21 January 2023Ten months has gone by, and I haven’t added anything to this blog. My New Year resolution must be to keep recording. For my own interest, and hopefully the reader’s, I’ll continue from that date. On March 21 I did a radio interview with Stephen Coates for Soho Radio. It’s always great to see him and I’m envious of how many projects he seems to have going at once. The next day I took the Eurostar to Paris and stayed with my friend Catherine. Her great friend Brunhild Ferrari had a performance coming up, and so my first full day in Paris ended with Catherine, Steve and I going out to Montreuil to visit her for dinner. She is a singer and composer, the widow of French musique concrète composer Luc Ferrari and her companion, Junya, was preparing one of his world-class Japanese meals. It would be worth moving to the Paris suburbs to eat with Junya each week, he is such a superb cook. We saw them again a few days later when Brunhild was one of the performers in a piece by Luc Ferrari in a Paris record shop. We all had dinner afterwards.
I met with Hélène -Florence Leroy at the Musée d’art modern de Paris to discuss an upcoming William Burroughs and Brion Gysin show. I had already met her, along with Olivier Weil, an art expert brought in as a consultant, in London where they visited me and several other Burroughs and Gysin ‘experts’ to discuss the show. When Brion died he left the contents of his studio, over 400 paintings, to MAM, but for twenty years they did nothing with it. Hélène had been working directly with the Minister of the Arts but wanted to move closer to the art world. She saw there was a position at MAM as head of the collections and applied. She examined their catalogue of holdings and realised that they had done nothing with their Gysin collection and so she made that a part of her application proposals. She got the job. After a period of settling in, she began preparations for a Gysin show.
I was delighted to meet her again; Apart from her obvious professionalism – copies of manuscripts and articles promised arrived quickly by e-mail, something that rarely happens – I loved her sense of style. Parisienne women have an instinctive ability to wear a scarf that you see nowhere else on Earth, and particularly when they work in the arts, they can pull off a degree of elegance that would look shocking in other cities. This time Hélène wore a sky-blue top, a ring with a blue stone, wore glasses with sky-blue frames and had a sky-blue cover to her I-phone, all of which matched her sky-blue eyes. I was impressed. She showed me the paper archives they had of Gysin and we looked at the space proposed for the exhibition and discussed the essay I wrote for the exhibition catalogue. I am really looking forward to the show. We had lunch, then I walked back along the Left Bank of the Seine to visit my friend the couturier Yang Li. He lived in a giant apartment with a triple height art studio living room overlooking the Café de Flore and blvd St. Germain. Catherine and Steve joined me there later and we had a brought-in Chinese meal.
I returned to London in time for the celebration of the life of Tony Elliott the next day. It was held at the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, a building that Tony had helped to rescue. I was both surprised and saddened by the fact that many of the old timers did not show up. Tony could be difficult, and he was not a good businessman, but Time Out was a better employer than most, and were it not for Tony they wouldn’t have their houses and gardens in North London. In fact, many of them seem to do better out of it than he did. The event was organised by Janey, his wife, whom I knew long before they go together. Janey and I spent the 1977 Jubilee sitting in a garden swing, in her parents’ garden in South Cerney, getting through a bottle of whiskey, while the local villagers held a party in the main street of the village. I first met Tony when he came around to International Times in 1968 and suggested that we expand the last two pages of the paper, where we ran counter cultural what’s on listings, but we were more interested in the news side of things. He asked if we would object if he did it as a separate publication and we said, no, go ahead. By the time he died Time Out was an international brand, with editions coming out in 40 cities world-wide, a line of travel guides, and a chain of street markets around the world.
I edited Time Out in the late seventies and had little to do with it since then and so I didn’t know the speakers, but it was good to see Janey, and I did catch up a bit with a few old friends like Joe Boyd.
Hélène and Olivier came over from Paris to see more people for their upcoming Burroughs/Gysin show and spent the afternoon examining my collection of Gysin and Burroughs photographs. Gysin was a very good photographer: his shots look like movie stills, there is always something happening. I only know of a couple of dozen of them but surely many more must still exist. It would be very interesting to see a book of them, or at least an exhibition.
I won’t list all the exhibitions I’ve seen in this period, but the Cornelia Parker show at Tate was so exceptional that I even took a few photographs, something I very rarely do at exhibitions. The presentation of some of the pieces was just so good, in particular the one where the shadows of the objects were as important as the objects themselves.
