Cross-Country, a Memoir of France, 20: The Man with the Child in his Eyes

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”                    – F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Great Gatsby”

“He’s here again: The man with the child in his eyes.”                                                                       – Kate Bush

 By & Copyright 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak

(Like what you’re reading? Please support the Arts Voyager by donating through PayPal, designating your payment to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address if you prefer to pay by check or in Euros. Based in the Dordogne and Paris, the Arts Voyager is also currently looking for lodging in Paris. Paul  is also available for translating, editing, Djing, and webmastering assignments.)

In an old  house in Paris, les paradises reel

“She loves books,” I insisted, struggling to get Pierre’s attention. “She’s serious. She’s got eyes to die for. She appreciates that I’m a writer.”

Briskly shelving cellophane-sealed histories of art and philosophy, squeezing dust-covered profiles of anarchist agitators and existential theorists in between musty biographies of Belle Epoch clowns and Front Populaire officials, carrying whole rows of obscure scientific revues from the balustrade overlooking the Seine lapping at the banks of the Ile St. Louis across the way — where Gauthier and Baudelaire once threw lavish hashish parties and Camille Claudel plummeted into “the years of darkness” — to his three bruised dark green metal stalls, occasionally brushing his long stringy pony-tailed graying brown hair away from his John Lennon glasses or flicking the soot off the sleeves of his Tang-colored jumpsuit, not even taking time to glance at the fathomless river rippling under the reflections of the crepuscular Sun, Pierre didn’t seem to be listening to my rapturous account of my first dinner date with Emilie, who I’d met at his 40th birthday fete near the Place Edith Piaf.

In Henry James’s “The Ambassadors,” Lambert Strether takes a break from trying to rescue a friend’s errant son from the jaws of a man-eating Parisienne to troll for literary treasures in the bookstands lining both banks of the Seine, finally scoring a complete volume of the works of Victor Hugo, poet-champion of les miserables and exiled political opponent of Napoleon III whose anguished militating against the death penalty from an island in the English Channel stretched even across the Atlantic to plead mercy for the abolitionist John Brown. If it’s true that, as pointed out by Robert Badinter – who as Mitterand’s attorney general would fulfill Hugo’s dream of decapitating the guillotine a century after his death – France is not so much the country of the Rights of Man as the country which declared the Rights of Man, it was Hugo picking up the mantle of Voltaire before passing it on to Zola who would try to ford the abyss between the declarations and the deeds. The gap between the piss-poor metier of bouquiniste – Pierre’s — and that of published author, by contrast, had frequently been bridged. Michel Ragon, the most cultivated man alive in France today (as of this writing, in late 2016), got his start as a bouquiniste before becoming the country’s premiere critic of art and architecture in the second half of the 20th century, as a side oeuvre keeping a log of proletarian movements that culminated in “La Memoir des Vaincus” (the memoir of the vanquished) the loosely fictional biography of a sort of Zelig among the anarchists or, more specifically, anarcho-syndicalists (anarchist labor organizers). (There’s a strain of anarchism in even the most encadred of French souls; as I write this, French policemen and women – the very embodiment of State order —  are defying both their government and their unions by marching for more modern means and the right to shoot in self-defense.)  Léo Malet – who was baptized by the anarchists and accompanied the surrealists before inventing Nestor Burma, the down-at-the-mouth French answer to Philip Marlowe, a poor man’s Maigret unafraid to dive into the muck of the Seine to catch a bad guy, whose rich vernacular and poetic vocabulary make Simenon look like Hergé and who left a trail of bodies in each of the 15 arrondissements in which his New Mysteries of Paris were set — was rewarded for this fidelity to the city with a bouquiniste’s concession, only to give it up after a few months because “I preferred reading the books to selling them.” And when another Léo, Carax – the bad boy of French cinema – wanted to demonstrate how far off the deep end the hero of his 1986 “Mauvaise Sang” had plunged after agreeing to steal a sample of HIV-contaminated blood with Juliette Binoche and Michel Piccoli, he had him break into a bouquiniste’s box after roaming the fog-addled bridges of the Seine in a midnight delirium. It was about the most fragile target one could pick; Pierre supported his metier de coeur by working part-time as a museum security guard, further trimming his expenses by jumping Metro turn styles.

So when I bought my first art book from Pierre, a tome on Impressionism published in the 1950s (the ideal epoch for the quality of the reproductions) with a portrait of Berthe Morisot as painted by her brother-in-law Manet on the cover, it was as if I had procured a part of Paris history directly from one of its guardians, another way to insert myself into the city’s lore.

