Paris: May 1952

And now as if the cleaning and the scrubbing and the scything and the mowing
had drowned it there rose that half-heard melody, that intermittent music which
the ear half catches but lets fall...
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

I shall go to... somewhere. Who said that? To Paris. To see what is left on the ground of the 1950 paradiso. Not much, probably. When the first noses arrived in 1948 (I set aside Wright and Shaw and any soldiers who stayed on, NATO people, diplomats and so forth) what they found was the physical remains of 1920, a little crumbled by poverty and neglect, a little battered, but otherwise intact. It was easy to make one's way direct from the Gare Saint-Lazare (is that where one emerges from Le Havre?) to the Place Saint Germain, plunk down at a table in the Café Flore (if a vacant one can be found among all the other tourists) and imagine oneself to be Hemingway (probably) or Dos Passos or somebody. It was possible to find a beat-up room in some recess on the rue Jacob or the rue Vaugirard, preferably without plumbing or running water, preferably with a colorful (and hopefully fearsome) concièrge and a dark and noisome stairwell, and imagine the marvellous words that are going to bubble up from the bottom of this thick soup to spatter another layer on the venerable walls.
   But probably not now. Too much Gucci and Armani and Urban Outfitters. Too much urban renewal: in the decade after 1955 over a quarter of the buildable surface of Paris was remade.
   It would be difficult to prove, despite some testimony by ogle-eyed Styrons hoping to relive, for a couple of months or a Guggenheim year, the glorious Paris past or (better) to remake it with new Hemingways -- to prove that the little fifties bubble was at bottom just a nostalgic burp, but for anyone who felt they had missed out the first time it would have been relatively easy to walk the streets and sit on the café terraces and pretend.
   Not now.
   There is, nevertheless, work to do. It is much easier to imagine what the problems with traffic and street noise were if one has walked through Carrefour de Croix Rouge and seen how big it is, how the cars circulate, has heard how the buildings contain or amplify the sound. Are there still whores on the rue de la Huchette? How long would it take to walk from the Ile St Louis or the rue de Tournon to the rue du Sabot or the Hôtel Verneuil? How thick on the ground were public toilets, water fountains, telephones, cinemas? How big, really, is a theater with 90 seats and twenty square meters of stage?
   Of course, one walks the streets and pretends what one likes. The Carrefour de Croix Rouge did not seem especially cacaphonous to me but I'm used to Los Angeles and New York, whereas the French of 1952 were used to gas rationing and an occasional putt-putt. How big is a 90 seats when you go to baseball games indoors?
   It is impossible to reconstruct how it was at the time because the core material of the culture, the tacit knowledge which we possess of it as native speakers, is largely inscrutable and unarticulated. In theory it might be possible to reconstruct it by hermeneutical procedures, by deep reading of source texts, if it weren't that the inquirers own concepts and values will vitiate his understanding. Well maybe we could allow for that somehow? And meanwhile they've renovated some more buildings on the rue de Vaugirard and Ferlinghetti has died and its too late to ask him again about number 89. It didn't look so bad to me from the street, fifty years later. My apartment at home is vermin-infested, too, and costs a good deal more than $26 a year. About a hundred times that, actually, complete with the whores next door. I might as well be living on the rue de la Huchette, but it isn't as quaint as in Elliot Paul's novels.
   The romance that one might be able to reconstruct the past as lived, or even remember it accurately, is the origin of nostalgia. Maybe for me it's harder to believe in the Paris of 1952 than it was for Jane Lougee to believe in the Paris of 1922 just because there's so much less of it left to see. But, quaint is as quaint does. The simplest stories are the one most out of reach.
   And then, there was more than one scene here, adhering to crowds divided from each other by age, class, and language. The French youth scene, built around jazz and the beat life of the cellar clubs, was past its prime by 1950 when the expat youth scene was just getting started. The French establishment, the old blood of Gide and Cocteau and the new of Sartre, Bataille, and the rest, began to morph in 1953 when the hegemony of Les Temps modernes began to decline, by which time the foreign establishment (Capote, Zanuck and that crowd), which had only dropped in for drinks anyway, had long before got back on the airplane -- or gone home chez Flanner or Shaw, or died (McCullers et al), or like Kay Boyle been persecuted into obscurity. There was very little crossover. Many little Parees inside the bigger one. Not to speak of the ghosts of paradisos past and future, here or elsewhere, which haunt a particular building or corner perhaps, or hang about like those old miasmas. (It won't do to invoke the contemporary equivalent image of pollution, which is a different thing entirely.)
   Pick a time -- say late winter, the first months of 1953. The expat youth scene is ripe and beginning to decay. The Zero people and others had decamped now three years ago for the hashish and sex in Tunisia, and New-Story is packing up for New York. Points died last year. Ferlinghetti has gone home to the Beat scene in North Beach. The Merlin people are bringing out a second issue, though, with some stuff by Beckett, and are at the height of their powers. And the Paris Review is coming together around some people with businesslike aspirations, a Plon connection, and snobby tastes, determined not to be marginalized.
   Go back a year, to the spring of 1952. Let's walk around the Left Bank and see what's there.
   I envision an itinerary, a walking tour such as one finds in guidebooks, this being a specialized one like maybe a Jugendstyle tour of Vienna. There's a geographical framework. The necessity of the embodied foot takes us from place to place along a path which is determined by the fact that if you are going to go from the rue Jacob (Editions Merlin) to the rue Neslé (Olympia Press) you are going to go past the Café des Assassins and the Club Tabou, and you could hit the English Bookshop with a little detour up the rue de Seine, but you are going to miss the editorial meetings on the rue Sabot. Conversely, if you decide to meet at the Café Tournon... You get the idea. An itinerary will supersede a more topical organization. It will inhibit the plot.
   So we will walk about, stopping here and there to speculate on various topics suggested by the time and place, so that a tourist's hyper-awareness of a simultaneous passage through geographical, social, and temporal spaces encloses the simple act of walking about. And since the plan is infinitely extensible -- the laws of hiwatt ensure that there are always more details to learn about how it was -- the result will be to suppress the story, along with any transcendental or teleological atavism, in favor of narrative. A first attempt at making good the promise of the first orbit.
   It doesn't take long, however, plotting places on a map, to work out that a whole itinerary is going to be quite an undertaking. A book, in fact. It won't fit. There are fifty-some route stops, several thousand people and places, a couple of hundred streets, major articles on jazz, the pocket theater, and so forth, and dozens of little ones on pissoirs, the difference between a garçonnière and an apartment, how big a coin to leave in the saucer if you are called to the phone in a café, and lessons in argot from the bartender at the Club Saint-Germain. A month's casual poking about in sources turns up two hundred-some photographs of street scenes, not counting portraits. And a visit to my travel shelves for books on Paris reminds me of all the other books I want to re-read -- on the Mogreb, the Black Sea, hunting for tea in China, the Lewis and Clark journals which I am going to have to look at again for the next leg on Indians and the invention of the West...
   What to do?
   I consult the Arcades Project for advice. Dip into the Sea of Paris at some spot, Benjamin tells me, and see what the net brings up. It's a test. You can write the book later.
   We're looking for evidence of nostalgia. It's some thesis about the fifties being a nostalgic recrudescence... no -- we put that aside earlier. Probably it was. Some people said it was. Probably there would have been no expat scene after the war if it hadn't been for all the previous Paris paradisos of the twenties, the cubists, the Impressionists, the Romantics. Maybe the only person to go to Paris without any nostalgic motivation was Caesar. But that's all inscrutable, and I am not going to cure my nostalgia by means of some feeble tour of the ruins of one of the greatest scenes of nostalgia of all time.
   So I tell myself.
   Allons, as Rick Steves would say.

