Les Grands Amours

I arrive back in Paris, and see it “properly” now “for the first time.” These mark the “last few days of a fantastic holiday,” and “those few days were wonderful.”

I feel that glow now, it expands beneath my ribs and makes my breath seem warmer. “I think my favourite building in the world for its originality is the Centre Pompidou,” I tell myself on The Tape, and for a long time, I remember, that was the case. I embraced modernity, pre-, post- and present. I was into things, such as cool architecture; they excited me then, they excite me still.

I record and recall seeing La Vie de Brian, as The Life of Brian was called there, and us laughing our heads off, the way we only could then. There was an evening, not long after I’d moved to London, when my friend Peggy and, I believe, beautiful Stefan, and maybe one or two other people were assembled in my shared living room, lounging on the grubby sofa and draped over a stained but strangely comfortable armchair, watching Airplane! on TV. We laughed so hard at this, we literally ended up on the floor. That capacity for joy, so unalloyed: we had it then, we had it in Paris—that was exactly the era—and I don’t know when or where it went. That freshness, even with an open mind as I try to keep it, has simply gone: hardly anything ever makes me laugh now anywhere near as hard. Perhaps I’ve seen it, heard it, if not all then just too much of it, to tickle me so with surprise?

I remember loving the Pompidou, I remember loving and laughing at La Vie, I remember little if anything else, apart from Christian, Judith’s brother, whom I thought “great” and “quite eccentric, in his own way,” and probably fancied, just a bit. Judith, whom I loved then and still love today, though I haven’t seen her in a decade (and then under sad, troubled, circumstances concerning our friend), was my school pal whom we were visiting in Paris, where she was staying with her boyfriend, Alain. For reasons I don’t recall I spent quite some time with her brother, liking him immensely. (Maybe because Judith was with her boyfriend, Alain?)

At one point Christian and I got on a metro train together. As it arrived, we noticed that it had first and second class compartments, and he said we should ride in second class since we didn’t have first class tickets. I, having never been to Paris “properly” before, convinced him that this must be a remnant of the olden days, and that by now the metro surely only had one class for all. So we boarded the less crowded first class carriage.

Within minutes we were surrounded by about five ticket inspectors, demanding a surcharge and a fine. I was outraged: I told them they were being completely unreasonable, since it was impossible for me, a Londoner, to know that a metropolitan underground train could have two classes. They pointed at the big ‘1’ that was painted on the interior of the carriage, and mentioned the same on the outside. I was having none of it: I live in London, I said, I use the tube all the time, and we don’t have any of this nonsense. They let us off. We were made to move to second class, but no money changed hands. I can be stubborn when I need to be, that hasn’t changed…

My forever enduring memory though of these last few days of my Europe tour in 1988, and one of the best and most cherished experiences of all my years of going to the cinema anywhere in the world, was Le Grand Bleu. I had seen it before, in Grenoble, and fallen in love with it and with Jean-Marc Barr then, but this now was in a league of its own.

The film was immensely successful in France, and so Le Grand Rex, one of the largest cinemas in Paris, had put up an extra large screen in front of its existing one. It was, I tell The Tape, “a 25 metre screen,” which would make it either nearly the size of, or even slightly bigger than, the screen on the Piazza Grande at the Locarno Film Festival (which today is still the largest in Europe), depending on whether that was a horizontal width or a diagonal measurement, which I can’t remember. In any case, it was huge. (They may even have ‘renamed’ the cinema for that run. It’s entirely possible, but once again I am no longer certain, that the cinema was really normally called Le Rex, and they labelled it Le Grand Rex just for Le Grand Bleu, with the big screen.)

Because the screen was so large, there were now, in the auditorium, new restricted sight lines. The stalls were fine, as was the upper balcony, but from all but the front row in the dress circle, the view was severely restricted, because you would not see the top of the screen (which was blocked off by the balcony above you) or the bottom (which was obscured by the circle in front of you), for which reason the cinema had cordoned off the dress circle altogether.

We were not young people to be told where to sit in a cinema with unreserved seating, and so while people raced, as the doors opened, to the best seats up on the balcony and down in the stalls, we opened the door to the dress circle behind the red cord, and saw it empty, with a vast screen beckoning. We snuck in, closed the door behind us, and took up the few seats in the centre of the front row of the dress circle, the ones directly in the middle of the screen: your entire field of vision was taken up with The Big Blue: it was magnificent.

