July 19, 2006
LE TOUR DE FRANCE IN 17 DAYS 6 HOURS AND 28 SECONDS
DAY TWO AND THREE immediately upon landing at CDG I went to the SNCF to retrieve the train tickets I had ordered on the internet I needed tickets for paris-st. Etienne the first étape of this TDF but also st.etienne paris on TDF when traveling by train I always go first class I also purchased the ticket for the etape paris-marseille-paris [each etape to be explained later] and also paris-aix-CDG [there were two other etapes by train but the tickets were purchased by my publishers it was 10 a.m when I boarded the train to st. etienne to kill the time from my arrival to the time I boarded the TGV [for those who don’t know what TGV means it translated literally as train of great speed and they do go fast over 200 kilometers an hour I am told which means that french landscape flies by the train window very fast as a result you cannot really see the details of the countryside] but first class is very comfortable and the ride so smooth I soon fell asleep and ignored the decor outside you must be wondering why I was going first directly to st. etienne a rather insignificant little french city about an hour east of lyon which is a much more interesting city and in fact I had to change trains in lyon to get to st. etienne which means I had to lug my suitcase and heavy briefcase [heavy because of the books I was carrying for the readings I was scheduled to give and as gifts for friends and heavy because of my laptop I always bring my laptop when I go on a TDF so I can keep in touch with the rest of the world but it's not always possible to connect in some of the hotels which is very frustrating more on that later] so to clarify why I was going to st. etienne immediately upon arrival in france the comedie de st. etienne a renown theater company had staged three of my novels moinous & sucette [the french title of smiles on Washington square] amer eldorado [the french version of take it or leave it] and la double vibration [the twofold vibration] and the metteurs en scene [there were two of them reason for the s at the end of metteur] angelique and eric insisted that I come to st. etienne not only to see the three plays [yes in fact what they had staged were three plays each lasting 1 hour and 45 minutes] which had already been performed 6 times with two representations to go [one the evening of the day I arrived which means the second day of my TDF] and another the following day [since the entire program would last 4 hours and a half they usually presented two of the plays one evening [normally m & s plus one of the others which still lasted 3h and 15 minutes only once did they do what they call the integral that is to say present in one evening all three plays [the 3 plays are really a triptych with references that crisscross from one play to another] anyway angelique and eric wanted me to see all three plays reason for my going directly to st. etienne since these were the last two performances and they also wanted me to be present for the final performance which was followed by a discussion with the audience to which I participated I should now tell you about the play but before I do that let me say what I did when I arrived in st. etienne rather tired since I had not slept for more than 24 hours I went directly to my hotel took a shower tried to take a crap but it didn’t work and closed the curtain in the room [not a great room typical of french hotels small oh and rather than pillows for the bed a traversin [you know this long thing that looks and feel like a sausage under your head when you sleep on it] which I threw on the floor and called the reception to have two pillows sent up I always need two pillows one usually the firmer one under my head and the softer one between my knees [now don’t get any idea the pillow between my knees was recommended by the orthopedist who told me that sleeping with a pillow between your legs prevents you from having a backache and to tell you the truth I find it very how shall I say very nice to sleep with a pillow between my knees] I slept for about 43 hours at which time I was picked up by one of the theater assistant and driven to the theater before the spectacle I had a quick bite with angelique and eric a quick bite because they were planning a gourmet meal after the show as it should be the play now quickly the theater was packed mostly middle-aged spectators that evening the next evening for the final performance there were mostly young people and even a group of high school kids who had been brought in by bus and with whom I had a kind of seminar before the show but I am anticipating this took place the third day of this TDF though before I forget during that mini-seminar which was more like a question and answer seance [the kids had read the novels and wanted to know more about it wanted me to explain it to them which I tried not to do but rather titillate them with anecdotes] but during that mini-seminar the kids all together sang the song ramona [it was meant as a surprise to me because as you know ramona was my father’s favorite song and the kids had read that in one of the novels] I was very moved when they sang that song especially the cute lyceenne who sang louder than the boys the song was familiar to me but I had forgotten most of the words so I asked one of the young ladies to write down the words for me which she did and I now have the words or ramona [in french of course] but let’s get back to the performance the audience is now seated but the lights are still on so that we can see on stage a large rectangular table and sitting around this table or even on the table 10 young actors [five young ladies and five young men] wearing what I would call rehearsal clothes [tights t-shirts all of different colors] not really costumes just various clothes as if they were preparing for a ballet [and in fact the spectacle was somewhat like a ballet a choreographer worked with the actors while rehearsing] the light finally went down in the theater and up on the stage and one of the girls at the table started typing something in a laptop and on a large screen in the back of the stage appeared what she was writing [the story of moinous & sucette it should be told] and then one of the actors says [one way or another] and another actor spoke another sentence from the book and they took turn setting up the situation and suddenly two of the actors became moinous & sucette and began performing one of the scenes and it went on like that but different actors taking on the role of moinous & sucette or the other characters in the novel and at one point when moinous goes to Washington Square to speak to the one-legged pigeon charlot one of the actors became the pigeon and acted like a one-legged pigeon what was really happening on stage is that these ten young actors were literally improving the story that is told in the novel sometime all of them moving on stage at the same time at other times only moinous & sucette while the others became spectators of the scene they were playing I know it’s hard to really give a sense of what was happening but let me just say it was fantastic and amer eldorado was even better and the double vibration even better together the three plays were superb I was very moved by the way the two directors had staged my work and the way these ten actors were performing my words at one point I even had tears in my eyes but that’s because I had a bit of an allergy I have of course a dvd of the spectacle and if anyone would like to see it I might be able to loan it but remember it's in french so that was the second day of the TDF after a good dinner [I forget what I ate probably snails and lapin with frites and a creme caramel] I went to sleep well I tried to sleep but jetlag as I was I barely slept instead I replayed in my mind the plays I had seen and was amazed to realize how closely the script stayed to the novels the next day again with a fabulous lunch and the mini-seminar with the kids back to the theater but this time to see moinous & sucette with the double vibration it was even better than the preceding evening [I think the young actors were a little nervous knowing that I was in th audience the first evening the second evening having had a chance to see what a nice guy I am they relaxed and