Route stop 9

From the Café Flore south about 300 meters to the rue de Vieux Colombier is a neighborhood of Merlin people. Cross the Boulevard Saint-Germain (the traffic island in the center is a tiny place named after Sartre and Beauvoir) and turn right a block to the entrance of the Rue du Dragon. [pic1] [pic2] [note1]

About halfway along the rue du Dragon, turn left into the rue Bernard-Palissy. [note2] [pic3] Keep to the right at the intersection. This will take you to the head of the rue du Sabot. [note3] There was a restaurant here in the early fifties, Chez Francis, characterized by Vian as sympathique, and there still is a little neighborhood place which contrasts with the more upscale eateries in the vicinity.

Down at the other end of the rue du Sabot, at number 8 on the right side as you aproach the intersection with the rue de Rennes and the rue du Four, now a Japanese restaurant, was at the time a building in which Richard Seaver lived and where issues of Merlin were produced. [pic4] [pic5] [pic6]

Cronin says that Seaver's room was behind an antique shop, which would have occupied the rez-de-chaussée. Seaver in a later interview called this place a "warehouse." It's hard to tell now what that might mean, but around my apartment in Belleville, out by Père Lachaise, there were buildings of that sort, selling bulk rice and so forth out of an open street level with living floors above. Presumably Seaver meant a disused warehouse. [note4]

Cross the intersection into the rue de Rennes [pic7] [note5] [note6] to the rue du Vieux Colombier. The second Rose Rouge, which we passed earlier at route stop two, was a short distance ahead, beyond the intersection at n76, where there is now a cinema. [pic8] [note7] The first Rose Rouge was at route stop 42. [note8]

Backtrack along the rue du Vieux Colombier to the head of the rue Bonaparte at the northwest corner of the Place Saint-Sulpice.


