For Eleonora Marangoni, author and communication consultant, the bond with France is very personal, before being international: she feels at home there.
She was born in Rome 34 years ago, but it is in Paris that she lived the crucial years that formed her, it is in French that she published her first books – two essays on A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu (In Search Of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust and an illustrated novel. and it is in France that she became the woman she is today.
When was your first time in Paris?
I was twenty. I was supposed to stay six months for the Erasmus exchange, but at a certain point I decided to extend my stay to continue some research I had begun on Marcel Proust… and I am not sure I have yet finished.
That research on Proust produced several books and articles, how is it that at such a young age you became passionate about Proust?
I always say that you do not become a Proust fan, but you come to realise you are one. And I am convinced that nobody can come out of reading him without being affected, or without having changed somehow.
What about you, how did you discover A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu?
By accident, on a bookshelf in my house in Rome. My mother had bought A La Recherche when she was twenty, she had started it and abandoned it after a few pages. Over the course of the years, we shifted the seven volumes of Proust’s oeuvre from home to home, they were always there, identical, on the higher bookshelves. One day I pulled down the first one, an Einaudi edition, a translation by Natalia Ginzburg….
And it was love at first sight.
I had not even finished reading the second volume when I decided to write my undergraduate thesis on La Recherche; I knew it would change my life – in fact, it had already done so. There was no way it was a passing crush: that was the book I needed to work on.
For those who have not read Proust, what is A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu?
It is the story of a vocation: the one of a man who has glimpsed the heart of things and dedicates his life to finding the way (and the strength, and the courage) to narrate it. Even when he falls in love or travels, even when life, be it social, family or love life, appears to distract him and take him somewhere completely remote, he knows his task is another one, that he is in the world for another reason. At the beginning of the book there is a very beautiful phrase that one of the characters says to the protagonist when he is still a boy: “Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life, little boy. You have a soul in you of rare quality, an artist’s nature; never let it starve for lack of what it needs”.
You work as copywriter and communication consultant, you write about design and lifestyle, you do branding and visual identity: these are projects that often have little to do with Proust.
People do not understand how someone who writes books about La Recherche can then make a living inventing lipstick names, or what a bookworm has to do with Google and start-ups. I studied international communication in Rome, and then comparative literature in Paris, and graphic design at NYU in New York. My work is a mix of all of these, and the projects I follow combine literature with graphics, images and words. Our generation has invented many of the jobs we do today without concrete models to rely on, often with the impression of going down paths that didn’t belong to us. But we made it in the end. Now I am happy to take a little time to explain, to whoever asks me, what job I have; and I believe this type of “quirk” may be a point of strength.
Let’s go back to Paris, what are your favourite spots?
All of them on the rive droite: I lived for years in Rue Montmartre, steps away from the Halles markets; my publisher is in Rue de Richelieu, in front of the Palais Royal; my little square is Montholon in the 9th arrondissement; my favourite bench is at the Tuileries; the bookshop is Galignani in Rue de Rivoli; the restaurant for celebrations is Chez Georges, in Rue du Mail; my favourite brasserie is le Wepler in Place de Clichy; the theatre would be Bouffes du Nord, Boulevard de la Chapelle; the cinema would be the Louxor, in Barbès Rochechouart…
You must have also visited libraries.
I don’t think there is a library in Paris in which I have not been, but the one where I lived for years is on the top floor of the Beaubourg, it is the richest, smelliest and most diverse in town. It is a strange place, I cannot say it is pretty. Parisians love the museum, the Centre Pompidou, but only see the bad side of the library: the queues to get in, the pickpocketing, the awful food in the caféterie. But for me it is a unique place. It is open to everyone, every day, without needing a card. And being in the centre of town, all kinds of people end up there: from students preparing partiels (mid-term exams) to bored pensioners, from the Sanskrit students to bums who are looking for a job (there is an employment booth) or who just want to read the papers or sleep a bit. At the time of my thesis I went so often I would hide my biscuits in the Proust shelves, on the right-hand side at the end of the third floor, so that I could have them the next day. And still today, I can recognise the habitués that often go there and that are now part of the scenery like the coloured tubes.
What do you like the most about Paris?
Everything, even clichés. Paris is a metropolis full of contradictions, and with recent wounds that are forcing it to face up to reality. But it remains proud and magnificent, always, and Parisians, though they often appear to rest on their laurels, remain as a matter of fact among the most sophisticated in every field.
Your new novel, Lux, won the Neri Pozza First Book prize. What does it talk about?
It is the first book I wrote in Italian, but here too, France counts: the first ten lines were written in a burst on a morning many years ago, in a small town in Normandy, and they still have not changed. The novel takes place on an island in the South Seas and the protagonist is a half-Italian half-English boy. I wanted to talk about what I call the “foreigner’s privilege”: the ease with which you can see yourself from the outside and maybe question yourself, when you are far from home.
Is it necessary to go away to get to know yourself?
Sometimes leaving your routine is crucial to better understand where we are going, what we want. Innocent stays in new places that don’t belong to us can disclose new horizons (or a new abyss), heal wounds or suddenly reopen them. Islands, on top of it, are places in which everything tends to come out, to reach the surface. Instincts and desires are encouraged to float up, and even those who don’t want to, are required to face their demons. And to look at things from a different viewpoint, as I was saying.
What are you working on now?
I am doing research for my next books. The initial stage before writing is one of the best, at least for me. You put together the most diverse things, ideas, people, books, places and objects. You seek your voice and make an assessment of what will be. The outcome in fact rarely resembles the initial idea, on the contrary. But with a little courage, a lot of patience and a patch of sky above your head, there is not much to be feared.
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