Finally padlocking the last of the rusty boxes and starting off at a clipped pace for “Le chope des compagnons,” the bar across the street from his stand and the Hotel de la Ville, where he’d promised to introduce me to an Italian mason who specialized in tombstones (my dance magazine wanted to restore what at that juncture we still believed was the ballerina Taglioni’s dilapidated grave in the Montmartre cemetery, only to learn later from Edgar Allen Poe that the mother of pointe was actually buried in the Pere Lachaise sepulcher of the Bonapartiste ex-husband who’d barred her from the domicile congugale when she refused to stop dancing), Pierre scoffed, “Ecoute, it’s not you she’s interested in. She’s a little girl from the provinces set loose in Paris. For her you’re the American —  you’re exotique. If it doesn’t cost you anything, pourquoi pas? Mais fait gaffe:  Already she’s taking advantage of Marcel.” Marcel was the fellow bouquiniste who’d been putting Emilie up since she’d debarqued from Toulouse. “She was supposed to stay for a week-end, already she’s been there for three weeks. He has a thing for her, and she’s abusing his kindness.” As with his attempts to debunk the authenticity of Sarah Bernhardt’s ornate personal mirror, which I’d recently purchased from a Bohemian couple at a Montmartre garage sale, Pierre seemed bent on denying the legitimacy of my burgeoning French connections, be they anchored in the past or present. For me however it was clear that his skepticism derived from too many years of seeing tourists leaf through his precious books – the cellophane wrappers were meant to discourage such marauding —  without buying anything, while he paid his rent watching the same Philistines photograph themselves in front of the museum masterpieces he guarded.

“She’s pretty helpless, Pierre. She needs a friend. And as for taking advantage of Marcel, it’s not her fault if she can’t find work. She’s a social worker with ado’s at a time when the government has just cut 8,000 aide jobs from the schools.”

“Okay, Candide! Fait comme tu veut.  Just don’t come crying to me afterwards. The problem with you Americans is you’re too romantic about France.  You think every waif you encounter wandering the quays has just stepped out of the pages of Les Miserables, is harboring the soul of Piaf, and is looking for a Marcel Cedran to protect her. And you don’t even like boxing.”

“Dans une vieux maison a Paree

Ont vecu  12 petites filles

dans deux etroite files.”

Filles,” (sniff), “doesn’t rhyme with files,” Emilie pointed out with nasally muted contentiousness before taking a sip of chicken soup with approximated matzo balls. Unable to find Manischevitz, I’d bought a box of matzo crackers (or pain d’azyme) imported from Oran — the Algerian city on a hill in which Camus had set “The Plague,” which hosted a large Jewish colony — and pulverized them to compose the body of the balls, pulling out the major gourmet artillery to lure Emilie to my petite coin de Paradis on the rue de Paradis when she’d wanted to cancel our rendez-vous, pleading an incipient cold. “I’ll make you a big pot of hot chicken soup with matzo balls.”

“Qu’est-ce que c’est?”

 “It’s like Jewish penicillin.”

 “You see? It’s like I told you, your Jewish genes are trés important to you.”

“It has nothing to do with my Jewish genes,” I insisted. “It’s my California roots. My father built one of the first Nouveau California Cuisine restaurants in San Francisco, and my mother did the cooking. The only difference is her matzo balls were made of whole wheat.”

Pourquoi pas tofu?”

“She was Old School Nouveau California Cuisine.”

“If I drink the soup, it will make me Jewish?” French humour often being more refined than American, I never knew whether Emilie was kidding.

“It won’t make you Jewish, but it might make you less blueish.” Getting no response – the “Yellow Submarine” film reference escaping her, or maybe she just didn’t get my own sense of humour – I added, “It might help your cold.”

