Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Thousand Memories: Paris

Dreaming of Sandrine, my thoughts float around Paris, and one of my Thousand Memories:

Zoe and I take the train from Liege to Paris. It is 1991. Four hours from Brussels, across eastern Normandy and into the flatlands of northern France. We’d heard you could stay for free at The Shakespeare Bookshop on the Rive Gauche as long as you did some shelf-stacking. All it took was an interview with the American running the shop. We made our way there and explained that we’d like to stay. The American turned out to be in his seventies, skinny, noisy and an appetite which involved two roasted chickens each evening. His name was George Whitman.

In the evening, after everyone has left, we roll out our sleeping bags and try to sleep amidst all the books. It is too cold and the floor is too hard for us to sleep. I drink whisky and shiver. Nearby, a few feet of Derrida make me feel excited to be alive and in one of Europe's intellectual centres.

Early on the Sunday morning, I’m woken by the sound of someone rattling on the door window. It’s a South American looking guy – maybe Argentinian? I struggle bleary eyed with the latches and open up the shop.

He explains that he’s come all the way from Brazil to visit the bookshop. The Shakespeare Bookshop has a history – Ginsberg, Kerouac, Bukowski, Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, James Baldwin and Richard Wright have all been visitors, while Sylvie Beach was the proprietor. Each square foot has some trace of literary presence and the dust of a past thought. I run upstairs to wake George..

Later that day, Ted Joans, a minor beat-poet comes to perform upstairs. We all sit huddled around as he waxes out his best known works. George works greedily at his chicken carcass in the corner. As Joans speaks in his baritone drawl, a pearl-coloured bead of snot slowly oozes out of his nostril. He leaves it be: a study in gravity. Towards the end, Joans mentions his profound admiration for Margaret Thatcher. At this point, I lose all faith in the solidity of his being. I can only think of the snot.

The following day, we are wandering round Pigalle, the porn and prostitution district. I walk upstairs at a peep-show joint. I am instantly offered a job as a performing stud. The speed at which employment has been suggested is somewhat shocking.

Every time I've been to Paris, I've witnessed public masturbation: on the Metro, dans la rue, by the pissoirs etc. I guess that’s Paris for you. Sexy and graceful and just a little seedy all at once.


Anonymous,  6:23 pm  

first time i went to paris, i stepped off the metro with the rest of my class on the school trip to see a guy openly urinating in one hall, and the man next to me stop unfold a newspaper on the floor place his shoe on it, hock up the biggest greenie on the leather i've ever seen and polish it in.
I inhaled a lungful of the rotting cabbage air.. ahh paris. love it.

Sandrine 7:43 pm  

Hi Jeremy,

I remember that bookshop.I went to school to Pierre and Marie Curie University and I used to love to walk around that area. I saw a documentary on the bookshop last year I think.I can't believe you actually stayed there.How cool to think Kerouac and other writers had been there too! Books from floor to ceiling, my kind of dream!
Take care.


Homeless 7:43 pm  

i don't know Sandrine not to even talk of dreaming of her but sometime in the mid 90's I undertook my uni placement year in Paris with the Lagadere group.

it was a full year's paid training and asides the bits I dreaded (i.e. boarding those noisy continetal BA planes at C De Gaulle or eurostar at Gare Du Nord every forthnight to return to the UK) I think I had a good time.

within the organisation I made a number of good friends especially with the other french stagieres (trainees from french unis) and enjoyed a very good social life: if not being invited back to their homes for dinner with the family, it would an invitation to a french-themed party, with the very best of white wine, french music and beautiful girls.

i particularly remember how hilarious it was waking up on a Sunday morning, the sort of terrible fear that grips you whenever you wake up the day after being drunk, that you may have done something stupid and that people are pissed off at - I woke up still fully clothed and with my shoes in the bed of one of my gay french colleagues. I turned around to see who else was in bed but he was laid on his futon, also fully clothed and in very deep drunken sleep. Only then did I exhale the CO2 from the deep breath I had inhaled.

i must confess that asides the city's monuments or best-known architectural gems [or the KFC which is much better and spicier than the UK's - I was a bad cook at the time and for that reason mostly ate out], the most amazing experience was getting drunk after work on Friday's around Champs-Élysée in this Aussi pub with very beautiful English waitresses and walking over to the back streets with my naughty friends to ask flamboyant cigarette smoking prostitutes with blushers (rouge) whether we could borrow their lighters to light our cigarettes.
Then sometimes we would get as far as their bedrooms and pretend that we couldn't find our wallets as an excuse to get chased off and return to the pub for another round of beers before heading out for the night. Viewing the prostitutes a very long line of them in, if you like, 19th century fashion was as strange as reading a book and watching a movie at the sametime...

Waffarian 7:58 pm  

Unforgettable memory of Paris: Kissing with Johan at some rave/techno/drum and base/whatever disco and feeling his tongue leaving a tablet(or whatever it was)on mine. And yes, that was the last "memory" for that night.

He married some spanish girl and is now a father.

and no, he does not remember what that particular tablet was either.

Jobs in Nigeria 1:20 am  

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anonymaus,  5:13 pm  

Such cool posts on this topic, Paris must be a special place to have aroused so many fond recollections from so many different people.

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