Shades of the Other Shore


Shades of the Other Shore
Jeffrey Greene and Ralph Petty

The Cahier Series, Sylph Editions, London

Barnes & Noble

Shades of the Other Shore has come about through a collaboration between writer Jeffrey Greene and artist Ralph Petty. The two, writer and artist, share rural American beginnings, but have since discovered a new life in France, in sparsely populated French areas of Burgundy and the Ardèche, respectively. Their cahier offers a deep mapping of their adopted regions: Greene’s sequence of sketches and poems explores imagined correspondences between personal and historical ghosts tied to the seasons; Petty’s water colours records a journey to the source of a local river. The result is a rich artistic translation, through their American sensibilities, of the landscapes of their chosen homes.

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Greene’s exploration those ghosts takes the form of prose sketches and poems depicting thoughts he has throughout the seasons. Here is the first one. It beautifully brings in the season — winter — and the local flavor of Burgundy, while it introduces us to the ghosts Greene will be considering throughout the year. Here, the ghosts is his still-living mother, on her way to the hospital:

On Hoarfrost

There must be a principle of physics that makes frost love glass, the night air imprinting car windows with crystal patterns. But in Burgundy, there are whole days when a freezing mist appears, turns everything pure white: the trees, grasses, stone walls, roof tiles, and roads. The effect is very different from snow, as objects retain their form, but are unified by the thin white coating and given an equal weight, held in a cold fog. One feels that the world has been narrowed to the moment, no difference between morning and noon; no sky, no distance, no history.

Looking for a scraper, I open the trunk to rummage through my mother’s various emergency supplies: flares, tools, tire inflator, jumper cables, medical kit. None of these provisions help her with this sort of travel, a trip for a morning admission to the hospital.

My mother is already seated in the car, engine running with the defroster blowing, and as I scrape away the hoarfrost, her face and figure emerge from under the glass, looking out as if I were exhuming her from the next world into this one.

Greene’s writing continues to explore the region and its ghosts (and his mother’s health): Joan of Arc drank from the local river; a married couple committed suicide nearby a beautiful, decrepit mill; why, Greene himself at a younger age haunts Greene’s thoughts as he’s turning sixty.

This cahier checks off a lot of boxes for me. Its focus on region, nature, memory, ghosts, seasons reminds me of, though it’s quite different from, some of my absolute favorites: J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine and W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. It’s great to make this a trio of beloved books that performs what Greene calls a “deep mapping of place.”

Times Literary Supplement Shades of the Other Shore, two Americans, a poet and an artist respectively, are “translated” from the United States to rural France, with Jeffrey Greene’s short prose pieces and poems exploring “imagined correspondences between personal and historical ghosts tied to the seasons”, and Ralph Petty’s watercolours recording a journey to the source of a local river