SA4QE 2013 - Oliver Newman - Paris, France
Paris, this year, is the setting of my SA4QE’s unfolding. After aborting my projected mission to replace the Mona Lisa with a sheet of yellow A4 for fear of being too predictable and giving the punters a spectacle more substantial than their greedy devices deserved (also realising that this would in fact mean stealing not only a Renaissance masterpiece but also I think an already acted-upon idea from 1997 redolent of Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean), I rose early to collect my paper and go to the printing shop down the road. After breakfast with tea in my yellow mug I made the startling discovery that my landlord keeps an entire space dedicated to a seemingly bottomless reserve of yellow A4 paper in his workshop adjoining his studio. I had anticipated using a quotation from Kleinzeit for this year’s event, but the copy I’d loaned to a friend remains outstanding and overdue. I’ve spent the last five months distributing fragments variously from Turtle Diary and My Tango With Barbara Strozzi among my English students as stimulus for our lessons. Instead then, I selected a more crisp quotation from the Hoban novel which I am currently reading – I hope this is not against the rules since I have not yet completed the text – The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz; it had pounced upon my sight from the shelf of a charity bookshop during the Christmas vacation. It is, I think, a quotation which resonates with many of his later works, and one which holds much of the stylistic weight of “... the flickering of seen and unseen actualities [...] the unwordable [which] happens off the page”; the “strangeness” that Hoban’s writing confronts and which we follow, fascinated. I took this year’s quotation from a freshly finished chapter out to the printing shop ...
“Then words imprinted themselves on his mind, large, powerful, compelling belief and respect like the saying of a god in capital letters:
TO CLOSE ONE’S EYES IN THE PRESENCE OF A LION
He felt, as in a dream, the layered meanings of the words that stood upright in his mind as if carved in the stone of a temple.”
Grey day, raining a little. It seemed fitting that I should seek out lions in Paris so I made a list in my notebook of some of those of whom I’d previously made acquaintance. Paris being the present resting place of one of Hoban’s old acquaintances, I thought I would go and introduce myself to Léonie, the “French sphinx” and eponym of the story My Night with Léonie from the collection The Moment Under the Moment. In Hoban’s story she is situated on the edge of the “Jardin des Tuileries at the corner of Avenue du Général Lemonnier”; it’s not far from my domicile and Tuilieries is on Metro line 1 ... the yellow line. I walked to the underground station ... pinned my first quotation amongst the day’s ephemeral CAPITAL and Capitol LETTERS to a broadsheet vendor’s hut just outside.
In the metro, I left one tucked inside the folds of the quotidian underground journal. Then, I changed to line 1 (the yellow line); I passed a broken escalator being operated on during my correspondance. In line 1 at Champs Elysees, two men hopped aboard with a trumpet and oboe. It was still early and very busy inside the train, faces carried in the carriage through the darkness. As I alighted at Tuileries I left a quotation on my seat. I attempted to snap a photograph from the platform, but was too slow to capture it. My eyes however, saw a woman pick it up, and she was engaged in reading it as the vessel sped away into the black.
Arriving at the Jardins in the greyness, I lingered awhile with the fountain that was in the square. There were many statues. No sign of Léonie. At the north entrance, I saw two lions looking out over the traffic towards L’Arc de Triomphe ... I was affixing a quotation to one of them when the park security arrived beaming with their sunglass optimism in the brooding morning gloom; they did not take kindly to my bright enthusiasm and requested that I move along. I closed my eyes in their presence, then opened them again ... they did not go away; I did. They did not offer me a ride to the coast. And I found some other lions and a refuge from my hunters.
I affixed one to a bronze sculpture in the park; Raymond Mason's La Foule (The Crowd).
Hardly a chariot, but the lonely-looking the merry-go-round had tamed some lions to revolve about their business in constant circles.
Many dark birds which might have been ravens were gathered about the chairs in the park ... I did not look in to their eyes. I left the black words for the black birds.
Should the pedestrians have needed direction, I ensured it was provided.
Having not seen Léonie, I thought I would enter inside the Louvre in search of appropriate drop-spots. The Louvre’s apparently endless expanse of labyrinthine exhibition chambers is always overwhelming; I thought I might find some of Léonie’s feline friends and relatives in the Egyptian section. I did.
The statue of Athena always attracts a big crowd ... I left a quotation at her feet.
A gargoyle in the corridor showed a half-head of a lion ... Tête de lion it was called. I paused; and placed a sheet at his absent paws.
On the approach to the Mona Lisa I left one on the seating area amongst the Botticelli paintings. It was at this point that the security guards picked it up. When I explained to them the nature of the cause and congratulated them on their finding, they politely (or as politely as is possible for being French and wearing a uniform), invited me to cease my action and leave. My unlimited free admission is too precious. I obeyed. (Being jettisoned from the Louvre, I am quite sure the yellow paper and I slipped in to over a dozen Japanese tourists' photos ... SA4QE: Coming to a Japanese Family Holiday Album Near You!)
Back out into the greyness, and I remembered that I had still yet to see Léonie ... turning the corner on to the river, there she was. How strange to stand looking up at the figure I so often see when certain actualities of Hoban's writing rise up. For my mind, since reading The Moment Under the Moment the visual figure of Léonie works symbiotically with the actuality of the moment under the moment ... her figure on the cover of the collection distills through this unwordable language; flickering dual realities. I didn't stay there long. There was no moon.
The banks of the Seine had flooded, and the river was high and murky. Under the tree, down on the quay I looked for the Head of Orpheus but it was not there; though there was a cabbage on the table when I arrived home in the evening.
Shakespeare & Company kindly obliged to host a few sheets.
Another in the Notre Dame free-ads pamphlets.
Passing a yellow-fronted bookshop in Saint-Michel I left one in the children's section ... next to The Lion King.
I had noted the Lion de Belfort as one to whom I should pay a visit. Now a third of his original size (maybe for lack of being fed beefsteak over the years?), he stands in Place Donfert Rochereau in the fourteenth arrondisement. I took hermetic line 4 from Saint-Michel to Donfert Rochereau and came out into the square looking up at the great black beast. There were modern-day mechanical chariots whirling and roaring all around his devastating island, rendering intimate access impossible. There is a park from which one can see him from a safe distance, and from which he can see you ... I may have imagined a telephone box to be there too? I left a quotation attached to a bench just there.
Only a couple of sheets remained. On my right, I was passing the Montparnasse cemetery ... since my quotation recalled letters that were carved in stone I entered on the east side. Found a tomb with these lions presiding symmetrically. I asked politely, and left the sheet in the middle so as not to offend their pride.
I thought it fitting that the final resting place of my final quotation should be at the tomb of Charles Baudelaire. It was about time one of my favourite novelists made the acquaintance of one of my favourite poets.
Writing up the day's experiences I am reminded of an occasion since my last 4qation:
A close friend from London was staying with me and he and I had been to a bar in central Bristol. We took a taxi towards home and then a five-minute walk to arrive thereat. It was dark and we had consumed alcohol. But stopping in the silent road, no more than ten metres away from us was a lion. During the thirty-second motion stalemate we were dumbfounded, terrified; fascinated. After thirty seconds of the lion staring at us in the empty street, fear conquered us and we retreated at high speed ... we thought the lion would chase us. It didn't; it leapt away into the undergrowth.
Large dog? Strangely formed deer? We are both entirely certain to this day that it was a lion we saw ... but I should like to know whose Bristol-based wheels are bitten.