Porchlight Goes to Paris (Part 3)

By Byron Spooner

Part 3 of 4-Paris (France) at Shakespeare and Co.’s literary festival, Festival & Co.,

After spending the afternoon screwing around with Robert Mailer Anderson and blowing off the Festival almost completely, we figure the least we can do is blow in to yet another party, this one on the Rue de Bac.

It’s a sixteenth century mansion with twenty-five foot ceilings; windows and doors built on a scale to house a family of mastodons.

Word has it the tapestries in the far room are worth more than the entire house, which is saying something. There’s a yard the size of a football pitch out back where they’re dispensing hors d’oeuvres with a backhoe and Roederer champagne–a sponsor—from great vats, you can hear the fizzing all the way to the Seine.  It rains some, driving everyone temporarily inside.

I meet two women from Brighton.  They’ve won tickets to the Festival in a contest run by the Daily Mail and come down on the train. They titter in that English way at everything I say.  I’m flattered until I realize they titter that way at everything everyone says.  I ask them whom they’ve seen.

“We saw Martin Amis.  We do so admire him,” says one.

I say, “Wow, we missed him.  How was he?”

“We only think we saw him,” says the other.

“You don’t know?” I say.

“We weren’t there for the introduction, so we couldn’t be sure,” she says.

“Oh, it was him,” says the first.

“How do you know?”

“Oh, I just do.”

They ask me if I won the trip all the way from America and I say, “In a way, yes.”

I leave Cecily and Gwendolyn to go looking for my wife and find her sitting in another of the mammoth rooms with Aggie Falk, the poet who is slated to close the festival. I ask Aggie if she is ready for tomorrow’s Porchlight.  The idea of Porchlight is to tell a ten-minute story, without referring to notes, on a prearranged theme.

The theme for tomorrow night will be Strange Bedfellows.  Like Robert, she says she has nothing. In her elegant Swedish accent she tries out a parody of Porchlight, “I have no life.  I’ve down nothing interesting in my life that I can tell you about, I’ve never had anyone to lie next to me.  I have no friends…”  Brilliant.  But still, nothing she can use.

Suddenly some obnoxious schoolmarm-type is banging on a glass with a spoon. Speeches that stretch to the horizon.  Solo cello.  Judy and I say Fuck it and sneak down to Lidd Brasserie on Boulevard St. Germain where, hungry despite the party grub, we have one of the best meals of the trip.

***

Sunday, June 20, 2010

After breakfast, we wander through Luxembourg Gardens and over to San Sulpice, ostensibly on our way to the festival. We poke around the Marché de la Poésie with its displays of books and CDs spilling out of corrugated-roofed stalls, fingering all the merchandise.  Everywhere you turn in this city there are booksellers and publishers and poets, like lower Manhattan in the Seventies.  We run into Maram al Masri on Rue St. Germain.  She is with these two guys we’ve never met before, one of them, Antoine Cassar, a Maltese poet.  After a brief chat, with the usual hugs and kisses, she continues on her way to her signing at Marché de la Poésie and we continue in the opposite direction to the festival, now, somehow, with our newfound friend Antoine in tow.

At the Festival we join Aggie and her husband Jack Hirschman for the last two thirds of Hanif Kurieshi, whom, along with Jeannette Winterson and Yusef Komunyakaa we’ve been looking forward to hearing.  Kurieshi is very funny, “Most of writing is about putting the bits in order.  What order the bits should go in. Then you go out and get an editor and he tells you the bits should go in a different order.”

As this goes on, I introduce Antoine to Jack and they’re instantly buddies.  Antoine has been handing out copies of his long, Howl-like poem called Passport which Jack reads and instantly falls in love with. Jack immediately invites him to San Francisco for the next International Poetry Festival.

Aggie, watching him, says to us, “Always talent scouting.”

Jack and Antoine have their heads together, like plotters during the Great Terror.

“Take it easy, Jack,” she says, “fucking Jesus.”

Afterward, we buy a couple of Kurieshi’s books and wait in line to get them signed.  I buy the wonderful, prophetic Black Album which will keep me entertained on the plane back to San Francisco, Judy buys The Buddha of Suburbia, which she’s already read but will end up enjoying just as much the second time.

We all shamble over to the café next door for a drink.  The World Cup is on the big-screen, as it is in every café we go into.  Everyone has a drink except me.  I’m so sick of Evian that I order a milkshake and immediately feel like an eighth-grader on a chaperoned date.

Jack and Aggie are still talking about Antoine.  Jack maintains that he’s brilliant.

“Jack, you’ve never read anything else by the guy.”

“I don’t have to, I know by intuition.  I only had to read the first page and I knew.”

Aggie’s having none of it.  He gives up, turns to me and launches into an explanation of what makes Antoine great.  “I only had to scan it to see what he’s doing, and it’s really something.”

We miss Jeanette Winterson entirely.

On our way back to the festival, wanting to see Komunyakaa, we bump into Robert.  He and I go to La Guillotine Pub, a bar right around the corner on Rue Galande and so named because they have what appears to be an actual guillotine.  It’s still a scary thing, even in this defanged context, an almost gratuitously efficient killing machine; the blade is at a tremendously steep angle and is weighted perhaps more than is really necessary.  It looms over  the patrons like an enormous lammergeier.

Robert still maintains he’s got nothing for Porchlight.  He alludes to something vague about the group home and his encounters with a hermaphrodite—Strange Bedfellows, indeed–and goes back to his Havana Club Daiquiri.

Back at the festival we’re barely in time to catch maybe one poem by Komunyakaa and are left with only the dreaded Q & A session to endure.

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