Wednesday May 2
Today, I followed my previously upended plan of visiting the Jeu de Paume, now a museum of photography, by walking through the Tuileries, and, afterwards, searching for signs of Duras. I will look for Rue Dupin, her husband’s family home where a resistance cell often met. It was there that her husband, Robert Antelme, was arrested and, then, sent to Buchenwald and, finally, Dachau. His arrest, imprisonment, and rescue figure largely in her memoir, La Douleur (The War).
“There’s no room for me here anywhere, I’m not here, I’m there with him in that region, no one else can reach, no one else can know, where there’s burning and killing. I’m hanging by a thread, by the last of all probabilities….”
Another quiet breakfast without my pals. I did nod hello to a younger resident who sometimes joined us. But he was surrounded by a bevy of laughing young women, completely engaged. I never saw him again.
On my way to the Tuileries in a gallery on Rue Bonaparte, I saw a photo depicting the riots in 1968- the revolution that sent De Gaulle running. This is the first recognition I’ve seen of the momentous event that took place 50 years ago. Why? I’m thrilled I will be here on it’s anniversary. Am I the only one?
Duras must have celebrated De Gaulle’s cowardice. She wasn’t a fan as can be seen in La Douleur,
“De Gaulle doesn’t talk about the concentration camps, it’s blatant the way he doesn’t talk about them, the way he’s clearly reluctant to credit the people’s suffering with a share in the victory for fear of lessening his own role and the influence that derives from it.”
I walked to the Seine and over Pont Royal, crossing Quai Francois Mitterrand.
Mitterrand, a member of that very cell at Rue Dupin, narrowly escaped arrest the night Antelme did not, according to Laure Adler in Marguerite Duras, A Life:
“Mitterand called again from a public phonebook in Boulevard Saint-Germain. This time Marie-Louise (Robert Antelme’s sister who was also arrested and later died in Ravensbruck) was curt, ‘Monsieur, I have already told you, you are mistaken.’ Then Mitterand understood.”
Dark thoughts as I wandered through the gardens on a cloudless spring day.
I reached the Jeu de Paume at the end of the Tuileries where it faces La Place de la Concorde. In Breathless, Jean-Luc Godard used the same location to film Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo taking a spin in a stolen car just 15 years after the liberation of France. Although he used jump cuts to shorten the film, his editing created visual energy and excitement mirroring the relationship between Seberg and Belmondo.
There are two exhibits at le musée: an Austrian photographer, Raoul Hausmann and an American, Susan Meiselas. I began downstairs with Hausmann who was part of Berlin Dada, the images taken from 1927-1936. At the entrance, the show’s curator introduced Hausmann’s work via a looped video. Several minutes passed before I realized she was speaking in French. I understood it all. Quelle surprise!
A Nazi exhibition denouncing “degenerative art” which included Housmann’s work.
The Meiselas exhibit took up the entire second floor: it’s depth and humanity startled me. I began photographing each note and image. The Prince Street Girls reminded me of Little Italy in the winter- the smells of Italian pastries, small cups of espresso, steamed windows.
Dee and Lisa on Mott Street, Little Italy, New York, 1976
In the next room, the work on Nicaragua distressed me. I wanted to leave: too much pain. But I couldn’t pull myself away. Her work makes me hopeful. A humanist artist. She, like the Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, considers what it means to capture an image, a life, not just the shot.
In the bookstore, I find Duras and another American, Diane Arbus. A celebration of both my histories, France and America.
I sat outside on the terrace of the museum’s salon de thé et café, La Boîte à Images, had a coffee, and gazed across the gardens. Now, the photo I put up on Instagram of Agnes Varda as she entered her home haunts me. I was so excited- I had caught her. I didn’t consider her right to privacy, her right to go through her day unassaulted. As a mea culpa, I took the image down, replacing it with a closed notebook and the comment, “Instead of Agnes Varda who deserves her privacy.”
I left the cafe in search of Duras. It took me a long time to get to Rue Dupin. I kept getting turned around, finding myself going up and down Rue du Cherche-Midi or ending up on Rue de Sèvres. One detour reaped a reward, the offices of Les Éditions de Minuit where Duras published many of her works. In his book, A Walk Through Paris, Eric Hazan laments the loss of publishing houses in the 6th arrondissement to what he calls the “capitalist concentration of publishing” and comments on those that stayed:
“A few major publishers have remained in the quarter, Gallimard, Minuit, Fayard, and Bourgois among others, but they are like vestiges of a past splendour.”
Finally, I found 3 Rue Dupin where the Antelme apartment was located on the floor above the post office.
Then, I noticed L’Epi Dupin, a restaurant whose card I’ve been saving for years. I don’t know why: I don’t remember eating there. How did I get it? How easily I get waylaid by the minutiae of my own life even when faced with the tragedy and loss that took place on the same street almost 74 years ago.
After ten miles of walking, cheese, radishes, and a baguette in my room became dinner.