Breakfast, chez moi. Strong coffee with hot milk, two or three delicious warm croissants with sweet butter, and a touch of jam. And with the breakfast a snatch of Sergovia. ¶ Belching a little, picking my teeth, my fingers tingling, I take a quick look around (as if to see if everything’s in order!), lock the door and plunk myself in front of the machine. Set to go. My brain afire. — Henry Miller talking about a morning in Villa Seurat, A Devil in Paradise
Leaving the Metro Alésia I pause at the top of the stairs to buy a flan natur at Boulangerie Noblet for my breakfast. As I walk, I nibble. I’ve already had my bowl of strong coffee with hot milk this morning before leaving the apartment on the other side of Paris.
Turning onto Rue de la Tombe-Issoire, and walking through the small cluster of shops – a boucherie, an alimentaire, the cafe, the restaurant, shops that are usually found at such intersections in Paris – I finally make my way to Rue de Villa Seurat. The short dead-end street is made of old cobblestones that bump under my feet. This street is also full of color. The kind of color that you can find only on hidden dead-end little streets like this in Paris, a kind of almost illegal color in Paris – Provençal yellow, blue, and real white, not off-white, not grey, not the ever-present gris of everything else in Paris. The air here is cool in the early morning light of spring.
I am not here to pay homage to Georges Seurat, the painter, even though that would be a noble enough gesture from one such as me. Instead, finding myself standing outside of Number 18, I look up to see Henry Miller, taking one last look out of the window, down onto the street, as he readies himself for a day filled with the rapid torrent of words and ideas and memories that he will soon unleash. I see him there as if time were not an issue between us. I see not the ghost, but the man, in black and white and then full color, as he turns to his Remington and begins …
Time has never been an issue for Henry and me. The words, the thoughts, the ideas, the streams of consciousness in his books reach through time, telling me of places I have already been, telling me about thoughts that I’ve already had, teaching me about things that I already know, confirming my experiences in the process.
Here at Villa Seurat, Miller moved in on the day that Tropic of Cancer was published and here he wrote his Capricorn and his Aller et Retour. Here at Villa Seurat he found inspiration. He entertained friends – his astrologer Conrad Moricand, photographer Brassai, Anais Nin, his wife June and the ghost of Rimbaud. He drank, he ate, he wrote, he screwed, he hungover, and here he lived for three years.
* * Later * *
Back at the apartment I pull a book out of my bag that I had found earlier in the afternoon in a bookshop in The Marais. A 2€ copy of Rimbaud’s poetry, all in French. Henry Miller discovered Rimbaud when he was in his 40s, after his arrival in Paris. It made sense to me that to connect with Henry, I must read Rimbaud while in Paris. I plunk down on the couch next to my friend and tell her that I am about to improve my French by reading Rimbaud. She chuckles and says, ‘It’s not that easy, learning French through Rimbaud.’
So I read aloud. ‘A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu : Voyelles. What is so difficult about that?’, I ask aloud. She chuckles even more. I continue. Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes : A, noir corset velu des mouches éclatantes Qui bombinent autour Des puanteurs cruelles … I read Rimbaud as if he were my best friend. And Henry smiles.
* * One Day * *
I had to travel, to dissipate the enchantments that crowded my brain. – Rimbaud
I walk the streets of Paris, following in the footsteps of all who came before me, even myself. The enchanted streets of Henry Miller are no longer here. The names, the places, the views, oh yes they all remain, but the essence of Henry’s Paris is gone. I walk through the Place du Clichy, through Montparnasse, down Boulevard Saint-Germain. The things that Miller so loved here were things that were volatile, changeable, malleable … replaceable. The smells, the people, the drink, the whores, the food, the energy of the city. I search for them and him and see hints of the past, but to be in Paris today is to be in a modern city, a time into which Miller had planted only one foot.
* * Another Day * *
On the night before I was to leave Paris, my friend and I were walking down a street in the 9th arrondissement, on our way to dinner at the home of a friend.
She asks what I thought of my most recent stay in Paris and I say:
Je deteste Paris, J’aime Paris,
J’adore mes jours ici, Je haite mes jours ici,
J’habite ici, Je ne pourrais jamais habiter ici,
Il n’y pas moyen,
Blanche et Noir,
pas des gris,
le gris de Paris …
My ode to Rimbaud and Miller rolled off my lips as if another, more practiced poet were speaking the words. Each and every one of my stays in Paris leaves me with a different sense of the city, with a different sense of what my place is in Paris. My friend laughed, leaned in my direction and said, ‘Don’t worry, you will come back.’
All that remains of my presence in the studio at the Villa Seurat is my natal chart done in chalk on the wall facing the door. It’s for whomever takes over to ponder on. — Henry Miller, A Devil in Paradise