(Belles) Surprises in a time of cholera: Journal d’une artiste maman parisienne

julie sabrinia bizien

Sabrinia Bizien, “Abundance.” Just one of the elements that helped the author find – and plant – surprises around the compact apartment in the East of Paris that she shares with her husband Thomas and their sons Armand (8) and Aimé (4) during the two months France’s population was confined at home.

By Julie Safier-Guizard
Translation by Paul Ben-Itzak with the author

(V.O. Française follows translation.)

How does an over-worked, overtly creative Parisian mother, daughter, musician, youth choir director and writer make sure she stops and smells the roses? By noting, recording, and sharing them with friends and family. For Julie Safier-Guizard, for the past 630 days this has meant keeping daily journals of “Petites Joies” and “Surprises.” When the pandemic arrived, bringing with it, on March 15, a government order to shelter in place (lifted May 11; French restaurants, cafés, and other workplaces fully re-open today, public schools beginning next Monday), allowing just one-hour per day outings for health and family imperatives, physical exercise, or grocery shopping, Julie Safier-Guizard, the daughter of an American man and French woman and a Paris native, saw no reason to stop looking for surprises.

March 15 – 21, 2020

Surprise, Day 186

Against all odds, not knowing what exactly I might have nor when I’ll be better, I’ve decided to continue the challenge of “Surprises,” so that these little scintillating sparks of mischief, joy and life might do some good for us every day. I’d dreamed up scores of possibilities with the wild things; at the end of the day they found, entirely on their own, a passionate, all-consuming pastime: Skinning carrots!

julie kids and carrotsShort-order chefs en germe: Armand and Aimé on voluntary KP duty.

Surprise, Day 186 1/2:

Unable to go outside to see the flowers bloom, we’ve created our own… in all colors!

First, we draw by hand or with the computer flowers that we then color. Then we cut them up and then, finally, fold the petals over one by one. When the flowers are placed in the water, the petals  unfold more or less rapidly.

julie bizien hidden with flowersFlower-power: Les vrais fleurs chez Julie and Thomas – a professional gardener – soon got some company thanks to  apprentice faux fleurs gardeners Armand and Aimé.

Surprise, Day 186 2/3

“We are at war….” The voice of our dear president resonates in the kitchen from the small crackling radio, missing half its antenna.

Thomas is frozen stiff, holding the radio in his hands like a fragile object.

I imitate the orator and tell myself that it won’t be tomorrow that we’ll be getting a television. I like imagining too much….

Sitting on my knees, Aimé finishes his apple sauce (the only dish that he seems to like at the moment).

As for Armand, at the same time riveted to the radio and a trifle antsy, he ends up asking, after the president has enumerated all the activities to be proscribed, “But why doesn’t he say to not watch television too much?”

How true! What an unpardonable omission!

 

Surprise, Day 187

Aimé seizes my pills:

“Mom, it says here, ‘Pills for never being sick.'”

Génial!

Surprise, Day 187 1/2

To liven up meal-times in a way that insures they don’t degenerate into total chaos, we make up riddles. Aimé gets into the spirit of the thing… in his fashion:

“You’ve guessed what it is?”

“An animal?”

“Yes!”

“Yellow?”

“No! Blue.”

“An… elephant?”

“No.”

“A bird?”

“No, a leopard!” cries Aimé, delighted to divulge the answer.

“But Aimé… a leopard, it’s…”

“A blue leopard is blue!” he declares in a tone that allows no room for debate.

And indeed, he’s right!

Surprise, Day 188

We cannot guarantee that the words which follow are correctly spelled.

“Mom, I don’t want you to dye!”

“What do you mean, Aimé?”

“I don’t want you to dyonos!”

“Er, Aimé….”

“I don’t want you to morose… that you’ll be dead, if you really need me to spell it out! You understained now?”

Surprise, Day 189

“Aimé, I don’t want you hanging out alone on the balcony.”

“It’s not ‘balcony,’ Mom, it’s ‘balcokneeeee’!”

“How’s that?”

“I said, It’s not ‘balcony,’ it’s ‘balcokneeeeee!'”

“Oh, of course: the balcokneeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

“Yes, ‘balcokneeeeeeeeeee’ is ‘balcony’ in Aimish…”

But of course!

Surprise, Day 190

“Mom, can I be a girl?”

“Um, Aimé, you’re a boy…. So you’d rather be a girl?”

“Yes!”

“Okay…: Is it that you want to do things girls do, or that you want to be a girl?”

“Be a girl! Just a little bit! But after I’ll be a boy again, okey-dokey?”

Magic wand, anyone?

Surprise, Day 190 1/2

Opening the window yesterday, I received a shock. It wasn’t like usual. Because my nose had a sudden urge to plunge into the nocturnal air and take it in completely. It was the aromas…. Yes, that’s it, one senses the night’s aromas like never before. I felt as if I were enveloped in a soft quilt made up of a thousand aromatic corners, innumerable patchworks, patchworks each of which offered its own unique perfume…. It was somewhat fluid, indeterminate, but at the same time it was like I was getting inebriated inhaling each aroma in such an exquisite manner. Starting tonight, every night I plan on opening my window and making a ritual out of trying to recognize at least one of these patchworks. Odors, effluvia, and perfumes will be my playground.

Our Planet is finally able to breathe and reclaim its colors. I want to cry with joy.

Surprise, Day 191

This morning everything is perfectly quiet. I enter their room discretely and find the boys, for once, calm … and very busy!

The room is filling up little by little with stickers and collages of all kinds. It’s entirely likely that the walls will soon be saturated, given the length of the wait which is expected….

julie picture in bathroomSalle des surprises: Art ‘caché by Sabrinia Bizien.

Surprise, Day 191 1/2

I divert myself by planting surprises all around our apartment, utilizing glossy paper, the printer, and poster putty…. In this way, the eye settles on the gentle tableaux (by Sabrinia Bizien) and gets lost for a moment.

Not far from the dish-washing liquid… above the kitchen table… to the left of the stove, in the bathroom….

