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We came to Paris at a time when any American with good sense was moving to Prague or Costa Rica, depending on their taste in climates. Most films set in Paris these days are actually filmed in Prague, which is enough of a look-alike and much cheaper, with a lot less red tape. I chose Paris because of its history of welcoming writers-in-exile; also, my wife is French and active in the film industry. We first set up in a lovely, completely restored apartment on the Canal St. Martin, where, when things were slow, we could watch the barges work their way through the locks; we now live on the Butte Montmartre. To make ends meet, we run a translation service. Unemployment in France is at an all-time high, 12-13%, and in the suburbs, among the young, it runs to 50%, and the result is drug-dealing street gangs that have no fear of the police. (In France, the inner cities are preserved and the suburbs are like Watts.) And the police seem to be suffering; 23 (five from one station) have killed themselves since the first of the year. A short time ago, I came across some high praise of ZYZZYVA in a French literary magazine called, simply enough, magasin litteraire (numero 341, Mars '96). ZYZZYVA is mentioned in the first paragraph of "Les revues americaines aujourd'hui," as one of the perles rares. Moreover, ZYZZYVA is described as: "a perfect example of an ambitious editorial posture and an innate sense of marketing (zyzzyva is in reality the last word in the English dictionary, and means 'one of the tropical varieties of the genus zyzzyva, often destructive to plants'-a little known fact which would probably annoy the politically correct.") Why this potential annoyance is beyond me. All this was preparatory to Paris's 16th annual Salon du Livre, March 22-27, the United States being this year's featured guest. I decided to attend to catch up on the literary scene, as I seldom have a sense anymore of whom I should be reading. The statistics of the Salon were overwhelming: over 800 living, breathing writers, 2,000 publishers, and tons of very expensive paper turned into flyers. There was a small indoor cafe set up where writers were interviewed every half-hour, with audience participation and $4 beers (an orange juice is $5, so why not economize?). There was another, slightly larger, conference hall where writers argued with each other over whatever writers argue about, and many smaller salles for more concentrated discussion (Sylvia Beach, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway et al). These I passed by, as they sold no beer and the conversation was heady enough in the cafe. There I sat ten feet away from Seamus Heaney and listened to him expound on the latest Irish renaissance (how many of them are there?). His half-hour gone, I heard Jerome Charyn speak a little French (yes, very little), followed later by Joseph Heller, who had a hard time getting started, but helped himself with a large tumbler of something that looked like whiskey. He was joined later by James Salter, who steadfastly refused to talk about his books-"Well, you have to read the book, you see." I took myself to the stand for Frank, the last American literary magazine in Paris (or, at least, that's the way it's publicized, and I saw no other). It promotes international culture (not specifically American) and has recently devoted issues to such things as African literature, Belgian literature, and the North Carolina School of Writing. Its editor, David Applefield, invited the American literary mags to send their wares, which many did, and he faithfully displayed them and passed them out to purchasers of Frank. ZYZZYVA was right there, propped up in front of Frank, surrounded by the Hudson Review, Fiction, and others. It was almost enough to tempt me back to California. We bought a Frank (I can't get used to the name) and made our way back through the book-loving throngs to a beautiful spring day and the great horizontal buildings of the eighteenth century. Conclusions? The two American writers most celebrated in France: easily Richard Ford and Paul Auster. Ford was quoted as saying there'll be no more printed fiction in the United States in 50 years. Watching the people snatch up his books, one could easily imagine that they believed likewise, planning to store away these treasures of American culture, like fine wines, to age and enjoy in the years of their scarcity. By the way, Anais Nin's country home in Louveciennes is up for sale, the French government having decided not to protect it as a historical monument. The house and grounds are an artist's dream, and appear often in Nin's journals. She and Henry Miller enjoyed themselves here from 1930 to 1936, some 20 minutes away from the 16th. Some young writers want to turn it into a museum, but they must first save it from the real-estate agents. They have a web page,, they speak English, and they deserve support, especially given the recent closing of the American Cultural Center due to lack of funding.

from Zyzzyva




un e-mail de paris

john m. kaman