Greco Forever: Ne nous quittez pas, Juliette

Juliette Greco, par Jim Lubrano. Photograph copyright Jim Lubrano and courtesy Theatre de la Ville.

By Eloise Alibi
Copyright 2016, 2020 Eloise Alibi
(English version, translated by Paul Ben-Itzak with the author, follows French original)

Juliette Greco, the Queen of Saint-Germaine-des-Prés, died Tuesday in the Vars department of France. She was 93 years old, and forever young. Juliette Greco is survived by Saint-Germaine-des-Prés and by the multiple generations of composers to whose songs she gave her unique voice. This Flash Review of la Greco’s farewell Paris performance was first published by the Arts Voyager on March 2, 2016. The English version has been expanded.

PARIS — Le jour de ses 89 ans, Juliette Greco nous a donné une leçon d’élégance et d’audace. Sobre, humble et pleine de force. Avec émotion et sans aucune pause, elle a interprété ses plus grands titres en guise de gratitude envers son public venu de toute la France combler la salle du Théâtre de la ville – Sarah Bernhardt, dimanche le 7 fevrier.

Sur un fond noir, en robe noire, cheveux noirs, ses mains blanches, si expressives, ont précédé son entrée sur scène : une démarche fragile la mène au micro qu’elle ne quittera pas pendant une heure trente d’émotion, de musique et de poésie.

Seule, accompagnée de ses « deux camarades » dans sa robe de tragédienne, elle occupe tout le plateau dans des lumières généreuses et sobres. Le piano et l’accordéon — joué par, respectivement, Gerard Jouannest (egalement sa partenaire dans la vie et ex-accompagnateur de Jacques Brel) et le virtuose Jean-Louis Matinier, au service de l’interprète, se font oublier tant ils s’accordent avec osmose à l’ interprétation de la légendaire « Jolie môme. »

Le choix des chansons est d’autant surprenant qu’elle n’a chanté que des hommes ; et pas des moindres : les monuments de notre patrimoine musical : Brel (« Ces gens là ») , Ferré (« Avec le temps »), Gainsbourg (« La javanaise »), Guy Béart (« Il n’y a plus d’après ») , Rivière (« Un petit poisson, un petit oiseau »)…. On retient ici L’ « Amsterdam » de Brel — c’etait Jouannest et son ensemble qui ont accompagné Brel pour le mythic enregistrement a l’Olympia en ’64 — pari culotté qu’elle relève haut la main. C’est cette audace qui la tient vivante et que l’on vient chercher, c’est cette audace qui nous la rend éternelle.

La tête haute, droite, puissante, Juliette, figure d’insoumise, à l’image des poètes qu’elle incarne (Sartre lui avait ecrit une chanson) — depuis le moment où, ado et orpheline, elle s’est trouvée tout seule, relachée par les occupants sur le Boulevard Hoche, et, plus tard, apres la guerre, entourée de Vian, Vadim, Sartre et de Beauvoir, l’equipe du Tabou a Saint-Germain-des-Prés, et encore plus tard avec Miles Davis. Juliette, venue ici remercier son public et ses auteurs, ne nous dit pas Adieu, mais nous réveille et jongle avec le temps sur les airs de « Je n’ai pas vingt ans », « Les vieux » (co -ecrit par Brel et Jouannest), « J’arrive », «Il n’y a plus d’aprés, » etcetera.

Tout est juste avec Juliette. Pas de fioritures de mise en scène, pas d’explication, pas de percussion pour rythmer le spectacle qui se suffit à pulser de lui même en crescendo et soutenu.

Merci à vous Juliette Greco de continuer à nous élever et à nous transmettre la beauté des mots et de la vie. Ce souffle que vous nous transmettez n’a pas d’âge, il est intemporel et nécessaire. Ne nous quittez pas Juliette, nous aussi nous vous aimons.

Eloïse Alibi est une comédienne, musicienne et chanteuse. Pratiquant le saxophone et le piano depuis l’enfance, elle rencontre trés tôt l’improvisation et le monde de la scène. Elle commence ses créations par un spectacle de poésie dédié à Jean Sénac, qui est le début d’un long parcours poétique et grâce à qui elle jouera des textes des Nazim Hikmet, Mahmoud Darwich, Allen Ginsberg ou Walt Whitman. Avec la cie Le p’tit Atelier, elle créé un cabaret de chansons poétiques (Le cabaret du pire), avec qui elle répond à des commandes de la Maison de la poésie de Montpellier, donne des ateliers de sensibilisation à la poésie à des classes de collèges et pour des maisons de retraite. En Mai 2015, elle a créé un spectacle hommage aux chansons de Nino Ferrer.

Juliette Greco, by Richard Dumas. Photograph copyright Richard Dumas and courtesy Theatre de la Ville.

PARIS — For her 89th birthday, Juliette Greco gave a lesson in audacity and elegance. Direct, humble, and full of energy. With emotion and without a break, she performed her greatest hits, by way of thanking her fans who flocked here from throughout France to pack the Theatre de la Ville – Sarah Bernhardt on Sunday, February 7.

Against a black background, with black hair, and clad — comme d’habitude for she who made the color the post-War costume de rigueur of Saint-Germain-des-Prés — in a black gown, her ivory hands, quintessentially expressive, preceded her entrance on the stage: a fragile gait lead her to the microphone where she remained for 90 minutes of emotion, of music, and of poetry.

Alone, in her tragedian’s gown, accompanied only by her “two comrades,” she filled the entire stage under lighting both ample and sober. The piano and accordion — played by, respectively, Gerard Jouannest (also her partner in life and the ex- accompaniest and arranger of Jacques Brel) and the virtuoso Jean-Louis Matinier, both of whom almost made themselves invisible, so in osmoses were they with the interpretations of the legendary jolie mome.

The choice of songs was all the more surprising in that the composers were all male — and not the least of males, but the monuments of our musical heritage: Brel (“Ces gens la”), Leo Ferre (“Avec le temps”), Gainsbourg (“La javanaise”) the late Guy Beart (“Il n’y a plus d’apres”), Riviere (Un petite poisson, un petite oiseau”)….

One retains Brel’s “Amsterdam” — Jouannest was also there for the mythic 1964 live recording at the Olympia — an audacious gamble that Greco turned into a hands-up success. It’s this very audacity that makes her a vibrant, living icon, that continues to draw us to her, and that makes her eternal.

Head held high, posture erect, Juliette, the very symbol of insubmission — since the moment when, at 15, she found herself all alone on the Boulevard Hoche where the Germans released her (her mother, arrested by the Germans in Bergerac for helping Frenchmen escape to London to join DeGaulle, and her sister, would be deported) and, later, forging the Club Tabou scene with Vian, Vadim, Sartre and De Beauvoir and, eventually, Miles Davis — and ever in the image of the poets that she incarnates (Sartre wrote her a song and Cocteau featured her in a film, “Orpheus.”), come to thank her audience and these authors, not to bid us “Adieu” but to wake us up and juggle time with the lyrics of “Je n’ai pas vingt ans,” “Les vieux” (written by Brel and Jouannest), “J’arrive,” “Il n’y a plus d’apres,” “Bruxelles,” and more.

Everything is unadorned with Greco. No unnecessary flourishes or extraneous scene elements, no explanations, no percussion to add rhythm to a performance which already has its own pulse, its own crescendos and rhythm.

Thank you, Juliette Greco, for continuing to lift us up and to transmit to us the beauty of words and of life. This exhiliration that you transmit has no age, is timeless, and is necessary. Ne nous quittez pas Juliette, nous aussi nous vous aimons.

Eloïse Alibi is an actress, musician, and singer. Studying the saxophone and the piano since she was a child, she encountered the worlds of the stage and of improvisation early on, eventually studying English, Chinese, theater and song, at institutions ranging from high school in Dublin to conservatory and university in Montpellier (also Juliette Greco’s hometown). She launched her performance career with an original poetry-based work dedicated to Franco-Algerian author Jean Senac, going on to perform the texts of Nazim Hikment, Mahmoud Darwish, Allen Ginsberg and Walt Whitman. With the basis of her work remaining poetry, including commissions for events such as the Springtime of Poets, Alibi – has created small ensemble pieces including, most recently, an homage to the oeuvre of Nino Ferrer.

Jane Avril by F. Caradec: More than just a pair of legs on a Toulouse-Lautrec poster

by Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2020 Paul Ben-Itzak

(An earlier version of this article was published on ExploreDance.)

PARIS — If it’s relatively easy to find reasonably priced biographies of French artists in the bookstalls that line the Seine, it’s harder to find chronicles as interested in the artistic legacies of their subjects as they are in artfully recreating the more superficial aspects of their personal lives. A biography I found of Suzanne Valadon, the one-time Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir model who became a painter in her own right, developing a uniquely personal and natural, thick-lined and sensuous style, turned out to be less a serious study of her life and work and their originality than a fanciful re-imagining of the colorful conversations she must have had with her son, the painter Maurice Utrillo, and her companion/his friend Felix Utter. Another on Marie Laurencin — a member of the pre-WWI circle of Picasso, Apollinaire, and Rousseau, and a sometimes designer for dance, notably Nijinska’s “Les Biches” — spent more time on Laurencin’s relations with the author’s mother than analyzing the creative force behind her willowy, dreamy portraits and the impact they produced. Jane Avril, by contrast — you know her as the svelte long-legged redheaded dancer immortalized by Toulouse Lautrec — lucked out in landing François Caradec, a giant of the French literary scene and the author of “Jane Avril,” to pen her story. (Published by Fayard in 2001 with the price of 18.75 Euros; Caradec passed away in 2008.)

Caradec, a leading member of the Pataphysics Club co-founded by Boris Vian and Jacques Prevert, was a tireless bibliophile, and this passion served him well in reconstructing the life of this seminal thinking-dancer’s dancer, so that the portrait that emerges comes not from an imaginative 20th-century novelist but from scribes of Avril’s epoch who had the good fortune to see her, and who returned the favor with detailed, inspired accounts of her dancing, that of an autodidact as adept at the can-can as at improvising to her own inner music.

Here’s Francis Jourdain, quoted by Caradec from his memoir “Born in ’76,” comparing the relative merits of Avril (nick-named ‘la Melinite,’ after the explosive) and other members of the famous Moulin Rouge can-can troupe, notably the more earthy and raw “la Gouloue”:

“One must admit that la Gouloue was not particularly distinguished. She was not the same as Jane Avril — la Melinite — of the strange and aristocratic pale visage, the intelligent eye, at times nuanced with sadness, the spiritual legs that enchanted Lautrec….

“Confusing la Mome Fromage (roughly translated, “the darling cheese”; sounds better in French) and her colleagues with Jane Avril would be like — without meaning to offend anyone — mixing napkins with dish-towels. I wouldn’t dream of reproaching old gentlemen for the pleasure that they take in perceiving, between the drawers and stockings of la Gouloue, a bit of naked flesh, but the agreeableness that the art of Jane Avril procures us is of a rarer quality…. The queens of the quadrille leap about; Jane Avril dances. In her lives this instinctive grace in which the dance loses its abstract character and becomes a language, ceases to be a purely decorative art and takes on a human accent; the arabesque traced in space by an inspired leg is no longer a vain sign, it’s writing. La Melinite expresses herself with her legs; Lautrec is not wrong.”

And this, from Gabriel Astruc:

“Strange sylphide, always solitaire, a sort of wader who remains in equilibrium on one leg and balances the other like an isolated part of her body…”

And a commentary from Raoul Ponchon, on the first time he caught Jane Avril at the Moulin Rouge, which might be describing a modern dancer today. Not enchanted at all by the can-can, sitting before a glass of something he can’t identify, Ponchon was about to flee it “like the plague” when…. (My rough translation sacrifices the rhyming of the original.)

“I was solicited by a petit, frail being,
Gracious and childlike,
Who responds when one calls her
To the name Jane Avril.

She dances all alone
Without having to worry about a partner
Not that she’s prudish,
Certain people who know her tell me.

She dances alone because
It pleases her to do so
And because she finds it more entertaining.
She’s right, I as well.

She slides, dainty,
Supple between narrow rows
Without ever inconveniencing anyone
And without ever saying: Enough.

Certainly, her dance
Is not that which we see
At presidential balls….

Nor is it this infamy
Of dance that one
Learns at the Academy
She knows much much more.

She dances like one dances
At the Moulin Rouge, mon Dieu…
But with what elegance!
She’s anything but cheap!

She is total charm, harmony
She’s the sole, in my opinion,
Saltatrice (Latin for dancer) of genius
That I’ve seen.

She is at the same time mischievous
And melancholy. She has
As rules only her own caprices.
And voila, art.

To any old music
She improvises steps;
Rhythms the least classic
Don’t disconcert her.

She dances, I think,
Also, a thousand times in 10,000,
To the strains of ‘Queen Hortense,’
or of ‘De Profundis.’
… She dances like… one drinks.

…She makes you think
That her only purpose on Earth
is to dance.”

These literary portraits — this is just a sampling — are fleshed out with a generous selection of (black and white) images, including not just the expected Toulouse-Lautrec reproductions, such as the famous poster of Avril at the Divan Japonais with a leering older gentleman (Edouard Dujardin) at her elbow, but journal and book illustrations by Steinlen (famous for his cat drawings) and others, the photograph of the troupe of Mlle Eglantine on which Toulouse-Lautrec based his familiar poster, the program for a 1939 gala benefit in her honor, and a photograph of Avril kicking her leg up in 1935.

Caradec certainly touches the essential and piquant aspects of Avril’s biography — her crazy mother, teen years in the famous Salpêtrière, then a renowned psychiatric center (for young and sometimes frail Jane, it was just a medical refuge), shacking up with a poet near the Luxembourg Gardens until she decided her independence was more important, and her death at the age of 76 on January 17, 1943, in Occupied Paris.

“She could hardly breathe,” Caradec writes of the dancer’s final hours, “but she thought of her will and murmured, ‘The papers, the papers, I must sign them.’ She asked for something to write on, a morsel of paper on which she wrote in crayon: ‘I suffer the martyr’ and ‘I hate Hitler.'”

“At the end of her ‘Memoirs’ (published in the newspaper Paris-Midi in 1933), Avril wrote:

‘If, in the other world, there exist “dancings,” it’s not impossible that I will be convoked to perform the Dance macabre!'”