I will mention one other show, Louise Bourgeois at the Hayward. I went with Jill Nicholls, who made a film about Louise Bourgeois for BBC-Imagine. She met her and found her to be old and frail and almost incapable of a proper interview. Jill was surprised then, and concerned, as I was, to find that there was a whole room of huge, elaborate and very expensive sculptures that she had supposedly made subsequent to Jill’s meeting. It made one wonder just how involved she had been in their manufacture or whether this was another example of someone’s sketches being turned into large three-dimensional artworks by others. Ever since the rise of the super-galleries and the total commercialisation of high-end art, this has become a problem. One thinks of poor, dazed Willem de Kooning, suffering from Alzheimer’s, being given a paintbrush and paints each day and told that he was an artist. Millions of dollars are at stake. Her work is still great, though.
In August Catherine lent me her flat in Paris as she was spending the summer in Liverpool. I arrived just as the heatwave started. It was too hot to go out or visit anywhere except the Carrefour on the rue de Martyrs for the first few days. I caught up with Frank Rynne and had dinner with him and his partner Makoto in Saint Mande. I went out to Montreuil to see Brunhild and Junya for more great Japanese food. This time we were celebrating the fact she just had a new album released.
I had an interesting conversation about racism with my Tunisian cabdriver on the way back. He had previously lived in London and thought that London was worse in that respect than Paris; that when it existed it was more open in Paris, but in London, it was like a permanent invisible wall between him and most people he met. I wondered if that wasn’t partly because the British don’t express much in the way of neighbourly behaviour to anyone until they have known them for years. My Spanish friend Maribel says that the British are the least emotional and the most closed-up and frozen people she has ever met. He thought it might be partly that as well. We had a laugh.
Camila came to join me from Geneva where she was teaching, so first I went to buy some pillows so that she would have a comfortable bed. The nearest big store that I knew was Galleries Lafayette, which was in walking distance. I’d never been there before. It took a while to find the right building for bedding as the place is enormous compared to similar stores in London. Naturally I checked out their food hall. There was a whole section devoted to truffles: a branch of La Maison de la Truffe. They seem to infuse them in everything from oils to jams, they slice them and grate them and use them to flavour salt and cheese. Best of all there was a large pile of summer truffles – behind glass, of course – priced at, I think, 2,800 euros a kilo, not by the gram as you would expect. An admiring crowd stood around them, discussing their finer points.
Camila had only previously spent a weekend in Paris with rich Brazilian tourists: selfie in front of the Mona Lisa, and so had seen nothing. I cooked a late lunch – mushroom omelette with truffle oil – then we went to the Musée de la Vie romantique, which was nearby. She teaches William Blake and the English Romantics, so this was an opportunity to see the French end of the movement. It is a delightful museum, housed in an 18th c mansion, once owned by the Dutch painter Ary Scheffer. Regulars at his Friday evening salons included Frédéric Chopin, George Sand, Franz Liszt, Gioacchino Rossini and of course Eugène Delacroix. There are no hugely famous pictures, but they have a plaster cast of Chopin’s left hand and drawings, jewellery and household items belonging Georges Sand as well as a cast of her right arm. There’s a tea house in the small garden.
The idea was to show Camila my Paris. There isn’t such a thing really as I don’t know the city at all well, just certain sections where I spent a great deal of time in the past. My Paris happened mostly in the Seventies, when I was a rock ‘n’ roll critic and had a girlfriend living there, but that was 45 years ago. I knew the small cheap hotels around the rue de Seine, and student clubs and hangouts of the Quartier Latin. Belleville and Ménilmontant were yet to become trendy, and I’d spent no time in Pigalle. My Paris was as it was in the days of the Beat Generation, so that was what we visited. I’ll write it up in detail because it was the old clichéd trip down memory lane for me as, though these are all places I go to all the time, it was the first time I’d consciously looked at them as the stage set for a part of my life.
