07 July 2011

Paul Gervais- reflections on Reading


Paul Gervais

Paul Gervais is writing from Italy in his home, the restored Villa Massei. He has just celebrated his birthday with a dinner for fifty. No doubt-daunting for most----- for someone like Paul it seems to happen easily with a casual elegance and with great panache.

Villa Massei  
originally the Renaissance country house of the Count Sinebaldis

Paul and his partner Gil Cohen have had a love affair with Villa Massei for almost 30  years. He found his way to to Villa in Lucca by way of  growing up in northern Massachusetts- where he adds was"just a stone's throw from New Hampshire where my ancestors had lived for more than nine generations." 
Next-A life in San Francisco, circa 1970's where he met Gil.
Then a return to New York, circa 1980. Could there be any doubt the adventure had only begun for the pair?

 Villa Massei

Paul Gervais is a successful writer, painter and landscape designer-and still has time to record his work & play in the blog Gervais de Bédée. He has taken up painting again and is preparing for a show of his recent works-& they are archived on his other blog- Paul Gervais Art/Works
Paul immediately consented to  answering some questions about one of his many passions and my own- Reading.

a Charles X chair- Italian, at the Villa Massei-the perfect spot reading

It has "comforted many a weary old soul since 1830, the year of its manufacture—recovering it would be a pity." PG

What Books are on your Summer reading list?

I was just given three books last night, as a birthday present, by my friend Diamantina Scola-Camerini ,and so these three volumes have suddenly appeared on my summer reading list.

The first is The Moral Animal, Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology by Robert Wright. Now this sounds like something only very dull anti-social people would ever bother to pick up, but interestingly enough it is aimed at a wide audience and was named one of the New York Times’s best books of the year. 

The second is Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee. I’d read his wonderful Guns, Germs and Steel as I crossed snow-covered Burgundy last December by train on my way to Nice from Paris in a driving blizzard and I found it a wonderful traveling companion. 

And the third is a book called Storia di un breve viaggio (The Story of a Short Trip) by my friend Diamantina herself, a bound short story in chap book form—I’m very curious; we’ve been friends for years and I hadn’t known she wrote!

the stacks at Villa Massei

Is there one book that is always there that you honestly don’t expect to get to once again? Why?

After a year or so of dormancy I pull the bookmarks out of them and put them back on the shelves. 

Where do you read and When? Does the genre you are reading dictate the  place you read- in other words, Do you take just any old book to bed?

I do read in bed, but not every night. Sometimes I’m just too tired and so I watch a little news and call it a day. But if I’m serious about reading a book I tend to do it in my “red room” in front of the fireplace. I also find trains and airports conducive to reading—being stuck in a place where no one can possibly disturb you and send you off in the pursuit of another task.


What does your nightstand look like? or your side of the bed, floor,chair! 


Paul's bedroom see more of it here
I read by a lamp fashioned from an antique 19th century porcelain vase which sits on a half-round neo-classical style table ( you can see it in my post A Glance around my Bedroom). The table has an under shelf and this is where my reading material tends to await my attention.

What is you all time Favorite Book for its sense of place?

Maybe The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles—but there are many.

Tennesse Williams reviewed The Sheltering Sky for the New York Times in 1949 and wrote,"

 There is a curiously double level to this novel. The surface is enthralling as narrative. It is impressive as writing. But above that surface is the aura that I spoke of, intangible and powerful, bringing to mind one of those clouds that you have seen in summer, close to the horizon and dark in color and now and then silently pulsing with interior flashes of fire. And that is the surface of the novel that has filled me with such excitement... “In its interior aspect, The Sheltering Sky is an allegory of the spiritual adventure of the fully conscious person into modern experience.”

What is your Security Blanket Book?


It would have to be books like The Enigma of Arrival by V. S. Naipaul, or Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr—there are many of these too.

"How could people like these, without words to put to their emotions and passions, manage? They could, at best, only suffer dumbly. Their pains and humiliations would work themselves out in their characters alone: like evil spirits possessing a body, so that the body itself might appear innocent of what it did." — V.S. Naipaul (The Enigma of Arrival)

What is your favorite Genre? Why? What is your most recent purchase in this category?


I tend to favor realistic fiction, books that make you say, He can’t be making this up. I love non-fiction as well, especially memoire. I recently read The Hare with Amber Eyes. Very nice.

