Indeed, imagine my idiot surprise that French people talking about Jack Kerouac in Paris would be talking about him in French! Imagine my idiot surprise that French is really such a completely different language from English that whatever they’re saying about Jack Kerouac is impossible to understand even with hand gestures and changes in posture and tone of voice! Imagine that the biggest idiot ever comes to Paris for Festival America and doesn’t really get it that these are French people sharing their interest in North American writing and culture (especially Native Americans and the West) in French!
Imagine. My French sucks. I had two years in college. I love the language but am kind enough not to speak it. Unlike some doofusses on stage who even though they can speak it hurt my ears and I’m not even a French speaking person. La meme chose indeed.
Imagine also that I am trembling in the bakery, frozen, paralyzed, sweating, about to turn and run down the street because each loaf has a signpost stuck on it with “price per piece’ and “price per kilo” or something, I can’t even figure it out because my French-speaking wife is in Innsbruck visiting her aunt and I always just thought price per loaf.
But anyway. About that time it occurred to me that … have you ever read the book Out of Sheer Rage, by Geoff Dyer? It’s all about him not writing a book about D.H. Lawrence? It occurred to me, as I was eating chocolate-covered butter cookies in room 303 of the Hotel Blason above the bar/cafe at Avenue de Paris and rue de Montreuil that I just might spend my whole three days of Festival America eating cookies in my room and wondering how much the bread costs.
But I got out. I went to the Kerouac worship service in the Auditorium Ernest Hemingway at Coeur de Ville in Vincennes. Took some notes in my notebook standing outside the door waiting for the service to begin. The previous service consisted of a movie. So we’re outside the door watching a video screen showing the movie being played inside; it’s not the movie; it’s a camera shot of the stage where the movie is playing, so in our version there are sofas and a coffee table below the movie; it’s like a cheap pirate video but there’s Lawrence Ferlenghetti talking about North Beach! and a photo of Kerouac with his hair all wet maybe from the ocean or maybe he just got out of the shower or he’s just really sweaty from having sex and my, what a head of hair, this was the early days and then a shot of the Pacific beach, a wave crashing, and my heart leaps: Here I am in Paris and they’re looking at a movie of my home town! Or the place I emigrated to on a Gray Rabbit bus from New York in 1976. This Pacific. These rocks. This is my California which Paris celebrates in a bright marble-floored heart with steel roof supports (I-beams bent like bird wings) and someone with a black T-shirt with all the names of the authors at Festival America materializes in front of me and she has a lanyard and je regrette! I could have applied as a blogger and been on the inside! But then I would have to write something and nah. Not going to write anything. And then there is beareded Ginsburg in white button-down shirt before a window and then the pudgy face of later Kerouac older scowling smoking with thinning hair, sitting by a trap set in an arm chair on black and white television his cheeks fat his neck bloated then saxophone music in After-Midnight-esque style, then some America-style poverty-porn “Salvage” wall urban poor romantic in black and white and it occurs to me that we are watching the film we are missing, which is some kind of metaphor. Jack K. shielding his eyes in spotlight at microphone with manuscript held before his face, then tubby in T-shirt sitting scowling again like he missed a bus, then him with his mom in St. Pete and yep, he probably did miss a bus! Then Ferlinghetti in denim shirt, crumpled hat/white beard before a bookcase …
The audience was 80 percent women. The presenters were 80 percent men. Nothing new there, just noticing.
So look. I love these guys. It’s what I came to SF for. It’s just odd to see it worshiped in Paris. I mean, it’s cool, but it’s odd.
Kerouac. Carver. Salinger. They’re the three great American authors being celebrated here. I can’t understand what they’re saying about them, of course, because my French is too terrible.
I meat Jesmyn Ward. She’s not crazy about her own mastery of the great French language either.
Having a great time, wish you were here, much more to come.–CT