I’ll see how the boys react….

Surprise, Day 191 2/3

With the kind permission of Miss MM, “Paint-brush meets plume” goes public for at least 14 days. 14 days with a daily painting and accompanying poem….

In this way we hope to provide a bit of balm for these difficult times.

julie unicornAnd what about you? Do you still believe in wonder-full surprises? Art by Mariane Mazel.

Painting by Mariane Mazel
Poem by Julie Safier-Guizard

First Encounter

From the gushing of purple
I cry towards you
I am red lip-stick
I am cherry blossoms
Dangling from ear-lobes
And I cry towards you
Born from my pallor
Cousin of violet
It is
all the same
inside me that this cry
Vibrates the most intensely
Purple cry
Violetas.

(Author’s biography follows original French version below.)

Version française originale
par Julie Safier-Guizard

Depuis 630 jours, Julie Safier-Guizard, maman – artiste parisienne, enregistre les ‘Surprises’ et ‘Petites joies’ quotidienne, y compris dans le foyer qu’elle partage avec son mari Thomas et leurs fils Aimé (4) et Armand (8). Et ce ne serai pas un petit confinement de 2 mois qui vas les faire arrêté, les surprises. Au contraire. — PB-I

Du 15 au 21 mars

Surprise, jour 186

Envers et contre tout, ne sachant ni ce que j’ai exactement, ni quand j’irai mieux, j’ai décidé de continuer le défi des SURPRISES, pour que de petites étincelles de malice, de joie et de vie, nous fassent du bien chaque jour.

J’avais prévu plein de possibilités avec les fauves, finalement ils se sont trouvé eux-mêmes une activité passionnante : l’épluchage de carottes !!!

Surprise, jour 186 bis

A défaut de se promener pour voir les fleurs éclore… On en a fait de toutes les couleurs !

Dessiner ou imprimer des fleurs que l’on colorie. Puis les découper et enfin replier pétale sur pétale. En mettant sur l’eau chaque fleur de papier, elles vont se déplier plus ou moins vite…

Surprise, jour 186 ter

« Nous en sommes en guerre… »

La voix de notre cher président résonne dans la cuisine à travers le petit poste grésillant auquel manque une moitié d’antenne.

Thomas s’est figé, tenant le poste comme une chose fragile.

Je me figure les mimiques de l’orateur et me dis que ce n’est pas demain la veille que nous aurons une télévision. J’aime trop imaginer….

Assis sur mes genoux, Aimé finit sa compote (seul plat qu’il semble apprécier en ce moment).

Quant à Armand, à la fois attentif et un peu agité, il finit par lancer :

— Mais pourquoi il ne dit pas de ne pas trop regarder la télévision… ?

(C’est vrai ça ! Quel impardonnable oubli !)

Surprise, jour 187

Aimé se saisit de mes médicaments :

– Maman, il est écrit dessus « Pastilles pour ne plus jamais être malade ».

Génial !

Surprise, jour 187 bis

Pour animer les repas de manière à ce qu’on parte un peu moins dans tous les sens, on fait des devinettes.

Aimé joue… à sa manière :

– Vous devinez alors ?

– C’est un animal ?

– Oui !

– Jaune ?

– Non ! C’est bleu.

– Un… éléphant ?

– Non

– Un oiseau ?

– Non, un léopard, s’écrie Aimé, ravi de divulguer sa devinette.

– Mais Aimé… un léopard c’est…

– Un léopard bleu, c’est bleu !, lance-t-il d’un ton sans réplique.

Et il a bien raison !

Surprise, jour 188

[Nous ne certifions pas la bonne orthographe des mots qui vont suivre]

– Maman, je veux pas que tu moures !

– Pardon Aimé ?

– Je veux pas que tu mourisses !

– Mais Aimé…

– Je veux pas que tu mors… que tu sois mort, pour que tu comprennes !

Vous avez comprisse ?

Surprise, jour 189

– Aimé, je préfère que tu ne restes pas seul sur le balcon.

– Pas le balcon maman, le baaaalcon !

– Pardon ?

– Je dis : pas le balcon, le baaaalcon !

– Ah, oui : le baaaaaalcon !

– Oui, baaaaalcon c’est le balcon en « français Aimé » !

Ah mais bien sûr !

Surprise, jour 190

– Maman, est-ce que je pourrais être une fille ?

– Euh… Tu es un garçon Aimé… tu aimerais être une fille alors ?

– Oui !

– Bon… Tu as envie de faire des choses de fille ou être une fille ?

– Etre une fille, juste un petit peu ! Mais après je serai encore un garçon, d’accord ?

Baguette magique, anyone ?

Surprise, jour 190 bis

Hier soir, en ouvrant la fenêtre, j’ai reçu un choc. Ce n’était pas comme d’habitude. Car mon nez a eu envie de se plonger dans l’air nocturne et de l’accueillir entièrement. C’étaient les odeurs… Oui, c’est ça, on sentait les odeurs de la nuit comme jamais !

Je me suis sentie enveloppée dans une douce couette aux mille recoins odorants, aux patchworks innombrables, patchworks qui chacun proposait son parfum… C’était assez flou, indéterminé, et en même temps j’étais comme saoule de recevoir chaque odeur de manière aussi fine.

A partir de ce soir, chaque nuit, j’ouvrirai ma fenêtre et m’amuserai à reconnaître au moins l’un ces patchworks. Odeurs, effluves et parfums seront mon terrain de jeu.

Notre Terre respire enfin et reprend des couleurs. Je voudrais crier de joie…

Surprise, jour 191

Ce matin, c’était très silencieux… Je suis entrée discrètement et j’ai vu les garçons, pour une fois, tranquilles et très occupés !

La chambre se remplit peu à peu de gommettes et collages en tous genres. Il est très probable que les murs arrivent à saturation étant donné la longueur de l’attente qui s’annonce…

Surprise, jour 191 bis

Je me suis amusée à semer des surprises dans notre appartement, en utilisant le papier photo, l’imprimante et la pâte à fixe… De cette manière, l’œil tombe sur les doux tableaux et peut s’y perdre un instant.