What about Books you are reading for a second or third time? Why? 
 Any disappointments on second reading?


I’ve just started reading a book for the third time, Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard. I love anything by Bernhard and I’ve read other books of his more than once. He’s the most amazing writer; his power is that of extraordinary intimacy.

What is the seminal book in your field or your passion that you would recommend to young would be/s of the same?


Am I an esthete? Is that what it is? 

Yes, of course!

All right then, A Voice Through a Cloud by Denton Welch.

Latest Obsession Author?

I’ve been obsessed with many authors over the years, Nabokov, Naipaul, Proust. At the moment I’m obsession free.

Book covers can be art- Do you have a favorite cover  in your stacks?

I do love the cover of my book A Garden in Lucca, done by the very talented Louise Fili.

Going out on a limb here –define LIBRARY in the nontraditional sense?

Organized reflections.

John Locke said- "Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him.
Paul-I think surpasses Locke's expectation at each trajectory.

Paul's website here
A Garden in Lucca by Paul Gervais here 
There is a wonderful cycle on  Paul at 1st dibs' Style Compass here
more about A Voice Through A Cloud by Denton Welch here
his blogs here



  1. wonderful spot ! Lucca is delightful just an hour from me thankyou Gaye x

  2. Just stopped in to find this lovely post, great fun, I'm so delighted you thought to come and interview about one of my favorite concerns in life: books. All best, Paul.

  3. Great post. Great man. And he is from Massachusetts!

  4. A great visit. I appreciated the coherent breadth in the citations but also the explorative character.

  5. Now I have my summer reading list. Thanks.

  6. The questions you ask are brilliant. Not your stnadard interview and I thouroughly enjoyed Paul's responses and opinions. I would be one of those people that would read the 'Moral Animal', I must track it down. Paul & Gils villa must be one of the most idyllic spots to live ones life; so beautiful. Thank you for a terrific read. I look forward to visiting Pauls blogs. I must thank you too for your comment on my recent post. It made my week.

    Cheers ~ Deb

  7. LA, my head is staggering at your posts of late.... I cannot possibly take in so much genius so quickly!
    Brilliant post, AGAIN... so much to dissect, books to re-read, books to read for the first time, ideas to ponder, info to track.
    I feel just like Pooh, with his "small brain that only holds a small much"!

  8. Not does Paul Gervais have great taste in homes, countries, design and art, he has amazing taste in cats. Thanks for a great post. Mary

  9. Paul- I thank you for your time in this endeavor. I love your new paintings.

    Thanks to everyone of you for the comments-it goes without saying Paul's answers require me to read more! Is that possible. My pick of these-sense I have to censor myself is the Denton Welch book. After reading some of the reviews and with Paul's recommendation it is a must, and by the way I already have Paul's book A Garden In Lucca. pgt

  10. CATS, as to Siamese. My great grandmother and my great aunt had Siamese cats-A mother and son. Great Granmother- to the mother-her daughter-to the Siamese son.Each taking on the same roles and characters of their mistresses. the most unique cats I think.

  11. I am catching up here. What a fabulous entry!! How did I lose track of Paul? I remember visiting his blog once and then somehow never made it back. That certainly won't happen again. What a spectacular villa and love both your questions and his replies. Louise Fili is one of my favorite graphic designers and she of course has close ties to all things Italian (with style).

  12. Mr. Gervais was here.....in Santa Barbara.....and photographed a beautiful garden! Bravo!

    I believe in sharing beauty......and I am so grateful ! I have been to that house.....and I am an admirer!

    I adore the book! My husband's grandfather came to San Francisco (around the horn!!) from a small village in 1889 (or so) called "Lucca"!!

    We visited that village when my daughter studied in Florence! What a thrill! We discovered the "photograph" (a photo on enamel.....on the gravestone in this tiny town! It is my husband's exact face!! with a mustache!)

    My daughter when she heard me scream........swiftly arrived....and said......"well, Adam......we know what you will look like with a mustache!!"

    the likeness is astonishing! I thought I was seeing a ghost! (and I love, and believe in ghosts!!)
    Don't you???

    1. Indeed! Just as Turbeville's photographs-there is the seen and unseen. I always am finding synchronicity, likeness too. I think as well as looks-I inherited that fascination from my mother! pgt



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