Back in Paris

Bonjour, tout le monde.

Well it’s been a long time since I’ve sent out a missive. A lot of water has flowed under the Pont de Arcole, but mostly it’s been the same brown as usual, so really there hasn’t been that much to report.

Arriving back in Paris after my brief-but-eventful stay in the Congo, I was stricken by a bout of lassitude bordering on aboulia. When I landed, I called Alain, and went to stay with him at the home of his girlfriend (more accurately his primary girlfriend) Bambou. A little background – Bambou is the widow of Serge Gainsbourg a very well known and prolific singer/songwriter. She was about 19 and addicted to heroin when the married, he was in his 60’s and addicted to alcohol and nicotine. They had a son, Lucien and after maybe seven year together, Gainsbourg died. Their town house which Bambou still lives in is almost entirely wallpapered in black silk. There are black-and-white photos of Gainsbourg liberally sprinkled around the townhouse. Gainbourg observes you as you walk up the stairs. Gainsbourg peeks at you from behind the cookbooks in the kitchen. Gainsbourg regarded me with disdain in the little guest bedroom that I inhabited. I was thankful that Gainsbourg was discrete enough to leave the bathroom to the living.

Although Bambou was very welcoming I found the energy of the household too dark and inwardly directed. I spent a lot of time playing the piano and reading the Dragonball comic book series in french. But I found it difficult to explain to Bambou why wanted to leave. It’s hard to tell your host that you don’t want to live in her mausoleum.

After a couple of weeks, I moved to Virginie’s house. Virginie is Alain’s number 2 girlfriend. As such, she doesn’t fight with Alain that much, and she gets to be sad a lot of the time. Of course, I find this much more sympathetic. For those of you who don’t know already, here’s my address chez Virginie:

S/C Virginie Baillou

157 Avenue de Clichy

75017 Paris.

Tel: (01) 42 28 14 18

Aside from the housing woes and my own depression, the planets seemed to have moved into the sign of “Oh no, you don’t”. I was stricken with a number of small illnesses. It rained pretty much continually from mid-June to the beginning of July. A bunch of scheduled rehearsals, shows, etc. fell through. Things just weren’t quite clicking.

Then, on July 3 the heavens entered the sign of “many friends come to visit”. Four of my friends from the States arrived in Paris by coincidence at the same time. I got to spend the week being tourist and tour guide again, and that cheered me up quite a bit. It also helped me remember who I am and rediscover my taste for Americans. They really are quite tasty if marinated properly.

After my fun-filled tourist week, things started to click better. I recommenced drum lessons with Alain For some reason, he seemed to drag his feet on restarting lessons. I’m not sure why – but Alain is rather catlike, and often quite mysterious in that feline way. But lessons restarted, and got going on a very good foor immediately. The cat came back with a dead mouse and was my friend again.

I was introduced to a congolese dancer named Jean-Didier Mbembe by my friend Stanne. Jean-Didier needed some extra dancers and drummers for a show at a festival in Brittany. We got together and failed to rehearse several times. The day of departure, the dance “Troupe” had to argue for several hours before we finally got everyone into cars and headed west. Jean-Didier had arranged for us to rendezvous with the organizers of the festival at a rondpoint (traffic circle) someplace near a little town called St. Pol. We mangaged to miss the traffic circle, so for an hour or so late at night we took a tour of the rondpoints of Finistre. I’m sure there’s a photodocumentary in there. Not one that would sell well.

The next day, we performed at an “animation” in the streets of St. Pol as well as at the festival. Jean-Didier has to rank as one of the most capricious people I’ve ever met. In the animation, this worked really well. He had a great time stopping traffic, dancing right in the face of the Bretons, and basically wreaking havoc. I think that that animation may be one of the most aesthetically dissonant experiences I’ve ever had. Not in a bad way. But try to picture this – St. Pol is a small Breton town with gray stone architecture. Narrow cobbled streets. The town has a remarkable church and cathedral of the same austere grey stone. The chruch’s spire is quite tall and is graced by numerous small spires which stood out with great clarity against the blue summer sky. In front of the church, an African with a feathered headress shook his pelvis at the boulanger. See what I mean?

Anyway, it was a lot of fun. I think my favorite moment was when Jean-Didier managed to stop a tour bus. He dove onto the ground in front of it. Then, face down, bouncing on his hands and toes he headed under the bus until the bus driver couldn’t see him anymore. Then he bounced to the side and “ta-da! re-appeared next to the driver’s widow.

If the animation was chaos in a good way, the show was chaos in a bad way. Let’s just leave it at that.

I wonder if it might not be that capriciousness – the willingness to break any rule, to defy the expectations of others – which makes for a great artist. Jean-Didier is certainly one of the best dancers I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, that capriciousness also makes for a difficult friend and a horrible organizer. Opinions please….

I’ve decided to head to Sweden for a Lindy Hop dance camp. I’ll be leaving tomorrow, Saturday 7/26 at the ungodly hour of 8:00. The camp is in the countryde north of Stockholm. I should be in camp for a week (the camp lasts four weeks). 

I think this trip to camp represents my accepting some fundamental truths. Such as – if you don’t like being where it’s hot, try going someplace cooler. And also – If you find it overwhelming to plan all of your days, try letting someone else plan some of them.

P.S. As I was preparing for my trip today, I decided to get my hair cut. I went over to my friend Aimé Mabondzo who told me that he cuts the hair of “all his friends”. I told him to cut it short. A word of advice – never tell an African with a set of electric clippers that you want your hair cut short unless you are prepared to face the consequences. I now look like a cross between Astroboy and a friendly Marine. I figure that by the time I get to New York you ought to be able to tell where my sideburns used to be.