We took a bus to the Louvre and walked over the Pont des Arts to the rue de Seine where we stopped off at La Palette for coffee. It doesn’t seem to have changed much in half a millennium. This is where the art dealers of the street used to meet – and still do – and where Bill Burroughs often took his morning coffee when he lived at the Beat Hotel. It is also where he scored his drugs, later in the day. You can still get a bavette angus there for under 20 euros. The mirrors, like many of customers, are mottled with age. I’ve spent many a pleasant evening in there, watching the art dealers dealing and on one occasion, getting engulphed in their celebration of selling a particularly nasty Mathieu to an American collector and being forced to drink old Armagnac.
We stopped at the site of the Old & Roll Circus, at number 57, where Jim Morrison died of a heroin overdose in the toilets there. His body was smuggled out through the adjoining Club Alcazar, which was almost empty, taken home and put in the bath. The club would have lost its licence if the truth was known. (This version of the story is confirmed by both Sam Bernett, who owned The Rock-n-Roll Circus, and by Marianne Faithfull, whose boyfriend Jean de Breteuil sold Morrison the heroin.)
I always pause at number 22, where Gaït Frogé had her Libraire Anglaise. Ian Sommerville recorded William Burroughs’s first album, Call Me Burroughs, in the cave here; released by Gaït in 1965. Before that, in 1960, she had rescued Minutes To Go (Burroughs, Gysin, et al) from the printer when Two Cities couldn’t afford to pay the bill. She used to post packets of Olympia Press titles to me under plain covers, as British customs would open and confiscate anything published by the Olympia Press, even though I was only ever ordering the three William Burroughs novels they published or books by Gregory Corso, Aubrey Beardsley, J.P. Donleavy or the like, none of which were obscene. I wouldn’t dream of ordering Henry Miller’s Sexus – those I brought through myself, wrapped in my dirty shirts. I bought the remainder of Gaït’s stock for Indica Books when she closed down and moved to New York.
Next we looked at La Louisiane, at number 60, where Miles Davis had his famous affair with Juliette Greco and musicians John Coltrane, Mal Waldron, Bud Powell, Lester Young, Chet Baker all stayed. It was home to Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre as well as Boris Vian, Hemingway, Henry Miller and even Jim Morrison for a while. It has recently been done up but is still cheap by Paris standards.
The Beat Hotel, at 9 rue Git-le-Coeur is only a few short streets away. I was always disappointed that when they installed a plaque to Brion Gysin, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, Harold Norse and Ian Sommerville commemorating the Beat Hotel that another wasn’t installed to Chester Himes, who lived and wrote there before Beat days, having escaped the USA to Paris where he was able to live openly with his white girlfriend. Now called the Relais du Vieux Paris, it is a four-star hotel, beyond the budget of today’s young writers. We looked around the lobby and I was pleased to see on the reception counter, copies of the English and American editions of my book The Beat Hotel. Someone must have half-inched the French edition. Camila insisted we had our picture taken together outside which the receptionist kindly took for us. I always feel rather foolish when this sort of thing happens, but there was no-one on the street to stop and snigger.
After a quick look at Le Select, home to Picasso, Hemingway, Soutine, and where Allen Ginsberg wrote the opening stanzas of Kaddish, with tears streaming down his face, we walked over to Shakespeare & Co, né Le Mistral, packed with American tourists and surely the only bookshop in the world that needs a doorman and velvet rope to control the crowds waiting to get in. If you value the book you have just bought you must stop them before they bang a great big rubber stamp on the first free endpaper with the logo of the shop on it. It’s still a great bookshop, and of course, anything that will make young people excited about books is fine by me.
Gaït was always scornful of George Whitman’s Mistral bookshop, because, although he sometimes had readings by Burroughs and the Beats, he didn’t stock any Olympia Press books at all because he feared being busted. She also objected, vociferously, when he changed the name of the Mistral to Shakespeare & Co, appropriating the name of Sylvia Beach’s famous pre-war bookshop so that modern tourists would think that his bookshop was where Ulysses was published. (Plenty of guidebooks have gone along with that falsehood even though Sylvia Beach’s shop closed in 1941.) The name change came only after Sylvia Beach was safely dead in 1964. George claimed that in 1958 Sylvia Beach had told him he should change the name of his shop to Shakespeare & Co, but she said it as a joke, referring to the fact that it served as a post-restante for so many visiting Americans just as her bookshop had done. She hadn’t expected him to really do it. Gaït was a friend of Sylvia and seethed at the thought of George using her name to get publicity for a shop that did not even dare to sell copies The Naked Lunch. For all his professed communism, George was an old-style American capitalist at heart. He was not interested in personal gain – I went with him several times to the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen where he bought his suits, never for more than £5. What he wanted was to own the building that housed the bookshop. His books were not cheap, and in the sixties, he put such an enormous markup on the psychedelic posters that I sold him from the Indica bookshop, that I tried to get him to either bring the prices down a bit or else pay for them a bit quicker. He saved enough to buy any adjoining room in the ancient building that came up for sale and the shop is now a maze of interlocking rooms. In medieval times it was a convent. After examining the rare book room, we headed off for lunch at Le Procope.