Like that of Marie Taglioni, Jane Avril’s name is not on the map of famous people buried at the famous Paris cemetery Pere Lachaise, but for those who wish to pay homage to her at her tomb, Caradec notes that she’s buried at the beginning of the 19th division, second line, fourth plot of the 26th section. (Where, at night, some swear one can discern les feux follets en train de danser une can-can.)

Summer of our Discontents: Newly revised and expanded translated extracts from Lola Lafon’s “Mercy, Mary, Patty”

By Lola Lafon
Copyright 2017 Actes Sud
Translation copyright Paul Ben-Itzak

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You cannot remain neutrally on the sidelines of this world without anger where everything is rigged, where the only thing that must remain undivided is money, where the heart is divided.

–Paul Nizan, “The Conspiracy” (1928), cited on the frontispiece of “Mercy, Mary, Patty”

You write the vanishing teenaged girls. You write these missing persons who take off for new horizons and embrace them indiscriminately, elusive, their minds closed to adults. You question our brutal need to make them see things the way we do. You write the rage of these young women who, at night, in their childhood bedrooms, dream of victorious escapes, they climb aboard ramshackle busses and trains and into strangers’ cars, they shun the neatly-paved road for the rubble. .

“Mercy Mary Patty,” your book published in 1977 in the U.S., is dedicated to them and has just been re-issued, augmented with a preface by you and a brief publisher’s note. It’s not yet been translated into French. It concludes with acknowledgments as well as your biography, from your degrees in American Literature, History, and Sociology through the teaching positions you’ve held: the University of Chicago in 1973, the College of the Dunes, France, in 1974-75, an assistant professorship at the University of Bologna in 1982 and, finally, the tenured position at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Articles appearing in the academic journals over the past few months underline the importance of your work, magazines debate what they dub your ‘rehabilitation.’ The New Yorker consecrates two columns to you: “A controversial theory: Gene Neveva and the capsized teenage girls, from Mercy Short (1) in 1690 to Patricia Hearst in 1974.”

The Northampton bookstore clerk slips your book into a brown paper bag, he seems curious about my choice, the Hearst saga’s old history, you’re European, aren’t you? You seem to have your own share of toxic teenagers at the moment, these girls swearing allegiance to a god like one develops a crush on a movie star, Marx, God, different eras, different tastes…. I’m guessing you’re a student at Smith, he goes on, if you’re looking to meet the author, she’s listed in the faculty directory.

But I’m not looking for you. Your office is on the second floor of the building I walk
by every morning but it doesn’t matter because I’m not looking for you, I’m supposing you. I explain my reasons for being here to the bookstore clerk, I pronounce your name, I share the story, I say “Madame Neveva” as if you were standing there right next to us and insist upon it, I say “Neveva” the same way as your students in France who venerated you and whom I was not one of, Neveva, Gene who landed in a little village in Southwest France in the month of January 1974, a young teacher who in the autumn of 1975 hastily tacked up notices in the village’s two bakeries, Wanted female student with high level of spoken and written English, full-time job for 15 days. Adults need not apply. URGENT.

(New chapter)

October 1975

The three girls who have responded to your ad sit across from you in your cramped office, you offer them a bag of peanuts and cashews, your knees bump up against the desk, your light blue Shetland sweater is patched at the elbows, your hitched-up Levis reveal the malleoluses of your ankles. You say Bonjour, I’m Neveva Gene, pronounced ‘Gene’ as in Gene Kelly or Gene Tierney, no nick-names please, no ‘Gena,’ no ‘Jenny.’

Squeezed into a Bordeaux-colored window nook, one-by-one the candidates recite their trajectories in an effort to seduce you, this one is studying English Literature at the University, the next has already been to the U.S. twice, speaking English fluently is important if you’re planning to go into business. When it’s the third girl’s turn, she says she’s been “on sabbatical” since graduating from high school in June and needs to make a little bread. As they already know, you’re a guest professor. You studied in Massachusetts at Smith College, a university founded in 1875 and reserved for girls barred at the time from higher education. Sylvia Plath was a student. Sylvia Plath, the name doesn’t mean anything to them? You mark an incredulous pause in the face of the candidates’ embarrassed silence. Margaret Mitchell? The author of “Gone with the Wind”? The young women acquiesce to that one with an enthusiasm which alarms you, it’s a novel which is more than a little dubious, above all Smith had the honor of admitting the first African-American woman to graduate from college, in 1900: Otelia Cromwell. “American Lifestyle and Culture,” the course you’re giving at the College of the Dunes, is protean; you race through what you’d anticipated teaching before you actually arrived here, the particular architecture of Massachusetts houses, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letters to his daughter Scottie, the history of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, a study of the popularity of the film “The Planet of the Apes,” an unpacking of the urban legend of the phantom hitch-hiker, the adventure of Apollo 16 and, finally, the invention of the Arpanet and its consequences for communication. Formidable program. The fact of the matter is that you’d harbored high hopes for this college. They should see the welcome brochure, three pages on pedagogic innovation, but the reality is something else, this institution is merely the umpteenth private school for girls without any particular qualities who drift aimlessly about after high school, a factory for future homemakers more hippy than their mothers, darling little domestic animals brought up to be consumed before their expiration dates. And who don’t understand one iota of the articles you pass out. The young postulants remain mum and wait politely to find out what all this has to do with them, perhaps they didn’t get the sexual connotation of “brought up to be consumed by….” Or maybe they’re just petrified now at the thought of having to submit themselves to your judgment for this work about which you still haven’t uttered a word. One by one, they recite an article from the New York Times out loud, then translate the essentials, you ask them about the books they read, their musical tastes, pretend not to understand if they answer in French, Sorry?

But where did you learn to speak English like that, you ask the third candidate, who immediately blushes, she cites American songs whose lyrics she likes to copy, they’re actually British you point out, amused, when she recites the words from the Rolling Stones’s “Time Waits for No One” and David Bowie’s “Young Americans.” She rattles off her favorite movies, every week the public t.v. channel shows a film with sub-titles, the ciné-club, she never misses it even if it’s on late, 11 o’clock, you call her an Americanophile, she stammers, not sure if this is good or bad. All three listen to you, dumbfounded, as you imitate the annual speech of the school’s director to parents in an exageratedly nasal and mincing voice, “Oh nooo, it has nothing at all to do with excluding boys from my establishment and everything to do with offering girls special attention! To free them from their own fears!” You want to know their opinion: Would they like to study there, with access to so many courses, Introduction to Psychoanalysis, History of Cinema, Beginning Baroque Singing, Judo, and Modern Dance? The third girl’s answer — the tuition is too high — you greet with exaltation, as if it were a scientific breakthrough: Eggs-act-ly! Yes! The very principal of this establishment is a contradiction: Emancipate only those who can afford to be emancipated. At the end of the day, it’s just a bunch of bullshit. (2)

Suddenly you leap up onto the transparent Plexiglas chair. You grab a box from the top shelf and place it on the desk. Voila, you declare in designating the package, of American origin, as indicated by the impressive quantity of identical green stamps plastered across the top. The job of whoever you decide to hire is entirely contained within, you show them the folders overflowing with press clips, half open a plastic bag filled with cassette tapes resembling those teenagers use to record their favorite songs off the radio. You’ll have to write a report, and you won’t have time to read all this. You must be capable of synthesizing these tons of articles, you point your finger at the box. You insist on an availability that will be indispensable but of a limited duration, 15 days maximum.

“In fact, do you know who Patricia Hearst is?” They’re already out on the porch when you pose the question, as if it’s an after-thought, one of the candidates blurts out: During her vacation in the U.S., she saw her on t.v., Patricia is very rich she was kidnapped and…. She’s cut off by her competition, Yes they talked about her in France, there was a fusillade, a fire, and she’s dead. No, you correct her, she’s not dead, the police caught her. It’s her kidnappers who are dead. And they’ve hired you to evaluate the mental state of Patricia Hearst after all these tribulations. A respectful silence follows. None of the three ask who exactly this mysterious “they” is who’s hired you, nor why “they” chose you, you whose specialties are history and literature. You’re the adult, the teacher, and also the exotic foreigner inviting them into a world of adventure, kidnapping, heiresses, happy endings. That alone is enough. The young woman whose English level you lauded hasn’t uttered a word, distraught, perhaps, to have lost out in the final leg of the race; she’s never heard of Patricia Hearst. That very evening her mother nudges her bedroom door open, one hand resting on the phone: It’s for you, a funny accent, surely the American professor.

“Is it frowned upon here to go to teachers’ homes?” you ask the young woman you’ve anointed your assistant. “Because in my office we’d be too scrunched up, we’ll be a lot more comfortable in my house. We’ll talk salary tomorrow, I’m counting on you not to let me rip you off. By the way, are you really 18? I’d put you more at 15.” And it doesn’t matter that she’s never heard of Patricia Hearst, you add before hanging up.

(New Chapter)

During the rambling job interview — a real show (3) — you conveniently leave out a major chunk of the Hearst saga. Are you worried about scaring off these three demeure French girls by telling them any more, do they seem too young to you, are you afraid their parents will be freaked out to see them working on such a subject, you’ve been living in this village of less than 5,000 inhabitants for a year and a half and have already tested its limits, here everyone knows everything about everyone, talks to everyone about everyone, judges everyone. It takes time to explain the complexities and nuances of the drama to your interlocutors and time is the one thing you don’t have a lot of. What angle will you use to trace the journey of this young American, which episode will you start with?

That of the kidnapping of Patricia on February 4, 1974 by an obscure pseudo-revolutionary cell, the Symbionese Liberation Army? That of the initial message from the heiress of February 12, a tape recording dropped off by her abductors on the doorstep of a radio station which set off a riot in the entire country, her tiny voice murmuring “Mom, Dad, I’m okay”? How to explain to these young French women just looking for a job that in the eyes of the FBI, the victim morphed into a perpetrator in less than two months, converted to the Marxist cause of her captors she was even identified at their sides April 15 on the video-surveillance images from a San Francisco bank, packing an M16. It’s understandable that you’re prudent about what the candidates know and don’t know and refrain from saying anything about the metamorphosis of Patricia Hearst.

As for your task, this “psychological” evaluation, you don’t exactly lie but here too you take shortcuts and leave Patricia’s lawyer, your silent partner, in the shadows. You have 15 days to discover something in the cardboard box overflowing with photocopies that will enable you to write an expert’s report exonerating this child over whom the American media is whipping up a frenzy as her trial approaches. 15 days to decide, who is the real Patricia, a Communist terrorist, a lost college student, a genuine revolutionary, a poor little rich girl, an heiress on the lam, an empty-headed and banal personality who embraced a random cause, a manipulated zombie, an angry young woman with America in her sights.

(New chapter)

A large beige dog with chestnut spots greets your new assistant on the doorstep with outsized enthusiasm, you lunge forward to hold him back — blech!, he’s just planted a big wet kiss on me — a wink, Meet Lenny, you throw a sock at the dog and he skedaddles.

You put out a plate of frosted oatmeal cookies, offer a cup of tea, jasmine, mint, Russian flavor, whatever she wants, you point to 10 scattered, slightly rusty tin boxes arrayed on the kitchen counter. She picks one at random, doesn’t dare tell you that in her family, whether it’s black tea or herbal tea one only drinks it when one’s ill. She listens to you standing up, cup in hand, you haven’t invited her to sit down and the only chair in the room is covered with sweaters, an amorphous pile.

“Summarizing the articles will be tedious, we need to stay focused on the details,” you caress the frayed edges of the box on the dining-room table with a finger. The young French woman nods, looking for clues, are you married, you’re not wearing any perfume, your face is a make-up free zone as the reddened nostrils confirm, your hair is gathered up into a haphazard pony-tail, your nails clipped like a boy’s are stained yellow with tobacco, you laugh, your mouth full of chewed-up cookies, without excusing yourself, the beads of tangled-up necklaces peek out from a half-open drawer, you tack 33-record covers on the wall, a Nina Simone and a Patti Smith, twice you evoke your “best friend” who lives in San Francisco, the phrase suggests an extended adolescence, how old are you? The dog follows you everywhere, into the kitchen, the bathroom, when you go to the bathroom you keep right on talking to your assistant, shouting for her to answer the phone. Mlle Gene Neveva is not available, the flabbergasted girl improvises.

She’s never met an American before you. Speaking this language she associates with novels and actors, hearing her own voice become foreign turns your first day together into an intoxicating game of role-playing. Everything is part of the scenery, a stopover in an exotic wonderland, the peanut butter you spread on the crackers whose pale crumbs are strewn all over the rug, your bedroom with the storm-windows shuttered in the daytime, the books piled up at the foot of your bed and the stacks of dailies and weeklies that you ask her to sort by title: Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle. You toss around the words casually, kidnapping, FBI, abductors, when night falls you rub your eyes like a sleep-deprived child and twist around and contort your chest with the eyes half-closed, inhaling slowly, sitting Indian-style on the floor. Re-invigorated, you’re impressed by the manila folders the girl has prepared and the neat rectangular white labels with sky-blue borders she pulls out of her pencil case.

“I just love how serious you are, Violette. That name doesn’t really fit you though, ‘Violette,’ it makes you sound like a delicate little flower….”

My middle name is Violaine, the teenager improvises. You stretch your legs out under the table, your mouth forms a careful O, the smoke rings dissipating by the time they hit the ceiling.

“It’s important, a first name, it’s a birth. ‘Violaine.’ Not easy to pronounce for an American but o-kay. You know, Vi-o-lai-nuh, what will remain unforgettable for me here when I go back to the United States?”

The thunder-storms. The mountains. On the beach, on certain days, one can make them out carved into the fog, when they lock themselves around the ocean like an open hand it’s a sign that it will be sunny the next day, your assistant is amused to hear you repeat with such conviction the sayings of the old-timers.

The tidal equinoxes, also. Last week the ocean seeped up to the edge of the dunes! The paths along the moors. They all look the same, there are no landmarks, a pine tree is a pine tree is a pine tree is a fern is sand. The sand, you sigh. That, mixed with the soil in the forest, which turns into mud the instant it rains, the silky beige sand that finds its way into your purse, your notebook spirals, the bottom of your bed, stuck to the soleus muscles of your calves, your socks.

Mlle Neveva won’t forget the sand, she who’s just baptized herself Violaine writes in her diary with the detachment of a documentarian, omitting the fleeting moment when she thinks she hears you describe her as unforgettable even though she barely knows you.

