(Inside me, it was...)


Boxer: The Real Jean-Michel Basquiat and Fake (Street Art, Recap)

We never went to Paris, Magyar, P and I. That was fiction. But the part about Magyar's publishing outfit moving from putting out books to printing cans, that was true. I heard Magyar was moving from the field of literature into the visual arts.

He wanted to be an artist, as had countless others before him. Good for him! Good luck on the path you've chosen. I had lost my appetite for art ages ago, while I was trying to preserve my brain in alcohol. But lately, I've been reading some books. And I can feel someone rattling the cage, ever so lightly...

We took a trip to Paris, my daughter and I, last July. Here are some of my notes from the three-day journey.


My daughter wanted to do some shopping, and somehow we drifted into Clichy. She wanted to see the Moulin Rouge anyway, and I knew exactly how to get there... thanks to Jean Rhys.

From the balcony Marya could see one side of the Place Blanche. Opposite, the Rue Lepic mounted upwards to the rustic heights of Montmartre. It was astonishing how significant, coherent and understandable it all became after a glass of wine on an empty stomach.

We took the obligatory pictures, then continued climbing Rue Lepic. I showed my daughter the building the main character in Jean Rhys's Quartet had lived in. Always in trouble with the landlady. Always the cause of one scandal or another, without knowing why, what she'd done. Until Ford Madox Ford came to the rescue with his squeeze, and the scandal erupted for real. I didn't tell my daughter that. I told her van Gogh had lived on Rue Lepic as well, I just didn't know where.

We bought some brie and crackers and a jug of ice cream (a touch of genius, that ice cream was, not my idea, of course), and sat to eat on a bench where I thought Rue Lepic terminated. We ate most of the cheese, some crackers and all of the ice cream, sitting on a bench in a clearing, and eavesdropped an American hipster making fun of the local hipsters. He called them bonbons or something, describing how cool they thought they were, living in Paris, throwing the weight of their parents' bank account around.

The guy was a tour guide for a group of his compatriots. The guy was in his twenties or thirties. He was slim, had a short-cropped beard of gold and copper; he wore the usual hipster-attire of jeans and shirt. He let his listeners in on a secret: just around the corner, right over there, you found an excellent restaurant with quite reasonable prices, big portions, huge salads, and so on. The business side being taken care of, he then came down heavy with the artsy.

He told a story of a female artist who had started painting her self-portraits everywhere to get back to an ex-boyfriend. "I don't wanna see you ever again," he had said. Now, of course, he had to. His ex-girl got incredibly rich and famous. There was a work of hers on the outside wall of a gallery:

To cut a long story short, she had realized the American Dream.

As street artists go, she was the perfect target for guided tours.

Then the guide said, "Well, other artists have lived here as well, and next we are going to see where one the most famous of them all, ever, lived."

The group ran away. I watched them go. They disappeared from view. I shot up from the bench, spoon in hand, and into the middle of the street to see. There. I saw the Americans, all right.

"There's got to be a plaque or something," I told my daughter. "I have to go and see, once they're gone."

While we were waiting for the first group to get out of the way, another group stopped in the same spot their predecessors had occupied, and another guide recounted the same stories, in another language, as far as I bothered to listen. I wondered out loud, why to tell the same stuff to everyone. Didn't they have any imagination? Didn't they ever get bored? Am I the only one who is always getting bored, besides King Arthur?

After a beat, we followed the tracks of the first group. There was no sign on the wall where they had stood, watching the van Gogh wannabe, the guide, waving his arms. There was a Asian café downstairs, that was all. It must have been here anyway, I thought, staring at the derelict building.

My daughter tapped me on the shoulder. She pointed to the other side of the street. And indeed, there were our friends from Group #2, standing in front of a carefully preserved white house, under that great, liberating plaque which said,

All I will hear is a drunken shout
When they are done and all worn out.
I will throw up and then pass out...*

We climbed on. And Jean Rhys wrote:

The lights winking up at a pallid moon, the slender painted ladies, the wings of the Moulin Rouge, the smell of petrol and perfume and cooking.

The Place Blanche, Paris, Life itself. One realized all sorts of things. The value of an illusion, for instance, and that the shadow can be more important than the substance. All sorts of things.

On the road to Sacré-Coeur, to the steps of Sacré-Coeur, we take another break. My daughter asks me if I would like to live in Paris. I don't think so. It would be like living in a museum. This substantial remark is preceded or followed by a sermon of mine on the subject of writers and artists and hangers-on and yes-men and tourists who swarm the place as soon as somebody has achieved anything, something of their own. Something original. It's the same as with the rock stars. People are just out to exploit them! Rock stars have nothing to do with it, my daughter insists. I insist that they do.

"But you have followed those stars here," my daughter says, "haven't you?"

Yeah. It is nice to visit those places, I explain. I'm not staying, feeding on dead people like a hyena.

Because I cannot stay. That is the real reason, the only reason why not. I didn't have the money. It was at this point that my daughter asked if I wouldn't like to live in Paris. She gave me an opportunity to safe face. She must have seen that the old man's logic "was incorrect even before it reached its 'ergo'":

It is wrong to say, 'I think'. One ought to say, 'I am thought'.

Coming down the stairs, the vendors pass us, running away from the cops or the soldiers with their Kevlar vests and machine guns. They almost fall to their faces, the vendors do, they are laughing so hard. The audacity of hope? Once again I know nothing. I don't even know that. We take a metro to the hotel in silence.

"Lady Gaga," one of the vendors called to my daughter earlier, as he was trying to close a deal. "No need to be afraid."

He offered his hand, we hurried past.

"Where are you from?"

"Finland," I shot back, stumbling into safety. And after that, the vendors stumbled past us. After that...

Who the hell is Haussmann?
Doesn't matter, really:
we want to be his protégés!



*) The quotes in red are from Arthur Rimbaud. I highly recommend an iconoclastic biography of the boy wonder, written by Graham Robb: Rimbaud. Picador, London 2000.

I had Rimbaud with me in Paris, sat reading it on the sidewalk of Boulevard Haussmann while my daughter did her shopping inside. Without a hint of irony, that was bliss.

The story... if there is one... goes on here.

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