I to this day can’t get over how beautiful and real the sea and how close-enough-to-touch Jean-Marc Barr were. Other good actors appeared in the film, there was other fine scenery, but I remember him and the sea and the dolphins. And the party on Taormina, I believe, where he turns up dressed in a dinner suit, wearing trainers, looking sheepish and unbearably cute. I could have married him there and then.

I later met Jean-Marc Barr after a performance in the West End of a Tennessee Williams play, and he was gracious and polite; I a little timid and shy, but happy to be face-to-face with him in person, and now getting him ‘out of my system’: he was a lovely, good-looking man, and a very decent actor, and I no longer now had to pine…

“Unfortunately, on the last night” of our stay in Paris, I tell The Tape, “Judith split up with her boyfriend, Alain,” and so “went back with her brother Christian,” to Basel, I presume. I, on Sunday, which therefore must have been the next day, took the train back to London and arrived there in the evening, “about nine o’clock.”


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{Memories of the Past}

a surreptitious glance in a doorway: you
had been waiting for me
but how long?
i can’t remember, i remember
seeing you at the cinema and us
exchanging glances
(those were the days, mostly, of
glances)
and us not speaking, i was too shy, you shy too
so i started walking
across the river, there: a cafe, old style; what
was i doing in there, could it be, really, that you
waited
outside while i was having coffee inside?
or did i pop in to see if i liked it, but didn’t, or whether you would follow (but why would you? it was an old style cafe; and you didn’t), so i
popped out again, straight away? that seems more likely, certainly it seems more
reasonable…*

you were in the entrance as i came out and i saw you again and you me and it was clear
you’d been waiting for me, there
in the doorway
but we still didn’t speak
how was that even possible: it was obvious
you had been waiting for me, yet
we didn’t speak, i not to you, you not to me
i was incredibly young, you a bit younger,
there by the rhine, in basel, at that time
of glances, mostly, and quietly aching
silences

you were there too maybe two, three years later
now on the southbank
in london
you looked different, a bit, though not much
you had those same eyes, longing
uncertain, a
querying glance, that
glance
that i must have had too
it was the era of glances, of not saying what any of us wanted, ever, of
uncertainty, being afraid
but of what?
of being found out
of revealing too much
too much to the wrong kind of person, of being
vulnerable
literally, viscerally, in danger of injury, death
or afraid merely of actually having, enjoying, living a moment, such one
brief encounter?
who knows

those were days of unspoken desires
at night time
near rivers
only this time i actually asked you
for a light
or you me?
i you or you me, one of us asked the other for a cigarette or a light or for both and
another glance was exchanged and a flame lit up and in that flame we did not look at each other again, we just looked at the hands touching, cupping the cigarette, and that
once again
just was that
how curious
how timid, how cautious, how wary i was
of you
always
and yet how much i wanted to be with you
still

and then there you were in st james’s park: another you, another glance
i on my way home
you on your way where? i didn’t ask and you didn’t say
it was nice
there
to finally meet you
at night, late
by the pond, not the river
to feel your hands on me, taste your lips
such a long time ago now
such a situation between two and three, thereabouts, in the morning
when that park is not closed and not open but we both were
closed and open and there: those were the days
of such stolen moments, so
rare
i miss them no more than i miss you
and i don’t miss you, i’m just maybe sorry
a bit
that it took me so long to pluck up the courage to finally meet you
albeit briefly
we wasted, it seems, a few opportunities, you and i, but

you live and you learn, and nothing
but nothing
can be rewound, reconfigured, restored, it can not even be really
relived, it can
of course be
in one way or another
remembered, redeemed?
(to what end? none other than to know that there was such a thing as a path, a trajectory,
or an arc:
a semblance of something resembling a story
a sequence of inconsequential instances, now implanted, the shapes
along which the currents of time have mostly been channelled, each curve, each bend
not just leaving traces but forming them too
until
at last
there’s a torrent
and the river, the brook or the stream
floods its banks and
ignores
these patterns, these half
designs, half
instinctive behaviours half
needed half wanted half detested half worn and half
overthrown memories
only half
ever
because the half that sits underground under consciousness under skin under mind
remains there forever somehow, and
so be it

albeit not always appreciated not always valued not always wanted or loved
you are always
a part of me still, and
welcome
to stay

whatever became of you, i do wonder
and then i forget that i ever did
because life goes on and
there are many more rivers to cross and bridges to burn and transgressions that must be traversed and
comings together
to fathom, just

know that i never not wanted
to know you

*


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Les Grands Amours

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