The sand, you repeat practically every day like a mantra, exasperated, taking off your sneakers and shaking them out onto the ground.

Extract, pages 92 – 99

(New chapter)

Day 13

When, on the morning of the 13th day, you announce that you’ve read something which has opened your eyes, no doubt your report will be finished tomorrow afternoon, Violaine is more relieved than you can imagine. This is all she wants, to return to the equilibrium of those first days, to just be your little helper who cuts, translates, and pastes. Instead of being the person who slows you down and irritates you and doesn’t hear the same things you hear in Patty’s recorded messages. You suggest going to the village bar and smoke-shop, a change of scenery will help.

It’s noon, church is letting out, the church plaza is packed, Lenny goes bananas every time a hand is stretched out to him, exuberant and shy at the same time, a little kid who never lets you out of his sight, you whistle and put an end to all the social whirl. You mock the devout out loud in English, tell Violaine to observe their holier-than-thou airs, wearing their religion on their sleeves, they’re so relieved to be in God’s good graces. There’s no such thing as lost souls, just passive bodies, our own.

When you make your entrance into the bar, the men lined up along the counter
pivot on their stools to stare at you, Violaine follows in your wake, embarrassed to be embarrassed by you who are not at all embarrassed, your jeans just a tad too wide reveal the hemline of your panties, your sea-blue pull-over emphasizes that you’re not wearing a bra.

This providential book, you read it all in one night, the Stanislavsky Method of the
Actor’s Studio is the bible of all the great American actors, Robert De Niro used it for playing Travis in “Taxi Driver.” (Violaine hasn’t seen the film, it’s banned in France for those under 21.) It offers an abundance of exercises to help with building a character. And indisputably, Patricia has become a character. And voila your idea, to envisage the entire saga like a story, a film! You’ll be Patricia and Violaine can play, let’s see, Emily Harris, of the SLA. Your assistant’s aghast refusal amuses you, at the end of the day, Marxism isn’t contagious.

“First exercise: Two words that define your character.”

“All alone,” Violaine suggests.

“Protected from everything. Oops, I used one word too many.”

“Very mature for her age.”

“Too many words, Violaine…! Susceptible and superficial?”

“Secretive.”

“Typical teenager,” you fire back at Violaine, sticking your tongue out at her.

“A symbolic example.”

A symbolic example? Of what? Your assistant sputters, she has no idea of what, she’s just repeating what the heiress says on the second tape. You admit that you’re perplexed, no doubt Patricia must have said “This is a symbolic example,” and Violaine must have heard “I am a symbolic example.” You’ll have to listen to it again later. Second exercise, write a letter to your character. How would a letter addressed to Patricia Hearst, the college sophomore of before the kidnapping, be different from one addressed to Patricia Hearst, prisoner? One doesn’t change in a few weeks, Violaine protests, all the same distraught to be disagreeing with you once again. You maintain that we’re not entities with immutable identities, circumstances alter us, is Violaine the same with her parents as here, certainly not, but Violaine sticks to her guns, Patricia doesn’t really change over the course of her messages, she’d write her the same letter.

The waiter buzzes about you, when he serves the glass of Armagnac the owner insists on offering — the American lady from the Dunes is spending the afternoon in his bar! — his wrist brushes against your hair, Violaine whispers to you, “Il tient une couche celui-là” (He’s a bit slow, that one), you don’t know the expression but it enchants you, you repeat it to the waiter, who slinks away, the bar is packed to the rafters, the regulars coming from the rugby match, teenagers putting off going home for the traditional Sunday lunch, you can’t hear anyone, you step up to the counter to order a beer, you drink to the death of that bastard, Franco finally croaked the day before yesterday, you proclaim rather than simply state, “Those who are against fascism without being against capitalism, those who wail about barbary and who come from barbary, are like those who eat their share of veal but oppose killing calves. They want to eat the veal but don’t want to see the blood.”

A young blonde man applauds you, Bravo, say that again but louder, so that everyone can benefit, a couple approaches you and introduces themselves respectfully, their daughter is in your class, they’ve heard so much about you, you interrupt them, she needs to read Brecht, their daughter, voilà!, the glasses are refilled and clinked, fascistes de merde, then, caught up in the exhilaration of this frenzy, Violaine rises to her tippy-toes and whispers to you these words that she knows by heart, the phrase with which the SLA signs all its communiqués, “Death to the fascist parasite who feeds on the lives of the people.” You stare at her, startled, she thinks you’re going to make fun of her and apologizes, she’s read the words so many times in the past few days that they’ve become emblazoned in her brain, but you grab her hand and kiss it with ceremonious exaggeration, everyone whistles in approval, you bow as if for a curtain call.

You insist on walking Violaine home despite her protests: It’s not like she’s going to get lost over 500 meters. Weaving along the path, slightly buzzed, you burst out laughing recalling the shocked air of a group of your students, seeing you drinking with the farmers seemed to scandalize them, you regale Violaine with your impressions of them, the way you can never separate those two in class, the sadistic books that one devours, stories of girls on drugs, prostituted, beaten, locked in closets, raped, the passion of this other one for Arthur Rimbaud, she keeps a picture of him in her wallet and sobs inconsolably over his death, but she’s incapable of citing a single one of his poems. Arriving at the gate, you can’t seem to decide to leave, you ask about the purpose of the high thickets which surround Violaine’s parents’ property. It’s a question of tranquility, Violaine answers without reflecting. You repeat the syllables, “tran-quil-i-ty.” Your assistant’s parents are thus insulated from all the racket which rages around here — you indicate with a sweeping gesture the forest and the few scattered other houses. You crack yourself up with your own jokes, do Violaine’s parents have a special thermostat in their living-room for perfect tran-quil-i-ty, with different gradations: “bored like a dead man,” “death-like silence….” Violaine, her keys in hand, doesn’t dare tell you that she’s freezing, that the French phrase is “bored like a dead rat” and that her parents are waiting, the living-room lights are on, if they come outside and find you both on the stoop, they’ll invite you in, and Violaine can’t imagine anything worse than you meeting her parents, why do you have to endlessly analyze everything, you tilt your head and hoot at the sky, waiting for the theoretical reply of an owl which never comes. As if it weren’t already night with the sand humid under your naked feet – your sneakers dangle from your hands, locking themselves around you — you start in on a recapitulation of the afternoon, it was groovy. You’ll go back to the bar next Sunday as promised with a Nina Simone 33 because you couldn’t find any of her songs in the jukebox. A propos, did Violaine notice the reaction in the bar when you told them about how Nina Simone’s parents, during a concert by their daughter, had to give up their seats of honor to Whites and Nina refused to go on singing? Nothing. No reaction. Not a shadow of indignation.

The bar had never been so silent. Violaine should remember it, this silence, it has an acrid taste, it’s the silence of that which remains unspoken, those who didn’t flinch at the idea of concert seats being off-limits to Blacks thought they were abstaining from commenting but their silence said it all. In this café, everyone had chosen his camp. There’s no such thing as neutrality.

(New chapter)

Day 14 (Excerpt)

Your faith in Method Acting doesn’t last long, the next morning you don’t talk about it anymore. You complain that you have at most two more days before you have to mail the report and you’ve only just started writing it, this report that Violaine assumed you were on the verge of finishing. You hole up in your room for most of the day, from the living-room Violaine can hear the tape player starting up, No one’s forcing me to make this tape, Patricia insists. A brief click, the lisping of a tape being rewound, “You need to understand that I am a, uh, symbolic example and a symbolic warning not only for you but for all the others.” When you find yourself with Violaine in the kitchen, you sip your tea without saying a word, no mea culpa, and Violaine doesn’t dare bring up again Patricia’s expression that she therefore in fact completely understood, nor ask you who these others are supposed to be, all the others, does she mean “warning” in the sense of an alarm or of a threat, of what exactly is she an example, Patricia…?

You’re expected in San Francisco on December 15. There, like the other expert witnesses, you’ll be briefed in depth on the potential attacks from the judge and the prosecutor on your credibility and your past. We’ll turn your revolutionary experience into an asset, the lawyer promises. Who could be in a better position than you to know that, in these groups, you don’t find many 19-year-old heiresses who’ve never participated in a demonstration? That a lawyer whose universe is limited to Harvard and the milieu of influential Republicans would harbor this type of certitude is hardly surprising. That you’ve shown yourself so willing to be able to prove him right is more problematic.

But now this skinny French teenager comes along. Why listen to Patricia at all if you’re not willing to hear her?, she innocently asks you over and over. Her question, you can’t permit yourself to hear it either, you whose job it is to show that Patricia doesn’t know what she’s saying. You were right the day you hired her, Violaine understands perfectly well what you’ve given her to read, just not in the way you need her to….

Extract, pages 108 – 112

(New chapter)

Day 15

Are you tired of an experiment which isn’t working out the way you wanted it to, these debates in which Violaine continues to whittle away at your attempts to prove that Patricia Hearst was brainwashed. (4) Are you exhausted, between teaching every other day and writing the report, are you pre-occupied with the prison sentence awaiting Patricia if the Defense shows itself incapable of proving her innocence, or worried about seeing your reputation tarnished, you who up until now have led a charmed life, the trial promises to be highly newsworthy, your defeat will be public, Neveva Gene was incapable of coming up with three measly lines to save Hearst. On this particular morning you usher Violaine in and swing open the door to your bedroom while designating, carefully spread out across the carpet, a mosaic of Patricias. Ten tableaux, the covers from Time and Newsweek. Ten attempts to forge a coherent portrait. Each a rough draft for the next, each effacing the one that preceded it.

The cover from February 6, 1974, “SHATTERED INNOCENCE,” a Patricia grinning widely, under the delicate blue of an immobile horizon, her hair tussled by a sea breeze, she’s wearing a boy’s striped Polo shirt. The cover from February 13, “WHEN WILL SHE BE SET FREE?,” a pensive Patricia curled up in a vast olive-green armchair, her father with his back against the bookcase standing behind her, a hand resting on her shoulder. The cover from March 10, “FIANCÉ TALKS ABOUT PATRICIA.”

Violaine kneels, careful not to disturb the photos. That’s the most recent one, you point to the Time cover of April 4, 1974. No more blue, no more sky, just fire. The background of the image is red (5), like the fire of a nightmare which seems to surge from nowhere, red like the SLA flag in front of which she stands, her legs slightly ajar, Patricia is 20 years and one month old, she sports a beret slanted back over her undulating auburn hair, the leather bandolier of an M16 rifle rumpling the khaki fabric of her blouse. A wide black banner splits the image of the heiress in half: GUILTY.

(New chapter)

You tell a stunned Violaine that what you’re going to listen to now is a bit shocking. The words but also Patricia’s tone of voice, the way she addresses her parents. You propose listening to it three times, this tape, once with the eyes closed, taking notes, and then rapidly going through the dailies from April 1974. Only afterwards will you talk about them.

Tape 4, broadcast April 3, 1974

(Translator’s note: All citations from Patricia Hearst in “Mercy, Mary, Patty” are from the public record, including the tapes released by Hearst’s captors and trial evidence.)

“I’d like to start out by making it clear that what I’m about to say I wrote on my own. This is what I’m feeling. No one’s ever forced me to say anything on these tapes. I haven’t been brainwashed, or drugged, or tortured, or hypnotized. Mom, Dad, I want to start off with your pseudo-efforts to ensure my safety: Your gifts were an act. [The SLA’s ransom demands included food giveaways to the poor – one of which, at a church near his family’s house, the translator remembers well.] You tried to hoodwink people. You screwed around, played for time, all of which the FBI took advantage of to try to kill me, me and those in the SLA. You claimed you were doing everything in your power to get me freed. Your betrayals taught me a lot and in that sense, I thank you. I’ve changed; I’ve grown up. I’ve become aware of many things and I can never go back to the life I lead before; that sounds hard, but on the contrary, I’ve learned what unconditional love is for those who surround me, the love that comes from the conviction that no one will be free as long as we’re not all free. I’ve learned that the dominant class won’t retreat before anything in its lust for extending its power over others, even if it means sacrificing one of its own. It should be obvious that people who couldn’t care less about their own child don’t give a hoot about the children of others.

“I’ve been given the choice between: 1) being released in a safe place or 2) joining the SLA and fighting for my own liberty and for the liberty of all the oppressed. I’ve chosen to stay and fight. No one should have to humiliate themselves by standing in line in order to be able to eat, nor live in constant fear for their lives and those of their children. Dad, you say that you’re worried about me and about the lives of the oppressed of this country, but you’re lying and, as a member of the ruling class, I know that your interests and those of Mom have never served the interests of the People. You’ve said that you’ll offer more jobs, but why don’t you warn people about what’s going to happen to them, huh? Soon their jobs will be eliminated. Of course you’ll say that you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re just a liar, a sell-out. But go ahead, tell them, tell the poor and oppressed of this country what the government is getting ready to do. Tell the Blacks and the vulnerable that they’ll be killed down to the last man, women and children included. If you have so much empathy for the People, tell them what the energy crisis really is, tell them that it’s just a clever strategy to hide the real intentions of industrialists. Tell them that the oil crisis is nothing more than a way to make them accept the construction of nuclear power plants all over the country; tell the People that the government is getting ready to automate all the industries and that soon, oh, in five years at the most, we won’t need anything but push-buttons. Tell them, Dad, that the vulnerable and a big part of the Middle Class, they’ll all be on unemployment in less than three years and that the elimination of the useless has already begun. Tell the People the truth. That the maintaining of law and order is just a pretense for getting rid of the so-called violent elements, me, I prefer being lucid and conscious. I should have known that you, like other businessmen, if you’re perfectly capable of doing this to millions of people to hold on to power, you’d be ready to kill me for the same reason. How long will it take for the Whites of this country to realize that what’s being done to Black children will sooner or later happen to White children?

“My name has been changed to Tanya, in homage to a comrade in the struggle who fought with Che in Bolivia. I embrace this name with determination, I’ll continue her fight. There’s no such thing as partial victory. I know that Tanya dedicated her life to others. To fight, to devote oneself entirely to an intense desire to learn…. It’s in the spirit of Tania that I say, Patria o muerte, venceromos.”

