Saturday, April 6
I decided to go to Cemetiere Montparnasse in search of Mayottte Capecia’s grave. A listing of prominent residents hangs outside the guardhouse facing the Boulevard Edgar Quinet entrance. She’s not listed, perhaps not seen as important, not seen at all.
Frantz Fanon, prominent psychiatrist and philosopher from Martinique, thought so and even worse, describing her novel, Je Suis Martiniquaise (I Am A Martinque Woman) in his book Black Skin, White Masks as “cut-rate merchandise, a sermon in praise of corruption.” Both the protagonists in her novels prefer white men. Frantz Fanon saw her preference as a form of self-hatred. Maryse Conde, revered Guadeloupian author and Professor Emirita of Columbia University, believes Fanon ignored the context in which the novel was written (1948), that is, a time of racial difficulties and identity confusion, perhaps, what W.E.B Dubois called “depersonalization,” “two heritages,” “two identities.”
My great aunt made similar choices, insisting her family’s, my family’s African “blood” be kept secret. When her brother’s children came to live with her in Washington Heights, only the niece was allowed to stay. The nephew deemed too dark had to leave. Stories were told about his joining the merchant marines and living abroad although Everard de Jorna spent most of his life in Manhattan never to be seen again.
I asked the guard to look for her name: he came up empty. I gave him an alternative, Lucette Ceranus, as Mayotte Capecia is a pseudonyme. No luck. He asked me for the date of her death. When I answered 1955, he said he didn’t have the lists for that year and suggested I look on the internet. I told him I would try to find her using my eyes. I perused several rows but realized I was on a fool’s errand. The cemetery holds over 40,000 graves.
Perhaps, I could pay homage to Agnes Varda who had died just days ago. Would she have been buried so soon with her husband, Jacques Demy? I had no trouble finding it: the gravesite was awash in flowers.
Last year, when she was still alive, I visited him, sitting on the small bench flanking the grave. Now that bench is almost invisible. Many of the messages to Mme. Varda seem so intimate. There was even one from the merchants of Rue Daguerre where she lived and that she documented in the film Daguerrotypes.
I intended to visit that street one more time but managed to get completely tangled up, losing my way as I seem to be doing literally and metaphorically, and so, instead, made my way home.
Every night I’ve been eating alone in my room. Enough is enough. I had seen a little restaurant on Rue Pot au Fer with a menu that appealed to me: entree, grenouille, plat, sole meunière, dessert, tarte tatin. All my favorites. The street tends to be commercially “charmante,” so I had my doubts. I began with a pastis: this time a large Ricard. When I ordered my dinner, the waiter discouraged me from getting a pichet of vin ordinaire. I hesitated, wondering if this was a scam. He showed me the demi bouteille of white Bordeaux and, then, bought me a glass of the vin ordinaire to taste. He was right: il n’etait pas bon. The frog’s legs were fried not sautéd so not great. However, the sole was fresh with good flavor.
Two hours of decent food, being a bit tipsy, watching pedestrians traipse up and down the street. Pas mal.