the performance was really fantastic they were full of energy which circulated among them [I should mention that there are some very sexy moments in the three plays for instance the scene around the table in moinous & sucette when moinous undressed sucette's family or the scene in amer eldorado when marilyn masturbates french under the blankets or when the woman who rescues him from the precipice marie is her name and who takes poor french home and little rapes him not to mention the scene in the double vibration where grace kelly fucks the old man because she feels sorry for him and I must say the five young actresses were rather sexy themselves enough to arouse an old fuddy daddy like me but that’s another story] after the spectacle there was a lively discussion with the audience [most of the people stayed for the discussion and many of the questions were addressed to me about various aspects of my work I won’t go into the details but I had a feeling that the people who came to see the show really liked it and that they were going to read some of my novels in fact in the lobby there was a table with copies of my books and I signed quite a few of the french editions of course] oh I should mention that at the end of the spectacle the last evening the actors insisted that I come up on stage and bow with them which I did reluctantly but the more the people applauded the more I enjoyed bowing with the actors so that was the st. etienne etape
DAY FOUR at 9 o'clock TGV to paris which got me there around 11 yes only two hours it's amazing do you know that with the TGV it takes only 3 hours to go from Paris to Marseille which is the longest distance between two cities in France so now in paris at the hotel novanox boulevard montparnasse a hotel where I stayed before comfortable and the advantage is that I can read my email without using the telephone line they have a broadband system but I had to wait until evening of that day to read my email and answer because I had all kinds of appointments that day the first one was with a journalist who wanted to know what I thought of the plays he had come up to paris just for this interview which went well and which was published later that week in la terrasse a suisse magazine but this journalist had already written a piece about me which was published in a magazine called jazz yes a jazz magazine because everybody in france knows that at one time I played the saxophone they don’t know how badly I played but they know that charlie parker played my sax in detroit and that makes me special in france they know because they have all read amer eldorado where that story is told after the journalist I rushed by taxi [in paris I always go by taxi which is expensive especially in euros wherever you go it always cost about 15 euros I calculated how much I spent on taxis during this TDF and it came out to 165 euros you figure out what it cost in $ the rate of exchange being 1.267 euro for a dollar [if you have to change dollars into euros you get hit hard the reverse is of course better me I never have to change dollars because I have a secret account in Euros in Berlin and with my special green credit card I can get cash in any european countries at the atm of course at the end of the TDF if I have euros left I exchange them for dollars which is very profitable and in fact on this TDF I had quite a few euros left because I got payed by various people for my performances which will be described later] so after the meeting with the journalist I took a cab to al dante that’s my publisher to meet with laurent cauwet the publisher and his assistant anne-laure to discuss future publication especially the two books that will come out in the fall a qui de droit [french translation of to whom it may concern] and le livre de sam the manuscript of which I delivered that day with a cd and anne-laure who designs the book and I went over the manuscript to discuss the lay out of the pages the cover design etc. then laurent and I went out for a beer and he told me that the first printing of retour au fumier [3000 copies] already sold out and that he was going to reprinted he said that this novel is doing great but that la fourrure de ma tante rachel also sold out as well as mon corps en neuf parties and moinous & sucette the two books that are still is print are amer eldorado and quitte out double which received the most attention in the press and on radio but sell less well because of the typography but that slowly the french are getting accustomed to the way federman writes and that the name federman is now well known all over france and I believe that because everywhere I went on this TDF people say oh you’re federman I’ve read your novel you a great writer yes they say that of course I don’ believe all of them except for those who are writers themselves and especially one writer with whom I had dinner that evening the of that 4th day more on that laterafter the visit with my publisher I rushed by taxi again to st. germain to meet at the famed café flore pascale bouhenic a film maker I had met before to discuss with her the filming she would do of me on 7th day of this TDF [I shall relate the 5th and 6th day in a moment] for a film she is making about samuel beckett in conjunction with a huge beckett exhibition that will take place at the centre pompidou in march 2007 to which I have already been invited and to which I contributed a text for the catalogue for which I have already been payed 230 euros [more on that later] so with pascale we discussed what we would do for the filming she had a theme in mind the sky in sam’s work yes she wanted me to talk about the sky in beckett well later that evening in my hotel room I scribble some notes when one says sky to me immediately I think of colors blue white grey I think of rain I think of sun I think of clouds I think of farness or what sam called the revers of farness I think of distance of emptiness of void and suddenly I realized that my notes were in fact describing what goes on in beckett’s work and so if I may jump ahead to the 7th day and the filming at the centre pompidou pascale was amazed by my connaissance of sam’s work and what I had to say she filmed me for an hour and a half of course I will not be in the film that long but she was very pleased with what we did oh I should mention that marianne alphant who is organizing the beckett exhibition came to have coffee with us not on the 4th day but on the 7th day [I knew marianne from before because a couple of years ago she had invited me to give a reading at the centre pompidou I believe from la fourrure de ma tante rachel and I had met her again in nantes where I participated in a beckett colloquium last November [yes this year I did three TDFs and that’s when she asked me to write something for the catalogue which I did it’s about beckett with only one t] and so when marianne met us pascale and I before the filming I gave marianne a couple of rare beckett items for the exposition a book of poems about sam called sam changed tense and the book I edited on the cover of which the name beckett has only one t and those two books will be in the exposition] ok back to the 4th day after the meeting with pascale at the café flore I took another taxi to go to 85 rue de bagnolet [not far form the pere lachaise cemetery] to have dinner at the house of lydie salvayre and her husband bernard who is the publisher of a very fine publishing house called vertical which in fact is going to do a book of mine [more on that later]I met lydie slavayre recently just last month in fact at the pen festival in new york where some 130 writers from all over the world gathered to discuss the future of literature in the world lydie and I hit it off immediately I had never read her before she gave me one of her books called in french une compagnie de spectres [in english a gathering of ghosts – no it’s not a ghost story it’s about what was going on in france during the petain years but told from the present a fantastic book which was published in the states by dalkey archives lydie salvayre is a very fine writer well regarded in france winner of several literary prize she’s 60 years old and has published a number of great novel but she is also a psychiatrist who works with children in other words a very interesting person she had red hair I mean really red not naturally read and is very charming and speak with a deep voice and she had now read several of my novels and bernard too and she said something to me that moved me very much she said you know federman we were waiting for you here in france waiting for your books to arrive they speak to us now as no one has spoken to us and they are not books of hommedelettres [that’s the word she used] meaning books of belles-lettres but rather books that say shit to the belle-lettres and in a way lydie’s books are also like that they are not afraid to tell the french what hypocrites what salauds they are and were especially during the war anyway we had a great dinner at here house bernard cooked a blanquette de veau we drank a couple of great bottles of wine and some superb fromages it was late when I got back to the hotel but a really great evening with a fine couple of people who care about writing oh I should mention that at one point while having dessert bernard and I smoke a love joint of ash I slept well later at the novanox hotel after having read my emails