–Tanya Hearst

Extract, pages 126-140

Translator’s note: Soon after her collaboration with Violaine on the Hearst brief, Gene Neveva returns to the U.S., leaving behind her one lost dog and one irreparably altered teenager. Violaine grows up to become the village outcast, loyal to the principles inculcated in her in part by Neveva but alienated from her community, adored only by the children who flock to her house after school to nibble brown-sugar crepes and learn how to question accepted societal norms, much to the consternation of their parents. Her most devoted acolyte among these children is the narrator, with whom Violaine eventually shares the notes she took and the diary she kept while working with Gene Neveva on the Hearst case. (Whence the second-person premise with which the narrator addresses Neveva at the beginning of the novel: “I’m supposing you.”) A sort of repository of the influences of Neveva, Violaine, and through her Hearst, the narrator continues to question…. and to search.

***

Did you really get to know her, your assistant, or did you just skim the surface and size her up in the blink of an eye at the same time you were pontificating on women’s rights? Of course, in 1975 you were the adult, her elder in whom she didn’t confide a whole lot. I have the advantage of the notes she entrusted me with and of the distance of time.

I’m five years old and the teenager who re-named herself Violaine for you is this thin young woman of nearly 30 who lives alone with her dog in the house where she grew up, on the outskirts of our little village. From her house there’s a short-cut through the forest which leads to the beach, a four-kilometer walk between the columns of pine trees. Her dog fascinates me, hieratic and clumsy at the same time. Lenny seems immense to me, Violaine whispers mysterious words to him, my parents explain to me that she speaks English with him because he’s American. Children tend to linger at her place, at snack-time she makes us brown-sugar crepes, she listens to us, talks to us like adults never talk to us, we can ask her anything we want. What does she do for a living? She considers the question for a moment. Let’s see, she translates newspaper articles into English, she helps kids with their homework, she dog-sits when families go on vacation, at the antique shop in the neighboring village she sells bathroom shelves and picture-frames that she makes herself, she repairs shoulder-straps on discarded purses. Why limit yourself to one way of making a living?

And why doesn’t she have any children? Well, that depends on what you mean by “have,” can one really “have” another person, what do we think? Do we belong to our parents? What if all we can actually own are these little snippets of time like the time she spends teaching us to swim, to dig, to read?

I’m seven years old and have earned the right to hold Lenny’s leash on his walks, the job of making sure there’s always water in his bowl. Violaine teaches me a few English commands that I try out, marveling at how the dog sits, gives me his paw, and lies down. While she reads the paper, I get to know Lenny, from the silkiness of his pink, practically hairless skin to the inner folds of his front paws, his leathery nose cracked at the edges; I curl up against him and he doesn’t bat an eye, I approach his mouth with my face, he snoozes, his breath caressing my cheek. I race to Violaine’s house after school to see him, he’s ecstatic to see me, I throw rags to him which he meticulously rips to shreds, Violaine warns me about his age, not to be fooled by his healthy appearance, Lenny is a vieux monsieur.

I’m eight years old, summer vacation is over, one September morning, in the glare of the Sun, Violaine’s face seems to have been suddenly drained of all its youth. Lenny died yesterday cradled in her arms, he didn’t suffer, he looked her right in the eyes until the end, a serene trusting look, he was over 15 years old, he’d had an incredible life, he’d traversed a whole continent, he’d been lost and then found on the edge of a lake in America and here also, Lenny was loved many times over, he had two mistresses. I’m inconsolable, Violaine takes me to discover a path which leads to a part of the beach where normally I’m not allowed to go alone, there’s no lifeguard. You have to make your way down slowly, pushing aside the thistles and blackberry branches to avoid getting pricked, can I tell if the cumin smell is coming from those tiny mauve flowers sprouting up out of the dunes? The sand turned boiling-hot by the Sun is lined with narrow, barely detectable rivulets, vipers’ paths. We cry without talking facing the sea then start laughing from crying so hard over a dog who landed in France one day in 1974 and was lost one December morning in 1975. In the spot where he loved to stretch out under the Sun, behind the house, Violaine suggests that I plant carrots, which he adored, when I get up to look for a sprinkler, she kneels pressing her forehead against the sand, caressing the soil with her palms.

I’m ten years old and I’m not aware of her fragile status among the village’s adults. Tolerated but not included, Violaine is never invited to dinner, no one asks for her help in getting ready for the village fête in July; when she is asked for anything, it’s with reluctance, someone needs something translated. They’re all polite to her but without any warmth, like they might be with a foreigner who still doesn’t get the local customs. For us, Violaine is a miracle in equilibrium between our adolescence to come and the morose adult age of our parents, time circled around and spared her.

One Saturday afternoon, Violaine passes around a plastic bag into which each of us is supposed to put a cracker, an apple, a piece of candy, for “the poor.” We obey, a bit skeptical, no one’s desperate around here, we’re not in India. The bag is left out in the open in the City Hall plaza, the following morning it’s empty. What then becomes a ritual generates a buzz that lands us in the local daily, which heralds “a laudable initiative by children identifying the growing poverty in the village since the local cork factory closed down.” A journalist wants to meet Violaine, she demurs, taking the credit doesn’t make much sense, she didn’t invent anything. In the following weeks the priest joins our campaign, accompanied by his Sunday school students, we add to the bags poems copied onto loose sheets as well as drawings. Violaine starts a new club, “The atelier-debate,” Wednesday afternoons from three to six. We cram into her living-room. She hands out a Xerox with the rules: “No Interrupting” and “Be Kind to Others.” Such formality makes us feel important, elevating us above the contentious brouhahas of adults which we dread, Sundays we get up from the table as soon as we’re finished eating, plug our ears in our beds to block out the bickering of our parents, “You could have…. If you’d only have…. You’ll never do it.”

Sitting on Violaine’s rug, it doesn’t matter if we’ve already eaten, we compete for cookies, shortbread, marble cake, we hold out our hands, we fidget, me me Violaine, our cheeks flush with impatience, worried about not being able to remember everything we want to say.

Violaine presses us about our daily habits, did we see an ad for our backpack in a magazine, is that why we wanted to buy it, does choice even figure into it?

What if we were starving and we heard about a place where we could get free meals, but where we knew the food was stolen, what would we do? Would we just not eat? If we were asked to pass this food out to the poor, what would be more important, where the food came from or feeding those who don’t have anything?

The day after the third Wednesday session, my parents, like the others, receive a letter signed “Concerned Parents” accusing Violaine of justifying stealing. And then I hear them talk about you for the first time: For 15 years they’ve made her pay for the episode of the American professor, it’s time they leave her alone, says my mother, exasperated. I’m eleven years old.

I’m 12 years old, when school lets out Saturday afternoons I hurry over on my bicycle, I have to scale two hills to get to Violaine’s house. I have my own cup for the tea that she’s taught me to love, a Disney plate dating from when I was eight, Violaine regularly makes like she’s going to toss it and is amused by my protests. My rites make her laugh, aren’t I bored yet of trying on her old scarves in front of the mirror?

I walk beside her. We forge through glades invaded by ferns nearly two yards tall, picnic in the hollow of the dune where we can light a fire without being spotted by the gendarmes, we dine on pepper and zucchini shish-kebobs, wade shivering in the water ice-cold in April, that was dumb declares Violaine once we’ve enveloped ourselves in blankets back on the sand. I’ve just been authorized to enter her office at the end of the hall, the most beautiful room in the house where the window looks out on the round smooth stones of a dry creek bed. The shelves rise up almost to the ceiling, with books of all sizes which I’m permitted to read but not to take home. The air seems to be in repose, a silence of filtered light impregnated with amber and paper, I pray that night never comes, that there’s no interruption of this world that I’ve discovered in the pages of Newsweek, Time, Life. They all have gaps in them where articles have been cut out.

It’s 1991, I’m in eighth grade, Sandrine Cornet loans me a CD her father brought back from the United States, on the cover of Nevermind a plump baby swims in indigo water below a dollar bill attached to a fish hook. Violaine translates the words of “Something in the Way,” we discuss the meaning of the refrain, America and its wars, says Violaine, seem to be painfully lodged in Kurt Cobain’s throat. I make fun of her lightly, one says the United States, not America. And speaking of the United States, which city does she know the best? I’m not surprised by her response but feel awkward about having made her uncomfortable, what does it matter, she’ll travel later, what does she want to see when she finally goes there?

Violaine gets up on a chair and fetches a folder from the highest shelf, she spreads the photos out on the carpet. Among the snapshots of Northampton and the campus is a portrait: You stare straight into the camera with a mocking smile, your white blouse tucked into your bell-bottom jeans, your feet sheathed in light blue Converses. You’re sitting on one of the three steps of the building, your back leaning against the august portal with its gothique wrought-iron interlacing, the gilded lettering proclaiming: “Smith College, 1875.” Patricia Hearst does not come up that day, just you, Mademoiselle Neveva, for whom Violaine “translated articles and filed papers” in the winter of 1975.

I’ve just turned 16, I half-heartedly study for finals. Since Easter, at the request of my parents I’m taking English classes from Violaine, she has me read Emily Dickinson’s poems and excerpts from novels, Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” and James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans,” I have trouble translating the articles she gives me, one of which is an analysis of John Ford’s “The Searchers.” (6) It’s signed Gene Neveva.

She begins your story like this, Violaine: How lucky she was to have been your assistant, despite the migraines every afternoon, the anguish every morning, you needed to work fast, be able to understand complex articles in one reading, summarize them without complaining. But what a chance, what an honor to have contributed, with you, to saving an adolescent from life in prison, here, this is her, Violaine points to the framed photo on her desk. I’ve been looking at this photo since I was a kid, I always assumed it was a cousin, one of Violaine’s friends. I’ve now met Patricia Hearst. Violaine captivates me with the ambiguous charm of the story she reveals to me in bits and pieces. A story of solitude, of encounters, of choice. Of being alive and making sure people know it. Sometimes maybe it’s better to remain with the Indians like in the Westerns, she murmurs. (6)

She pretends to be surprised when I show up on my bicycle the following Wednesday, what, haven’t I had my fill of talking about all this, don’t I have friends my own age? But my classmates and their boring lives, their preoccupations – what will I do after high school? – their Friday nights, their whisky-Cocas and ground-up aspirin, all this pales in comparison to Patricia Hearst. Violaine holds the key to what I want to understand, what I need to know.

The odyssey of a young woman barely older than me the fracas around whom is inebriating. I tirelessly scrutinize her face on the cover of Newsweek from September 1975. Not a very flattering picture, the stark lighting accentuates the shadows of the rings under her eyes and her pallid skin. Patricia-Tanya glares at anyone who pauses before the image with a defiant air in this photo taken by the LAPD after her arrest. She looks livid and yet the police have just freed her from her kidnappers, I remark to Violaine, perplexed. Years later, after I’ve spent entire days listening to her and reading her notes, Violaine confides in me that this “livid” surprised her, most of those to whom she’s shown this photo have described Hearst’s expression as “flippant, annoyed.” I’m the only one to have caught her anger.

My own is not visible. When it’s time to resume my role of docile daughter, I take my bike on the bumpy paths, where the sand forces me to pedal hard until I’m out of breath, the mournful enervating calmness of the family foyer with all its lights turned on brings tears to my eyes, I listen without saying a word to my parents recounting their days over dinner, two extinguished adults with worn smiles. The solitude of blood ties appalls me, as if it’s only just dawned on me, I detest the person they’re trying to mold me into, right down to the first name they’ve given me, I’ve been trained to march lock-step into the future, an obedient little soldier who sticks to the family roadmap without questioning it, content to have what she’s never really wanted, a position in society, a job, a happy home. The prudence of my parents’ lives makes me want to throw up, the cowardice of it all. Their parsimonious generosity when they toss a coin to a homeless person, their bitter resignation disguised as “strength of character” when they vaunt themselves: “Me, I have no illusions.” I will no longer be the person I was. I open up to Violaine, she doesn’t say a word, her eyes shining brilliantly, she just listens to me debating with myself, unable to see the strings tying me down. I impregnate myself with Patricia Hearst’s words, wanting them to infect me, I dream of being ready to sacrifice everything, but lack the words and the causes, they seem to be either beyond my reach – the Rwandan genocide, the war in Iraq – or too local, the shutting down of the pine cellulose factory. Tanya’s heroism dwarfs me, forces me to confront my own passivity, she knows how to fearlessly target her enemies while I can’t even identify them. What needs to be destroyed, what needs to be attacked first, how, with whom, and whose side are you on if you’re not completely on hers? I pooh-pooh the student demonstrations against the CIP (7), the café debates in which everyone recites his own personal litany of indignations before sagely returning to the daily grind, and which are useless because no victory exists if it’s only partial. I devote myself to building up my body, push-ups, tractions, abs that I perform on my bedroom carpet, Patricia learned to run and high jump, to load a gun in the dark, to be fearless, to attack. My thirst for knowledge is unquenchable, I spend my Wednesdays stretched out on the rug in Violaine’s office, I no sooner start one book than I discard it for another that I also don’t manage to finish, I want to read them all. I’m too young I can’t wait. For a class presentation in which the theme is “the other side of the décor,” while a baffled French teacher stands listening I recount the exposure of the cloistered world of the heiress, how Patricia, in going over to the other side, put an end to several tenacious myths. No, parents don’t love their children unconditionally, not if they embrace another identity besides the one they’ve been pre-programmed for, no, the police aren’t here to protect us, the police who didn’t hesitate to spray the house in which Patricia was supposed to be holing up with machine-gun fire. I read extracts of her messages to my peers, convinced I’ll find more converts, but there’s an outcry, a millionaire who pretends to care about the poor, who are you kidding, what did Patricia do to change the world, rob a bank? I retort what are they doing, besides carefully avoiding anything which might slow down their progress, and towards what exactly are they racing with such fervor, I get a 5 out of 20, my work declared “off-subject.”

Violaine accompanies me in my humiliations and my questions, cajoles them, anticipates them. She’s no longer the reserved older sister of my childhood who makes me crepes, but a methodical genius with high-speed reasoning, no one knows her like I do, my bilingual heroine who saved Patricia in two weeks time with an incredible American. My parents worry more and more about what the two of us might be concocting , Violaine is after all a mature woman, she’s just celebrated her 40th birthday, and when they pronounce the word “concocting” their discomfort is palpable, their embarrassment about what they imagine we might be scheming up together.

