I found a book by Georges Perec called Tentatived’épuisement d’un lieu Parisien, or An Attempt to Exhaust a Place in Paris. I like Perec very much. He loved word games and wrote crossword puzzles, and very often invented challenges for himself in his writing. In 1969 he wrote a book—La Disparition—in which the letter “e” does not appear. It was translated into English, also with no “e’s” but since the literal translation—The Disappearance—has three “e’s”, the English title is A Void. In 1972 Perec wrote Les Revenents, in which “e” is the only vowel in the book. Perec died of cancer in 1982 when he was only forty-six.
Between France and Marrakech is a route upon which travels a single bus from Paris. The bus reaches its destination safely, as one might hope and expect. Then the passengers who so desire transfer to another bus, which takes them by an established road to Agadir.
We are standing in front of Mark Rothko’s Black, Red Over Black on Red at the Centre Pompidou.
“I love Rothko,” says my companion. “I am not crazy about modern American art, but Rothko is different.” A painter himself, my companion is a talkative man behind whose frail body and white hair is an energetic, sometimes erratic mind. “Look,” he says, as he moves closer to the painting, the guard keeping a polite watch over us. “The way he has layered the painting—as if he were breathing it.”
In the Paris Métro last summer, heading to the Chatelet station on my way home after a wayward day, I caught the sound of a saxophone and that familiar melody from decades past, Sidney Bechet’s Petite Fleur. I could tell the music was coming from a source close by, perhaps only a few rows behind me. I froze, not knowing what to do as though I were in the grip of something large and timeless.
Reading Francine Prose’s new novel is a little like coming across a box of papers in a dusty attic that have been packed up together because they all, somehow, are connected to a certain person, and sifting through them one by one. Prose’s person of interest in Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932is Louisianne (“Lou”) Villars, an athlete and a lesbian, a cabaret club dancer and a racecar driver, a trailblazer for women and a spy, a woman who both aids the Nazis’ invasion of France and tortures members of the Resistance on their behalf. Because of this extraordinary set of exploits, and because Lou has been captured in a very famous photograph, someone is writing a biography of her, and the chapters of this biography form the heart of the novel. Interspersed with these chapters are writings of those whose lives cross hers, including the photographer of the famous photo and those in his inner circle. Many of the documents are contemporary with the action, which takes place between 1921, when Lou is ten years old, and 1944, when Lou is killed by the Resistance, though the most significant source, the biography of Lou, written by a woman named Nathalie, has been written more than half a century later.
It was early September, the air still balmy, the perfect weather for a Venetian escapade. Caterina and Pascal were sitting in a café across a canal divining their future, in a quiet campo off the beaten track, away from the tourists and the film crowd who had invaded the city for the festival. They sipped their frothy iced cappuccinos, basking in the sun, their eyes fixed on its refractions dotting the greenish canal with specks of glitter. They felt that for once things were beginning to look promising for both of them.