DAY FIVE AND SIX a quiet lazy morning at the hotel a luncheon with another journalist from marseille who wanted to interview me about surfiction [the collection of essays that was just published by my marseille publisher yve jolivet of the editions le mote et le reste [surfiction is more or less the book published by suny press called critifiction to which I added a couple of essays I did not rewrite it in french myself it was translated by nicole mallet who also translated for jolivet the twilight of the bums and for al dante in paris to whom it may concern and smiles on Washington square she’s a very fine translator who really knows my work and knows how to capture my voice she’s a old friend from way back her first husband roland bonvalet who died at the age of 53 of a cancer did his ph.d. with me at ucla he published a superb novel in french at his own expense back in the 70s called la fortune aux larges ailes I convince yve jolivet to reissue that book for which I wrote a preface and in fact when I got to marseille the book had just come out and I got copies] so this journalist from marseille wanted to discuss my essays with me for an article he was going to publish in the big marseille paper called ebdo [which came out a few days later] later in the afternoon laurent cauwet my publisher met me at the novanox hotel and together we went to the gare montparnasse to catch a train to nohant [you may not know where nohant is and what it means it’s a little picturesque town near chateauroux look it up on your map of france nohant if famous because it there that george sand lived in a marvelous mansion] to participate in a two day poetry festival and book fair in the house and garden of george sand [this is an annual festival which attracts a lot of people and that year the book fair features the books of al dante and the writers invited to participate were all al dante writers like me we were 10 all together some of these writers rather well known and well established like julien blaine who does performances sometime even getting undress completely while reading is poetry or phillipe beck [a jew by the way] who write very serious stuff] and jean-luc parent who gives reading by installing on a table before him large globes made of cardboard on which poems are written and he hides behind the table and in a microphone whispers his poetry and there was a young poet called jerome game who read his stuff fast and with rupture in the sentences he was great and well I won’t describe all the others and how they read and what they read me I was asked to read la voix dans le cabinet de débarras so I read the whole text of the voice in the closet the first day [by the way we spent two days in the house of george sand we had a ball especially the dinner the first night in some very fancy restaurant] the second day they insisted that I read passages from le livre de sam which gave me a chance to hear how that book sounds and it was well received [al dante had rented a car and a van for all of us to go to nohant so we came back the evening the second day which means the 6th day of my TDF we came back late tired but exhilarated [next September the guy who organized this festival his name is henri ronce famous for organizing this kinds of literary festivals went to organize a festival around me in blois I agreed so I’ll be doing another TDF in September but after three days in Berlin but that’s another story which will be explained in due time] so back at the hotel novanox late the 5th day
DAY SEVEN another busy schedule early morning meeting at the centre pompidou for the filming of the beckett film which I have already discussed so I won’t go over that after the filming since I had a bit of time and had never been there I decided to go visit the jewish museum of paris which was interesting but more interesting was my visit to the memorial of the shoah where they have build a wall make of israel white stone on which is inscribed the name of the 80000 or so jews who died in the concentration camps and on that wall the name of simon federman marguerite federman sarah federman and jacqueline federman are inscribed after searching or the names on the wall I went up tot he fourth floor of that building to the archives and there spoke with a very nice young man whose name is alexandre and he dug out some archives which listed the names of my parents and sisters documents kept by the french [not the german] in the drancy and pithivier camps where the jews were kept before being loaded on the trains to the east as I was talking with alexandre we discovered that he was born and raised in the lot-et-garonne very close to the farm where I slaved during the war so I told him about retour au fumier and we went to the library and my novel was there and also the voice in the closet and aunt rachel’s fur in other words I am not recognized in france as a jewish writer how you like that and th is morning [excuse me for jumping ahead] I got an email from alexandre who did some research in the archives of montflanquin and discovered that my name was listed with some 2500 other jews who had taken refuge in that part of france the fucking french kept track of all the jews [here I’ll put here what he wrote me this morning [c'est peu de chose en vérité : un extrait d'une liste de 2500 Juifs recensés en Lot-et-Garonne en 1943 où votre nom figure ainsi que la famille EPSTEIN à Monflanquin.Je suis tombé dessus par hasard alors que je terminais une étude sur le fichage et le flicage des Juifs dans le département. A mon avis c'est une liste qui est constituée par la préfecture avec des listes que les brigades de gendarmerie ou les mairies du département lui ont remises vers le printemps 43. Tout ça pour dire que le service Juif de la préfecture n'ignorait pas votre existence et savait que vous habitiez à Monflanquin. La prochaine fois que je descends à Agen, je ferai un saut aux archives départementales. Si je trouve davantage de traces je vous ferai signe.Après votre passage je suis descendu feuilleter "Retour au fumier" à la librairie (au fait, on l'a ici à la bibliothèque) , j'ai adoré tout de suite. Je l'ai lu d'une traite et j'en ai pris un autre que j'ai offert à ma mère pour son anniversaire. Elle aussi a aimé mais elle a eu cette question : "pourquoi est-il resté si longtemps chez ce plouc-là?". Léchande entre vous-narrateur et vous-auditeur est irrésistible, sans parler de la crudité du propos. Par moment ca me rappelait les bouquins de Alphonse Boudard par cet argot si spontané et ces jugements cinglants mais jamais malveillants, sans misanthropie non plus] amazing how the french petainistes kept track of the jews to better get rid of them] after the visit to this memorial I took another cab to place du chatelet [no that’s not true I walked from the memorial to the brasserie zimmer on place du chatelet a nice walk in the ole jewish quartier which is now mostly inhabited by arabs on the way I stopped at the fnac the bi supermarket of books to see if my books were there and indeed they had all the books that are still in print and the lady in charge of the french literature [yes I am classified here as a french writer] recognized me and asked me to signed two books for her and she told me that my books are doing very well at the fnac] at the brasserie zimmer met louis castel the theater director who staged amer eldorado in avignon last July which in appeared in person on stage each evening for 17 performances but have already described this louis castel and I had a lovely lunch [which he payed for] as we discussed plans for the play he staged [it’s called federman’s] to be presented next year in various cities including paris after that I went back to the hotel to rest because at 18:30 [in france they always say 18:30 for 6 p.m. 30 or whatever time [they use the army style] I was scheduled to give a reading from retour au fumier and from le livre de sam in la librairie compagnie [a very fine bookstore near the sorbonne] I must interrupt this report because erica just came home and wants to talk to me I doubt that I will be able to finish today therefore you must wait another day for ths report whose length and tediousness you may find overwhelming and I apologize for that but this TDF was long and I went to share with you all of it in as many details as possible who knows it may become an historical document so see you later