I’m 18 years old and just barely manage to graduate, my parents want me to “broaden my horizons and create some distance, this school will open doors for me, Bordeaux is a very beautiful city.” I leave behind the fine November rain, the foggy June nights on the cornfields, the mauve thistles, the storms which erode the dunes, and Violaine.

If Violaine could only see what exactly they open up to, these doors vaunted by my parents…. Every night I rail on the telephone about my courses in “commercial strategy,” a real brainwashing. Violaine puts me at ease, my brain will resist this like all the rest, I’ve already been subjected to dozens of brainwashings since I was born, my parents, school, the media, religion, and herself all being culpable. She writes me numerous letters, no one can force me to remain in this school, sends me photos of the beach and its ferns already turning brown ahead of winter, also one of Lenny, and this text she thinks will please me, its author wrote it when she was exactly my age, 19:

“It seems to me that the term ‘brainwashing’ only makes sense when it designates the process that starts with the education system and is perpetuated by the media, the process by which people are conditioned to passivity, to accepting their pre-destined roles, that of slaves of the dominant class. If I’ve been subjected to any brainwashing, it’s that which conditions all of us to accept and hold on to our place in society. I spent 12 years in private schools surrounded by young people pre-occupied with pursuing their aspirations to dominate. Retrospectively, for me these schools are a training ground for the formation of future little fascists, we’re encouraged to develop all the values of capitalism: individualism, the sense of competition, not to mention racism.”

Tanya Hearst takes the words right out of my mouth, I cite her in my paper, I copy this paragraph and hand it out to my fellow students, suggesting that we have a debate about it, isn’t this exactly what’s happening in this school, what are they training us for? The school authorities rapidly summon me and suggest that I “reconsider my objectives.”

I’m 22 years old. I’m living in a hole-in-the-wall studio apartment in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, below Montmartre. I’ve roamed between two universities and attempted three freshman years without conviction or success, a year of Anglo-American literature, a year of sociology, and a semester of history, I’ve worked as a waitress, perfume saleswoman, baby-sitter and dog-sitter, translator of various manuals, for hair-dryers, bathroom scales and hydrating lotions, none of these jobs lasted and I couldn’t care less, my life begins the moment I push open the doors of the French National Library, I’ve picked up the habit of reading American newspapers several times per week. The ceremonious silence of the periodicals room is soothing, I leaf through Time, Newsweek, Life, snuggling up with them as time blurs. These precious moments are where I live, I have no place else to be, going back to my parents’ house is unthinkable, and I get lost in Paris, I shy away from the impatient masses who push and press, but to get where? I don’t really think about Patricia Hearst, I forget about her like the childhood friend you hung around with a bit too much and who you now need to break free from. I’ve not responded to Violaine’s latest letters, which have begun to space themselves out.

For the first time in years, in December 2000 I spend New Year’s week at my parents.’ They’re sorry to report that Violaine appears to be losing it little by little from living alone, now she’s defending two students at the Dax high school who want to wear the veil, Violaine’s not even Muslim, as far as we know! She wrote a letter to the principal, a bizarre petition in which she sticks up for “teenagers who expose that which embarrasses us. Some are punk rockers, others might wear the veil. We who describe these girls as prisoners and say they’re being manipulated, are we so sure we’re free?” The children no longer scramble to get to her house at snack-time.

I visit her the next day, guilty to have been out of touch for so long, but she just hugs me tightly for a long time. She’s just signed up for unemployment. It’s harder and harder to find translating work; it would seem that everyone now speaks perfect English, she bemoans. On the surface immune to the sarcasm she’s been subjected to since the business of the high school girls, she leaves me admiring her propensity for solitude. She’s so thin I take pity on her, I want to protect or force-feed her. And yet this body isn’t fragile at all but honed by years of effort, Violaine doesn’t cede to anything.

I’m 30 I’m 32, she comes to Paris regularly to visit me, worried about “being under-foot,” she sleeps on a mattress on the floor and gets up noiselessly at dawn, Violaine disappears for entire days. At first delighted, she copies down the names of streets like a poem she’s just discovered, she loves traversing the bridges, all the bridges! Monuments everywhere you turn! Stonework everywhere, the palaces, the churches, the banks, and the ministries. And the stores, the restaurants, is there any place where you don’t have to pay for the right to sit down, why do all the parks close at 7 p.m.? All I see in this city, she writes me in a note left one morning, is the overwhelming proof of the society we’ve let be erected, no one looks at each other, we’re just statistics and social roles. She hopes I won’t hold it against her but she needs to get back to her beloved ocean, with its insistent currents, a space where, as Mademoiselle Neveva used to say, “everything is possible but nothing is guaranteed.” To my parents whom she runs into from time to time and who fret about my wandering – spending the whole day in the library, this is not a job! — she retorts dryly that wandering is courageous work and should be obligatory, like doubting. She warns me on the phone, she doesn’t want me showing up one morning on her doorstep announcing that I’m pregnant and am moving back, don’t come home. For that matter, why not go to America for a few weeks, me who gets by so well in English. I get excited, suggest to Violaine that we go in the summer, I’ve found a cheap flight and a youth hostel in Northampton, we can visit the campus. She shakes her head without responding, as if I were a child whose question she doesn’t want to answer directly, we’ll see.

I’m 37 years old, it’s 2015, young women are disappearing from their homes. They’re signaled at the frontiers, designated “S” (8), written up in organizational charts, with graphics illustrating the co-relations between them: Coming from middle class homes for the most part, they’re between 15 and 25, and did nothing to stand out in the preceding months. Their parents didn’t see it coming when they discovered, stupefied, the B-sides of their children on the ‘Net, in video messages they demand accusingly, in monotone voices, How can we claim to be humanists when in the face of injustice we do nothing, are we not guilty, with our indifference to the poor? Let’s admit it and say it out loud, they’re a warning. For hours on end I watch the reportages, read and cut out the articles for no reason, without any particular end in mind, pages and pages of questions, why these girls, to whom everything was permitted and who now grace the magazine covers, they stare out at the camera, an arm flattening out their breasts dissimulated under a jumble of fabric. I send the articles to Violaine, the declarations of adults panicked by these impenetrable young girls and who propose to ‘reprogram’ them in a few
weeks. Violaine is initially skeptical, Patricia didn’t want to kill anyone, the SLA’s credo was humanist even if it failed, be careful about over-simplifications. We pick up our abandoned discussions, these editorials, 40 years later, employ the same words as in 1975, Could they be our daughters, our sisters, our friends? Violaine answers with a short phrase copied onto a visiting card: “What some people call ‘conversion’ or see as a sudden change isn’t one at all but rather a slow process of development, a bit like that of photographs, you know.” — Patricia Hearst (Tanya).

Extract, pages 218-240 (conclusion of “Mercy, Mary, Patty”)

Translator’s Note: We’re back where the novel began, in 2016, with the nameless narrator – Violaine’s prodigy as the latter was Gene Neveva’s four decades earlier — on a pilgrimage to Smith College in Northampton to find Professor Neveva and perhaps her own way as she nears 40. After a preliminary meeting in which Violaine’s name does not come up, Neveva suggests that the narrator enroll in her course – even though she normally does not accept adults as, in her view, they have a predisposition for short-cuts and simple answers.

Your class is not the Sunday Mass I feared it might be, even if the fervor of the participants lends itself to confusion, the way they stampede into the room, piling into every nook and cranny, spilling over from the seats onto the stairs and hunkering down as if preparing for a siege, provisioned with sandwiches, bottled water, trail mix. The first day you warn us: We’ll emerge from your course neither swept away nor converted, you insist, above all not converted.

The weeks glide by and slip away and I don’t have time for anything, neither strolling in Northampton nor picnicking by the lake, nor even to write a long letter to Violaine. You submerge us in tales of captivity from the 18th and 19th centuries, every one constructed around the same model: “savages” capture a frail young woman, are subsequently slain by the defenders of civilization who save her, freeing the young woman, all the better to enslave her “chez elle.” I’ve chosen, for the oral report which caps the first month of the course, to focus on the cases of Mary Rowlandson and Mary Jemison. The former, a pastor’s wife captured in Lancaster, Massachusetts in 1682, penned a first-hand account of her 11 weeks of captivity, the first best-seller in America, reprinted regularly up until 1913. As for Mary Jamison, in 1823 she confided to a young doctor the story of her kidnapping and adoption at the age of 15, in 1753, by the Senecas. The sophomores recount to me with delectation how you grilled one of them for two hours after her presentation, forced another to improvise, grabbing her papers from her hands, the time you cut off a student before she could even finish her introduction, which you judged “cliché-ridden.” Only to execute perfect figure eights a moment later by contradicting themselves in emphatically evoking how you’d already ‘saved their lives,’ a telephone call on a Sunday when they were feeling particularly gloomy, a last-minute excursion when they felt overwhelmed with schoolwork, the little bags of dried fruit.

The morning of my presentation, my classmates urge me on with taps on the shoulder as I approach the lectern. I await your questions without too much trepidation, I know the texts practically by heart. You have but one sole question to ask me, you say reassuringly:

“Why did these two stories resonate – and why do they still resonate today – so strongly?”

The stunned silence of my fellow students overwhelms me. Nothing about the actual texts, nothing about their authors, the exhaustion from having slept so little for months leaves me drained, it doesn’t help matters that my words come to me in French, the various theses imbibed superimpose themselves one over the other, your own book, “Mercy, Mary, Patty,” which you detest us citing is the only one which comes to mind, your clear grey eyes stare at me, is this how you reduced Violaine to being little more than a spectator of your affirmations, you lean towards me, am I all right, would I like some cashews? You suggest we break for lunch and leave the room, my classmates comfort me, delighted to count me among the victims, Welcome to the Club, this is typical Neveva.

Many days elapse before I dare respond to your question by e-mail: Perhaps the resonance of these stories is due to what their authors suggest: Having learned to be well-behaved and obedient was of no succor to them, this is not how these young women survived among the Indians.

“Nor at Smith College, for that matter,” is your irrelevant response, with this PS: “Don’t forget that despite their sincerity, these stories were politically exploited by the powers that be for their own ends. They served as the pretexts for undertaking all kinds of punitive actions against the Indians in the name of our besieged civilization. They need to be read with more distance than that with which you seem to have read them.”

One morning during the final week, you find yourself confronted with the first grumblings of a revolt. Mercy, Mary, all right but… when are we going to finally get to Patty? We’ve been talking about her since the very first day, you whisper emphatically, exasperated.

(New chapter)

I remained at Smith a little over a quarter. I often had the impression of being immersed in the décor of an idealized novel about a model boarding school where no one asks you about your nationality, your sexual orientation, your religion, a happy hermetically-sealed world in which benevolent professors are there to teach without professing. The morning of my arrival, a roll of Lifesavers was left on my doorstep and a postcard bid me welcome to the campus, the following day, on the route leading to the library, a chalk-drawn message on the asphalt pavement celebrated my decision to go back to school; the “Big Sis – Little Sis” rite had begun, each of the newbies would be showered with attention by an upperclasswoman for an entire week. Last month, I was tickled by a day dubbed There’s No Such Thing as a Stupid Question Day, we were encouraged to ask any sociology professors or students we met up with about any aspect of society, they all wore badges to this effect: “Ask me!” I was present for rituals without taking part in them, like the night, on the eve of finals, when everyone leaned out of their windows and simultaneously screamed for a whole minute to release their tension and anxiety, after which they all resumed prepping.

At Smith I was a nearly 40-year-old “provisional” student surrounded by young women bearing no resemblance to me when I was their age. They intimidated me, as if it were me who was their little sister, I envied the splendid nonchalance with which they employed the first person singular and the verb “to choose,” I chose to stay and fight. (9)

On “Ivy Day,” standing beside their parents, I applauded these women who were neither my daughters, my sisters, nor my friends, a procession of hundreds of tulle gowns, of satin, and of ribbons exposing plump arms, of rumpled shorts with matching derbies, of tank tops revealing bra straps, they advanced slowly towards us, being careful not to let the chain of laurels which bound them slip off their shoulders.

(New chapter)

At Smith, I listened to all the tape recordings of Patricia Hearst from start to finish, poured through forgotten theses from the 1980s, the anarchist club permitted me to consult the student fanzines of the epoch which supported the SLA and were enamored with Tanya. In the archives, I unearthed articles from the dailies describing your arrest in April 1969. The announcement that Smith had fired you. The tracts calling for your re-instatement. The photos of a demonstration in solidarity with your cause. A petition from 1995 calling for you to finally be granted the academic honors you had a right to. More recent articles deploring the re-release of “Mercy Mary Patty,” Ms. Neveva should stick to indoctrinating the lesbians of her Communist university. But nothing, nothing at all on your report for the Hearst defense team. I believe I can confirm today that you attended the trial as a spectator.

One day I mentioned your personal involvement in the Hearst trial to another student; she nearly fell out of her chair, why didn’t you talk about the report in your course, it must be fascinating, the young woman suggested that we work together, we could read it faster, dividing the report in two, and eventually include it in our final paper. I hemmed and hawed, maybe it was just a rumor, we should ask you first. Which is exactly what she did at the next class. You didn’t bat an eye, for several instants it seemed to me that you noticed my crimson visage and then, with a shrug of the shoulders, you dismissed the matter as a negligible anecdote – in effect, like dozens of others at the time, you were solicited by the Defense team but it didn’t go any further than that, and if one were to list all your moments of glory, you were also handcuffed on campus centuries ago, does dwelling on the past get us anywhere, no, we need to return to the present.

The night before my departure for France, you called me up. Good evening, it’s Gene Neveva. You offered to drive me to Boston in your car, I must have a lot of luggage, it’ll be better than taking the bus in this heat and besides you have some friends to visit there.

(New chapter)

You apologized for the sorry state of your car, empty cookie packages strewn over the upholstery and crumbs on the seats, blanket and parka rolled up into a ball on the back seat, ink-stained class pages stuck under the seats and tracts lodged in the front window. We passed Main Street and the bookstore announcing your appearance the following weekend, such hoopla 40 years after the book’s initial publication, “You’re a celebrity!” You winced, not really, unless being accused by Fox News of “glorifying teen-aged terrorists” is something to brag about. Smith will always be your only fiefdom, you concluded, to which one might add California, for the rest, America has never appreciated uncertain terrains and you’ve been reminding it of this for 40 years.

