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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’ll be up to Rinsbroek.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blanche got riled up:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MICHEL RAGON EST MORT — VIVE MICHEL RAGON (WITH NEW EXTRACT FROM ‘TROMPE-L’OEIL’)

baudelaire courbet smallFrom the DI/AV archives: Gustave Courbet, “Portrait of Baudelaire,” 1847 (?). Oil, 53 x 0.61 cm, unsigned. Musée Fabre, Montpellier. In his championing of artists, Michel Ragon upheld the grand tradition of Baudelaire and Zola, who championed Courbet, Delacroix, and the Impressionists.

Michel Ragon — critic, curator, ambassador of art, not only champion but exponent of abstract painting, archivist of anarchists, workers, and the proletariat, defender of a new style of architecture, novelist, teacher, Seine-side bookseller, manual laborer, and husband — died February 14 in Paris, at the age of 95. What Baudelaire and Champfleury did for Courbet (whose twin investment in advancing art, as the leader of the Realism school, and social struggles, as an official of the Paris Commune, made him the perfect subject for a Ragon biography), Michel Ragon did for a whole genre, the Abstract Art school that flourished in post-war Paris. Jean-Michel Atlan was his chou-chou and friend; the COBRA group owed him their first Paris exhibition; Ragon’s tribute to Wols assured his place in the pantheon of  20th-century painters. And his incognito infiltration of the Barnes Collection made sure that neither American authors nor the French artists they hoarded were left out. The largely forgotten vectors of European anarcho-syndicalism — Victor Serge, Paul Delesalle, Nestor Makhno, Alexandra Kollontai, Louis Lecoin, Rirette Maitrejean — their rescue from the dustbin of history into which its victors, a forgetful media, and a reductive academy had swept them. If Michel Ragon is dead after nearly a century, thanks to Michel Ragon the names, combats, struggles, and moral victories of these prime movers in two worlds, society and art — Ragon always had one foot firmly implanted in each — will live on for many more. We’ll try to make our modest contribution.

… Starting with the latest installment in our serialized translation of Ragon’s seminal semi-fictional treatment of the Abstract Art movement and market in Paris in the 1950s, as well as post-war anti-Semitism in France, “Trompe-l’oeil.” A melange — or update — of both Zola’s “L’oeuvre” and Balzac’s “Lost Illusions” in its defense of the artistic genus and the artist’s soul and lacerating portrayal of the media, “Trompe-l’oeil” is most of all the love story of a journalist and art. (Merci a L.D. pour son aide precious avec l’argot….)

Michel Ragon is survived by his wife Françoise — and a legion of art aficionados. Michel Ragon est mort. Vive Michel Ragon.  — Paul Ben-Itzak

Le Feuilleton (the Serial), 7: Exclusive! “Trompe-l’Oeil,” Michel Ragon’s saga of art, artists, dealers, anti-Semitism, and critics in Post-war Paris, Part 7

 

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

Part seven in the Paris Tribune’s exclusive English-language translation of Michel Ragon’s seminal 1956 novel taking on the world of abstract art, artists, art collectors, art dealers, and art critics in Paris, as well as post-War anti-Semitism in France. For the first six parts, click here. For more on Michel Ragon, in French, click here.

Fontenoy asked his editor at L’Artiste if he could write a “studio visit” feature on Corato.

“Which one is that?” the editor groaned.

“An abstract painter who….”

“Obviously! But, my dear young man, who’s interested in your precious Abstracts — I mean besides you? Sometimes I think you just make them up. Listen to me, Fontenoy, you’d do much better to take on some serious subjects. Ever since you’ve taken up with abstract art, your pieces feel just like that. Abstract.”

“You’re not actually going to tell me that I write like Charles Roy?”

“If that were the case, I would have tossed you out on your keister a long time ago! No, you still write in a decipherable manner — and that’s exactly what worries me.”

Fontenoy had trouble fathoming what his boss was trying to tell him.

“Here, take a look at the mock-up for the next issue.”

He spread out the pages on the large lay-out table in the middle of the office. Stupefied, Fontenoy read on the cover, in large bold letters: “LAST LAP FOR THE FARCE OF ‘ABSTRACT ART.’ Then further down the page, under a photo of Matisse: “HENRI MATISSE COMES OUT AGAINST ABSTRACT ART.” And on page four, a major piece with the headline: “YOUNG PAINTERS RETURN TO LANDSCAPES AND PORTRAITS.”

“Perfect,” Fontenoy responded. “Abstract art has finally waltzed into the newspaper by the front door.”

“All the easier to stifle you, my boy,” the editor in chief ribbed him, breaking out in laughter. Then he added, flippantly, “I’ll need a group article on several typical good painters: You know, the likes of Yves Brayer, Chapelain-Midy, Lorjou…. I’m counting on you….”

