Monday, June 26, 2017

Burroughs by Miles

The Latin Quarter of Paris was named after the use of Latin by scholars attending the university of Paris, the Sorbonne, founded the in the twelfth century. The rue Git-le-Coeur was a narrow medial street running from the rue Saint-André-des-Arts down to the quai de Grands-Augustins where it met the Seine, overlooking the ile de la Cite and the Palais de Justice. This part of the city has been in continuous occupation for two thousand years. The ruins of the Gallo-Roman themes (baths) from the first to third centuries, when Paris was still Lutéce just a block away on boulevard Saint-Michel. The street dates from the end of the twelfth century when it was called rue de Gilles-le-Queux or Gui-le-Queux (Queux: cuisinier, or chef), which over the centuries corrupted into “Git-le-Coeur.” Number 9 was rebuilt on old foundations in 1671 and originally occupied by the duc de Nivernais. 

Number 9 was bought in 1933 by M. and Mme. M. L. Rachou who opened it as a class 13 residential hotel, the minimum standard.  They never did give it a name. Mme. Rachou had begun life serving tables at the age of twelve in a country inn at Giverny frequented by Claude Monet. She became one of his favorites and got to know many artists and writers who came to visit him. Her husband shared her enjoyment of the company of artists, and they encouraged them to stay at their“ All through the Occupation they managed to keep the hotel Wendi?“ the privations and shortages of food. All was well until September 3 when M. Rachou was killed in a car accident; Madame had no choice but to carry on. Mme. Rachou had curly blue-rinsed hair and round apple cheeks. 

Because she was so small she had to stand on an upturned wine case when serving behind the bar, her short arms folded over her pale blue housecoat with a smocked collar, engaging in conversation with residents but always with one ear listening for an unexpected creak of the floorboards of an unauthorized person entering the hotel door. Adjacent to the bistro was the small dining room, no longer used, which had a window onto the stairwell where she could literally reach out and grab someone by the ankle as they climbed the stairs. The hotel entrance was never locked, but the door made a terrible screeching sound when it closed. Someone attempting to close it quietly at night was regarded with great suspicion, and Madame would materialize in her white nightgown demanding, {‘b‘Monsieur? Que voulez-vous?” Easily visible from Madame’s position behind the bar was her switchboard, mounted on the wall across the hoom: forty-two small light bulbs, each with a ceramic label identifying a 00m number. If the bulb was dark, no power was being consumed; a dim light showed that the room’s 25-watt bulb was on. When a bulb flared, someone was exceeding their 40-watt power limit, and she headed for the stairs. Electricity in France was very expensive and she monitored its use carefully. The use of a tape recorder or other electric appliances inevitably blew the fuses and plunged the hotel into darkness. You could have your ower limit extended by a supplementary payment. 

There was a Turkish chiotte on each floor beneath the stairwell, two raised ceramic footprints to stand on while you squatted. Sheets of newspaper torn from France-soir were provided in lieu of toilet paper: most people bought their own and brought it from their room. Someone kept making off with the newspaper, leading Burroughs to leave a sign: “To the nameless asshole who rips off the paper---stop! ” The toilets were filthy and smelled appalling; most residents preferred to piss in the sink in their rooms, including many of the women, who used buckets. There was one bath, but advance warning had to be given to allow for the water to heat, ind naturally there was a small surcharge. There was radiator heat all week but the plumbing was decrepit, subject to loud clankings and vibrations, and hot water was only provided on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. 

Each room had a small gas stove for cooking, and Mme. Rachou inevitably arrived at an inconvenient time with the meter reader. If you didn’t Want M. Dupré to wander into your room pushing a broom, you could opt out as Burroughs did. Most of the beds had straw mattresses; there was a sink and a large armoire. The curtains and bedspreads were changed each spring and the bed linen once a week.

on Celine: 

The villa was set on a cliff, overlooking a great loop of the Seine and the dim spires of Paris. Bill and Allen were greeted at the gate by barking dogs Celine came out and locked the dogs up. “Are they dangerous?” asked Allen. “No,” Céline said, “I keep them for the noise,” but he did take them with him on a leash to the Village to protect him “from the Jews. The postmaster destroys my letters. The pharmacist won’t fill my prescription.” The dogs continued to bark and howl in their compound.  Burroughs could see that Céline was the sort of person you could put down anywhere and he would immediately be on bad terms with his neighbors. 

Although it was the middle of summer, Céline had several scarves wrapped around his neck and wore three unraveling, moth-eaten sweaters. He had long hair and there was brown mold under his fingernails. He was sixty-four years old, tall, thin, and very slight. Burroughs estimated he weighed only 125 pounds. He had gone to school in England and spoke perfectly accented English, but had not used the language for many years so they spoke in a broken mixture of French and English. Bed-springs stuck up from the overgrown grass near the gate and they sat outside on iron chairs at a rusty garden table. Madame Céline brought them glasses of beer. Céline was friendly and Allen and Bill were very respectful toward him. Céline clearly appreciated it, and the visit lasted for several hours; they got the impression that Céline did not get many Visitors even though his work was enjoying a critical revival at that time. 

Bill told him about his periods of addiction to morphine and Celine told the story of how a boat he was on was torpedoed. To calm the hysterical passengers he lined them up and gave them all a shot of morphine, but they all began vomiting because he’d given them too much. Céline and Bill discussed the various prisons they had been in, and Céline said that one could only truly know a country by seeing its prisons. Burroughs agreed. His outrage at the brutality of the American justice system was a subject that he often turned to in conversation in the sixties, in particular the fact that America was (is) the only country in the world, bar none, in which children are sentenced to die in prison with no hope of parole for homicides committed when they were thirteen or fourteen years old. ll was a subject he cared about passionately. 

They spoke about having a mother tongue. Celine said that it is very' different if you’re told you’re going to be shot in your own language than in another language. Hearing it in your mother tongue has more impact Bill was sure he was right about that. Naturally they discussed writing, but every writer they mentioned, Michaux, Beckett, Sartre, Celine would say “Oh, it is nothing, it is nothing, every year new little fish in the literary pond." 

 The Naked Lunch 

Though he periodically added new sections to The Naked Lunch, not a great deal had happened on the publishing front since Burroughs had arrived in Paris. The first thing Allen Ginsberg had done on arrival was to show it to Maurice Girodias, but Girodias had turned it down. He returned it to Ginsberg and recalled, “It was such a mess that manuscript. You couldn’t physically read the stuff. [. . .] The ends of the pages were all eaten away by rats or something.” Ginsberg was very angry with him. Over the months Burroughs had continued to tinker with it, adding some material he found in the medical library on the rue Dragon, and some new routines. Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg had tried to interest Girodias in it a second time, but still without success. Then on October 25, 1958, in the Saturday issue of the Chicago Daily News, columnist Jack Mabley, in a piece headed “Filthy Writing on the Midway,” fulminated against a magazine that he identified only as being published by the University of Chicago, calling it “one of the foulest collections of printed filth I’ve seen publicly circulated.” Mabley concluded, “But the University of Chicago publishes the magazine. The trustees should take a long hard belt at what is being circulated under its sponsorship.”

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