Pablo de Sarasate: Fantaisie de Concert sur des motifs d l’opera “Carmen”

Perhaps it is fitting to choose a piece for today based on music that comes from an opera about a love triangle. (Please see my article below about visiting Barcelona in 1977.) Composed in 1883, eight years after Carmen’s disastrous premier and after its revival in Paris, the Fantaisie. is one of those pieces designed to show off virtuoso violin playing. It is full of incredibly high, almost ethereal harmonics and complicated double stops that almost chill you to the bone. Then there are the devilishly fast passages with bouncing bows and rapid pizzicatos that seem capable of generating sparks.

Gaudi’s Gaudy Architecture

The main reason I wanted to visit Barcelona in April of 1977 was to see first-hand the works of the Art Nouveau architect, Antonio Gaudí. His surrealistic buildings captivated me the first time I came upon them in an art history book in college. Gaudí’s work seemed to be a last reaction against the straight lines and harsh angles of the cold machine age. Gaudí on the other hand, incorporated organic and naturalistic shapes into his buildings, some of which looked as if they were melting, others as if they would start sprouting tendrils. Gaudí was able to bring his visionary design to light because of a wealthy patron name Guell, and created for him a palatial dwelling, a public park, and several apartment buildings. Indeed, Gaudí’s presence is such an integral part of Barcelona that had he not lived, I am sure it would not have given us the likes of Picasso, Dali, and Miro. So, on our excursions out, I dragged my traveling companions, Inge and Chris, to various parts of the city where Gaudí had created his fantastic buildings and public spaces. My first goal was to locate the Casa Mila, an apartment building that has an undulating, organic façade and looks kind of like a big, bloated puff-ball mushroom. It appears in a number of art history books, and it had shown up in a film by Michelangelo Antonioni called “The Passenger” which I had seen the year before. In one scene in the film, Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider go onto the roof, which has white, surrealistic chimneys decorated with brightly colored stones and tiles. I wanted to see if we could do the same. We found the Casa Mila in a fairly nice part of town. It is in the shape of the letter “L” and we ducked into the bottom of the short leg into the main courtyard just as it started to rain. This courtyard had been covered over and the misguided owners had carved up the interior space in an attempt to create a number of little trendy boutiques, but which were quite hideous. One was full of late 1970’s disco gear and I seem to remembers a silver mannequin with a black afro wig, 6-inch platform shoes, a blue cape and a black feather boa. We eventually found a long sweeping stairway that followed the interior wall of the courtyard up to the next level. I looked up and saw that Gaudí had covered the ceiling with wild and colorful frescoes. Unfortunately, they hadn’t been maintained and they were now flaking and peelings. They could have been “The Last Supper” for all you could tell. I wondered what the hell the condo association was spending its money on if not the upkeep of the building. We took an elevator to the top floor and emerged, completely amazed at what we saw–there didn’t seem to be a single straight line in the place. The wall curved gently around the inner courtyard and the floors and door frames were all made of a lovely, honey-colored wood. The walls were creamy stucco. We wondered around the floor passing a number of locked doors. Eventually we found ourselves back where we started but there was a change: one of the doors that had been closed was now open. I pushed it open a little further and looked in. It was dark but when my eyes adjusted, I saw it was a stairwell leading upward. I stuck my head in and a drop of water struck my forehead. I looked up and saw these ghostly shapes suspended above me. They were sheets. It was wash day, and because it was raining, someone had hung their laundry in the stairwell because they couldn?t put it up on the roof. I persuaded Chris and Inge to follow me, and we emerged onto the roof. It was grand! It looked like Gaudí had sculpted the rooftop out of meringue. He had created a tiled walkway that leads around the outside of the L-shaped building. This walkway went up and down like a huge roller coaster. The walls were white and inlaid with colored glass and semi-precious stone and Gaudi had built a continuous low bench into the wall that ran round the perimeter. Though it was blowing rain, we felt like kids in a giant playground and we peered over the walls looking for various landmarks. We spotted Gaudí ‘s church, La Sagrada Familia, in the distance, his Parque Guell, the port and the Luna Park to the south.