This is a tourist site, but the food is still good, and it really has to be seen: the oldest café in Paris; it opened in 1686 (though there was a bit of break 90 years ago). Napoleon and Marie Antoinette both ate there, as did Robespierre, Danton, and Marat. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson took coffee there. Voltaire drank 40 cups a day there. Truffle risotto x 2, salad and the house red. I hadn’t been there since 1989 when Rosemary and I, Peter Wollen and Leslie Dick ate there to celebrate the opening of the On the Passage of a Few People Through a Rather Brief Moment in Time: The Situationist International, 1957-1972, show at the Pompidou Centre, organised by Peter Wollen with Mark Francis. I had a collage in the show, to my great satisfaction and pride.From there to the Jardin du Luxembourg, where we naturally visited Bartholdi’s Liberty Enlightening the World, to give the Statue of Liberty it’s proper title. This is the 1/16th scale version he presented to the Musée du Luxembourg in 1905. In fact, his original was removed to the Musée d’Orsay in 2014 and this is a bronze replica but still worth seeing. I remember Allen Ginsberg asking Jean-Jacques Lebel why there were so many images of the Statue of Liberty in Paris (there are five in total); he was quite preoccupied by it. Jean-Jacques explained that the New York statue was designed and made in Paris. Surprisingly Allen hadn’t known.
A quick look in Saint-Sulpice and a drink in the Café de Flore – famous for Georges Bataille, Robert Desnos, Raymond Queneau, James Baldwin, and Picasso – then home. The next day we made an early start and had coffee and croissants at the Musée Rodin, my favourite Paris museum. There is a large garden, a small park really, containing dozens of full-size bronzes as well as a mansion filled with small pieces, maquettes and even works by others: it is quite a surprise to across a brightly coloured Van Gogh portrait among all the monochrome. The Thinker, the Burghers of Calais, individually and collectively, the Kiss, Balzac, they are all there. We spent a lot of time looking at the Gates of Hell. He never saw it in its final state; cast in bronze. From there to La Coupole for lunch.
I used to come here a lot in the Seventies when it was a real rock ‘n’ roll hangout, particularly for record company staff and rock critics who would always bring visiting musicians here. It was open all day and catered to a wide group of people, lots of filmmakers and artists but also politicians and bureaucrats, I have seen everyone from Jack Lang (when he was Minister for Culture) to Godard and Serge Gainsbourg in here. Patrons of old included Josephine Baker, Albert Camus, Colette, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Chagall, Picasso, and Tamara de Lempicka. The columns are decorated by 27 different artists including Matisse and Leger. So, a place with a bit of history. Camila had her first ever tartare de boeuf Normand here. It comes with chips. We drank a chilled Brouilly.
Heading back towards Pigalle, we found ourselves on the blvd du Palais. Camila hadn’t known about Sainte-Chapelle, so we joined the queue. We were the last group allowed in that day. The ground floor is unimpressive, but you when ascend the medieval staircase and emerge into the giant gothic chapel (finished 1248) filled with stained glass, the light streaming in, the impact is breath-taking. Camila just stood still, tears in her eyes; it really is that beautiful. It is one of my favourite buildings in the world. Afterwards we sat for a while in Paris-Plages, looking out over the Seine, people-watching. Even the Metro home was interesting.
Camila left for Geneva and that evening I had dinner with Hélène and Olivier at the Café Beaubourg. We sat outside as it was still hot. Few things could be more pleasant than sitting with friends outside a Paris restaurant in the evening. With us was Yuri Zupancic who I’d met earlier to catch up with over a drink. He moved to Paris some time ago from Kansas where he was the curator of Burroughs’ paintings. In Paris he married Pauline, and now they have a child, Gustav. Pauline and Gustav also joined us, and 10-month-old Gustav was disgruntled enough by not being the centre of attention that he took his first steps, to tremendous approbation. (Actually, he did rehearse earlier that afternoon).
