to pay sFr. 150 and sign up as an auditor. You can do this here:

Being an auditor entitles you to attend the lectures in whatever course interests you (with a few exceptions), and you don't even have to do the homework.

Responsibility-free study appealed to me, as did the course, so I signed up. This semester I'll be studying Paul Auster, Don Delillo and Chuck Palahnuik.  It feels great to go back to University again, even if all I can do is listen!

Monday, 10 September 2012

More Thoughts on Writing

I was sitting at the dinner table talking to my eight-year-old daughter about the difference between good and bad writing (poor girl!) and I was trying to think of an example of what I thought was good writing. What came to mind was a passage I read in Douglas Kennedy's The Moment.

The passage happens early in the book when the narrator, Thomas Nesbitt, is looking for accommodation. He has responded to an advert and set up an appointment to view a flat. He is climbing up the stairs of the apartment building looking for the place. Kennedy writes,

'As I reached it I saw that its door was in the same style as the others, only this one had been whitewashed in a way that allowed its old brown finish to underscore the artfully swabbed white paint.'

I think the writer is doing two things. It may not seem like much of a trick, but he has given us in a condensced way a description of a door that we can perfectly imagine. It's short enough that we hardly notice it and yet the image is perfectly clear. Very few writers can do this. Having sat thinking about this for a few minutes, the only other author I can think of is Murakami.

The other achievement of this sentence is that he has decribed the character we are about to meet before we have met him. Reread the sentence...what kind of a person do you imagine has a front door like this one? If you guessed a painter who cares about, and takes care of, the environment in which he lives then I hope you get my point.

Of course, each writer has their own style. Camus might have written, 'It was a door' and everyone would have gone wild, myself included, leading the parade with pom-poms. But it fits the the context of this book where the author spends considerable time describing the surroundings.

Totally off topic, but another sentence made me gasp today. Here it is:

'In his dream, which he later forgot, he found himself alone in a room, firing a pistol into a bare white wall.'

A free book if you can tell me the author.....

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Life in the day of a bookseller

What do I do all day?
As I mentioned before, I thought I planned to spend my days at Books Books Books sipping cappuccinos and making literary small-talk with less fortunate readers. Surprisingly, this doesn't happen very often. Yesterday was a pretty exceptional day but I covered all the elements that make this job, if not exactly fun, then at least interesting. Here's what I did.

I got up at 6am and took some money to the bank. I needed the cash to pay some bills. On Monday the money-in machine had swallowed the day's takings so I was relieved when the payment went without a problem.

Back at the shop I paid all the bills marked urgent (i.e. most of them), then I walked down to the car hire place and picked up a van I needed.

I drove it back to the shop and then began to answer the emails which started 'Dear Matthew, This is the third time I have written to you and I hoping - praying - that I might get an answer.' At 8.50 I began to reply to an emailed order, indeed I had got as far as the 'D' in 'Dear' when the phone rang. It was a teacher making an order. As I took this down my colleague James arrived.

We loaded the van with about 30-odd boxes and I drove it to a local suppliers. I had ordered about 400 books through this supplier at the beginning of August. The week before I had exhausted the box marked, 'Ask politely about the status of your books' and had started hectoring them twice a day for news. This had got better results and I drove to their place to pick up my books.

With these loaded I drove to a school where I had arranged to sell directly to the students. The concierge who had been slated to help me disappeared leaving me to carry all the boxes from the van to the school, down some stairs and then to another wing. By the time I'd finished there were about 100 students waiting for books. Some of the teachers kindly helped me and by 3pm I was out the door and back in BBB.

I figured I would unload the two boxes I had in the van and then drop it off. However, a teacher drove up and we discussed her order on the street. James and another colleague had a few questions and another customer needed some advice. Then our favourite delivery driver arrived. We call him Mr Benzedrine because he drives to and from Argaau everyday and by Friday his eyes look like bloody dots in the snow. He doesn't speak French and I don't speak German so we've evolved a kind of pidjin that covers how many deliveries he has to do, if James's sleeping and if he can leave his van in my spot for five minutes. I took the van back when he left.

It was 4pm and a local teacher came in to speak with me. There had been a problem with her order a few days earlier. James had mistaken the figures '17' for '117' and '20' for '120' so we had a few too many. I had written to her to say, 'I have just shot James and stuffed his body in the nearest rubbish bin' to which she had replied, 'I'm soooo sorry to have caused the death of your colleague' and  I supposed her visit was to reassure herself that we had recycled his body correctly. I'll never know because someone uttered the words, 'It's been really quiet today' and suddenly we had about 50 customers in the shop. The next time I looked up she was gone.

Having been going for 11 hours on a bottle of orange juice I popped home and bewed a cup of English lifesaver. I wanted to stay home, but there were emails I knew I had to answer so I went back to work. It was ten to six when I continued the email I had started that morning, 'Dear Mr Moser' I wrote, 'Thank you for your email which I received this morning....'

I got home at a very reasonable hour and after supper I picked up a book The Moment by Douglas Kennedy which I am reading because I am interviewing him at the Morges literary festival next Sunday. The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work might have been more appropriate.