You indicated the glove compartment overflowing with CDs and were surprised by my choice. Patti Smith, this wasn’t my generation. I responded that “Hey Joe” was one of the soundtracks of my childhood – Violaine’s 33 record that you’d given her – we stopped talking while Patti Smith harangued Tanya Hearst.

You know what your daddy said, Patty? He said, well, sixty days ago she was such a lovely child and now here she is with a gun in her hands.

You told me about Patricia Hearst’s entrance into the courtroom, hailed by whistling and vociferations, the rows of teenagers standing up brandishing her photo like a weapon, We love you, Tanya, we love you. You described Patricia pouring water into her lawyers’ plastic cups as delicately as if she were serving tea. She who might have spent her whole life being served by others.

Her mother clad entirely in black, from her pumps through her purse, in mourning for her dutiful daughter. The prosecutor’s opening argument accusing the SLA of being a foreign army at war against the United States. Patricia stammering in front of the jury, moved to tears, that she’d been raped by a member of the SLA. A very short-lived compassion which ended abruptly the moment the prosecutor asked Patricia if the perpetrator might possibly be the same man of whom she’d sketched a loving portrait in a funeral oration, on the last tape. From that point on, the jury had considered her a liar, a manipulator. When in fact both were probably true, as contradictory as this might seem. You confessed your regret that you hadn’t included a chapter expanding on this idea in “Mercy Mary Patty.” The story of a young woman accused of not having said No loudly enough, thus suspected of having given her consent….

You described Patricia’s pallor as the jury entered the courtroom, even before they’d proclaimed the verdict, she’d whispered, “Guilty.” It was so lousy.

The crucial question of whether Patricia had acted of her own free will had been quickly sidelined in favor of an interminable debate of a quasi-religious nature, the taped messages treated like heretical documents. Patricia had not been judged solely for the acts that she’d committed but for having subscribed to the “diabolical” ideology of the SLA, for having denounced a certain America.

As I listened to you I pictured you young and furious, powerless to contradict the simplistic experts from your bench in the audience, yes or no, true or false, good or bad, innocent or guilty. You who’d devoted more than 300 pages to the nuances of irresolute minds, fluctuating identities. In this country, you bitterly concluded while handing me your cigarette so I could light it, we glorify politicians who never change their opinions, it’s even seen as a sign of strength of character, and Patricia had paid the price, she who’d continually responded Maybe, I don’t know, I don’t know any more.

I was expecting you to add that you’d also paid the price, but you slapped yourself on the wrist, We’re not in class Gene, stop!
We decided to make a pit-stop in Springfield, which we took advantage of to buy drinks and ice cream. In the coffee-shop, young African-Americans were huddled in front of a t.v. broadcasting in constant replay the declaration of a state of emergency in Baltimore. The eye-witness testimonies succeeded each other on the screen, a vehement policeman, a woman in tears, a story with the inevitable end: an adolescent body covered in a shroud, asphyxiated, beaten, killed. His feet surpassed the stretcher, the shoelaces of his sneakers half untied, the policeman will plead legitimate defense, he’ll get off. We were less than 10 miles from Smith College, with its glossy brochure vaunting how the school welcomed serious young women of all colors, white, Asian, Black, pictured leaning over books or in lab jackets. A commercial for a fiction in which I loved believing, we expostulated on the equality in the fortress behind the high Victorian gates.

I was talking too fast because time was running out, searching in vain for an angle without finding it, you were focusing on the road, I continued, I loved your course but was disappointed that we hadn’t studied Cinque’s (10) riposte to the FBI official who, several days after the kidnapping, convinced that the SLA was made up entirely of Blacks, had insinuated on t.v. that “the Blacks, these people, we know who they are.” For the first time you seemed disconcerted. Many moons ago, you’d been fired from a pseudo-libertaire (11) French establishment for having read this very discourse to your students, I already knew this but I didn’t say anything. We attempted to recite it from memory, each of us taking over when the other forgot the words.

You know me, you’ve always known me, I’m the hunted and feared Negro, you’ve killed hundreds of my people to find me; but I am no longer he one steals from and assassinates […] oh yes, you know us all and we know you […].

We stopped talking. The closed cockpit of the car warped time, I prayed we’d never get to Boston. The rain had been falling for a while but now it blotted out the atmosphere outside with horizontal lines, a violent tempest, the first summer storm, forcing us to pull up into a parking lot deserted except for a man and his dog. The animal toddled along in the opposite direction of the stick his owner’d just tossed, he hunted without success and finally resigned himself to limping back, embarrassed over having failed at his task, the man stroked his back, the emaciated hind paws of the dog trembled, the young man lifted the animal up into his arms, the dog unable to get into the car by himself, he curled up on the back seat, exhausted. I remembered the disoriented look of an ageing Lenny when he’d hurt himself for the first time after jumping from a wall, out of breath and panic-stricken when Violaine and I had rushed over to him, he’d struggled to his feet like one gets up hurriedly to ward off a threat. Will you come back one day to the Southwest of France, I asked abruptly, without looking at you directly.

(New chapter)

I didn’t have any handkerchiefs in my purse and neither did you, we didn’t even know where to start as the beginning of the story had already taken place and we hadn’t met, or not exactly, we kept interrupting each other, Sorry, we needed to resituate the times, your hands leaning on the steering wheel were shaking, how did she pronounce it, VIO-LAI-NUH, you never knew, you closed your eyes momentarily, voila. When we got to the airport, I sputtered out that I didn’t know if we’d ever see each other again and that you’d been right the very first day we’d met, I’d loved Patricia as an image one can never live up to, I hadn’t chosen anything for years, how to fight against what’s ravaging us, what flag of which SLA to raise, do you even have to rally behind a flag and whose side are you on if you’re not completely on Tanya’s?

“And at the end of the day, what was in your report?”

You burst out laughing, as if I’d just said something particularly hilarious, we arrived at the international departures building, you locked me briefly in your arms, more of an accolade than a hug, you didn’t have time to wait around, a horde of freshmen to whom you’d assigned too many books to read – as if such a thing were possible – were no doubt already whining at your door. Then at the check-in counter as we were about to go our separate ways, you asked me if by any chance I had “Mercy Mary Patty” in my purse but it was already stashed away in my suitcase, we hurriedly unpacked it, hunching over in front of the armed security guards, extracting tee-shirts, underwear, skirts and notebooks. You thumbed through the book and ear-marked pages 50 through 65, voila the report, you seized my hand and grasped it between yours, beware of pat stories and I don’t know if Gene Neveva was referring to Patricia Hearst, Violaine, or me.

(New chapter)

There’s a certain grace in being one of those who seek to connect the dots, who tirelessly keep their ears peeled for the voices, disseminated over time, of centuries of equivocal missing persons which have trouble reaching us.

You hadn’t saved Patricia Hearst but you’d completed, without fail, your report, which bore little resemblance to a legal brief.

You’d written it for Mercy Short, in 1690 she is 17 years old and has been sequestered in her bedroom for a week. Around her bedside huddle pastors from neighboring villages and boys her own age, 50 bystanders who don’t take their eyes off her, observing what she eats, the way she talks, her dreams that she has to repeat down to the most minute details for the small assemblage monitoring every single word, they sing and chant until daybreak, strengthened by being united against the Devil. Mercy must be saved, she’s unrecognizable since she was rescued, without a doubt her kidnapping has left its mark, she has to get her two-cents’ worth in even when nobody asks her opinion, she has no sense of decency, if we let things go on like this before long she’ll be addressing her boss like he’s her cousin. She calls her father a hypocrite after listening to him pray to God. And the way she dresses, the top button of her frock permanently unbuttoned, it’s indecent! We must save Mercy Short’s soul, bring back the Mercy we all know and love, the adorable Mercy, she in whom, concludes pastor Cotton Mather in the account he consecrates to her, the “faculties are now in complete disarray and who is exhibiting a freedom in her tone of voice that is absolutely extraordinary and in this respect, disturbing.”

You write for Eunice Williams who adoptive parents, Mohawks, baptized Marguerite when they converted to Catholicism. Eunice-Marguerite kidnapped in Deerfield on February 28, 1704 by troops made up of French soldiers and their Indian allies, the Abenaquis and the Mohawks.

Eunice-Marguerite who one day receives a visit from an old man, he stutters, no doubt from the cold, tears flow from his eyes which he dries off with a hand roughened by frostbite, he’s been searching for her for months, he’s scoured all of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. She offers him a cup of tea and invites him to sit down on the warmest bearskin rug, covered with hand-woven blankets. He talks a little bit too loud, detaching each of his words as if she can’t understand him. She doesn’t need to call him Sir, he’s her father. The teenager shakes her head, her father is out there, with her mother. She points her finger at a Mohawk couple who wave back, they’re gathering firewood. The reverend raises his voice, Clearly not, he’s her father, he never gave up, sure that he would find her, bloodlines are so strong, from the moment he’d been freed he’d been searching for her without let-up. And now they’re reunited. The nightmare is over, in a few days, the time it takes to get to Deerfield, Eunice will be safe, nothing can ever happen to her again, John Williams swears it, he’ll make sure of it. Then the girl who no longer goes by the name of Eunice shakes her head firmly, flabbergasted. He’s welcome here. He can stay as long as he likes. She’ll present him to her husband. Show him what he built last month, an ingenious construction of tree branches over which they’d stretched a buffalo skin to protect it from storms. He can rest. Eat. But leave with him, to go where? This is her home, here.

A few months later, the reverend returns. On each of his visits, she listens to him patiently like one might listen to someone afflicted by the fever, his discourse won’t brook any interruptions, he captures the young woman’s time, assails her with this first name with which he re-baptizes her, Eunice my Eunice, I recognize you all the same. The sole account of Eunice’s choice is the one published by her father in 1707: “The Redeemed Captive,” it inspired James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans.”

You, you write for Eunice’s descendants who still live in Kahnawake, they tell anyone who asks the story of their grandmother, great-grandmother, great-grand-aunt who refused to be liberated, she was not a prisoner. You write stories without epilogues or revelations, an equilibrist in the gray zones who springs up when one least expects it, you send a postcard, “Attention: Violaine,” which I receive yesterday, if she consents to budge all the way to Northampton, Violaine will feel right at home in your class, it’s off-limits to adults.

Notes

1. Like Mary Jamison – the ‘Mary’ of the title – Mercy Short was an Early American teenager kidnapped by an Indian tribe.

2. In English in the original.

3. In English in the original.

4. Although this and the next sentence seem to be interrogative, Lafon ends them both with periods, unusual even in French style.

5. The original French phrase, “le fond de l’image est rouge,” echoes the title of Chris Marker’s landmark 1977 documentary history of the radical Left, “Le fond de l’air est rouge.”

6. While the ending of John Ford’s 1956 film is more ambiguous, in the real story which inspired “The Searchers,” Cynthia Parker was “rescued” against her will from the Comanche tribe which kidnapped her as a child and never adapted to the white society to which she was returned. See Glenn Frankel’s “’The Searchers’: The Making of an American Legend,” Bloomsbury USA 2013.

7. Student protests broke out all over France in 1994 when the Right-leaning government proposed solving the youth unemployment problem with a Contrat d’Insertion Professionnelle (CIP) or First Employment Contract, which would have enabled employers to hire candidates under 26 at wages as much as 70 percent below the minimum wage.

8. French authorities’ designation for individuals it deems likely to commit terrorist acts.

9. In English, followed by French translation, in the original.

10. “Nom de Guerre” of Donald DeFreeze, leader of the SLA.

11. French term for a non-violent stream of anarchism and anarchists. The translator has left it in the French original here because the most obvious English translations, “anarchist” or “Libertarian,” have respectively more radical and conservative connotations in American English than that intended by the French term.

(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.

(Updated noon French time) Paris année zero: Keeping our word — A program of solidarity for our times

by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota
Artistic director, Theatre de la Ville, Paris
Translation and Introduction by Paul Ben-Itzak

(Translator/editor’s note: While the Theatre de la Ville furnished the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager with a copy of Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota’s statement in the original French, what follows is a journalistic, and not official, translation, as the English text was not coordinated with the Theatre de la Ville. Demarcy-Mota’s stance here is striking in both a global and historic context. In the first realm, whereas “Dance NYC,” which should get the Bessie award for “Least Effective and Most Out of Touch Arts Lobbying Organization in the United States,” is now making the ludicrous claim that “dancers are necessary workers,” putting them on the same level, essential worker-wise, as health and food workers (exactly the kind of insulated naval-gazing thinking that makes dance be treated less serioiusly in the U.S. than in Europe), EDM has a more global, less self-interested, au-dela de sa propre nombril perspective. And in the historic context, and given that French president Emmanuel Macron has likened the battle against the pandemic to “a war,” it’s no accident that Sarah Bernhardt, in whose former stomping-ground the Theater de la Ville EDM directs is based, turned her own lavish home into a MASH unit during the Prussian siege of Paris of 1870 — herself volunteering as a nurse.)

Five propositions imagined with an ensemble of players from the domains of Health, Culture, Education, and Justice.

Four temporalities whose rhythm has been determined by the epidemic: the confinement, the deconfinement, the coming season and the Day After. Four pillars to put in place: Culture, Health, Education, Justice.

Health has been our absolute priority these past few months. Culture is our absolute priority at this moment that we emerge from confinement.

Our country, certainly attenuated but profoundly modified, has a strong desire to reconstruct itself with a view to creating a different kind of world where the idea of solidarity is at the heart of the debate.

In order for our society to recover its strength, we would like to propose a new model able to bring together the arts, science, and education with, as its corner-stone, the union between health and culture.

We wanted to bring together an ensemble of allies from the fields of health, justice, education, and the arts to create a new space for dialogue and coordinate new actions.

Together we are founding “Tenir Parole” (Keeping our Word), a new alliance of leaders from different realms who share a common desire to stimulate and propel a new approach to imagination.

We will strive for the emergence of new forms of solidarity in relying on our capacity to think together. We will work against frontiers, whether they be of the physical or mental variety or between disciplines or human beings.

We will create a proximity and an amity to traverse this unprecedented period of history together.

“Tenir parole” (Keeping our Word) is a way to infuse power in the imagination, to incarnate a convergence of visions, to stimulate the manifestation of life and give hope.

Rather than allow an uncertain present to be imposed upon us, we want to invent desirable tomorrows. Thus, at the end of this tempest, if we’ve “kept our word,” we will have learned, reflected, exchanged, and created.

