by Jon Raymond, April 30, 2012 2:09 PM
My final blog post is coming not from Paris, but from the town of Metz, about an hour and a half outside Paris, and scene of L’Ete du Livre, a book fair of literature and journalism. It feels slightly appropriate to sign off from here, the week my book, Rain Dragon
, comes out, because the town is known for a legendary dragon called “Graoully.” As myth has it, the town was long ago menaced by a giant snake and Saint Clement promised to help the villagers if they agreed to abandon their pagan gods for Christianity. They accepted the offer, and Saint Clement proceeded to tame the creature with the sign of the cross and cast him out into the river.
I can tell you, judging from the number of dragon sculptures, friezes, key chains, and t-shirts in this town, that the pagans didn't exactly keep their end of the bargain.
It's been a real pleasure blogging for Powell's, the greatest bookstore in the world. And as I head off in search of gifts for my girlfriend and kids (something better than the duty-free Toblerone I brought home last time), here are a few dragons from Metz:
by Jon Raymond, April 26, 2012 11:07 AM
I was hungover yesterday. I had a plan to check out the Musée d'Orsay, but it took a long time to actualize. First I had to do some blogging, find coffee, change my plan and check out the Pompidou Center instead, get repelled by the long line, walk in the rain over the river, watch some swans grooming themselves with their flopping, muscular necks, gobble down a croque-monsieur in a tourist diner before I fainted, and only then arrive at the entrance of the d'Orsay, which was of course swamped by its own giant, immobile line of tourists.
I got in eventually, though, and it was probably worth it. The d'Orsay is mostly devoted to 19th-century French art like Manet, Degas, Monet, etc., some of which is just college dorm fodder, and some of which is really, truly great. I won't bore you with my art historical opinions, but I will say this: as it turns out, if a painting's got some Velasquez in there, I'm generally into it. That cotton candy stuff, on the other hand, I can't get away from fast enough.
I walked back home because the weather had cleared, and by then it was time to meet some incoming American writers, Benjamin Percy, Tom Franklin, and Beth Ann Fennelly. They're in town for a book festival this weekend, and I'll be spending a lot of time with them over the next few days, I hope. We drank beers in an empty bar on the Rive Gauche and gossiped. I'd never met Tom and Beth Ann before, and they are hilarious and decent folks. So is Ben, and as you might have heard, he has a very deep voice.
Four beers later, I took the Metro back to the Pompidou to catch my friend Vanessa Renwick's screening of experimental films. The opening act was a band called Lovers, with a vaguely Eurythmics-y thing going on ? big voice and electronic pop ? and they went over great with the French. Vanessa's movies were also great. The main feature was Medusa Smack, a soothing meditation heavy on jellyfish, which are indeed beautiful creatures.
After that I went to hear some more Portland music at the main Keep Portland Weird venue, La Gaite Lyrique. It was hip hop night, featuring Slimkid3 and Lifesavas, and although the crowd was a bit light, people were dancing. I was tired and my calves ached from all the day's walking, but I swayed a little near the wall myself before heading back to my room and skyping with Emily while the baby
by Jon Raymond, April 25, 2012 10:11 AM
So, yesterday was the official kick-off of the Keep Portland Weird festival here in Paris, which meant that I had a reading/screening in the evening, while upstairs the first docket of bands played, including Street Nights, Michael Hurley, Rebecca Gates, and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. A great line-up.
The day started nicely. I woke up, blogged, and headed out onto the street, pondering the what and how of the night's reading. I had some good thoughts, walking along the Seine and staring at Notre Dame. I would talk about hot tubs, I decided. I just wrote a story that involves a hot tub, and the movie they were screening, Old Joy, based on an earlier story of mine, also has a hot tub. I could talk about the rise of hot tub culture on the West Coast, the suburbanization of the public bath, the idea of the hot tub as the site of middle-class debauchery, the very aporia (to throw around an old French theory word) of the Western bourgeois home. I could compare the hot tub to the American lawn, symbol of a lost agrarian past ? the hot tub as a symbol of our fantasied aboriginal roots. It would be funny. I had lots of ideas.
It didn't entirely occur to me that the audience would not speak English. Or maybe it did, but I figured, what the hell, I've come this far, I'll read for the people who understand me and the others will just have to wait until the movie with subtitles begins. It was only when one of the festival organizers mentioned there probably wouldn't be that many people at all that I realized I might have to revise my plan.
Sure enough, about eight people showed up. Maybe 13 if you counted my musician friends. I had a moment of indecision about whether to go ahead and do my whole patter and read the whole story ? a commitment of at least half an hour or so ? or whether it would be better to just go short and get out of the way. In the end, perhaps cowardly, I went short. I read the first few pages of my new book and wished the audience a pleasant screening, and the musicians and I headed upstairs for the rock show, already in progress. Had it only been a reading, and had the audience spoken English, I would certainly have played it differently, but as it was, facing eight French-speaking people in a movie theater under the banner of a music festival, I forsook my duties of showmanship.
It was a disappointment, to be sure, but far from my worst reading experience. The worst reading I've ever had, quantitatively, was at a Barnes and Noble in Eugene, Oregon. Not a single person showed up for that one, unless you count my friend Todd who drove the hour and a half to keep me company. I got a nice note from one of the cashiers a few weeks later saying she'd read my book out of pity and really liked it.