Non loin du liquide vaisselle, au-dessus de la table de la cuisine, à gauche de la cuisinière, dans la salle de bain…

Je verrai comment réagissent les garçons….

Surprise, jour 191 ter

Avec l’aimable autorisation de Demoiselle MM, « Pinceau et plume se rencontrent » devient public pendant au moins 14 jours.

14 jours avec quotidiennement une peinture et son poème…

Nous espérons ainsi diffuser un peu de baume en ces temps difficiles.

julie unicornEt vous? Est-ce que vous croyez toujours aux surprises? Art par Mariane Mazel.

Peinture de Mariane Mazel
Poème par Julie Safier-Guizard

Première Rencontre

Du jaillissement du pourpre
Je crie vers toi
Je suis bâton de rouge aux lèvres
Je suis fleurs cerises
Aux lobes d’oreilles
Et je crie vers toi
Né de ma pâleur
cousine du violet
C’est pourtant en moi que ce cri
Vibre le plus
Cri pourpre
Violetas.

Une petite chaise d’enfant, un dessin et des pinces à linge. C’est avec ces objets que Julie Safier-Guizard a commencé à fabriquer des histoires, à l’âge de 5 ans. Le dimanche, chargée de son matériel, elle sonnait à la porte des voisins de son immeuble, et s’ils voulaient bien l’inviter, elle accrochait un dessin au dossier de sa chaise et inventait pour eux un conte. Aujourd’hui, si Julie est devenue musicienne de métier, elle n’a jamais cessé d’écrire. Auteur de fragments de vie et de nouvelles pour adultes, Julie fait aussi jouer son imagination pour les enfants : en avril 2017, la maison lunii lui a commandé une série de 18 histoires audio pour les 3-6 ans et elle est en train de terminer l’écriture d’un roman jeunesse.

A small children’s chair, a drawing, and a few clothes-pins. It was with these objects that Julie Safier-Guizard started making up stories, at the age of five. On Sundays, her arms loaded with her props, she’d ring the doors of the neighbors in her Paris apartment building, and if they were up for inviting her in, she’d hang a drawing on the back of her chair and invent a story for them. These days, if Safier-Guizard has become a musician by metier, she’s never stopped writing. The author of fragments of life and short stories for adults, she also makes her imagination play for children: In April 2017, the Paris publisher Lunii asked her to make a series of 18 audio stories for children three to six years old, and she is currently finishing a novel for adolescents.

A Dance Insider/Arts Voyager May Day exclusive: Michel Ragon’s The Book of the Vanquished (“La mémoire des vainçus”) (Extracts, in newly revised translation, with new introduction)

by and copyright Michel Ragon
Translation copyright Paul Ben-Itzak
Original French-language novel copyright Éditions Albin Michel

Editor’s note: On this May Day 2020, with Donald Trump abusing the Military Production Act to potentially send workers to their deaths by asserting he has the right to pre-empt state decisions to close the meat-packing plants which are loci for virus contamination (where’s Upton Sinclair when you need him?), and with the governors of Iowa and Nebraska insisting that those who refuse to return to hazardous working conditions will see their unemployment benefits cut off, we thought the moment propitious to revise and share our translated excerpts of Michel Ragon’s “La mémoire des vainçus” (literally, “the memory of the vanquished”), as proof that if the struggle is still not over, the battles of the vanquished are never really in vain. And can still serve as inspiration for the labor and human rights struggles to come. (To read the Paris Tribune / Arts Voyager serialized publication of Michel Ragon’s “Trompe-l’Oeil,” click here. )

“The ideal is when one is able to die for one’s ideas. Politics is when one can live for them.”

— Charles Péguy, cited on frontispiece, “The Book of the Vanquished.”

“Books can also die, but they last longer than men. They get passed on from hand to hand, like the Olympic flame. My friend, my father, my older brother, you have not entirely slid into oblivion, because this book of your life exists.”

— Michel Ragon, Prologue, “The Book of the Vanquished.”

Part One: “The little girl in the fishmongers’ wagon” (1899-1917)

(Excerpt, 1911-1912.)

“As for me, I’m just a poor sap! For those of us at the bottom of the heap, there’s nothing but bad breaks in this world and the one beyond. And of course, when we get to Heaven, it’ll be up to us to make sure the thunder-claps work.”

— Georg Büchner, “Woyzeck,” cited on the frontispiece of Part One of “The Book of the Vanquished.”

“Sometimes it’s better to be the vanquished than the victor.”

— Vincent Van Gogh, cited in Lou Brudner’s preface to “Büchner, Complete Works,” published by Le Club Français du livre, Paris, 1955.

Translator’s note: With the exception of Fred and Flora, who may be real, may be fictional, or may be composites, all the personages cited below and in Michel Ragon’s novel are based on real historical figures, notably Paul Delesalle (1870-1948), the Left Bank bookseller. Later adopting the pen name Victor Serge, Victor Kibaltchich (1890-1947) would become a noted Socialist theorist who, like Fred in “The Book of the Vanquished,” eventually broke with the Bolsheviks. Rirette Maîtrejean was his actual companion. Raymond-la-Science, René Valet, and Octave Garnier were real members of the Bonnot Gang, the details of their denouement recounted by Ragon as translated below accurate. For the other personalities evoked, including leading figures in the European Anarcho-Syndicaliste milieu in its heyday, as well as certain events alluded to, I’ve included brief footnotes, as these personalities and events may not be as familiar to an Anglophone audience as to Ragon’s French readers, for whom they represent markers in the national memory, notably the infamous “Bande à Bonnot,” whose exploits still resonate in a contemporary France wracked by youthful alienation and haunted by the terrorism in which this is sometimes manifest.