“You’ve got to be kidding. You’ve purposely chosen the most philistine of the figuratives to foist them off on me.”

“My good fellow, a journalist has to be a jack of all trades. If you don’t like those painters, that’s your right. Just keep it to yourself when the newspaper needs you to sing their praises. We’re not here to satisfy our personal tastes, but those of our silent partners and our readers. We should be satisfied that the two of them concord!”

“I’m sorry,” Fontenoy responded after a moment of hesitation, “but it won’t be possible for me to write that article.”

“Are you telling me that you’re abandoning us?”

Fontenoy smiled ironically. He flared the trap. They wanted to push him to quit in a great histrionic fashion, which would have the consequence of depriving him of unemployment compensation. Very well. It seemed obvious that he’d become a liability for the newspaper, but he’d let them fire him before he’d quit.

“I’m not abandoning anything. But those painters ‘belong’ to Morisset, and I don’t want to pilfer them from him.

“Tell you what,” he added after reflecting for a few seconds, “because you want to preach a new realism, I’ll do a study for you on Courbet.”

In the past, when Fontenoy emerged from such altercations he’d dread returning to his small room. If he didn’t happen to run into Manhès, he’d feel completely lost. Now, Blanche was always ready to welcome him with open arms.

They’d each hung on to their individual apartments, which simplified their work. But Fontenoy spent all his nights at the Cité Falguière.

They were laying down on the divan. Blanche had undone her tresses and her blond hair cascaded down her shoulders. Fontenoy let himself be lulled by the warmth of his companion’s body. He closed his eyes, trying to forget his anxieties. But he was all too aware of what lay ahead.

“It’s going to be brutal, Blanche, very brutal…. They’ll be attacking on all fronts, you’ll see.”

“Bah! Look at Manhès, he’s never sold so well!”

“Yes. And yet, even Manhès makes me worry. It’s just all going too well. All these people who have their comfortable positions to protect, all these dealers whose basements are packed with figurative paintings, all these collectors who’ve pumped fortunes into the very school of painting we’re fighting, are not going to let us get away with it. It’s no accident that L’Artiste has launched this offensive now….”

Blanche hugged him close: “You’re such a pessimist.”

Fontenoy let out a huge sigh: “All I can say is it’s a good thing that you’re here!”

He gave in to dreaming again, hooking his arm around his companion’s waist. He flashed back to the first time he visited this atelier. Blanche showed herself simultaneously mutinous and worried. She understood what he meant. Even though their intimacy did not happen overnight, he found it strange to find himself so suddenly  linked to this young woman whom he’d been running into here and there for a year at exhibitions without ever surpassing the level of a distant politeness. She was less a painter, now, than a beloved being.

And yet Blanche was intensely, definitely a painter. An instinctive painter. Thank God she was not one of these intellectuals who supplied ready fodder to the academies which then inculcated them with paint-by-numbers formulas. Fontenoy had a genuine physical repulsion for this genre of woman. He tended to agree with Baudelaire that making love with an intellectual was a form of paederasty. Blanche constituted a living rebuke to those who believed that Abstract art was an art for intellectuals. She was a solid, stout, uncomplicated woman, sensual and carefree. Her water-colors were the exact reflection of her temperament, with their slightly heavy spots and a graphic design pigmented with a subtle sense of humor.

“Fontenoy (Blanche still addressed him by his last name, as she had before they began sleeping together), Fontenoy we’ll always find a way to muddle through. You worry too much….”

She could feel, close to her, her lover’s anguish. She wanted to lighten his load, to take some of the burden upon herself, but she could feel him tense up — that, as immobile as he was, he was struggling against a throng of enemies.

Fontenoy predicted he’d be fired by the newspaper. That was to be expected. They paid him so little, but this pittance was vital to rounding out his budget. And then it wasn’t just a matter of money! Tribunes consecrated to the arts were few and far between. If he lost this one, he also lost a forum for expressing himself. He saw himself mutilated, naked next to a sneering Morisset and Arlov, before a triumphant Charles Roy. Because Fontenoy was doubly heretical: Not only did he attack traditional figurative art, but also the brand of academic abstract art championed by Charles Roy. Even supposing they allowed the academic form of Abstract art to flourish for a little while longer, it would only be so they could eventually demolish it as a sclerotic art form. “What they really want to crush,” Fontenoy thought to himself, “are the genuine creators, like always. The old historic battles will resurface.” The cohort of Impressionists attacked by the incomprehension of the public and the mockery of the critics and cartoonists, the Cubists in the time of the Bateau Lavoir, then the damned of Montparnasse: Soutine, Modigliani, Pascin, he saw them marching before him in one long lamentation. “It’s all happening again,” Fontenoy told himself. “I sense it. We were wrong to believe we’d won the hand.”

He clutched Blanche tightly to him. She laughed heartily.

“Naughty boy!”