CONTINUATION OF DAY SEVEN at 18 hundred I arrived at the bookstore introduced myself cased the joint to see where I would read the bookstore had a large room downstairs that sits over 60 people and all my books were there on a table [the french books I mean there are now 16 books published in french the past three years
maybe I should give the titles here so people in america can know what they are here is the list éditions les impression nouvelles [paris] la voix dans le débarras [bilingual fiction] éditions al dante [paris] amer eldorado [novel] la fourrure de ma tante rachel [novel] moinous & sucette [novel] mon corps en neuf parties [fiction] quitte ou double [novel] retour au fumier [novel] éditions le mot et le reste [marseille] ici et ailleurs [bilingual poetry] future concentration [bilingual poetry] l’exatique de jule et juliette [erotic poems] le crépuscule des clochards [microfiction with george chambers] surfiction [essays] éditions société des écrivains [paris] à qui de droit [novel] éditions circé [strasbourg] la flèche du temps [novel] éditions de l’herne [paris] le cahier de l’herne samuel beckett éditions carte blanche [paris] elle est là [livre d’artiste]
ok I continue since I was a bit early I went across the street to a café and there I stumbled on my good friend christian prigent [whom I consider the best writer in france today] and catherine flohic a publisher who is going to publish next year a book about federman in her collection called les singuliers [yes writers who are not like normal writers which she calls singular writers the book is a kind of long dialogue I am having with my friend marie delvigne about my life and my work we are calling the book federman sans limites more about that some other day but I should mention now even though I will be anticipating on day 8 that marie delvigne and her companion christian malaurie came to marseille from bordeaux where they live to see me and marie and I spent a whole afternoon working on the book] christian prigent and catherine flohic were there for my reading and many other friends also came [the reading had been well advertised even in le monde which a few days before my arrival published a piece from le livre de sam and when you publish something in le monde des livres everybody sees it and says to you oh I saw your piece in le monde [the piece in le monde by the way was describing how I once played billiard with sam] so at 18:30 we went to the bookstore and the room downstairs was packed I read for more than an hour from retour au fumier and some passages from le livre de sam afterwards I signed about 20 copies of the books which is not bad for france then a group of us including prigent and also lydie salvayre who came to the reading and also marie-hélène the wife of a my dear friend alain frontier who could not come because of his bad back and we had a superb meal in a fancy restaurant and when I got back to the hotel late that night I fell asleep immediately
DAY SEVEN another very busy day but first I have to settle the matter of the books that have been accumulating since I arrive everybody I meet gives me a book their latest or a book they say I must read or simply to try to impress me I just counted I am still in my room just getting up at the novanox hotel going over what I have to do today and trying to decide what to wear it’s hot like hell in paris right now and humid I wore a very light shirt yesterday and it’s a bit sweaty now but I’m already running out of clean clothes the 12 underwear I brought don’t all work I try them and feel that if I keep that one al day I’ll suffer so I go back to the one I wore yesterday which felt comfortable all day same with the shirt and the socks especially the socks as I once wrote somewhere all my life my feet have been killing well they are killing me here in paris at the end of a day feel like my feet are no longer but it’s not about my feet that I want to tell you now it’s about the fucking books that are piling up in my room and tomorrow I am leaving for marseille and where the hell will I pack all these books I decide that some of these must be mailed to san diego and yesterday I noticed while walking boulevard montparnasse that there is a post office not far from the hotel and I know that in french post office they sell boxes to ship books so right after breakfast which by the way is not included in the price of the hotel it’s 7 euros more the room cost 120 euros lucky for me the publisher is paying so after breakfast usually a long piece of crusty fresh baguette with butter and then a croissant a bit of cheese a glass of orange juice and that good french coffee in american I never drink coffee it taste like donkey piss but here in france I drink coffee and sometimes I even sneak a cigarette for old time’s sake a gauloise so here I am at the post office and you won’t believe the line post office in france are more than post offices they are like social institution where you come to do all kinds of social and civic activities even banking so I wait in line my first appointment is not before 13 hundred lunch with an old friend [more on that below] finally I get to the lady postière and asked if they have boxes to ship books she shows me three sizes large medium small I take a medium and asked how much it will cost to ship such a medium box of books to american 36 euros the postière says without flinching 36 euros I calculate at the rate of exchange that’s 42 bucks the postière interrupt my calculation to specify that’s by air mail you can send your box by boat but that takes to 4 to 6 weeks and it’s not sure it ever arrives I don’t ask the price for boat shipping and tell her have to go back to my hotel to pack the books and I’ll be right back and leaning over the comptoir I show her my sexy eyes and she smiles and I ask her if I will have to wait in line again and the lady postière whom I notice is rather plump and curvy non venez directement à moi well to accelerate a bit because there much to say about day seven I come back a bit later with about 20 books packed in the box and even some magazines pay the 36 euros and now I feel free from the books and now it’s time to go meet my old friend frederick tristan [that’s not his real name that’s a pen name] who is a rather well respected writer in france with several novels one of which won the prix goncourt some years ago I have not seen tristan for about 20 years let me quickly tell you how we met way back when I was finishing my ph.d. at ucla one of my professor [judd hubert was his name his wife’s renée riese hubert I mention their names because not only was judd the best prof I ever had he taught me how to read yes read deep into a book and renée was a poet and I even translated some of her poems and wrote an article about here poetry but that’s another story what I wanted to say about judd and renée is that we remained friends and are still though renée died last year and at a memorial for her I read some of her poems and my translation but that too is another story how the hell do I get out of this parentheses skip the rest] professor judd hubert knowing that I was