Thursday April 26
Only twelve days left before I return to the United States. I don’t have enough time to explore Sophie Calle or even my own family at the National Archives. Many shoulds. I feel pressured to squeeze it all in. An impossibility. I must remember to take a photo of the charming street I pass every day on the way to the Alliance Française. I have only today and two more classes.
Rue de l’Abbé de l’Epée
Given yesterday’s debacle, I decided to approach Duras by visiting Musée D’Orsay. As part of The Resistance, she often visited Gare D’Orsay working with the BCRA, Bureau Central de Reseignement et d’Action (Central Office for Intelligence and Action) which coordinated intelligence supplied by French networks. In her memoir The War, she describes her days at the Gare:
“…I set myself up there by stealth with forged papers and permits. We managed to collect a lot of information…about movements of prisoners and transfers from one camp to another. Also a good many personal messages.”
and after the arrival of French political deportees,
“Orsay. Outside the center, wives of prisoners of war congeal in a solid mass. White barriers separate them from the prisoners. ‘Do you have any news of so-and-so?’ they shout. Some stay till three in the morning and, then, come back again at seven. But there are some who stay right through the night.”
Returning Prisoners Arriving at Gare de l’Est 1945
On my way, I passed several sandwich shops: all smelled delicious. I don’t have time for breakfast on the days I go to class, so I was particularly hungry. While trying to decide which shop to patronize, I passed a woman from a fashion time warp, a thirties coat, 1900’s shoes. Up and down the street she strode. Maybe this was my Sophie Calle moment. Sophie Calle, a French multimedia artist, that is, writer, photographer, installation and conceptual artist, followed a man on the streets of Paris and all the way to Venice photographing him without his knowledge. Later, she had her mother hire a detective to follow and photograph her as she went through her day.
I walked a few hundred feet behind the woman until she entered a drug store. When she emerged, I couldn’t maintain the stalking. I’m not made for artistic ruthlessness where another person unknowingly becomes a source of creative endeavor. Instead, I got in line at a sandwich shop, which would have been at home in Brooklyn: locally sourced ingredients, minimalist design, lots of grains and vegetables. I took my lunch to the steps of the Musée d’Orsay. There she was, my thirties’ prey, standing next to a trio busking in front of the museum. I can’t seem to escape my country: the group played American blues music. Then, she came alive, dancing in all her magnificence from one song to the next. When they took a break, the clarinet player raised the dancer’s hand and said to the audience “Merci, Madeline”
If I wanted to write, I had to get going. After a long day, Duras describes her walks home from Gare d’Orsay.
“As soon as I leave the embankment (along the seine) and turn into Rue du Bac, the city is far away and the Orsay center vanishes.”
I would do the same. The sun was shining just as it was for Duras. The Seine winked blue-green at passers by. How privileged we are sitting on the steps of the museum, walking along the Seine, having tea in Restaurant du Musée d’Orsay. In 1945- hunger, fear, despair, loved ones tortured, killed. But I walk along the Seine undisturbed, unmolested, unafraid. And just last year, miles away in Calais, a makeshift refugee camp was destroyed. Even here, the homeless don’t always find shelter.
Quai Anatole Franc
I enjoyed meandering back to the Irish College and decided to forgo writing. I made one more Duras stop, the office of her publishers for many years, Gallimard, who collaborated with Vichy in order to publish resistant writers, Jean-Paul Sartre and Camus. When Patti Smith visited Gallimard, her French publisher, she writes:
“My editor Aurélien opens the door to Albert Camus’s former office.”
Did she know it’s history? Does it matter? Can we compromise and be ethical?
Gallimard Office, Rue Gaston Gallimard
Gallimard is off Rue de l’Université which becomes Rue Jacob and ends at Rue de Seine. Towards the end of Rue Jacob, I looked right and discovered an empty Place de Furstemberg. Was I in Paris or Aix-en-Provence where such retreats abound?
Place du Furstemberg
On Rue Monsieur le Prince, I passed Les 3 Luxembourg Cinema. I spotted a connection to Agnes Varda. A film entitled Peau d’Ame sur les traces du film de Jacques Demy (Varda’s husband) was playing that night followed by a discussion with the filmmaker, Pierre Oscar Levy.
Two hours later I was seated. The film is a tongue in check archaeological exploration of the setting of Jacques Demy’s film Peau d’Ame, a musical based on the Charles Perrault fairy tale of the same name, that is, Donkey Skin, about a King who wants to marry his daughter. Demy used Michel Legrand for the music and Catherine Deneuve as the lead just as he had in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
In the film, made over four years, students brushed dirt from artifacts such as pieces of costumes and colored glass as they would on any archealogical dig. Demy and Varda’s daughter, Rosalie, was interviewed when a ring worn by Deneuve was discovered. The audience occasionally laughed but I couldn’t get the jokes. Afterwards, the filmmaker and an archaeology professor from the Sorbonne discussed the authenticity of such an endeavor for well over an hour. Mon Dieu. I dozed a bit; then the need to get some dinner overroad politeness. I departed just in time to get a Lebanese sandwich at Au Vieux Cedre near Place de la Contrescarpe. While I waited, the owner offered me a glass of mint tea. A graceful gesture to the other who, now, doesn’t feel like the other.
Au Vieux Cadre