_IGP0022

After coming down to the street, we ducking into a bar/restaurant and ordered a tortilla and my usual Campari and soda. At the bar, I notices they sold cigars and when I went up to investigate realized they were Cuban. I asked the barrista what they called them and she said “puros.” I bought one of these fat, thick stogies and lit it up, much to the disgust of Inge and Chris. Inge announced that she was going to leave for Majorca in a day or two and Chris and I looked each other. Back in Paris, I had tried to form a romantic relationship with this dour, self-abusing, German existentialist. We had long deep discussions and part of me thought she might be my soul mate. Then Chris, the free spirit from California, came along and they instantly bonded. Chris and I were staying in Shakespeare and Company and we all hung out together, so I was invited along to Barcelona, though I felt a bit of a fifth wheel. Now Inge was announcing that she was off to Majorca and she did not invite either of us along. After lunch it stopped raining and we continued on our way in search of the next Gaudí building. As we walked, I puffed my puro pensively and looked at the buildings, the streets and the sidewalks, trying to get a feel for the city. Suddenly a pattern in the sidewalk caught my attention. I looked carefully and realized the sidewalk was made up of molded tiles with an intricate, interlocking pattern. They reminded me a bit of those morphing tile patterns of M. C. Escher, in which black birds flying one way interlock with white birds flying in the opposite direction. When I pointed this out to Chris and Inge, the latter said that she had read in her guide book that Gaudí had designed these tiles as well.

_IGP0007

Seeing these tiles tickled me. First, because I liked the idea that Gaudi had been able to turn his ideas into reality and change the physical environment around him to fit his visionary dreams. Second, these tiles represented a connection with Spain’s Moorish past. Islam is an iconoclastic religion and artistic representations of people were forbidden. Artists therefore turned their talents filling spaces with visually interesting organic forms and curlicues. Eventually these became more and more abstract and became into repeating tile patterns that covered unused space. Think of the Blue Mosque or Arabic calligraphy. The Moors had conquered Spain and brought their artistic traditions with them, which showed up in these tiles of Gaudí. Eventually, we found Gaudí’s Casa Batlló, the roof of which he designed in the shape of a giant multi-colored dragon. It has the most wonderful facade, the apex of Art Nouveau.

_IGP0006

Later we went to the Parque Guell, which has two cascading stairways, between which Gaudí created a fantastic, dragon-shaped fountain that crawls down the hill and belches water to greet the visitors as they enter the park.

_IGP0212

These works show how the freer Gaudí became to do what he wanted the more organic and fantastic his works became. He became so engrossed by his work that he turned into a long-haired hermit, who often slept in a shack on the building sites for his structures. A day or two later, Chris and I woke early and met Inge, whom we escorted to the port and the ferry that took her to Majorca. Afterwards, Chris and I sat around planning what to do next. He decided to go south to Valencia and me back to Paris. Palm Sunday was coming in a few days, however, and I persuaded him to remain so we could see a few of the spectacles leading up to Easter, and so we spent the next few days exploring the city, eventually becoming friends and trying to deconstruct what had happened between us and Inge. But more on that later.

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Erik Satie: Parade

For today’s piece, I have chosen Erik Satie’s Parade. Satie supposedly started as a bar room pianist whose work caught the attention and was championed by Debussy. His earlier compositions were stripped down and economical, which style was a reaction agains the overblown works of Wagner. Though sparse, his works were in no way simplistic and reflected the complex tonal qualities of the impressionists like Debussy. Some of his pieces, like the famous Gymnopedies are strikingly haunting and affecting. But Satie knew he was under-educated, and in his 40s, he began studying composition under d’Indy and Roussel. From this period comes today’s piece, the music for the Cubist ballet, Parade. The mere description of this piece makes my head swoon–music by Satie, sets and scenario by Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau, and staged by Sergei Diaghilev, the empresario of the Ballet Russes. The piece is designed to tweak the bourgeois sensibility of the day and its love for the overblown Romanticism of Wagner. Parade is a kind of sound portrait of an actual parade, which incorporates the sounds of “found” objects like a pistol, a siren, and a typewriter. Even today, nearly a century after its premier, it stands the test of time and still sounds daring and fresh.