Emilie was now perched primly on the futon with her delicate fingers clasped between her knees, looking thinner in a somber brown skirt over black tights, a light-weight tan pullover not helping her ghostly, wan pallor. In an effort to rally her spirits – the soup had only increased the sniffling, and I was having trouble charming her —  I’d pulled out my Madeline omnibus. Ludwig Bemelmans’s Madeline – the hero of a series of children’s stories set in Paris which no one in France has ever heard of, just as many have never heard of “The Red Balloon” — had been the obsession of Mimi Kitagawa, my childhood best friend who’d turned over in her crib on Liberty Street in San Francisco in 1964 at the age of three and a half and breathed her last breath. During a desperate late-night passage in Greenwich Village in 1997, reeling from a push-and-pull, now I love you, now I don’t relationship with an exotic modern dancer-contortionist and meandering up Broadway in search of salvation, I’d ended up at the Strand (“8 miles of books, millions of bargains”), where a copy of the Madeline collection had beckoned to me from a display shelf near the ceiling, which I took as a hail-Mary from Mimi, by then my guardian angel. Later, whenever the ameritune of past experience threatened to blind me to present possibilities, I’d try to let Mimi become the child taking over my perspective (in Californese: “I’d channel her”), and remind myself that I had a responsibility to live my life for two.

I was now (we’re back on the rue de Paradis, in October 2004) attempting to translate the first Madeline tale into French to make it legible for Emilie, or at least get a rise out of her with my maladroit bungling.

Filles,” Emilie was pointing out, “Is pronounced ‘fee’; files,” French for ‘lines,’ “is pronounced ‘feeel.’ So in fact, Monsieur Paul” – she looked up from the book to emphasize the point with her eyes – “they do not rhyme.” Seeing my deflated disappointment – and realizing I was doing my valiant best to distract her from the cold — she added, this time with a slight upturn to her lips and an accompanying humour in her eyes to indicate she was being ironic, “Et pour ma part, je commence a perdre le file,” the latter phrase meaning ‘lose the thread.’

Dans deux FEEEEEEEEEEEL etroites donc, ils ont coupé leur pain,” or broke their bread, I continued, “et ont lavé leurs teeth,” which I emphasized by pointing to Bemelmans’s simple sketch of the 12 girls aligned on either side of the orphanage dinner table brushing their teeth, “avant de se mis au LITH,” I concluded, adding the lisp to “lit,” the French word for ‘bed,’ to get the rhyme with ‘teeth.’

Turning the page to a double-spread demonstrating the girls’ attitudes towards, respectively, the forces of good and those of evil, I translated “They smiled before the good” as “Devant le bon, ils se sont rejoui” to get the rhyme with my translation of “and frowned on the bad“:  “Tandis que devant le mal, ils aviez que du mepris.

Pas mal,” Emilie admitted, finally smiling through the sniffles. “But I don’t understand why for the good he draws a picture of a rich woman feeding a carousel horse in front of les Invalides – “

“Maybe it’s Napoleon’s horse?” I offered feebly, Bonaparte’s ashes being stored at the army museum.

“And maybe you lead me to Waterloo! Et apres?”

I continued reading and translating until the page on which Madeline, after an emergency appendectomy, wakes up in a hospital room full of flowers.

Putting her thin fore-finger on one of the pictured vases, Emilie complained, “She gets all those flowers for her appendix, and you have nothing for me?”

Au contraire! So, my belle-mere has a boutique in San Francisco where she sells exotic soaps, shampoos, bubble-baths, and body oils.  It’s actually how she and my father met; her store was across the street from his restaurant.”

Ah bon?” This had spiked her interest, as I’d cleverly maneuvered food, perfume, and romantic rendez-vous  into the same sentence.

“My step-mom – er, belle-mere – actually has a French last name. So you could say I’m part French.”

She smiled, if just with her eyes.

“Anyway, I have something she sent me that I want to give you.” Even though I’d asked my step-mom to send me the wild rose body oil specifically for such an occasion, I was trying to casualize the gift so as to not scare Emilie away. Normally I’d pretend to pull such small packages out of my victim’s ear, but the last time I’d tried that trick (inherited from my grandpa in Miami Beach, a liquor salesman, who used to do it with pennies or his wide gold ring with the oval black stone), the recipient had shrieked, thinking I was plucking a bee out of her bonnet, dissipating the ambiance. So this time I merely pulled the present, enveloped in bubble-wrap, out of my pocket.

“It’s very sweet of you,” Emilie said after twisting the cap off the miniscule glass tube and taking a whiff, patting and looking down at my hand to avoid looking me in the eyes. “If you don’t mind I will save it for later, because it could make me sick if I put it on now with my cold.”

