A garden brings us together, whatever our culture, beliefs or occupations. It is a place of active peace where all in it can live in dialogue. Every plant and every being is of use to us in the noble sense of the word: indispensable for a rich lifeThis charming performance in the Jnan Sbil gardens was reminiscent of a French salon littéraire. It was easy to imagine oneself in Paris in a previous century, in a salon listening to Georges Sand or Victor Hugo reading their latest work.
～ Patrick Scheyder
Conceived by pianist Patrick Scheyder, the Gardens East and West - Botanical Breath, consisted of romantic piano pieces by the likes of Rimski-Korsakov, Mozart and Bach, as well as improvised ones. Texts on the theme of the garden spanning 400 years were read in French by renowned French actor, Michael Lonsdale and in Arabic by a Syrian poet, Madyan Matar.
Gardens and their beauty may be a classical theme, but given today's ecological challenges, including the loss of biodiversity, that theme is, of course, even more relevant. Patrick Scheyder conceived the performance as a way of making connections between the art of the garden and the arts of expression - music, dance, film and literature.
Now 86, Michael Lonsdale is well known for his role in more than 180 films and television shows, and his mellifluous tones were well suited to a selection of readings of French classics. He has a personal connection with Morocco, having lived in Casablanca as a child during World War II.
"A garden produces happiness," he began. "It benefits humankind in a multitude of ways, from epicurean to cultural...it encompasses food and the spirit, and is responsible for a sense of life...It is also contra to technology."
He read poems and prose works by the likes of Rousseau, La Fontaine, Victor Hugo and George Sand, as well as more unexpected choices such as Cri Tarzan, as sung by Claude Nougaro.
Syrian poet and scholar of French literature, Madyan Matar, moved to France seven months ago from Lebanon where he had been a refugee. He began with a poem from Ibn Znbaa, a classic of Arabic literature from sixteenth century Al Andalous. Not being conversant with classical Arabic, later I asked him what it was about. "It's called, The day that shows us the beauty of flowers", he explained. "It starts with descriptions of flowers, such as jasmine, then talks about clouds, a star in the sky, the sound of water, and the voice of birds."
Matar also read an ode he had written in French to the city of his birth. Titled "Damas" (Damascus), it began, "I have forgotten the days, I have forgotten the hours. And the years disappear, and the time of happiness..."
On a hot afternoon, sitting under trees and with the view of the lake and an occasional stork flying overhead, Jnan Sbil felt a world away from the hell of places like Syria. Instead romantic piano music and words such as birds, flowers, light, love and water washed over the audience. It was an hour and a half of pleasant tranquility and I felt fortunate to experience it.
Review and photographs by Suzanna Clarke