Every morning the cold awoke the boy at dawn. Long before the street-lanterns dimmed, in the pale gray light he shook off the dust and grime of his hovel at the end of a narrow alley flanking the Saint-Eustache church. Stretching out his limbs like a cat he flicked off the fleas and, like a famished feline, took off in search of nourishment, flairing the aromas wafting down the street. With Les Halles wholesale market coming to life at the same time, it didn’t take long for him to score something hot. The poultry merchants never opened their stalls before debating over a bowl of bouillon, and the boy always received his share. Then he’d skip off, hop-scotching between the trailers loaded with heaps of victuals.  Every Friday he’d march up the rue des Petits-Carreaux to meet the fishmongers’ wagons arriving from Dieppe, drawn by the aroma of seaweed and fish-scales surging towards the center of Paris. The sea — this sea which he’d never seen and which he pictured as a catastrophic inundation — cut a swathe through the countryside before it descended from the heights of Montmartre. He could hear the carts approaching from far away, like the rumbling of thunder. The churning of the metallic wagon wheels stirred up a racket fit to raise the dead, amplified by the clippety-clop of the horseshoes. Numbed by the long voyage, enveloped in their thick overcoats, the fishmongers dozed in their wagons, mechanically hanging onto the reigns. The horses knew the way by heart. When the first carriages hit the iron pavilions of the market, the resultant traffic jam and grating of the brakes rose up in a grinding, piercing crescendo that reverberated all the way back up to the Poissonnière quartier. The drivers abruptly started awake, spat out a string of invectives, and righted themselves in their seats. Those farther back had to wait until the first arrivals unloaded their merchandise. The horses pawed the ground and stamped their feet. The majority of the men jumped off their carts to go have a little nip in the bistros just raising their shutters.

On this particular Friday, at the rear of one of the wagons sat a small girl. Her naked legs and bare feet dangled off the edge of the cart, and the boy noticed nothing more than this white skin. He drew near. The girl, her head leaning forward, her face hidden by the tussled blonde hair which fell over her eyes, didn’t see him at first. As for the boy, he only had eyes for those plump swinging gams. By the time he was almost on top of them, he could hear the girl singing out a rhymed ditty. He approached his hand, touching one of her calves.

“Eh, lower the mitts! Why, the nerve!”

For the rest of the lengthy excerpt, subscribers e-mail paulbenitzak@gmail.com . Not yet a Dance Insider / Arts Voyager subscriber? Subscriptions are $59 or Euros / year, or $36/students, teachers, artists, dancers, and the unemployed. Just designate your payment via PayPal to paulbenitzak@gmail.com , or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Exceptionally for this excerpt, even non-subscribers can can write us before May 7 and receive a free copy.

Protected: Le Feuilleton (the Serial): (English translation followed by V.O. française) Exclusive! “Trompe-l’Oeil,” Michel Ragon’s saga of artists, dealers, critics, & anti-Semitism in Post-War Paris, Part 12: Bartering painting for meals on the place de la République (Subscriber-only content; to learn how to subscribe, e-mail paulbenitzak@gmail.com.)

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Artists & Critics, Men & Women, Paris Forever: Tryst avec vu sur des rues de Paris, par Gervex, choisi par Huysmans

Orsay Henri Gervex Rolla smallFrom the exhibition Huysmans from Degas to Grünewald: As seen by Francesco Vezzoli, in principle running April 3 through July 19 at the Strasbourg Museum of Contemporary Art after an earlier run at the Orsay Museum in Paris: Henri Gervex (1852-1929), “Rolla,” 1878. Oil on canvas, 176.2 x 221.3 cm. Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux, dépôt du Musée d’Orsay. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay) / Patrice Schmidt. Courtesy Musée d’Orsay, Service Presse. The exhibition features art and artists favored by the critic J.K. Huysmans.

Le Feuilleton (the Serial),10: Exclusive! “Trompe-l’oeil,” Michel Ragon’s saga of artists, dealers, critics, & anti-Semitism in Post-War Paris; Part 10: Conflicts

Vera Molnar, Montparnasse, d'après Klee, en bleu, vert et rouge 2006 To demonstrate how the Abstract Art of which Michel Ragon was one of the first champions is very much a living tradition, where possible the Dance Insider / Paris Tribune are including art from current or recent exhibitions with our exclusive, first-ever English-language serialization of Michel Ragon’s “Trompe-l’oeil.” Above, from last year’s exhibition at the Galerie Berthet- Aittouarès (in, bien sur, Saint-Germain-des-Prés): Vera Molnar, “Montparnasse d’après Klee en bleu vert et rouge,” 2006. © Galerie Berthet-Aittouarès.

by and copyright Michel Ragon
Translation copyright Paul Ben-Itzak
From “Trompe-l’oeil,” published in 1956 by Éditions Albin Michel

Part 10 in the Paris Tribune / Arts Voyager exclusive English-language translation of Michel Ragon’s seminal 1956 novel taking on the world of Abstract art, artists, art collectors, art dealers, and art critics in Paris, as well as post-War anti-Semitism in France. For the first nine  parts, click here. For more on Michel Ragon, in French, click here. To learn how to support our work, e-mail artsvoyager@gmail.com . To support us through PayPal, just designate your donation to paulbenitzak@gmail.com .

Fifteen days later, in the throes of correcting the proofs of the second issue, Fontenoy felt a sudden surge of discouragement. Blanche was working in her atelier at the Cité Falguière. He dropped everything and went to see his companion.

Walking down the Boulevard Montparnasse, he took stock of the results of the first issue of the revue. It was too soon to draw any conclusions, but he had the impression of hurtling against a wall. Like Manhès, what had pleased him about this adventure was the battle to come, the possibility of finally saying in print everything he’d been stifling about this conspiracy against the movement of painting that he loved. This revue would be a little bomb which would go off in the midst of the conformists, the cabals. They’d be forced to respond to so many specific accusations. But neither L’Artiste, nor Le Figaro, nor any other newspaper had yet noted, even with two measly lines, the new revue’s existence. Everything continued just as it had been, as if the revue didn’t exist at all. Some booksellers in Montparnasse and Saint-Germain-des-Prés had put it in their windows. Its successful launch depended on them, and on eventual subscriptions in response to the comp. copies that had been sent out.

