Notebook, New Year 1991

David Gascoyne

Saturday, 29 December 1990: Caught Red Funnel Ferryboat 10 a.m. Taxi Southampton Dock to Eastleigh – Air France plane departed 12.45. Met at Roissy (3 p.m. approx. Continental time) by Jean-Claude Masson and Annick, who drove us in their car to the Grand Hotel Français, boulevard Voltaire, XIIème – a quarter little known to me. Windy, showery, as at home; mild. Pleasant enough double room on the fifth floor – very slow lift. Feeble lighting as usual. After settling in, crossed the boulevard to local café-tabac l’ Aquarium, for tea and tartines. Dinner at eight chez Jean-Claude, round the corner in rue de Picpus, an immeuble with a sinister labyrinthine underground car-park.

Sunday 30: Nearest Metro to hotel is Nation: unfamiliar, vast and intimidatingly full of platforms for recently proliferated extension lines serving the banlieues. Investing in a carnet de billets is supposed to save money on taxis, but leads to loss of time: correspondances, corridors, traipsing. Took us about half an hour to reach nearby Bastille. Light lunch in first brasserie beyond the exit, place de la Bastille. Taxi to Carnavalet – couldn’t remember name of street (de Sévigné), neither could taxi-man, who took us on a tour of the entire Marais before finally dropping us apologetically at adjacent corner. The narrow streets of the Marais are almost all one-way. Carnavalet well worth detours however. First visit, so all is unfamiliar. Much more to see than expected. French Revolution rooms specially impressive. The tricolor that surely inspired Pierre-Jean Jouve’s poem, A une soie: ‘Propice et large soie étalée sans un pli ... Et suave de trois cruautés arrondies.’ – ‘Et le drapeau disait: Liberté ou la Mort’ (end of eighth strophe). In fact the flag says ‘Vivre libre ou mourir’, but that wouldn’t have rhymed with ‘holocauste fort’. Plenty of Hubert Robert (‘du plus pur Hubert Robert,’ as Jouve used to say). Found a Folio series edition of Restif de la Bretonne’s Nuits de Paris in the tempting bookshop. When I first knew the Marais in the late Forties it was shabby, almost a slum. Now it is packed with smart boutiques and galleries, and an expensive district to live in. At 4.30 crowds of strollers everywhere: kerbside stalls for snacks, bric-à-brac, sacs-à-main, carpets. Found the old café-tabac at the corner of the place des Vosges that I used to drop into after visiting the Musée Victor Hugo or the Follains’ apartment, completely transformed into a chic newly antiquated tea-shop. Got a last free table before queues started.

Dinner 8.30 chez Jean-Claude and Annick. Other guest a young poet, Jacques Lèvre, whom Jean-Claude thinks very promising. Showed me four poems of his in a review: the first and last reminded me at once of Follain, who it turned out Jean-Claude had never read. Shy, unassuming and friendly, Lèvre reminded me of one or two young poets I met in the late Thirties. Plenty to eat and drink. Conversation till midnight. Raining as we returned to the hotel. On the way stopped at a nearby Visa cashpoint and drew out 1000 francs as though by magic in sixty seconds.

Monday 31: Driven by Bruce van Barthold up to his little but charming (banal but inevitable adjective) apartment in the 19th arrondissement to lunch with his wife Jo and their two-week-old infant Théo. Everything impeccable. Driven back after tea to boulevard Voltaire. Acquired bottle Piper-Heidsieck for later.

Tuesday 1 January: SpentRéveillon with Jean-Claude, Annick and friend. Clive James on BBC1 after midnight.

Next day, Brasserie lunch in place du Châtelet. Taxi to Musée d’Orsay. Like many other furious people, found it closed because of bank holiday. Without warning, went to call on Méraud Guevara, rue de Lille behind the museum. Found her in bed in her old room, nothing in the apartment changed; rather deaf and vague but pleased, I think, to see us. Went on to see a new film, Uranos, in Montparnasse. Supper at the Select.

Wednesday 2: Christine Jordis just returned, asked us to lunch at the Fin Gourmet, boulevard St Germain. No sooner served, Judy rushes to toilet, violently sick. Sent her back to hotel in taxi. Went to Librairie l’Escalier; tea at Pâtisserie Viennoise. Then back to boulevard Voltaire. Judy still ill, cannot face reception chez Anne Wade-Minkowski, rue de Rivoli. I go with Jean-Claude. Adonis, Yves Bonnefoy, François-Xavier Jaujard and Paul le Jaloux already there. After an hour’s talk, champagne, quiche, sight of copious buffet in neighbouring room gives me nausea. I lie on sofa under rug. Recovered enough to go back to hotel at midnight.

Thursday 3: This morning no desire for food, feel I’d rather stay in bed with Judy all day. Oxyboldine tablets, mineral water. At 2.30 I ring Edmond Jabès to tell him we can’t have tea with him at four, as arranged. Arlette in tears answers phone to tell us Edmond died in his sleep early this morning. Stunned. Rang the Independent, to find Tony Rudolf is already working on obit.