“Speaking of roses,” I said, jumping to the stereo to cue “La Vie en Rose,”  “Would Mademoiselle care to dance?” Looking up noncommittally at my offered hand, which at that moment felt to me like a gorilla’s, she tentatively placed her downy palm in mine  and rose with an effort. In theory, waltzing with a French girl to Piaf singing “La Vie en Rose” in my own Paris apartment on the rue de Paradis across the street from where Pissarro  and Morisot learned to paint from Corot should have felt like a dream fulfilled, but my predominant sensation as I strained my back over Emilie’s doll-like hunched shoulders was the memory of dancing with Jocelyn Benford at the Lowell High School 1976 sophomore dance (“I need someone to ride the bus home with,” Jocelyn had explained, counting on my junior high crush still lingering), our ersatz silk shirts sticking sweatily together, broken up only by the ridged outline of Jocelyn’s bra, as we rotated to Earth Wind & Fire singing “Reasons.” As this French girl and I spun slowly on Paradis, the rose light-bulb I’d switched on coronating the reflection of our faces in Sarah Bernhardt’s abalone encrusted beveled mirror with a velvet aureole, Emilie felt even more fragile and fleeting in my American grizzly-bear grasp than that long ago 14-year-old.

Pour un fond d’investissement ou taxe a soutenir les artists d’ajourd’hui / For a fund or tax to support today’s artists

impmodacpissarro7-smallCamille Pissarro, “Marché à Gisors.” Pencil and colored pencil on paper, 20.4 x 16.5 cm. Signed with the initials at lower left and titled at lower right. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 15,000 – 20,000 Euros. Image courtesy and copyright Artcurial.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak

PARIS — On November 12, 2015, at a vernissage for a group show in a warehouse gallery near the Bastille up the street from Bataclan on the eve of the massacres, I encountered a painter whose work was both topical and technically adept. One particularly gripping tableau displayed postage stamps with the faces of refugees, as if they could evade the deadly Mediterranean crossings and desert traverses by just mailing themselves to sanctuary. Last summer, I ran into the same artist at a more intimate group show on the rue Charonne between the Place de la Republique and the Place Nation, to which she’d contributed a miniature rectangular tableau depicting clients of multiple generations and colors on a hazily lit café terrace. She’d applied the layers in such a way as to suggest these figures were calling to us from a limbo, which for me at least conjured those murdered on the café terraces November 13, doomed to sip their café cremes and chopes eternally until we’ve purged this scourge. And yet when I shared this observation with the artist, she answered, “Ah bon?” Without setting out to create ‘social’ content, she’d unconsciously imbued the scene with this ambiance. And yet this artist, whose work is both aesthetically and topically appealing and relevant — and who’s been at it for more than two decades and has seen flusher times, particularly during the 1990s — is financially struggling. No one, or few people, are buying. Will she have to wait until she’s dead before her work is attached the monetary value it merits and she’s saved from this near-desperate precariousness?

The larger-scale paintings of Camille Pissarro, the deacon of the Impressionists, typically sell today for at least $600,000, often soaring well above a million. (The 20. 4 x 16.5 cm pencil and colored pencil drawing above is estimated by Artcurial, which auctions it off in tomorrow’s Impressionism and Modern Sale in Paris, at a more modest 15,000 – 20,000 Euros.) And yet at 56 years old Pissarro still found himself struggling, writing to his son Lucien, “So your mother thinks I conduct business in a brisk manner? Does she really think it amuses me to scurry around in the snow, in the mud, from morning to evening, without a dime in my pocket, skimping even on taking a bus when I’m dogged by fatigue, penny-pinching for lunch or dinner? Ah! Certainly not, it’s not gay, but all I ask is one thing, to find a man sufficiently confident in my talent to furnish me what I need to make a living, for me and my family.”

Here’s an idea: What if the auction houses and dealers contributed a small percentage of their sales — even just one percent — to a “Creation Fund,” designated for *living* artists? Or, if they’re not ready to do this voluntarily, what if the government imposed a tax on them of this modest scale for this purpose? To immunize the fund from the clan-protection that sometimes determines public arts funding (in France as in the United States), a board including working artists and neighborhood gallerists could be set up to administer and distribute it. And to further immunize the fund from favoritism, an objective standard could be set, similar to the Intermittents regime here which requires freelance performance artists and technicians (visual artists have no such system) to work 507 hours over 10 or 10.5 months to qualify for a year of unemployment benefits. Though some here might bristle at this, recipient artists could even be required to donate an afternoon of their time to giving art classes in the public schools. This tax fund model is not unprecedented. San Francisco imposes a 15% hotel tax whose revenues help fund the artistic institutions which contribute to the city’s touristic caché which in turn feeds the hospitality industry; why shouldn’t the dealers and auction houses who profit from France’s artistic heritage help perpetuate it? (A threshold could even be fixed to distinguish the wealthier dealers from more modest gallerists as well as galleries run by non-profit associations, who also struggle, and who deserve credit for supporting artists outside the clan system.)

We can’t step into the wayback machine to find Pissarro traipsing through that Paris mud and buy him lunch or toss him a couple of sous so he can take a bus, but we can certainly do more to sustain those who, along with writers, publishers, and independent booksellers (and Seine-side bouquinistes) toil in the metiers which *define* eternal France. (Given the centrality of art in the country’s history, perhaps some of the candidates in this presidential year who, justifiably, vaunt the cultural richness of France’s heritage and identity, could float this idea.)

PS: What breaks my heart about the precariousness of so many talented artists in Paris is that these are some of the most generous people I’ve encountered here. There is no admission charge to regard and thus benefit from their work, which they are also ready and willing to discuss with you, even responding to the most ignorant questions and naive observations.

(Source for Pissarro letter: “Camille Pissarro, Lettres a son fils Lucien,” presented by John Rewald. One volume, in-8, 1950.)

Max Jacob: Painter, poet, Jew, Christian

impmodjacob-smallMax Jacob, “Chambre Louis XVI,” 1928. Gouache, 28.3 x 36.3 cm. Signed and dated lower right. Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 1,000 – 1,200 Euros. Image copyright and courtesy Artcurial.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak
(except cited texts)

“When we knew each other” prior to the first World War, the critic Andre Salmon recalled, “every day Max Jacob would write several poems, which he stuffed into a little chest, with absolutely no concern over whether they’d ever be published…. Never would I visit my friend (and I saw him every day) without suprising him in the act of painting, or at least drying his latest watercolor, his latest gouache, his latest sepia, in front of a tiny cast-iron stove — the artwork sometimes left to dry so long that the smell of burning paper permeated the humble room.” Living at 7, rue Ravignan in Montmartre, down the hill from where Picasso and Braque would shortly create Cubism at the Bateau Lavoir, Jacob was prone to make his colors by delaying pastel powder, tobacco ashes, and coffee grinds in water, according to his friend and biographer André Billy, who recalled an occasion when Jacob offered him a gouache and, reflecting the poverty of their milieu, added, “Above all don’t tell anyone that I gave it to you! Tell them you paid me 100 sous!” If the above gouache, “Chambre Louis XVI,” being auctioned off by Artcurial in its October 18 Impressionism & Modern sale in Paris, was painted much later, in 1928, its domestic theme provides a good excuse to cite Jacob’s 1921 poem “La rue Ravignan”: “L’impasse de Guelma a ses corrégidors / Et la rue Caulaincourt ses marchands de tableaux / Mais la rue Ravignan est celle que j’adore / Pour les coeurs enlacés de mes porte-drapeaux./ La, taillant des dessins dans les perles que j’aime, / Mes défauts les plus grands furent ceux de mes poèmes.” (My biggest faults were those of my poems.)

His conversion to Catholicism in 1909 after a vision of an apparition and a subsequent fervent belief which abounded in his poetry and verse (Jacob would even create daily ‘Meditations’ for friends) didn’t save Max Jacob from being betrayed by neighbors in the Brittany village of St-Benoit (though it should be added that many others regularly saved him from the police, according to Jacob), where he was arrested by the Nazis at 11 in the morning on February 24, 1944, several hours after conducting the Mass, and taken to the Drancy prison barracks, where he died of pneumonia before he could be deported. None of his famous friends were able to successfully intervene to save his life, notwithstanding an effort by Jean Cocteau.

Visiting Max Jacob’s provisional grave in the rudimentary cemetery of Ivry-sur-Seine after the war, Billy asked the caretaker if other Jews dead at Drancy were buried there:

“‘Jews?’ he replied. ‘Oh, you know, here we have a little bit of everything….’ ‘A little bit of everything.’ Phrase from an impenetrable philosophy. There’s a little bit of everything in everything. There’s a little bit of everything in man. There was a little bit of everything in Max, and the good and the less good were for a longtime mingled in him, but if his life and his oeuvre have any meaning, and they most certainly do, it’s that of having been the theater of a struggle, of a torment, of an effort in which each of us can recognize ourselves. A struggle between critical intelligence and the need for faith, between the instinct of abandon and pleasure and the appetite for austerity, the torment of a conscience constantly striving to be more clear, more harmonious, and more satisfied with itself, an effort towards unity, purity, and saintliness. There’s no doubt that Max, who wanted to be a saint, succeeded in sanctifying himself. There was heroism in his renouncement like there was heroism, of another variety, in his search for glory. To approach G-d as to approach his fellow man, he took the routes the most difficult and the most dangerous. And there lies the grandeur and the beauty of his example.”

In one of his last prose poems — showing his true mettle as a poet, because the great artists are able to find universally tragic material in even their own suffering — Jacob wrote:

“Who noticed the toad crossing the street? He’s a tiny man; a doll is not more miniscule. He crawls along on his knees, as if he’s ashamed. No! It’s his rhumatism; one leg lags behind as he lugs it along. Where is he off to like this? He emerges from the gutter, poor clown. No one noticed this toad in the street. Before, no one noticed me in the street. Now children make fun of my yellow star. Happy toad! You have no yellow star.”

Source for poems and citations: “Max Jacob,” by André Billy of the Academie Goncourt. Pub. les Editions Pierre Seghurs, printed at the Imprimerie du Salut Public (Salvation Army), Lyon, February 1946.

Chantal Akerman: On n’est pas encore prete a vous oublié

akerman-2

Chantal Akerman. Courtesy  Marian Goodman Gallery.

“Most of the time when people like a film, they say, ‘I didn’t even feel the time pass.’ I want the film-goer to feel the time pass.” — Chantal Akermam

“Comparable in force and originality to Godard or Fassbinder, Chantal Akerman is arguably the most important European director of her generation.”  — J. Hoberman

“Ce que le public te reproche, cultive-le, c’est toi.” – Jean Cocteau, cited in “Cocteau par lui-meme,” edited by André Fraigneau. Seuil, 1957.

By Paul Ben-Itzak 
Text copyright 2015, 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak

(Chantal Akerman committed suicide in Belleville, Paris, a year ago today. The Cinematheque Francaise, whose programming appears increasingly box-office driven under new management, has yet to announce a retrospective. The same goes for the Centre Pompidou, France’s national museum for modern art, although you can find several of Akerman’s documentaries in the museum’s video library. This story was first published on the Arts Voyager on November 6, 2015, a week before the terrorist murders of 130 civilians on the terraces and in the music halls and sports stadiums in and around Paris. A week after the massacres, I encountered a documentary maker  who suggested that perhaps, in deciding to take her life, Akerman – the daughter of a Holocaust survivor – had a premonition of things to come and didn’t want to be around to witness them. PS: “Jeanne Dielman…” will be projected Sunday, October 9 at 7h15 p.m. at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, presented by Wayne Wang.)

PARIS — Exiting an artist’s atelier off the rue de Couronnes while touring the Open Studios of Belleville last Spring, I almost came face to face with three teenaged marines wielding AK47s, guarding a low building on the fringes of the hilly Parc Belleville. When I quipped later to a French pal that it was nice to see the government finally doing something to protect artists and told her the location, my friend observed, “That’s around where Chantal Akerman lives.” While it’s not inconceivable that a renowned Jewish film-maker might be considered to need protection as much as Jewish schools (usually unmarked here, as if the spectre of the Deportation still makes French Jews discrete), in the end it might be tempting to conclude that for the Brussels-born film director and installation artist, who killed herself here in Belleville (from where I write you) October 5 at the age of 65, the biggest enemy was herself. But this cop-out explanation would be absolving too conveniently a pop culture-centered media (yes, even here in France) which supports less and less artists who march to their own drummer and who are more interested in teaching us something – in Akerman’s case, elevating our awareness and heightening our perception of time —  than diverting our attention.

To access the full version of the article, including more images, subscribers please e-mail paulbenitzak@gmail.com . Not a subscriber? 1-year subscriptions are just $39.99, or $19.99 for students and unemployed or under-employed artists. Just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com , or write us at that address for information on how to pay by check or in Euros or British pounds.

Max Jacob l’Eternel

Je ne serai jamais qu’un ecolier dans l’art
Collier des écoliers nous portons des couronnes
Celui qui les reçoit vaut celui qui les donne.*
— Max Jacob, “Périgal-Nohor,” from Le Laboratoire Central, 1921.                                     (Editions Gallimard 1960.)

*I’ll never be more than a student of art
Necklace of students we wear crowns
He who receives them merits as much value as he who gives them.