One Calendar, Five propositions

The Troupe of the Imaginary

Created during the confinement and engaged amidst poetic and scientific consultations, the troupe brings together at this stage more than 50 people from various horizons: the actors of the Theatre de la Ville troupe, joined by young Italian, Senegalese, Egyptian, Cameroonian, Central-African, Congolese, Taiwanese, and French actors, as well as by scientists associated with the project: the neurosurgeons Carine Karachi and Hayat Belait; the neurology professor David Grabli; biologist Marie-Christine Maurel; biologist and philosopher Georges Chapouthier; physician Kamil Fadel; architect Denis Laming; and astrophysicist Jean Audouze.

Together, we have developed, in order to be able to act from the moment confinement began (March 15 in France), invent alternative ways of creating, maintain a link with the population and combat individual isolation, “poetic and scientific consultations by telephone,” which have already reached nearly 5,000 people across France and beyond.

The consultations have been offered in 15 languages: Seven European languages (French, Greek, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and German), six languages spoken on the African continent (Wolof, Beti, Lingala, Sango, Congo, and Pidgin) and also in Arab and Mandarin.  “The troupe of the Imaginary” will develop new actions and continue its consultations in the months to come.

Dancers, musicians, and historians, partnering with the Rectorate of Paris, are joining this team beginning May 18 to suggest new forms of consultations.

The European Encounters of May-June

Meetings will be held starting the week of May 18. In rapport with the evolution of the deconfinement, they can be held by distance and bring together the world of culture — public and private — as well as those of health, justice, and education.

The emergence from confinement as a moment to learn together is the occasion to create bridges, to propose a new model which brings people together to co-construct perspectives on a common future. Because ignorance is also a form of confinement and it is through knowledge that we must find the emergency exit that will enable us to escape from asphyxia.

At the hour when we must all construct the 2020s, let us make our theaters the place for a community gathering, the reflection of our social commitments and of our will for esperance. Let us build a new Europe, a Europe of culture but also of sciences, of the environment and of young people.

Open-air artistic propositions beginning in June

The cultural world must now support the care-givers, the care-receivers, the confined. This is the moment to experiment, test, invent.

We will be allying ourselves with the doctors of the Salpêtrière Hospital and with the Rectorate of the City of Paris to initiate the first experiments, artistic manifestations to be held outdoors and in different spaces around Paris. Performances, readings, concerts, testimonials by the caregivers, actions for the sick, film screenings and art installations will be proposed in unexpected places: from the gardens of the Champs-Élysées to those of the Salpêtrière, not forgetting the parks, retirement homes, elementary schools, and high-school courtyards.

These propositions must be geared towards the population in its entirety and inscribe themselves in the continuity of our art education programs and of our commitment to re-inventing a place for the arts in schools.

“The troupe of the Imaginary,” with the ensemble of 50 actors, scientists, dancers, and musicians who constitute it will be fully mobilized from the end of May and throughout the Summer.

The Academy of Health and Culture

In connection with the program “Charter 18XX1 – Turning 18 in the 21st Century,” a new academy centering on health and culture will be launched to work with young people and recreate ties with the experienced of the older members of our society. Encounters around art and science will take place during the month of August, and can be open to the public.

For the first time in its history, the Theatre de la Ville’s spaces will be open all Summer:

* At l’Espace Cardin, in partnership with the doctors of Salpêtrière Hospital, young artists and young care-givers will work to elaborate projects which can be prolonged this fall on themes linked notably to movement: “Normality and abnormality,” “Liberty of movement, Liberty of thought.”

* At the Theatre des Abbesses [in Montmartre] ateliers on the practice of dance and theater will be offered, free and open to the public of all ages. This new project is inscribed in a partnership with the city of Paris and can include European partners, to trace new perspectives together and share our desire for a theater without borders.

* A 2020/21 season of solidarity and re-invention: Today, we need to deconstruct our seasons to be able to reconstruct them in another fashion, in imagining many potential scenarios. Together, we are ready to adapt, to re-invent, to re-assess our different propositions to amplify the occasions for solidarity with the artists, the health milieu, the worlds of education and justice and also our European and African friends and partners.

Three scenarios:

* Scenario #1 incorporates the obligation for physical social distancing as health regulations evolve, leading us to drastically reduce our capacity to accommodate the public in our theaters.

* Scenario #2 adds to this the absence of all international theater, dance, and music companies outside Europe, the frontiers outside the European member states remaining closed.

* Scenario #3 includes the absence of European as well as extra-European companies, who combined represent more than 50% of the planned programming at the Theatre de la Ville and the city-wide Festival D’Automne between this September and December. Under this scenario, we will only be able to welcome companies situated on the national territory.

Whichever scenario comes to pass, nothing will be, nothing can be, like before. So why not transform these obstacles into a new challenge? After months of strict confinement, we now need to push back the walls, quench our thirst for creation, for bodies and movements, for encounters with the population. We will mobilize artists and those from other disciplines to invent innovative propositions which rely on our capacity to imagine together. Next season we will go into the hospitals, the elementary and middle schools, the high schools, the parks and the gardens, the stadiums if need be.

In the theaters, we will invent unprecedented subterfuges, adapted parcourses and real artistic propositions in dance, in music, and in theater which turn sanitary restrictions into the stipulations for a new imaginary, and we will find the pathways to economic viability. If the virus has felled a number of our fellow citizens, we will take back the edge on the terrains of the imagination and of thought, of sharing and of solidarity.

The Day After

If we have collectively been able to invent new spaces and new forms, to experiment with new ways of being and making, to create dialogues between the ensemble of the arts, the sciences, and different domains of thought and of the economy, we would now attempt to erect new foundations for the future.

It is the moment to consider that this epidemic is also a factor in the acceleration of our choices and of our commitments. Today, we must imagine a Day After which will be comprised of a new reflection on a planet that will be durable and solidary. Today, we need to keep our word.

Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota
May 13, 2020
Paris

We would like to extend our thanks to all those who have committed themselves with us and to those who will do so in the future.

The Algerian Papers, 1, or, the Lutèce Diaries in Exile: Belleville à Kabylie (with translated excerpt from Mouloud Feraoun)

Text (after intro) by Mouloud Feraoun
Translation and introduction copyright Paul Ben-Itzak
Mouloud Feraoun text copyright Éditions  de Seuil

In my exile from Lutèce (and I am not alone among cosmopolites), wondering how long I’ll have to wait until it will be safe to return to Paris, to ride the Metro, to browse the volumes in the Old Book Market at the parc Georges Brassens before pique-niquing on my five for 10 Euro end of the market cheese platter and -2 Euros sauerkraut on a hiller next to the parc’s bald Japanese creek (on the Canal St.-Martin the other day, police had to disperse a crowd of pique-niquers; these are my people), or hunt for additional volumes of Anatole France’s “La Vie Littéraire” and other hard-to-find editions at the vide-greniers (neighborhood-wide garage sales; vide = empty, grenier = attic), or walk into a Pompidou Museum library packed with other hungry searchers; and most of all to weave my way through my beloved — and often sardine-can dense — marchés of Belleville and Barbes looking for pungent olives, flavorful red peppers, sweet soft Algerian black dates (the dried-out Trader Joe’s facsimile I picked up the other day finna bust my one remaining real tooth; it must have left Algiers before Independence), all at bargain prices, on my last Paris stay thriving on rather than cringing from the teeming multi-cultural humanity, I take solace in books. Because Paris, like New York once upon a time (still?), is a literary city, defined and retained in memory by authors as much as visual artists. Indeed the most vivid description I’ve found of the old pissoirs which used to line the Grands Boulevards (you’ll find one still in working order, even if it does look like a Rube Goldberg contraption of a sewer covering, on the boulevard Arago outside the walls of the infamous la Santé prison where Papon once vegetated during his war crimes trial, except perhaps for the heating coil above the basin) comes not from Pissarro but Victor Serge, the reformed Socialist theorist who, in the 1947 “Les années sans pardon” (I scored a copy of François Maspero’s 1971 edition at a vide-grenier hosted by les Grandes Voisins, a civic organization for immigrants on the Meridian), has his hero, fleeing the French Communist Party he’s decided (like Serge) to leave, fascinated by the lower halves of trousers peeking out from under the pissing stations during the early evening rush hour.

If I may have to wait a while before reuniting with my pissoir on the Boulevard Arago, I have now been able to retrieve the Belleville market — in the Kabylie village of Tléta, as evoked by Mouloud Feraoun, the Algerian writer and educator assassinated by the paras of the French OAS on the eve of Algerian Independence, in “Jours de Kabylie” (my edition copyright Editions de Seuil, 1968). (In which the chapter on the “djemâa” of Aït-Flane could also be a description of the rudimentary cement block benches at the intersection of the rue and Boulevard Menilmontant, where the Belleville market empties out, and which Feraoun’s descendants in Paris have turned into their own djemâa. And mine too; after passing through the gauntlet of the market, I usually collapse on one of these nondescript blocks arrayed around a barren sand pit, my large red backpack recuperated from a sidewalk on the rue Voltaire stuffed with 1 Euro cauliflowers, eggplant, tomatoes, bananas, 2 Euro two-kilo boxes of squishy deglet nour dates from Algeria, .30 cent bushels of fresh mint, conical red peppers, thin pock-marked sweet potatoes, 1 Euro chunks of packaged blue cheese, and 2.30 jars of Dutch peanut-butter from the French Arab epicerie down the street, rewarding myself with a warm pepper-stuffed 1 Euro crepe or a 1 Euro “Diplomate” bread pudding from the French-Arab boulangerie between the market’s end and Pere Lachaise. As in — I imagine — Feraoun’s Kabylie djemâa, neither I nor the mostly French-Arab middle-aged men who are my companions feel any particular need to talk. It is enough to soak in the ambiance, perhaps while puffing languorously on a cigarette. So what if the old oak tree sketched by Charles Brouty for Feraoun’s book has been replaced by a Kentucky Fried Chicken? By common consent, these men have dubbed this corner their djemâa. As Feraoun puts it: “…from the moment that it’s designated the djemâa, it might well find itself at the entry, in the middle, on a random corner, offer but homely sidewalks, or be confounded with the street, this can’t diminish it. It has its history, its importance, its clientele.”) Enjoy what you’re reading? Please make  donation today by designating your payment through PayPal to paulbenitzak@gmail.com , or write us there to learn how to donate by check.-– PB-I

 

Le marché du Tléta
Excerpt from “Jours de Kabylie”
by Mouloud Feraoun
Copyright Editions du Seuil, 1968
Translated by Paul Ben-Itzak

Some people will tell you to never miss a marché.

“Once a week, what the heck, you can offer yourself a little respite and distraction!”

Distraction, maybe. But respite? Forget about it!

Our marché isn’t far away, happily! It all the same takes six kilometers to get there and six to get back. Three good leagues. Not counting the kilometers of perambulation, over many hours, around the stands with their displays. Well, there must indeed be those who consider this a respite even though on other days they get a lot less tired out going through their daily tasks. Go figure. The weekly respite has its inconveniences all the same.

In one sense, it’s certainly agreeable to go to the market. And also educational. It feels like leaving your shell to penetrate the world and discovering that the world is vast. In the village, we have no idea of this. We’re here going around in circles, making a big deal over minor incidents, bickering over little things, full of our own importance and ceding none to our neighbor. From the moment we find ourselves on the road, all that’s finished: we take it down a notch and keep a low profile. From all over, from all the villages, people mount or descend to the marché. Every path which feeds into the road pours out its batch of men. The groups cross each other, follow each other, surpass each other. Some come by foot, others on donkeys, on mules, in taxis, trucks, busses. Some don’t carry anything, others are loaded down or push in front of them an animal who is loaded down. One man pulling his heifer with a rope maneuvers around horned creatures, another leads a tightly-packed herd of emaciated muttons, their hoofs stirring up a cloud of dust. And then there are the faces! The sizes, the shapes, the outfits! A real world in which you perceive yourself with modest eyes, where you’re forced to size yourself up without complacence and where you’re all the same content to occupy your little patch of earth. You tell yourself that you’re a man among men and that, no matter your age, your corpulence, your physique, your condition, it’s still possible to ascertain that you cut a good figure. You see people from your village, from neighboring villages, and from other tribes all through the same lens. Those you already know seem to be transformed by mounting themselves in a different light. Some whom you previously looked upon as important suddenly become dwarfed in size, while others, on the contrary, surprise you and gain ground in thus evolving outside of their home turf. This occurs to you without even thinking, to tell the truth, it floats in the air, creating an ambiance that one senses vaguely on the teeming road before even getting to the market. The village, the home, the family, they’re not forgotten but they’re relegated to a place behind a vast multi-colored scrim which is the very image of society itself.

For someone who’s not used to moving among crowds, the spectacle of a great market can be imposing and even distressing. You make all the interior concessions, you understand that you are alone and feeble, that you represent but an infitissimal part of an indefinable and ephemeral monster which grabs hold of you for several hours and moves you along, re-fashioning your face, impregnating you with a new spirit, integrating you into a larger form from which it’s no longer possible to cut yourself off.

The story of the seed merchant naturally comes to mind.

The seed merchant was, it seems, a colossus, an affable and modest man, eager to successfully sell his wares but not to show off his strength. One day he received a customer of a comparable size who wanted to buy his wheat and decided to take advantage of the circumstances to see how he measured up against the seed merchant.

“Your wheat isn’t so hot,” the customer remarked. He took hold of a fistful and began crushing the seeds, one after another, between his fingers, making flour out of them. And this from hard wheat grains.

“The market is vast,” responded the placid trader. “You can take your pick.”

“I know. I’ll take two kilos.”

“I am a merchant. You shall be served and I shall be paid.”

When he received the coins in payment, he gave them back to the buyer, retaining one between his massive fingers.

“I prefer paper money, my friend,” he said. “Take your coins back. They’re no good. Look!”

He crushed the coin between his fingers, reducing it to a ball that he tossed back in the man’s face.

“Now, pay me with no fuss. In bills.”

He got his paper money. The other lost his coin and his pride.

Those who have never seen the marché of Tléta can try to picture it if they like, they’ll still have no idea of the real thing because it’s not enough to tell them that it’s vast and that it attracts a lot of people. They must be lead through the inextricable disorder, made to traverse an unimaginable tumult, made to listen to an extraordinary cacophony of calls, of yelling, of noises. This is why it’s one thing to describe something, quite another to see it in the flesh. Our marché, it has to be seen to be believed!