Friday 4: Recovered sufficiently to be able to go round to rue de Picpus for a last supper with Jean-Claude and Annick. After a light lunch at l’ Aquarium café-tabac opposite hotel, driven to Roissy to catch 4.45 plane back to Southampton. Sudden turbulence threw cup of tea all over us. Got home before seven local time.

Saturday 5: Invitation from Joe Allard of Essex University to read with Jeremy Reed at the Colchester Arts Festival. Went shopping at local supermarket after lunch. Dull TV. Made asparagus and prawn soufflé for supper.

Tuesday 8: Watched first episode of new series Twin Peaks. Who cares who killed Laura Palmer? Monotonous pseudo-surreality. Agent Cooper losing grip and my attention. Off to bed.

Wednesday 9: Collapse of Geneva Peace talks. James Baker and Bush are determined to teach Saddam Hussein ‘a terrible lesson’.

Alan Jenkins of TLS rang up at 7.15 p.m. to suggest I write article on two exhibitions in London next month: Man Ray photos at Barbican, Max Ernst at Tate.

Thursday 10: Ron Stocker to lunch. Listened to ‘Schönberg in Hollywood’ on Radio 3. Wrote to thank Jean-Claude, and send him copy of Jean Follain collection in the Poésie series. Judy tired and seems indifferent to the fate of the world. Peace initiatives stalled in Middle East.

Friday 11: 10.40 a.m. Appointment with Dr Stainer at Cowes Health Centre. Sent letter and Follain Poésie volume to Jean-Claude. Hair cut. Bank. Shopping. Ordered flowers for February 1st (Judy’s birthday). Lunch with Chloë Grant-Edwards, Bruce van Barthold’s grandmother, at Sailing Club. The European. Indifferent TV.

Saturday 12:

– Letter from Simon Callow, at last

– Supermarket

– Cowes. Ian Gibson’s Assassination of F.G. Lorca from library (rather disappointing).

– Picked up Humphrey Carpenter’s Ezra Pound: A Serious Character unexpectedly.

– Dull TV.

Sunday 13:

– Had made apricot mousse to follow lamb for lunch. Vin de Pays du Gard.

– Napped after lunch

– News increasingly sombre.

– Made successful piperade for supper.

– Joely Richardson excellent and moving in David Hare’s BBC2 Screenplay.

Monday 14: Wrote and posted letters to Penny Durrell-Hope and Simon Callow. It seems possible we may see him and a preview of Ballad of the Sad Café when we go up to town to review art shows for TLS.

Ordered four books from Bibliophile.

Thursday 17: Early breakfast. Heard on radio: outbreak of hostilities in Gulf. Sudden US air attack on Saddam Hussein. Left 8.30 a.m. for Sandown High School where from 9.15 to 11, talked to sixth-form Spanish/French class about the Civil War and Surrealism. Went on to pick up Hilda and Edward Upward and take them out to lunch at a Shanklin restaurant. They’re not so indignant about Bush and the war as I’d expected them to be. Their CND fervour seems to have abated. It must be twenty years since Edward arrived here to see me and drove me around the island in his car. Pleasant meal. Returned via Newport and Cowes. Rest of day dominated by media coverage of Gulf.

Saturday 19: Supermarket after lunch. Made prune and apple mousse with calvados. De Gaulle programme BBC2. Stayed up late to see repeat of Twin Peaks. Kept me awake. Some almost magic moments. ‘Owls are not what they seem’: Raymond Roussel/Cocteau’s Orphée.

Sunday 20: Made oeufs florentine. Second programme on de Gaulle BBC2. Brought back a vivid memory of watching the news at the Tour de César near Aix – a splendid view of Mont Ste Victoire – that sweltering summer of 1958. The Algerian crisis, De Gaulle’s speech to the crowd from the balcony in Algiers: ‘Je vous ai compris.’ Subsequent demos and plastiquages in Paris.

Repeat of Callow and Fry in S. Gray’s Old Flames.

Monday 21: Invitation card from Tony Rudolf – ‘Art 91’ Fair, Islington, 23 January. Audrey Jones at Menard Press stand.

Went into Cowes after lunch to have new Dior spectacles frame stiffened by optician. Finished letter to Tony Rudolf, sending him translation of L’Adieu from the Jabès obituary piece in Le Monde.

TV Gulf coverage expressive of deflated euphoria. How long will it last, how much will it cost? No one certain.

Tuesday 22: Another copy of Elizabeth Smart’s Journal from Collins. Note from Geoffrey Bush about performance of Zodiac song-cycle at Salisbury on 13 February. Wrote to Ann Minkowski sending dedicated inserts from her copy of L’Autre back to her, and expressing sympathy with Adonis. Imponderability is the current key-note in the Gulf. Oil wells set alight in Kuwait.

Sunday 27: Kevin and Jean to lunch and tea. Made mushroom omelette for supper.