Blanche was flattened out on her stomach on the divan, working on a water-color. Fontenoy plopped down next to her. In the atelier, numerous water-colors had been framed behind glass, ready for the imminent exhibition.

“You know,” she remarked, continuing to paint, “it’s no laughing-matter to try to get the bookshops to sell the revue….”

“I know. But it’s the only way to spread the word.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You made the rounds of the art bookshops that you know well, and that know you. No problem. You leave the copies on consignment and they say thanks. But me, I hit the other bookshops. You have no idea how they react. Some don’t accept consignments as a matter of sheer principle. They tell me: ‘When you come back to pick up the unsold copies, they’ve disappeared under a pile. They can’t be found and we have to pay you anyway. Two months later they surface and are unsellable. No no, no consignments.’ ‘Okay, so buy a fixed number of issues.’ ‘You must be joking. We’re inundated as it is!’ And those are the nice ones. Others take a quick look, disabusedly shrug their shoulders, and say no. Some pick up the revue, leaf through it, and burst out in guffaws: ‘Ah! Cool, it’s a take-off? I get it — very clever…. But our customers won’t get it at all.’ I was, however, able to place a few copies that were accepted on consignment, begrudgingly, and in those cases most likely because of my gorgeous eyes.”

In a corner of the atelier Fontenoy spotted the pile of rejected revues. He had a sudden spurt of revolt, of anger:

“But how the hell are we supposed to get off the ground if the newspapers give us the silent treatment, if the bookstores refuse consignments, if the subscription drives meet up with nothing but negligence and indifference!?”

Fontenoy perceived that hostility to their cause wasn’t the only factor. The bookstores held themselves above the internecine factional squabbles, but their detached attitude could become just as lethal, if not moreso, as any frontal attacks.

Blanche straightened up her material on the table, cast a last glance at the fresh water-color she’d just finished and came over to sit next to Fontenoy, lacing her plump arms around him.

“Worries, worries, worries! How’s about putting your ‘big ideas’ aside for a moment and getting back to the two of us? Have you finished the preface for my exhibition? What are you planning, for me, in the revue?”

“All that on the other hand is going very well,” Fontenoy responded with lassitude. “Look, I have the text for your preface right here in my pocket. Read through it. For the revue, Rinsbroek will talk about you, it’s preferable.”

“And you won’t put in any of my images?”

“That’ll be up to Rinsbroek.”

“Come again? But what good does it do then to be the editor-in-chief?”

“Rinsbroek wants to talk about you. He’ll say what he judges needs to be said and we’ll publish a reproduction of your work if he considers that you merit it.”

Blanche bit her lip. Fontenoy grasped her tenderly around the waist and kissed her on the temple:

“Listen, Blanche. Don’t get upset. I’m being brutal, but we have much bigger worries these days. Your exhibition will go quite well and in all probability we’ll publish a photo in the revue. Rinsbroek’s article will certainly sing your praises, otherwise he wouldn’t have accepted the assignment. But on principle, I just want to make it clear, once again, that I won’t put any pressure on him. It’s just not comprehensible. It’s as if you’re asking me to employ the very methods in our revue that we’re fighting against when others practice them.”

Blanche didn’t answer. She read over Fontenoy’s handwritten text for the preface:

“How set are you on citing Klee? I know you just mean to use it as a reference, but won’t that just make them think that I imitate him, like all the rest?”

Fontenoy replied, exasperated: “Delete Klee if he bothers you so much!”

Blanche got riled up:

“I like Klee. I don’t deny that. But the reference here just bothers me.”

And she put her dainty little finger on the sheet of paper. “It’s like your phrase: ‘Blanche Favard is an abstract painter who composes with parcels of memory.’ I understand what you’re getting at. My compositions include forms which resemble foliage, even landscapes. I agree. But what will Charles Roy say? The Salon des Réalitiés Nouvelles jury is quite capable of rejecting my submissions under the pretext that they’re Naturalist.”

“So now it’s Charles Roy’s opinion that matters the most to you!?” Fontenoy exclaimed, stupefied.

“I just don’t want to get everyone’s hide up like Manhès.”

“You’ll succeed, Blanche,” Fontenoy re-assured her, thoughtfully. “And what’s more, you’re talented.”

Kisling to Man Ray as Met takes the relay

LT1997.31As part of the exhibition Photography’s Last Century: The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection, in principle running through June 28, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, New York, it’s still a helluva town is presenting: Man Ray (American, 1890–1976), “Nude,” ca. 1930. Gelatin silver print. We like the photo because it suggests the inspiration of this painting by Man Ray’s fellow Montparnassian Moshe Kisling. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, promised gift of Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, in celebration of the Museum’s 150th Anniversary.  © Man Ray 2015 Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris. Image © the Metropolitan Museum of Art, photo by Eugenia Burnett Tinsley and Juan Trujillo.

Vian versus virus(es): Born 100 years ago today, he spat on their graves before he went to his at the age of 39

Texts by and copyright Boris Vian
Translated and introduced by Paul Ben-Itzak

Tempting as it’s been in these heady days of impending pandemic to translate and share an excerpt from Albert Camus‘s “The Plague,” I just can’t bring myself to do it. (The latest development here in France: The culture minister is among the 1400 infected.) Not because historical parallels can be perilously inexact — notwithstanding that French radio announcers’ initial pronunciation of the name of the Chinese town where that country’s Corona virus affliction started sounded a lot like the cosmopolitan Algerian coastal city in which Camus situates his 1948 drama, Oran. But because I realized that what makes the author’s high moral stance problematic is that the indigenous population in Albert Camus’s Oran are the invisible men (and women). Born 100 years ago today and dead at the age of 39 when his heart burst as he watched a preview of the film version of his novel “I’ll Spit on Your Graves,” in which the pseudonymous “Vernon Sullivan” recounts a vengeful murder spree against white people, Boris Vian, songwriter and novelist, poet and playwright, Pataphysician and DJ, jazz critic and promoter (he introduced Ellington in France), godfather of the post-War Germanopretan scene and cornet player who blew his heart out, puts Camus to shame when it comes to moral consistence.

