Making it as a Writer | Pushing the Wave

Making it as a Writer

Writing, 3 June 2024
by L.A. Davenport
The Banks of the Rhone in Lyon France
The banks of the Rhône in Lyon, France.
This time of year, from spring to early summer, is always a very busy one for me. I travel endlessly for work, and I can often find myself having hardly settled back at home after one trip before I am packing again and getting ready for the next.

One can quickly become jaded with work travel, as with anything done to excess, although any complaints typically, and quite rightly, fall on death ears. After all, what right have I to gripe over the chance to see the world (or Europe, at least) on someone else’s dime, as it were?

The flip side is, of course, that I am not there to enjoy myself, even if I do manage to snatch a rare morning or afternoon from my packed schedule and go sightseeing. On top of which, I am usually alone, which accentuates the sense of separation from my family; a distance that can be only partially reduced by video calls.

(Don’t get me wrong, it can be rather delicious to have time to oneself in a foreign city, with no one else to answer to or consult, and to while away the hours with a book or magazine while people-watching in an agreeable restaurant after a long day’s work. But even that grows old after a few days.)

A flâneur in Lyon

All that to say that last week I found myself in Lyon, France’s third largest city, and a place that I had not previously visited. (No, I was not there at the same time as Taylor Swift, in case you are wondering; unlike last year, when she performed three dates at Soldier Field in Chicago while I was there for work.)

Fortuitously and rather by accident, I had booked a place that allowed me to walk everywhere, and so was able to amble through the impressive and rather lovely parc de la Tête d’Or on my way to and from the congress centre every day, giving me a much-needed dose of headspace while I watched the joggers who go round and round and round and round…

Once the working day was over, I did my best impression of a flâneur along the lively, darkening streets of Lyon, which took me from my apartment in the sixième arrondissement, across the Rhône and into Terreaux, then beyond into Vieux Lyon via the Saône.

On the first evening, I happened to chance upon Bistrot Bondy, which offers a modern, Middle Eastern-inspired take on Lyonnais specialities in a friendly and informal atmosphere, and should be a port of call for anyone visiting the city.

After cold carrot velouté and slow-cooked lamb with chickpeas and raisins, both of which were excellent, they even tempted me to have a dessert, which is a rarity for me as I don’t at all have a sweet tooth. However, the pineapple carpaccio with coconut ice cream, hibiscus jus and red berries justified a change in habits.

The next night I was less sure of where I was going, and even less sure of what I wanted to eat. After a forgettable pizza (I narrowed the choice down to two establishments and I still managed to pick the wrong one), I wandered aimlessly, thinking at first I would cross the old town and climb to the basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière to write and brood in the chill of the evening while gazing out over the city.

But then I passed a pub that drew me in before I could even bring to mind a conscious choice. Maybe it was the gritty, dust-blown blues pouring out of the sound system or the proliferation of cards, pictures and knick-knacks over the bar, or maybe it was the book-lined wall opposite, which was filled to the brim with well-thumbed second hand tomes, but I was soon inside and soaking it all up.

(Yes, I know it’s a cliché to go to an ‘English’ pub while abroad, but there are many so-called pubs in Lyon, and occasionally one must resist one’s loftier ideals and give in to instinct.)

After paying the barman, I approached the bookshelves with alcohol-free beer in hand and began to scan the titles. I let my eyes wander over the shelves, moving from book to book in a steady sweep, recognising some but by no means all of them.

Some were relatively new paperbacks, some leather bound and embossed; some were bleached by years of sunlight, some dog-eared, with spines lined white; some tempted me to grab them and settle down in a corner for an intimate read, some left me cold. But they all had something in common.

As I pondered how to characterise what exactly connected the books, I realised I had finally understood what I wanted to be as a writer, or at least how it was that I would know I had achieved the kind of success I seek: I want one day to walk into a pub in a far-off town and find one of my books on the shelf.

In other words, I want to have written something good enough to be appreciated enough to be passed on to someone else. That, to me, is A Writer.

Maybe one day I will indeed find myself on the shelves of the Smoking Dog or similar literary-friendly establishment. And if you find a book of mine that way, do send me a picture, and I will post it here.

Rattled by Wagner

My trip to Lyon was a journey of discovery in another sense, as I used the opportunity to delve into the virtual shelves of the Apple Classical app and explore recordings that I would like to try before I buy them on CD.

After having had some disappointments with Wagner’s Ring Cycle (it is a favourite piece of mine and, like many fans of the four-opera masterpiece, I can be quite picky), I was curious but not brimming over with anticipation to try the first three instalments by Sir Simon Rattle with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, which were recorded live over a period of eight years.

I should say that, while I know that Rattle has had a long and storied career conducting some of the greatest orchestras in the world, his recordings have always left me cold. I have the sense that, in the studio, he manages to remove all of the drama and impetus of a piece and infuse it with a sort of light, optimistic bounce, for a better word, that makes his music sound a bit samey.

Not so here. I started in reverse order with Siegfried and was blown away by each opera in turn.

Exactly the approach that seems to hamper a deep reading of a score in the recording studio serves Rattle exceptionally well here. Perhaps he is a natural Wagnerian; perhaps it is his experience conducting the Ring Cycle several times over the decades; perhaps he has a connection with the BRSO that fits perfectly with the music; or perhaps simply Rattle is someone one should hear live.

I have often wondered whether the brilliant immediacy of classical music recordings in the first half of the 20th century is due to the limitations of the recording process at the time meaning the performances were more akin to a concert, and the sometimes stilted stiffness of later versions were the result of technical advancements allowing excessive tinkering.

But whatever the reason, these versions of the first three operas from the Ring Cycle are to revisit and to treasure, and I am already looking forward to the promised final instalment, Götterdämmerung.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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Making it as a Writer | Pushing the Wave