Lutèce Diary, 38: August 26-27, 1944: A promeneur in Paris or, Lutèce fires back

by Jean-Paul Sartre
Translated by Paul Ben-Itzak

First published in the August 31, 1944 edition of Combat, the heretofore underground newspaper edited by Albert Camus.

PARIS — Today I’ll tell you about the battles as I myself observed them, on the Quai des Grands-Augustins, rounding out my reports with the eye-witness accounts of reliable friends. Perhaps the battle had other, broader aspects. But in this constrained strip of terrain, delimited at the east by the place Saint-Michel and at the west by the rue Dauphine, it unfolded with precision and clarity.

The initial skirmishes began Saturday at about 3 a.m.. Since the previous day, we’d seen a steady stream of cars, trucks, and tanks. Beginning at 3 a.m., in small groups, men in shirt-sleeves nonchalantly crossed the road and installed themselves on the river-bank. Few guns, scattered rifles, one or two grenades, revolvers, no ammunition. The orders were clear: Kill a German, take his gun, use the gun to capture a rifle, with the rifle commandeer a car, with the car take a machine-gun and a tank. Among the incredulous resistants, more than one person thought this plan was hilarious. And yet, there before my very eyes, it worked. One of my friends fought with a musket requisitioned from an antique shop. Though he didn’t hang on to it for long; in less than half an hour, a member of the F.F.I. (Interior French Forces), unarmed himself, tore it from his hands: “Give it to me, I shoot better than you.”

A museum artifact

Another man, a simple museum conservateur, wanted to fight. He went out in the street without a gun and fighters from the F.F.I. told him, “Hide yourself, and when we take down a truck, rush in and take a rifle.” He waited three hours, but no trucks arrived. Fed up with waiting, he returned to his museum, broke into a display case, and stole — the first theft of his life — a superb Mauser which reigned between a billy-club and a boomerang. Returning proudly to the scene, he announced, “Here’s the gun, now give me some bullets.” The F.F.I. soldiers cracked, “We don’t have any bullets. But because you brought something to the party, here’s a gun. You’ll have to get by with that.” And yet the ammunition was there, chez the Germans, it just needed to be taken.

The corrida

And the ammunition, they took. They hid out on the river-bank and in the stairway off the place Saint-Michel which leads to the Beltway. In the windows of the buildings lining the quay, hundreds of spectators waited in silence. Then the first German truck drove by, headed towards the East. Tall blonde men, handsome enough, stood in the rear, suspecting nothing. The Parisians, leaning on their balconies, knew that all they had to do was make a slight movement, utter a single call to save these men from certain death. But this call, they DID NOT, they COULD NOT launch. They let the truck roll up towards its destiny, with the vague feeling of observing a tragic, mortal fete — a corrida. Because in the corridas as well, one awaits, leaning out over the arena, the fatal death of a beast in the sun, the “death in the after-noon.” Suddenly they heard several explosions, the horrible squealing of brakes, and then the truck drove by again at an insane speed, the driver had turned around, but behind him, the tall blonde Prussians were spread out pell-mell — he was bringing the dead to another gate of Paris.

The blow had missed; the ammunition escaped. But soon the look-outs signaled more cars. The lookouts were everywhere: on the roof, in the windows or on bicycles in the street. From far away were heard their strong voices which resonated bizarrely in the empty street: “Okay, boys, here comes a Boche.”

A moment of silence, then the far-off sound of a motor; everyone held his breath and then the truck appeared, like the bull emerging from his pen. This time, the resistants aimed at the tires. The truck was hit, it stopped dead in its tracks.

The Germans started firing; the F.F.I. combatants approached, with no protection, and also fired. A German tossed a grenade which failed to explode; an F.F.I. combatant ran under the fire, seized the grenade at the risk of exploding with it and tossed it into the Seine. Machine-gun fire. The spectators returned sagely to their rooms; already the bullets were whizzing by their ears. After five minutes, silence. The heads re-emerged at the windows, followed by an immense uproar; the Germans were all dead.

From every doorway, from the corner of the rue Dauphine to the rue des Grands-Augustins, hordes of women and children fell upon the immobilized vehicle. But the members of the F.F.I. headed them off, forbidding looting. All they themselves took was ammunition. But the blow was fruitful, with a bounty of grenades, rifles, and machine-guns. Then one of them took the wheel, the others pushed the car towards the river-bank; in a few instants, every trace of the battle had disappeared, the resistants were hidden at their posts, the trap ready to work.

At present, the combatants, better armed, are equal to the occupiers. They’re there on the roof of the Palais de Justice, on the river-banks, on the street-corners. Others politely present themselves to a building’s concierge and request permission to install themselves in a vacant apartment. But there are no empty apartments. “Go over to no. 53,” the concierge tells them. “The ground-floor office is unoccupied.”