To condemn war, Vian doesn’t pick a morally uncomplicated example but chooses the justest of just wars, setting his novella “Les Fourmis” (the Ants) on a beach in Normandy where an Allied soldier wanders along a beach littered with German corpses, and his 1946 anarchist burlesque “Horse-quartering for beginners” in the home and abattoir of a horse-quarterer in Arromanches on D-Day, when his hero’s main preoccupation isn’t “their war” but to get the “Fritz” who’s (probably) been sleeping with his daughter for four years to make her an honest woman. Similarly, if the moral high ground of many French critics’ of anti-Black racism in the United States is often undermined by their ignoring similar tendencies in their own backyard (sure, Josephine Baker had it better in Paris than in the U.S., but if the “melomanes” flocked to see her at the Folies Bergère in the 1920s, the banana belt probably had something to do with it), when Vian uses a jazz press review (largely of the American jazz press) as a prism — the excerpt below, from Vian’s Jazz Hot jazz press review of June 1956, is just one example — to examine the treatment of Blacks in the United States, he starts out by allowing that he’s throwing his stones from a glass house:

“In the April 1956 issue of Jazz Journal, a fine piece by Berta Wood on racial prejudice. It’s a good thing that the Americans themselves have decided to enter the fracas by protesting against the bullying to which Blacks there are subjected; because given the fashion with which we comport ourselves in certain quarters we should probably shut our traps on the subject.

“In a word, Berta Wood writes about  ‘The Record of Emmet Till.’

“You know the story: the young Black man Emmet Till accused of raising his eyes and casting his lewd gaze on a good white woman; on the basis of which the good woman’s husband and brother-in-law kill him in cold blood and are acquitted by the all-white jury faster than you can say ‘Jim Crow’.

“About which the Blacks have made a record. ‘The Record of Emmet Till.’

“At night, on the radio, when everyone’s at home, there’s a sudden silence. And then the record is played.

“And the record is sung by a Black man with the flat voice of a Black man, without any apparent trace of emotion. It recounts how Emmet Till, at the age of 14, whistled one day in admiration when the white woman walked past him, and how the whites came to look for him at his uncle’s, took him to a barn, and beat him to death. And how the white men laughed when the verdict was pronounced.

“The record is played without any introduction. Just this moment of silence before and another after it’s finished playing. And the program continues as if nothing’s happened.

“This will surely not keep the murderers from sleeping. Because in all the countries of the world, the murderers sleep deeply.”

In a(nother) historical moment in which right-wing politicians in Italy, Poland, and Hungary often resort to a thinly veiled racial purity argument to keep the refugees penned up in frontier junctions like, lately, a Greek island called Lesbos, an item from Vian’s column of July-August 1956 is also worth sharing and translating:

“A little joker named Asa Carter, the secretary of the Council of White Citizens of Northern Alabama, has condemned ‘rock and roll’ in declaring ‘that it is being encouraged as a method of lowering the white man to the level of the Black man’ and that it is ‘part of a conspiracy to sap the morality of our nation’s youth. It is sexual, amoral, and constitutes the best way to bring together the members of the two races.’

“… which seems to me like an excellent idea. For that matter, the future lies in the mixing of the races, whether Carter, Asa likes it or not, from the moment one finds (and one does happily find) people who couldn’t care less about the color of their neighbor as long as he’s sympathetic.”

Extracted from Boris Vian, “Chroniques de Jazz,” text established and introduced by Lucien Malson, copyright 1967 Editions La Jeune Parque.

A suicide

by Émile Zola
Translated by Paul Ben-Itzak

In the Spring of 1866, the Paris newspaper L’Evenement commissioned a 26-year-old author, Émile Zola — whose first novel, “The Diary of Claude,” had been published the previous fall — to review that year’s Salon, later to become infamous for the number of influential painters, notably Zola’s chou-chou Edouard Manet, to have work refused. Zola — also close to Paul Cezanne, with whom he’d grown up in Aix-en-Provence — had several axes to grind; his first review would take on the Salon jury by name, reviewing their individual qualifications (and work). By number seven, the public had had enough of this upstart who not only attacked institutional art but rejected established critical norms; the newspaper’s editor, Monsieur Villemessant, ceded to the threats of cancelled subscriptions and other insults and aborted Zola’s assignment. (As detailed by Henri Mitterand in “Zola, Journaliste.”) As a sort of prelude to his reviews — which he’d initially planned to pen under the pseudonym of “Claude” — Zola sent Villemessant and his readers the following account of the suicide of the painter Jalos Holtzhpapfel, after he was rejected by the Salon.* (Zola was not finished with either “Claude,” painters, or artist suicides; the doomed hero of his 1886 novel “L’oeuvre,” loosely inspired by the early critical fates, if not the styles, of Manet, Claude Monet, and Cezanne, would be named Claude Lantier.) To read more of Zola on art, click here. Have a document that needs translating? Contact Paul Ben-Itzak at artsvoyager@gmail.com by pasting that address into your e-mail program. And at the same address to learn more about Paul’s collaborative “Suicide Artists” project.)

April 19, 1866

“You have charged me, my dear Monsieur Villemessant, with talking about our artists to L’Evenement’s readers, a-propros of this year’s Salon. It’s a heavy task which I have nonetheless accepted with joy. I will doubtlessly displease many people, decided as I am to recount many horrible truths, but I take an intimate pleasure in unburdening my heart of all the gripes accumulated over the years.

“You have assured me: ‘Make like chez vous.’ I will thus speak without mincing any words, as a veritable authority. I count on sending you, before the opening of the Salon in several days, an outline of my over-riding credo as well as a rapid study of the artistic moment we are currently living.

“For today, I have imposed upon myself a sad mission. I believe that I have the responsibility of talking about a painter who blew his brains out several days ago, and about whom none of my colleagues will no doubt concern themselves.