The magazine's politics were radical left. The fact that Merlin and Points had already occupied the niches of experimental and political writing was, if you believe Matthiessen, the reason why the Paris Review was positioned in the mainstream. Whereas it seems to me that the inclination to evaluate niches and markets in the first place has already positioned you. But perhaps I'm harsh. The Merlin people certainly wanted their magazine to succeed. Jane hawked it in the cafés and train stations with Fuki on her shoulder. Partly eccentric theater, living the life, but that was the magazine, too, wasn't it? Trocchi had emigrated from Glasgow because the provincial Glaswegians were not hip to existentialism, which I suppose makes Trocchi one of those zillions of Sartre groupies which Samedi Soir had satirized years earlier. Well, but it was a French philosophy after all, so it's hardly surprising the French were there first. (See workpoints.)

Besides, that's what you did at the time. You had something to say, you were an intellectual, you started a magazine. The Paris Review, like Les Beaux Jours in Simone de Beauvoir's Les Mandarins, belonged to a different social as well as political and economic class. Beaux-jours people are not engag‚. Beaux-jours people interview other writers about their methods, not their neuroses or their politics.

Points had been the first of the post-war English-language literary magazines in Paris, begin in early 1949 by Sindbad Vail, a native Frenchman but the son of Peggy Guggenheim and so natively bi-cultural. Zero followed close on in the spring of that year, its first issue edited from 29 rue Jacob but thereafter packed off to the Tangier scene with Bowles, where Ginsberg and Burroughs would visit a decade later.

New-Story started up in March 1951, about the time Points was fading, at 29 Place Dauphine near the old club Tabou. This was published in New York by Gargoyle and edited in Paris by David Burnett, the son of Martha Foley. This one didn't move as far as Tangier before its second issue, only to 6 Boulevard Poissonnière on the lower border of Montmartre, behind the Bourse.

So on May 15th, 1952, when Merlin published its first 53 pages, there was already a tradition. [note9]

In the autumn of 1952, Alice Jane Lougee of Limerick, Maine, became the publisher of Merlin. But she'd been in it from the first: it was she who'd suggested the idea of a magazine the year before, and it may have been the first issue which she financed by the sale of her car in Maine. The $100 a month she was getting for living expenses from her father went to help support Trocchi's wife in England. Two years and five issues. The leftovers were collected and financed by Olympia Press in the summer of 1955, but by that time it was all over and everyone had gone. When the Paris Review started up in the spring of 1953 it was the end of the line, and soon enough it was in New York.

An issue of Merlin cost £430 to produce. This would be 413,000 francs or somewhere around $1000 in paradiso money, almost a year's living expenses -- about $7600 in 1995 dollars but $32,000 in purchasing power, going by the rule of thumb that things cost then about one-fourth of what they do now. If Jane had contributed her whole stipend she would have made up about half what was needed. Without information on print run I can't say what sales might have contributed, but there seems to be a shortfall of $500 a year or so in the business plan (hence the car was sold), and then somehow Jane's rent in the bed-sit on the rue de Verneuil still had to be paid, so she worked as a charwoman beginning in 1953 for a thousand francs a week ($10 a month), and then as a tutor to military children. The guys did the writing and got the publicity, but this thing was Jane's idea and it was carried on Jane's shoulders.

Sylvia Beach doesn't say what it cost to produce the first edition of Ulysses, but the sales value was 185,000 francs. At the time, 5000 francs a year was enough for a bourgeois life, and the sales value of the book was about a million and a half in current buying power. About the same as five issues of Merlin.