Parading Through France

The first three months of 1977 in Paris proved cold and damp.  By March, a number of us living at Shakespeare and Company in Paris thought we might head South to warm our bones.  We chose Spain because we’d met some Basque girls, who one night cooked us paella. Ingeborg, the German girl I had a crush on, wanted to go to Barcelona and hop a ferry to Majorca. Chris, the guy she was doting on, was up for it. Barcelona appealed to me as well because I knew it to be the native city of the Spanish Art Nouveau architect, Antonio Gaudi. His church, the Sagrada Familia, had caught my attention in some art book and I thought it would great to explore some of the other apartment buildings he had designed in the city. One had appeared in an Antonioni film called The Passenger which I had seen the semester before. To prep myself, I read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Looking back now, that was a good choice since the main character was the third wheel in a menage a trois, which is how I was feeling about Chris and Ingeborg. We decided to hitchhike. For an American, that was a bit worrisome, but Chris and Ingeborg, who’d hitchhiked all over Europe, assured me it would be safe. Especially if the three of us went together. I remembered Thom Klem once telling me how he had hitched a ride with a truck driver in Germany. When he climbed in, he was treated to the music of Mozart, whom the truck driver loved. So I agreed. We took the subway to the Gare du Sud and stood near the street that led out of town. It was pissing down rain, but soon we had a ride that took us to the start of the main superhighway heading south. There we stuck our thumbs out and after a short while, a big truck pulled up. In it was a friendly man, who said he had room for the three of us. We spent the day with him tooling along Seine past the towns of Sens, Auxerre, Dijon. At Dijon we followed the Soane River south toward Lyons. I was surprised at the lush green countryside. Surprised too to see how canals ran parallel to the main routes and that they remained a viable means of freight transport. I was disappointed at one point when the driver pulled over to a roadside inn to get a bite to eat. Since it was early afternoon, it was completely empty, not like the 24-hour roadside nightmares along our own interstate system. Inside, we managed to summon up a drowsy patron, who said it was too early to get the espresso machine going for us. Our driver ordered what I heard as “deca.” I didn’t know what he meant. The proprietor pulled out a jar of decaffeinated instant Nescafé, put a teaspoon into a cup and poured some hot water in. It was vile. I think we bought some mass produced madeleines and we piled back in the truck. By nightfall we reached the outskirts of Lyons, which was only about half way to the southern coast. Our plan was to call up an acquaintance named Olivier, whom I knew from my student days in the French house at Bloomington, Indiana. He had been living in Paris when I first arrived, and he had been very hospitable to me. He invited me over to dinner one night and we had a nice chat. Shortly after that, he got a job in Lyons and told me to call him up if I ever got down there. I took that as a standing invitation. Olivier’s cordiality had surprised me a bit. My first semester at the French House, he had been our resident assistant, a job for a more responsible graduate student who acted a bit like a chaperone. Since most of the people in the French House were juniors or seniors, fairly intellectual students, and rarely prone to the binge drinking one found in a lot of undergraduate dorms, this was a kind of sinecure for Olivier. He pretty much left us alone and I never even thought he knew I existed. Or if he was aware of me, I thought he disdained me because of an incident I participated in. Olivier was an opinionated and lugubrious type. If he participated in discussions at the French-speaking table at the dorm cafeteria, he usually made some pronouncement or caustic remark-usually about crass Americans and our lack of culture. He was majoring in business. Olivier cut an imposing figure–he was tall, thin, and had a shock of thick unruly hair. Unfortunately he wore one of those beards without a moustache, the kind that just follows your jaw line. He looked a bit like a cross between Abraham Lincoln and Big Bird. No one hated Olivier. As I said, he left most people alone. One night however, we played a prank on him. On sleepless nights, I used to sneak into the boiler room, flip on the light switch, and watch the myriads of cockroaches scurry into the nooks and crannies. Sometimes, if I were feeling mean, I’d take a broom with me and see how many I could smash to a pulp. One time, I discovered a big box full of Christmas decorations. On the night of our prank, I mentioned the box to the artsy-campy clique I used to hang around with. Someone seized upon the idea of decorating the door to Olivier’s room with the contents. There was nothing mean in this. It was a practical joke. We got the box and crept down the hall to Olivier’s door. We encircled the doorframe with a string of blinking lights, draped a fake pine garland over the lintel, and stuck a tin foil and red and green paper cut out of Santa Claus on the door. We knocked on the door and then all ran back to our rooms. Suddenly we heard a huge uproar in the hall. I cracked open my door to see what it was. Olivier was standing in the hall in his pajamas. He spat out curses as he violently ripped the decorations from his door. “Goddamn it!” he yelled. “Why do you do this to me? I know. It is because I am the goddamned foreigner. Well, I hate you all, too!!” We were all surprised at the vehemence with which Olivier reacted. After that, it became kind of a joke among our clique. We used to walk around saying, “Chust beecuz I am zee goddam foureeener!” Olivier moved out of the dorm at the end of the semester and then he moved back to Paris. My friend Thom Klem, who didn’t live in the French house, remained friends with him and then corresponded with him after Olivier returned to France. Thom had sent a letter of introduction to Olivier and that was why he had acted so nice when I got to Paris. Now when Inge, Chris and I arrived in Lyons, it was already dark and I told them not to worry. I’d call Olivier. He had told me to call when I got to Lyons, and I was sure he would put us up. The phone rang several times. Finally Olivier answered. When I told him who it was, there was a silence. “You know, Kurt. In France it is very rude to call people after 10:00 p.m. Most people go to bed very early. I apologized profusely and felt kind of blind-sided. I thought he would have invited us to stay. I stammered and asked if he knew of any pensions or hostels where we could stay. I think he might have given us a number and then just hung up. I cannot remember where we ended up staying. I believe we had to split up, Inge going to a pension and me and Chris maybe even staying up all night talking in a doorway by the side of the road. In the morning we reassembled, and fortunately the second day turned out rather nicely. We found a Frenchman whose hospitality was diametrically opposed to Olivier’s. And fortunately, it is on that behavior and not Olivier’s that I base my opinion of the French, which is very fond indeed. But I’ll save that story for my next entry.

Pablo de Sarasate: Fantaisie de Concert sur des motifs d l’opera “Carmen”

Perhaps it is fitting to choose a piece for today based on music that comes from an opera about a love triangle. (Please see my article below about visiting Barcelona in 1977.)  Composed in 1883, eight years after Carmen’s disastrous premier and after its revival in Paris, the Fantaisie... is one of those pieces designed to show off virtuoso violin playing. It is full of incredibly high, almost ethereal harmonics and complicated double stops that almost chill you to the bone. Then there are the devilishly fast passages with bouncing bows and rapid pizzicatos that seem capable of generating sparks. Gaudi’s Gaudy Architecture The main reason I wanted to visit Barcelona in April of 1977 was to see first-hand the works of the Art Nouveau architect, Antonio Gaudí. His surrealistic buildings captivated me the first time I came upon them in an art history book in college. Gaudí’s work seemed to be a last reaction against the straight lines and harsh angles of the cold machine age. Gaudí on the other hand, incorporated organic and naturalistic shapes into his buildings, some of which looked as if they were melting, others as if they would start sprouting tendrils. Gaudí was able to bring his visionary design to light because of a wealthy patron name Guell, and created for him a palatial dwelling, a public park, and several apartment buildings. Indeed, Gaudí’s presence is such an integral part of Barcelona that had he not lived, I am sure it would not have given us the likes of Picasso, Dali, and Miro. So, on our excursions out, I dragged my traveling companions, Inge and Chris, to various parts of the city where Gaudí had created his fantastic buildings and public spaces. My first goal was to locate the Casa Mila, an apartment building that has an undulating, organic façade and looks kind of like a big, bloated puff-ball mushroom. It appears in a number of art history books, and it had shown up in a film by Michelangelo Antonioni called “The Passenger” which I had seen the year before. In one scene in the film, Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider go onto the roof, which has white, surrealistic chimneys decorated with brightly colored stones and tiles. I wanted to see if we could do the same. We found the Casa Mila in a fairly nice part of town. It is in the shape of the letter “L” and we ducked into the bottom of the short leg into the main courtyard just as it started to rain. This courtyard had been covered over and the misguided owners had carved up the interior space in an attempt to create a number of little trendy boutiques, but which were quite hideous. One was full of late 1970’s disco gear and I seem to remembers a silver mannequin with a black afro wig, 6-inch platform shoes, a blue cape and a black feather boa. We eventually found a long sweeping stairway that followed the interior wall of the courtyard up to the next level. I looked up and saw that Gaudí had covered the ceiling with wild and colorful frescoes. Unfortunately, they hadn’t been maintained and they were now flaking and peelings. They could have been “The Last Supper” for all you could tell. I wondered what the hell the condo association was spending its money on if not the upkeep of the building. We took an elevator to the top floor and emerged, completely amazed at what we saw–there didn’t seem to be a single straight line in the place. The wall curved gently around the inner courtyard and the floors and door frames were all made of a lovely, honey-colored wood. The walls were creamy stucco. We wondered around the floor passing a number of locked doors. Eventually we found ourselves back where we started but there was a change: one of the doors that had been closed was now open. I pushed it open a little further and looked in. It was dark but when my eyes adjusted, I saw it was a stairwell leading upward. I stuck my head in and a drop of water struck my forehead. I looked up and saw these ghostly shapes suspended above me. They were sheets. It was wash day, and because it was raining, someone had hung their laundry in the stairwell because they couldn?t put it up on the roof. I persuaded Chris and Inge to follow me, and we emerged onto the roof. It was grand! It looked like Gaudí had sculpted the rooftop out of meringue. He had created a tiled walkway that leads around the outside of the L-shaped building. This walkway went up and down like a huge roller coaster. The walls were white and inlaid with colored glass and semi-precious stone and Gaudi had built a continuous low bench into the wall that ran round the perimeter. Though it was blowing rain, we felt like kids in a giant playground and we peered over the walls looking for various landmarks. We spotted Gaudí ‘s church, La Sagrada Familia, in the distance, his Parque Guell, the port and the Luna Park to the south.

_IGP0022

After coming down to the street, we ducking into a bar/restaurant and ordered a tortilla and my usual Campari and soda. At the bar, I notices they sold cigars and when I went up to investigate realized they were Cuban. I asked the barrista what they called them and she said “puros.” I bought one of these fat, thick stogies and lit it up, much to the disgust of Inge and Chris. Inge announced that she was going to leave for Majorca in a day or two and Chris and I looked each other. Back in Paris, I had tried to form a romantic relationship with this dour, self-abusing, German existentialist. We had long deep discussions and part of me thought she might be my soul mate. Then Chris, the free spirit from California, came along and they instantly bonded. Chris and I were staying in Shakespeare and Company and we all hung out together, so I was invited along to Barcelona, though I felt a bit of a fifth wheel. Now Inge was announcing that she was off to Majorca and she did not invite either of us along. After lunch it stopped raining and we continued on our way in search of the next Gaudí building. As we walked, I puffed my puro pensively and looked at the buildings, the streets and the sidewalks, trying to get a feel for the city. Suddenly a pattern in the sidewalk caught my attention. I looked carefully and realized the sidewalk was made up of molded tiles with an intricate, interlocking pattern. They reminded me a bit of those morphing tile patterns of M. C. Escher, in which black birds flying one way interlock with white birds flying in the opposite direction. When I pointed this out to Chris and Inge, the latter said that she had read in her guide book that Gaudí had designed these tiles as well.

_IGP0007

Seeing these tiles tickled me. First, because I liked the idea that Gaudi had been able to turn his ideas into reality and change the physical environment around him to fit his visionary dreams. Second, these tiles represented a connection with Spain’s Moorish past. Islam is an iconoclastic religion and artistic representations of people were forbidden. Artists therefore turned their talents filling spaces with visually interesting organic forms and curlicues. Eventually these became more and more abstract and became into repeating tile patterns that covered unused space. Think of the Blue Mosque or Arabic calligraphy. The Moors had conquered Spain and brought their artistic traditions with them, which showed up in these tiles of Gaudí. Eventually, we found Gaudí’s Casa Batlló, the roof of which he designed in the shape of a giant multi-colored dragon.  It has the most wonderful facade, the apex of Art Nouveau.

_IGP0006

Later we went to the Parque Guell, which has two cascading stairways, between which Gaudí created a fantastic, dragon-shaped fountain that crawls down the hill and belches water to greet the visitors as they enter the park.

_IGP0212

These works show how the freer Gaudí became to do what he wanted the more organic and fantastic his works became. He became so engrossed by his work that he turned into a long-haired hermit, who often slept in a shack on the building sites for his structures. A day or two later, Chris and I woke early and met Inge, whom we escorted to the port and the ferry that took her to Majorca. Afterwards, Chris and I sat around planning what to do next. He decided to go south to Valencia and me back to Paris. Palm Sunday was coming in a few days, however, and I persuaded him to remain so we could see a few of the spectacles leading up to Easter, and so we spent the next few days exploring the city, eventually becoming friends and trying to deconstruct what had happened between us and Inge. But more on that later.

Erik Satie. Parade

For today’s piece, I have chosen Erik Satie’s Parade. Satie supposedly started as a bar room pianist whose work caught the attention and was championed by Debussy. His earlier compositions were stripped down and economical, which style was a reaction agains the overblown works of Wagner. Though sparse, his works were in no way simplistic and reflected the complex tonal qualities of the impressionists like Debussy. Some of his pieces, like the famous Gymnopedies are strikingly haunting and affecting.

But Satie knew he was under-educated, and in his 40s, he began studying composition under d’Indy and Roussel. From this period comes today’s piece, the music for the Cubist ballet, Parade. The mere description of this piece makes my head swoon–music by Satie, sets and scenario by Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau, and staged by Sergei Diaghilev, the empresario of the Ballet Russes. The piece is designed to tweak the bourgeois sensibility of the day and its love for the overblown Romanticism of Wagner. Parade is a kind of sound portrait of an actual parade, which incorporates the sounds of “found” objects like a pistol, a siren, and a typewriter.

Even today, nearly a century after its premier, it stands the test of time and still sounds daring and fresh.

Parading Through France

The first three months of 1977 in Paris proved cold and damp.  By March, a number of us living at Shakespeare and Company in Paris thought we might head South to warm our bones.  We chose Spain because we’d met some Basque girls, who one night cooked us paella. Ingeborg, the German girl I had a crush on, wanted to go to Barcelona and hop a ferry to Majorca. Chris, the guy she was doting on, was up for it.

Barcelona appealed to me as well because I knew it to be the native city of the Spanish Art Nouveau architect, Antonio Gaudi. His church, the Sagrada Familia, had caught my attention in some art book and I thought it would great to explore some of the other apartment buildings he had designed in the city. One had appeared in an Antonioni film called The Passenger which I had seen the semester before.

To prep myself, I read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Looking back now, that was a good choice since the main character was the third wheel in a menage a trois, which is how I was feeling about Chris and Ingeborg.

We decided to hitchhike. For an American, that was a bit worrisome, but Chris and Ingeborg, who’d hitchhiked all over Europe, assured me it would be safe. Especially if the three of us went together. I remembered Thom Klem once telling me how he had hitched a ride with a truck driver in Germany. When he climbed in, he was treated to the music of Mozart, whom the truck driver loved. So I agreed.

We took the subway to the Gare du Sud and stood near the street that led out of town. It was pissing down rain, but soon we had a ride that took us to the start of the main superhighway heading south. There we stuck our thumbs out and after a short while, a big truck pulled up. In it was a friendly man, who said he had room for the three of us. We spent the day with him tooling along Seine past the towns of Sens, Auxerre, Dijon.

At Dijon we followed the Soane River south toward Lyons. I was surprised at the lush green countryside. Surprised too to see how canals ran parallel to the main routes and that they remained a viable means of freight transport. I was disappointed at one point when the driver pulled over to a roadside inn to get a bite to eat. Since it was early afternoon, it was completely empty, not like the 24-hour roadside nightmares along our own interstate system. Inside, we managed to summon up a drowsy patron, who said it was too early to get the espresso machine going for us. Our driver ordered what I heard as “deca.” I didn’t know what he meant. The proprietor pulled out a jar of decaffeinated instant Nescafé, put a teaspoon into a cup and poured some hot water in. It was vile. I think we bought some mass produced madeleines and we piled back in the truck.

By nightfall we reached the outskirts of Lyons, which was only about half way to the southern coast. Our plan was to call up an acquaintance named Olivier, whom I knew from my student days in the French house at Bloomington, Indiana. He had been living in Paris when I first arrived, and he had been very hospitable to me. He invited me over to dinner one night and we had a nice chat. Shortly after that, he got a job in Lyons and told me to call him up if I ever got down there. I took that as a standing invitation.

Olivier’s cordiality had surprised me a bit. My first semester at the French House, he had been our resident assistant, a job for a more responsible graduate student who acted a bit like a chaperone. Since most of the people in the French House were juniors or seniors, fairly intellectual students, and rarely prone to the binge drinking one found in a lot of undergraduate dorms, this was a kind of sinecure for Olivier. He pretty much left us alone and I never even thought he knew I existed. Or if he was aware of me, I thought he disdained me because of an incident I participated in.

Olivier was an opinionated and lugubrious type. If he participated in discussions at the French-speaking table at the dorm cafeteria, he usually made some pronouncement or caustic remark-usually about crass Americans and our lack of culture. He was majoring in business. Olivier cut an imposing figure–he was tall, thin, and had a shock of thick unruly hair. Unfortunately he wore one of those beards without a moustache, the kind that just follows your jaw line. He looked a bit like a cross between Abraham Lincoln and Big Bird.

No one hated Olivier. As I said, he left most people alone. One night however, we played a prank on him. On sleepless nights, I used to sneak into the boiler room, flip on the light switch, and watch the myriads of cockroaches scurry into the nooks and crannies. Sometimes, if I were feeling mean, I’d take a broom with me and see how many I could smash to a pulp. One time, I discovered a big box full of Christmas decorations. On the night of our prank, I mentioned the box to the artsy-campy clique I used to hang around with. Someone seized upon the idea of decorating the door to Olivier’s room with the contents. There was nothing mean in this. It was a practical joke.

We got the box and crept down the hall to Olivier’s door. We encircled the doorframe with a string of blinking lights, draped a fake pine garland over the lintel, and stuck a tin foil and red and green paper cut out of Santa Claus on the door. We knocked on the door and then all ran back to our rooms.

Suddenly we heard a huge uproar in the hall. I cracked open my door to see what it was. Olivier was standing in the hall in his pajamas. He spat out curses as he violently ripped the decorations from his door.

“Goddamn it!” he yelled. “Why do you do this to me? I know. It is because I am the goddamned foreigner. Well, I hate you all, too!!”

We were all surprised at the vehemence with which Olivier reacted. After that, it became kind of a joke among our clique. We used to walk around saying, “Chust beecuz I am zee goddam foureeener!” Olivier moved out of the dorm at the end of the semester and then he moved back to Paris. My friend Thom Klem, who didn’t live in the French house, remained friends with him and then corresponded with him after Olivier returned to France. Thom had sent a letter of introduction to Olivier and that was why he had acted so nice when I got to Paris.

Now when Inge, Chris and I arrived in Lyons, it was already dark and I told them not to worry. I’d call Olivier. He had told me to call when I got to Lyons, and I was sure he would put us up. The phone rang several times. Finally Olivier answered. When I told him who it was, there was a silence.

“You know, Kurt. In France it is very rude to call people after 10:00 p.m. Most people go to bed very early.

I apologized profusely and felt kind of blind-sided. I thought he would have invited us to stay. I stammered and asked if he knew of any pensions or hostels where we could stay. I think he might have given us a number and then just hung up.

I cannot remember where we ended up staying. I believe we had to split up, Inge going to a pension and me and Chris maybe even staying up all night talking in a doorway by the side of the road. In the morning we reassembled, and fortunately the second day turned out rather nicely. We found a Frenchman whose hospitality was diametrically opposed to Olivier’s. And fortunately, it is on that behavior and not Olivier’s that I base my opinion of the French, which is very fond indeed. But I’ll save that story for my next entry.

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