“The rumor had been circulating for several days that an artist had killed himself, after the Salon refused his canvasses. I wanted to see the atelier where the unhappy individual committed suicide; I was able to learn the address, and I’ve only just returned from the sinister room whose parquet floor is still splattered with large burgundy stains.

“Do you not think it is a good idea to make the public penetrate this room? I took a kind of bitter pleasure in telling myself that, from the beginning of my task, I’d be hurtling against a tomb. I think about those who will have the applause of the crowd, of those whose work will be spread out widely in the full light of day, and I see at the same time this miserable man, in his deserted atelier, writing his farewell note and spending an entire night preparing himself to die.

“I’m not trying to be maudlin, I assure you. I knocked on this door with a profound sentiment, and my voice trembled with trepidation when I questioned a woman who opened the door and who was, I believe, the suicide’s maid.

“The atelier is small, ornately decorated. At the right, near the entrance, is an oak sideboard, intricately carved. In the corners of the room more furniture, also oak, is arrayed, a sort of paneled trunks with drawers. Ropes attached at either end with red seals quarantine each of these pieces of furniture. One can see that the dead man must have brushed bruskly against them.

“At the right the bed was stretched out, a bed low and flattened out, a sort of narrow divan. It is here… that he was found, the head loping and crushed, as if he was sleeping.

“The pistol hadn’t fallen from his hand.

“I didn’t even recognize his name. I had no idea if he had any talent, and I still don’t know. I wouldn’t dare judge this man who has departed, fatigued by the struggle. I did indeed spot four or five of his canvasses hanging on the wall, but I did not look at them with the eyes of a judge. At the Salon, I’ll be severe, maybe even violent; here, I can only be sympathetic and moved.

“The artist was German, and his paintings reflect his origins. These are compositions of the Charles Comte variety, historic scenes drawn from the Middle Ages. On an easel, I noticed a white canvas with a pencil composition completely aborted. No doubt the final work. The painter killed himself before this unfinished oeuvre.

“Certainly, I’m not claiming that the jury’s rejection was the only factor in the death of this unhappy man. It’s difficult to penetrate a human soul at this supreme hour of suicide. The bitternesses slowly pile up until one arrives to deliver the coupe de grace.

“They nevertheless tell me that the artist was of a gentle character and that he wasn’t known to have suffered any particular vexation. He had some money, he was able to work without worry.

“Truly, I would not liked to have condemned this man. If I were a painter and if I had been among those who had had the honor of excluding my fellow painters from the Salon, I’d be having nightmares tonight. I’d see the suicide again, I’d tell myself that I had without doubt contributed to his death, and in any case, I would be tormented by this horrible idea that my indulgence would have without doubt prevented this sinister denouement, even if the artist harbored some secret disappointments.

“You certainly want me to draw a moral from all this. I won’t give you this moral today, because it will only duplicate the articles that I’m preparing for L’Evenement.

“I’ve written this letter simply to place a fact before the eyes of the readers. I’ll enlarge as I can the file of my grieves against the jury which functioned this year.

“That’s about it for now. I have a strong case to bring against it.”

“Claude.”

We’d initially agreed, Monsieur de Villemessant and I, that I’d review the Salon under a pseudonym. Already signing an article practically every day, I didn’t want my signature to appear twice in the same newspaper.

I am now obligated to remove my mask before I’ve even attached it; there are many jackasses at the livestock fairs named Martin and there are also, it seems, many Claudes among the ranks of art critics. The real Claudes were afraid of being compromised because of my article “A Suicide”; and they’ve all written to inform our readers that it wasn’t them who had the audacious idea to put the jury on trial before the court of public opinion.

That they be re-assured: It has been decided that I should boldly confess that the revolutionary Claude in question was none other than me.

Voila the entire Claude tribe tranquilized.

Émile Zola

*Collected in “Émile Zola: écrits sur l’art,” Editions Gallimard, 1991, edition established, presented, and annotated by Jean-Pierre Leduc-Adine.

Of totems and poles, of Academiciens and Artists, of Pundits and Philosophers

Bucher Rebeyrolle, La vache rouge, 1998, small

Alain Finkielkraut, the French pundit who never seems to miss an opportunity to appropriate a philosophical precept for his own often neo-reactionary agenda, might want to stroll over from the august headquarters of the Académie Française on the Seine of which he’s ostensibly a member to the Galerie Jeanne Bucher Jaeger on the rue de Seine in Saint-Germain-des-Près. On Saturday’s edition of his France Culture radio program “Replique,” theoretically consecrated to Albert Camus in this 60th anniversary year of the author’s accidental death, Finkielkraut feebly tried to subvert Camus’s well-known penchant for Nature, particularly present in the author’s luminous eloges to his native Algeria, to bolster his latest retrograde crusade, in which Finkielkraut has been lambasting ecologists for not mentioning enough that Nature is beautiful. (If my Frank Lloyd Wright house was going up in flames, I wouldn’t waste any time composing sonnets in its glory; I’d be too busy trying to put the fire out.) (And forget about Greta Thunberg, to whose Cassandra Finkielkraut has appointed himself Apollo. His argument: She’s too young and should leave saving the planet to the grown-ups. What’s the use of being bestowed with an academician’s sword if you reduce your arguments to just sticking your tongue out?) Paul Reybeyrolle’s 1998 “The Red Cow,” above, a 146 x 114 cm mixed-technique canvas — among the modern masterpieces the gallery has rolled out for its exhibition Animal Totem — manages to simultaneously extol Nature’s beauty and condemn its fragility in our hands. On view through March 14, the exhibition also includes work by Fermín Aguayo, Miguel Branco, Louis Marcoussis, André Masson, Hans Reichel, Noémie Sauve, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Yang Jiechang, and — for the first time at the gallery (!) — Saint-Germain-des-Près stalwart (and Michel Ragon  favorite) Jean-Michel Atlan. And if Finkielkraut still insists that it’s neither art nor ecologists (let alone lycéenne ecologists) but philosophers (or pundits who just play philosophers on the radio) who will save us, the exhibition press release offers this Nietzsche citation from — wait for it — “Thus spoke Zarathustra”: “Men are more dangerous than animals.” Photo © Jean-Louis Losi and courtesy Galerie Jeanne Bucher Jaeger, Paris. — Paul Ben-Itzak

Lutèce Diary / A post-modern American in Paris, 40: The Gift (Le Cadeau) or, Pour en finir avec le Céline-o-mania

by Paul Ben-Itzak
Translations by Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2020 Paul Ben-Itzak

A Sidney, pour les soins….et a Lewis, Jamie, Martin, et tout mes péres, qui rien n’avais obligé d’y etre mais qui se sont comporté comme tel. /To Sidney, for the care…. and to Lewis, Jamie, Martin, and all my fathers who nothing obligated to be but who comported themselves as such.