writing a novel gave a novel to read by frederick tristan it was call le dieu des mouches I really liked it and at the time since I was trying to get some stuff in print so that when I finished my dissertation I could get a good position in a university and since university require pros to publish or perish I thought I should try not to perish and publish some stuff so I wrote an article about le dieu des mouches which judd sent to tristan and tristan wrote me a warm thank you letter and said that if ever I come to france we should get together well that summer after I defended my dissertation on Beckett this was in may 1963 erica decided that to celebrate the ph.d. we all go to europe for the summer all meant withe the four kids simone was only 6 months old then so to accelerate a bit I wrote to tristan telling hm we were come and he offered us his country house inc castres [look it up on your map of france it’s not far from carcassonne and albi in the old huguenot region of france and we accepted and spent a good part of the summer in what tristan called a moulin but which was more like a little castle it was called belle-rive this is not the place to describe the wonderful time we had in castres but I thought I would explain a bit how I meet tristan and how we became friend so here we are many years later at the famed coupole brasserie boulevard montparnasse having a delicious lunch [which by the way tristian insisted on paying and it was quite a meal first we had fresh oysters then un steak tartare avec frites une salade avec vinaigrette un plateau de fromage [I particularly enjoyed le cantal et le fromage de chèvre] and then une crème caramel dans les 8 [for an explanation of the number given to a crème caramel you will have to consult return to manure which will be out in english in September] excuse the publicity I was telling you about la coupole and why it is famous there is where henry miller used to sit all day at the terrace drinking pernod while waiting to become famous but it is also there at the coupole in the old days that you could see jean-paul sartre and simone or even picasso or bram van velde or simone signoret or pépé le mokko or even samuel beckett before he became famous and went into hiding yes la coupole used to be the place to see the famous and the not so famous especially late at night yes late at night that’s where one goes to have a delicious soupe à l’oignon or oysters or just fromage with a bottle of wine speaking of wine tristan and I killed a whole bottle of st. emilion as we sat there for two hours or more eating and remembering the good old days we deplored that we had lost touch I asked about his gorgeous wife yvonne caroutch whose collection of poems I translated into english under the title temporary landscapes in fact it was my first published book it was published in Venice we all met there at the end of the summer [yes I translated the book in belle-rive while tristan and françoise [that’s the real name of yvonne caroutch which is also a pen name rich writers like to give themselves pen names and tristan and caroutch were very rich I won’t go into the details of how they became rich that’s another story ] we all met in venice where the book was published at their expense a beautiful edition illustrated by a venitian painter called vittorio basaglia there are 10 original etchings in this bilingual book it was published in a limited edition of 35 copies in a box very expensive I have only one copy signed by caroutch and basaglia and myself but there was also a more commercial edition all white which sold out I have two or three copies left of that one anyway we remembered all that as we kept drinking wine and toasting each other you see the reason I was having lunch with frederick is because out of the blue when was still in san diego I got an email from him he had discovered how famous my books had become in france and he said if I come to france we must get together and it was a great warm friendly reunion at th end of the meal when we ordered coffee a friend of tristan came to join us jean-luc moreau a journalist-writer-professor who has written extensively on the american novel especially the so called experimental novel and of course had mentioned me in his articles and knowing from tristan that I was in paris wanted to meet me because he had just read surfiction the collection of essays that was just published in france and he was writing an article about it so that was very nice to meet him with the coffee we exchanged coordonnées as the french call the address and email etc. you scribble on a piece of paper when you meet someone with whom you want to stay in contact end of the coupole report immediately after leaving tristan I had to rush back to the hotel where another journalist was meeting with a photographer this one also wanted to discuss surfiction the essays but it was obvious that it was the only book of mine he had read and how can one discuss my surfiction essays if one has not read my surfiction so I got read of him quickly especially since I was anxious to get to the lutetia hotel where I was going to have a drink with emilie grangeray a journalist from le monde who had already written two articles about my work and with whom I had become friendly now let me tell you about emilie she is absolutely gorgeous 32 years old classy you should have seen the dress the exotic dress she was wearing when she entered the lutetia hotel where I was already waiting for her it was about 17 hundred the place was full of people special kind of people who can afford the lutetia and they all stared at emilie when she came in and when she sat with me after we kissed each other four times on the cheeks as is the custom in france they must have thought she was a movie star and me her impresario let me tell you about the lutetia erica and I stayed there a couple of times it’s all art deco even the furniture in the rooms during the war it was the headquarter of the gestapo but after the germans left paris it’s in the lutetia hotel that the jews who had survived camps were gathered when they returned what irony there is even a plaque on the wall of the hotel near the entrance that states that here the survivors of the camps were lodged upon heir return or something like that very french no mention of course that it was here that the fucking gestapo and the french worked out the details of the deportation of the jews but I wander emilie and I had a lovely talk she told me she was going to israel for two months emilie is not jewish but she’s beautiful like a bilbical jewess and she loves israel she has written many articles in le monde about israeli writers anyway she told me that as soon as a qui de droit comes out she’s write an article in le monde we left the lutetia around 19: 30 I insisted on paying for the two drinks we had me une bière blonde emilie une menthe à l’eau you won’t believe how much those two drinks cost 17 euros that’s almost 20 bucks we took a cab together emilie had to go to a meeting with some israeli dignitaries and I was going to the theatre malakoff where les moinous was opening that evening yes after st. etienne the three plays came to paris for four performances at the théâtre de malakoff which is well known for it’s avant-garde programs well I will not describe the performance again I’ll just say that it was even better than in st. etienne the theatre was packed with all sorts of people many friends or acquaintances of mine and also steve my stepson the photographer who lives in paris and his son samuel who danses with the ballet of the paris opera they both loved the play and steve took all kinds of photo same brought me the dvd of the piece he choreographed and danced with another young man from the opera sam is 22 by the way and he came with agnès who is one of the star of the opera ballet in fact she is the biggest star she’s 29 and sam and agnès live together the piece sam choreographed and danced with his friend at a danse festival near avignon is called m2 last year when I was in paris I recorded in english and in french the poem called me too the poem that begins like this I undouble-undouble I multiply-multiply I play hide-and-seek hide-and-seek with myselfI sub-sub-divideI cry and decry in two languages sam and his friend danse at the rhythm of my words sometimes alone sometimes together and then they improvise the program last 20 minutes it’s really fantastic erica and I looked at the dvd again yesterday it’s really great at one point sam even accelerated the way I read the poem and they accelerated their movement of their dancing I wish you guys could see that well after the spectacle there was a reception since this was the opening night the only night in fact I could see les moinous again because the next morning I was leaving for marseille
