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WRITERS' NOTES

100 Days in Aix-en-Provence

  • onNovember 14, 2014
  • Vol.19 Spring 2013
  • byHan Yujoo


LTI Korea Forum, Bibliothèque Méjanes lecture hall

 

Although I had spent six months in France a number of years ago, I had never been to the southern part of the country. Now I was going for three months, from September to December for my LTI Korea residency, and I had no idea what to pack. All of those who had been there assured me that the weather was golden, utterly flawless. I decided to take mostly light clothing and left for Provence, Aix-en-Provence, to be precise.

The weather had been my greatest concern before leaving. Once I arrived, however, the weather was the last thing on my mind. It was always fair, as I had been told, every morning an occasion to rejoice. And so once I had been lulled into forgetting about the weather, I began to take notice of other things. Mostly I noticed the people. 

The town of Aix-en-Provence was small enough to walk around in half an hour. The houses were painted in eggshell, and there was a fountain in every alley. I counted over 10 bookstores in the tiny village. With the exception of a few, most were small affairs devoted to used books or some other kind of specialty. The population, I thought, could not amount to more than 200,000 people. For me it was nothing short of extraordinary that such a small city could sustain over 10 bookstores.

The LTI Korea Forum was held at the Bibliothèque Méjanes in the center of the village. Writers Pyun Hye-Young, Kim Junghyuk, and Kim Ae-ran flew in from Korea. The French translations of their books had just been published. I was to join the forum with them as writer-in-residence. We were not prepared for the surprise that greeted us, however, when we arrived at the auditorium of the library that evening. Almost all 300 seats of the hall were full. There was a hall packed full of people that had most likely never heard of us before.

 


from left to right: Kim Ae-ran, Pyun Hye-Young, Jean Claude De Crescenzo, Han Yujoo, Kim Junghyuk, and Kim Hye-gyeong

 

Professors Jean Claude de Crescenzo and Kim Hye-gyeong presided over the forum, which consisted of readings, interviews, and question and answer sessions. For over two and a half hours the audience kept their places, listening carefully to the unfamiliar cadence of Korean. When I was living in Paris a few years ago, every time I took the metro I would wonder if France was practically the only country in the world where a writer might make a living without having to supplement their income in other ways. It was an idle thought, born of resignation, ignorance, and wonder at the sheer novelty of it all. In practice I have no doubt French authors struggle as much as others, but looking at the crowded auditorium gave me a strange feeling. Frankly, I marveled.

 


a reading at the Librairie Le Bleuet

During my three months in Aix-en-Provence I was able to meet quite a few people with a great interest in Korean literature. Most of them had lived in Korea at some point. I was not able to engage in as many conversations with them as I would have liked, due to the brevity of my stay, but we were able to share our thoughts on literature, on where it was headed in today’s world, on how there might be different ways of expression, of expressing what is important in literature, and how a new world opens up once these differences are understood.

My flight back to Korea left from Charles de Gaulle Airport, so I had to go to Paris. During the three and a half hours’ journey north on the TGV, the clouds crept over the sky as the train sped on to higher latitudes. By the time I reached Paris it was raining. Walking out of the long platform, I did not look back. I did not look back because I already missed the place I had left. 

 

by Han Yujoo

Author's Profile

Han Yujoo debuted in 2003 by winning the Literature and Society’s New Writers Award for the short story “To the Moon.” She won the Hankook Ilbo Literary Award in 2009. She has authored the short story collections To the Moon, Book of Ice, and My Left Hand the King and My Right Hand the King’s Scribe, and the novel The Impossible Fairy Tale, which has been translated into English and French. She is also a noted translator, whose works include translations of Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table, and Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful and The Ongoing Moment, among others, into Korean. She is an active member of an experimental group called Rue and also runs Oulipopress, an independent publisher.