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 try.