March 09, 2007
Back in print: Mots D'Heures: Gousses, Rames
Way back in September 1986, the beginning of my second year in college, the small town library had a book sale. I don't know where they got their book donations, but they had the best book sales I've ever seen. They had tons of foreign language books, lots of hardcovers of all sorts. I got a 1980 Encyclopedia Britannica for $100 and became the envy of many of my friends.
Along with a bag of German and other language books, I picked up a thin little paperback called Mots D'Heures: Gousses, Rames. It was a strange book. It consisted of 40 poems in French. Or did it?
I know almost nothing of French. I did one or two lessons in a Berlitz Self-Teacher back in '85 or so. But that was enough. You don't need to be able to understand French to enjoy Mots D'Heures: Gousses, Rames, you just need to be able to pronounce it.
Un petit d'un petit
S'étonne aux Halles
Un petit d'un petit
Ah! degrés te fallent
Indolent qui ne sort cesse
Indolent qui ne se mène
Qu'importe un petit d'un petit
Tout Gai de Reguennes.
What does it all mean? Each poem comes with footnotes to explain unfamiliar words and troublesome phrases...but once you figure out what's going on, you realize that "Luis d'Antin van Rooten", if he really exist(s|ed), was just having a bit of fun.
I have the 1980 Penguin edition of Mots D'Heures: Gousses, Rames. In 1986 I started a writing a list of poem titles, adding as I figured out each one. It's been 20 years and I'm still missing 9 titles. How's that for entertainment value?
Permalink | Posted by Joe at March 9, 2007 03:58 PM
And amazingly only twenty years later that set of encyclopedias would be considered nothing but a moving-day liability. Do any encyclopedias even bother to print anything nowdays?
I had a "Funk and Wagnalls" when I was a kid, which I think was the inferior cousin of E.B. But as a kid I browsed it to read when I was bored anyway.
Posted by: mds at March 10, 2007 02:08 AM
When I was a kid we had a set of World Book and I'd sit for hours and browse through it, so the Britannica was an instant buy for me.
Over the years they have been a moving-day liability, it's true, but now that we have 2 sons they're becoming useful again. And once again I get to sit down at the table for a few minutes every day and see what kind of new things I can learn. I've definitely gotten my $100 out of the set!
Posted by: Joe at March 10, 2007 08:58 AM
I just found your site -- I posted the same poem on mine. I didn't know it went out of print. But I do cherish my copy (which is back in the states in storage). I love Hickory Dickory dock too, and can't remember the others so well. I used to have my 8th grade students read them and see if they could figure them out.
Van Rooten did exist, and apparently died in 1973 (though the name does seem far fetched?)
Posted by: Polly at April 20, 2007 11:37 AM
Van Rooten was very real. Just found this quote about van Rooten in a book review:
"I аm а cousin of the аuthor's, аnd think thаt аnyone who picks up "Mots D'Heures" should be аwаre of the аmаzing life thаt produced such а witty аuthor. Luis vаn Rooten wаs the quintessentiаl Renаissаnce mаn. He wаs trаined аnd worked professionаlly аs аn аrchitect; аcted in both rаdio seriаls аnd on film (see him аs the sаssy reporter in the Kirk Douglаs film "Detective Story," not to mention his stints in the cinemаtic clаssics "Two Yeаrs Before the Mаst," "The Big Clock" аnd "The Night Hаs а Thousаnd Eyes"); drew аnd did woodblock prints аnd pаinted; аnd, oh yes, he hаppened to put out а couple of priceless little volumes of writing аs well. Luis' аrtistic аnd creаtive аbilities come to full flower in "Mots D'Heures," which requires neither а knowledge of French nor а pаrticulаr fаcility with Mother Goose rhymes to enjoy--аlthough both help deepen the reаder's аppreciаtion. It is the kind of high-minded silliness thаt mаkes you weаk from lаughter. I cаnnot recommend the book too highly, аnd wish it would come bаck into print, аs it mаkes аn excellent gift for аnyone with even а glimmer of а sense of humor. You know it's а good book when you hаve trouble thinking of people who would NOT enjoy it! "
Posted by: Polly at April 20, 2007 11:44 AM
Hi Polly, and thanks for the information. If I get a chance to see any of those movies, I'll have to watch for him. I don't have too many books which are still puzzles after 20 years, but this is one of them. I'm glad to see it back in print.
Posted by: Joe at April 22, 2007 09:26 PM