DAY EIGHT, NINE & TEN I’ll report the events of these three days all at once since there were in fact one long étape in the TDF I got on the tgv at 9 in the morning traveling with only my briefcase and a small bag with the necessities for a 3 day trip I had to be back in paris on the 11th day so I left my suitcase at the novanox hotel I arrived in marseille exactly three hours later amazing train this tgv I was met a the train station by stephanie and aleanor the two lovely assistants of yve jolivet my publisher they both became my entourage for the three days in marseille they drove to aix-en-provence where I gave a lecture in bookstore not a large crowd but a good crowd I signed a few books karine germoni who organized the beckett colloquium to which I was invited and where I will go on the 14th day came to the reading to tell me how happy she was that I accepted to participate in the beckett colloquium and it was too bad that I had to return to paris and then again to aix she could have arranged for me to stay here we returned to marseille after the reading in aix only 45 minute drive I was staying in a rather charming hotel called hotel richelieu right on the bay of marseille my room had a balcony overlooking the sea and even my bathroom had a balcony overlooking the sea breakfast was served on a terrace literally hanging over the sea very pleasant the second day the 9th therefore I gave a reading at the médiathèque de martigues [another charming provencal town right on the sea [look it up] before the reading I gave a mini atelier d’écriture [that what they call a creative writing workshop in france] the reading was great lots of people but the atelier d’écriture was rather basic only two persons out of the dozen who came were really writing the other were planning to write one of these days so I spent a couple of hours discouraging these people from becoming writers telling her that it doesn’t pay that it’s boring to always be alone in a room writing that writers die young or commit suicide etc but I was being payed 350 euros for this atelier et the reading so I felt obliged to say something martigues was not a high point of this TDF but we did have a rather gourmet dinner after the reading stephanie and aleanor were part of it as well as a couple of people from the médiathèque I should perhaps explain what the roles of stephanie and aleanor are a the éditions le mot et le reste stephanie very attractive with reddish hair and very charming and devoted takes care of public relation she’s the one who sends out the books for reviews arranges interviews and reading and literary encounter etc. aleanor is more of an editor she’s the one who sets the manuscripts into books form deals with cover designs etc yve jolivet is the boss he deals with distributers bookstores but of course he is the one who read the manuscripts and decides what is going to be published he loves my work wants to publish next year my collected poems can you imagine that nobody in america cares if I am a poet or even knows that I also write poetry in france they want to publish my collected poems that’s going to be a huge book I have boxes full of old unpublished poems I’ll throw everything in that book while in marseille I had lunch with eric giraud my other translator he translated double or nothing and return to manure he’s a professional translator is wife is american he’s young but really knows english well and understands my kind of writing he is himself a poet so we had a pleasant lunch together and of course he came to the reading I gave on the 10th day at the marseille municipal alcazar library it took place in a large auditorium in the library many people came in fact it was not really a reading but an encounter with a journalist called eric jourdaneau whom I had already meet two years ago at the manosque festival [maybe someday I’ll report on that festival] jordaneau seemed to have read everything of my work available in french and the audience asked a of question and then I read from retour au fumier and another passage from le livre de sam and at the end jordaneau and I performed the interview I did with godot [if you are not familiar with it check out this website http://spinelessbooks.com/namredef/godot/
DAY ELEVEN it was a Sunday a quiet peaceful day for me nothing scheduled I arrived in paris around noon had a good meal in a little restaurant close to the novanox hotel which I highly recommend it called parnasse 138 I had escargots a civet of rabbit a salad a piece of fromage de brebis from corsica and a isle flottante for dessert after that I went back to my room got completely undressed stretch on the bed and watch the final of the french open tennis tournament I wanted federer to win because I really don’t like that spaniard with the pirate pants which delineates his ass he seems arrogant to me but that little spaniard won oh well can’t win them al feder I almost said federman I meant federer after that I went for a long walk in montparnasse I needed some exercise when I pass next to the cimetière de montparnasse decided to go in and say hello to sam I always do that when I am in paris I told him that things are going great for me suddenly in france in a way because of him who taught me the laugh that laughs at the laugh before leaving I place a little stone on his grave after that I went to the movie and so a rather good italian film called caiman it’s about a film maker who wants to make a movie about this crooked politician I forget the name of the politician but he really existed and was a real fascist then back to the hotel and a good night sleep but not before I did my emails I had tones of them which I had neglected and of course also reporting the daily activities to erica as I tried to do everyday except when I could not connect my laptop I had a dream that night but I cannot remember what it was I think it has to do with golf yes it was a dream about golf I hadn’t played golf for almost two weeks and golf I so much part of my life as is writing
DAY TWELVE around 10 o’clock laurent cauwet [by now the name should be familiar enough that I don’t have to specify my publisher but perhaps I should describe him he is young late 30's long curly hair his shirt is always open in front revealing a very hairy chest he has a good jovial face maybe a bit overweight very smart and being considered in france as one of the really upcoming and uncompromising publisher he publishes the best avant-garde writers in france of course like all uncompromising publishers he is always on the brink of disaster financially but somehow he managed to keep going he is very proud to have federman as one of his authors especially since right now federman’s books attract attention he told me that when he met with the booksellers and the distributers a few days ago and they asked him how many copies of le livre de sam he was planning to print and he said 2000 they told him that he should print much more than that the book is already in great demand especially since this year is the centenary of beckett’s birth the book is schedule to appear in September] laurent came to my hotel because the two of us were taking the tgv to go to tours where I was schedule to give a reading in the evening in one of the best bookstore in france it called simple le livre and it was a good reading more than 50 people came which according to the guy who owns the bookshop is unusual because tour finally is a rather bourgeois city one merely needs to read balzac’s novel entitle le curé de tours to know about the bourgeois of tours the owner of the bookstore did something interesting instead of having us go out for dinner after the reading he ordered food to be brought in and damn good food all kinds of patés and fromages fresh bread lots of wine salads etc so that the people who came for the reading stayed not only to eat but to talk with me and to buy books yes buy books which I signed laurent was pleased that evening we must have sold more than two dozen federman books I should mention that when I arrive in paris laurent gave me a 1000 euros as an advance on the two books coming out we spent the night in tours in a pleasant hotel but had to get up very early because the next day was the day I was to be on the pascale casanova radio program and I had to be at la maison de la radio by 9: 30
DAY THIRTEEN the tgv left tours at exactly 7:05 the tgvs are always on time more or less it takes exactly one hour and 12 minutes to get to paris with the tgv so got to the gare montparnasse at 8:17 and my appointment at the radio station was a 9:30 plenty of time to stop at the hotel to drop my bag and laptop have a bit of breakfast and then a taxi to the radio station I have already reported on what happened at the station except that I forgot to mention that during the program [which was live as I already told] there was a fire alert in the building and for about 5 minutes we had to interrupt the program which normally goes for an hour it was too bad because the interruption cam just when I was about to explain what surfiction is since pascale had me to do so when we resumed the program rather than explaining what I meant when I invented the word surfiction I said that over the years [in fact since 1973 when the surfiction essay was published in partisan review] I had given so many explanation of what surfiction is that by now I had not idea what the real the true the legitimate definition is so we went on to another subject the relationship of fiction and autobiography again one the questions I always get but this time I got out of that one by reading the passage in aunt rachel’s fur where gaston the myopic editor of the éditions de l’amour fou explains to namered [the main character in that novel] that his novels about noodles cannot be published by le editions de l’amour fou because he feels that it is too autobiographic and when namredef hear this he stands up leans over the desk of that puny little editor and asks him monsieur gaston what do you know about my life to say that this book is too autobiographic and poor little gaston almost disappears under his desk when he answers nothing sir well if you are not familiar with this passage in aunt rachel’s fur go back and read it it explains everything about the relationship between fiction and life after the program pascale nathalie and the journalist and I all went for a decent lunch [nothing extraordinary] and continued to talk then a taxi back to the hotel a good shower put on a clean shirt and went out to look for a good movie to relax I saw bubble if you have not seen bubble I highly recommend it Im not going to tell you what’s it’s about but it’s a damn good movie after that I went for dinner at the closerie des lilas which is a very fancy and expensive restaurant not far from the novanox hotel I went there because it is in that restaurant in 1975 that my stepson steve who was then 25 took the picture of sam and I which was reproduced in the special federman issue of the magazine fusées number 9 for me it’s a historical photo both federman and sam wore white turtle neck sweaters I ate alone on that 13th day at the closerie des lilas but enjoyed both the food and the people around me it is no longer the same closerie des lilas where we had dinner with sam or where in the 30s joyce and his friends always came to drink and eat and even danse because in those days la closerie had a space for dancing and in fact sam told us when we were having dinner in 1975 with erica and steve that one evening it was during the celebration of one of joyce’s birthday lucia the daughter of joyce grabbed sam by the arm and forced him to danse with him and they were alone on the floor dancing and everybody applauded and laughed because sam who was so timid then and remained timid all his life [I know I sensed that when I first met him in l963] was so embarrassed anyway it was interesting to watch the people eating at the closerie des lilas certainly not intellectuals or artists mostly bourgeois nouveaux riches eating the most expensive dishes and quantity of wine I had some oysters and a côte de veau avec purée de pommes de terre not desert and left I don’t think I’ll every again go to the closerie des lilas I felt a bit melancholic as I went to bed but the next day I was on my way to the beckett colloquium in aix-en provence
DAY FOURTEEN, FIFTEEN & SIXTEEN and once again in the tgv for aix-en provence to participate in the beckett colloquium I don’t know why I accepted but here I am being picked up at the train station by this prof from the university who speaks with a marvelous marseille accent and keeps on talking while I look outside at the scenery [the tgv train station is a good 20 minutes from the center of town and we are driving through cézanne landscapes in fact from the side of the car I am sitting I can see the glorious montagne de st. victoire the prof gave me choice of either going to my hotel and check in or else drive directly to the restaurant where all the participants are having lunch and we should get there on time I choose the restaurant since I am starved and would like to meet those other participants so here we are at the restaurant I won’t describe the food it was just average but the participants I can’t believe what I see they could all be my grand-children except for a couple of old fuddy duddy profs who seem out of place here later as we gathered in a large room to listen to the first panel of the participants [for the next three days there will be such panels twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon and on each panel there will be 3 or for participants who will deliver a 20 minutes paper [well of course none of the participants will respect the 20 minutes as is always the case in such colloquium [did I say that this is a beckett colloquium I must have mentioned that already celebrating the centenary of sam’s birth hundred of such colloquium have been and are still going on in every corner of the world where the word godot is familiar the these of these colloquium is the four elements in samuel beckett’s work imagine that for three days these young participants are going to find water and air and fire and earth in every corner of sam’s work it shoudl be fascinating] but I was saying after the first panel during the discussion I told the participants gathered in the room that I represented the first generation of beckettians that I was one of the pioneers who set out to explain the work of samuel beckett and that and those who were pioneers with me failed miserably or as sam would put failed better you however I said to the participants are the fourth generations of beckett scholars between you and the work of beckett stand three generations of beckettians it is a formidable obstacle that you must climb over to get back to the fundamental sounds of sam’s work I do not envy you and yet these young beckettian participants went at it with determination stubbornness and even some imagination since there was nothing much left of sam’s work which had not been explained and explained some more they search in little corners of the work for a bit of fire water air dirt and if they didn’t find any they put some in it yes it was ingenious at times I had a good time listening to these young participants delivers their papers with courage and outrage of I forgot to mention that when I arrive I was asked by karine germoni the organizer of the colloquium if I would preside over one of the panel and so the second day of the colloquium at 9:00 a.m. somewhat wobbly from the delightful evening I had spent with some of these young participants in an open air restaurant I presided over the panel whose panelists were to present papers dealing with earth mud and muck in samuel beckett’s fiction I won’t bother you with what was said some of it rather smart and well articulated and at the end I complemented the three young lady participants yes on my panel I had three young women one from italy the other from belgium the third from france all three delivered their papers in english with delightful accents which at times made it somewhat difficult to grasp the intricate cacademic language they were using to extract dirt or put dirt in sam’s work at the end of the panel after I congratulated them for their presentation I told that sam would have really appreciated what was said but he would have added it’s really pulled out of a hat as he once said to when I asked him what he thought of a certain book written about his work by [better not mention his name] but et me say that I was not bored at this colloquium on the contrary I amused but now I must tell you the most important about this colloquium I had been invited especially to appear on a round table with the actor pierre chabert who had directed and ins everal of beckett’s play and was a close friend of his and with edward beckett the nephew of samuel [ludovic janvier was suppose to have been on this panel with us but he canceled and while in paris I called ludovic because he is a very good friend and was also a close friend of sam ludovic is novelist and poet and wrote two fine books on beckett anyway ludo as I call him told me that he had had a cancer of the prostate operation and that he was not in shape to travel to aix too bad he would have been great on this panel] meeting pierre chabert whose work I knew was a great pleasure but meeting edward beckett and becoming as we did during these days friends as we kept on talking about sam but also about golf it turns out that edward beckett is a fanatic golfer [and his wife too he told me when I told him that my wife is also a fanatic golfer] and we even talked about the possibility of he and his wife coming to san diego to pay golf with us that’s how close we became he’s such a gentle man [yes a gentle gentleman like sam] he looks so much like sam perhaps the face a bit less angular but same pale eyes same walk leaning forward a little we would sit together in the back of the room where the papers were delivered and once in a while exchange a conniving smile
I want to interrupt this a moment to mention before I forget the fabulous cezanne exhibition we saw [edward and I with my friend gaby hartel who came from berlin because she is also a beckettian scholar with a doctoral dissertation and two books on beckett and who wanted to do an itnerview with me for the berlin ration but that’s another story] I was told when I arrive in aix that it would be impossible to get a ticker for the cezanne exposition that it was booked months in advance and that you could only go at the date and time you were given when you ordered your ticket I was disappoint because this is supposed to be one of the best cezanne exposition 130 paintings of the region around aix-en-provence where cezanne was born and where he painted most of his work it so happened that this exposition coincided with the death of cezanne and the birth of beckett 1906 Edward Beckett and I were disappointed that we could not go see the exposition but during the second day we were introduced at lunch to a important person who had connections with the city authorities she told us to meet her at the museum and she would get us in front of the people waiting in line you should have seen the faces of the people waiting in line when edward beckett gaby hartel and the journalist from le monde who was to moderate the panel for which we had been invited were led into the museum it is a fabulous show I particularly appreciated the room with only aquarels and the paintings cezanne did in 1906 just before his death I looked at them very closely with my reading glasses and as I approached closer and closer the landscape would disappear and the painting would become pure abstraction almost life sam’s later work after that edward and I and my entourage stephanie and aleanor from les editions le mot et le reste went out for dinner in a highly recommended italian restaurant it was a great dinner and a great evening stephanie and aleanor drove back to marseille and edward and I walked back to the hotel where we were both staying edward asked me if I had one of my booksI could let him have he wanted to read what I write the only book I had was a copy of the poems future concentration I signed it and gave it to edward was touched that he asked me for one of my books did I mention that edward is a musician a flutist
but let’s move on to the evening when edward beckett pierre chabert raymond federman and the journalist from le monde sat in front of a packed audience in a large auditorium this thing must have been well advertised because besides the participants of the colloquium there were people of all ages and social status even madame the mayor of aix-en-provence was there and of course photographers and even the local television and we on the panel were directed by the journalist [who I must say had done his homework] to speak about our relationship with sam and with his work edward spoke first he told the audience that his father the brother of sam franck died when he was 11 and that sam became a father for him and he told a lot about how sam was kind and generous with him and how he played golf with sam and sam would always win the last golf game they had he said when sam was already in his 60s they stopped after 16 holes rather than finish not to know who would have won when my turn came to speak I mentioned that I lost my father when I was 13 and that I didn’t meet sam until 1963 when I was [let me calculate when I was 35] but I immediately considered him my spiritual father [and I believe sam knew it] after that I read some passages from le livre the same and the audience really laughed when I read the passage that describes how ludovic janvier and I played billiard with sam one evening after having had dinner together in paris of course erica was with us and we were all a bit paff as the french say and after game [which sam won of course] and we had dropped sam home [I was drivng a little german car] erica who was sitting in the back of the car said that sam was cheating how can sam cheat ludo and I scream sam doesn’t know how to cheat he did erica said I counted the number of points he was making 10 or 12 at a time but when he was marking the points with his queue on the wire with the little things that you move to keep score [that’s the best I can do with that in english] he would only mark 5 or 6 points he was cheating backward he could have crushed you in ten minutes well that’s the kind of stuff I told the people who came to listen to us and edward told other funny stories and chabert too especially how it was when he worked with sam on staging one of his plays at the end I was asked to read the poem that I had written about sam after I learned of his death and then pierre chabert without warning leaned into the microphone and recited by heart that marvelous passage in krapp’s last time when knapp remember how in a little rowboat drifting on the water he made love to the one he loved it was absolutely superb the way chabert recited that it was quite an evening when we got up from the panel the photographers rushed to take our pictures together and even madame the mayor of aix insisted on having her picture taken with us I suddenly felt like a real celebrity and almost burst into mad laughter edward winked at me as we pose for the photo well nothing much more I want to add about the beckett colloquium in aix-en-provence
DAY SEVENTEEN the same garrulous professor with the marseille accent picked me up at the hotel at 8:00 to drive me to the tgv which was leaving at 8:32 and three hours later I arrived at the charles de gaule airport with three to spare before my plane left for the states I had a good lunch bought some cans of pâté de foie gras and some fromage at the duty free shop and soon after that I boarded the plane I had a decent aisle seat and the two movies I watched x-men and some dumb comedy whose title I have forgotten made the trip rather pleasant even the meal which was served was half way decent well not the gourmet food I had had for the past 17 days but what the hell it’s not always easy to reinsert oneself into the unreality of american airline and america
there is more I could say about this TDF but I better stop here and let you ask questions should you want me to clarify or extemporize some of what I have reported.
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