Prelude: Poete surrealiste chretienne morte a Drancy, car née Juif

“Love thy neighbor”

Who noticed the toad cross the street? He was just a little man — a doll would not have been more miniscule. He dragged himself along on his knees — as if he were ashamed….? No! He has rheumatism, one leg remains behind, he drags it forward! Where is he going like that? He comes out of the sewer, the poor clown. No one has noticed this toad in the street. Before no one noticed me in the street, now children make fun of my yellow star. Happy toad! You don’t have a yellow star.” (Voir dessous pour le V.O. / See below for the original French version.)

— Max Jacob, Surrealist poet, comrade of Cocteau, Apollinaire, and Picasso, arrested by the Gestapo on February 24, 1944, in the Brittany village of Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire. In a note hastily scribbled on the train to the Orleans prison, Jacob, who since converting to Christianity before the first World War liked to write personalized proselytizing homilies for his colleagues and whose poetry was suffused with devotional tributes to Christ, wrote: “Dear Monsieur le Cure, Excuse this letter from a drowning man written with the complaisance of the gendarmes. I wanted to tell you that I’ll soon be in Drancy. I have conversions in process. I have confidence in God and in my friends. I thank Him for the martyrdom which now begins.” On March 5, Jacob succumbed to pneumonia at the Drancy way station outside Paris before he could be deported — or confessed. At Drancy, there were no priests. (Poem collected in “Max Jacob,” edited by Andre Billy, published by and copyright Editions Pierre Seghers, Lyon, February 15, 1946. Letter cited by Billy in “The death of Max Jacob,” Le Figaro, September 9, 1945.)

1932: The Semence

Paris, the Grands Boulevards, a winter evening in 1916. The young conscript, on furlough from the hospital where doctors are trying to determine if he’s crazy or just doesn’t want to return to the trenches of a crazy war, enters the Olympia nightclub and observes, as recounted by Louis-Ferdinand Céline in his 1932 “Voyage au bout de la nuit,” still considered by the French and American literary establishments to be the author’s safe, non-Anti-Semitic book (shortly after publication, it was translated into Russian by the French Communist super-star couple Louis Aragon and Elsa Triolet; New Directions still proudly hawks the English translation):

“Already in wartime our morose peace was sowing its seeds…. We could imagine what it would become, this hysteria, just from seeing it already agitating in the Olympia tavern. Below in the narrow, shady dancing cave with its 100 mirrors, It pawed the dust in the great desperation of the Négro-Judéo-Saxonne music. Brits and Blacks all mingling together. Levantines and Russians. They were everywhere, smoking, brawling, sad sacks and soldiers, crammed onto crimson sofas. These uniforms, which we barely remember anymore, would sow the seeds of today, this Thing which continues to germinate and would become a dung-hill a little later, with time.” (Translated by PB-I.)

1940-45: The Harvest

Some 13 years after Louis-Ferdinand Céline thus fulminated (the parallels between his own trajectory and that of his first-person hero, “Ferdinand,” make the defense that an author doesn’t necessarily subscribe to the opinions of his personage dubious), the ‘semence’ he (and his publishers, including Gallimard) helped sow (in ‘Voyage’ and three pamphlets taxed as being anti-Semitic, although the Judeophobic grotesque Céline paints of himself and of the anti-Semitic rationale in general in the 1937 “Bagatelles for a massacre,” in which he also wrote: “In the leg of a dancer the world, its waves, all its rhythms, its follies, its views are inscribed…. The most nuanced poem in the world!,” the ‘bagatelles’ being ballets without music, makes that epithet problematic here) by furnishing civilized literary cover for his countrymen who would collaborate with the German occupiers in the Deportation of 76,000 of their Jewish neighbors, including 11,000 children, only 3,000 of whom would return from the death camps — Auschwitz was liberated 75 years ago this month — manifests its real-world toll on the sixth-floor balcony of a building on a corner of the rue Hauteville above the “Bonne Nouvelles” (Good News) Metro station, several blocks up the Grands-Boulevards from the Olympia, where a woman straddles the railing, distraught that the daughter arrested by a good French policeman after she was turned in by a good French neighbor has still not returned after the war, the room the woman has reserved for her child remaining vacant.

The precarious mental state of the woman had recently prompted her brother and his wife to return from the United States to France, where the wife will later give birth to three sons, the semence of a new generation of French Jews who have not lost hope in France. Two of the sons will grow up to become, respectively, a general practitioner and a dentist — my doctor and my dentist starting when I lived on the rue de Paradis up the street in the early 2000s — converting the apartment on whose balcony rail their aunt once teetered into a medical bureau, their offices separated by a waiting room decorated by posters of Satchmo blowing, Gabriel, blowing, his cheeks puffed up; Marilyn Monroe’s white skirt billowing from the gusts of wind rising out of a subway grating on location for “The Seven-Year Itch” to reveal her underwear; and Jean-Paul Belmondo ‘draguing’ the American Jean Seberg on the Champs as she hawks the New York Herald Tribune with its logo emblazoned across her chest in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless,” this last poster a nod to what I’d always understood as the doctors’ mixed Franco-American heritage, their mother being an American citizen…. For the complete article,  click here.