Tuesday, November 07, 2006


I remember KGB Christopher, my flatmate at Shakespeare and Company in Paris, the only one I could stand because he wasn’t trying to make me or not-make me and he wasn’t in his 20s, he was up for intelligent chatter and going out to tea. That was mostly what I wanted out of people in Paris, in between my writing days (hours)-—chatter and going out to tea or sunset walks or sometimes omelettes, though tea alone was sometimes an extravagance.

Living upstairs at Shakespeare and Company there were no writing days for me, because I’m not a cafe writer but a home-in-bed writer, and that was frowned upon, by George who owned the bookstore and by the roaches who shared my bed. In the early days at Shakespeare and Company, I was lonely and wondering which cliff I had just jumped off, the right one or the wrong one, and so there was KGB Christopher (who arrived the day after I did) and tea.

I remember KGB Christopher because he had a specific story that was impossible to believe and yet he stuck to it pretty closely every time I heard him repeat it. Him: In his late 30s/ early 40s, slight British accent maybe even mixed with American, also stuttered and mumbled, and looked down into his tea a lot. He had a shaggy sort of goatee-beard and wire-rimmed spectacles, he dressed in wrinkled brown courduroy blazers. His story: He was married to a woman in Japan where he was an Art History (?) professor; he’d left her and the (two?) children for what ostensible reason I can’t recall; he grew up in London but his father whom he’d never met was American; after Japan he was headed for Copenhagen, where he was going to give a talk on Historiography; he was to stop by Estonia where he was helping design a new high-end cell phone with two prominent Industrial Designers; he needed to sojourn in Moscow where he had an office and co-headed a non-profit institute with a business partner; before Paris he had naturally stayed awhile with his mistress, a Greek stewardess who had a farm with goats in Tuscany; in Paris he was just passing through, looking for a place where he could pause and write his speech (maybe tomorrow); perhaps he was going to see his mother in London or seek his father in Kansas before even thinking about returning to Japan; last I heard he was in Paris for months or years.

I remember the day I decided to leave the flat above Shakespeare and Company, with its student lodgers lining the walls of the second floor library and George in his studio full of blue cheese and first editions and me and Christopher on the fourth floor, Christopher in the bunk bed and me and the cat in the double bed where Henry Miller spent some honeymoon. Only, the gods of Paris or my body had different plans, and the fries from the Greek place on the crowded street of restaurants I called “little New York” gave me a food poisoning that cleaned me out from every angle. I stayed in that flat with Christopher one more day, which now I remember was Valentine’s Day. I remember that in between losing my Greek fries from the upright position and the seated one (thank George for the American toilet installed into that flat, the second floor kids had to use the Turkish one in the hallway), and KGB Christopher making sure to spray everything with Lysol, and KGB Christopher acting even more nervous than usual around the sick girl, and KGB Christopher asking politely would I like anything, and me telling him Yes could he please get me some Orangina and handing him a Franc, and KGB Christopher not getting me anything until after he had come and gone from the building four separate times, and KGB Christopher asking me every time politely would you like anything, and me repeating every time Yes could you get me some Orangina please, and me getting notions that KGB Christopher had perhaps poisoned me, and me taking note of the fact that I was in the farthest room in the bookstore and that no one would pass me by, and me getting paranoid that KGB Christopher was not remotely capable of ‘commnication’ in the sense of the word that mattered in these hours, and me getting quite thoroughly paranoid that KGB Christopher and whether he got me the Orangina or not was the difference between whether I lived or died....in between all of this, I staggered once to the front of the flat and looked out at the Seine, which was crowded with kissing couples, three to every bench.

A few days later the Seine flooded above the level of those benches, and remained so for two months of rain, and it was only as I was leaving the city for the last time that I saw those banks again.


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