In addition to being hawked around, the magazine was sold at Gaïte Frogé's English Bookshop in the rue de Seine, an atelier and gallery district in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés near the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (route stop 12) and at George Whitman's Librarie Mistral in the Latin Quarter (route stop 24). All the four central Merlin people were noses, present in Paris by the summer of 1951, Trocchi for a year at that point and Richard Seaver for two. Seaver was said (in the credits to the second issue) to be working for a French film company. Trocchi was an ideologue attracted by French thought and oppressed at home. Christopher Logue seems to have been the classic bohemian poet, not unsurprisingly found in Paris. Lougee is more of a puzzle. Subsidized by her father, living in middle-class Auteuil and working as a secretary, she must have had some prior experience of France and command of the language, most probably as a child before the war. But she also seems, as with Sylvia Beach seeking out avant-garde French authors in Adrienne Monnier's bookshop, an agenda of her own, and as soon as she found an entry into the bohemian artistic life she was really after, she took it. But it was a youthful fling -- when the bloom was off the life she went home again, like so many others.

Alexander Trocchi went to Paris from Glasgow with his wife Betty in the summer 1950. Seaver says he met him at the Deux Magots after having published a piece in Points; in another place it was his contacts with Patrick Bowles which led him to Trocchi, which suggests some time in 1951. Trocchi and Logue met that summer, on the stairs of a "run-down hotel in the rue de la Huchette" after returning from the Pyrenees. Patrick Bowles was a young South African, probably also resident by this time. (Bowles was also the main contact with Samuel Beckett, through Jerome Lindon, the editor of Editions de Minuit.) Then in the fall of 1951 Trocchi's wife settled in Newcastle and Trocchi returned to Paris with all the elements in place for a new life. When he met Jane Lougee (she remembers autumn 1951, he said at an art exhibition in January 1952) she said she'd fund the magazine and they were off.

The last major player was Austryn Wainhouse, who had appeared by the third issue (Winter 1952/1953). Wainhouse was an American poet, married (his wife Muffy appears in the Café de Tournon photograph), and working at the time on a translation of Sade. This is how the connection was made, because Maurice Girodias's father Jack Kahane had asked Samuel Beckett to translated Sade for Olympia Press in 1938. Through Wainhouse's introduction, Girodias put money into Merlin (eventually taking it over) and thus with it inadvertantly acquired Beckett's Watt. Wainhouse was sought out by Trocchi through the Librarie Mistral.

Then it was over. Lougee sailed for New York August 10th, 1954, and by December she was married to one Gordon Griscom. Seaver and Wainhouse left the following year, and Trocchi in April of 1956. (I don't know what happened to Logue.)

Among others sometimes associated with Merlin, Terry Southern (not counting Beckett) had been there before them all, since September of 1948. He met Trocchi, he says, in the Café Florian. The date is uncertain, but since this was after the Paris Review had started (Trocchi had gotten Southern's address at the time, in a hotel on the Place de la Concorde, from George Plimpton) this was probably not until 1953. Southern left Paris that year.

Alfred Chester went to Paris in the summer of 1950 and stayed until 1963, but after the first issue his associations were elsewhere. Chester appears in the Café de Tournon photograph. Henry Charles Hatcher appeared in the first three issues but was he ever in Paris? Likewise Burford went home after his Fullbright year. Ernst Fuchs, reviewed by Lougee in n4 (Summer 1953) as a young Viennese painter living in Paris -- he had been one of the community of artists Trocchi knew in 1950 and 1951 before starting the magazine, when Betty was with him -- hints at another, entirely different circle of friends, perhaps the ones whose exhibition drew Trocchi and Lougee together.

Others, only names to me: John P Marquand Jr (writing as John Phillips), John Coleman (the business manager for n5, Autumn 1953), John Stevenson (the business manager for n6, Autumn 1954) and W Baird Bryant (who first appears as an associate editor in 1954). [pic17]

The best thing which Merlin did was to print Beckett. Seaver had begun this almost before there was a magazine, in the winter of 1951 after reading Molloy. En attendant Godot was yet unproduced and getting hold of Beckett was the first hard job. But the word was on the street, and Seaver's article (just about the first in English) appeared in number two, and they wrote some letters, finally and in the late fall Beckett showed up in Seaver's room with the manuscript of Watt, which he had given up thought of selling to anyone.. This was also where Wainhouse and Girodias came in, Girodias being the essential French partner required by the government for foreign publishing ventures, and Collection Merlin the new imprint needed to reassure Beckett, who had no wish to associate with a pornographer. Watt appeared in 1953 follwing on the success of Godot, which somewhat overshadowed it (an Ionesco's The Chairs, also). They sold two thousand copies.

The Merlin folk in their dealings with Beckett are portrayed as bouncy and exuberent kids surrounding him like a pack of pups. Beckett was a shy, kindly man. The image does them credit.