Below us, a volunteer, all alone, stands at the window with a rifle. The cars drive by. These are the typical battles, with machine guns, with grenades. Across from us, on the quay de la Mégisserie, one of our friends sees all the large windows of his salon burst into little pieces. He’s lucky, considering. The following day, he receives a telephone call: a lady who’s in a clinic where she’s just been operated on asks him to check on her husband, a retired captain who lives in the house next-door and has no telephone. My friend goes down, taking advantage of a moment of calm, and knocks on the door of the captain. No response. He alerts the concierge, who informs him that she’s not seen her lodger for 36 hours. They break down the door. The captain is there, below the window, killed with a bullet in the forehead.

Meanwhile, the battle continues. On the rue de la Huchette, the military record-books of the Germans pile up on the sidewalks. Women rifle through them, without hate. ON THIS DAY the crowd is without hate; we’ll see tomorrow that this is not always the case. One of them says: “We should send them to their families.” Between the pages of the booklets, post-cards are inserted; they’re in color: flowers, beautiful girls blowing kisses, moonlight. A bit of blood occasionally stains them.

A car is announced. At once, with an admirable rapidity, men sporting the armbands of the Resistance block the access to the quays to passersby, shuttle the women under the gates. New battle. The occupants of the car, two Germans, fight them off for an hour with a courage which inspires respect, and I can’t prevent myself from thinking about how they must feel, thus abandoned in this ardent heat, in this city yesterday so routine to them and today so unrecognizable, bloody and hate-filled, with its innumerable traps. These two escape; while they’re fighting, their driver repairs the car; it suddenly makes an about-face and takes off; they’ll be killed elsewhere, without doubt, at the gates or at the corner of the Odeon, or at the Place de la Republique.

But already, another car stops on the Pont-Neuf bridge. Shots are fired. Suddenly, on a supporting arc under the Pont-Neuf, we spot a small black spot glued to the white stone. It’s an F.F.I fighter climbing slowly up with a bag of grenades; now he’s running on the exterior ledge of the bridge, barely bending himself. Now he stops, one hand hanging on to the balustrade; with the other, he tosses the grenade. A brief explosion. The firing stops. The resistant clings to the balustrade with his legs, others dash towards the bridge, guns in hand. Suddenly a rapid shadow passes between two arcs, it’s a German who’s plunged into the water. We see his head, round and black in the center of enormous circles, then a police boat detaches itself from the bank and comes to fish him out. He’ll join his comrades in the makeshift jail.

Calm. Men pass by on bicycles. “Well, boys? Need ammunition? Hang on, it’s coming.” F.F.I. cars race out from the Palais de Justice, careening on two wheels, to come to the rescue of comrades on the place de l’Observatoire or Gobelins. One of my friends profits from the pause to take a little stroll in the neighborhood. He runs into a hardy, peaceful bloke leaning up against a door, a bottle of gas in one hand, a grenade and a rifle in the other; he’s a tank-taker.

“And with just what do you take them?” my friend asks, surprised.

“With THIS. We toss the bottle at the tank and the gas spreads. We toss the grenade and the gas is set afire. The tank burns, the occupants flee, and we take the rifle to mow them down.”

They’d taken, on Sunday, a “tiger” with these improvised methods. One thinks of pre-historic hunts, or of the natives taking a Wooly Mammoth with sharpened stones.

A car on fire

This night, they burn a truck on the quay, across from Notre-Dame. The flames rise higher than the apartment houses, the entire cathedral turns red, more luminous than during the big peacetime ceremonies. The next morning, I watch them burn a car. It appears suddenly, black and powerful, like an Andalusian bull, near the Gilbert bookstore. It spins by at high-speed, forbidding and all-powerful, sure of its destiny, rising up on its right, on its left, splashes of detonations, as if it were rolling through puddles of water on a rainy day. It escapes all the salvos, it approaches us and then, bruskly, at no. 51, it makes a huge lurch and smashes against the iron curtain of a bookstore. Almost immediately, enormous flames spurt out from the broken windows. An atrocious voice starts screaming: “Kamerad! Grâce! Grâce!” Ten F.F.I. combatants approach, carefully, like the bull-ring madrilla surrounding the bull in the throes of death and watching to decide if it’s time to give him the coup de grâce. The voice howls lamentably: “Kamerad!” Some resistants scream: “No comrades! Let him roast like a pig.” Others insist that he be finished off. He keeps screaming. Suddenly, a tall young man, skinny and dark, in shirt-sleeves, sinks to his knees behind the car and aims at something through the flames. In this instant, there’s something horrible and noble. The young man aims without rushing, he resembles, by the slow precaution of his gestures, a torero waiting for the most propitious moment for the final thrust. The shot parts, the screams stop, but the car continues burning for a long time afterwards.

— Jean-Paul Sartre

(To be continued….)