 

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 13: The Empire Strikes back against Abstract art (Subscriber-only content; to learn how to subscribe, e-mail paulbenitzak@gmail.com.)

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Pendant l’exil: When Victor Hugo revisited the rues & houses of the Old Blois of his youth, thanks to an artist

hugo blois by armand queyroy 5 with coverEau-forte extracted from “Rues et maisons du Vieux Blois,” by Armand Queyroy. Printed by Delâtre, Paris, 1864. Introduction by Victor Hugo, extracted from la Gazette des Beaux Arts. Ouvrage dedicated by Queyroy to “Madame le Masson souvenir affectueux.” Technique: eau forte. Place: Blois (Arrondissement de), Blois (Canton de), Blois (Commune de). Author: Armand Queyroy. From the Departmental Archives of the Loire-et-Cher.

by Victor Hugo
Translated by Paul Ben-Itzak

Translation dedicated to Lucie and Lionel, Travailleurs intellectuelles Parisiens, maintenant exiles … pas loin de… Blois….

Just before the virus hit, I found the ideal place in Paris — an apartment-atelier on the rue Daguerre, no less, where it’s no doubt perched atop a portion of the Catacombs — from which to launch Les Editions Hèléne, a publishing house specializing in English translations  of French literature and on French art. In addition to being on the Meridian of Paris, where miracles always seem to happen to me, the rental comes with other happy accidents related to future work and translation projects. In pondering whether I should (and could) wait until there’s a vaccine to return to Paris — thus prolonging my own exile from Lutèce for at least another year — I considered the case of Victor Hugo, who did not let a little thing like 18 years of exile from Paris and France stop him from producing some of the best literature ever. Besides “Les Miserables,” there were poems, essays, political tracts, appeals (famously, for clemency for John Brown), and correspondence. Not just exchanges with peers including George Sand, but appreciations like the following 1864 letter to Armand Queyroy on the occasion of the publication of “Rues et maisons du Vieux Blois,” a collection of eaux-fortes or etchings printed by Delâtre, in Paris. And of course, coming from the pen of Victor Hugo, these souvenirs do not just reflect one of the Great Man’s Proustien — madeleine — moments; Hugo manages to squeeze in a political discourse which reveals his sometimes nuanced disposition towards French monarchic heritage. But above all, where this discourse touches me is in its illustration of the nexus between literature and the fine arts.  Like what you’re reading? If you are not already a subscriber, advertiser, or family member, please help pay  for our hard work in increasingly expensive and risky times by making a donation today. Just designate your payment in dollars or Euros via PayPal to paulbenitzak@gmail.com , or write us at there to learn how to pay by check.– PB-I

(Extracted from “Pendant l’Exil,” 1852 – 1870, Victor Hugo. Paris, Nelson, Editeurs. Images from the Archives  of the Loire-et-Cher department of France. The letter also served as a preface to Queyroy’s publication.)

Hauteville House, [Guernsey,] April 17, 1864

Monsieur, I want to thank you. You’ve just enabled me to re-live the past. On the 17th of April, 1825 — 39 years ago to this very day (allow me to note this minor coincidence, which is interesting to me at least) — I arrived in Blois. It was early morning. I’d come from Paris. I’d passed the night in the mail-wagon, and what is there to do in the mail-wagon? I’d done “The Ballad of the two Archers”; then, the final verses finished, as the day had not yet dawned, all the while watching through the dim light of the track lights on either side of the train the troops of Orleans cows descending towards Paris, I’d dozed off. The conductor’s voice awoke me. “Voila Blois!” he’d cried.

I opened my eyes and saw a thousand windows at the same time, an irregular and pell-mell pile of houses, of steeples, a chateau, and on the hill a crown of tall trees and a row of gabled, pointed stone facades on the edge of the water, an entire city resembling an amphitheater, capriciously spread out on the ledges of an inclining plain and, except that the Ocean is wider than the Loire and doesn’t have any bridges leading to the other side, practically identical to this city of Guernsey where I live today.

The Sun was rising over Blois.

Fifteen minutes later and I was on the rue du Foix, number 73. I knocked on a small door giving onto a garden; a man who was working in the garden came to open it for me. He was my father.

That night, my father lead me to the mound which overlooked the house, and which harbored “Gaston’s tree”; I now saw again from the heights of the city what I’d seen that morning from its depths; the aspect, for that matter, was, if somewhat severe, even more charming. The city, in the morning, had seemed to me to have the gracious disorder and practically the surprise of waking up; the night had softened its angles. Even though it was still light, the Sun had only just set, there was a debut of melancholy; the blurring of twilight had taken the edge off the points of the rooftops; the rare scintillating of candles had replaced the dazzling diffusion of the aurora on the window-panes; the profiles of things were subsisting the mysterious transformation of night; the rigidness was losing the battle, the curves winning; there were more elbows, less angles. I looked on, almost mellowed by this effect. The skies had a vague breath of summer. The city appeared to me, no longer like it had that morning, gay and ravishing, haphazard, but harmonious; it had been cut into compartments of a beautiful whole amounting to an equilibrium; the planes had receded, the stories superimposed themselves with impeccable timing and tranquility. The cathedral, the bishopry, the black church of Saint-Nicolas, the chateau, as much a citadel as a palace, the ravines mixed up with the city, the slopes and descents where the houses at times climbed, at times tumbled, the bridge with its obelisk, the beautiful serpentine curves of the Loire, the rectangular bands of willows, at the extreme horizon Chambord, indistinct with its forest of turrets, the forest into which was sunk the antique route known as ‘Roman bridges’ marking the ancient bed of the Loire, all this seemed vast and gentle. And after all, my father loved this city.

Which today you have rendered back to me.

hugo blois by armand queyroy 2

“Blois, la rue Chemonton et ses escaliers.” Reproduction of an engraving à l’eau-forte by Arrmand Queyroy, 1890. 247 X 135 mm; (object) 266 X 205 mm. Papier Gestetner. Technique: eau forte. Place: Blois (Arrondissement de), Blois (Canton de), Blois (Commune de). Author: Armand Queyroy. From the Departmental Archives of the Loire-et-Cher.

Thanks to you, I’m in Blois again. Your 20 etchings reveal the intimate city, not the city of palaces and churches, but the city of houses. With you, one is there in the streets; with you, one enters into the ramshackle hut; and so many of these decrepit edifices, like the dwelling in sculpted wood on the rue Saint-Lubin, like the hotel Denis-Dupont with its stairway lantern and oblique bay windows following the movement of the spiral staircase of Saint Gilles, like the house on the rue Haute, like the very low arcade of the rue Pierre-de-Blois, exposing all the Gothic fantasy or all the Renaissance graces, augmented by the poetry of dilapidation. Being a hut and being a jewel are not mutually exclusive. An elderly lady who has heart and spirit, nothing is more charming. Many of the exquisite houses drawn by you are that elderly woman. One is happy to make their acquaintance. One retrieves them again with joy when one is, like me, their old friend. What things they have to tell you, and what a delicious return to the past! For example, take a look at this fine and delicate house on the rue des Orfevres, it seems to be engaged in a tete-a-tete. One is fortunate to be amidst all this elegance. You make us recognize everything, so much are your sketches portraits. It’s photographic fidelity with the liberty of great art. Your rue Chemonton is a chef-d’oeuvre. I’ve scaled, at the same time as these good paysans of Sologne painted by you, the steep steps of the chateau. The house of statuettes on the rue Pierre de Blois is comparable to the house of Musicians in Weymouth. I’ve retrieved everything.

hugo blois by armand queyroy 6

Blois, vue de l’Hôtel d’Alluye.” Eau-forte extracted from “Rues et maisons du Vieux Blois,” by Armand Queyroy, Printed by Delâtre, Paris, 1864. 188 X 267 mm; (object) 308 X 482 mm. Papier vergé.Technique: eau forte. Place: Blois (Arrondissement de), Blois (Canton de), Blois (Commune de). Author: Armand Queyroy. From the Departmental Archives of the Loire-et-Cher.

Here’s the tower of Argent, here’s the high somber gable at the corner of the rue des Violettes and the rue Saint-Lubin, here’s the hotel de Guise, here’s the hotel de Cheverny, here’s the hotel Sardini with its arches in three-centered curves, here’s the hotel d’Alluye with its gallant arcades from the time of Charles VIII, here are the Saint-Louis steps which lead to the cathedral, here’s the rue du Sermon, and at the end the practically Roman silhouette of Saint-Nicolas; here’s the pretty cantwise turret referred to as Queen Anne’s Oratory. The garden where Louis XII, gouty, liked to promenade his mule in a garden behind this turret.

hugo blois by armand queyroy 1

“Blois, view of the rue des Violettes and the rue St-Lubin.” Eau-forte extracted from “Rues et maisons du Vieux Blois,” by Armand Queyroy, Paris, Imp. Delâtre, 1864. 255 X 157 mm; (object) 299 X 423 mm . Papier vergé. Technique: eau forte. Place: Blois (Arrondissement de), Blois (Canton de), Blois (Commune de). Author: Armand Queyroy.  From the Departmental Archives of the Loire-et-Cher.

That Louis XII, like Henry IV, had his amiable sides. He made many blunders, but was a good-natured king. He tossed the procedures launched against the Vaudois into the Rhone. He was worthy for having the valiant Huguenot astrologist Renée de Bretagne, so intrepid before Saint-Barthélemy and so proud in Montargis, as a daughter. As a youngster, he’d spent three years in the Tower of Bourges, and he’d tasted the iron cage. This experience, which might have rendered another man mean, made him debonair. He’d entered Genoa, victorious, with a golden bee-hive on his coat of arms and this motto: Non utitor aculeo. He was good, and he was brave. In Signaled, to a courtesan who warned him, “You’re exposing yourself to danger, sire,” he responded, “Get behind me.” It’s also he who said: “A good king is an authentic king. I prefer being ridiculous with courtesans to being overbearing with the people.” He said: “The ugliest beast to see walk past you is a procurer carrying his dossiers.” He hated judges eager to condemn who tried to exaggerate the fault to envelope the accused. “They are,” he said, “like cobblers who stretch out the leather by pulling on it with their teeth.” He died from loving his wife too much, just like François II later on, gently killed the one like the other by a Marie. The honeymoon was short. On January 1, 1515, after 83 days or rather 83 nights of marriage, Louis XII expired, and as it was New Year’s Day, he told his wife: “My darling, for a New Year’s gift I give you my death.” She accepted, sharing the present with the Duke of Brandon.

hugo blois by armand queyroy 7

“Blois,  front, old houses at the foot of the St.-Louis cathedral.” Reproduction of an engraving à l’eau-forte by Armand Queyroy, 1865. 250 X 160 mm; (objet) 266 X 205 mm. Papier Gestetner. Technique: eau forte. Place: Blois (Arrondissement de), Blois (Canton de), Blois (Commune de). Author: Armand Queyroy. From the Departmental Archives of the Loire-et-Cher.

The other phantom who dominates Blois is as loathsome as Louis XII was sympathetic. It’s this Gaston, half Bourbon, half Medici, a Florentine from the 16th century, cowardly, perfidious, spiritual, who said of the arrests of Longueville, Conti, and Condé: “Lots of net! Capture at the same time a fox, an ape, and a lion!” Curious, artist, collector, fascinated with medals, filigrees, and sweetmeats, he might spend his mornings admiring the cover of an ivory box while his men lopped off the head of one of the friends he’d betrayed.

hugo blois by armand queyroy 4

“Blois, vue de l’Hôtel d’Amboise et d’une rouennerie en gros (marchand d’étoffes et de tissus).” Reproduction of an eau-forte engraving, extracted from “Rues et maisons du Vieux Blois,” by Armand Queyroy, Paris, Printed by Delâtre, 1864. 202 X 157 mm; (object), 266 X 205 mm; papier Gestetner. Technique: eau forte. Place: Blois (Arrondissement de), Blois (Canton de), Blois (Commune de). Author: Armand Queyroy. From the Departmental Archives of the Loire-et-Cher.

All these figures, as well as Henry III, the Duke of Guise, and others, including this Pierre de Blois whose main claim to fame was being the first person to pronounce the word ‘transubstantiation,’ I’ve found them again in leafing through your precious collection. I contemplated your fountain of Louis XII for a long time. You’ve recreated it as I saw it, so old, so young, charming. It’s one of your best plates. I’m almost certain that the ‘Rouennerie en gros,’ recorded by you vis-a-vis the hotel d’Amboise, was already there in my time. You have a real and fine talent, the coupe d’oeil which grasps the style, the sure, agile, and strong touch, plenty of spirit in the engraving and a good dose of naiveté, and that rare gift of being able to evoke light in shadows. What strikes and charms me in your etchings is the broad day, the gaiety, the prepossessing aspect, this joy in the commencement which contains all the grace of morning. The plates which seem to be bathed in an aurora. Indeed it’s there, Blois, the Blois that is precious to me, my luminous city. Because that first impression on arriving has stuck with me. Blois for me is radiant. I only see Blois in the rising Sun. These are the effects of youth and of the homeland.

I’ve let myself go on at length talking with you, monsieur, because you’ve given me great pleasure. You’ve found my weakness, you’ve touched the sacred corner of memory. I’ve sometimes felt a bitter sadness; you’ve given me a gentle sadness. To be gently sad, this is a pleasure. I’m in your debt. I’m happy that it is so well preserved, so little changed, and so parallel to what I saw 40 years ago, this city to which this invisible tangle of ties of the soul, impossible to break, still attaches me, this Blois which saw me as a teenager, this Blois whose streets know me, where a house has loved me, and where I’ve just strolled in your company, looking for the white hair of my father and finding my own.

Monsieur, I shake your hand.

Victor Hugo

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“Blois: the steps of the chateau and the vestiges of the ancient Jacobins gate.” Reproduction of an eau-forte engraving by Armand Queyroy, 1865. 240 X 128 mm; (objet) 266 X 205 mm. Papier Gestetner. Technique: Eau-forte. Lieu(x) :Blois (Arrondissement de), Blois (Canton de), Blois (Commune de). Author: Armand Queyroy. From the Departmental Archives of the Loire-et-Cher.

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