I arrived in the Pyrenees on the 24th. It was still hot, but the combination of sun and fresh clean mountain air was wonderful. I hate the cold, one of the many reasons I dislike Britain. When questioned at Immigration as to why he was coming to Britain William Burroughs told them, ‘I come here for the food and the weather.’ At least the West End has a mini-climate that makes it several degrees hotter than the rest of town, even if it is caused by pollution: restaurants and hotels pump it out, and the endless traffic exhaust on the Euston Road is blown all over us even though Fitzrovia has the lowest car ownership in the country, per-capita.
Our first visitors were Suzy Treister and Richard Grayson, both artists, so you can have a decent discussion about art without seeming pretentious. They have a house the other side of the col de Jau, a 1500m pass, higher than any mountain in Britain, so although they live close as the crow flies, it is in fact, quite a journey up a series of hairpin bends so it’s best to visit each other for a few days at a time. We visited Vernet les Bains, but mostly just hung out, cooked and sipped the odd glass of Cap de Fouste, the best local Roussillon red.
Three days later, Catherine and Steve arrived. It was their place I stayed at in Paris while they were in Liverpool. Catherine teaches art at the Sorbonne, so we visited the Musée d’art moderne in Ceret to see the new extension and their School of Paris show, and three days later, Aristide Maillol’s studio home in the mountains outside Banyuls-sur-Mer. I love this small country museum and have been to it at least a dozen times. Rosemary was very taken by his kitchen: we had the same 19th c carved red marble sink from the quarry at Villefrance and she surrounded it with the same deep green tiles that he used. Maillol is buried in the garden with his 1905 bronze statue, La Mediterranee, as the grave marker.
Jill Nicholls came to spend a few days and we even managed a trip to the seaside, except when in France we call it the Coast, like Californians. (New Yorkers, however, call it the Ocean.) The French call the Med le grand bleu, which sounds much better. We went to my favourite beach bar, the southernmost beach café in Canet, NBC Bar. It is composed of a series of interlocking elements: bar, banquettes, palm trees in pots, awnings etc that can be assembled in many ways, a different one each year. This year’s construction was smaller; clearly they expected less people this year. The beach was pretty empty.
My final visitors were old friends Simon Caulkin and Ginette Vincendeau. Simon was Rosemary’s editor when she worked for Engineering Today, 45 years ago, and Ginette lectures in film at King College London. She is the author of two brilliant books on Brigitte Bardot, as well as other French film subjects. It was nice to spent time with them as we usually see each other at dinner parties with other people, though Simon and I have lunch at the Academy Club from time to time, as old chaps do.
After almost three months in France, I returned to the quotidian London life of seeing friends and art exhibitions, as well as writing every day, after all, as Jean Genet said, ‘a writer is someone who writes.’ A routine had been established some time ago with my friends Luzius Martin and Udo Breger who visited from Switzerland once a month – actually Udo less often than that – in that we all had dinner in a restaurant with Terry Wilson, and the next day I would cook for the same group. We used to go to the Moroccan Sahara restaurant on Hereford Road, Notting Hill, run by a wonderful woman from Casablanca, but the covid lockdown put an end to her business and she never re-opened. Now we meet at a branch of Côte. Luzius and his wife run a restaurant in Basel, where Udo also lives. Udo for many years ran Expanded Media Editions, publishing books by William Burroughs, Jurgen Ploog and other cut-up and avant-garde writers. Terry wrote Here to Go: R-101 with Brion Gysin and authored many cut-up novels. We were in a way, a Burroughs study group.
Maribel and I went to see the Frieze statues in Regents Park, an interesting collection including Ugo Rondinone, Robert Indiana, Ron Arad, and George Rickey. Our favourite was Péju Alatise’s Sim and the Yellow Glass Birds, four constructions featuring the life of a 9-year-old servant in Nigeria and her fantasy life of flying with birds and butterflies. The sculpture not included in the exhibition map, Marinella Senatore’s Bodies in Alliance, is apparently a permanent installation, inviting public participation as these pictures show: