Imaginary people (01)
and real places
A few year’s ago a friend gave me Mary Ellen Jordan Haight’s “Walks In Gertrude’s Paris” which I carried around for months marking off the homes and haunts of the famous and infamous as I found them. Of late, I’ve moved form seeking out the homes of actual people to making detours to locate the residences of characters from books (perhaps I have too much time on my hands). I’m currently immersed in Patrick Modiano’s “Romans” (Éditions Gallimard, 2013). After reading five of the novellas, I feel comfortable saying that cities (often Paris) are as much a presence in the stories as the actual living, breathing characters. Place is what gives the meandering, plotless novellas substance. That is not meant as criticism, but without Modiano’s descriptions of places (interiors, exteriors, streets, gardens, stairwells) I would get lost in the layers of memory and regret. Some of the places remain just as he describes them, others had already disappeared when Modiano wrote about them thirty years ago.
This morning I finished “Dans le café de la jeunesse perdue*” which prompted an evening stroll past two of the places where the central character: Jacqueline Choureau, née Jacqueline Delanque, dit Louki briefly lived.
Louki resided first at 16 rue Fermat** and then around the corner at 8 rue Cels. In the novella, 8 rue Cels is the Hotel Savoie but, as I write, 8 rue Cels is a well-kept apartment building while a Hotel Savoy*** is located at 16 rue Fermat. Why the switcheroo?
In a touch of serendipity, I had wandered down the very short rue Cels two years ago looking for Alexander Calder’s studio. In 1927, Calder’s studio was located on the ground floor of 7 rue Cels, just opposite 8 rue Cels. The real Calder and the fictional Louki lived on the street decades apart so would never have crossed paths. And Louki, not being terribly worldly, would probably not have heard of the, by her time, quite famous Calder.
*The novella begins with this sentence: Des deux entrées du café, elle empruntait toujours la plus étroite, celle qu’on appelait la porte de l’ombre. (Of the two café entrances, she always took the narrower one, the one we called the door of shadows.)
**Rue Fermat is named for lawyer and mathematician Pierre de Fermat (17August 1601 or 1607 – 12 January 1665).
***I don’t think the Hotel Savoy has changed much since Louki’s time. Beside the entrance a sign reads: Tout confort (Douche. WC. TV).