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Thursday, 6 September 2012

A lazy day afloat and ashore

Thursday, September 6th., Annecy, France.

Too idle to shave myself. I employed the hotel barber, who had little to say, even about the weather. D. and I reflected upon my next film until 11.15. Lunch a bit late, and then we dashed off in a taxi to catch the 2.10 steamer France for the tour du lac.

Two views of the steamer France


The last paddle steamer operating on the lake was also the largest, the France, built in 1909. At 47.25m long she closely resembled the Escher-Wyss steamers on the Swiss lakes. Withdrawn in 1963, the France subsequently sank in 1971 and her largely intact wreck has recently been visited by divers.

There are one or two fine mountains in full view (7,000 ft. or so) but I found it impossible to be enthusiastic about lake scenery. It is like living in a picture postcard, especially when there is full sunshine.

Picture postcard of the lake steamer

The steamer calls at all sorts of places, little places. Menthon was the best. We stepped off at Duingt because Noel Coward had given such an enthusiastic account of it to Dorothy. Not bad, but suffering from the disadvantage of being seriously cut off by hills from the sun both east and west.

Duingt today is considered one of the most beautiful villages of France, according to the book of the same name ("Les Plus Beaux Villages de France"). With its medieval streets and houses, the village has retained much of the charm of its past and has no fewer than three castles: one, in ruins, can only be seen in winter when the leaves fall from the trees. The others, the Château de Duingt or "Châteauvieux" graces the peninsula, and in 1896 was the subject of a painting by Paul Cézanne. The third, the Château d'Héré, is now owned by the town and is used for concerts and gatherings.

Noel must have been there in love some hot August.

Sir Noël Peirce Coward (16 December 1899 – 26 March 1973) was an English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, known for his wit, flamboyance, and what Time magazine called "a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise". Born in Teddington, a suburb of London, Coward attended a dance academy in London as a child, making his professional stage début at the age of eleven. As a teenager he was introduced into the high society in which most of his plays would be set. Coward achieved enduring success as a playwright, publishing more than 50 plays from his teens onwards. Many of his works, such as Hay Fever, Private Lives, Design for Living, Present Laughter and Blithe Spirit, have remained in the regular theatre repertoire. He composed hundreds of songs, in addition to well over a dozen musical theatre works (including the operetta Bitter Sweet and comicrevues), poetry, several volumes of short stories, the novel Pomp and Circumstance, and a three-volume autobiography. Coward's stage and film acting and directing career spanned six decades, during which he starred in many of his own works. At the outbreak of World War II, Coward volunteered for war work, running the British propaganda office in Paris. He also worked with the Secret Service, seeking to use his influence to persuade the American public and government to help Britain. Coward won an Academy Honorary Award in 1943 for his naval film drama, In Which We Serve, and was knighted in 1969. In the 1950s he achieved fresh success as a cabaret performer, performing his own songs, such as "Mad Dogs and Englishmen", "London Pride" and "I Went to a Marvellous Party".  His plays and songs achieved new popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, and his work and style continue to influence popular culture. Coward did not publicly acknowledge his homosexuality, but it was discussed candidly after his death by biographers including Graham Payn, his long-time partner, and in Coward's diaries and letters, published posthumously.

“He is the Congreve of our day,” I remarked of Noël Coward after seeing the first production of Private Lives in 1930. Coward, who was never really at ease with either Elizabethan or Restoration comedy, may not have welcomed this judgement - yet it seems, now, to be the right one. The reviews I contributed to the New Age and the London Evening Standard testify to my skill as a predictor of literary survival; my valuations of Swinburne and Chekhov being particularly farsighted. I treated Private Lives with respect, unlike most of the critics, who complained of its “brittleness” and “thinness.” Ivor Brown set the tone in the Observer: “Within a few years the student of drama will be sitting in complete bewilderment before the text of Private Lives, wondering what on earth those fellows in 1930 saw in so flimsy a trifle.” The “trifle” is now almost 70 years old!

After tea, we climbed a little way up the hill below the church and sat, and I made a slight sketch of a lake-and-mountain composition (the first interesting one I had seen). Then another steamer back, arriving at 6.30 at Annecy.

I then reflected for one hour on my film and I got a real notion or two. My story "Punch and Judy" intended as the basis for a film by Alfred Hitchcock has recently been rediscovered and published. It was never filmed. Maybe Hitchcock and I had too much in common (including a great deal of self-esteem) to be completely compatible as collaborators.

After dinner I read about 50 pages of Keyserling's "Europe". I was prepared to disdain it but did not utterly.

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