The second worst reading was at Elliot Bay in Seattle. There were two people at that reading, both only trying to escape the rain. I didn't bother reading anything there, either, but I did engage the pair in a discussion about writing. I found out that the man in the hoodie waiting for his bus was an author himself. He'd been working on the same screenplay for almost 50 years.
So, whatever. I've had good readings along the way, too. It's hard to pity yourself too much when someone's flown you all the way to Paris to deliver a five-minute spiel. The way I see it is: you can only be humiliated if you have
by Jon Raymond, April 24, 2012 10:58 AM
Some of my friends are probably getting sick of hearing me evangelize about the greatness of the late Don Carpenter
, but yesterday I took it to a whole new level by extolling him on national French radio.
I guess now is a good time to mention that I'm in Paris for the "Keep Portland Weird" festival, a week-long, multi-museum event devoted to the culture, mostly musical, of my (and Powell's) hometown. Apparently the festival happens every year, usually devoted to larger places like Berlin or Istanbul, but this time they've cast their gaze our way.
Don Carpenter is a writer with Portland roots. His first novel, Hard Rain Falling (1966), is currently one of my favorites. It's a book characterized on occasion as a crime or prison novel, and while that's true in a way, and the book does spend its share of pages in a world of petty crime, prostitution, pool halls, and prisons, it's really a work of much greater ambition than that. George Pelecanos calls it possibly "the most unheralded important American novel of the '60s," and that seems about right, what with its prescient take on issues of race, sex, class, labor, and human morality, and the emotional and psychological richness of its main character, a rage-filled orphan on a journey to fatherhood. It's a book of constant brutality and violence, but at heart it is an incredibly warm and affectionate read. If there is a characteristic Don Carpenter sentence it is, "I liked him." In Hard Rain Falling, for instance, after the main character Jack is beaten and arrested by cops, he ends the scene this way: "I felt glad. I really liked that cop. He told me the truth, that cop did, and I really liked him for it. I wanted to reach out and kiss him, or at least shake his hand. He was a good cop." That's Don Carpenter all over the place.
Hard Rain Falling is his only book currently in print in America (thank you New York Review of Books) and it has just been translated into French. So yesterday I went on the radio with the French translator, Celine Leroy, and former Portland-based musician, the endlessly talented Tara Jane O'Neill. It was a funny show. Celine has a paralyzed vocal chord and I don't speak French, so the technical challenges were kind of daunting, but somehow they orchestrated a pretty fluid conversation, I think, greased by the dulcet tunes of Tara Jane. I'm told the publication of Hard Rain Falling (Sale Temps four les Braves in French) landed front-page review coverage in Le Monde.
Do you hear that America? How about someone getting Class of '49 back into print now? Or From a Distant Place? Or Blade of Light? Let's get Mr. Carpenter back on the shelves.
Or onto the Kindle, or whatever people are using these
by Jon Raymond, April 23, 2012 10:12 AM
My book, Rain Dragon
, officially appears on shelves this week, but I'm skipping town for Paris. I'll explain why in a later post, but for the moment, sitting in the airport, my mind is on 1992, and the college semester I spent studying art history in the City of Light.
I lived in a minuscule chambre de bonne (absurdly) just off the Champs-Élysées. The room had a bed, a hot plate, a desk, and a window that if you craned your head offered a slivered glimpse of a statue of Balzac on the street below. A cement catwalk led through the open air to a bathroom where you could crane your head and catch sight of Montmartre. Did I mention the room was extremely small? Standing in the middle of the floor, I could touch all the walls, and what little space was leftover from the furniture was dominated by the shower. It was this plastic pod thing, a cylindrical isolation tank with a moldy curtain, literally two feet from my bed. Part of the deal was that some Spanish student downstairs had access to the shower, too, and could come into my room at any hour to bathe. Often, he wasn't very careful, and he'd splash water onto whatever I had out on my desk, including the little collages I was making at the time, which greatly pissed me off.
A few stray memories from 20 years ago: The Botero sculptures infesting the whole city for the season; how I shaved my head and wore a G. G. Allin sticker as some kind of joke; a secret entrance to the Musée d'Orsay that turned it into my favorite museum in town; the mayonnaise/green pea sandwich on a baguette that I made for myself daily.
Mainly, though, my memory of Paris at age 21 involves being just incredibly, overflowingly happy. I'd never lived in a proper city before, and the anonymity, quadrupled by the language barrier, was intoxicating. It was like no one could see me. And the classes, such as they were, demanded almost no work, which meant I could just walk around in the middle of the night, hopping Metro turnstiles, fancying myself a true, French flâneur. I had dinner with someone who claimed to be a former lover of Jean Genet. I was menaced on a houseboat by an American who claimed Peter Gabriel was the greatest composer of the 20th century.
My ultimate image of those months, though, is sitting huddled in my little room, extremely high, poring over a book about Pop Art I'd bought on the street. I was probably listening to Beat Happening on my Walkman, and it was exactly then, turning those glossy pages, that I decided, yes, I want to do this. I want to make art in this life. I might fail miserably but I will regret it my whole life if I don't at least