Although nothing is said, I have the impression that the attitude of the Paris Review people was not especially warm. Peter Matthiessen, before he roped Plimpton into the project from Cambridge, had applied to be the London distributor of Merlin and been turned down. Given Matthiessen's CIA money and State Department connections (Plimpton lived at first in the tool shed of a house loaned to some other people by the diplomatic corps) a pairing with Trocchi seems not very workable, anyway. But as the magazines were by that time the only two players, they rubbed along. There is a group portrait taken outside the Café de Tournon (see route stop 45), which was a Paris Review hangout near where a number of them lived -- Roditi, Garrigue, Kunitz and Broughton in the Hôtel Helvetia, Styron and Matthiessen to the south in Montparnasse. (Plimpton lived more upscale in the Hôtel Pont Royal.) [pic18] [pic19] Inspecting the credits supplied by Plimpton one finds Merlin characterized as short-lived (and hence clearly less important) and it's publisher's name mis-spelled as "Logue" while Seaver's subsequent standing requires him to be here merely "associated" with the magazine. Trocchi isn't present. Fuki isn't noticed.

Living conditions are one of the hardest things to imagine about other times. One tours some grand palace in Vienna or rural England or somewhere and has it pointed out the corner where, among the frescos and faience, the befrocked men went to piss on the floor. I never know what to make of such stories. So Ferlinghetti decides in 1948 to move out of his chambre en famille for something a little cheaper. A few years later Mason Hoffenberg and his wife Elie Fauré, an art historian working for the U.N., are living with their child it would seem en bourgeois a little to the south in the rue Henri Barbusse. [pic9] [pic10] Ferlinghetti's place is unheated and they have to keep a stewpot going all winter for warmth -- what? on a campfire on the floor? -- my first apartment in Oregon was like that -- whereas Hoffenberg's concièrge presumably didn't lock him out if he came home after ten o'clock. You can't tell for looking from the street. When Jane Lougee showed up in late 1950 with $100 a month from her father she moved into the rue Leconte de Lisle in Auteuil [pic11] and started work as a secretary. Pretty quiet, pretty nice. Pretty soon she's moved to Saint Germain to a "one-star bedsit" Southern called it, the Hôtel Verneuil. [pic12] [pic13] Looks all right to me. (One star meant only that the toilet and bath were shared, and there might not be a sink, not that it was a dump.) Trocchi says he met Christopher Logue in the stairwell of a run-down hotel in the rue de la Huchette. Cadaverous man in a dirty duffle coat. Probably smelled bad, both of them. All hôtels seem to be run-down. Paris was run-down. People were trying to get by. Rationing ended four years ago but the economy sputters. Cazalis and Gréco lived in the Hôtel Louisiane in 1948 [pic14] [pic15] [pic16] where Simone de Beauvoir had lived five years earlier. In French novels of the time you hear complaints about the grayness of life but also casual remarks about sitting on a street bench on a warm evening while the good sound of jazz floats up from below. What's squalor? Apart from a necessary component of starving artists' lives, that is.

And then of course there is the inscrutable component of actually living there. Not visiting, gawking. Not stopping by for a few months before moving on to the Midi. It's the people who live there who are annoyed when an all-night pharmacy is replaced by a Versace store. It's the people who have to make ends meet who take the places with no elevator and a stopped-up toilet.

The three shops

Near the Place Maubert, at the spot where every morning early I wait for the bus, three shops stand side by side: Jewelry, Wood and Coal, Butcher. Contemplating each in turn, I observe the demeanor of the coal, the firewood, the cuts of meat.

We won't pause at the metals, which are only the result of an act of violence or dispersion by humans on mud or certain conglomerates which in themselves never had such intentions; nor by precious stones, whose rarity only warrants on their behalf a few well-chosen words in a discourse on nature justly fashioned.

As for meat, palpitations at the sight of it, a sort of horror or fellow feeling, obliges me to the greatest circumspection. Freshly cut, moreover, generating out of itself a veil of steam or smoke to hide from those same eyes which want to estabish what properly speaking is cynicism: I have said all that I dare when I have attracted the attention, for a moment, to its panting face.

But the contemplation of wood and coal is a source of glee which comes as easily as it is sober and steady, which I would be willing to share out. Without doubt it would require many pages, when I have available here not half of one. It is because of this limitation that I propose to you these subjects for meditation: First, time constrained to a particular course always revenges itself in death. Second, brown, because brown lies between green and black on the road to carbonization, that destiny which for wood is still a possibility -- at a minimum -- is an intimation, that is to say a mistake, a mis-step, and every possible misunderstanding.

Francis Ponge, Le parti pris des choses. Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1942.

The Place Maubert is at route stop 24.

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